Interviews via Skype

It has been a long-standing rule here at IT Conversations that we don’t conduct interviews over Skype, but recent improvements in Skype as well as additional experience has caused us to revisit that restriction. I’ll be publishing more detailed guidelines shortly, but here’s a summary:

  • Record on an external device, not the same computer running Skype.
  • Record the two sides of the conversation on separate tracks, then mix them in post-production. This allows you to match the levels and equalization and to eliminate single-track noise with gates.
  • Shutdown all other applications on the computer running Skype. The worst offenders are those that use network resources such as email and IM clients, but anything that can take resources from Skype must be halted.
  • Have exclusive access to a broadband connection. Another computer or a VOIP phone using the connection can adversely affect the quality.
  • Use a standard cardioid microphone, not the noise-canceling type that are part of most headsets.

The figure below illustrates a hardware configuration that works quite well.

  • The mixer can be an inexpensive one such as the Behringer UB502 ($35 street price) .
  • The pan pots on the mixer are set such that the microphone signal is fed only to the mixer’s left output while the PC’s audio output (audio from the remote speaker) is fed only to the right channel.
  • Only the left channel from the mixer (with only your mic’s signal) is fed to the computer’s line input.
  • Yes, you need a line input, not a mic input, on the computer.
  • Your voice will be recorded on the left track, and the other person will be recorded on the right.
  • Likewise, you’ll hear yourself in your left ear and the other person in the right.
  • As always, the headphones are connected as late as possible in the audio chain in order to detect as many problems as possible.

Note that this may work well using SkypeOut, which would allow you to conduct interviews with non-Skype users that sound as good as if you have an $800 telephone hybrid. I haven’t tested this to a great extent, so let me know how well it works for you.

Update: Here’s another variation.

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10 thoughts on “Interviews via Skype

  1. Jim Robert

    Hey… Many recorders have built in preamps.

    If this is the case, you should be able to get rid of the mixer all together an just plug the mic and computer’s audio out both directly into the recorder.

    Not only does it save you money on the mixer, and 2 cables… it also saves you 1 point of failure (and many small, low-budget mixers do fail)

    Reply
  2. Antonio

    Doug, thanks for that information. I’m wondering, can you suggest an inexpensive recorder. Also, lets say that I’ve got skype on the mac going to my behringer 802…for the cord that goes back into the mac with my voice, can I have it go into mic in? Or do I need to use line inputs – btw, I’ll be using a recorder to back up the conversations. Is the line input only for the final mixdown?

    Also, have you heard of the zoom h2 recorder?

    Reply
  3. Doug Kaye

    Antonio: You can’t directly feed a line-level signal into a mic-level input. It requires a device to reduce the level and match the impedance. You could use two separate USB audio interfaces, once for each laptop, but it’s probably cheaper just to buy an inexpensive recorder. There’s no way to suggest settings remotely. You’ve got to work with the audio. I suggest you look at http://forum.conversationsnetwork.org/viewforum.php?id=22

    Reply
  4. Antonio Perez

    Hey Doug, I’m currently trying to get this setup working. I’ve got two laptops, and neither of them have line inputs on the crappy built in sound cards. Is it possible for me to get away with just getting a usb or a pcmcia sound card with line inputs for the laptop that will be feeding my voice back into the laptop running skype, and just use the other laptops built in mic input to record the entire conversation? For the laptop that will be recording the conversation, I can just use adobe audition to remove the noise, which actually works pretty damn good. Also, do you have any tutorials or suggestions on what settings I should use on my behringer 802 mixer to keep the sound good (no hiss, static, etc.)

    Thanks

    antonioperez@atriskstoriesofhope.com

    Reply
  5. Michael

    Doug, I saw this a few months ago and put it into use about ten podcasts ago. It was exactly what I was trying to figure out what to do with skype and it works great. I use it exactly as you have it in this diagram and it was a lot of help. Thanks!

    Reply
  6. site admin Post author

    The cables will depend on your mixer, etc. No one-size-fits-all, I’m afraid.

    Reply
  7. Balki

    Hi Doug –
    Thanks a lot for writing about this setup. I am going to give it a shot. Can you suggest what type of cables do I need to connect the various hardware units?
    Thanks
    Balki

    Reply
  8. Steve Hodgdon

    Doug, I was wondering how this Skype-recording solution has been working out for you and if you had made any enhancements. I’ve experimented with dozens of software combinations for recording Skype calls for podcasts, and they’ve been overly complicated hairballs that didn’t work well. So I think I’m going to try your hardware-based model with the external recorder and mixer, if you still give it a thumbs up.
    - Steve

    Reply

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