Transcription Services

Speech to Text Software vs. Human Transcription Services

By Thomas Carter on January, 29 2019
Thomas Carter

The Differences Between Human Transcription Services & Software Solutions

Although transcription services get spoken of as a ‘single’ thing, there are some really fundamental differences within the category that go well beyond comparing different transcription companies. The massive divide is between automatic speech recognition (ASR) software and human transcription services.

For both experienced and first time users of transcription services, it is critical to understand the differences between these two solutions to make sense of the price variations in the market and get an outcome that fits your transcription needs.

Speech to Text Software vs. Human Transcription Services: High-Quality Outcomes Compared

We rely so heavily on technology in our day to day lives that it can seem like a no-brainer to go for the high-tech solution. Technology tends to deliver greater quality control guarantees at lower costs. This is at least true of industries and tasks where automation has taken over.

But, there is a reason that human transcription services still exist. Although automated services do deliver a competitive advantage when it comes to cost (something to which we will return), the same cannot be said of quality control — or quality at all.  

If you want the highest quality, then turning to automatic speech recognition (ASR) software probably isn't going to be the best choice. ASR has come a long way in recent years, driven by investments from tech giants in digital personal assistants. But, anyone with experience using Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant knows that sometimes there are miss communications. Now, imagine all of those errors propagated across an hour-long interview. Meaning and details are bound to get lost.

Although speech to text software is capable of delivering usable results, you will rarely see accuracy rates above 80%. If a recording is of poor quality, has background noise, multiple speakers or complex/colloquial language, accuracy rates can nose-dive into the single digits.

Compare that to the near universal 99% accuracy guarantees made by human-based, quality transcription services. Eventually, poor audio quality can make it impossible for human transcriptionists to produce an accurate transcript. But, the threshold for complexity is significantly higher. Human services are slower and more expensive, but you get quality control guarantees. You also get options:   

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Speech to Text Software vs. Human Transcription Services: Getting the Right Kind of Transcript

Human transcription services deliver options around different types of transcripts, along with things like proofreading/quality control. There is so much more to human transcription services than just sending in an audio file. With human-based transcription services, you will get options that increase their value because you can tailor the outcome to exactly fit your transcription needs. Like with the lack of quality control mechanisms, speech to text software can only really deliver what it delivers — a best attempt at a verbatim transcript.

You might be thinking — “aren’t all transcripts verbatim?” Simply put, no. Verbatim transcripts have their place, but are often overkill when it comes to why a transcript was needed in the first place.

If you think about how we speak, it is quite different from how we write. Sentences don’t always go in straight lines, people make ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ when grasping for the next word, and sometimes repeat themselves or stutter while trying to get their point across. Our brains are pretty good at filtering this while in conversation. “But, um … when reading, you know, when you read this type, this type of speaking style it can, it generally becomes... I, um, well, I personally find it difficult and even perhaps distracting to do so — to read. You know?”

This is why the industry standard for human transcription services is called ‘intelligent verbatim’. Here, the transcriptionist uses their own judgment, sticking as close as possible to the words used while making slight adjustments to produce a more readable transcript. This is both easier to produce and easier to read.

If you need every exact detail, human transcription services can do that too. They even offer verbatim transcription services that include notes on tone, laughter, pauses and more. The truth is that if you need a strict verbatim copy of a recording, speech to text software services won’t serve you well because of their accuracy issues. The best case scenario is that you receive a transcript with too much detail for most purposes and not enough to fit the exacting demands of a verbatim transcript.

Lastly, human transcription service provide summary transcription options. These tone the detail all of the way down and paraphrase the main points in a recording. If detail isn’t important, this allows for the consumption of far greater amounts of information much faster. Summary transcriptions can even be used to figure out which recording you should listen to yourself. Overall, human transcription services offer you options, and if you have a really specific request, most transcription companies will be willing to offer a tailored service to make sure you get exactly what you need. The cost is cost.  

Speech to Text Software Rates vs. Human Transcription Service Rates: Where Automatic Services Shine

The one area where speech to text software has human transcription services beat is transcription rates. The competition isn’t even close. Human transcription service rates vary pretty substantially based on the type of transcript you want. Summary transcripts cost less than verbatim, and intelligent verbatim sits in the middle. Things like slow turnaround times can get you a price break. But, you are likely to end up paying somewhere between £1.50 and £2 per minute — maybe more.

Speech to text software, on the other hand, rarely costs more than £0.10 per minute, and some automatic services are even free. The speech to text software services that you have to pay for are better, and come with security features like SSL encrypted storage. But, all of the quality control issues and limited options apply in near equal proportion to all speech to text software services, particularly when compared to the high-quality outcomes that human transcription services deliver.  

The thing is, you need to consider whether you want a cheap service or a good one. Speech to text software is going to be cheaper wherever you look — but less expensive isn't always a good deal. If your transcript isn’t fit for purpose, it doesn’t matter how cheap it was. You also need to calculate the value of your own time that you will need to invest editing the ASR transcript you get.  

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Summary: Cost vs. Quality and Options

Human transcription services provide quality control, the ability to accurately handle a wide variety of audio qualities, accents and speakers. You are allowed to choose what level of detail is needed from your transcript and receive a transcript that you can count on meeting the agreed upon standards. If you need an accurate transcription, you need human transcription services.  

Speech to text software provides none of these services or qualities. But, it gives you access to an audio transcription service that, at worst, is ten times cheaper. Some software-led services are entirely free. But, just like the fact that the two transcription processes are in different leagues when it comes to price, they ultimately deliver entirely different outcomes.

You will have the best luck using ASR if you can produce a recording with exactingly high audio quality standards. But, ASR should be looked at more as a way to get a rough outline of an audio recording, not as a means of producing an accurate or easy to read transcript. The technology is improving, and one day speech to text software might open the door to much cheaper transcription services. But, as of today, you need to look at human transcription companies if you want a transcript you can count on. What turns out the be the best transcription for you depends on what you need.       


You have been reading about the differences between speech to text software and human transcription services. If you want to learn more about how to pick the right transcription service for your particular transcription needs, we have written an Ultimate Guide to Transcription Services just for you!

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