Nuance has released an updated version of its speech recognition software for Mac, Dragon Dictate. The updated version includes much improved accuracy and speed, plus a new transcription tool that can automatically transcribe any stored audio file.

Transcribe almost any audio file

The transcription tool is perhaps the most interesting addition. It lets you automatically transcribe any audio file from an interview, lecture or other spoken word event recorded with a smart phone or other handheld recorder. Nuance says the transcription tool is aimed at professionals who need to capture notes or information in the field and then turn it into text later, including insurance professionals, law enforcement, doctors, lawyers and any other users that need to have their thoughts transcribed for later use.

Dragon Dictate’s transcription feature includes support for a number of audio formats including .mp3 and .wav. The feature also allows users to setup multiple transcription sources, helping Dragon Dictate to more accurately transcribe audio from different speakers and listening environments.

We tested the transcription feature with several different audio files (both two-person interviews and single-person presentations), it definitely worked best with high-quality, single-speaker recordings. It really seems to be designed for personal memos and dictation.

Better integration with Pages and Gmail

The software also includes new support for controlling Apple’s Pages application, allowing users to type, edit, and format text solely using their voice. Users can also control from within the Safari and Firefox browsers. Rules can be customized to adjust how abbreviations, numbers, and other special words appear when spoken and special vocabulary can be added to Dragon’s dictionary to allow even complicated words from the medical or legal professions to be used in the app. Nuance does offer a special (more expensive) medical version of Dictate as well.

Dragon Dictate is now a pure 64-bit application, allowing for higher performance and memory management as compared to previous versions – an important feature for software that’s going to run in the background constantly.

Taking Dictate for a test drive

I used Dragon Dictate for the first time to write this article, and other than remembering to speak all my punctuation, I found the software to be extremely accurate and easy to use. I can even save documents, change applications, and change formatting within the article, all by using my voice. By combining voice control with my new standing desk, I can walk around the room and gather my thoughts all while speaking aloud and having my words transcribed for me immediately. There is hardly any noticeable lag in transcription, a vast improvement over speech recognition programs from a decade ago.

While some in busy office environments may find speech recognition software unworkable, those with their own office or with a Bluetooth headset may find their workflow changed considerably. It does take some getting used to, but the software is extremely powerful and it lets you type as fast as you can talk.

Above and beyond Mountain Lion’s built-in dictation

Apple began including Nuance’s dictation software in OS X with Mountain Lion, but it is really only meant to transcribe text – it does not offer nearly the customization nor correction and control options that Dictate does. instead, it is more similar to the voice recognition software built into iOS. Users press a button to turn it on, speak text, and see it transcribed. All corrections and other annotations must be done manually. With Dragon Dictate, users can make corrections on-the-fly using only their voice.

An article from MacWorld examined the differences between OS X’s dictation feature and Dragon Dictate, finding that OS X’s dictation feature was useful for occasional dictation, but for power users, Dragon Dictate is the way to go. However, OS X’s dictation can make for a good trial run for users on the fence about dictation software. Dragon Dictate is the only professional speech recognition program for the Mac, but it’s accuracy, speed, and ease-of-use – albeit with a steep learning curve – means it should do the job for anyone looking for speech recognition software.

System requirements and pricing

Nuance recommends that users have a more recent Mac, preferably one with an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 3 GB of free hard disk space. Dragon Dictate also requires OS X Mountain Lion or Mavericks. I used the built-in microphone on my MacBook air to some success, but a noise canceling headset is recommended.

Version 4 of Dragon Dictate for Mac is available today for $200 as a digital download through Nuance’s website, with boxed options shipping on March 18th including a $200 option that includes a wired headset, or $300 versions that include either a Bluetooth headset or digital voice recorder.