Softnet Systems, Inc. Speech Recognition Specialists

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Microphones

This web page provides general background information on microphones. If planning to buy a microphone today, see the microphones page in the Products section.

The primary function of a microphone is to send a good sound signal to your computer. Many different microphones work well, and there are many to choose from. Most popular are headset microphones. Several headset microphones in the $49-$100 range work roughly the same. Individuals may have legitimate preferences, either because recognition rate is better or because they are physically more comfortable.

  • I've tried those that I list and have my favorites, but can't say that I see significant differences in recognition rates among the recommended microphones in a relatively quiet office.
  • There are differences between these microphones such that with particular persons, specific sound cards, and/or a particular environment there may be a microphone that will work better than others.
  • Persons with multiple machines that they use with speech recognition, or persons with a poor sound card as are on many laptops should consider a USB microphone, which connects to a USB port on the system instead of to the sound card.
  • Most USB microphones meet the minimum requirements for speech recognition. But USB is not necessarily better than analog. A good analog microphone with a good sound card can easily produce the same or even better results than a run-of-the-mill USB microphone. Note that computer audio systems have improved over the years, and in 2006 we started to see "HD Audio" systems which generally have better analog sound systems than prior systems.
  • No one microphone serves all needs. If someone unfamiliar with your situation tries to sell you a microphone without verifying how you plan to use it, then run from them. (At the same time, for a product with only a few dollars margin, don't expect a 1-hour consultation either!)
  • There are 100's of microphone models that will work. Microphones have been in common use for almost a century. Just because a dealer doesn't know about your specific model doesn't mean they don't understand microphones.

Microphone Styles and Types

Headsets

The VXi TalkPro USB (traditional headset), Andrea 700 series (traditional headsets), and Sennheiser ME3 all are good choices. With every one of these, I've clients who love them and clients who strongly prefer a different one -- mainly because they are worn differently. If noise is an issue, the Sennheiser ME3 is a clear-cut favorite, but be sure to buy one modified for computer use.

The Andrea NC-181 typically comes with Dragon Medical products unless you get a bundle with a (much more expensive) Dictaphone PowerMic II. The NC-181 is a basic headset microphone which works well in quiet environments. It is not durable, plan to replace it within a few months.

Features available on some of these microphones include mute switches and volume control for playback. Mute switches are useful for some speech recognition users as they are an alternate and sometimes more reliable way to turn off a microphone.

Handhelds

The hand-held Philips SpeechMike Pro USB is excellent if you have a quiet dictation place and dictate many times per day (as in after each patient). It includes a trackball, mouse buttons, and programmable buttons that make this multi-functional device a powerful dictation tool. In 2008, Dictaphone introduced the PowerMic II which has proven to be somewhat more accurate, easier to install, but a little more expensive than the Philips SpeechMike.

Desktop Microphones

The Buddy DesktopMic is built to rest on a desk, with a gooseneck that can be positioned for excellent speech recognition in a quiet office.

The Buddy Gooseneck has a much longer gooseneck and a clamp for attaching to the edge of furniture. It is often better when dealing with wheelchair seating or when a microphone is needed for a bed-ridden person.

Array Microphones

Array microphones sit on your desktop. In theory, they use multiple microphones to better detect speech from a moving source -- your mouth. They are necessarily wide so that they have a chance at distinguishing speech from noise. They will not generally produce results as accurate as headset microphones, but may be suitable when it is not feasible to put on a headset or pick up a handheld microphone. Rarely (perhaps 1 customer per year) would I recommend an array microphone.

Tip: Keep a Spare!

If you depend heavily on your speech recognition system, buy a spare microphone! These microphones are all prone to breakage.


We don't stock all models -- we are more prone to have the Sennheiser ME3, and VXi TalkPro USB-100 models in stock because they are more popular.

USB

If you need a USB microphone, we commonly recommend either the handheld Philips SpeechMike Pro USB, the handheld Dictaphone PowerMic II, the VXi TalkPro Usb-100, or else a combination of a USB "pod" plus a good headset such as the Sennheiser ME3. Other options include other VXi TalkPro USB models such as the USB-200 if listening with both ears is important.

Andrea, VXi, and Buddy each make pods that work essentially the same for most purposes. There are USB adapters for MUCH more -- hundreds of dollars, used for professional recording (Roland/Edirol UA-100 and UA-30 -- plug in a good microphone.).

