Transcription Software Reviews

Whether you’re just starting out in transcription or a seasoned professional checking to see if you’re using the best tools available, you’ve likely discovered that there are many software options for handling your recording. Here’s our shortlist of the best transcription software on the market, all tried and tested by the UK Transcription Solutions Ltd team.

All prices and features in this review are accurate as of April 2017, but may be subject to change.

 

oTranscribe (free)

First up is oTranscribe, a free online service perfect for those who want to try their hand at transcription or try out transcription software without needing to download, install or sign up to anything. It has a clean, uncluttered interface, and can work with files on your computer without sending them off to a server, so confidentiality is not a problem. oTranscribe can also handle YouTube videos without needing to find a way to download them – just copy in the URL, and you’ll be ready to go.

Despite being a humble web app, oTranscribe boasts many of the features of fully-fledged transcription software – there’s a video display, a slider to change the speed your recording plays at without altering the pitch, and you can quickly add timestamps with ctrl+J which, when clicked, will take you to that point in the recording immediately. (It’s worth noting that this shortcut can’t be changed). Still, the text editor it provides is flexible, with the option to use bold and italic script as you see fit.

Beyond this, however, it does start to lose out against traditional word processors. Here at UKTS, we usually format our scripts like so:

I:                             How are you finding working with oTranscribe?

R:                            It’s brilliant so far.

Unfortunately, oTranscribe doesn’t interpret the tab key as ‘please insert a gap’, leaving us with:

I: How are you finding working with oTranscribe?

R: It’s brilliant so far.

This doesn’t need to be a deal breaker – at least, it’s nothing Microsoft Word can’t fix with a find-and-replace afterwards – but it does add that extra step depending on how you like your transcripts to look. In addition, oTranscribe’s timestamps are fixed in the [00:00] format, going up to [0:00:00] if your file is over an hour long, and so on. Again, this may be something you’d need to adjust manually later.

As oTranscribe is browser-based and can’t override your computer’s ESC, F1 and F2 keys completely, it sadly can’t be used with other word processors. However, if its word processor is to your liking, oTranscribe has several more features as an on-the-go solution – you can export your transcript as plain text, save to your Google Drive, or in .otr, their own format. In addition, oTranscribe can be used offline, minus its YouTube and Google Drive integration.

The major drawback of oTranscribe for professional transcribers, though, is that it has no pedal integration. This is no oversight – the developer has looked into it and it seems that internet browsers can’t take control of your hardware that way. It’s possible that there could be workarounds for this – if you installed Altoedge’s free Pedalware and configured your three pedal buttons as ESC (play), F1 (rewind) and F2 (fast forward), you may be able to approximate pedal integration.

In conclusion:

                +Free

                +Quick, easy and simple to use

                +YouTube integration

                -Limited formatting

                -No pedal integration

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Transcribe (7-day free pro trial, $20 one-year pro licence)

Transcribe by Wreally is a paid in-browser transcription program which boasts many similar features to oTranscribe – adjustable audio and video playback, YouTube integration, and timestamp insertion with a shortcut, to name a few. Other standard transcription features not available in oTranscribe are present, too – you can set it up to automatically rewind your audio by a second or two every time you pause, as well as choosing a different starting point for the timestamp than 00:00:00.

The biggest advantage Transcribe offers over oTranscribe right now, though, is pedal integration. This does require installing the Transcribe browser extension, but it only takes a few clicks to get your pedal working seamlessly with Transcribe. At the time of this review, they support Infinity and two Olympus pedals, and suggest getting in touch if you require other pedal support.

With pedal integration, rewind and fast-forward are automatically assigned to the left and right buttons respectively – this is an intuitive setup that many transcriptionists prefer, as opposed to the default options in software like Express Scribe and The FTW Transcriber where these functions are reversed. However, unlike in other transcription software, this is unchangeable. Similarly, there is no option to change other hotkeys – for example, moving the timestamp hotkey away from F6 if you’re used to it being somewhere else on the keyboard.

If you’re after browser software because you don’t use a pedal or aren’t in a position to download and install anything at all, Transcribe has one more trick up its sleeve. The auto loop feature plays your audio for a few seconds, waits a while, skips back a little, plays a few more seconds… In effect, it will do the pedalwork for you. The auto loop was well-timed for me personally, although it is nonadjustable, so your mileage may vary depending on your typing speed and how complex your audio is.

