ISDN Broadband Alternatives

I used to have a “Love/Hate” relationship with ISDN. This is a really old article on ISDN broadband alternatives that dates back to about 2005.

It reveals the challenges I faced back then and also the need for ISDN broadband alternatives which were virtually non-existent at the time. While the subject of ISDN broadband alternatives is somewhat dated now, there are still people who haven’t caught on. Many are still paying big money for old technology and haven’t even considered ISDN broadband alternatives.

For the record, I cancelled my ISDN service in March of 2016. At the time. I was paying Bell a whopping $450 a month for the service. I now use ipDTL, but there are a few other ISDN broadband alternatives to choose from.

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I finally had to do it; I installed an ISDN service. It was with much reluctance that I finally bit the bullet for a number of reasons. First of all, I was starting to look like a hack not having the service. Secondly, it was becoming more and more obvious that I was missing out on a lot of voice overs and thirdly, I wanted to improve my studio service offerings.

I wanted to look for ISDN broadband alternatives to the $5000.00 box to handle the codecs and I was lucky to come across AudioTX. AudioTX not only handles most ISDN codecs, it also features Network/IP Streaming technology so you can stream your audio real-time (1/4 second delay) to a maximum of 320kbps Stereo Mp3….using your broadband connection. Not ISDN. No technical problems, no expensive phone bills and best of all, a better quality recording, everytime.

The caveat is, AudioTX was only designed as a stand-alone software package for the PC and not the Mac; a huge mistake on their part – more than half their market (recording engineers) use a Mac.

Also, each party has to have the same software on each end to use the broadband option, so the voiceover talent is burdened with the task of having to convince other studios and engineers to buy the software….of course, only those that use a PC.

AudioTX is a great cost alternative to ISDN hardware “boxes” which can run up to $5,000. Alternatively, an AudioTX setup will run you about $2,000 after you purchase an ISDN PCI card, an NT1 termination box (North America), installation of the ISDN lines themselves and of course, the AudioTX software.

If you’re going to buy their software, buy the hardware dongle. I couldn’t because I had a session pending. Now, if my hard drive crashes on my DAW, I have to buy another license…..thanks for that. If you get the dongle, you can switch from machine to machine. Stupid licensing options if you ask me….I brought it up with them and they basically told me “Too bad.”

Overall, I like the software for ISDN…..but the company and their policies suck.

Another (and quickly becoming the more popular streaming software) is SourceConnect; designed primarily as a ProTools plugin, but also works with most other audio editing programs for the voice-over professional. The fact that it works as a plugin for ProTools is a big deal, because that means audio engineers are more likely to take the whole broadband audio streaming thing more seriously…..and (because) it works on both the Mac and PC.

The problem is, there’s a huge ISDN infrastructure out there and engineers are at a snail’s pace even trying out the software, much less putting it to use on a regular basis….at least, this is my experience.

Another issue is SourceConnect’s bandwidth; the cheap version ($695) streams at only 96 kbps (mono), while the expensive version (about $1500) goes up to 160 kbps (mono). Personally, I feel that this is somewhat of a cash grab from the folks at Source-Elements and they’re going about the sale of this product the wrong way.

Indeed, yet another cash-grab is their support for the product. I got an e-mail from them stating that my “support has expired” and that I’d have to pay them $10.00 a month to have the service! For a $700.00 piece of software. What a rip-off. The folks at Source Elements really need to look carefully at how they treat their customer base.

First, if they’re going to get engineers off the ISDN monkey, then they need to make it sound good enough for engineers to take notice and sell it to voice talent at a fair price. Right now, paying an extra $1000.00 to go from 96 kbps to 160 kbps is not only ridiculous, but also WAY outside the budget of most home-based voiceover recording studios.

Engineers see that all the talent are buying the cheap version and…… they stick with talent that has ISDN which runs at 128 kbps. For the record, the 96kbps of Source-Connect Standard uses an AAC-LD codec, which Source Elements tells me is sonically superior to the MPEG2 codec typically used by ISDN, even at 128kbps. But, try having a discussion with an audio engineer about that.

This is my personal beef with most audio engineers. They spend far too much time in small, dark, padded rooms listening to audio in the most pristine conditions, all the while completely ignorant of the fact that the average person would need to have the ears of a canine to tell the difference between 96 kbps and 160 kbps, much less hear the difference between an AAC-LD and MPEG2 codec.

Regardless, they won’t make the change based on the bit rate alone.

And don’t get me started about ISDN. They cling to it like a survivor hanging on to busted chunk of wood that broke off the Titanic……even if the lifeboat is 2 yards away….! And, they’ll make up ANY excuse not to use it, like:

“I’ve heard that there’s an issue with drop-outs….”

To that I say….

“Yeah, the odd drop out….but nowhere near the codec/connection/bridging/disconnection/one-box-can’t-talk-to-the-other-box-outdated-piece-of-garbage-technology that is ISDN…”

Yes…broadband audio streaming it’s the way it’s “going”…..but at this time…I’m sorry to say it’s not the “way to go.” Engineers are still treading the mirky waters outside the Ilse Of ISDN Broadband Alternatives and don’t expect them to come ashore anytime soon. For instance, I’ve had SourceConnect for a couple of years now and I’ve done a whopping 4 recording sessions with it over that period of time……all with the same studio…the only one I could convince to use the software.

Believe me, I try and talk to every single engineer I can about SourceConnect as is humanly possible during/after a voice-over recording session; I’ve probably talked to about 50 of them personally – to no avail sans one open-minded guy in Spokane, Washington.

Interestingly, if you look at the Source-Connect website interface from an account perspective….you’d think that hundreds and hundreds of studios are using it, which is not the case. The reason? Anyone who dowloaded and wanted to try the “free” version had to register on their site to use it. Yes, many people are registered, but only a scant few purchased the software – the rest of the studios there simply have an expired trial version.

So, my question is: “Why is no one using it?”

You see……it’s also a money issue……or should I say, a money “spent” issue. There are literally thousands of studios around the world who have paid BIG money for their ISDN suites (each ISDN box is worth about $5000.00). They also have a built-in talent (and client) base that use the service daily. That said, it’s a pretty big (perceived) risk for them to change everything over to something broadband-based that has still yet to prove itself…..even if it already has proven to be stable and sounds great.

Let’s not forget that these same ISDN studios are charging their clients a fairly hefty markup on the service they’ve got them addicted to and therefore, unwilling to let go of that revenue stream. I propose that the smart studios don’t even bother to tell the clients that they’re using broadband and make it a non-issue….besides, the client will get better quality audio than ISDN anyway.

The bottom line is, one has to convince engineers to make the change and that’s not an easy thing to do. Engineers are an odd bunch. They all have their own opinion about things…..but the one thing I feel they have in common is – they seem to be highly resistant to change. Oh, they’ll testsomething…..find out that it works just fine……but most will still remain skeptical about using it for fear it will let them down……or…whatever. They’re all fiercely proud of running their studios to perfection; anything less is unacceptable.

That’s not to say the aforementioned is a BAD thing… just “is what it is.”

SourceConnect though, is your best bet as the software most likely to become the industry standard audio-streaming remote recording software over the next few years (even though they don’t deserve the business). That’s because it’s a ProTools plugin first and foremost and in the eyes and ears of an engineer ProTools is all-powerful, all-knowing….all…..everything.

While I do use the ISDN service, it’s my feeling that ISDN is on the way out and I couldn’t be happier. Once engineers realize that broadband streaming audio sounds much better, and they can save money as well….ISDN will quickly become the format of the past, much like the demise of the vinyl record and the cassette tape….

ISDN Broadband Alternatives
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