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ISDN, Source-Connect, and Other Technology for Recording Remote VO Sessions in 2020

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Today, there is a wide variety of options for connecting with others remotely. From ISDN, to Source-Connect, ipDTL and more, the number of choices can be overwhelming, so it helps to know the basics of how each one works, and the pros and cons of each. 

In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics of each technology, so you can find the best option for your unique situation. Whether you’re a voice actor, or someone who wants to work with voice actors in real time, from anywhere in the world, you’re bound to find an option that will work for you, so you can run live directed sessions with ease.

Read up on the features of the various technologies you can make use of to connect remotely for a live directed session:

Traditional Technology for Live Directed Sessions: Understanding ISDN, Source-Connect, and ipDTL

ISDN

ISDN stands for “Integrated Services Digital Network.” It’s a telecommunications technology that both voice actors and their clients can use to digitally connect and take part in a recording session together. 

ISDN supports the transmission of voice (a conversation) and data (a recorded voice over file) at the same time. Through an ISDN line, a client is able to record audio live as the talent performs the voice over, rather than have the voice actor send over an audio file after the fact.

The audio connection is so seamless that it’s as if the voice actor were recording in a client’s in-house studio.

We’ll walk you through the primary benefits of ISDN:

  1. Voice talent is left with little to no follow-up work with a client after a recording session through this digital connection, because all of the work is already completed in the session.
  2. The client is able to provide in-the-moment artistic direction, eliminating the need for retakes and any back and forth communications. They get exactly what they need, with no further delay of deliverables.
  3. Because the call has better sound quality, the client can truly hear the nuances and inflections that a voice actor incorporates into their performance. This helps the client to better direct the talent if needed, and makes it even easier to appreciate flair in the voice actor’s read.

However, there are a few main disadvantages of ISDN that are always worth keeping in mind:

  1. The ISDN line service comes with an expensive monthly bill through your phone provider.
  2. To enable ISDN, you must also purchase a codec to connect the line into your recording system. Without going into the nitty-gritty, the codec is a piece of hardware that requires an initial investment in the thousands of dollars.
  3. Connecting with a phone company that can offer you ISDN is becoming more and more difficult to find.

Though ISDN has begun to experience a phasing out over the last five to seven years, there are still a handful of production houses and ad agencies, in the USA specifically, that are happy using this older, yet reliable, technology.

However, that doesn’t mean that ISDN is a necessity for voice actors, or that agencies and production houses must equip themselves with the technology. There are now more cost-effective alternatives that allow connectivity to an ISDN line.

Source-Connect

Now an industry standard, Source-Connect is an ISDN alternative that enables all of the above benefits without any of the above pitfalls, as it is a reasonably priced, monthly subscription software.

It allows its users to bridge into any ISDN line, making the need for an actual ISDN line obsolete. It also boasts audio quality on par with that of an ISDN line as well, enabling every user to achieve the connectivity required for smooth audio project management.

Available for Windows and Mac, Source-Connect makes remote recording sessions achievable from anywhere in the world with internet access. It even offers a plugin to connect directly to Pro Tools, the recording software, that allows users to directly pull audio files into Pro Tools for post-production work.

If the concept still isn’t quite clear yet, here’s a great video demonstrating how the Source-Connect software is able to bring together two parties from across the globe (as well as bring the audio into Pro Tools).

“Using Source-Connect is a reliable, hassle-free way of being there with the client’s creative team,” says voice actor Brad Avenyou.

“Much of our work as voice artists is (satisfyingly) solitary. Working with a director, producer, and writers in a studio setting, however, is a golden opportunity to learn, contribute, and grow. If you can’t be in the studio with the team – working remotely is the next best thing,” says Brad.

It’s critical to be able to offer clients a way to connect with you and record professional-grade recordings of your voice from their end—especially with the growth in remote voice over jobs where clients and voice actors are working together from anywhere in the world. Source-Connect is certainly a more attainable and realistic option for voice actors who want to provide this level of service to potential clients.

“Anybody can use it. And if you both have a good internet connection, you can get a great quality signal with no further hardware or setup.”