What really makes Transcribe’s word processor stand out, though, is its ‘Templates’ – you have 25 blank spaces to put in useful shortcuts to make your work easier (for example, ‘js’ as a shortcut for ‘John Smith’, or ‘i:‘ for ‘Interviewer:’). These could be a huge time saver. Unfortunately, their flexibility doesn’t apply to the timestamp function. You can’t change the length or format of the timestamp from [00:00:00], or nest it within your Templates, which keeps it a step behind software like F4Transkript and The FTW Transcriber.

Unlike oTranscribe, Transcribe’s word processor does accept the tab key – but only as an ‘outdent’ shortcut. This, again, limits your formatting options. You can do:

I: How are you finding working with Wreally’s Transcribe?

R: It’s brilliant so far.

But not:

I:             How are you finding working with Wreally’s Transcribe?

R:            It’s brilliant so far.

In terms of using Transcribe with other software, your options are wide – you can export your work as a .doc ready to be tidied up and sent to a client, and even use Transcribe offline. This is less straightforward than in oTranscribe, though, as you’ll need to have logged in the last time you had an internet connection in order to verify and use your paid subscription.

In addition, Transcribe’s pedal control works when the window is minimised, opening up the possibility of working in a different word processor if you’d prefer. The only drawback is that you lose out on timestamping, as the timestamp shortcut will not work outside of Transcribe’s word processor.

In conclusion:

                +25 completely customisable templates to speed up typing

                +Well-designed, easy to use software

                +Easy pedal integration

                -Timestamps are not customisable

                -Keyboard shortcuts are not customisable

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F4TRANSKRIPT (feature-restricted free version, €25 student licence, €90 standard licence)

Next up is F4transkript, an all-in-one transcription software. (This review focuses on the Windows version, F4, but there is also F5 for Mac). Like its browser-based counterparts, it does everything – audio, video and typing all in one window. However, what sets F4Transkript apart from the crowd is its many extra features. The notes panel fixed in the top right hand corner is very convenient if you need to remember terminology specific to this document, or remind yourself how each speaker sounds when handling a large group piece. Below that panel is another with a huge, completely custom list of hotkeys to insert frequently-used terms into your transcript.

F4Transkript also boasts one fantastic unique feature – automatic speaker labelling, a perfect timesaver for two-speaker discussions and interviews. However, with multiple speakers who don’t always speak in turn, it may be better to switch it off and return to manual labelling.

Its other great automatic function is timestamping. The timestamps are completely customisable, and F4Transkript can add them to the start and/or end of each speaker’s turn, if you choose. You can also insert them yourself by pressing F8. In addition, it’s easy to add an offset to the timestamp if you need to match times in a video, for example.

F4’s word processor is fairly robust. It can handle bold, italic and underlined text, and the tab key does insert a tab space as you’d expect of Microsoft Word or similar. This gives it a strong advantage in formatting, but – at the time of writing this review – putting a tab space at the end of the automatic speaker labels stops them from functioning correctly once you continue working. The good news is that changing a speaker label in the menu does change every instance of it in the document, meaning that you do have the option of simply adding a tab space in at the end.

If F4Transkript’s built-in editor isn’t to your liking, the good news is that the pedal controls will still function even if the program is minimised, making it a viable player if you would rather stick to your word processor of choice. The only drawback is that you’ll be left without that timestamp hotkey, along with the rest of F4Transkript’s keyboard shortcuts.

In conclusion:

                +Slick UI packed with useful features

                +Everything you need in the same window, from video to notes to transcript

                +Pedal integration that works even when the window is minimised

                -Entering certain characters can cause features to break

                -No timestamping if you’re using a different word processor

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EXPRESS SCRIBE (feature-restricted free version, free time-limited pro trial, $34.99 pro licence)

Express Scribe is possibly the best-known transcription software on the market. Express Scribe’s strength lies in how well it works with other word processors. Available for PC, Mac and Linux, Express Scribe can be condensed into a mini player which hovers over the top of other windows, including a thumbnail video player where necessary.

Express Scribe also has the unique bonus that, in full view, every file you’ve added to the program is listed in the window and you can switch between them instantly. If you need to cross-reference files, or perhaps if you’re a proofreader working with a large batch at the same time, this could save you some hassle.

