At TTP we strive to provide an accurate and efficient transcription service, with as short a turn-around time as possible for our clients. Most often we’re successful in doing so, but occasionally we find a spanner in the works!
One such “spanner” arises in the form of proprietary audio formats. On the surface, the idea of using a proprietary format (examples being the Olympus .DSS and .DS2, or Microsoft’s .WMA format) seems to bring many benefits, particularly in terms of higher audio quality, or smaller file size when compared to an equivalent “open” (.MP3 or .WAV, to name two) format. Unfortunately, when those files arrive in a transcriptionist’s inbox, the issues begin to surface.
Let’s take Olympus’ .DS2 audio files as our example. The .DS2 format is efficient in both audio quality and file size, and is a default format on the audio recorders produced by the company. Unfortunately, over time, changes to the .DS2 standard have occurred which have caused the file structure to vary between different models of recorder. This can result in a transcriptionist finding that their standard tools (in the case of TTP, we use tools from NCH, including Express Scribe for playback, and Switch for file conversion) will unpredictably playback all of a file, part of a file, or none of the file at all, depending on which variant of the format is in play. Where it is not possible to convert the file using freely available tools, it then becomes necessary to introduce delay by asking the client to convert the file to a more usable format.
An obvious response is to say “Use a vendor’s conversion tool and convert to a format you can work with!” This is fine in principle, but could lead to a transcriptionist having to pay for multiple proprietary tools in order to service of all their clients successfully. Given that not all transcription companies charge a file conversion fee (TTP doesn’t), this outlay would need to be either absorbed by the transcriptionist, or applied to the overall cost of a transcription.
How then, should an acceptable compromise be reached, so that both parties aren’t needlessly disadvantaged?
From a practical perspective, it is advisable, when selecting a recording device, to identify exactly what it supports, and what options are available for converting those files from any proprietary formats, into one of the open formats. Ideally the recorder’s vendor will have software which can take the proprietary file after it is created, and allow conversion to mainstream format, rather than forcing a compromise on the recording itself. This will then allow for files to be archived in the most efficient format, and enable future conversion. In the (unlikely) event that the vendor does not supply such a tool, it may be necessary to select an open format such as mp3 in the recorder, despite the compromises that this may require.
Additionally, if it is anticipated that a project will require high-priority, time-sensitive transcriptions, it is essential to liaise with your chosen transcription company to ensure that they are completely aware of your situation and choice of file format, so that they have the chance to discuss requirements, identify potential conversion issues, and perhaps have the opportunity to test with sample files.
Finally, transcriptionists can benefit greatly if informed of upcoming projects that require special processes to be adopted, and to be aware of any non-standard software (if freely available) which may be required. It is also incumbent on every transcriptionist to be familiar with the most common tools to ensure that they can handle any file which is provided in an “agreed” format without needless delays.
For optimal results, transcription needs to be seen as a partnership between the transcription service provider and the client, where both parties have the opportunity to enhance outcomes through collaborative efforts, and preparation for the tasks required. If such a partnership is achieved, a fast and efficient transcription process will ensue.