Soundstreak Review by
Professional Voiceover Talent Todd Schick

SoundStreak Review and Summary. Yet another attempt to replace ISDN.

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A few years ago l did a two-hour interview and road-test of the SoundStreak software at the behest of Yoni Slotwiner – Customer Operations. Yoni dropped me a note after reading my reviews on Source Connect and AudioTX.

Yoni was not only very accomodating, but knowledgable and very forthright about all things (good and bad) regarding SoundStreak. It was a pleasure doing the interview and having said that, it would have been great to meet Yoni in person.

I have to say….this is the first time that I’ve ever been this excited about not only a great piece of software…..but also something that appears to hold the promise of facilitating the demise of ISDN in the near future.

As Yoni states:

“ISDN has worked for many people for a long time, and it still does in some cases, which is great. But as we all know, that outdated technology is beginning to disappear. As that happens, I think the voiceover industry is finally saying to itself:

“It’s 2013, there must be a superior replacement to ISDN….?”

That’s where SoundStreak comes in.”

The demise of ISDN? Could it be true…..?

If SoundStreak and the legions upon legions of voice talent get their way….yes.

The vinyl record, magnetic tape, CRT televisions…..pretty much everything analog has been done away with in favor of digital. I find it strange that audio engineers had no problem tossing out their expensive reel-to-reel machines, but oddly seem to cling on to ISDN.

Indeed, ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) was deemed obsolete upon it’s standardization in the 1980’s. The only reason it’s still around is the function it primarily serves today which is remote recording and for some, a (pretty slow) broadband internet connection.

ISDN is on its way out. Telcos all over North America are working to phase it out and those that still use the service are paying the price for the “de-commissioning.”

Bell here in Canada are upping my rate constantly (10% compounded every year); in five years I’ll be up to $750.00 a month for the lines – it’s so stupid, words fail me. I have been told by techs at Bell that they are in fact, slowly phasing the ISDN service out and further, cutting funding to support the technology.

The reality is, talent and studios alike are appalled at it’s limited availability, cost, complexity and the fact that those who insist on using it exclusively seem to be snobby and well……kinda snobby.

Speaking of snobs….

I once had a client (one of those “ISDN talent only” production houses) cancel a session and rudely hang up the phone on me, when I asked if we could do a Source Connect session. My ISDN lines were down in the neighborhood. It was like I was insulting them for offering an alternative.

While not everyone is like this….sadly, this type of attitude is alive and well today in ISDN circles.

I’m guessing that the impetus of this snobbery is firmly rooted in finance and the history of the technology. These ISDN studios have invested thousands upon thousand of dollars in ISDN…and more importantly, huge client bases relying on it. Back in the day, an ISDN session was not only a big deal….but also meant big money. This is somewhat true today.

That said, making a transition – any transition – to another technology is wrongly regarded as expensive and risky; a perceived threat to their livelihood.

Indeed, there’s also the perception that “ISDN talent is better talent”, likely because only those talent that booked ISDN sessions had the big ISDN money to invest in the technology. To some degree this is true, when one compares an exclusive ISDN roster to that of a P2P site like V123.

Perceptions aside, these ISDN folks can’t seem to grasp the simple concept that……all they really have to do is walk away from their expensive ISDN lines and equipment and use that internet connection they have in every one of their post-production suites.

It really is that simple.

Yeah….I know. It’s a bummer having to moth-ball that $5,000 ISDN box…but really, not having to pay for ISDN lines anymore will off-set that perceived loss in a couple of years.

SoundStreak is better than ISDN

One thing I noticed immediately about SoundStreak was the fact that it looked, smelled and tasted like yer average everyday ISDN recording session….only there was no delay or what’s called “latency.”

In a typical ISDN session, the client makes their observations, the engineer slates the take and the talent then speaks into the mic when instructed to do so. The engineer and client keep track of which takes they like…and when recording is completed, the talent is told to wait until the engineer cuts up something rough for the client to review and approve.

