Array microphone/soundcard review: Andrea SuperBeam with Pure Audio

You may have noticed that I haven’t written about Dragon NaturallySpeaking or speech recognition for some time. There are a few reasons for this. Most pressing has been a fatigue that makes me too tired to speak unless I have to (at work, say) and alters my breathing. The altered breathing, combined with my difficulty in positioning the headset microphone, made using Dragon haphazard; my accuracy went to hell and I got the dreaded loop of “him him him” every time I breathed, and no amount of bending could fix it. So, once I got some strength back, I ordered a budget package from Andrea Electronics: a Pure Audio sound card with a SuperBeam array microphone. Array microphones are standalone; you don’t wear them. You just need to set them close enough so Dragon can “hear” you. Bear in mind that the less expensive microphones will probably have less distance to work with. For the SuperBeam, it’s probably a bad idea to be more than a foot-and-some away.

My setup isn’t perfect, but it will have to do. My computer is a small form factor model that sits on top of my desk, and the monitor sits on top of it. I can keep the microphone closest to mouth level if I set it on top of the computer at the edge. The microphone is small and comes with an adhesive strip to secure it once you find a good position. The microphone plugs easily into the soundcard, which I plugged into a back port to minimize tangling. I had to make room for it; it’s slightly thicker than a standard USB plug or flash drive. IMPORTANT: you must install the included software before you plug in the soundcard, or it will not function properly. Normally, having to install things would bother me, but since I can’t really use speech recognition at work anymore, it’s just my home computer and no big deal.

I can’t comment on whether the new setup has improved my accuracy or not, because I started a new profile to accommodate my hoarseness and I’m still training it somewhat. The best I can say is that it hasn’t gotten worse, and it’s pretty stable. When I’m not tired, it’s rather good and would be even better if I could get myself closer to the microphone. The microphone doesn’t pick up my breathing at all, so there’s much less interruption. It doesn’t even pick up the noise of the heater, which is right next to me. I even left the computer unattended accidentally for a minute, and the worst I got was a “please say that again”. Array microphones are supposed to focus on the sound coming directly at them, and I guess that’s what the SuperBeam is doing. However, I think that the soundcard is doing most of the work; the Pure Audio soundcard got six dragons for accuracy. A good soundcard can often compensate for a middling microphone.

Overall, I like this setup a lot. It’s nice not to be tethered to the machine, or have to untangle myself, or move the microphone out of the way to drink my coffee. Of course, I will still keep my headset microphone for when my voice is very quiet or I’m afraid of too much background noise. But for personal everyday use, this combination seems like it will serve me pretty well. If you’re on a budget like I am right now, you would probably do okay with these two.

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