Restricted Boltzmann Machines (RBM) continue to be a popular methodology to pre-train weights of Deep Belief Networks (DBNs). However, the RBM objective function cannot be maximized directly. Therefore, it is not clear what function to monitor when deciding to stop the training, leading to a challenge in managing the computational costs. The Sparse Encoding Symmetric Machine (SESM) has been suggested as an alternative method for pre-training. By placing a sparseness term on the NN output codebook, SESM allows the objective function to be optimized directly and reliably be monitored as an indicator to stop the training. In this paper, we explore SESM to pre-train DBNs and apply this the first time to speech recognition. First, we provide a detailed analysis comparing the behavior of SESM and RBM. Second, we compare the performance of SESM pre-trained and RBM pre-trained DBNs on TIMIT and a 50 hour English Broadcast News task. Results indicate that pre-trained DBNs using SESM and RBMs achieve comparable performance and outperform randomly initialized DBNs with SESM providing a much easier stopping criterion relative to RBM. © 2012 IEEE.