For years, voice actors and broadcasters have been concerned with the stability/availability/ultimate demise of ISDN, the core technology for transmitting high quality video and audio between studios. I have friends who have been unable to get it in their area; friends who find that when they move from one part of the country to another, their monthly cost more than quadruples; friends who have had difficulty finding a technician who even knows what to do when they have a problem; and folks who balk at the high initial cost, monthly and per minute charges.
Various technologies have sprung up to fill the void that use the public Internet to move the data (and in all digital technologies, sound IS data) between two locations and provide lower cost alternatives for the solo voice artist. The preeminent alternative has become Source Elements Source Connect. The two versions (Standard and Pro) will run you $650/$1450, with the primary difference being the higher bitrate available in the Pro version among other things. You can compare the two products here. I purchased the Standard version for use in my Windows based studio earlier this year, but I waited until recently to implement it so I could resolve my wifi-only connection for my studio computer. I ultimately chose a NetGear Powerline Nano 500 kit so I could connect without doing wiring damage to the house. Once that was set up, I worked with Source Elements to set up Source Connect.
A word about the Source Connect setup: it requires that you have access to your router, and the confidence to edit an area you may never have seen before. Basically, Source Connect uses UDP (User Datagram Protocol) to transmit the audio in digital form back and forth between the connected studios. To enable this, your router needs to know what computer to send the UDP data to, so you have to give the computer that runs Source Connect a fixed IP address (not the one it is handed automatically by the router) and define the UDP ports that will send the data to that machine. Thankfully, Source Elements provides a video on their support site that shows you step by step how to do all of this (even if it is Mac-centric; the program began on the Mac platform, and the version for Windows is 3.1, versus 3.7 for Mac. Updates are coming).
Support for Source Connect can add up; a 15 minute support call when you are out of your support window is $25, and a combined support/license protection contract is $75 per quarter. The license protection is there to cover the user if they lose the iLok dongle that the software license is stored on. Support can be contacted by phone and Skype, with support people scattered around the world. They can even remote control your computer via TeamViewer in order to make settings changes. My experience with them was good all the way around.
Once I was fully configured (and swapped out an old wireless keyboard/mouse compbo for a new one that wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the amount of processing required for Source Connect, causing an unresponsive mouse), I was ready to go. I tested SC to SC connections with Source Elements, Fran McClellan, and SunSpots Productions, and all seemed well, despite what I thought (and still believe is) a low quality upstream link. Once I was confident these connections were good, I looked into Source Connect/ISDN bridging.
Not everyone is on the Source Connect train, and understandably so. The upstream connection is not always within your control because the data is traveling across the public Internet. Prioritization of your data is not guaranteed, and though Source Connect does an excellent job of making things work virtually seamlessly, I see where the trepidation can come in. One of my local studios, Charles Holloman Productions, swears by Source Connect, and uses it for long ADR sessions with talent and/or producers in Los Angeles, so as always, your mileage may vary. My intent was not only to cut out the entire expense of the long distance, high quality connection, but also reduce my commuting; a round trip to and from any of my local ISDN equipped studios is generally a 40-50 minute affair. That’s not terrible compared to some, but it is time spent driving that could be spent with the kids, marketing, or any number of other things.
There are a a number of companies that can provide the SourceConnect/ISDN bridge I was looking for. Digifon, Ednet, and Out of Hear are out there. I chose ISDNBridge out of Chicago. Their availability calendar is right there on their website, and connections booked in advance are $35/hour, payable by PayPal. Once you pay the fee, you choose your time and receive email confirmation. Two days ago, I got to put the system to the test with a real client.
I gave them the ISDN Bridge dialups, and I connected to the ISDNBridge Source Connect ID using the Source Connect standalone client (ProTools users can use the RTAS plugin; there is also a VST plugin that can work with other DAWs). I also recorded the session on my end through the standalone client. Our session lasted just over 15 minutes, and I asked the engineer afterwards what he heard and felt about it. He told me that there were two small glitches during the session that we quickly did retakes on, but aside from that, the only thing that sounded different from an ISDN session was the talkback delay being longer. That was it. No drama, no problems, and a happy client.
It is going to be a long time before ISDN is overthrown as the king of remote recording. The quality and stability it provides are a known quantity, and the investment in the infrastructure is well established. But many people can tell you horror stories of being unable to get it, or unable to get it serviced. Source Connect and others like it are well positioned to fill in the gap, and with service providers like ISDNBridge, you are still in touch with the existing base. If you are wondering if Source Connect can help you reach out and be accessible to more studios and clients, my experience says YES.
Mara Junot says
Thanks for taking the time to share this, George!! I just moved to a new home and discovered that not only is it going to be an act of Congress to get new ISDN lines setup in my new studio, but that it’s going to be at triple the monthly rate! A bridging service is sounding more & more like a reasonable option. I wasn’t familiar with ISDNBridge, but looking forward to checking them out!
It is definitely worth a look, Mara. I only called them because the scheduling process confused me at first, but you can get all set up and reserved without a single phone call; just clicks and a PayPal payment. The others are absolutely solid as well, I am sure; but the ease of use at ISDNBridge for something is technically SO complicated was a wonder. According to the site the can do more than just ISDN/SC bridging, but what they did for me was so painless, I had to talk about it. Let me know how you make out?
Jane Ingalls says
Thanks George, and please write another article on this as you rack up 1000s of Source Connect/ISDN Bridge sessions! On the same topic, have you heard of any progress with SoundStreak?
I certainly will, Jane! Regarding SoundStreak: I haven’t heard anything since Dave Courvoisier wrote about it a few months back. It looks like a very interesting solution, but one I can’t use as a PC shop. As Dave wrote, they are in that same situation SourceConnect finds itself in: no enough studios require it, so not enough talent have it. Anything that can get past the ISDN barrier is a good thing in my opinion!
Rafael Banasik says
Thank you for writing this! I am trying to get my voice over business up and running and know about the situations with ISDN in most of the studios. I do it basically for the german market, but still the codecs as well as the ISDN connections cost money I really don’t have as a beginning entrepreneur. I am already thinking about getting some codec from ebay just to have it, as I believe it may double my chances to get into work with studios just to have the possibility having my own apt. Source connect was definitely an alternative I was thinking about, but your input with your experience (standard version and ISDN bridging) gave me hope, that I may be on a good track. Just need to figure out good bridging services in Germany (or do you think it makes sense to use a US one?). Again, thanks a lot for sharing this!
I firmly believe that you do NOT invest in ISDN unless you have a definitive income flow based on its usage. The level of expense is growing and the number of technicians capable of servicing it is shrinking. If indeed your clients in Germany require that you have it for live recording, you should look into it. Digifon can help with package deals for setting it up, inclusing the hassle of finding the right people to talk to at your provider.
That being said, Source Connect can be a solution through bridging if ISDN is necessary, and definitely if the remote end uses SC. The one downside is the delay that occurs during the bridge, significantly longer than ISDN. You can check with Source Elements, as they maintain a list of bridging services, as well as studios equipped with SC. I have never looked at the international resources, but I have spoken to people there, and they are very helpful.