Students, conference attendees, lawyers, and anyone who has to transcribe recorded audio should try Listen N Write, a free tool designed specifically for transcription. It doesn't use speech recognition or automatic transcription, and Microsoft Anna doesn't speak your text files out loud. It's simply a media player bundled with a text editor, but a media player with subtle but clever differences that make it a great tool for playing back recorded lectures and speeches (for example) and writing down what you hear. To begin with, the Skip arrows move the recording forward or back just a few seconds, ending the ever-so-frustrating back-and-forth as you try to zero in on a single word or short phrase. Also, when you hit the Pause button, Listen N Write's media player reverses the recording by one second, which helps keep words from being truncated.
Listen N Write's interface consists of three pieces: the media player and the optional text editor and bookmarks box, though only the media player and text editor open by default. We could hide or show the bookmarks and text editor via the media player's View menu; the rest of the menu bar's entries will be familiar to most users. The media player itself is extremely simple, just a file title field, an Open File icon, playback controls, a volume slider, and a progress bar/counter. The Text Editor has the usual toolbar full of controls. The Bookmarks box is quite simple, but it's a useful extra; however, we opted to leave it off most of the time.
The program proved quite effective in use. We started with a recording of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which we had on hand, not because we thought the slightly archaic speech would prove a good example to demonstrate Listen N Write, but that's exactly what happened. When we clicked Pause, the program would reverse the audio one second, which proved ideal for catching full words we'd just missed. Likewise, the ability to jump ahead or back in small increments was invaluable--certainly when compared to trying to use your cell phone's voice recorder to hear Professor Mushmouth's lecture.