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Digital Versus Analogue Tape Transcription -
The Pros and Cons Considered

For years, analogue audio tapes were the only option available to clients for recording dictation, interviews or conferences and focus groups. Standard audio tapes were the medium of choice for interview or group recordings while mini tapes and micro cassettes for use in Dictaphones were the industry standard for any dictation. Latterly, digital recorders have very quickly overtaken the old tape formats and there are so many advantages to switching to a digital recorder that it can't be dismissed as just the latest fad.

Digital recorders produce a far superior quality of recording which doesn't deteriorate over time. There are no length restrictions to digital files as there are to a tape lasting 60 or 90 minutes - digital recordings are as long as you need them to be. Digital sound files do not 'physically' break or become mangled or stretched through repeated use as audio tapes are prone to do. Digital recordings can also be copied with no loss of quality, so when you send a digital file to a transcriber, you're simply sending an exact copy of the digital recording while the original stays on your PC. There's also none of the usual deterioration experienced when copying tapes - the digital copy you send is as clear as the original.

If you need to add extra material in the middle of a recording, such as when dictating, it's easy to do so when recording digitally but almost impossible when using tapes without having to rerecord whatever comes after that section. Similarly, if you want to edit out sections which don't need to be transcribed, it's far easier with digital than it is with analogue. Audio time markers can be inserted in the transcript to indicate the precise location of inaudible or unclear words on the digital recording. There are also fewer storage space issues to consider because back up recordings saved to CDs take up less room than tapes.

As with all recordings, it's worth remembering that all the common sense factors involved in making clear recordings apply just as much to digital as they do to analogue. Just because it's digital, don't be fooled into thinking that the recording will be unaffected by background noise, lack of a microphone or equipment interference. If handled properly, digital can produce superb recordings. A good quality recording in turn reduces transcription time and costs significantly and results in fewer inaudible sections and a more complete transcript. As the quality tends to be excellent for all digital recordings, most transcription companies can offer a fixed per audio minute price so that clients know in advance what their overall costs will be. Tape quality is too variable to be able to do this, and transcription is usually charged at an hourly rate.

One of the biggest bonuses of digital recordings is that they can be delivered to the transcriber quickly and easily. Digital files can be sent via a secure FTP service over the Internet. This is a tremendous advantage for business people who travel frequently. Whatever their location in the world, they don't need to wait till they return to the office, or are near a post office, to send tapes to their transcriber. As long as they have access to a suitable PC and a fast Internet connection, digital sound files can be uploaded from the recorder directly on to a PC and then sent to the transcriber.

The use of digital recordings also eliminates postage costs - digital files are simply deleted by the transcriber when the transcript is completed. The extra time involved in packing up tapes, visiting the post office and the risk of losing precious original tapes also disappears. If your transcription project is urgent or on a large scale, such as an ongoing interview project or a lengthy conference, the sound files can be divided among several transcribers, which is a lot easier and safer than physically dividing up and posting original tape recordings.

In the spirit of fairness, it must be admitted there are some disadvantages to digital. They require a compatible PC with a sizeable hard drive to store large digital files, and a USB connection. but typically, most small businesses already have such a facility anyway! If all the digital files are on one PC, they can be vulnerable if not backed-up. It's also essential to have a fast Internet connection in order to transfer digital files to the transcription company. Digital files can be very large - some formats take up a lot of memory and using a dial-up connection is simply not practical, taking hours to transmit even the smallest digital file. WAV format produces an excellent quality of sound but does result in huge files. Other formats such as DSS, MP3 or WMA take up less memory. Other formats produce very small files but don't necessarily produce the same good quality sound - it's best to check first on a test recording that the quality is adequate for transcribing. Whichever digital file type is chosen needs to be compatible with transcription software in order to be transcribed.

Each digital format has advantages and disadvantages which should be taken into account when considering which recorder to buy, which file type to use, and whether there are any transcription issues involved. With all digital files, there is a trade-off between recording quality and file size. Digital sound files can be extremely large if they're not compressed, but compression is 'lossy'. In other words, if you compress an original 'lossless' audio file to a smaller size, this removes redundant data but may also result in a reduction in audio quality. This can create problems with the transcription - it's akin to having an original audio tape copied to a less clear version. It's advisable to ensure that the uncompressed digital recording is sent to the transcriber to avoid any loss in quality from the original. Having made an investment in digital equipment, why compromise on the final recording file quality just to get a smaller digital file and make a faster online transfer to the transcriber? Far better to set aside extra time to upload the digital files (or even leave them 'cooking' while you do something else), than end up with an inferior recording which takes longer to transcribe, costs more and may result in an incomplete transcript.

