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ISDN, ipDTL, i-what?

When you’re building your voice over business and trying to set up your home studio, one of the most confusing things you’ll stumble upon is the subject of ISDN. You may hear other voice actors talking about terms like ipDTL, Source Connect, Telos Zephyrs…what language are they speaking?!? Well, I still have not figured out the perfect solution to studios/clients requesting ISDN, but hopefully I can clear up a bit of the confusion and help you start to research what will work best for you!

ISDN

First of all, what is ISDN? Well, it basically is technology involving phone lines that connects one studio to another. In past years, it was the gold standard for professional recording between distances. Talents in New York would use a studio equipped with ISDN to record for a client in Los Angeles, with quality as good as if they were right there. The clients could direct the talent in real-time as well. The downside is that setting up ISDN was quite expensive and time consuming, so only large professional recording studios that could afford it would be equipped with it. It was pretty much a must for working on big brand name jobs.

Fast forward a few years, and home studios are starting to become normal. As recording equipment becomes more mobile and less expensive, voice over talents have the ability to connect with clients all over the world rather than have to physically travel to a studio. But those big clients still want to be able to direct sessions and have control over recording, so many of them continue to require ISDN. Some talents that have enough income install ISDN in their home studios, but for most of us today, it is really cost prohibitive (thousands of dollars for the box, hundreds for the setup, and a monthly charge for the line) and nearly impossible to find someone who can install it because many phone companies no longer support it or have no clue what it is. So we are forced to either pay for studio time at a place that DOES have it (good luck, if you don’t live in a major city area!) or to find an alternative.

ISDN ALTERNATIVES

So what’s a voice talent who wants to book big work to do? This has been coming up for me a lot lately…my agent has been sending me auditions that specify that the client is requesting ISDN, so I’ve been researching what I can offer from my home studio. Here are a few things you might be able to look into that serve as a good alternative.

PHONE PATCH/SKYPE

This is the cheapest option, as it’s probably something you already have! Basically, I wear earbuds connected to my phone or computer, and can hear the clients directing me while I record, but my microphone doesn’t pick them up. Then I just send them the recording afterwards. Easy peasy. It’s the perfect solution for clients that want to listen in, but don’t need the actual recording right away. The downsides is that the sound quality might not be the best on their end and there could be call drops (like a typical phone conversations).

SOURCE CONNECT OR IPDTL 

The next step up, for clients that want higher recording quality and the ability to record on their end. It runs on Mac or Windows, and pulls from your mic as you record, sending it over to the client. Source Connect requires an upfront cost for purchasing the software, with multiple options based on what you need (higher cost if you’ll be doing frequent conference calls, for example). It starts at $650 or $35 a month. The Standard plan has up to 128kbps quality, and the Pro plan goes up to 1344kbps. You can bridge to ISDN with it (more on that later) too. But clients have to download software on their end, which some might balk at if they’re unfamiliar with it.

Source Connect Now is a more cost-effective (FREE!) solution geared toward voice talent…I’m looking forward to incorporating it into my studio. It works similar to the full featured Source Connect, but uses an internet connection through the Google Chrome browser that talent can invite the clients to sign into while they record. The audio is low latency (no delay) and goes up to 512kbps stereo. There are rumors that they will eventually have this avaliable on iOS, too. They even have a portal that you can send your clients to log into on your own website, which I’ve done here. I have not tried using this system yet, but I’ll write a post about it when I do! It seems like Skype, but better quality and the clients get the recording in real time.

ipDTL is another option that’s similar, as it uses the Chrome Browser.  It stands for internet protocol Down The Line. However, it’s $50 for a monthly subscription, or $320 annually. At least one person (the talent or the client) must subscribe in order to use it. So if your client has a subscription, this could be an easy option that doesn’t require much work on your end! Otherwise, I’d say that Source Connect Now beats it for the price.

ISDN BRIDGING SERVICES

As I mentioned before, both Source Connect and ipDTL have the ability to bridge to ISDN for an additional fee. Why would you want this? Well, some clients might not be willing to download software or login to an internet site…they just want to use the ISDN that they are familiar with (*cough cough* stuck in the past *cough*). If you use a bridging service, which acts as the go-between, your client will never know that you DON’T have traditional ISDN. The service takes care of the technical end, and sets up a connection between your studio and the client’s ISDN connection. One such service I know of is ISDN2Go. There are various costs for each session, ranging from an annual fee to per-usage fees (but you need to contact them for this). Some talent agencies will figure the cost of ISDN bridging into their negotiations, which is helpful.

CONCLUSION

It seems to me that for my needs, Source Connect Now or a Phone patch is probably the best choice in connecting to those bigger clients who want to connect, simply because it keeps my costs down and doesn’t require a lot of work on their end if they understand basic computer setup. Now I just need to book a few of those “big fish!”

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