Gobs on Sticks

Thoughts mostly (but not always) about the voice-over business, from London Voiceover Artist, Mike Cooper

  • About the author

    My name is Mike Cooper. I'm a full time Voiceover Artist living and working in London, and this is my blog. Find out more about me on my main website (there's a link further down this column), or if you'd like to hear some of my work, check out the files below.
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Posts Tagged ‘Tech’

The paperless voiceover

Posted by MikeCooper on September 30, 2009

For some time now I’ve been operating my voiceover business in a largely paperless environment. Sure, I still print out copies of invoices, remittance notes and the like for the benefit of my company accountant (who likes a paper file), but when I upgraded my voiceover booth last year I made a point of installing a flat panel computer monitor at eye height, with the intention of moving away from printing scripts and carrying them with me into the studio.

How does this work in practice? Well, it has its plusses and minuses.

On the plus side, I haven’t had to buy a ream of paper in quite a while, and my outlay for inkjet cartridges is at an all-time low. It’s also a lot quieter to use the scroll wheel on my cordless mouse to advance my way through the script than it is to turn a page, and it saves space as I don’t have to have a script holder propped up on top of my equipment rack.

On the negative side, it’s harder to annotate scripts with inflection marks and so on, though using bold, italics, underlining and highlighting go some way to making up for that. And for a while it wasn’t quite as easy as I’d have liked in terms of getting scripts from the Mac in my office to the PC in my voice booth. The first workaround for this was to give the booth its own email address and forward anything I needed in there to it. Then along came Dropbox, which has been one of my favourite tools of recent times and probably the thing which has changed the way I work most this year.

Dropbox is an online service – and free to use for someone at my level of usage – which allows you to deposit files in folders and then have them “mirrored” on all of your machines. So, I have a folder called “Scripts”, and when one comes in I just save it to that folder on the Mac. By the time I’ve walked through to the booth there’s a message telling me that Dropbox has updated the folder, and the script is good to go. This also means that I can make changes on one machine and then see them on the other before I start work.

Share and share alike

Dropbox also has a facility to share folders with other people. I work as a continuity announcer for Film24 (Sky 157), and I share those duties with two other voiceover artists: one in London and one in the Lake District. On an almost daily basis, cue sheets are emailed out to us for use when writing and recording the links for the channel. For months, we were constantly trying to keep our own individual systems up-to-date using email folders and there was a weekly round of “Has anyone seen a cue sheet for ‘x’?” Not anymore: I now manage a shared folder which allows us to keep a central repository of cue sheets, which has saved everyone a lot of time.

To cap it all, Dropbox now has a free iPhone application available too, which adds some nice features like picture sharing and so on.

But I’m getting off-topic. The fact is that I now print very little, and read from the screen a lot. I just set my audio recording software running, switch to my word processor and begin work, which speeds up the process and does a little bit for the planet in the process.

If you’ve got any stories to share, I’d love to hear them as always!


Posted in Freelancing, Tech, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Gobs on the Web

Posted by MikeCooper on August 22, 2009

Welcome to my roundup of voiceover-related news from my week on the web.

My friend and colleague, Stefania Lintonbon has been digging around the internet and on her blog this week she’s posted links to two useful tutorials. The first throws light onto the sometimes murky subject of audio compression, and comes courtesy of Radiodaddy.com. If terms like “make-up gain” and “ratio” bring you out in a cold sweat then this excellent article is the online equivalent of a magic sponge. The second article which Stef references in her piece deals with removing pops and clicks for users of Sony Sound Forge. Stefania goes on to dispense some of her usual wisdom on positive thinking and getting the universe to deliver – something I support wholeheartedly!

Over at Vox Daily, Stephanie has a couple of goodies this week. One comes from Richard Weirich and deals with what happens when your client keeps pushing and pushing you, and the read you thought was great to start with goes off in a completely different direction. I’ve certainly been there and you may have too! Is the customer always right? Richard would love to hear your views.

Also on Vox Daily – as part of the ongoing series of Voice Over Experts podcasts, Marc Cashman shares his views on why practice makes perfect (or at least, better…)

Finally this week, following on from the awards recently bestowed on the animated series, Family Guy, the creator, Seth MacFarlane has decided to “out” the youngest member of the Griffin family. That’s right folks – in an announcement which will shock, well, barely anyone, I expect – MacFarlane confirms what we’d all suspected: Stewie is gay!

Until next time!

