Review: MacSpeech Dictate

by Bakari Chavanu Jan 23, 2009

If the writing in this article seems a little stilted, it is because I'm trying to write it using a program called MacSpeech Dictate. At last week's MacWorld Expo I made an impulse buy of this software. After watching a couple of presentations about the program and asking questions of one of the sale's representatives, I didn't have high expectations for MacSpeech Dictate. But because I'm a rather slow typist (I type about 30-40 words per minute), and because I like the potential of the program, I decided to purchase it at the Expo price of $149, and give it try.  

Does the program live up to what the company says it can do? Well, yes and no. It does have "amazing accuracy" and "robust phrase training capabilities". It is very easy to install, and very little training is required. When you first work with the program, you are amazed by how fast it can type out the words you dictate into it; just as I'm doing now. However, the most difficult part about using voice dictation is learning how to dictate your thoughts so that the program can capture them properly. It's quite easy to read existing written and well edited text, and have MacSpeech effectively type the text you read. When presenters at the Expo demonstrated the application they could hardly get past dictating a couple of their own original sentences before they started reading pre-written and published text in a newspaper or other document. If all MacSpeech did was transcribe text that you read into it, then it would work at say 99% accuracy, depending of course on how well you read aloud and dictated the written text. 

But as we all know, we don't talk like we write. Our speech is more nuanced, and sometimes we talk in sort of a stream of conscious. We even make slurs in our oral communication. So if you want to dictate your thoughts in a program like MacSpeech, you have to think about what you're going to say before you say it. When it works well, you are amazed. MacSpeech spins out your words super fast, like something out of a Star Trek movie. But of course, the program doesn't do well if there are slurs in your speech or if what you say doesn't make much sense. Sometimes the problem is with how well you articulate certain words and phrases. Other times, it types what it thinks you're trying to say, and in the context you're saying it. 

As you can see so far, I've written quite a lot using MacSpeech. I'll save a copy of the dictated and un-edited version so that you can compare it to the final draft of this article. 

Do I recommend this program after using it for a week or so? Well, it's hard to say. I think it's great for people who have disabilities and are not able to type with their hands. But for the rest of us, it takes a lot of practice to get used to the program. So far, this is the first extended article that I have tried to write using the MacSpeech. I've typically practiced this type of voice dictation in blog posts and in forum comments. With practice I've gotten better, but I'm not sure if this is a great productivity boost in my writing.  

I'm also concerned about how oral dictation affects the style of my writing. It seems to me that when you dictate your thoughts, the sentences are a little more stilted and less complex. Plus, the process of normal writing often times helps you generate thoughts as you write. However, voice dictation using MacSpeech does reduce typos and spelling mistakes -- almost 99% of the time. But as with all writing, you still need to go back and edit what you dictate. There's not getting around that. 

The latest updates of MacSpeech include some of the strongly requested editing features found in the PC version of this program, Dragon Naturally Speaking 10. But editing in MacSpeech can be tedious. When I try to select words in sentences to delete or change them, this is when the bugs start popping up, and eventually I just stop and edit by hand. In fact, in one forum post, I lost three long paragraphs of writing because I said the wrong thing in trying to edit some of the text using MacSpeech. Unfortunately, you can't easily both edited using the keyboard and edit using MacSpeech at the same time. MacSpeech gets thrown off when you try editing by hand. So it's best to put the program to sleep and do your editing, rather than trying to do both at the same time. 

Computer Commands 

MacSpeech also includes voice recognition commands that are similar to the voice recognition features in MacOS X. You can navigate nearly all parts of your computer using this program. It is also quite easy to make custom commands for websites, texts, files, folders and AppleScript and Automator actions. I would say if you're keen on using voice recognition commands that MacSpeech is better than voice-recognition features of MacOS X. You can create custom commands using the drag and drop process, or simply tell the program to create a command based on the selection.

MacSpeech only works on Intel-based Macs running Leopard or Tiger. In your initial installment and set up of the program it takes about 10 minutes to set up a personal voice recognition profile, and from there you can start using the program. Unfortunately, you cannot download a demonstration copy of the program. MacSpeech is sold in a box with a "MacSpeech -- certified noise -- counseling microphone" that the company says works best with the program. 

I'm not unhappy that I purchased the program, because I think MacSpeech Dictate has potential. The company got Best of Show at the 2008 Macworld Expo, and many reviewers were happy to see that a voice recognition program like this had finally been created for Mac users. Prior to MacSpeech, the company had put out a similar program called iListen, but apparently it had serious problems. MacSpeech, however, was produced using the Dragon speech recognition engine by Nuance, which critics say has made MacSpeech much better. 

Since its release last year, the program has received mixed reviews, and I can understand why. But if you're curious speech dictation software and learning to get comfortable with it, I say MacSpeech is worth a try. But don't expect it to be an application you'll use all the time.


  • Thanks, Bakari, nice review. Really appreciate the honesty about real world usage. Too many revieers would have just kept to the pros and cons of the app itself, rather than its usage.

    I wonder whether, because of computers and easy editing, we have changed the way we put our thoughts down on paper. In the “olden” days, as we didn’t want to have to type or rewrite something, I’m sure we forced our minds to clearer thought before committing them to paper. Nowadays we just get it down and edit later. When I was in my teens (ok, late ‘70s), I used to write whole essays from go-to-whoa in one go, no edits. Couldn’t do that in a fit now.

    Maybe dictation apps will force us to rediscover this lost art.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jan 24, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Hey, Chris, I remember those analog days with electronic typewriters and pen and paper (late ‘70s also). I never hand in a paper without typos and grammatical mistakes, so I really don’t want to revisit those days. MacSpeech does take getting used to, and I think if you use it often, it could mean a productivity boost in your writing. But the key word is using it often and developing a workflow with it. That’s not easy for a lot of people.

    Bakari had this to say on Jan 25, 2009 Posts: 37
  • I spent several years as a software engineer developing speech recognition software and noise cancelling technology for extremely noisy environments (think Wall Street trading floors). In order to get consistent and reliable speech recognition performance, a good headset is a must. And if you use speech recognition while traveling (airplane/mass transit), it is essential to have a good noise canceling headset. theBoom noise canceling headset from UmeVoice ( allows you to get clear audio into your Mac/PC/cell phone even in very noisy environments. I take my 12” powerbook wherever I go, and the (built-in) speech recognition works great with my Boom. One drawback with theBoom is having to buy an additional USB adapter (from a 3rd party like Griffin) in addition to a “PC” adapter from the manufacturer. However, they say they are working on their own USB adapter.

    mindgrep had this to say on Jan 25, 2009 Posts: 1
  • Thanks for your input jere, mindgrep, very appreciated.

    I’ve always wondered about the noisy office scenario. I once drew a cartoon on that very theme where the computers were getting confused about what to hear because they could hear several conversations.  smile

    Which raises the question, how far are we from Star Trek where you’ll be able to talk to a computer, no headset required, and it will be able to differentiate what you’re saying from what someone else is saying?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jan 25, 2009 Posts: 1209
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    Jack had this to say on Nov 03, 2011 Posts: 36
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