Dragon Medical and DeskTop Microphones

January 22, 2012

Introduction:
While preparing to review the new SpeechWare 3-in-1, it occurred to me that the most effective way to do so would be in the context of the top rated speech microphones.

The following review consists of 3 parts:

(1)        My personal take on the evolution of speech recognition microphones

(2)        A general consensus of 12 of the world’s leading speech recognition experts on the pros and cons of what we believe to be the top 5 desktop microphones (TableMikes)

(3)        My personal assessment of what the numbers mean

If you wish to skip past the brief microphone history, click Pros and Cons. If you wish to skip further ahead to my conclusions, click recommendations.

Note that while only one of these microphones could achieve the 1st place overall rating, each is still an excellent choice for speech recognition.

Evolution of Speech Recognition Microphones


When we first began using DragonDictate speech recognition software in the 1980’s it seemed to be incredibly impressive technology. Never minding the very deliberate pause after each and every word, we waited with baited breath to see another (hopefully correct) word miraculously appear on our somewhat blurry little screens. It was fun! It was frustrating! It was not very practical. Back then, the couple of wired headset microphone choices available to us were more than adequate.

In 1996, NaturallySpeaking continuous speech recognition was released. With the emergence of this new technology, we had a viable tool for professional as well as personal use. That being the case, we needed microphones designed to better utilize this increasingly more sophisticated software. Microphone manufacturers responded. They designed wireless systems. They designed combination headset microphones that could additionally be used with cell phones, landlines and even hydraulic lifters which picked up our handsets for us. While noise canceling and accuracy continued to improve, ultimately many of us still were not happy with our headset microphones, finding them to be rather inconvenient and/or uncomfortable. Physicians and other professionals were often forced to don and then remove their headsets every few minutes, between patients or clients. Other end users, needing to take verbal notes while talking on the phone, put their callers on hold, which was both inefficient and impolite. While handheld microphones such as the Philips SpeechMike Air now allow concurrent use of both a microphone and a telephone, they don’t solve all problems for all end users. Some of us simply need to keep both hands free. Fortunately, microphone manufacturers have also been busily designing high quality desktop microphones.

A desktop microphone just might be your best option if:

  • You find headset microphones to be uncomfortable
  • You like to listen to music through high fidelity headphones while working
  • You are physically disabled
  • You are self-conscious about wearing a headset in front of others
  • You don’t need to be wireless
  • You NEED to keep both hands free
  • You dislike having to continuously don and remove your headset
  • You take the time to arrange your hair just the way you like it and THAT IS HOW YOU WANT TO KEEP IT!

Below is a general consensus of 12 of the world’s top speech recognition experts on the pros and cons of what they believe to be the top 5 desktop microphones, followed by our recommendations (rating them from 1st through 5th place).

 

Pros & Cons

Speechware 3-in-1 Pros:

MSRP: $279
Accuracy: 100%
Noise Cancellation: 9 out of 10
Overall Rating: 10 out of 10

  • 100% Accuracy
  • Belgian engineering (think Mercedes)
  • The most accurate desktop microphone we have tested
  • NEW “De Clicking” algorithm (2nd-generation exclusive) ~ The”De Clicking” algorithm filters out keystroke taps, table thumps etc. (clicking) from reaching NaturallySpeaking
  • Recipient of Nuance’s highest (5 Dragon “Best of Class”) rating
  • Detachable microphone boom for easier storage and transport
  • Unusually high noise cancellation for desktop microphone
  • End-user Programmable On/Off/ momentary switch
  • Includes an option to bypass the built-in gooseneck microphone with a headset microphone (for working in noisier environments) which allows you to use the base as a noise filtering USB soundcard.
  • The only desktop microphone that can be preset to turn on when booting your computer. This can be especially important to the physically disabled.
  • Includes headphone jack and volume controls
  • The 1st microphone to include separate specialized settings for speech recognition mode and VoIP/Skype mode
  • Speech recognition mode includes a specialized Adaptive Noise Canceling algorithm
  • 1st desktop microphone to include Automatic Gain Control
  • Only desktop microphone to feature 2 dedicated volume controls for sound playback
  • Only desktop microphone to feature a dedicated mic sensitivity control to reject unwanted background noise
  • Built-in exclusive audio filtering USB soundcard
  • Extremely accurate up to 24 inches (that’s no typo) but can be utilized at even further distances thanks to the built-in Automatic Gain Control feature
  • The upcoming 6-in-1 unit (due to be released in early April of 2012) additionally adds a foot pedal option to toggle the microphone on and off, playback speaker and an extra USB port.
  • The upcoming 9-in-1 unit (due to be released in early May of 2012) additionally adds a 2nd USB port, telescoping (adjustable) gooseneck, SD card reader and a programmable button to control other applications.
  • 2 year manufacturer warranty

 

SpeechWare 3-in-1 Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive than competitive units

Buddy Desktop DSP Pros:

MSRP: $170
Accuracy: 98%
Noise Cancellation: 7 out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 out of 10
Note that we did not include other types of Buddy microphones, such as the Buddy Gooseneck and Buddy Flamingo, in our testing because they incorporate the same microphone element (without a base).