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If you build it, they will come…

Posted by MikeCooper on March 17, 2009

So, you still want to get into voiceovers, eh? Assuming that you’re following this series; that you’ve given some thought to the kind of work you want to do; and that you’ve been working on getting your voicey skills up to snuff, you’re going to have to take the plunge and buy some recording gear. Yes, it’s time to build your first studio!

A few years ago this would have cost you around £15,000 (about $20,000 at the current conversion), and a few years before that it would have been unthinkable: not just because of the prohibitive cost, but because voiceover artists roamed the land (or at the very least, Soho) auditioning and recording in professional recording studios.

So what changed? Several things in fact, in a short space of time. Technology has a habit of getting cheaper, year-on-year, and the area of professional audio is no exception. By the mid-1990s it was possible, with the kind of sums I mentioned above, to kit yourself out with a microphone, a studio-grade tape machine, a mixer and so on and to record at home. But what really made it a viable option for voice talents and producers was that ISDN lines became available. In the UK, this changed the landscape virtually overnight. In parts of the US too, but not perhaps to the same widespread degree it did here. Suddenly the days of the travelling, jobbing voiceover, doing sessions in different parts of the country on different days of the week, were over. Voiceovers moved increasingly into the world of the home worker.

ISDN for Dummies – a quick primer…

ISDN lines are basically digital phone lines – they’re the same copper pairs between you and the exchange (or “switch”), but without all the DTMF signalling gubbins and A/D converters that you need to handle speech and connect an analogue phone. ISDN gives 2 data circuits, each carrying 64Kbps of data. These can be used in various configurations, and in the days pre-broadband, this was as fast as the information superhighway got – for those who could afford it.

Anyway, that’s all besides the point (yes, there is a point): bonding your two 64K “bearers” together means you get 128Kbps, and by using a variant of the MPEG audio codec – usually Layer 2 – 128Kbps mono is just about enough for carrying broadcast-quality speech, thank you very much and goodnight.

But we’re a long way off installing an ISDN line – assuming you ever need one at all. So, file everything you’ve just learned under “Useful Trivia” and rejoin the group, Grasshopper…

While all of this was going on, the PC on your desktop, each time you upgraded, was growing in power exponentially. Suddenly the tape machine was a museum piece: with a decent sound card and a suitably large and fast hard drive, the desktop PC could do all that tape could do, and oh so much more besides. Editing used to mean cutting blocks, chinagraph pencils and single-sided razor blades. Then along came the fledgling versions of what would later become programs like Pro Tools and Adobe Audition. In their infancy they were basic and clunky, but in next to no time Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) were replacing 1/4″ tape editing forever.

Fast-forward to today, and the home studio consists of just a few basic building blocks:

  • a microphone
  • a mic amplifier (also called a “preamp” or “mic pre”)
  • an analogue to digital converter (which could be a sound card or an external USB/Firewire device)
  • a computer with recording software
  • a suitable space to record in
  • a way of monitoring what you’ve recorded

…plus the stands, cables and so on to connect them all together. Let’s take all that bit by bit. You may require a packed lunch, but stick with me and I promise it’ll all be worthwhile in the end.

Where’s the mixer, Dad?

Purists will be throwing their hands in the air at this point and demanding to know why I’m not suggesting you buy a mixing desk. Simple: you don’t need one. You might never need one (I still don’t have one…)

You’re in the business, at this stage, of recording voice, and voice alone. At this stage commercial production or mixing soundtracks are not, I’m assuming, your main priority. And even if they are, you’d be surprised how many people now perfect their mix in software, rather than by what I lovingly refer to as “fader-waggling”. Even Apple’s complimentary copy of Garageband will do more than you think.

So… don’t muddy the water. Don’t spend more than you need to. You can always add a mixer to the, er, mix, later.

The Microphone

For our purposes, there are two basic types of microphone: condensers and dynamics (there are also “ribbon mics”, but we’ll ignore them for the purposes of this seminar). Dynamics power themselves, tend to be somewhat cheaper and are usually “noisier” when you listen to them on their own, but the better ones compete well and are used in a lot of radio stations (the Beyer M201 is a good example, and was the standard BBC Radio 4 mic for many years). Simply speaking, a dynamic microphone has a very sensitive membrane, or “diaphragm”, which vibrates between a couple of magnets when sound hits it. This generates a tiny electric current, which then gets amplified on its way through the preamp.

