Review: Dragon Dictate 3 sharpens speech recognition, learns transcription

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At a Glance
  • Nuance Dragon Dictate for Mac 3

Just over a year ago, I reviewed Dragon Dictate 2.5, which was an incremental upgrade to version 2.0 of the program. Nuance has now released Dragon Dictate 3, building on the foundation developed over the past few years since the company acquired MacSpeech, the original developer of Dictate (MacSpeech’s Dictate used the Dragon speech-recognition engine).

Dragon Dictate 3 includes both improvements and new features. One of the small-yet-valuable additions to the program is the presence of a simple, interactive tutorial that plays when using Dragon Dictate for the first time, or whenever a new profile is created. (Profiles are created when you begin voice training the program with a specific microphone. The profile also contains information about your vocal style, which helps the Dragon Dictate improve recognition over time.)

The tutorial helps familiarize new users with the basics of dictation: how to speak punctuation, how to correct mistakes, and how to edit text. While I certainly recommend reading the manual, the tutorial can have you up and running with Dragon Dictate 3 in just a few minutes. I also recommend downloading the Dragon Dictate Command Cheat Sheet for Mac, which lists the most commonly used commands.

Dragon Dictate 3 puts dictation into a Notepad document (upper left), and has a new Smart Format Rules feature (lower left). In this example, the dictation window shows a commonly-made error by the software: the correction offered for “12” is only “Twelve” and not “twelve.”

Nuance refined Dragon Dictate 3’s recognition engine, and in my tests, out-of-the-box accuracy was noticeably better than in the previous version. (My tests were performed after performing the obligatory 5-minute voice training session after creating a profile.) Correction is a bit smoother as well, and one notable addition is what Nuance calls Smart Format Rules. When you say certain types of text (numbers, abbreviations, salutations, etc.), the Smart Format Rules palette appears, asking if, for example, you wish to always use numerals or always spell out numbers. You can adjust a number of auto formatting settings in the Tools -> Auto Formatting window, but the Smart Format Rules palette can save a lot of time, since it appears the first time you say certain types of texts.


Transcription is another marquee feature in Dragon Dictate 3. You can dictate into a digital voice recorder, or you can use Nuance’s free Dragon Recorder app on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Android smartphone. When you move these audio files to your Mac, Dragon Dictate 3 can transcribe them.

The first time you use transcription, Dragon Dictate 3 takes a few minutes to analyze your recording to recognize how you speak. Dragon Dictate then interprets the text and places it in a new Notepad document. Subsequently, when you transcribe text, there will be no initial training and calibration.

The transcription feature has a few caveats. When using transcription, you cannot make corrections as you go, so a bit of post-editing is required on the texts. However, while on the road, this is an excellent way to take notes and transcribe them when you get back to your desk. You need to use the standard Dragon Dictate commands for punctuation and new paragraphs; otherwise you will have run-on sentences.

Storage considerations

If you’re performing dictation with an iOS device, make sure you have enough free storage space—Dragon Recorder saves audio files in .wav format, and these files take up about 2.7 MB per minute. If you wish to use a digital recorder, Dragon Dictate 3 can recognize a number of audio file formats: .mov, .wav, .aiff, .m4v, and .m4a. However, it does not support .mp3 files, and many digital recorders offer only .wav and .mp3—you’ll need to use the uncompressed .wav format that takes up the most space. Some recorders support only .wma and .mp3, which means you can’t use bring the audio file directly into Dragon Dictate 3. Most people won’t hit the limit of space on a digital recorder, but if you do dictate a lot, you need to keep this in mind and perhaps get a recorder with more space. (The standard 2GB digital recorder still holds about 3 hours of recording in .wav format.)

It’s not a big change, but the way Dragon Dictate 3 installs is different from the previous versions. Before, the program installed about 2GB of support files in the user’s Application Support folder. Now, these files are installed at the system level, so if you have multiple users working with Dragon Dictate on the same Mac, the support files won’t be duplicated, saving disk space. While this isn’t really a problem with Macs using large capacity hard drives, it helps with Macs equipped with solid-state drives that don’t offer as much storage space.

Note that if you’re running OS X 10.8, the previous version of Dragon Dictate (2.5) doesn’t work very well, so if you dictate regularly, you’ll need to update it.

Bottom line

Dragon Dictate isn’t perfect, and may never be. There are still glitches when editing and correcting, notably with edited texts having capitalized words where none are intended. When correcting words or phrases, sometimes the program selects a different one from the one you want to correct. (For example, you want to correct a word in the last sentence you dictated, but the program selects one three paragraphs higher.) Version 3 of Dragon Dictate does offers improved recognition out of the box, which allows new users to start appreciating the program’s power right away. And transcription is a feature many users have wanted since Dragon Dictate’s first Mac version.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Improved voice recognition
    • Useful interactive tutorial for new users
    • Transcription from recorded audio files


    • Transcription doesn't support MP3
    • Some editing and correction quirks
    • Expensive upgrade, required for Mountain Lion users of previous version
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