  • 98% Accuracy with new integrated 7G USB soundcard
  • Built-in noise filtering USB soundcard
  • Includes microphone mute button
  • Accurate up to 8 inches away
  • Excellent price value
  • 1 year manufacturer warranty

 

Buddy Desktop & Buddy Desktop DSP Cons:

  • Currently requires sending the unit to Canada for service and warranty repairs
  • Limited (2 to 5 inch) microphone range (9 to 11 inches with the Buddy Desktop DSP)

Audix USB 12 Pros:

MSRP: $179
Accuracy: 97%
Noise Cancellation: 6 out of 10
Overall Rating: 6 out of 10

  • Lowest priced USB desktop microphone
  • Headphone jack for optional sound out
  • Similar accuracy to the higher-priced discontinued Buddy Desktop 6G
  • Button can be programmed to work as an on-off switch or push to talk
  • Smallest footprint of any desktop microphone, requiring the least amount of table space
  • 1 year manufacturer warranty

 

Audix USB 12 Cons:

  • Not quite as accurate as the new Buddy 7G which has replaced the 6G
  • We experienced some unwanted pops and plosives when dictating within the limited 2 inch range. We were able to remedy this by speaking off to the side of the microphone.
  • This microphone had a limited 2 inch range, but was actually slightly more accurate from within 1 inch. This concerned us.
  • We found the 12 inch boom to be a little shorter than we would like in some situations.
  • We do not like membrane buttons at all. We prefer a true hardware button with more of a click feel like the other desktop microphones.

Olympus ME31 Pros:

MSRP: $200
Accuracy: 97%
Noise Cancellation: 7 out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 out of 10

  • Perfect for digital recorders when recording seminars
  • Accurate to within 3 feet and can be used from as far away as 4
  • Gun style long-distance directional pickup pattern
  • Very small footprint; similar to the Audix
  • 1 year manufacturer warranty

 

Olympus ME31 Cons:

  • No built-in USB soundcard
  • Slightly high priced for a microphone with no built-in USB soundcard
  • No actual noise cancellation but because this microphone is highly directional, it marginally rejects sound from the sides and back
  • This microphone should only be used in a quiet environment and may occasionally pick up keyboard key clicks

Sennheiser MD 431 II Pros:

MSRP: $675
Accuracy: 100%
Noise Cancellation: 10 out of 10
Overall Rating: 10 out of 10

Note: The Sennheiser MD 431 II is not really a desktop microphone but we included it in this comparison because of its popularity and the fact that is commonly used as a desktop speech recognition microphone.

  • 100% Accuracy
  • Stunning noise cancellation (Super cardioid microphone element works great for rejecting unwanted sound)
  • Includes on/off slider switch
  • 1 year manufacturer warranty

 

Sennheiser MD 431 II Cons:

  • Roughly triple the price of the competition
  • Limited 2 to 3 inch range
  • This microphone’s unwieldy length makes it difficult to utilize as a desktop microphone because it was primarily designed for vocalists/musicians

Conclusions:

1st Place ~ SpeechWare 3-in-1, 6-in-1 and 9-in-1 (Click to See)

The 3-in-1 simply blew our socks off (along with the competition) with devastating accuracy from within 21 inches, and was quite usable from as far away as 40 inches! The 3-in-1 introduces several new technologies built into the world’s only speech recognition microphone that contains a circuit board with amenities like de-clicking (specialized filters that prevent NaturallySpeaking from hearing chair squeaks, keystrokes, lip smacks and coffee cup clinks) along with specialized NaturallySpeaking 11 algorithms for higher accuracy. This microphone additionally includes a bypass setting so that you can use it for podcasts, VoIP applications or earlier versions of NaturallySpeaking/DragonDictate.