Condensers, meanwhile, require “phantom power” (you’ll sometimes see this referred to as a 48-volt supply). Phantom power is just a way of getting the power the mic needs down a microphone cable without upsetting anything else. This is most safely achieved using “XLR” connectors, rather than “TRS” connectors, and the provision of XLR jacks on equipment is one sign that you’re dealing in the pro or semi-pro realm.

Condenser microphones range from the fairly cheap (£100-ish) up to many thousands of pounds. They’re sensitive, both to noise and to unwanted noise, but will generally give better results than a dynamic mic if used properly. They’ll bring out more of the nuances of your voice, but the better ones will also show up the shortcomings of your recording room…

The Preamp and Interface

Both types of mics need a pre-amplifier to bring the tiny voltage coming out of the mic up to “line level” for other equipment to process, and something to turn the analogue audio coming out into digits that the computer can process.

Preamps range from the cheap and cheerful to the esoteric and shockingly expensive, but a USB or Firewire interface will have one built in which will do the job just fine for you at this stage. Look for kit which allows “balanced connections“. I won’t go into why in this post (Media College has a really good tutorial here), but suffice to say that balanced connections will serve you well in the long run.

Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, there are some half-decent USB mics that will plug straight into your PC or Mac, though how good they are in comparison is a matter of hot debate. You can seek advice on this in the various online forums if you want a second opinion. Good examples of USB mics are made by Audio Technica, SE Electronics, Samson and Røde, among others, and some of them get good press. On the other hand, the purists will always insist that a USB mic with its own preamp built in just can’t compete with a separate preamp and condenser combo under ideal conditions.

In terms of your interface, you broadly have two options for getting sound into your computer:

  1. You can plug your microphone directly into an external USB/Firewire interface (something like an Mbox 2 Mini), which then plugs into a USB or Firewire port on your machine.
  2. You can buy a mic preamp (which will probably be better quality and will have more bells and whistles) and plug the output of the preamp into a professional-grade sound card on your computer. Check out, for starters, something like the “dbx 286” or the “Focusrite Platinum Voicemaster Pro”. Either of these, or something like them, will serve you well if your budget allows.

Once you’ve got your sound card (or USB/Firewire interface) you’ve now sorted out the tedious business of turning analogue audio into digits for the computer’s benefit.

The Computer and Software

Your next step needs to be to work out whether your existing computer is up to the task. Is it quiet? If you can hear it working, your microphone will too. If you’ve got the cash, investing in a silent or near-silent machine from a company that specialises in building them is a good investment – especially if it’s going to have to live in the same room as you’re planning to record in. Otherwise, consider putting the computer outside the room and running longer cables for the keyboard, mouse and monitor. Ideally, you’ll want two hard drives: one for programs and one for recording (this can help avoid “glitches” in your recordings). And at the very least, your faithful machine is probably going to need an upgrade to its sound card. Domestic sound cards are noisy and aren’t designed for the nuances of professional audio that we’re going to be working with, and the the 3.5mm jacks which are built in just aren’t up to the job. So, either an entry-level professional-grade sound card (M Audio do some nice ones which will also allow you to run Pro Tools M-Powered later if you need to) or some form of USB or Firewire interface will be the order of the day (again, you won’t go too far wrong with an M Box 2 Mini – which actually comes bundled with Pro Tools LE).

You’ll be needing some cheap (or, better still, free) sound recording software. Audacity is free and many people swear by it; on the other hand you’d have to pry my copy of Sound Studio 3 ($79, Mac only) out of my cold, dead hands. It’s all a matter of preference. I’ve already mentioned Pro Tools. This program is the Swiss Army knife of audio production, especially for radio and television. Sound engineers love it, and some voice talents use it and love it too, but for our initial purposes of recording a voice track it’s overkill, and a sledgehammer to crack a nut (IMHO).

The Room

Think very carefully about where you’re going to record. If you already have identified a quiet (and I do mean quiet) space in your house, then revisit it now before you spend anything. What can you hear? Seriously… The brain does a great job of filtering out stuff we don’t “need” to hear. Once you start listening for it, you may notice road noise, the tube, aircraft, lift machinery, dogs, neighbours, kids, stairwell noise and so on, depending on where you’re living. You’ll probably also hear your computer fan – laptops can get noisy as their little fans race to move the hot air. Some of these issues you may be able to work around if you’re recording on your own time; others you may not. If your space is less quiet than you thought, then any decent bit of kit (and that’s what you’re going to need, after all) is going to record that extraneous noise for the world to hear. This will be the second thing a producer or potential client notices, after your voice itself. Or possibly the first, if it’s that distracting.

