Why spend hours typing when you can dictate text in less than half the time? Speech recognition technology can save you time, money and stress so we’ve taken a look at the very best dictation software for Mac in 2021.
Whether you’re a business report writer, lawyer, secretary, author, journalist, technical writer, medical professional or anyone that finds themselves stuck in front of a keyboard more than they should, you’ll find Mac compatible speech-to-text software here that saves you valuable time and fits your budget.
In our research and testing, we found that the best dictation software for Mac is the Dragon Dictate range of dictation tools which offer unrivaled levels of accuracy and dictation features.
What Is Dictation Software?
Dictation software enables your Mac to translate spoken words into written text which enables you to write much more than typing alone.
The average person can type anything up to 1000 words in half an hour.
However, most people can speak up to 4000 words in the same time period – that equals a massive potential increase in your productivity especially if you’re having to tediously document business operations.
Text to speech is already in everything from Siri to Google Docs although professional dictation software like Dragon Dictate offer much greater accuracy as they actually learn how you talk.
Why Use Dictation Software?
There are many reasons to use dictation software on your Mac but some of the most important ones are:
- It increases productivity as you can talk much faster than you can type.
- Dictation is safer for you. Excessive typing is one of the most common reasons for repetitive strain injury on hands and the more people type on both keyboards and mobile phones, the bigger the problem is getting. Other keyboard related injuries on the rise include Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Quadriplegia.
- You can note down things hands free (for example when cooking, eating, doing the laundry etc).
- It prevents you forgetting ideas that you meant to type out later. It’s an especially good way for creative writers to get all their ideas down on paper without editing along the way.
- It’s more confidential than dictating notes to a secretary or colleague.
- Dictating cuts down on scribbled notes on pieces of paper if you want to go paperless on your Mac.
Can You Use Siri To Dictate On Mac?
Since macOS Catalina including Big Sur, you can dictate on a Mac using Siri.
However, although Siri doesn’t do a bad job of transcribing text, using Siri to dictate on a Mac is nowhere near as accurate as professional dictation software.
Siri is still mainly designed as a personal assistant to launch apps, answer questions and generally speed-up your workflow on a Mac rather than dictation although with macOS Big Sur and Catalina, Apple is moving Siri closer towards being a more professional dictation software.
Siri also only works for US English and you need to be online to use it although there is a way to dictate offline in macOS Big Sur & Catalina.
Best Dictation Software For Mac
In these reviews, we’ve looked at a combination of offline and online dictation software that can be used on a Mac.
Note that web-based voice recognition and voice-to-text recognition apps all require a permanent internet connection in order to work.
Here then is our selection of the best dictation software for Mac of 2021 in order of ranking.
The reason the Dragon Dictate range of dictation software is our number one choice as the best dictation software for Mac is the amazing accuracy and sophistication it offers compared to any other dictation tool.
Dragon Dictate software delivers by far the best voice recognition in the industry.
Dragon products use unique Deep Learning technology that actually learn your accent and speaking style to deliver accuracy rates of up to 99%.
When it comes to voice recognition, Dragon’s dictation products are by far the best on the market.
Dragon Professional Individual For Mac offers accuracy of up to 99% and while you won’t always achieve this, the accuracy is truly impressive.
The difference between Dragon Professional and most voice recognition software is that it can actually learn to recognize your voice.
As it becomes more familiar with your accent and speaking style, it interprets your voice remarkably accurately.
Other dictation apps simply don’t feature this level of Deep Learning sophistication or accuracy.
Dragon Professional is ideal for office environments as it’s optimized for reducing background noise such as in cubicles. It also has Smart Format Rules which understand how you want phone numbers, dates, abbreviations and other data to appear.
Another nice touch is that you can import audio clips from a device such as your iPhone and Dragon Professional will transcribe it into text.
The accuracy isn’t quite as good as live dictation but it’s a lot faster than typing it out. This is especially useful for journalists who have to record and transcribe long interviews.
Unfortunately, the developer Nuance dropped a bombshell in October 2018 that it was discontinuing the Mac version of Dragon Dictate Pro.