Gain additional insight into the difference between Source-Connect and other connective technologies in this excerpt from a Mission Audition podcast interview with multi-award-winning voice over artist Toby Ricketts

Listen to the full episode, Nailing Your Live Directed Session With Toby Ricketts, here!

ipDTL

While ISDN has been the industry standard for more than 30 years, ipDTL has proven to be a solid, cost-effective alternative.

ipDTL stands for ‘IP down the line.’ The system was created by former BBC sound engineer Kevin Leach, after he discovered that Google Chrome’s web browser came with an open-source codec. ipDTL is a peer-to-peer format just like ISDN. However, it uses a high-speed internet connection instead of an ISDN line to connect your computer to the client with ipDTL on their computer.

ipDTL offers audio quality from 72 kbit per second mono for voice actors, 320 kbit per second stereo for outside broadcasts and 3 mbit per second video link at 1080p for high-quality video.

At the time of publishing this article, prices for ipDTL are listed at around $80 per year for a starter mono subscription, $160 for the high-end stereo audio and $250 for the video subscription. However, the cost depends on the setup you require. You can visit the ipDTL website for a cost estimate on setting up ipDTL.

While the price point for ipDTL is reasonable, the main setback is the current lack of clients using it as a form of connecting to voice actors for a live recording.

Newer Technology Alternatives for Live Directed Sessions

While the technology covered above has been used by businesses and professional studios for decades, there are now a plethora of options that are available for free, which have emerged as more and more consumers and the general public have sought ways to connect remotely with other people across the globe. 

Google Hangouts Meet

Hangouts Meet is Google’s proprietary video communication software. Released in 2013 as part of the G Suite line of products, Hangouts Meet is a cloud-based app that allows you to chat with a number of users at once through text, audio, and video. One major advantage of Hangouts Meet is that it’s free to access with a Google account, and its interface is mostly intuitive for people with experience using other Google software. 

There are a few features that differentiate Hangouts Meet from Google’s classic chat video calls. For one, classic chat only allows for up to 25 participants in a call, while Hangouts Meet allows for 100 (and if you need space for even more participants, purchasing a license for G Suite Enterprise or Enterprise for Education will allow for up to 250 participants in a call). While classic video chat lacked the capability to record meetings, G Suite Enterprise and G Suite Enterprise for Education come equipped with recording capabilities, which is a major bonus for those conducting voice over work using the technology. You can compare the different feature options between classic video calls and Hangouts Meet with this handy chart. 

Just make sure that you have a strong internet connection, because lags in audio and video can easily arise, which have the potential to jeopardize your voice recording. Hangouts Meet’s most favorable aspect is probably its user-friendliness, but due to the prospect of connectivity issues, you may want to consider saving it for more casual correspondences. 

Skype

This telecommunications app is so well-known that its name has grown into an eponym: the term video chat is interchangeable with Skype, whether you’re using the actual Skype application or not. Like Google Hangouts Meet, Skype is also free, but in this case requires that you download software. 

To facilitate the prime conditions for a live recording session over Skype, a voice actor ought to find a USB compatible microphone and set up the audio input on Skype, so that the client will hear exactly the same track that’s being recorded on a voice actor’s computer. This way, they can offer real-time direction regarding delivery, as well as notes on audio quality. 

In addition to voice calls, Skype allows for the ability to communicate via text and video chat. Multiple parties can be simultaneously connected in a Skype call. This allows for multiple stakeholders to be able to weigh in on a read.

FaceTime

Apple’s videotelephony software launched in 2010. One big plus associated with FaceTime is that it already comes built into Apple products, so if voice actors and clients will be collaborating exclusively using iPhones, iPads, or Macs, then they’re all set. They’re even granted the ability to transfer between devices mid-call. 

All in all, FaceTime is extremely user-friendly and doesn’t require you to download any additional software. However, it is limited to Apple users, which can present a real problem when you’re working on larger projects and more parties are involved.

If you’re planning on using your mobile phone to record your voice, you can read up on our tips for finding the right iPhone microphone attachment, which includes a list of the ones we most recommend. 

Zoom

Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing, online meeting, and group messaging platform that has soared to popularity in recent history. It requires you to create an account and download the free software, and there are mobile and desktop versions of the platform. Zoom allows screen sharing, and up to 1000 participants can take part in a call, so it is definitely beneficial when you require a large amount of people to be present for the recording. 

It is worth noting, however, that Zoom has experienced some security issues, so you may want to use discretion regarding the information that you share over a Zoom call, in case it doesn’t end up remaining entirely confidential. 