Assuming that you’ve got not too much in the way of noise coming in from outside, your next step is to look at how to mop up the noise bouncing around inside your studio. Professional studios are “dead-sounding” for a reason: all of the reflected sound off the walls in a room will eventually find its way back into the microphone and onto your recording. That’s why we don’t record in the bathroom. If you’ve got a nice airing cupboard, walk-in wardrobe or similar, you can probably save yourself some money here. Otherwise you’re going to need to look at some sort of acoustic treatment, whether that’s in the form of tiles which you can stick in strategic places to absorb the sound, or in the form of something rather more handy, like “The Mic Thing”. This creation is a heavy duty mic stand with wrap-around padding, and it works surprisingly well for its £190 price tag (Some Audio Guy wrote a great review of it on his blog here, complete with an audio file).

The Monitoring

“Monitoring” is just techno-speak for a means of listening back. You’re going to need headphones and speakers. There are many, many options for both of these, but my advice would be to go for “closed back” headphones, which won’t allow too much sound to “bleed” back into the microphone. (So no, you can’t use the ones that came with your iPod. Sorry.)

You may squeeze through, for now, with your existing computer speakers, if you’re just recording voice. But be aware that computer speakers generally fall into two categories: the crap ones (pardon my French) that come with the average desktop, and the room-shaking sort that send the dog running off with its tail between its legs. Neither is what you want when you’re trying to get a neutral handle on what you’ve just recorded. Look out for speakers that are sold as “studio monitors” or “reference monitors”: they’re designed to be “flat” in terms of their frequency response, and not to emphasise either the bass or the high end, so  you know what your recording actually sounds like, and not what it would sound like if it were part of the soundtrack to “World of Warcraft”.

Both your headphones and your first set of speakers can be had for under £200/$250 all-in. Again, seek advice from the forums to see what’s popular – and available – in your own part of the world.

The End

It’s a little bit of a minefield, I’ll grant you, and once you’ve got all this stuff you’re going to have to make your way up the learning curve of how to use it to good effect. But the good news is that, spent wisely, £500-£700 ($750-$1000) will give you a decent starting point which you can upgrade in stages when things take off. And if you do it properly, you’ll have a better-sounding setup than would have cost you £15,000 a few years back. Now that’s progress…

Posted in Freelancing, Tech, Uncategorized, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

D-Day (or “Has anyone seen my installer?”)

Posted by MikeCooper on November 28, 2008

As I sit here writing this on Friday morning, I still can’t quite believe it’s happened. I now have an installed and working ISDN line in my home studio. A small thing, you may think, unless you’ve been reading this blog. I’d love to be able to say that Thursday (installation day) passed without incident, but actually it went something like this…

7am – Raise self from slumber. Shower and dress. I have been promised that my job is first on installer’s list at 8.

8.30 – Call BT in moment of paranoia to check that the job is actually booked and hasn’t been cancelled. Am told it’s booked, but that no one should have said it was first on the list, because they can’t guarantee that. It is suggested that I call back in an hour, when they’ll be happy to call Openreach to check where my installer is.

09.55 – Call again. Nice lady contacts Openreach installer, who was never allocated me as his first job and is somewhere else in London on another. No worries though: he’ll be with me within the next hour-and-a-half, and definitely by 11.30.

12.00 – Installer arrives (only four hours later than promised). Spends a stroky-beard half hour walking around trying to ascertain where the main BT junction box is for our row of houses. Finds said box, repleat with spaghetti wiring arrangement, on back of house. We gain access through neighbour’s garage. I ask if cable can be brought around the outside of the house, rather than through it, as my booth is in the diametrically opposite corner of the premises. This is grudgingly agreed. Fifteen minutes is now spent convincing him that if he drills the hole out through the wall from my booth where I want him to, he’ll come out on the other side of the wall where I say he will. More beard-stroking ensues, but we have a deal. I go back to work while he begins his.

13.30 – I stop work, briefly, and notice there’s no sign of the installer anywhere in the vicinity. Not only that, but his van’s gone too. Has he gone forever? Probably not, as he’s left his toolbox and a reel of Cat 5 cable in the bedroom. Would it have been nice to know he was going? Yes – especially as I’m working downstairs and he’s left all the doors to the road outside hanging open on the latch (this is the middle of London, after all…)

15.00 – There’s a knock at the (now locked) door. He’s back, with a big reel of weatherproof cable (ah, so that’s where he went!) Much hammering as cable is run around the outside of the house.

