Pros and Cons: Using Free Transcription Software vs Paid Services

By: Danielle Chazen



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A growing number of enterprises, universities, media outlets and professionals are seeing value in having word-for-word written records of conversations, lectures and meetings on hand to reference. Rather than manually taking notes, these individuals are utilizing a transcription software to produce the work for them.

There are several transcription softwares on the market to capture these important audio bites and provide users with a full written record of them. These offerings range from more basic, free transcription software tools to complex solutions which offer actionable and searchable data points. Identifying whether you or your business can benefit from transcription and selecting which type to use – free or paid – depends largely on your company’s goals.

Free transcription software won’t chip into your budget, however there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider when utilizing free transcription software tools. Access to a transcription tool can only prove to be beneficial and enlisting a free tool might be a smart place to start if you’re using transcription for the first time. However, at the end of the day, you’ll likely “get what you pay for” in terms of the unique capabilities and performance of available tools. 

recorder in focus

What is transcription software, and when it is used?

Transcription software converts human speech or conversations into text. Transcription software has evolved over time with tools like natural language speech recognition and Artificial Intelligence to fuel the process of converting audible speech to text.

There are automated solutions available for transcription, which use technology to produce the text transcripts, as well as trained human professionals who manually listen to audio and transcribe it. Some services provide options to utilize AI and technology to quickly convert the text, but then fact check the work of the technology with human editors to ensure it is produced accurately.

Transcription software and transcription services are widely used for notetaking across industries like higher education and business, as well as to have a written record in legal, media interview and medical contexts. For example, students with disabilities can greatly benefit from having a transcription tool which allows them to capture everything being said during a university lecture, while doctors can use it to have transcriptions of their conversations with patients to reference later.

Advantages of free transcription software

Cost: It’s hard to dispute free. Free audio transcription and free transcription apps are readily available. Freelance professionals, such as journalists, as well as academics which are conducting research on limited budgets, could benefit from free online transcription tools. Free audio transcription software helps to get the job done and capture audible conversations or interviews without having to type manually.

Ease of use: Sometimes less complex tools can serve their purpose. If you’re interviewing one subject, need an informal conversation recorded or need a transcript as a one-off, a free tool could make the most sense for you. Free tools can make sense and be beneficial for lower volumes of work.

A plethora of options: There are many free audio to text transcription and free video transcription software options available to choose from. If you can identify your needs and make sure these basic tools accomplish your goals, it may be all you need.

The disclaimer: Users of free audio transcription software may want to be wary of the accuracy provided to them. Oftentimes, they may need to go back and fact check or edit the produced transcripts from these free tools. Users should be sure to test out their selected free tool before utilizing it in a more important setting. Gaining a level of confidence in the tool will help to reduce potential errors that may hurt your credibility later on, such as a misattributed quote. There are also some industries – think medical and legal –  which cannot take the risk of utilizing free tools with a heightened chance of inaccuracy.

woman sitting in front of bookshelves with spotlight on her

Disadvantages of enlisting free software over paid tools

Limited capabilities: Free tools offer their users limited features. If you need to transcribe higher volumes of audio or video for professional purposes, some free tools may not allow you to do this quickly and effectively. Free tools also likely don’t offer human fact checkers due to costs, so you’ll need to spend time doing these checks manually. The technology being used by many of these free providers is often inadequate, with an inability to recognize multiple speakers or word differentiations. Free tools also don’t offer the ability for businesses to scale by separating the audio capture from the production of the transcript. Enlisting paid options which allow for this, will in the long run save businesses significant time and resources which translate into saved costs

Inaccuracy: When it comes to professional uses, complex topics often aren’t suited for free transcription tools. From more complex word terminology, to recognizing slight grammar differences in basic words such as ‘their’ they’re’ and ‘there’ your transcript might not be up to par in terms of accuracy when produced by a free tool. As mentioned above, most industries cannot take the risk of inaccuracies. For example, in higher education, to be compliant with the law and ADA, transcriptions must be provided to students at high accuracy levels. Some paid tools can’t even produce high levels of accuracy. The same methodology goes for legal where transcripts must be accurate to ensure justice is served fairly, in media when interviewing subjects and in enterprise when business leaders are discussing important statistics. Verbit for example utilizes AI to quickly produce the transcript and as it’s been produced has human editors assigned to fact check it. This process ensures greater accuracy and provides users with full transcripts quickly, within hours if required.

Inability to learn: Many paid tools are designed to get better with us. They utilize natural language processing and algorithms to better understand speakers and cadences and accents with increased usage. Free tools often aren’t complex enough to pick up on these nuances and improve with time, which results in manual processes for their users. Those who need transcripts will be well suited to select tools like Verbit’s which are custom-built for industries like legal, higher education, media and enterprise to understand the pain points of these users and improve with greater use.

Limited integration options: Transcriptions should give you time back – not add extra steps to your workflows and processes. Enlisting tools which have built in integrations with platforms you’re using to capture the audio, such as Zoom for business meetings, or LMS in the higher-ed setting will be helpful. Some solutions, such as Verbit’s, have two-way integrations with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box to name a few, to automatically pull recorded audio and video files for transcription and return them to the same folders once accurately transcribed.

Limited customization options: Many businesses and media outlets rely on timestamps or SMPTE time codes for their processes. Free tools rarely offer these capabilities to customize transcripts to certain templates – an essential for legal – or offer timestamps at specific times users want them to appear. While free is free, your time is not. A lack of these services results in incredibly manual efforts to add to the transcripts produced by your free tools.
woman taking a video of a group of people meeting together

Key takeaways

In sum, the volume of transcription work needed and industry it pertains to are often a good identifier of whether you should enlist paid or free audio to text transcription tools. If you’re using free audio transcription online tools, just be aware of where it may fall short and if you’re able to take on the potential risks and manual efforts associated. If you are a freelancer and have limited budgets, free tools may do the trick for you in producing a working transcript. If you’re an enterprise, having the ability to quickly search and collaborate on a transcript in real time with your colleagues can prove to be fruitful.

Finally, if the transcript is needed to provide accessible materials to students or employees who need them for equal opportunities to succeed with their peers, paid services will help to guarantee equality with assured accuracy.