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What Do I Need For Digital Transcription?

In order to address this question, it is important to first understand the difference between analog sound, like that produced by cassette tapes and LP record albums, and digital sound, like that which is produced on CD-ROMs, DVDs, and other forms of computerized music [MP3, WAV, etc.]. So, what is Digital Sound?

Digital Sound is simply a method of recording and reproducing sound in a way that a computer or other digital device can understand.

First a bit of history… When you put an LP album on a record player, a stylus runs along a tiny groove cut into the vinyl, vibrates along the edges of that groove, and this produces a sound wave that is then amplified by the speakers. The human ear “hears” that sound in analog format; the human brain interprets sound from the vibrations that these amplified waves produce in the air, and which then cause in the ear drum to vibrate. Interestingly enough then, regardless of whether or not you are listening to an old LP of the Beatles (analog recording) or the latest MP3 download (digital recording) from your favorite music website, your ears and your brain are still {only} interpreting that sound in analog format.

With the advent of digital devices, computers in this case, a method of translating analog waves into a digital sound file (format) that a computer can understand and reproduce, led to the invention of sound card technology. For many years, personal computers could produce only a few beeps and bell sounds {and really only had enough memory and computing power to do that) — they could not play CD-ROM based digital music, could not record your voice, etc. Then, around 1987, as newer 16 bit personal computers with more memory came along, a company called Creative introduced the first digital sound adapter for the personal computer, that also included with a CD-ROM interface. While industry historians may disagree as to who/which company actually came first [because it was actually Texas Instruments that created the chips], most believe that Creative was instrumental in launching the first practical digial audio sound reproduction devices for personal computers.

Digital Sound Today…

So, what does that mean for you today? How does this relate to what you need for digital dictation or transcripion? Well, its pretty simple really. In order for you to playback any digital recording on you computer, you simply need a computer that comes equipped with a digital “sound card” adapter. These days, that adapter may not even be a separate plug-in device, and may be nothing more than a “chip” on your computer’s motherboard, but that deivce will allow you to play all sorts of digital sound files. And if you have a personal computer that was produced within the past 10 years, it is a virtual certainty that you have that capability in your computer, whether you know it or not.

What does Sound Blaster Compatible mean? Well, as frequently happens in any many industries, the technology or company that is first to the market, or which dominates the market, tends to have its own standards recognized as the “defacto” standard. For example, IBM wasn’t the first to create what we would think of today as a personal computer, but the “PC (or Personal Computer)” that IBM developed, came to be viewed as the standard, e.g. the terms we still use today: PC Compatible.

Since Creative pretty much started the digital sound revolution in personal computers, their SoundBlaster® line of products became the defacto standard, and so today, when indicating the type of technology you need to produce sound on your computer, we usually refer to that capability as being “SoundBlaster Compatible”. It does NOT mean that you must have a sound card manufactured by Creative in your computer, but in general, whatever sound card you do have, will likely follow (or be able to emulate) the primary digital sound features that were originally developed by Creative.

Digital Audio Formats…

Digital Sound Formats: Just as analog music has been producted on a number of different media formats, digital sound also comes in a number of different formats. Vinyl records, for example used to be produced as 45s (played on a turn table at 45 RPMs), 78s (played at 78 RPMs) and LPs (which were played back at 33 RPMs). While not truely analogous to the vinyl record formats, you can view the different digital audio formats in similar terms. There are many digital sound formats, including AIFF, AU, MIDI, MP3, RA/RAM, WAV, and WMA. The point is simply that most of these formats are “standards” developed by different companies, that have been incorporated in to most “SoundBlaster Compatible” devices.

File Type Associations: Every file has a specific format and specific formats all have a specific file extension. For example, a Windows Media Audio file has the extension “.wma” and that file type must be associated with a program (a software application) which knows how to interpret it. You might think of the different audio file formats as being different languages, but which all tell the same story or play the same song. Just as there are many different audio formats, there are a number of different programs on the market, which understand how to interpret them, and many of these applications have the same abilities, such that Microsoft Media Player AND RealPlayer both know how to play .mp3 audio files – they both understand the .mp3 language.

It sometimes happens, that your Windows Operating System gets confused or does not know which application should be used to play a specific format, and it is then up to the end user to configure the proper associations. This simply means that you may have to tell Windows which program you want to use to open a given file type. For example, if you prefer to have Windows Media Player open your .mp3 music, but you have also installed the RealPlayer (and your .mp3 files are opening in RealPlayer), you would have to go into Windows and select Windows Media Player as the program you want to use when opening .mp3 files. By the same token, if you click on a link or file icon for a particular audio file, and Windows does not have an existing “association” for that file type, it will cause an error — it will stop and ask you for help — and you will need to identify or discover which software application you have (or need to obtain) that will allow you to open/play the file.

Beware however, that if you pick the wrong software application to be associated with a given file format, Windows will instruct that application to open the file, even if that application does not have the ability to interpret the format. Before you go into Windows and start messing around with your file type associations, make 100% certain that YOU know which application is appropriate for the format, because Windows cannot figure that out for itself. If you choose the wrong file type association, the file will not open, the application may fail, and you may actually cause Windows to crash. The following website lists some of the more common file types you are likely to encounter, and the primary applications that understand how to use or interpret them: http://www.fileinfo.net/common.php, but be aware that this list is far from being complete, and there may be a large number of different software programs out there, which could be used to interpret them. For example, .DOC is a Microsoft WORD document type, and while Microsoft WORD should be your first choice to use when accessing it, there are other word processing programs on the market which can open it. However, if you were to try to associate Microsoft WORD, with the .iff Audio File Format, your WORD program would crash.