16.00 – A hole is drilled through the wall with the longest drill bit I have ever seen in my life (about a metre, I’d say) and – to everyone’s surprise, including mine (though of course I don’t say so) – it comes out exactly where I’d said it would.

16.30 – The socket is attached, a green light comes on and – to my utter astonishment – the ISDN card reports that the line is working normally.

Considering I placed my enquiry with BT on 15th October (which they then ignored), then placed my order on 27th October (which then wasn’t placed with the suppliers until I chased it up on 10th November), this has taken 44 days to get installed. That’s a month-and-a-half, for a business service that’s supposed to be supplied in 2-3 weeks.

If this is the kind of service from suppliers, is it any wonder that small businesses so often go to the wall in their first year? Luckily, for me, ISDN is an adjunct to my existing services and a way to grow my business, rather than something I needed to function at all. But I wonder how many jobs I might have lost over the last month that I might have got if it had been in if the timeline had been as promised.

Of course, I’ll never know, and there’s no point in dwelling on the bad experience (though a letter to the CEO’s office is on my to-do list). What remains to do now is to begin the proper marketing of myself to clients – existing and new – as an ISDN voiceover. I’ve bitten the bullet, joined the ranks and the rest is, largely, down to me.

Posted in Tech, Voiceovers | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

ISDN – the Race to Replace (it)

Posted by MikeCooper on October 14, 2008

It’s been a week or so since I blogged about my dilemma over ISDN, so I thought it was time to share some more with the group as part of the recovery process.

As I was saying, ISDN, despite being a technology from the 1980s, remains the de facto standard for establishing point-to-point audio between voiceovers and producers. This is still the case both here in the UK and in the States, and ISDN’s ability to maintain a constant bitrate connection between two places is a major factor in this. There are two main reasons why the ADSL broadband internet which so many of us now have can’t match it. The first is that ADSL is optimised (or skewed, depending on your perspective) to favour downloads over uploads. That’s why it’s an “Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line”, rather than a “synchronous” one, where the data flow would be the same each way. If you’re on a slowish ADSL line, where your quoted bandwidth is only 1 or 2 Mbps, then your “up” channel probably isn’t going to cope too well with you trying to stream audio to a third party. A trip to any of the online broadband speed testing applications will be enough to witness the way things are stacked in favour of downloads over uploads.

The second reason why ISDN wins the battle is that the internet is organised differently to a point-to-point connection. Internet Protocol (IP) is specifically designed to route “packets” of data via whatever route is necessary to get them to the other end. When you send an email or download a web page, it’s possible that the components that make it up have reached you via a variety of travel routes. The internet was originally a military installation, and was built around the idea of being able to cope with any one server being taken down unexpectedly.

When you’re reading your favourite website, the fact that it might take some of the bits a little longer to arrive than others isn’t so much of a problem. Even when you’re listening to music or watching TV over the internet, a certain amount of latency is acceptable, and the various playback methods constantly “buffer” enough data to try and cope. Most of the time it works pretty well for data coming in one direction, to you at your PC.

But with a voiceover session, we’re talking about two “quality” lines going in different directions. The studio at the far end needs to hear the voiceover, and they need to be able to talk back to the voiceover in real time, without delays or holdups due to buffering when one bit of the network starts to run slowly.

So, with all this in mind, I – like so many in the industry – have been paying very close attention to the search for the Holy Grail: ISDN performance over IP. At time of writing there are principally two computer programs which aim to replace the need for an ISDN line and allow you to use your broadband line in its place. They are called “Source Connect” and “AudioTX Communicator”.

“Source Connect” is a plugin which works with ProTools and with any program which supports VST or Audio Units. The idea is that, as long as both parties have the relevant software plugins and a reasonable speed connection, the voiceover appears as a channel on the application’s mixer, complete with talkback buttons and so on. Neat, eh?

“AudioTX”, on the other hand, doesn’t require any special software other than AudioTX at either end, so you can use it with whatever equipment and recording software you like. Again, it will do quality audio over IP with talkback. But it already holds a trump card in the nascent battle to replace ISDN. And that is that it can “do” ISDN connections too. As long as your PC has an ISDN card in it (and the only drawback here for me is that it does have to be a PC, rather than a Mac) then AudioTX will happily circumvent the need for a hardware ISDN codec. (For an encore it will doubtless calculate Pi to a million decimal places and make you a pot of tea to drink while you check the figures.)

