I am often asked what equipment is required for efficient transcription.
The basic requirements are a desktop computer, laptop with or without a separate monitor, or even a tablet, keyboard and monitor. You will also need software to play the audio or video, and something to be able to hear the audio.
When I started transcription, I had no idea where to start or what I needed. I did some research and figured I needed a pedal, some software, and something to be able to hear the audio. I already had the computer, keyboard and monitor. The rest should be easy. Right?
Not knowing what was available and having no one else to guide me, I found an Olympus transcription kit and a local supplier, an IT store. Not knowing any differently at the time, I paid way too much in comparison, but I have found the Olympus software to provide the best sound clarity, and I still use it to this day. The downside has been that the Olympus foot pedal will not work with any other software. The other downside of the Olympus software is that it doesn’t have a timestamp function. So I can be found some days finishing a file using one piece of software and my Infinity pedal, and then checking over it using my Olympus software and pedal. So I certainly do not regret the Olympus purchase, as I can hear unclear words with this software that I can’t hear with the others.
The Olympus kit came with an in-ear, stethoscope style transcription headset. At the time, I thought that is what was required. Little did I know! I soon upgraded to on-ear headphones. Neither the stethoscope-style or on-ear headphones had a noise cancellation function. I didn’t even know noise cancellation existed until I used some Jabra ear buds with noise cancellation for running, and then I knew there was more to life!
I spent a good month or so hunting for headphones that were suitable, and annoyed many an online retailer with questions until I settled on Jabra Evolve. Oh my goodness, what a difference! It also had a microphone so I could seamlessly use it for voice calls and Zoom meetings too if I needed, without changing settings. I used the Jabra Evolve until I learnt about the Nuraphone 280. I can’t say the Nuraphone 280 is the most comfortable headset to wear for many hours each day, but I’ve never heard such sound clarity. Imagine in-ear and over-ear at the same time, with personalised settings for your hearing. I originally had the Nuraphone connected via Bluetooth, but they would deactivate each time I took them off my head and then the transcription software I was using would require restarting. This did send me on a quest to find the perfect transcription software, which I’ll talk about shortly. But I also found that if I wanted to use Zoom without the Nuraphone, I would have to change sound settings.
Now, I use the 3.5 mm jack lead to plug directly into my laptop, and these issues have resolved. I simply disconnect the Nuraphone from my computer to use Zoom, and reconnect when I wish to transcribe again. This means I cannot use the microphone while plugged in using the 3.5 mm jack, but I have no need to, so it’s fine. It is also possible to use a USB connection if desired.
When I began my transcription career, if I’d have known, I would’ve purchased the Infinity pedal. It seems to be compatible with most transcription software and can be customised to suit the user. These can be purchased through Amazon Australia but it does seem the most economical method is to purchase it through NCH Software, the home of Express Scribe. I ordered one day and received it the next. These were in pre-COVID days, so this may not be typical.
I do know of transcriptionists who choose not to use a pedal. Some believe that the use of a pedal can cause back issues as you would have the toes of one foot raised and not the other for several hours of each day. Anyone who has used a transcription pedal could testify that the foot in use is constantly pressing and releasing the pedal. I swap feet several times throughout the day and I have both of my pedals on a raised platform and my heel is always supported. For efficiency, a pedal is highly recommended.
I started with the Olympus software that came with my kit, but this software does not have a timestamp function, nor does it boost audio for files with very low volume. I used Express Scribe for these occasions, but I found the audio clarity not so great and it takes two keystrokes to enter a timestamp instead of only one with FTW Transcriber. The sound clarity through FTW Transcriber is better than Express Scribe, but once again, there is no volume boost, so Express Scribe still had its place. So the go-to for most people is Express Scribe. But I’ve always preferred the ease of use, the timestamp function and the better speed control with FTW, but lose internet connection temporarily and the licence key needs to be re-entered, and automatically saved timestamp formats can return to default. FTW will not work without internet connection and every now and then it tries to tell me I have it installed on two different computers and I need to reset my licence key.
My Olympus software does not like M4As and other files, and will not play videos, so I generally need to convert the file with NCH’s Switch Plus file conversion software. The FTW Transcriber plays videos and most other files except for DS2, which is an FTW Transcriber file, ironically. FTW has a built-in conversion function, but I’ve never used it for no other reason than I’ve never had a reason to.
So in my quest for something that had the speed control, volume boost, no connectivity issues, one-keystroke timestamp function, I came across Start-Stop Omniversal. This software supersedes the sound clarity and quality of any other transcription software I’ve used. There are no connectivity issues, but it did not like my using my Nuraphone 280 via Bluetooth, which is insignificant considering it’s the only issue I’ve had with it. It doesn’t like my Olympus pedal, which I can live with, even though I am in conversation with Support to see if this can be rectified. It has some out-of-this-world volume boost capability, providing some amazingly dangerous volume levels. I know it’s possible to store many timestamp formats, but I can’t find them. The menu items and the available functions of this software are extensive. I haven’t not been able to play a file type and for the seemingly complicated dashboard, I have found it remarkably easy to use.
I’m a typist. I learnt on a manual typewriter. My hands are in constant motion and at times appear as if they are dancing across the keyboard. I have discovered a laptop keypad is not a keyboard and serves a very different purpose and due to the placement of the keyboard, is an ergonomic nightmare. I would never recommend using a laptop keypad for transcribing for lengths of time, even though I can do so very efficiently when required.
But a keyboard is a keyboard, right? Well, that’s what I thought until I discovered mechanical keyboards. After much research again, I splurged on a Razer Chrome Black Widow gaming keyboard. There are many who would share my love for the click-clack of a responsive keyboard. This thing was magic! The colours of the keys could be changed and were excellent for typing at night. But little did I know that this keyboard was designed for some big fingers. The keys were placed apart a lot further than most keyboards. I ended up with a reasonable amount of pain in my fingers to the point I could no longer use it. I discovered a Logitech mechanical keyboard for a lot less, with a similar key responsiveness, but the coloured lights would only flash, so I could never use them. The key placement was finger-friendly and there was a volume dial top right, so this was a beautiful keyboard to use. It is now my spare in case anything happens to my newest purchase: the Kinesis Freestyle Edge split keyboard with the Kinesis Freestyle 2 numeric keypad; amazing piece of kit. No fancy flashing lights and I do miss my volume control dial, but to be able to hold my arms in a more natural position is remarkable. I have worn many of the letters off the keys, but who needs them anyway?
I have learnt through trial and error what suits me best and even with recommendations from this blog and from others you may talk to, and from your own research, you too will make mistakes until you find what is right for you.
Next time: Choosing a desk and chair.