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Microphone Recommendations

Current Suggested Headset Microphones

In this group my opinion is that these are ALL quality microphones. For any particular person, you may find that one works better than others. I've got clients who have gotten best results with VXi's, some have gotten best results with Emkay, others best results with Andrea, and others swear by their old Talk Mics.

  • VXi Microphones:
    • TalkPro Xpress, TalkPro MAX
    • TalkPro USB-100 -- an excellent USB microphone with a mute switch. The safest choice if you don't know much about the person, sound card, environment, etc.
  • Andrea Microphones
Current Headset Microphones for Special Situations
  • Plantronics (model numbers change frequently) -- inexpensive, a candidate for a microphone where breakage is likely to occur. Not as accurate in actual use as others. But the Andrea NC-181 is easier to find and is just as good in most cases.
Older Headset Microphones -- No Longer in Production

If you find these on close-out sales, in a heap at a garage sale, or otherwise at a deeply discounted price, consider yourself lucky. They are good microphones, but no longer in production.

  • VXi Microphones
    • Parrott (many models, some better than others)
    • VXi Gold
    • CTS 10-3
  • Shure Microphones
    • HW505A
    • VR250BT
  • Andrea Microphones
    • ANC-650, ANC-600
  • Emkay (a.k.a. Knowles Acoustic)
    • VR-3345, 3185, 3565 or Talk Mics
  • Buddy Microphones
    • Buddy Handy (USB) -- handheld
  • Philips SpeechMikePro, 61xx series -- handheld, but only consider if your dictation environment is extremely quiet.
Handheld Microphones Currently Recommended
  • Philips SpeechMike Pro, 51xx series-- excellent USB handheld microphones, has 6 buttons (10 for the Pro Plus) that can be customized. To be used effectively, it takes time to program the microphone. $259 for the 5176 Pro Plus model.
    The Philips 61xx series, now over 5 years old, isn't nearly as good for speech recognition and some of its functions do not work on the latest operating systems.
  • Dictaphone PowerMic II -- particularly if you use Dragon Medical 10. With Pro/Legal, it doesn't have all the options as when you use Medical.
Desktop Microphones

Seldom are these useful for medical dictation. Some semi-pro vocal microphones, particularly ones with a hyper-cardoid pickup pattern, will work well as desktop microphones so long as you are consistent in positioning your mouth with respect to the microphone. "Watch your mouth" are good words to remember when using speech recognition with desktop or handheld microphones.

Wireless Headset Microphones

Others claim good results with wireless microphones. I've only dealt with one that has worked well, and it isn't manufactured any longer. Shure has another series of wireless microphones, but the Shure TCHS Wireless microphone was a reasonably-priced microphone that works well for speech recognition. Contact one of the specialty sellers if you want a wireless microphone.

PC/Telephone Switches

Beware that these switches cost more than many good microphones. It is much more difficult to build a good switch than it appears, and there isn't a big market for them. Beware the Andrea PCTI-2 -- you may find it cheap, or you may be a lucky one and find it works well for you. It doesn't generally perform as well as the PCTI, and doesn't allow you to listen on the phone while dictating on the computer.

These others are very comparable and all work well on most phone systems:

  • VXi Parrott 60V -- proprietary, requires using VXi telephony headset (several styles)
  • Andrea PCTI -- allows plugging in any headset and using on phone and computer
  • Plantronics MX10-- proprietary, requires using Plantronics headset
Pre-Amplifier

One isn't needed often (less than one time in 100), but with extremely soft voices or when using dynamic microphones one may be needed. Good ones cost more than microphones and are usually found at music stores, not computer stores. The M-Audio Audio Buddy is the most common one deployed with speech recognition.

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Where to Buy

Confused? Locally (Phoenix) we have samples of many of these microphones. If you visit us, you can see them all -- including many not listed here. If we go to see you, we have a sack packed with samples of the more common microphones and will add to that set if we know your needs before seeing you. Contact us for details.

Most of these microphones are not available in retail stores. They are specialty items with very limited distribution. What you will find at the major computer stores is roughly equivalent to what you receive in your software package. Rarely have I seen a top-notch microphone in such stores. You'll pay no more from us or the specialty distributors than what you'll pay for a less-effective microphone from the retailers.

Prices and Ordering

Specialty Distributors

We don't carry a broad line of microphones. Both http://www.emicrophones.com and their competitors, http://www.microphones.com, deal primarily in microphones and understand speech recognition. If we don't carry it, we suggest them as alternate sources.

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Resources

If you wish to learn MUCH more about how microphones work, we suggest browsing the following:

While these are interesting, they won't help much in selecting a microphone for speech recognition.

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