The latest version of Dragon Dictate 15 is Windows only:
However, there’s simply nothing that comes close in the world of voice recognition software to Dragon Dictate and so we’re still recommending Dragon Professional Individual by installing Windows on your Mac and running it via Parallels which also works on M1 Macs.
In fact, one of the World’s leading Dragon Dictate teachers Scott Baker recommends using the Windows version of Dragon on Mac because the Windows version of Dragon Dictate has always been better than the Mac version anyway with more features.
Parallels allows you to run macOS and Windows at the same time so that you can switch between the two with ease.
You then simply install the Windows version of Dragon Professional within your Windows environment and you can use it anytime on your Mac.
This is actually a better solution than using the Mac version anyway because the Windows version gives you more control when tweaking and refining texts compared to on macOS.
Note that you can choose between installing the Home Edition and Professional Edition but we strongly recommend going with Dragon Professional Edition, not least because it allows you to dictate directly in Microsoft Office and other apps.
For a limited period, you can also get the mobile version of Dragon Anywhere worth $150 for FREE with any Dragon product.
Note that offer is only valid in the US and Canada and will only appear when you go to the Dragon checkout.
You can also watch Dragon Professional Individual in action below.
Dictation is Apple’s own free dictation software on Mac (and the equivalent of WSR – Windows Speech Recognition) that has been a feature since macOS Sierra.
Up until macOS Mojave, Apple Dictation used it’s own voice recognition system but from macOS Catalina onwards, it now relies on Siri.
Apple’s Dictation tool in macOS doesn’t deliver anything like the same results as Dragon but it’s free, works on your Mac desktop and doesn’t require an internet connection to use.
Apple Dictation works in word processors, messenger apps and just about any app that allows you to type.
By default it’s only suitable for dictations of 30 seconds or less but you can turn-on Enhanced Dictation for unlimited transcriptions.
To enable Apple Dictation in macOS Catalina and Big Sur:
- Go to the Apple () logo in the top left of your screen and select > System Preferences > Keyboard
- Click on the Dictation Tab
- Switch Dictation “On”
To enable Apple Dictation in macOS High Sierra and Mojave:
- Go to the Apple () logo in the top left of your screen and select > System Preferences > Dictation & Speech to activate it.
In macOS Big Sur and Catalina, Enhanced Dictation has been removed by default because anything you dictate is now translated by Siri.
Siri is far more accurate than the old Enhanced Dictation engine in macOS and even allows you to dictate offline in macOS Big Sur & Catalina.
If you’re still using High Sierra or Mojave, you can also dictate offline without being connected to the internet by activating Enhanced Dictation in the Dictation tab.
Be aware though that this requires 422MB of disk space to download some additional tools before it can work on your Mac.
You then simply configure a language and hotkey to start dictation or you can even activate it with a keyword. You can use this to start dictation in any application.
Dictation works with any app including Office applications (although not Google Docs which has its own voice recognition feature – see below).
What we like is that the voice controlled formatting commands are quite extensive and you can even create your own customized commands.
Apple Dictation supports 31 languages including English, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish.
The accuracy of macOS Dictation is surprisingly accurate although you won’t get the same results as professional software like Dragon Dictate.
Note that Apple Dictate sends anything you say to Apple’s servers for Siri to transcribe but if you want to delete Siri dictation history on a Mac:
- Go to the Apple Menu > System Preferences > Siri
- Click Delete Siri and Dictation History
If you’re looking for a free desktop dictation tool on your Mac, Apple Dictate is definitely worth trying.
Not many people are aware that Google Docs has a surprisingly powerful free voice recognition engine which not only transcribes speech to text but also allows you to change the formatting of documents with voice commands.
Google Docs Voice typing is arguably even more accurate than Apple Dictation but it only works in the Google Chrome browser – it won’t work in Safari or Firefox.
To activate Google Docs Voice Typing, open any Google Doc and go to Tools > Voice typing… and click on the microphone that appears to start transcribing.
Google Docs Voice Typing is pretty accurate for a free online text-to-speech tool.
