As a conscientious journalist, I believe in recording my interviews for maximum accuracy and efficiency. Also, the older I get, the slower my hand moves, making note-taking nearly impossible during a vibrant conversation or long meeting.
The problem comes when it’s time to take that recording and translate it into text. I don’t have time to sit and transcribe every interview, and I don’t have the money to hire someone to do it for me. Luckily, I tried out transcription apps that have worked well. These transcription apps are good options for journalists, students, or anyone who needs to save a conversation or lecture.
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A word of caution: Most of these services charge by the minute, so if your recording has long downtimes, such as before a lecture or between speakers, you might want to edit out the dead space with an audio editor before submitting.
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Otter is the service I’ve been using the most as a freelancer since a friend told me about it. The appIt uses artificial intelligence to transcribe interviews as they happen. You can put Otter on your phone, hit record, and it keeps up, transcribing along and editing itself as you talk. It can be a little disconcerting to have it open while chatting face- to- face because your subject can watch it as it transcribes. Once, I had to use my phone to shoot photos in a meeting, and it didn’t record while my phone’s camera was in use, which caused a minor panic that could have been major in another setting. But if you use a handheld recorder, you can still upload the audio file to Otter’s web app and get the same results.
Otter can also be used with Zoom for real-time transcription of meetings. You can record calls with Call Recorder integration, but I just use speakerphone and record that way.
Rev was founded in 2010 by five MIT classmates and now serves more than 170,000 customers.
I’ve used Rev for transcribing our videos at TechRepublic, and it’s been really effective. We use the live transcription, not the automatic version. I tested the automatic version for this story, and while it’s not as good as live, it’s a usable, affordable alternative if you work for yourself.
Rev also has a call recorder app, but it’s only on iOS. The biggest disappointment is that you can’t edit in the app on the .ai version: You can only download it, and it doesn’t differentiate between the speakers very well.
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Dragon has had transcription software for a while, marketing it on TV to people who want to write but don’t like to type. It even has its own computer microphone you can purchase.
Dragon Anywhere is its smartphone app that you can take with you, well, anywhere, and get dictation transcription on the fly, as long as you have an internet connection.
A very cool thing about Dragon is that it can understand punctuation and hands-free editing. You can tell it where to go in your document and edit with your voice. You can even create a fillable form if you have to take it to clients and get specific information from them.
You can’t, however, have it transcribe recorded audio–this is strictly a dictation platform.
My first impression of TranscribeMe wasn’t that great. I tried repeatedly to upload a video (mp4) by clicking on Select Files To Upload, but it wouldn’t pull it in. Eventually, it worked, when I dragged and dropped the file into the system. It seemed to like my mp3 file a lot more, uploading it very quickly.
A neat thing about TranscribeMe is that it has four different levels of transcription, depending on how much editing you want. Machine Express, which is the automatic version; First Draft, which gets one pass through an editor; Standard, which gets two editors and edits out “um” and “uh,” etc.; and Verbatim, which gets two editors and leaves in all speech errors. Each level has different costs.
One drawback is the standard turnaround is 2-3 business days on all but the automatic level, which would hinder anyone on a tight deadline.
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Cost: Starts at $48 a month, which includes 84 files per year. More expensive plans have unlimited transcription.
Get it: iOS, not available on Android
Trint is an AI-based service founded by Jeff Kofman, a former war correspondent. In 2014, he met software developers working on a text-to-speech tool, and he quit his day job and created Trint with them.
I’ve used Trint as a freelancer, and it works pretty well. I really like its interface, which allows you to edit along with the audio on the screen. The transcription is automatic, meaning if you have a speaker with a strong accent (like many of my interviewees in Kentucky), you’re going to get a lot of funny words inserted by the machine. While that’s sometimes good for a laugh, it doesn’t help you get work done faster.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect Trint’s new pricing plan.