There is always much talk, banter and bulls*** in-between takes, easily more than enough time for SoundStreak to deliver high resolution audio (more on this later).

SoundStreak allows for all the aforementioned protocol, along with major advantages over ISDN. The audio quality is 10 times better than ISDN, the software keeps track of the take numbering, the talent can view any video associated with the project….and also read script via the software.

Oh yeah…..the software also cues the talent when to speak. When the engineer hits record, there’s three audible beeps and four visual cues on both sides.

So, that’s the general comparison between ISDN and SoundStreak.

Now…let’s get technical, dude!

The Nitty Gritty

I’ve been actually doing SoundStreak sessions for years now. I call them Todd Streak Sessions (TSS).

Really. Don’t get me started…….I had the brand and everything in place and then…..I got busy….or something.

The session would be directed via phone patch. I’d set up the engineer with an account on my local FTP server. I’d do a take, save the take on my local machine and then tell the engineer to come and get it. Each take was numbered per the engineers instructions. The engineer would tell me what audio format they’d like and off we go.

This is essentially what SoundStreak does, but much faster, slicker and with a pile more bells and whistles.

The session is directed via a low-resolution full duplex signal with seemingly no delay….kinda like Skype. When the talent finishes recording the take, a low resolution version (8,000k PCM WAV) is available immediately for production to preview, along with the option to grab the high-resolution version (productions choice – as high as 24bit 96,000k) from the talent’s local machine.

Here’s an audio comparison between SoundStreak’s low and high resolution; 8000k and 44,100k.

It’s so fast….and so easy, any engineer who has used it says it’s really no different than yer average, everyday ISDN session….with two HUGE differences. No delay and talent can record audio with resolution as high as 24 bit, 96,000k…..saucy.

The Neat Stuff

What I like about SoundStreak is all the extra stuff that it brings to the table that one will never experience with ISDN.

When I did my interview with Yoni, he played a video for me to read to, complete with music and sound-ups, etc. It was perfectly seamless; I could read everything to time and really get the feel of the promo I was voicing.

Basic ISDN doesn’t offer this feature.

On my screen to the right, was the script I was reading from which production can edit at any time…..can’t do that with ISDN.

The countdown roll prior to recording is wicked. I love it. I keeps everyone on their toes and on-point during a recording session. Plus, studios know full well that clients love flashing lights, lasers and swooshes…..more flash, more cash.

SS is kind of like a hybrid cloud-based platform where copies of the session reside locally on the talent’s machine, on production and also “in the cloud” on SS servers. Anyone involved with the session has access to the audio if need be…..tons of redundancy not proferred by ISDN.

End of the session, an automatic e-mail gets sent to production with all the details on the session like Take Summary, Take Details (notes made by production during the session), name of Talent and Production, time and date of session and links to download the audio off the SS servers.

Very nice touch.

Costing

Unlike AudioTX and SourceConnect, the software is provided free of charge to both talent and production. SoundStreak has moved ahead with stating production will pick up the cost of the session.

It’s a controversial move, but I can understand why they went in this direction. When one is dealing with a production company hooked on the drug called ISDN, one has to consider a placebo to get said production company off the ISDN monkey.

With SS charging production companies the fee, studio owners can now justify the rate charge to client (perhaps the same as ISDN….?) and at the same time, offer a much better level of service and audio product. This, makes the transition for studios much easier….plus, there’s no trembling, throwing up, or the need for a poncho during ISDN withdrawl.

Final costing structure is still being worked out at time of publication here, but rest assured….it’s much, much cheaper than ISDN, based on cost “per session.”

Pros and Cons

One “Pro” that ISDN studios are overlooking is the fact that once they start to use SS, they’re going to have a lot more “pro” voices to choose from. All those very talented VO artists who can’t justify – much less afford – the cost for ISDN, or it’s simply not available at the telco switching station in their area.

Arguably, the software needs a few tweaks here and there, but nothing getting in the way of recording quality audio. Those bugs have all been worked out.

