ISDN, Source-Connect, and Remote Connection Tools for Voice Actors in 2021
In today’s world, there are a wide variety of tools that voice actors and clients can use to connect remotely. ISDN, Source-Connect, Skype, and Zoom are but a few of the technologies that enable voice actors to partake in live recording sessions and people who work remotely to connect with their colleagues.
However, the number of connective tools available can be overwhelming, so it helps to know the basics of how each one works, as well as the pros and cons that come with each option.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics of each technology. Whether you’re a voice actor or someone who needs to collaborate with voice actors in real-time, from anywhere in the world, you’re bound to find an option that will work for you.
Read up on the features of the various technologies you can make use of to connect remotely for a live directed session:
- Google Hangouts Meet
- Phone Patch
- The pros and cons of various live directed session technologies
- Recording at a local studio
- Voice actor preferences for connecting remotely
Traditional Technology for Live Directed Sessions: Understanding ISDN, Source-Connect, and ipDTL
What is ISDN?
ISDN stands for “Integrated Services Digital Network.” It’s a telecommunications technology that both voice actors and their clients can use to 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 live audio as the voice actor 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.
Let’s walk you through the primary benefits of ISDN:
- 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.
- The client is able to provide in-the-moment artistic direction, eliminating the need for retakes and any back and forth communications. The client gets exactly what they need, with no further delay of deliverables.
- Because the call has better sound quality, the client can truly hear the nuance and inflections that a voice actor incorporates into their performance. This helps the client provide enhanced creative direction to the talent, 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:
- The ISDN line service comes with an expensive monthly bill through your phone provider.
- 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.
- 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.
What is 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.
Source-Connect allows its users to bridge into any ISDN line, rendering the need for an actual ISDN line obsolete. Source-Connect also boasts audio quality on par with that of an ISDN line, 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. It even offers a plugin that allows users to connect directly to Pro Tools and pull audio files from Source-Connect into Pro Tools for post-production work.
“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 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,” Avenyou explains.
As a voice actor, it’s critical 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 freelance work where clients and talent are collaborating from across the globe. Source-Connect is 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,” Avenyo continues.
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!
What is 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 publication, 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 live recording.
New Alternatives for Live Directed Sessions
While the technologies covered above have been used by businesses and professional studios for decades, there are now a plethora of options that are available for free. These new connective tools have emerged as more of the public has sought out ways to connect remotely with other people across the globe.
What is Google Meet?
Google Meet is Google’s proprietary video communication software. Released in 2013 as part of the G Suite line of products, Google 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 Google 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 Google Meet from Google’s classic chat video calls. For one, classic chat only allows for up to 25 participants in a call, while Google 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 Google 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. Google 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.
What is Skype?
This telecommunications app is so well-known that its name has grown into an eponym: the term ‘video chat’ is synonymous with Skype, whether you’re using the actual Skype application or not. Like Google 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 simultaneously connect in a Skype call. This allows for multiple stakeholders to be able to weigh in on a read.
What is FaceTime?
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.
What is 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 number 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.
What is Phone Patch?
Phone patch is another tool that enables 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. 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,” Sitzberger 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.”
Voice actor Jason Wright says he also likes connecting on Skype because so many people already use the software.
Pros and Cons of Live Directed Session Technologies
|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|
|• 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
|• 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?
You’ve now read up on the options. But how are voice actors and clients actually connecting?
In an internal survey of 174 voice actors, Voices found the five most popular options for voice actors to connect with clients for a live recording were:
- Phone patch (31.6%)
- Skype (24.7%)
- Source-Connect (23.5%)
- Using local recording studio’s tech (9.2%)
- 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 63% 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 (3%) 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,” Brewer says.
Learn How to Connect With Clients Remotely
It has never been easier to audition and complete voice over jobs from the comfort of home. 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 connective 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, like Zoom and Skype.
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.