If you are having difficulty opening a particular file format, or you need to re-configure your Windows File Type associations, please review the following technical support file at Microsoft: Change the program that opens a type of file

NOTE: It is important to understand, that there are many digital sound formats out there, some of which are open source (shared/free to everyone) while others are highly proprietary, meaning that the company who created or patented the format technology, has not made it available to everyone free of charge. So, in addition to a “SoundBlaster Compatible” device in your computer (that being the hardware that actually produces the sound), you may also need special computer software in order to record (called “encoding”) or to playback (called “decoding”) the files in these proprietary formats. For example: Apple’s iTunes format is proprietary, so you must have either an Apple iPod or the Apple iTunes software in order to play music recorded in iTunes format, and you must have the iTunes software in order to record sound files in that format, whereas, if your music is recorded in .mp3 format, there are literally dozens of programs available (many free of charge) to play those files, including Windows Media Player and RealPlayer.

Conclusion…

Digital Dictation & Transcription is nothing more than the recording (encoding) and playback (decoding) of digital sound files. Typically, a transcriptionist will also need to have some sort of control software, and some sort of digial hardware (like a foot pedal connected to their computer) in order to manage the playback functions. And, depending upon the digital format that was used to “encode” the sound, may also need other special/proprietary sofware or hardware to “decode it.”

HOWEVER, as long as the computer being used for transcription has a “SoundBlaster Compatible” sound card installed (which is the device that actually produces the sound waves through your speakers), you should be ready to go. If you do not know if the sound card in your computer is “SoundBlaster Compatible”, all you need to do is contact the manufacturer, review the documentation that came with your computer, or call the retailer where you purchased your computer, and you sould have your answer very quickly. Again, if you purchased your computer within the past 10 years, in all likelihood, your computer does have this capability.

Is there any way to check, without calling the manufacturer? In most cases, yes. If you are able to play CD-ROM music, downloaded MP3 or Apple ITunes music, play DVD movies, play PC-Based Video Games, or record/playback sounds on your computer, then its a 99.9% certainty that you do have a “SoundBlaster Compatible” sound card in your computer.

Here are a couple of test files *:

  • The first one, is in RA format – which is proprietary – and will only playback if you have the “RealAudio” software player installed on your computer: RA Format Test
  • The next one, is in MID (MIDI) format – and should playback with whatever playback software came with your computer: MID Format Test
  • The next one, is in MP3 format – and should playback in whatever playback software came with your computer: MP3 Format Test

  • * REMEMBER: Just as there are many digital audio formats, there are a number of different software programs specifically designed to play them. Users of Microsoft Windows for example, will typically have the “Windows Media Player” already installed, but as noted above, you may also need the “RealAudio” player. In order to playback Apple’s proprietary “ITunes” format, you must have the Apple ITunes software. You can download and install lots of different digital media playback programs on your computer, and each of them may (or will) be configured to play back certain/specific formats. For example: WMA is “Windows Media Audio” format, and by default, your computer should use the Windows Media Player to decode (play) WMA files.

    Which audio playback software programs you need or use or install, is entirely up to you, and depends on which file types you need to access. Likewise, how you configure your computer programs to recognize and playback certain file types, is also up to you. For example, you might need the “RealAudio” player to play back .RA files, but since this player can also recognize .WAV and .MP3 files, you might configure your “RealAudio” player to be used (as the default) whenever you want to play WAV and MP3 files, in addition to the RA files.

    In Our Website & Courseware…

    The Meditec website use .AU, .RA/RAM, .WAV, and .MP3 formats. The .AU, .WAV, and .MP3 formats are accessible through various free/readily available programs. The .RA/RAM format is proprietary and requires the RealPlayer, but RealMedia offers a free version of its player through it’s website (www.real.com), so there should be no reason why you should not be able to access one or more of the file formats we’ve used on this website. If for some reason, you are not able to access the .AU, .WAV, or .MP3 formats from your Windows Media Player, please refer back to the File Type Associations reference above.

    It is important to understand too, that simply because Meditec uses these formats, does NOT mean that once you are trained and working as a transcriptionist within the open market, that your clients will use these particular formats. For example: You may go to work for a client that uses “Dictaphone” equipment, which uses its own proprietary digital audio format, and in which case, it will be necessary for you to purchase or use specific “Dictaphone” hardware and software in order to access those recordings. This would be no different, than if you were to purchase “Microsoft WORD” as your preferred word processing editor, and then went to work for a doctor or hospital that requried you to use “WordPerfect” instead. The computer hardware, software, formats, and other devices you may need to perform your work tasks, will depend solely upon what your client’s needs are.

    To complete your Meditec transcription course, you only need a basic personal computer with Microsoft Windows, that has internet access, a web browser, and a basic “SoundBlaster Compatible” sound card. You don’t even need special audio player software or expensive word processing software — you can use the Windows Media Player and the Microsoft WordPad editor which are already included with Microsoft Windows.

    If you have any further questions regarding what you have installed on your computer, we urge you to check the documentation and manuals that came with your computer, or that you contact the manufacturer or retailer who sold you the computer.

    Meditec Technical Support does not provide diagnostic or other support for the computer and software programs you purchased. We only provide support for our own courses and course materials.

    We hope that this information has been helpful in addressing any sound related accessibility issues you may have with regard to this website. Thank you again for taking the time to review this information.