02 April 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

If you want to use voice recognition software, you need a microphone. Counting the one that arrived two days ago, I'm on my fifth.

The problem has never been the accuracy of voice recognition, although that is better with a better microphone. It's more a matter of comfort and convenience, which can be a big deal if you use it all day every day.

My first microphone was the one that came with the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. I pretty much immediately replaced it with a similar, but higher-quality, wired headset. It worked fine and was comfortable enough, I had to take it off every time I wanted to leave my computer. More accurately, I had to have someone else take it off for me. And every time I put it back on, I had to adjust the position of the microphone. More accurately, I had to have someone adjust the position of the microphone for me. If that's the only choice, that's what you do, but it's kind of a pain in the butt.

Imagine my excitement when I found a wireless microphone that was accurate enough to use for voice recognition. I could leave my computer without having to be untangled from my headset. The Bluetooth connection was not as reliable as one might wish, but I was willing to deal. And there was still the issue of microphone position, but since I wasn't putting it on and taking it off as often, it wasn't as much of an annoyance.

The latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking came with a special offer on a different style of Bluetooth headset. The price was right, so I gave it a try. Accuracy was fine and the Bluetooth connection was much more reliable, although this was probably due more to an updated driver for the Bluetooth adapter than to the new headset. The problem this time was the earpiece. If it was in exactly the right spot, it was comfortable, stable, and kept the microphone in the right place. Getting the earpiece in the right spot, however, required that the ambient temperature, relative humidity, phase of the moon, and traffic on I-5 all be exactly right. And you had to recite a special incantation. And I had to be careful not to move my head too much. Most of the time it would start to sag after a while, recognition would get less and less accurate, and eventually it would fall off entirely, wind up on the floor, where it was in danger of being flattened by my power chair. This wouldn't have been a problem if I could reach up and adjust it when it got loose, but I can't. I started looking around for something else.

My latest attempt to attain microphone nirvana isn't a headset at all. It's a microphone on a cable that plugs in to the USB port of my laptop. No Bluetooth, so there's one less layer of technology, which is always good. It doesn't seem like the cable would be able to keep the microphone where you put it, but so far so good. Accuracy seems to be at least as good as any of the headsets, even though the microphone is not always in exactly the same position relative to my mouth. I can move my head without being afraid I'm going to dislodge the darned headset, which, by the end of the day, is a lot easier on my neck. I can move away from my computer without having to be untangled first.

I think it'll do until the next new toy comes along.


  1. Mine is built in to my laptop...I just speak at a normal tone. No extra mic needed.

  2. I have been using the one in my web cam and it is working better than the one purchased for such endeavors.
    Not so great for the videos and dulcimer sounds but better with the voice recognition stuff.
    Still can not get text to speech to be my friend ;(

  3. I'm always one for the empirical approach -- try it and see what works! No mic on my laptop, so that wasn't an option, and I was relieved to return the webcam to my employer and I retired.

    Jan - I'd be hosed without text-to-speech. Dictation errors that are amazingly invisible on the display are revealed in their full hilarity when the machine reads them back. Cheap humor, but still...