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What is some good software I can use for listening to speech? I would like to be able to listen to a snippet of speech over and over again, and slow it down without changing the pitch, all with a streamlined user interface.

I'm asking this from a language learning perspective, but there's no reason this question can't be more general. I figure that transcribing speech is something that linguists must do all the time.

  • I believe this question is better suited for superuser.com – prash Jun 23 '12 at 2:01
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You can use Praat, with TextGrids or a separate text editor, but I preferred ELAN for simple 'prose' transcription of long passages; this is particularly true if there are multiple speakers to keep track of. Both are free and multi-platform. Some people prefer Express Scribe, as well.

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If you want a very quick and simple program to slow down a sound file of speech, use VLC Player. It is one of the best free media players at any rate. It cannot transcribe anything, though; but you could get your audio files for the sounds or words you want to study from elsewhere.

Press - (minus) to go slower, + (plus) for faster. It keeps the pitch intact; that is, it keeps the frequency of the short waves (high frequency) in instrumental music and voices at the same pitch for the human ear. That is what it is designed to do.

It does a very good job at slowing voices down, though speeding them up is not always as smooth (but still reasonable). Especially speeding up vibrato in classical music goes wrong, which was only to be expected: the program only takes into account the frequency at the higher frequencies, while each vibration in vibrato takes much longer to complete than the normal vibrations that result in pitch for the human ear. At 200 %, vibrato results in high-pitched bleeps, though the underlying pitch is still audible.

But for slowing down voices it works very well. You can decrement to 67, 50, 33, 25, 12, 6, and 3 %. A regular song at 128 kbps and 44kHz sounds OK at 50 %, is still reasonably audible (but lots of noise) at 25 %, fails at 12 % and lower. This most probably depends on the quality of the file: the more information there is per second, the more smoothly the file will still sound when slowed down.

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Free software, 'Audacity', can apply and preserve, as well as infinitely undo, many useful transformations in any selections of the audio. See its menu, 'Effects'. 'Change Tempo' will change the speed without changing the pitch. For the reverse, 'Change Pitch' will change the pitch without changing the speed. You may also find that adjusting the pitch will be useful in bringing out some barely-audible speech sounds, for easier listening or just giving your ears variety.

Though it lacks the streamlined user interface you requested, with its nice, graphical interface you can visually, easily find different people's speech in a long recording, IMO.

It is downloadable for many OS's, including Mac, and I can confirm it works well on Windows. It handles huge (multi-gigabyte) files and can save in many formats, including MP3.

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