Transcription Services

Can You Get Free Transcription Services?

By Thomas Carter on January, 10 2019
Thomas Carter

The short answer to this question is yes. It is possible to utilise free speech to text software to get a transcript without paying any money for it. The problem is that, depending on the nature of your audio file, your transcript might be complete gibberish. If you want a high-quality transcript that you can count on, you are going to have to pay for it.

What that really means is paying for human transcription services. When you’re exploring options and comparing prices, try to focus on value for money, rather than the total cost. If you are presented with a product that doesn’t fit the bill, this isn’t a cost-effective solution no matter how cheap it is. Either way, here is a quick guide to why you will likely have to pay something for a quality transcription service and a few tips on getting a good deal.    

Why ASR Is Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

It’s understandable that ASR is turning heads and attracting attention. With the ability to produce transcripts quickly and cheaply, it delivers a very enticing offer. Although ASR is very cheap compared to human services, and it can produce fast results, there are drawbacks.

The main issue with speech to text software is the gulf in quality when compared to human transcription services. Even under the best audio conditions, speech to text software can only hit accuracy rates of 80%. Human services (powered by the human brain) come with proofreading standard and 99%+ accuracy guarantees. The truth is that if even a few complicating factors are present, ASR transcripts can become completely unintelligible. ASR struggles with background noise, accents, multiple speakers and fast talkers.

Automatic services also only offer one type of transcript: its best shot at a verbatim account of the recording. This will include all of the stutters, repetitions, ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that accompany normal speech but are very hard to read — if the speech to text software can produce an accurate transcript at all. As we will get to later, human-based services give you options beyond quality control that can be of significant value.

Most Speech to Text Software Isn’t Free

If you’re searching for speech to text software, you may come across adverts or pages that offer free trials or even the chance to use a service for free. But, the reality is that most services charge at least something. This can either take the form of a subscription fee or flat rate per minute of recorded audio. Subscriptions cost around £7 to £12 per month, although are normally limited by a monthly time cap. For most services, even those using a subscription, you can expect to pay around £0.08 to £0.10 per minute, no matter how you end up paying that fee.

When compared to the free options, this fee will generally give you access to more robust outcomes and enhanced security measures such as encrypted storage. But, particularly if security is a concern, make sure to read the fine print.

Human Transcription Services Offer Options Even The Best ASR Software Cannot Come Close To Replicating

ASR produces verbatim text, which is ‘word for word’. When you use ASR, the system will process everything you say, including the noises you make subconsciously while you’re thinking aloud.

In contrast, human services offer a much wider range of options, including verbatim, summaries/notes and intelligent verbatim transcripts. Rather than transcribing exactly what is said, intelligent verbatim offers an edited version which is more readable and eliminates repeated words and unwanted sounds like ‘ahs’ and ‘erms’. Notes and summaries provide an overview of the audio, which can be helpful for compressing large chunks of information.

Human transcription services can also go the other way and deliver exacting detail with verbatim transcripts. This might be the re-inclusion of all ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, or notes on tone, laughter and pauses. Human services also deliver accurate identification of different speakers, and the entire process is done to a level of accuracy on which you can rely.   

How Much Do Human Transcription Services Cost?

The cost of human transcription services varies according to the company and the options you choose. The level of detail required, the turnaround time and the location of transcriptionists will all impact costs.   

It is possible to find services that charge less than £0.75 per minute, but this often involves outsourcing work overseas or signing up for slow turnaround times. Low starting costs are also an indication that there will be hidden fees. These can include rate hikes for multiple speakers, poor audio quality or accents. On average, you can expect to pay £1.50 to £2 per minute for a high-quality UK-based human transcription service. Discounts are sometimes available for turnaround times in excess of 7 days and for bulk orders.



Summary: Is It Worth Trying ASR?

Freebies are always attractive, but is it really worth giving free transcription services a try? Many people are keen to trial these services to see what they can get without paying a fee. In reality, free services might do the job if you’re in a hurry, have a tight budget, and you don’t require a transcript that reads brilliantly or is completely accurate. But, in many cases, ASR transcripts don’t cut the mustard.

Trialling different software will give you an idea of the level of quality you can expect, along with the conditions that are necessary to achieve good results. If you’re using ASR, for example, it’s crucial that you’re in a quiet place, and that you speak as clearly as possible at a slow pace. Human services may be more expensive, but for the moment, they are far superior in terms of quality, accuracy, and versatility, and represent a much better investment.

Just remember that even under the best circumstances, most speech to text services will only deliver 80% accuracy rates. This might be readable, and if it is solely for your own notes, that might be fine. But, if you are expected to deliver a ‘clean’ transcript and have a lot of text, it will take a long time to polish that 20%. Ultimately, even when you can access free transcription services, you will often have to pay for it with your own time. What that is worth is only a question that you can answer yourself.    


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