We offer two types of remote support, which we’ll discuss in turn here. We’ll also show the pros and cons of each method. The two methods we provide are Phone-In, and Internet Connection.
We use a Sonifex SY03 TBU (Telephone Balancing Unit). The SY03 and its predecessor the SY02 are almost a de-facto standard, with thousands of units installed in broadcast and post-production facilities. So, what’s a TBU?
If you’ve ever phoned in to a radio programme, you’ve heard a TBU in action. Put simply, it’s a device that attaches to a phone line and converts the incoming and outgoing audio to balanced signals that connect to the mixing desk. An incoming call is answered using a handset in the usual way and then, with the press of a button, the audio is re-routed into the studio’s system.
It’s a bit more than just a glorified telephone of course; the public phone network works with two-wire connections and uses DC voltages for signalling. You can’t just plug that into a studio desk – and even if you could, it wouldn’t be allowed by BT. The TBU does the conversion while simultaneously protecting the phone line and your mixing desk from each other.
What are the benefits of using the TBU?
- The TBU allows a director/producer to join a recording session simply by phoning the studio. It’s a tried and tested technique and directors with a broadcast background in particular will be completely familiar with it.
- It’s ‘portable’ and fool-proof. The director can access the session from anywhere where’s there’s a phone – including mobiles – anywhere in the world.
- Set-up is quick, and no special software or hardware is required. This is ideal for short-form recording – e.g. voiceover – where a spontaneous decision can be made to ‘bring in’ a director to check the recording.
What are the disadvantages of using the TBU?
- It’s only really suitable for remote direction. Line quality prevents its use for recording, and the slight latency in these systems makes it difficult to use for read-ins.
- Line quality issues can also make it harder for the director to hear details in the recording. This isn’t a major issue since the local director/engineer will be taking care of ensuring the recording sounds good.
- It’s not really suitable for long-form recording – e.g. audiobooks – because, firstly the phone network (and particularly the mobile phone network) will tend the ‘lose the connection’ especially for calls lasting longer than an hour. Secondly, it can get expensive, particularly when calling from a mobile. Many ‘free calls’ plans only apply to calls lasting less than an hour.
There are a number of internet-based solutions available. At the moment, we generally use CleanFeed Pro. So, how does this work?
You can think of CleanFeed as being like Zoom. One party sets up a session, and then the other parties access that session through the CleanFeed website. The ‘host’ – that’s the studio in this case – can include multiple remote parties in the session. These could include a director, a read-in actor, or the session talent, working remotely. Audio quality is very good – equivalent to mp3.
What are the benefits of using CleanFeed?
- Unlike the TBU method, using CleanFeed also allows the director to be local while the talent is remote. Obviously this requires that the remote end is simultaneously recording a full-bandwidth version of the audio – but Cleanfeed will ‘record’ the session in up to mp3 quality as well as passing the audio.
- Because CleanFeed supports multiple connections, it’s possible, for example, to have an actor recording dialogue here at the studio being fed lines by one or more read-in actors remotely and even being directed remotely if necessary.
- CleanFeed is fairly resistant to drop-outs, assuming good internet connections at both ends. It’s reasonable to expect connections to stay up all day if required and of course there’s no direct cost associated with the time connected.
What are the disadvantages of using CleanFeed?
- Obviously, it’s more complex to set up than TBU. At the time of writing CleanFeed is only supported on Google Chrome browsers so all participants will need to be using a computer running Chrome and have some basic understanding of audio setup.
- In its current form, CleanFeed only “recognises” the computer’s built-in input and output (this is a limitation of Chrome, we’re told). You can use an external audio interface but only one (stereo) input and output will be recognised. This is mainly an issue at the studio end; “input 1” and “output 1” are unlikely to be free for CleanFeed to use so we get round this by hosting CleanFeed on a separate computer with it’s own audio interface, patched into the main system.
- Because CleanFeed only uses one input and out channel, there’s no way at the studio end to ‘split out’ multiple participants. This means that if you have, say, a remote director and a remote read-in actor, they will both appear on the same channel and be heard by everyone else at the same level.
- As already mentioned, CleanFeed transfers and optionally records audio at near-mp3 quality. In some cases this may be sufficient but generally full-bandwidth uncompressed WAV files need to be recorded. If the talent is remote, they will have to be recording their audio locally, simultaneously. This is a key limitation; if someone is here at the studio directing talent who is recording remotely, the director is hearing the CleanFeed ‘feed’, not the actual recording. So if the remote recording is full of plosives and breathing issues for instance, the director might not be aware of this.