What is ISDN, why do some clients want you to have it, and how can you use Source Connect, ipDTL and other less expensive alternatives instead?
All are similar to a high-quality phone call between studios. So what you say into your mic they hear in their studio, and what they say you hear through your headphones. They let you “remote connect” to work in your studio, but be directed by a producer in a different studio.
The remote director will listen and give you directions. They can either have you record the result and send it to them, or record what they are hearing themselves, known as “remote record” or sometimes, “far-end recording” (if they are recording you, you are their “remote source”). In podcasting or similar situations, they might not only record you, they could also feed you directly to broadcast.
While this was common for higher-paying spots prior to 2020, after the COVOD-19 pandemic, it has become very common. There are some great free options, and the higher-cost options typically have software rental options, as well as “hand holding” services so you can be confident when using this for the first time.
TYPES OF CLIENT REQUESTS?
Straight or “True” ISDN: Not that common anymore. They don’t want to use any software, don’t want to know what you are using, just want to call your ISDN number, etc. The easiest solution here is to simply pay a bridging service. See “Mimicking ISDN Exactly: Bridging” below. “Hand-holding” bridging services are available so you can be confident you will get everything right the first time you encounter this.
Most Common: They simply specify the types of software they support, commonly Source-Connect or ipDTL but more and more studios are flexible between a variety of options. Commonly they will do the recording, which is called:
Remote Record: They will generally simply specify the types of software they can work with, rather than specify this particular feature. But it means THEY will be recording you—all you need is a mic, the internet and connection software! Remember, if they want YOU to do the recording, you should include a session fee in your pricing negotiation—you are responsible for recording, processing and delivering the audio, which takes time.
Skype/Phone Patch/VOIP/Etc: “Phone Patch” is old terminology, but still sometime used. This usually means they can listen and give you directions, but YOU will be doing the recording. I cover this in the next section:
OFTEN CHEAPEST: PHONE or VOIP
For this, you are recorded at your studio and must deliver audio files after the session. And you can just use a headset with your smart phone on a regular call. But for better quality, you would want to set your headset and mic as the mic and speaker on an internet phone call (VOIP). They just call you on a phone number, and they can hear you to give you direction via their phone. This is sometimes called a “phone patch”.
Common options include Skype, Discord, Google Hangouts, teleconferencing software like Zoom. Old timers think of these options as simulating the “old school” Phone Patch, which was an electronic box that allows a direct connection to a mixer or digital audio interface to standard telephone lines. The mic signal is routed to the telephone as if the talent are speaking into a telephone receiver.
📌 SOURCE CONNECT
Lots of people use Source Connect on an as-needed basis. You just need a standard high-speed internet connection (plug in, not wifi). So you can get familiar with it, and then advertise you have it, and only pay for it when you need it.
If you want to do it by installing and learning their software, they offer a 15-day full-featured trial, then $35 per month with an initial $75 set-up fee. (Re-subscribing if previous subscription lasted at least 4 months, setup fee is waived.)
More and more competitors to this service every year, but this is kind of the granddaddy of ISDN alternatives.
ipDTL was developed by a BBC engineer. The $15 “day pass” may be the best deal for some (Source Connect used to be available on a weekly subscription).
📌 MIMICKING ISDN EXACTLY: BRIDGING
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. If you use a bridging service, which acts as the go-between, your client will never know that you DON’T have traditional ISDN. For $32/hour, Source Elements will *bridge* you to an ISDN connection via Source-Elements.com/products/isdnbridge
Source Connect and ipDTL have been the most popular alternatives to ISDN. But Bodalgo Call (free) and Connection Open have become serious alternatives.
(Developed by a BBC engineer)
🔹 Bodalgo call (free, browser-based, remote record included)
🔹 Cleanfeed.net (free, browser-based)
🔹 Zoom.us (Teleconferencing, was free for 1-to-one connections)
🔹 Discord (One of the simplest “just like a phone call” services, popular with gamers).
🔹 ISDNToGo (out of business)
📌 What is ISDN?
ISDN itself is kind of like getting cable—they literally lay a wire to your location, and you pay a (VERY high) monthly fee. It can be $100+ for installation, plus $100+/month (sometimes less). And if you call out on the line, you pay per minute line charges (but it’s customary for the studio to call you and pay the line charges). Most talent use a service like Source Connect over their internet connection instead.
Both parties must have access to ISDN for it to work. They can’t necessarily tell on the other end whether it is “real” ISDN or simulated like Source Connect.
ISDN is an initialism for “Integrated Services Digital Network” It uses traditional telephone lines to allow two-way, high fidelity, real time communication and recording from a home studio to high-end studios, stations and networks elsewhere, all over the world.
And it’s not always perfect! “Occasionally phone carriers are not compatible, for whatever reasons, and my ISDN simply will not lock with certain customers…ISDN…is prone to occasional dropouts.” –Voiceguy.org
The consensus is that ISDN alternatives are just as reliable as ISDN, which as noted above itself is not 100% reliable.
Realize that you may hear that *studios* don’t want to give up ISDN, but that is mainly because of how the hardware plugs in on their end. In fact, with ip based hardware boxes from Comrex and Telos (Z/IP and Bric Link) studios are now finding that solutions such as ipDTL give them *higher* quality than ISDN at times.
If you find articles on the internet arguing that these are NOT as reliable, check the date of the article, and read the comments. Often the article is talking about having trouble configuring their computer/router.
That said, in the studio, they often need actual ISDN to do the things they want to do, but on the voice talent end, you don’t need it.
Some organizations in years past, such as WCCO, have avoided ISDN alternatives due to their being unclear on security issues and more familiar with ISDN, but I have not heard of that in recent years. By using bridging, they call and ISDN number and can’t tell the difference if you don’t tell them in any case. If they SPECIFY not to do this, then don’t, but otherwise…
Besides VOIP options like Skype, Hangouts, Discord, etc, there are free browser-based options as well. That’s because Google included high quality 24 bit audio in their Chrome browser—the OPUS codec. Firefox supports this now as well. So browser based services use this as their high-quality audio pipeline. Because any glitches are non-time-corrected, this isn’t the best choice to record someone remotely. So you would record and then send files after the session ends—remember to negotiate a session fee!