Understanding Phone Patch

A phone patch is another way to enable the transfer of high-quality audio recordings to a client. Much like Source-Connect, a phone patch has the benefit of facilitating in-the-moment feedback and collaboration, with no delay of deliverables. A phone patch, in its proper form, requires the purchase of a telephone audio interface. This hardware allows you to connect your call to your recording booth, route the conversation through your headphones, and lets the client record only your voice over read.

This initial investment makes the phone patch option a bit more expensive up front than the monthly subscription of Source-Connect.

Sometimes, the term “‘phone patch”’ is used synonymously with online calling services and conference lines like Skype or Zoom. While these services definitely enable collaboration and have revolutionized how voice actors and clients can communicate, they differ from a true phone patch from an audio- quality and reliability standard. Especially when relying on a wireless internet connection, online calling services can experience dropouts and cut-offs that cause hiccups and delays in the audio recording and project management process.

Imagine finally nailing a voice over read, just to experience a loss of signal at that exact moment. The recording isn’t captured, and your client is waiting for you to rejoin them. Of course, this problem can be solved by using a hardwired internet connection!

However, voice actor Ryan Sitzberger said Skype or any other conference call software has always done the trick for him.

“The client has heard the quality of the audition, so they understand what they will receive quality-wise,” Ryan says.

“In the cases of live sessions I’ve done for clients, they are simply looking to be able to direct my tone and pacing as I record. I think it’s easier on the client end as well as there’s no learning curve for them to figure out.”

Jason Wright, voice actor, says he also likes connecting on Skype because so many people use the platform.

Pros and Cons of Live Directed Session Technologies

TechnologyProsCons
ISDN• The audio is recorded live, so there is no need for follow-up
• The technology replicates the high sound quality of the voice actor and their client being in a studio with each other
• The technology is costly and has begun to grow outdated
• It requires two studios, on both the talent and client ends, to be ISDN-equipped (which necessitates large amounts of setup and maintenance)
Source-Connect• Accessible anywhere that you have internet access
• Has the option for a plugin that connects directly to audio editing software Pro Tools
• Requires a paid monthly subscription
Phone Patch• Connects directly to your phone line
• High-quality, low-latency recordings that rival ISDN
• Phone patch receivers range in price from $150 USD and upward

 



ipDTL
• There are a number of available subscription prices, allowing you to pay by month or annually
• No ISDN line required
• ipDTL is only as good as your microphones and internet connection
• The user interface is a little chaotic, which makes it harder for first-time users
Google Hangouts Meet• Free with a Google account
• Highly user-friendly
• Works best with Chrome-based browsers
• The prospect of lagging and delay makes it more favorable to use for casual conversations than for important voice recordings
Skype• Well-known and trusted around the world
• Available to anybody to download for free 
• User status shows when others are online and available for calls
• The recording quality is not strong enough for broadcast work, like TV or radio spots
• There are a lot of bells and whistles on the desktop app (emoji reactions, status updates) that may distract from the primary purpose of your directed session
• Signal issues can greatly impact the connection quality, and the service has been known to shut down

FaceTime
• Highly user-friendly interface that supports video calls 
• The software already comes built into Apple devices
• The app is exclusive to Apple users, and is not supported by Android
• Record a call using FaceTime requires the downloading of additional software
Zoom• High number of participants able to take part in the same call
• Easy to use 
• As a paid subscriber, you gain the ability to record audio and video to the Cloud
• Zoom has received criticism over privacy concerns
• While a convenient way to connect with one another, audio recordings are low-quality

Relying on Local Studios’ Tech

Finding a local recording studio can be a valuable option if a job requires ISDN, Source-Connect, or a phone patch.

This option may also make sense for voice actors who seldom come across clients asking for live-directed sessions and live recordings. Rather than investing in any of the three options for your home studio, it may be more affordable to book a recording studio for these far and few between jobs. 

Food for thought: The downfall of this option is that it can create a delay in recording as you and the client wait for a time slot to be booked at the studio. If another voice actor is able to meet the demands of the client quicker because they are equipped with one of the above, this delay may cause the client to choose the other voice actor.  

How Do Voice Actors Prefer to Connect with Clients?

So now you’ve read up on the options. But how are voice actors and clients actually connecting?

