Softnet Systems, Inc. Speech Recognition Specialists

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Verification of Microphone/Sound System

The ugly truth is that until 2006 there was no industry standard for the physical connection of a microphone to a sound card. There are still several different electrical specifications in use today. Most differ in esoteric ways that shouldn't concern any of us. But, with so many variants, certain microphones work better with certain sound cards. And, just like entertainers have their favorite microphones (there are literally thousands to choose from), you may find yourself favoring a particular microphone.

At the start, the key is "is it working?" The cautious approach is to test the microphone/sound system without using Dragon software first, then test using Dragon software. But more commonly, you sense something is wrong when using Dragon and you suspect the audio system is not set up correctly.

You can use Dragon without speakers or earphones for sound output, but it is tough to test the sound system without hearing sounds played. The goal of this test is to record sound with your system and play it back. If Dragon can't hear you, it is tough for it to tell what you are saying. NaturallySpeaking has not yet incorporated automatic lip-reading technology.

Test Your System - Windows Vista or Windows 7

  1. Connect an earphone or speakers to the sound system. On a laptop, the speakers are typically built-in, make sure they are not muted.
  2. Open the Windows Sound Recorder. It is a very basic program that records sounds then allows you to play them back. It is usually found in the All Programs, Accessories, portion of your Programs menu.
  3. Make a recording of your voice.
  4. Save the recording into a file. Note where the file is being saved.
  5. Exit the Sound Recorder and find the saved file. Listen to the recording, usually doable by double-clicking on the file to initiate Windows Media Player.

Test Your System - Windows-XP

  1. Connect an earphone or speakers to the sound system.
  2. Open the Windows Sound Recorder. It is a very basic program that records sounds then allows you to play them back. It is usually found in the Accessories, Entertainment portion of your Programs menu.
  3. Make a recording of your voice.
  4. Listen to the recording.
No Sound?

If you get NO playback sound, your problem may be simple to resolve. Make certain the microphone input is not muted. If your microphone has a mute switch, try it in the opposite position. Verify the correct plug has been connected to the sound card. Note that on some systems, the modem has a plug for a microphone, independent of the sound card plug -- most modem microphone interfaces are poor quality!

Clear Sound, Crackles, Pops, and Playback

If you do get sound on playback, is the sound clear, are there "pops" or "crackles" that aren't in your voice? Pull out a dictation machine or other recorder and listen to yourself that way if you aren't certain. If you sound like a movie star, then the sound system is OK and you can skip the rest of this exercise unless you are chasing down a very specific problem. Have another person try this test if you REALLY hate the sound of your own voice. If you sound like a phone solicitor from overseas on a bad phone line, with lots of audible noise in the background and barely understandable, it is time to get down to serious, more technical work.

If you get feedback from your speakers, make certain that the microphone input is not set to be played directly to your speakers. With your sound mixer, the "playback" of the microphone should be muted.

Audio Parameters

Until this point, we've ignored the Audio parameters on your Windows system. For the next few steps, we will pay attention to these parameters. Sometimes poor sound output occurs because your system is set up to record low-quality sound, in which case our goal is to set it up for higher-quality sound and then re-record.

(You can skip the next steps and do the "What to do if you are Below Average in Sound Quality" steps. There is no magic to diagnosing sound problems.)

Windows XP: Given that you are in the Windows Sound Recorder, select "File" then "Properties." Look at the "Audio Format." Your immediate goal is to get it to specify "PCM 44.100 kHz, 16 Bit, Stereo." NaturallySpeaking actually records in "PCM 11.025 kHz, 16 Bit, Mono" format -- not as clear sounding to the human ear. Once or twice, I've heard systems where recording in that format was horrible but recording at the higher selection rate was good. But almost always one can "hear" microphone problems easily at 44 kHz.

If it doesn't show the desired value, select "Convert Now" and pick the appropriate entry for CD-Quality, then select "OK." Record again and listen to the results. If the sound isn't clear, there is a problem in your sound system and NaturallySpeaking will probably not work well for you.

What to do if the Audio Setup Wizard shows questionable Sound Quality

If you are lucky, you have another microphone handy. Run the test again with it to determine if you get the same results.

If the sound quality is acceptable, there may be no issue! Frequently I do very well on systems where sound quality shows as barely passing. This was very common with Turtle Beach Montego sound cards and with Andrea microphones. These are quality products and work well -- just continue and start using the software. If you really want to score a little better on this test, then pause at the end of each sentence.

Advanced Trick (Useless, but a little fun): If you really want a higher score, try reading in a falsetto voice -- most people get considerably better ratings this way. It doesn't do anything for improving your speech recognition, but it may show you that the Audio Setup Wizard can be manipulated.

There is guess-work involved in diagnosing sound system issues. Don't be afraid to experiment. Cheap microphones, unsuitable for speech recognition because of high distortion, can be used to verify that sound gets to the computer system. Faulty sound cards are unusual -- faulty microphones are MUCH more common. Faulty software handling the sound card is relatively common on older systems or systems where regular updating is turned off -- if you don't have the latest sound card drivers, download them and install them. If you do have the latest drivers, consider dropping back to a prior version if you have problems. If you are having intermittent problems, wiggle the microphone cable while testing, and if you have a loose/broken connection you will likely get static or no sound.

Need "Boost" on your Audio?

In an effort to simplify matters, starting with Release 5 Dragon made it difficult to force the audio boost to be applied from your sound card. If you know what the "boost" is, and want it applied, then edit the audio.ini file for the user (within the "current" directory) and change the line MicBoostState=00000000 to:

MicBoostState=01000000

Unfortunately, this may need to be done each time you run the Audio Setup Wizard.

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