- USB Audio Hardware
I was recently acquired the USB 6-in-1 TableMike desktop microphone, made by SpeechWare, together with a copy of DragonDictate so I could test out TableMikes speech recognition abilities. TableMike has the ability to vastly improve speech recognition and VOIP, so I was keen to give it a try.
I have to admit that although I was initially sceptical about the potential of voice recognition and dictation software, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it to be extremely effective when combined with the right hardware. If you’ve ever been tempted by the idea of speech control and dictation for your computer, but are sceptical about performance, you really should read on.
The USB 6-in-1 TableMike is a highly sensitive, noise cancelling desktop microphone specifically designed for voice dictation, VoIP and voice recording. What makes TableMike special is that it has SpeechWare’s own ‘Speech Equalisation’ technology ‘baked in’. This dramatically improves its performance with speech dictation applications and also provides significant advantage when used with VoIP applications (such as Skype) especially when utilising the latest 20kHz VoIP standard.
Opening the package and setting up, it’s immediately evident that the mic is of robust and weighty construction. SpeechWare have clearly made the unit quite heavy to ensure that it remains firmly in place on your desktop and isn’t prone to bumps and knocks.
The angle poise/directional microphone boom for TableMike connects to the main body via a mini XLR connection. This mini XLR connects snugly and re-assuringly, with a small release button to ensure that the boom remains firmly in place until you need to dismantle it, to transport it somewhere else.
It comes with an excellent quality and lengthy (8 ft) USB cable, terminated with gold plated connectors (the cable also has an RF choke fitted at the device end, which should help minimise any nearby electrical interference). There’s even an alternative white facia cover provided (and a screwdriver to release the 4 tiny screws holding it in place), just in case the silver version it comes fitted with doesn’t match your taste.
The version of the TableMike which I received also came with a foot switch, which plugs into the rear of the device and provides a method of switching the mike input on and off with your foot (this can also be done with the push button labelled PUSH in the middle of the front of the device). This is handy when you want to pause your dictation or mute the microphone for privacy reasons during a VoIP call.
Connections and Capabilities
As well as the host USB connection you’d expect, TableMike provides several other connection capabilities, all housed on the rear of the device. Consisting of:
- 1 USB 2.0 (High Speed)
- 1 stereo headphone port (3.5mm)
- 1 input for the optional headset microphone
- 1 foot pedal input (3.5mm Standard Jack)
I have to say, I found the USB 2.0 port extremely useful. It happily connected my iPad to my iMac for syncing with iTunes. Sadly though it didn’t provide enough power to charge it at the same time! It did however charge my old iPhone 3G with no problems at all. I was also able to connect my Panasonic TZ7 camera and transfer HD videos and photos using the High-Speed connection.
Because TableMike will usually sit in front of your computer, the USB port is always close at hand. TableMike also integrates a small speaker for monitoring audio from your desktop computer; for instance the sound from a VoIP call (or even your iTunes library). This audio can have its volume varied using the red ‘Sound Out’ +/ – buttons on the front panel of the TableMike.
The mic is capable of capturing audio at 44.1kHz and 48kHz (both @ 16-bit sampling resolution), which should be more than enough for most voice applications.
If you plan to use it to record a lot of instruments, you may want to explore some of the other options more suited to recording instruments. Although, I have to say that a quick test of the TableMike recording my acoustic guitar did a pretty respectable job (see example further down this post), and I did find the angle poise boom came in particularly handy here, allowing me to get the mic to a good position in front of the guitar.
TableMike is fully ‘plug and play’, meaning it requires no additional audio drivers to be installed. Indeed upon receiving it and plugging it in, I found this to be the case and no additional configuration of the unit was required. I simply plugged in and it appeared within my audio preferences. I did notice that there is a version of TableMike that (9-in-1 version) also has a card reader slot, which I’d find useful considering my iMac is the older version that doesn’t include an SD card slot.
You can even get a wall-mount adapter for use with TableMike. For anyone wondering, the ’6-in-1′ features, as specified by SpeechWare stand for:
- Desktop microphone with USB interface standard input and output sound ports
- Detachable and interchangeable flexible microphone boom for easy removal portability and storage
- Industry 1st integrated speech equaliser superior performance with voice applications and wideband or high-definition VoIP
- Built-in speaker in the base of the microphone
- One female USB port for connection of peripherals
- Special port for an optional foot pedal control – switches mic on/off
The clever thing about TableMike is that it has two sound capturing modes. Selectable by toggling a dedicated button (marked PUSH) on the main chassis of the unit. ‘SPEECH REC’ mode is optimised for use with speech recognition systems, such as DragonDictate. This mode applies ‘Speech Equalisation’, which is a combination of AGC (Automatic Gain Control), high and low shelving filters, together with a special High Definition/VoIP 22 kHz sample rate.
All of this is designed to substantially increase signal-to-noise ratio and voice intelligibility, allowing for a much greater vocal dictation range (from 10 cm up to 50 cm–4 inches to 20 inches) and vastly improved speech recognition accuracy. All this clever stuff is done inside the TableMike hardware, and doesn’t place any additional processing strain on you computer. Because of the signal processing in this mode, if you listen to the sound of your voice recorded in this mode it does sound a little different for what you may hear from more conventional mic recordings. The recording is louder, clearer and background noise is also suppressed much more effectively.