A good feature Express Scribe has over F4Transkript, ideal for long transcripts or cross-referencing, is bookmarking – hit ctrl+B to add a marker at your current place in the audio that you can return to at any time, with the option of being prompted for a short description so you can remember why you’ve saved it. Express Scribe also has a notes window, but not an all-in-one screen such as F4Transkript’s.

In addition, Express Scribe boasts an autoplay feature just like the one in Transcribe. Personally, it wasn’t timed quite right for me, but your mileage may vary. Just like Transcribe’s autoplay, the timing of the play, pause and skip-back cannot be adjusted.

Express Scribe can insert timestamps automatically into any software by copying the current time to your clipboard, which you can then freely paste as necessary. This is not an exclusive feature, but what’s worth noting is that you CAN fully customise your timestamps in Express Scribe, as well as add a time offset if you need to – multiple comparison reviews currently available online will claim that this is not the case.

This leads into what is possibly Express Scribe’s greatest weakness: its more advanced features, while useful, are not easy to find. This may leave users unable to get the most out of it compared to easy-to-navigate software like F4Transkript.

Finally, it is also worth noting that Express Scribe’s pro verification works completely offline, which may be a deal breaker for some users when compared with software like Transcribe, which requires you to at least have an internet connection when you log in in order to use their pro features.

In conclusion:

                +Compact player works with all word processors

                +Flexible timestamping

                +Bookmarking

                +Paid features work offline

                -Less clear and straightforward UI

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THE FTW TRANSCRIBER (feature-restricted free version, $24 for two-year pro licence)

Finally we come to the FTW Transcriber, another audio and video player designed to work with any word processor. FTW works much like Express Scribe, but with a few additional features. Timestamping is a little more slick than in Express Scribe, taking a single key press instead of being one to copy and then ctrl+V to paste.

Not only can you use that to insert a custom timestamp anywhere – and that’s completely custom, even making it bold or italic – you are also provided with up to five other system-wide hotkeys that can be used for whatever you like. Like in F4Tranksript, you can nest the timestamp within those hotkeys, so you could have both a general timestamp and a full “[inaudible 00:00:00]” or similar ready to go into your transcript at the touch of a button.

Another timestamping feature that sets the FTW transcriber apart from the crowd is its ability to insert timestamps automatically, without you having to do anything. Need your transcript timestamping every 30 seconds, or every minute? What about the start of each new paragraph? The FTW Transcriber can do all of this and even leave you on a new line below the timestamp, ready to continue typing.

The FTW Transcriber is also run by a highly responsive team, and even offers bespoke versions branded for individual transcription companies, making it particularly ideal for larger teams who would prefer a personal touch in their software.

Like Express Scribe, the FTW transcriber also has bookmarking, complete once again with a keyboard shortcut and optional labelling of bookmarks. One feature that makes the FTW transcriber unique, though, is its RX/PX feature. PX will play your audio for a number of seconds you specify, and similarly, RX will rewind. These are separate numbers, so they don’t need to be the same amount.

While not exactly the same thing, this could be used fairly successfully to imitate Transcribe and Express Scribe’s autoplay feature. Yes, hitting a button every 10 seconds or so isn’t quite a hands-free solution, but it is a customisable interval, which could make it a lot more useful if your talking and typing speeds don’t line up with fixed autoplay.

One minor drawback of The FTW transcriber is that by default, your paid licence is verified when you start the program by connecting to the internet. This could potentially leave users with only the free features, including a restriction that only plays files up to the 15-minute mark. However, full offline functionality is available if users get in touch with the support team.

In conclusion:

                +Five extra completely customisable system-wide hotkeys

                +Automatic and flexible timestamping

                +Bookmarking

                +Customisable autoplay intervals

                +Responsive support team

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Overall, the UKTS team’s current favourite software to use for transcription is the FTW transcriber, available here. While it does have a time-limited licence instead of a one-time payment, it is not the most expensive software on the market, and even states that the licence payment is not automatically recurring, so you won’t be hit with any unexpected charges further down the line.

For those who do prefer a one-time payment, Express Scribe is a close second favourite, with almost all the functionality of the FTW transcriber (although the FTW transcriber’s exclusive automatic timestamping and custom hotkeys alone make a convincing argument). That said, any of these programs are viable solutions, depending on your transcription needs.

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Happy transcribing!