If all this is getting a bit jargon-heavy, I apologise, but we’re kind of in that territory, whether we like it or not. A “hardware ISDN codec”, at its most basic, is a box with flashing lights that plugs into your ISDN line at one end, plugs into your mixer or soundcard at the other end and has a telephone keypad to let you dial people up for sessions. Sounds simple, but simplicity comes at a price, and that price is currently about £3,000 to £4,000 for something from Sonifex’s Prima range, which seem to be ones to go for.
So, someone like me seems to have three options at this point in time:

Option 1: Buy a hardware ISDN codec, at a cost of £3,500 or so (or pick one up secondhand).

Option 2: Obtain a copy of ProTools or similar and get “Source Connect”, the “pucker” version of which costs £1137 (cheaper versions are available without resilience for those internet dropouts). This allows you to do point-to-point sessions over IP, but only with those who are running Source Connect at the other end.

Option 3: Get AudioTX, which can do both ISDN sessions and those over IP. This would involve me buying a PC (grrr…) fitting it with an ISDN card (roughly £50) and installing AudioTX, which costs, wait for it… £550.

Hang on, that can’t be right, can it? The hardware box costs three grand and just does ISDN, which may be a dead duck within a few years, but the cheaper of the two software solutions can do exactly the same job over ISDN for now, as well as being able to waltz onto the IP dancefloor when the time is right. OK, buying a PC is a factor, but even so…

I think I’m beginning to reach a conclusion about all this, and I think you can probably see where I’m heading.


Posted in Tech, Voiceovers | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

“ISDN, Sir? Surely you’re mistaken?”

Posted by MikeCooper on October 3, 2008

Talk to anyone these days about ISDN and you’re likely to get a blank look – even more so if the person you’re talking to is from BT, it seems. It’s an interesting marker of the rate of progress that the technology they were trying so hard to sell us less than a decade ago has now been consigned largely to the annals of history. Long before “Home Highway” ever became mainstream, it was superseded by ADSL: broadband as we know it today.

Back in 1998, after the break-up of a relationship and upon finding myself largely homeless, I fell upon the kindness of two friends – both technology geeks – whom I lodged with for some months. They had ISDN in their house. They were also very proud of their “Structured Wiring”, which meant that all of our computers, once fitted with 10-Base-100 Ethernet cards, could be networked together and could share the (then-blisteringly fast) 128 kilobits per second connection. 

How things change… within two years my first ever broadband package from BT offered me 512kbps (half a megabit!) broadband; within a year it had doubled to a megabit per second; and the machine I’m now using is connected via ADSL2+ with a theoretical top limit of 24 megabits per second (I say theoretical, because I “only” get about 18…) and all via the same twisted copper pair whose only previous claim to “multimedia” was the occasional foray into Post Office Dial-a-Disc. In other words, my internet connection today is almost 150 times faster than what was on offer with ISDN. Not only that, but in the meantime we’ve all gone Wi-Fi mad and Structured Wiring is another anachronism – for home networking at least.

One of the few areas where ISDN took off outside of the business environment was with the voiceover industry. It caused a not-so-quiet revolution, in fact, and meant that the decades-old system of jobbing VOs hiking around the country for their regular sessions in local radio Com Prod departments largely came to an end. Suddenly it was possible to set up a studio in your wardrobe, stay at home, be available (literally) at the end of a phone line and do the jobs as they cropped up. More choice for producers, less spent on petrol for the voiceovers. And so it’s been for a good few years now, despite the threat from ADSL.

What ISDN provided, and still does, is a dependable, constant bitrate link between two points over a standard phone line, and that makes it perfect for audio. Granted, the bitrate of 128Kbps isn’t that great for music – any illegal MP3 downloader will tell you that – but when optimised for voice with some decent data compression, it’s pretty damned good. ADSL, on the other hand, is optimised for downloading web pages and short bursts of data from a server, and not for uploading constant bitrate audio in the other direction. So, despite the fact that it’s a comparatively old technology, this is one battle where ISDN wins.

The problem, at this point in time, is how long this advantage will last. Telecoms firms across the world are keen to retire ISDN at the earliest opportunity. They’ve got bigger fish to fry, like rolling out broadband at decent speeds to suburban and rural areas, and they’d rather be doing that than supporting what they see as an expensive and outdated legacy system that virtually no one wants.

Having laid the foundations for the argument, in my next post I’ll move on to what this means for someone like me, who doesn’t have ISDN, but is feeling the need to connect. There are some alternatives starting to surface, but picking your way through the minefield isn’t easy…

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