Last year I reviewed the TwistMike by SpeechWare, a company with a strong reputation for professional microphones in the speech recognition industry. I was amazed at the accuracy of my voice dictation when using the company’s longest and most flexible microphone boom.
The TwistMike solved a problem I’d been experiencing for a long time; being unable to sit comfortably close enough to the microphone capsule to help with accurate voice dictation when using speech recognition applications like Dragon Professional, and Apple’s Voice Control.
However, whilst the TwistMike certainly helps with getting close, it does come with one fairly major compromise – and that’s the amount of deskspace it takes up. It’s a large beast at 30 inches long and takes up quite a lot of real estate, which for me is limited.
With this issue in mind, I’ve been trying out SpeechWare’s USB TravelMike, which with its small size and easy portability sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to its big brother, the TwistMike.
USB TravelMike specifications
Essentially, the USB TravelMike is a tiny portable desktop microphone that’s made up of two main components. An external USB soundcard, or what SpeechWare call their USB MultiAdapter, which is designed specifically for speech recognition.
You plug the MultiAdapter into a USB port on your laptop, bypassing the often inferior internal soundcards inside laptops, and then connect the included 3.5 mm mini cardioid pivot microphone to the USB MultiAdapter.
The TravelMike shares all of the same technologies and audio chipset as SpeechWare’s larger TableMikes, including things like Auto Gain Control (AGC), and Auto EQ (EQ), which are important for dictating accurately with Dragon and Voice Control. The TravelMike even includes the same microphone capsule as its bigger brothers. Thanks to all this you get instant low latency transcription resulting in impressive accuracy.
For this review I was trying out the basic model of the TravelMike. However, SpeechWare also sell a separate, more expensive version that includes a 4 port USB hub, (one of which supports USB 3.0 for faster data transfer), with a practical 15 cm hidden cable, which can be used as a base to stand the TravelMike conveniently next to your laptop.
Green and blue
The TravelMike with MultiAdapter has two settings:
1) For long range voice dictation on a laptop sat at a desk the TravelMike should be used on the green setting, where your mouth is about 10 – 20 inches away from the microphone capsule, and there is low ambient noise in the room where you are dictating.
On the green setting the TravelMike uses SpeechWare’s speech equaliser and auto gain control to pick up your voice extremely well, even at long distance, and makes for highly accurate voice dictation. SpeechWare say that with their technology maintaining the same distance to the microphone isn’t that important anymore: as you move away, the TravelMike automatically increases its volume and vice versa.
On the green setting your voice will sound slightly unnatural, or metallic, on Zoom and phone calls and this is expected behaviour due to the amount of equalisation being applied.
2) There’s also a blue setting for HD VoIP mode, which is good for a closer dictation distance of 2 – 5 inches away from the microphone. On the blue setting the TravelMike can be used with a handheld tablet, or headset, where the microphone capsule can be placed much closer to your mouth than using it with a laptop at a desk.
On the blue setting the TravelMike will work well in environments with moderate ambient noise, and your voice will sound clear and natural on Zoom and phone calls.
For this review I was using the TravelMike on the green setting plugged directly into the USB port on the side of my laptop with my mouth about 12 – 15 inches away from the microphone capsule.
Included in the box
- Pivoting, detachable and exchangeable snub-nosed (7.5 cm – 3″) cardioid microphone
- USB MultiAdapter with 3.5 mm headphone and microphone inputs featuring SpeechWare’s proprietary VoiceMatic V10 audio chipset
- USB male to female 90 degrees fixed angle connector to keep the USB MultiAdapter in a upright position when plugged into a laptop
- 17 cm long USB cable extension
- Certified USB 2.0 to USB Type-C converter for MacBooks and Windows laptops that only have USB C ports
- Optional windshield and spare
- Case for storage and travel
Much like SpeechWare’s other products the design of the TravelMike is very functional but this is hardly an issue in a product so small.
It’s great to have a robust storage case included when this microphone is designed with travel in mind.
Set up is straightforward. If you have a standard USB-A port on your laptop you plug in the USB MultiAdapter, and if your laptop only has USB-C ports then SpeechWare include a USB-C to USB-A adapter in the box. You then plug in the pivoting microphone into the USB MultiAdapter and you are all set to go.
There are no drivers for the user to install on either Windows or Mac computers. This happens automatically when you first plug in the USB TravelMike to your laptop and takes literally a few seconds. The instruction manual includes a few suggested tweaks and in next to no time you are up and dictating.