One of the main disadvantages with digital is that some people are reluctant to learn new technology which they perceive to be complicated. It can always be daunting to try out a new recorder for the first time, especially if you've been comfortable with an 'old faithful' tape recorder which has performed adequately for years. But our experience over many years in the transcription industry has convinced us that digital is the way to go! The superior quality of recording, coupled with the ease of file transmission and, more importantly, reduced transcription costs have convinced many clients of the benefits of digital. Transcription companies are more than happy to assist any client who's thinking of making the switch from analogue to digital recordings, and can even recommend equipment suppliers who can offer more specialised technical advice to make the transition as trouble free as possible.

The disadvantages of analogue tapes are many and varied and the converse of all the digital advantages above obviously applies. Tapes produce inferior quality recordings which are more subject to background hiss, with playback quality deteriorating over time. All analogue tapes, be they standard audio, mini or micro cassettes, have a limited life and if reused too many times can break or become chewed up. Tapes can also take time to reach the transcriber through the post, resulting in delays in starting the transcription, or they can even be lost in transit. Obviously, postage costs are additional and must also be borne by the client.

Audio tapes are very restrictive in terms of length - 60 or 90 minute tapes are the norm and if you try to cram in more by recording at a slow speed, the recording quality deteriorates. Parts of the recording will also be missed as the tape is turned over from side A to side B. Significant storage space will be needed if large volumes of recordings are made and any subsequent copy recordings are less clear than the original. Using audio time markers is also not very precise when using analogue recorders because each tape recorder and the playback transcription equipment have different counters making any time codes inaccurate.

As you can see, the advantages of digital far outweigh the disadvantages, and we hope that the sheer number of analogue disadvantages speak for themselves. If you have invested a great deal of time and effort arranging interviews, focus groups or conferences, why ruin them and, in some cases, make them virtually undecipherable, by using an inferior system?

Back to Article Summaries

We specialise in digital transcription services including MP3 digital transcription, WAV digital transcription, WMA digital transcription among many other digital audio file formats. We also provide standard audio cassette tape transcription covering micro cassette or micro tape transcription, plus mini tape or mini cassette transcription which is also known as audio transcription or audio typing services. This can be extended to include minidisc or minidisk transcription services. Extensive experience in conference transcription services allows us to offer transcription of conference proceedings including keynote speaker and plenary session transcription, lecture transcription, seminar and symposia transcribing, Q&A session transcription and transcription of breakout sessions, roadshows, roundtable discussions and workshops. Interview transcription services form a core part of our service and include one-to-one interview transcription, as well as multiple participant interview transcription. We are pleased to offer discounted transcription services for charities, students and universities for their research interviews, particularly qualitative analysis transcription compatible with Nvivo and Atlas Ti. Support for oral history interview transcription projects can include both digital transcription services and audio tape transcription. A niche specialty is our podcast transcription services which also covers webcast transcription. Transcription services for authors, writers and journalists can include anything from digital dictation for article transcription and manuscript typing through to research interview transcription. Also offered is focus group transcription, forum transcribing, market research and vox pop interview transcription as well corporate or group meeting transcription services. Word processing services and digital dictation for correspondence is also included. Teleconferences and telephone interviews can be transcribed from digital and analogue formats. Analogue video tape transcriptions are offered along with digital video transcription services. Different transcription styles are available including Intelligent Verbatim Transcription, Complete Verbatim Transcription, Edited Transcription and customised transcription styles for Oral History projects and Focus Groups.

We are pleased to offer free Advice Pages: Equipment FAQs Overview Transcription Times and free Guidelines for: Conferences Dictation Digital Audio / Minidiscs Focus Groups / Forums Interviews Lectures / Speeches / Presentations Market Research Vox Pops Oral History Interview Projects Podcasts Audio Tapes Teleconferences / Telephone Interviews Digital DVD / Video Tapes Webcasts Workshops Our Home Page provides an overview of the wide range of transcription services we provide.


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