SS doesn’t work with Windows XP; Yoni tells me that it was much too costly to develop what was tantamount to a whole other version of the software for an OS that’s well past its prime. Indeed, Microsoft is phasing out XP in April of 2014.

This, is cold comfort for those who know of XP to be extremely stable for recording. The good news is, Windows 7 seems to work fine – I’ve been using it for a couple years now with no major issues.

Then there’s the issue of talent getting off the paper monkey. When you use SS, you need to look at a monitor, which means for many an upgrade to the booth. I’ve had a paperless configuration for recording VO for well over 10 years now, but many talent out there have still yet to make the change.

One element that’s not in place just yet is the “Observer” feature, where a client can log into the session to listen in. This is called “bridging” in ISDN land and is a key service studios offer to clients. The only difference is – with SS – the client can sit in the coffee shop and use their free Wi-Fi or smart phone to connect to the session…..ISDN requires the client sit in a studio.

Yoni tells me that we can expect this “Observer” feature in the near future as many have requested it.

Finally, a personal observation. The folks at SoundStreak have made it look to talent that “all you need is a mic and a laptop” to record audio from anywhere. While literally this may be true, we all know that excellent gear and the recording environment is paramount when one wants to record quality audio.

In fact, they’ve even gone so far as to promote the use of USB microphones in their FAQ section. This is just plain wrong on so many levels – everybody knows the last thing a pro audio engineer wants to hear about is a “USB microphone”….don’t get me started.

Even the mere mention of stuff like this cheapens everything about SoundStreak in the eyes (and ears) of a pro audio engineer – the very people they need to embrace the product.

As a professional company offering a service to professional audio engineers, I think SoundStreak should really re-visit the thinking behind this aspect of their branding. After all, they’re marketing to what can easily be considered the “upper echelon” of studios and talent….

Summary

Let’s look at what’s out there now.

AudioTX, while a great piece of software, is owned and operated by people who have their head in the sand. They never released a version for the Mac, have idiotic licensing policies and the cost for the software is beyond stupid.

Not to mention the AudioTX website looks like it was put together by a Grade Three elementary student.

Then, we have SourceConnect – a plugin for ProTools – which has already proven itself as a dud.

Tons of talent have bought the software, only to lose out on their investment because the bulk of audio engineers simply don’t use it. Aside from the fact that the (cheaper) talent version can only go as high as 96kbps, the software is prone to dropouts and inconsistent latency – at least, in my experience.

The final nail in the coffin for SC would be the monthly fees for support; talent have paid enough already for software they rarely – if ever – use.

Lastly, there’s SoundStreak. Here we have people who actually seem to care about what people have to say, promotion, customer service and appear to have really thought this through. Their software is slick, fast, free, virtually flawless and designed with both the talent and engineer in mind.

The best ISDN can do is 128kbps. SS offers up as high as 24-bit, 96,000K resolution. If that’s not enough for an engineer to take notice of SS, then honestly, I don’t know what will.

SoundStreak works on multiple platforms as a stand-alone. ProTools integration is as easy for an audio engineer as importing audio files from a folder. The GUI is simple – for everyone. The learning curve is about 10 minutes….if that. Internet connection speed is not an issue at all, so there’s no issue with packet loss like with SC.

Its a no-brainer for this cowboy. I’ll talk up SoundStreak to anyone who will listen……yes, even the snobs. (Apparently, a lot of talent are reluctant to do this, which speaks volumes – pardon the pun – about the vibe ISDN houses are putting out there).

As I mentioned to Yoni, the product is fantastic! The only problem that faces this company is getting audio engineers to use it.

That said, here’s what I predict for those who wait too long…..

Competing studios (new and/or savvy) will offer their clients lower rates than ISDN for SoundStreak sessions and sell the fact that they have better quality audio. Plus….an entirely new and varied talent base that will give those “ISDN talent only” studios a serious run for their money.

Ultimately, what will these people do when the phone company sends them the notice that ISDN is being phased out and their service will be cancelled?

Cue the ice-pick in the forehead.

soundstreak

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