Microphone for a Mac Pro

For a while now I’ve been wanting to use speech recognition on my Mac, and to be able to tell it to ‘Get my mail’ or to ‘Switch to Firefox’. The problem has been that the Mac Pro doesn’t come with a built-in microphone, and the built-in mike on my Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro, whilst fine for iChat and Skype, flatly refused to work with the Mac’s own speech recognition. So the search was on for a microphone that was guaranteed to work so that I could start talking to my computer, just like Scotty in Star Trek!

Now before we go any further, I must point out that I wasn’t in the market for a headset with a microphone on it. I figured that being attached to my Mac via a cable was going to be too restrictive and besides, I’ve already got a very nice set of speakers hooked up to the machine. Also, any thought of a wireless headset or even a bluetooth headset to perform this role were quickly dismissed, owing to the lack of evidence that they work with OS X.

So, having searched around in Google for a variety of ‘Mac USB Microphone Speech Recognition’ keywords, it became clear that there were no websites that stated categorically “this USB microphone works with the built-in Mac OS X speech recognition”, although I did start to find some likely candidates.

The MacMice MicFlex was mentioned on the MacSpeech Dictate website and I figured that if it was verified to work with their Voice Dictation software, then it would almost certainly work with the OS X feature. Unfortunately, tracking down a UK supplier selling them at a sensible price was another matter (I found one shop wanting £49.95 for it). I also spotted the Samson C01 (£54.99) and the Blue Snowflake USB (£49.98) on the Solutions Inc website, and as these guys are an Apple retailer I figured if they were selling mikes chances are they’d be sure to work on the Mac. I talked to one of their sales reps and while he said these were excellent devices for creating podcasts and working with things like GarageBand, they couldn’t guarantee they’d work with the built-in speech recognition simply because no customers had actually reported back that they did. Fair play to them as they weren’t about to sell me something they couldn’t guarantee would do the job.

Wasteful packaging

Wasteful packaging

In the end I decided to take a punt and just try out a ‘cheap’ Logitech USB microphone that retailed at Amazon UK for just £13.92, and with free delivery it arrived 3 days later. Once I’d disposed of the ridiculously unnecessary packaging, I was left with something that looked like it had escaped from a 1970’s B movie, but at this price what can you expect. Plugging it in, I opened up my System Preferences, found Speech and selected ‘AK5370’ as my input device. (AK5370 refers to the chipset used by the microphone). I then went in to the calibration settings and started talking, and guess what…. IT WORKS!!! Yep there you go Mac Pro owners, if you want a low-cost USB mike that works with the built-in OS X speech recognition feature then I can confirm the Logitech USB Desktop Microphone works.

However as is often the case in the computer world, this little story didn’t end on a high note. Yes, aside from the occassional misunderstanding (the Mac keeps launching FrontRow when I ask it to launch Firefox) the speech recognition is definitely a usable feature, and it’s quite fun to simply ask your Mac to do something and to see it respond. No the problem is that it seems there’s a bug with the speech recognition feature in OSX 10.5.x which is that it simply shuts itself off after a random period of time, and I’ve seen various posts from people complaining that this happens. I’m running OS X 10.5.5. and the only way I’ve found to restart it is to turn the feature off, turn it back on and re-calibrate it, at which point the little speech recognition ‘pad’ reappears on the desktop.

So close…..