Probably the most impressive thing though is the an extensive list of commands for formatting text.
You can simply say things like “go to end of paragraph” or “create bulleted list” to perform formatting actions. Note that formatting commands are only available in English but the voice engine recognizes 43 languages.
Speechnotes is a cheap and cheerful online speech-to-text service which works in Google Chrome and on Android devices.
Speechnotes actually uses Google’s own voice recognition engine so it’s basically just an enhanced version of Google Docs Voice Typing tool.
There’s also a Speechnotes Chrome extension which allows you to voice type directly into any website including Gmail, WordPress and most other text fields.
Speechnotes claims to be a free alternative to Dragon Naturally Speaking and although the accuracy can’t really compare with Dragons products, it’s pretty good. Unlike Dragon Dictate, Speechnotes also can’t be used to voice control your Mac either.
Speechless gives you the advantages of Google’s voice recognition engine but with the added advantage of things like an Android app although there’s no iPhone app.
Although Rev isn’t for Mac, it may be of interest to Mac users because it works on iPads and iPhone.
Rev is unique because it’s an iOS dictation app that uses real humans to transcribe recordings. If you’re looking for incredibly high levels of accuracy, Rev is hard to beat because there are real people at the other end of it transcribing what you say.
Rev isn’t cheap as it charges per word but it’s extremely accurate because the audio is being listened to and transcribed by an actual person instead of a voice recognition engine.
Rev is only available as an iPhone or Android app though. There’s no Mac app though and it doesn’t work in a browser.
Similar to Rev is Braina which is both a Siri style personal assistant and dictation app although it only works on Windows, iOS and Android.
However, if you install Windows on your Mac, you could run the Windows version on it.
Dictation Microphones To Enhance Recognition
The in-built microphone on Macs is good but you’ll definitely get better results by using an external microphone or dictation headset.
External mics and headsets not only pick up your voice better because the microphone is closer to your mouth, but they’re better at reducing background noise.
You’ve got three different options when it comes to dictation devices: Wired Headsets, Wireless Headsets and Desktop Microphones.
The best option for you obviously depends on whether you want to wear something on your head, walk around, or just speak into a mic next to your Mac.
A good Wired Headset for dictation is the AAAPrice noise cancelling USB headset which is optimized for Dragon Dictate although works with any dictation software.
If you like to walk around, buy a Wireless Headset but just be careful with the range as it can vary wildly depending on the model. One of the best we’ve seen is the Logitech Wireless Headset which has an impressive Bluetooth range of up to 300 feet.
If you prefer not to wear something, Microphones deliver just as good results although you may find yourself craning over the desktop ones more than sitting up straight like you can with a headset.
Useful Dictation Tips
Dictation in itself can be a strange experience if you’ve never done it before. It can feel strange at first talking to a computer and hearing the sound of your own voice constantly. There’s a few other things to be aware of specifically related to the way dictation software works too.
- The most important thing in any dictation app is how accurate it is at recognizing your voice. You will inevitably have a certain amount of correction to do whichever app you choose but the more accurate it is, the less errors you’ll have to correct. Most apps require you to do a certain amount of speaking first before using it so it can familiarize itself with your voice and accent.
- All dictation apps have their own commands and way of working. Some definitely feel easier to use than others and once you get used to the way one works, it’s a pain to switch software at a later date.
- Dictation obviously limits when and where you can work. If you’re in a public space such as on a train or even in an open plan office, it’s less private to dictate not to mention more complicated due to background noise.
- You’ll make more mistakes constructing sentences dictating rather than typing. On a keyboard, you have more time to think, go back and revise, delete etc. It’s harder to formulate sentences perfectly thinking off the top of your head but the advantage is your output is more “uncensored”.
- Try to avoid filler words like “erm”, “so..” and “OK” because editing these out later is a real pain. It’s actually much harder than you think to avoid filler words as it’s such a natural part of most people’s speech. Try to just take a pause or be silent instead while you think what you’re going to say next. To help avoid filler words, before you start dictating, have a rough plan of what you’re going to say.