In an internal survey of 174 voice actors, Voices.com found the five most popular options for voice actors to connect with clients for a live recording were:

  1. Phone patch (31.6%)
  2. Skype (24.7%)
  3. Source-Connect (23.5%)
  4. Using local recording studio’s tech (9.2%)
  5. ipDTL (5.7%)

Of those who chose phone patch, 80% said they prefer it because it’s easy to use.

ipDTL ranked the highest in terms of reliability, at 90%, while 62.8% of those who chose Skype said it was because of affordability (it’s free anywhere in the world if you’re calling someone else who also has Skype).

The most surprising piece of data was that only 5 of the 174 (2.8%) voice actors surveyed said they use the former go-to industry standard ISDN.

The top three regarded as the industry standards were Source-Connect, local recording studios and ipDTL.

However, voice actor David Brewer says while he does use Source-Connect, Skype and phone patch, sometimes just a cell phone will do fine.

“…Even a simple iPhone with earbuds works well every time for me. There is rarely a technology breakdown through a speakerphone, earbuds or patch and the session can commence with little downtime,” says David.

Add Connectivity Options to Your Services

Working in voice over from the comfort of home has never been easier. Whether you’re a voice actor with access to audio software and a quiet space to record, or a client in need of a script read to meet a tight project deadline, the emergence of convenient technologies has enabled a vast portion of the voice over industry to migrate online. These technologies range from high-end telecommunications technologies, like Source-Connect and ISDN, to commonly-known video conferencing tools.

Have you already committed to one of these options? How is it working out? Let us know in the comments below if you’re loving the decision you made, or, if you’re beginning to look at other audio connection options.

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Comments

  • SomeAudioGuy
    February 11, 2008, 10:28 am

    Those looking for the cheapo version should check out tubeplug:
    http://www.kvraudio.com/get/2407.html

    And it’s been mentioned before, but if all you need is phone patch (meaning you’ll record locally and send the audio some other way), then Skype will be your best friend.

    Reply
  • Janet
    December 4, 2009, 1:25 pm

    I’ve found that ISDN was totally worth the money spent on it. I think that it opens your variety of business. Clients don’t always have recording studios to work in, some don’t mind when you work from your own studio and some even prefer if you go in and work with their people. Either way, it allows you to adjust your rates for you being your own recording engineer and eventually could lead to more money in your pocket.

    Reply
  • Keaver Brenai
    March 19, 2019, 1:10 pm

    Thank you for the bog article, Niki! I use both ipDTL and Source Connect Standard and find them easy to use as standalone or syncing to ProTools.

    Reply
  • Keaver Brenai
    March 19, 2019, 1:11 pm

    Thank you for the blog article, Niki! I use both ipDTL and Source Connect Standard and find them easy to use as standalone or syncing to ProTools.

    Reply
  • Lizet Vásquez
    April 10, 2019, 3:09 pm

    That is very useful information. Thanks! It’d terrific if you could expand some information about Source Connect, since it has three different versions. I’d like to know which one is the most requested by studios and clients. Regards, Lizet.

    Reply
  • Traci Godfrey
    March 24, 2020, 2:25 pm

    I’d like to get Source Connect for my V/O business. I currently have a Whisper Room and use Audacity to record auditions…etc.. How do I go about getting this?

    Reply
    • oliver
      April 15, 2020, 4:12 pm

      Hi Traci,

      Good question! You can get access to Source-Connect software by visiting their website. They have a Downloads and Pricing page that conveniently compares the various Source-Connect options and how much each will cost you, and they also offer this step-by-step guide to the software. I know I found it handy.

      Wishing you success in your voice over business,
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Amy Weis
    April 30, 2020, 10:35 am

    Great information! I use the professional version of Source Connect when my clients are working with another studio, but most of my directed sessions are held through a conference call. I have a dedicated studio phone number through my GMail/Google phone. My microphone is connected to the computer where the call originates so my client can hear – in real time – the sound of the audio that they will receive. Works like a charm!

    Reply
    • oliver
      May 1, 2020, 11:40 am

      Hey Amy,

      Thanks for sharing these tips! It’s so valuable to gain insight into the various technologies voice actors are using right now, and it sounds like you’ve got a pretty foolproof setup.

      Take care!
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Shippley Watson
    October 9, 2020, 12:39 pm

    I feel like a lot of these options assume that voice talent will be responsible for recording their self. As an audio engineer/producer, that scenario always brings me anxiety. Expecting a voice talent to also be an audio engineer is a gamble that I will avoid at all costs.

    Reply