If you have your system volume too loud it may even sound distorted. ‘NORMAL/VOIP’ mode is TableMikes wide-band/high definition VoIP mode. There’s no sound processing applied in this mode. So it’s ideal for audio recording scenarios other than voice. For instance, I used TableMike to record my acoustic guitar. TableMike particularly excels at voice and speech capture in ‘Speech Rec’ mode, and this is what makes this mic really worthwhile. If you plan on recording a lot of podcasts or videocasts then this mic will definitely perform well for you and add a touch of professionalism with it’s excellent voice capture capabilities.
Equally, if you Skype from your desktop regularly, there’s no doubt it’ll improve the overall experience for you and your callers.
In conjunction with a speech recognition application such as DragonDictate, TableMike is capable of transcribing up to 160 words per minute. Pretty impressive stuff as this is far more than my typing skills could ever produce. Another point to mention is that there is a subtle difference between typing and dictating written word. I found that dictation by microphone gave a much better flow of words and meaning in my writing and enabled me to be more fluid than typing alone.
Although it is important to keep an eye on what’s being written, as the system will make mistakes (as you probably would from time to time with conventional typing). Anyone familiar with dictation software will know that distance of your voice from the microphone can often greatly effect accuracy. So the intelligence of TableMikes ‘Speech Rec’ mode is really valuable in allowing you a more comfortable and natural speaking position.
I certainly found that I was able to move freely into different sitting positions with little effect on dictation accuracy. We’ll publish a separate blog feature soon to demonstrate the voice recognition and dictation capabilities when used with DragonDictate. Keep watching the blog for this!
I used TableMike with a Dual Core 3GHz iMac and OS X 10.6.8. I experienced no compatibility issues at all. TableMike is fully ‘plug and play’, meaning it requires no additional audio drivers to be installed. Indeed upon receiving it and plugging it in, I found this to be the case and no additional configuration of the unit was required.
I simply plugged in and it appeared within my audio preferences (the red LED also lit on the unit). It’s also fully compatible with Windows 7 operating systems. Whilst testing TableMike I also discovered that, although not officially supported, it can be used with Apple iPad for recording and playback with excellent results…..
TableMike with the iPad
As TableMike is a USB Audio Class Compliant device (Plug and Play), requiring no additional drivers. I was intrigued to find out whether it would perform when connected with my iPad 2 (iOS 5.1.0), using the Apple Camera Adapter Kit. My main concern was that TableMike would simply exceed the adapter kits 20 mA current limit (introduced with version 4 of iOS).
I must admit that the first time I plugged TableMike in using the Camera Adapter Kit the iPad did issue a warning and the unit failed to power on. But to my surprise, when I plugged in the TableMike a second time, the unit immediately powered up and upon launching an appropriate audio App (in the following video i use Recorder Plus HD), I was capable of recording audio without any trouble.
The unit only encountered problems when I increased the volume using the sound out + button on the front panel to its maximum. This caused the iPad to issue a ‘current overload’ warning and shut the device down. In order to rectify this I reduced the iPad volume using the controls integrated on the iPad and re-plugged the TableMike. This re-initialised the TableMike which then continued to operate without any problems.
So, all I have to remember is to make sure that I don’t increase the volume too much and if the unit doesn’t power on at the first attempt then it will usually connect on the second attempt. Here is a short video demonstrating the use of TableMike with the Apple iPad and the Camera Adapter Kit.
Since I’d managed to get the TableMike operating successfully with the iPad, I decided to try out a VoIP call to my family. (I currently use the VTok iPad App, which uses the Google Talk (GTalk) system for video calls. During calls without TableMike, my family often complain of poor audio, although I have to say I’m not particularly disciplined about ensuring that I speak a good distance from the built in microphone.
That said, once I plugged in the TableMike they consistently agreed that the audio produced was significantly better than that normally produced by the built-in iPad microphone. So, I’ll certainly ensure I employ TableMike when VoIP calling with my iPad in the future.
The only real drawback here is that it limits the portability of the unit as a whole when the TableMike is plugged in. Which is often something that is quite important, as calls to my family for instance often result in moving the iPad around a fair bit to capture video of their grandson’s activities. But for a bonus feature iPad compatibility is great. I hope that this becomes an official feature in future models.
I have really enjoyed using TableMike and I’m very much looking forward to using it as a dictation tool to help streamline my blog writing (using Dragon Dictate). I’ll definitely also be using it to improve my VoIP/video call audio quality, from both my desktop and iPad, as this really did make calls to friends, colleagues and family much more enjoyable mainly because my callers could simply hear me that much better.
TableMike now sits happily on my desk and I’m sure it will become an integral part of my workflow. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a desktop microphone tailored to suit voice recording, dictation and VoIP applications!
Since writing this article, I’ve noticed that changes to iOS through updates (iOS 6.1.3) has stopped the TableMike from working with iOS without a powered hub. Although I haven’t yet tested with iOS 7. I will update again here once I have tested.
Where to Buy
Or from their TableMike web store.
Links and Further Reading
Technorati Tags: desktop microphone, Dictation, dragondictate, Microphone, Skype, speech control, speech dictation, Speech Equalisation, speech recognition, USB, voice recognition, voice recording, VOIP, voip applications
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