By Fred Ginsburg C.A.S. Ph.D. MBKS
For our BKSTS Moving Image Society trans-Atlantic live event, we had our Burbank
host connected to the system via a wireless mic system and wireless earphone
(aka IFB). The ENG-44 mixer fed audio to the VES/Delta 3000 deskbook, which
connected to London via Skype.
It is not unusual for a videographer to need to record a telephone conversation
or telephone interview on location.
In the old days of broadcast, this required some specialized pieces of
equipment, known as phone patches or hybrids. This equipment can get expensive;
although if you are in the telephone talk-show business, the advanced features
and high quality make them worth the investment.
Less demanding and less permanent situations may not warrant that kind of budget
outlay. Thankfully, there is a simple alternative: Skype.
For those of you unaware, Skype is an internet application that can be freely
downloaded and installed onto your laptop or desktop computer. It allows you to
connect to one or more other computers anywhere in the world, and talk. If you
are webcam equipped, you can even video conference. All you need is a built-in
or external microphone and a headset or speaker system connected to your
computer. The person, or persons, that you are connecting to also needs to be
similarly connected to their computer(s) at the other end.
For example, I routinely participate in monthly board meetings of the British
Kinematograph Sound and Television Society (aka The Moving Image Society). I am
in California, but the meetings are held in London. Using the magic of Skype,
those of us outside of London are able to conference call and "attend" via
long-distance internet. Meetings often last 2 or 3 hours, yet the cost of the
"call" remains free!
Back to the original premise of this article: How to Record a Phone Conversation.
Rather than being limited by the quality (or lack thereof) in your laptop
built-in mic, I recommend employing a portable mixing panel to serve as the
The ENG-44 Mixing Panel (manufactured by Sign Video and sold by pro audio
dealers such as Equipment Emporium) is extremely affordable and fully portable.
The ENG-44 can accept up to four XLR inputs (mic or line level) and has true
48vPhantom mic powering. Because the outputs, in addition to XLR line/mic,
include 3.5mm stereo mini mic and line, it is easy to plug into your computer.
On my own VES/Delta 3000 laptop, I just plug in a short cable from the 3.5mm
stereo mini mic out to the laptop mic in. I connect regular XLR mics for the
"host" and "guest" at my end into the mixer. In addition, I can use either the
mixer's built-in slate mic or an additional XLR mic to enable either the sound
mixer or production staffer to be able to converse with the telephone caller
"off the air".
For the highest quality "host" audio, you could take the XLR output from the
ENG44 and send that directly to the recorder.
For recording the "phone-in" portion, just send the headphone output (or line
output, if you have one) from the computer to an empty soundtrack on your
recorder. I use a "Y" cable stereo to stereo headphone splitter on the output of
the computer, so that one leg of the Y goes to the recorder and the other leg of
the Y can feed either headphones, wireless ear-wigs, or speakers. On the ENG44,
you could even take advantage of the audio return feature that allows you to
switch the mixer headphones from direct (the ENG44 mixer inputs) to return (the
audio output from the computer).
Skype allows you to connect either to a single computer at the other end, or
create a "multiple party" conference call. If you demand the highest audio
quality, you should arrange for a good microphone at the remote caller's
location. The XLR-Pro adapter box from Sign Video works very well at adapting
XLR mics to stereo mini mic out for connecting to computers.
If your "caller" does not have access to a computer setup, you can also use
Skype to connect to a regular phone line (there is a slight fee for that, but it
is really insignificant).
So there you have it. Professional grade "phone-in" audio at an amateur's
Side Notes: For the "roaming host", the author uses an Audio Technica UHF
diversity wireless mic system with handheld dynamic mic, and a Listen
Technologies LT-700/LR-400 assisted listening transmitter/receiver for IFB. The
line-input to the Listen Tech transmitter accepts both an RCA line level input
and simultaneously a mono-mini mic input. The output of the computer is split
with a Y cable, and one leg is sent to the RCA line input of the Listen Tech. An
inexpensive Listen Tech lavalier mic is also connected to the input cable.
Speaking into this lavalier enables the production staff to communicate ONLY to
the host, aka private line, without going out to Skype or program. Using the
slate mic of the mixer enables the staff to converse not only with the host, but
also to the caller.