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Monday
Apr222013

The new Skype: The latest Source Connect rival?

Skype has recently released a new codec to their system that improves the sound quality of audio transmissions. What does that mean to you? It means that now the audio quality that you can achieve via Skype is starting to rival the audio quality that can be sent via other much more expensive systems such as ISDN and Source Connect. The question:  Is it really good enough for professional studio use or is it just close but no cigar?

I decided to put this new Skype version to the test. First, how do you know if you have the new Skype version? Well, from what I can tell, this updated audio codec called Opus is working in the latest updates (read comment below).  I'm not aware of what exact version of Skype you have to have installed for this new codec to start working but on my Mac as of this writing I'm running version 6.3.0.602. The audio quality really is quite remarkable as well as the latency is very low. That means that you can have a conversation via Skype and almost never step on each other's words because you're not waiting for the other person's transmission to reach you, making it much easier to communicate in real time. Anybody that has ever worked by ISDN or Source Connect knows what I'm talking about.  

So let's first talk about how Skype's new audio quality rivals Source Connect. For those who are not familiar with Source Connect, it is a professional audio software from Source Elements that allows you to stream studio quality audio via internet connection. It's been available for at least 5 years now and has  pretty strong foothold in the voiceover industry. Of all of the competing systems that are becoming available, Source Connect definitely has the biggest head start. Source Connect is cross-platform so it will run on Mac or Windows and but is not available yet to run on iOS or Android phones or tablets.

Most of you are likely familiar with Skype as it allows audio transmission via the internet for free. It's very flexible because it allows video, screen sharing, calls to landlines, chat and to share files with the other user or users who you are connected with during the call. Skype does run on iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mac and Linux among others. Both Skype and Source Connect can be used to communicate in real time time with very little latency with another studio and sound quality is quite remarkable.

However, when we start looking at the resulting recording made via Skype or Source Connect you start to notice the differences between the two systems. My initial tests show that while the audio quality from Skype is surprisingly good, especially considering the price, it does fall short in regards to pure audio quality. Some portion of the Skype codec, the way that Skype handles its audio, is adding dynamic compression to the signal. The resulting recorded audio file clearly has been limited or compressed and some way by Skype. This could be a problem depending on the needs of the studio who is receiving your file. If they want your audio to be completely in it's original state with no processing of any kind, Skype will not be an acceptable substitute for Source Connect.

Take a listen to an audio sample I recorded of voice actor Graeme Spicer with SC then Skype, or download the WAV file for further analysis. 

 

I think you will agree that the quality would acceptable for radio spots, field reporting, and many projects where immediate access to remote talent is required.  Skype will make an excellent backup to SC while traveling in areas with poor broadband Internet access or network firewall issues preventing a two way connection via SC.

I also spoke about this topic during the first segment of EWABS Episode 91, which you can watch here