How Long it Really Takes to Transcribe (Accurate) Audio

By: Danielle Chazen

how long does it take to transcribe an hour of audio


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We’ve all been there. You strategize an impressive game plan, complete with a detailed schedule, and then life happens. A coworker gets sick and you need to do extra work, a client or student needs some more of your time, your transcriber tells you that it’s not possible to get your backlog of video and audio files transcribed as quickly as you thought. Sometimes it’s OK. Sometimes your organization or department has time for surprises. It has time to wait. 

But on other occasions, there is an e-course platform launch coming up, or a growing number of students are griping about not getting their transcripts or closed captions in time for finals that are just around the corner. At times, this can be critical, and an organization could end up with hefty fines or even lawsuits due to non-compliance. To avoid these scenarios, it’s important to figure out how to get results fast. Specifically, it’s important to understand realistic transcription turnaround time, what options in the market tend to deliver faster average transcription time, and how to this happen without compromising on transcription quality. Today, we’re answering these questions to help make life easier for education organizations

How Long Does it Take to Transcribe Audio with the Available Options in the Market?

How long transcription takes is dependent on a wide range of variables, and each university or education platform needs to choose the best fit for its organization’s specific needs. To make the choice easier, the following is an overview of common options in the market.

How Long Does it Take for Individual Transcribers to Transcribe Audio?

When it comes to individual transcribers, the average time to transcribe one hour of audio is approximately four hours. But, some transcribers quote four hours as the minimum since it can easily reach 10 hours. Transcription time by audio hour varies so much mostly because each audio file is different. If the audio quality is great, there is only one speaker, the speaker’s accent is familiar to the transcriber, and there are no new professional terms or obscure book titles to research, it can go smoothly and quickly.

However, it becomes more challenging to gauge how long transcription takes if the audio quality is low or if there are background noises. Similarly, if there are multiple speakers and some of them don’t speak clearly, if they have similar voices that make it more challenging to understand who’s speaking, or if they have heavy accents, these factors, too, can make things more complex. Even if the audio is great but the topic is highly technical in nature, the transcriber will need to do some research, and it could take longer to complete the transcription.

Whether the transcription itself takes four or 10 hours, turnaround time, meaning when organizations actually receive the transcription, depends on additional factors. Freelance transcribers need to review and proofread their own work. Sometimes it means listening to the audio again, making corrections and editing. Since it is their own work, and they know the organization’s team, they are often very invested in getting the organization the highest quality transcription possible. But all of this takes time. Therefore, it is possible that the transcription itself will take four hours, but the turnaround time will take 48 hours. Of course, an individual transcriber may already be booked for days or weeks ahead of time, extending the turnaround time even further. If they’re solo business owners, they likely juggle many responsibilities in their professional and personal lives and aren’t always able to be instantly available for an urgent transcription project.

How Long Does it Take for Transcription Companies to Transcribe Audio?

Transcription time per audio hour isn’t necessarily different between individual transcribers and transcription companies. The transcription work itself needs to get done by a human being either way. That said, a transcription company, often being a larger business than that of a freelance transcriber, might have the budget for better tools, which might help reduce how long the process takes. In addition, since a transcription company often has a team, there’s more potential for quick availability and faster transcription turnaround time, as team members can review each other’s work and back each other up if someone gets sick or has an emergency.

That said, accuracy guarantees and turnaround times vary drastically between companies. The variation can be anything from one business day with accuracy not guaranteed, to six business days if the audio file is three hours or longer.

How Long Does it Take for Transcription Software to Transcribe Audio?

The average time to transcribe audio definitely decreases when transcribers use high quality transcription software. But here too, we’ve heard of the transcription turnaround time of four business days, so you’ll need to check with your providers on an individual basis to know what to expect.

Consider doing some research on the best tools, and ensuring your organization’s provider offers them. We’ve found that if transcription companies use automatic speech recognition (ASR) and artificial intelligence (AI), they can cut the turnaround time to one business day or less, even if they have two human beings review what the software had automatically transcribed. In addition, some transcription software products offer transcription in real-time, where the transcription time per audio hour is nonexistent because organizations get the transcription immediately and automatically.

Does Average Transcription Turnaround Time Impact Accuracy?

There is something to be said about taking the time to ensure accuracy. If transcription companies try to reduce transcription turnaround time without setting their team up for success, chances are quality will be compromised. As we said, if the audio quality is high, there are few speakers with distinctly different voices, there are no tech issues to overcome, and no obscure industry terms to look up, a great transcriber equipped with efficient transcription tools will likely be able to produce a high-quality transcription fast.

The key is to find a provider that combines high-quality human intelligence with high-quality artificial intelligence. When a transcription software is empowered with AI, it can learn industry-specific terms, obscure book titles and professional names, plus current events, among others, and then have human transcribers correct any mistakes if any are made at all. This process provides organizations with accurate transcription faster, plus the software gets smarter every time it’s used, as it can learn from any mistakes and correct them in future uses. When organizations combine smart technology with smart human beings, not only does the average transcription time get significantly reduced, but the final result is as accurate as if a seasoned professional dedicated days to make it happen.