Good dictation accuracy
For this review I used the USB TravelMike with a new Dragon profile and from the word go the accuracy of dictation was impressive. Exactly the same as using one of SpeechWare’s much bigger desktop microphones, which is incredible in such a small and portable solution. With little training of my new Dragon profile the accuracy was near 100%, which is the holy Grail of speech recognition.
I also tried the TravelMike with Apple’s Voice Control application, and whilst the results were not as impressive as they were with Dragon, there was a significant improvement compared to using the Californian company’s AirPods, or the internal microphones on my MacBook computer. On the whole, Voice Control continues to disappoint but that is another story for another review.
The recommended long-range green setting on the TravelMike worked well when my home was quiet, but if the TV was on in the background, or someone was walking around, opening and closing doors, or doing the washing up, or even if traffic passsed outside my window, the accuracy of dictation dipped a bit. This is where you would need to switch to the blue setting on the TravelMike and plug in a wired headset as the blue setting is more efficient at blocking out background noise. However, the downside of this is that you lose the untethered dictation experience.
Some users may find having to switch the TravelMike to blue mildly inconvenient, whilst people like myself, with upper limb disabilities, will find this impossible to do without assistance.
It’s worth noting that Windows users have the option of setting the default microphone on a per application basis so you could select the TravelMike for Dragon, and the internal laptop microphones for phone calls and Zoom.
The USB TravelMike is really comfortable to use. There’s no microphone boom sticking in your face, and on the green setting you don’t even need to wear a headset. The TravelMike just sits discreetly to your right or left plugged directly into the side of your laptop, or the optional base and hub.
On the green setting you can sit comfortably at your computer and dictate very accurately from 10 – 20 inches from the tip of the microphone, which feels relaxed and liberating.
Whilst there is the option to use the TravelMike on the blue setting on a laptop, for users like me with softer voices it will only provide accurate dictation if you are 2 – 5 inches from the microphone tip. This makes for a very unnatural sitting position so you can rule this option out if you intend to plug the TravelMike into the USB port on your laptop.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t plug a wired microphone headset into the TravelMike’s included MultiAdapter and use it that way on the blue setting. This option still offers a very minimalistic set up albeit tethered to your desk with a wire.
One of the great things about the USB TravelMike is its versatility. There is the option of plugging in a wired headset when traveling on a plane or train where there is a lot of background noise, using it handheld with a small tablet in a hotel, attached to a laptop as I have been using it, or with a USB base with a PC.
When using the TravelMike plugged into the USB port on the side of my laptop on the blue setting, (which is good both for dictating with Dragon, and for Zoom and phone calls), it delivered disappointing dictation results. People’s voices are different and this may be down to the fact that I have a soft voice.
On the long-range green setting the TravelMike offers extremely accurate speech recognition but for Zoom and phone calls your voice will sound somewhat unnatural to callers you are speaking to due to equalisation.
Nonetheless, the TravelMike is very convenient because it offers the same untethered voice dictation experience that more bulkier table mics offer, and you don’t need to worry about wires, nothing on your head or in your ears, or even batteries to recharge as you do with some headsets.
If you’ve never had much success with portable USB microphones in the past you’re going to love the TravelMike, which more than matches a desktop setup.
The TravelMike is priced at €259, (£222 including VAT if you do not have a VAT number), which isn’t cheap, but what you are getting for this price is a product that excels when it comes to accuracy when using Dragon in an extremely portable and small form factor.
The more expensive TravelMike with Base and Hub retails for €299 (£256 including VAT if you don’t have a VAT number).
The USB TravelMike is a compact, versatile and truly portable desktop microphone for voice dictation. It matches the accuracy of SpeechWare’s far bulkier table microphones, which is amazing for such a small product.
If deskspace is at a premium where you work then the USB TravelMike is a great option because its footprint is extremely small.
If you travel and take a laptop or tablet with you, and need highly accurate speech recognition on the go, the TravelMike is ideal as it’s small enough to fit in your pocket.
On the green setting dictation accuracy with Dragon is very impressive, even at a distance, but you will need to remember to switch the setting to blue, and plug in a wired headset, if you want to use Zoom, or make and receive phone calls, or use the built in microphones on your computer.
The TravelMike offers something for everyone, whatever the situation; connected to a laptop, tablet or PC; on planes, trains or in hotel rooms. No wonder SpeechWare call it the TravelMike.
If you travel, or deskspace is an issue, and you need highly accurate voice dictation, the TravelMike is great.
Pros: low profile that takes up little deskspace, offers highly accurate speech recognition, small and portable for travel, versatile being able to be used on a range of devices and in different situations
Cons: expensive, not very good for Zoom and phone calls if used on the long range green setting