Emagine Engine Audio Studio

Audio Recording: Phone Patch with Google Voice or Skype

Did you know that Emagine Engine has an audio recording studio? Below we describe how we enable clients to visit the studio virtually during recording sessions.

Today we came upon a blog entry published by Voice123 about using Google Voice as a Phone Patch replacement. As would be expected from one of those sites that exists to sell the dream of voiceover riches to scores of wide-eyed amateurs (the blog is called, “Voice The Dream,” of all things), they got it wrong. Here we explain, for the benefit of other Web Developers working with audio, how to implement this the right way.

Why Use a Phone Patch

A Phone Patch is a great way to allow a client (ideally, the writer) to listen in on a recording, live, from a remote location. Our studio is small and we don’t have room for a lot of visitors. Plus, patching in is more convenient for most of our clients. They can make suggestions or adjustments to the recording on the fly. But as with everything, there’s a right and wrong way to do it.

Voice Patches Over the Internet

Traditional Phone Patches use hardware to interface with a landline. The Internet approach does away with the legacy hardware and can even improve audio quality. Using Skype for your voice patch can provide audio comparable to ISDN, the old studio standard, so we prefer it. Sometimes, however, a client needs access via phone. That’s where Google Voice comes in. 

To use Google Voice for a phone patch, you combine it with Google Talk (aka Google Chat). The trick to is to tell Google Voice to “call” you using Google Talk, which allows you to take the call directly on a computer.

To do that, log into Google Voice and explore the call settings found under the gear icon in the top right of the account window.

The Wrong Approach

But what then? The blog suggested using Google Talk on the recording PC, combined with a mixer. As would be expected, the author ended up with two results, neither of which were ideal:

  • She could hear and record both sides of the conversation, or...
  • She could record only her side of the conversation without the ability to hear her own voice in the headphones (she could only hear the caller).

Why is this bad? If you took the approach of recording both sides of the conversation, it would mean more editing and even ruined takes because of phone noise.  Or, if you let the voice actor perform without the ability to hear her audio through the headphones, she would find it more difficult to evaluate her performance. 

You could avoid those problems on a single computer by using a program called Virtual Audio Cable, but that brings its own issues. The more processes you run on the recording machine (such as Internet access or VOIP), the greater the risk of introducing flaws into the recording as the computer works on various intensive tasks.

The Right Approach: Mix Minus

The hardware setup can be improved by setting up a proper “mix minus”: the voice actor can hear both sides of the conversation in the headphones, but only her voice is recorded. Mix minus subtracts the client side of the call from the final mix.

The classic mix minus setup involves a mixer + a phone patch or ISDN + a computer to record. When we use Google Voice/Talk, we replace the phone patch or ISDN with a second computer. The mixer is typically connected to the computer through an external audio interface, or via USB.

Therefore, doing this right involves the following components: a mixer + a computer for recording (connected to the mixer via USB or an external audio interface) + another computer (with an audio interface) to deliver the call through Google Talk.  If you don’t need a mixer, you can skip it and just use two audio interfaces, one at each computer.

This is the right setup for both Skype and Google Voice. The second computer can be any light-duty “netbook.”

Learn More

Please note that we haven’t given all the details here. Anyone who needs to do this setup should read Chapter 9 of Harlan Hogan’s book, Voice Actor’s Guide to Recording at Home and on the Road. Harlan explains the cabling for mix minus, and so much more. When looking at his diagrams and descriptions, simply substitute a computer with external audio interface for the ISDN or phone patch.  The reason our own diagrams are not posted here is because Harlan’s book is required reading for anyone working with audio for the Web.

Or Let Us Do It

Of course, our clients never have to worry about this. They just Skype or call us and they have virtual access to voice-over actor Lisa Jayne, live in the Emagine Engine studio. And if you are a fellow Web or mobile developer who needs professional voice recordings, we can help with that.

Mar 03, 2012, Larchmont, NY.

About the Author

Phillip Honstein is the founder of Emagine Engine, a Web Consultancy dedicated to helping clients turn big ideas into influential ventures through Responsive Web Development. Emagine Engine combines the ingredients of Entrepreneurship, Web Development, Web Hosting, and Internet Marketing into products and services that are in touch with each phase of Venture Development. Emagine Engine is a privately held and funded business located in Larchmont, New York, United States.