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.