What is the Best Free Transcription Software?

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Which transcription software is the best for you will depend on the type of transcription work you want to do, the industry you're targeting and the customers you want to work with.

Someone who's already working in the field may have different software needs than someone who is just getting started in transcription.

Some software is available for PCs only and other software is available for Macs.


1. Express Scribe

Express Scribe has a FREE + paid transcription playback software for audio
Works with PC, Mac and Linux.

Express Scribe is the most used transcription software to transcribe audio files and is still popular today (although The FTW Transcriber in gaining popularity over Express Scribe because of its superior sound quality).

Express Scribe works with both hot keys and a foot pedal. You can use a foot pedal or the hot keys on your keyboard to start and stop, slow and speed up, and more. The free Express Scribe transcription software provides multi-channel control and file management.

Pros: Express Scribe works with PC, Mac and Linux.


  • When downloading the trial version, the software downloads automatically. Make sure to install it! 
  • You cannot set custom time codes. For example, if you get an audio file that has a starting time code of 01:10:05, Express Scribe only allows you to start a file at 00:00:00.
Compare the free and paid version of Express Scribe
  • The free version supports common audio formats, including MP3, WAV, WMA, AIFF, MP2, VOX and DCT.
  • The paid version supports video and many additional audio formats,  including WAV, MP3, MP4, WMA, dct and proprietary format support such as DSS, DS2 and mvf (Windows & Mac compatible).
  • Express Scribe says that the AltoEdge USB Foot Pedal (FPAEUSB2) is the ONLY pedal usable with the FREE version of Express Scribe.
  • The paid version supports Non-AltoEdge foot pedals, e.g. VEC, Vpedal, the Olympus RS-27 USB Foot Pedal and more.
  •  See more information about foot pedals here.

Express Scribe v 5.00 or later can play video files. Earlier versions of Express Scribe for Windows can play video files that are compatible with Windows Media Player, however only the audio will be played – the video will not be shown.

Express Scribe Transcription Foot Pedal Bundle: Foot Pedal and Professional Software
This is an inexpensive option for beginners.
I recommend getting the professional version that comes with the foot pedal bundle.
The transcription foot pedal bundle includes the professional version of Express Scribe software and an Infinity USB foot pedal.  The 3-button USB foot pedal makes transcribing fast and efficient and makes it easy to rewind, play/pause and fast-forward.
The professional Express Scribe software costs typically around $66 and the starting price of a IN-USB-2 foot pedal on sale is $50-$55 so the bundle is cheaper than buying the software separately and about the same price or less than some of the foot pedals.

Express Scribe Transcription Bundle: Pedal, Professional Software and Headset (Same as above with headset)


2. FTW Transcriber

Has a free and paid version.

Watch this video from FTW Transcriber
to see the differences between FTW Transcriber and Express Scribe.

The FTW Transcriber software works with both hot keys or a foot pedal and works similar to Express Scribe.

The FTW Transcriber is gaining popularity over Express Scribe and is becoming the favorite transcription software for many professional transcriptionists today.

Here's why:

  • The sound quality is far superior than Express Scribe and when you are in the transcription business, quality sound means you waste less time trying to understand unclear words and providing more accurate transcripts.
  • It has a large variety of time-stamping options. The automatic time-stamping feature is a great time saver and saves you many hours of adding timestamps manually and substantially cuts down typing time.  

More features:

  • It plays all files that Windows Media can play.
  • It plays video files with the visual displayed.
  • It is compatible with all word processors.


  • Works with Windows only.
  • The free version has ads.  The premium version is ad-free, provides free support and additional time-saving features. It is $1 when paying 24 months or $10 per month when paying monthly.

What pedal should you use with FTW?

FTW says that the FTW Transcriber is compatible with

  • The Infinity USB pedal
  • and Olympus RS-27 and RS-28.

Simply plug in the pedal to your computer and restart the FTW Transcriber.

IN-USB-2 Pedal – Works with FTW and Express Scribe

 More information about foot pedals.

3. ForTheRecord (FTR)

Has a free and paid version
Windows only

ForTheRecord transcription program targets the legal field and is used for legal transcription but can be used for any type of transcription. It is highly recommended by court reporters.

The popular transcription software FTR Gold and FTR's The Record Player allows you to do video timecoding.

It offers a four-channel isolation that is useful when transcribing any type of meeting with multiple speakers. You can flog events, create notes and insert time stamps for information such as participants/appearances, spellings and key terminology.

  • The free player plays audio and video.
  • FTR’s free audio and video player gives full playback control of the record.
  • Windows only.


You can start with the free software mentioned above. Once you acquired some experience, you may move on to companies that require you to use a specific transcription software. But there is no need to buy transcription software until a company you want to work for requires it.

Start Stop Powerplay DVD/Video System

$229 includes free headset and free upgrades
Windows only

The Start-Stop UNIVERSAL Transcription System is a professional grade, PC-based, foot-pedal controlled transcriber that has been around for over a decade.

You can use Start-Stop for all your transcribing needs as it supports virtually every audio format. It is an all-in-one program allowing you to transcribe DVDs, audio CDs, and digital video and audio files. You can control the speed and playback of virtually any digital recording—pause, play, step-back, and fast-forward.

It focuses on improved workflow and efficiency for transcriptionists, court reporters, conference recording, educators, corporations, and government. It includes FTP and a job manager that can be organized with creation date, file, title, and job status. Features include: autoplay, bookmarks, time stamping, auto-notification, smart line courter, network sharing and more.  It provides a lifetime free upgrades guarantee.

Ready to get started with transcription work?  

Explore a career in general transcription with this FREE general mini-course

To get in-depth training,
I recommend Janet Shaughnessy’s detailed, online,
multi-media, online general transcription course
This course includes typing drills, transcription skills, transcription formats, grammar skills, lots of practice files and much more.



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2 thoughts on “What is the Best Free Transcription Software?”

  1. Note. Express Scribe paid does NOT support .ds2 – that is a proprietary format that only Olympus, Philips and Grundig as they own it.

    Scribe is great for transcribing meetings and interviews. For confidential legal or medical audio you will need pro software from one of the DSS three.

  2. Thank you for your feedback. You are right. Here’s what Express Scribe mentions on their site:
    “DS2 files are a proprietary format created when the Olympus DS-2400 is used to make dictations. After the dictation is created, the format can be converted to DSS or WAV format using the Olympus Standard software included with the DS-2400, which means you will have to request that the person creating dictations converts the files before sending them to you.

    We recommend using DSS files in Express Scribe.

    To convert files from the Olympus Standard player, have the user select the dictation(s) in the list, go to the File menu, select “Convert Dictation” and then click the Convert button. A more detailed, step-by-step guide with screenshots can be viewed at Converting DS2 to DSS with Olympus Standard.”

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