We also fell in love with the additional perks which include the option to add an external headset microphone, headphones, volume controls and a noise filtering USB soundcard. The MD 431 II was unbeatable from 2 to 3 inches but if you spend a significant amount of time dictating, it is all but impossible to comfortably maintain a 2 inch distance from your microphone over any given period of time. Most of us are working with larger monitors, taking phone calls, sorting or referring to papers, and dealing with interruptions and distractions of various sorts. We like to lean back in our chairs. We turn. We fidget. We stretch.  Because of the extended range of the 3-in-1 microphone, we have found nothing to match its accuracy when dictating beyond 3 inches. Additional manufacturer information available at www.TableMike.com

This review was dictated with the SpeechWare 3-in-1 microphone and by the time I finished testing, I made the SpeechWare 3-in-1 my personal microphone of choice. I informed the fine folks at SpeechWare that the only way they would get back their 3-in-1 prototype was if they “pried it from my cold dead fingers” to quote someone,  none of us will ever forget… They wisely elected to let me keep it J

2nd Place ~ Sennheiser MD 431 II (Click to See)
This microphone is the measuring stick used against all other microphones. From within 2 inches, no microphone we have ever tested is more accurate or more noise canceling. The Sennheiser was significantly more noise canceling than any other desktop microphone. However, negative aspects include a sticker shock price tag of $500 (MAP pricing), unwieldy length for positioning as a desktop microphone and the limited 2 inch range (requiring users to lock their bodies into one position over long periods of time). You can optionally purchase a swing-arm for this microphone, allowing you to change positions, but that increases the price even more. Although this is the most noise canceling and accurate desktop microphone we’ve ever tested, the 3 negative aspects dropped it down to 4th place. Additional manufacturer information available at
www.sennheiserusa.com

3rd Place ~ Buddy Desktop 7G DSP (Click to See)
What can we say other than this is the classic desktop microphone that all other manufacturers mimic, and it has recently been improved with the 7G USB soundcard and the introduction of a new process called FilteredAudio (exclusive to the DSP model) . We felt this was a great microphone and continue to carry it on our website because of the price (only slightly higher than the Audix USB 12) and quality. Additional manufacturer information available at
www.insyncspeech.com

4th Place ~ Olympus ME31 (Click to See)
This is a great microphone with good accuracy for long distance dictation of up to 4 feet and quite accurate within 3 feet. If you need long-distance, this is your best choice but the noise canceling aspects and price lower this microphone to 5th place. Additional manufacturer information available at
www.olympusamerica.com

5th Place ~ Audix USB 12 (Nothing to See)
Although this is a reasonable speech recognition microphone, it is only included in the “top 6”  because of the lower price. We personally didn’t feel the slightly lower price justified offering it on our website, considering how much better the other units scored. Additional manufacturer information available at
www.audixusa.com

Previous Reviews:

If you would like to see some of our previous reviews check out the following:

KnowBrainer TableMike Face-Off
KnowBrainer Handheld Microphone Face-Off
KnowBrainer Headset Microphone Face-Off
KnowBrainer Telephone Microphone Face-Off
KnowBrainer Digital Recorder Face-Off
KnowBrainer Wireless Microphone Face-Off
KnowBrainer USB Soundcard Face-Off (coming soon)

 

Current Gold Standards:

The following is a list of microphones that we consider to be #1 in their microphone categories we:

Best Wireless Microphone = Samson Airline 77
Best Combo Telephone Wireless Microphone = Jabra Pro 9470
Best Handheld USB Microphone = Dictaphone PowerMic II
Best USB TableMike = SpeechWare 3-in-1 / SpeechWare 6-in-1
Best Wired Headset Microphone = Audio-Technica Pro 8HEmW
Best Bluetooth “like” Wireless Microphone = Plantronics Savi 440*
Best Digital Recorder = Olympus
DS-7000
Best Speech Recognition Application = 
NaturallySpeaking 11.5 & DMPE

*Bluetooth Note: The Plantronics Savi 440 is not a Bluetooth microphone but comes seemingly close by emulating the features of a Bluetooth microphone because it includes a completely wireless headset and wireless receiver. We do not recommend any Bluetooth microphones for use with Dragon Medical 11, NaturallySpeaking 11, DragonDictate 2.5 or WSR because Bluetooth microphones are limited to a 4 kHz frequency response while the previously mentioned speech recognition applications can process frequencies as high as 11 kHz. Bluetooth also suffers from syncing issues and that’s why we no longer offer or rate Bluetooth microphones.

Lunis Orcutt – Developer of KnowBrainer 2011 and founder of KnowBrainer Speech Recognition Forums (the world’s largest speech recognition forum)
Chat Live w/a Nuance Gold Certified Speech Recognition Solutions Provider

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