Great Skype

Hi Know Tech,

I know you’re busy as heck so I’ll keep this brief. I’m an audio engineer for a small internet broadcaster in the East Bay called the Brewing Network and I really want to pick your brain about remote interviews.

We’ve been broadcasting live and podcasting shows for four years and our sound quality in-studio has gotten better and better, but phone interviews and Skype calls seem to suck no matter what gear we send the interviewee.  How do you guys get such great Skype quality on your shows?

Any insight you have to offer is much appreciated. Even if you just have a moment to jot down a quick list of your signal path it would be great.

Thanks, Know Tech!  All the best,
Push Eject

there are many factors that you have to control to get Skype to sound better for your calls. some of these things are are very simple to fix and others take a higher level geek to get working. everything in this podcast applies for Skype, SIP, Gizmo5 and other peer to peer Voice. even if you do all these things the quality of this stuff isn’t stellar. the biggest problem is the delay they have is the round tripping causes people to talk over each other. that said, I find Skype hit or miss for all things. here’s my list to get things to sound better:

0) there cannot be ANY other traffic on the Skype connection. a caller downloading a web page on a different computer will cause farts (distortion specific to Skype) while talking.

1) use the Windows version on a separate computer for incoming calls.
Windows development is WAY ahead of all the other versions. it’s up to v4.2.

2) use a direct (wired) connection instead of a wireless one. however. this means you won’t be sharing that wireless N or wireless G with other computers around you. you’ll have 100megabit all the way to the router.

3) if you can control the QOS on your router you can tweak it to make sure Skype’s ports have priority. you can also define a specific amount of bandwidth and latency. if you have a newer Linksys just select Skype from the QOS tab.

here’s how to control QOS if you installed DD-WRT on your router.

with DD-WRT you can prioritize by Applications, IP address or by MAC address:
fixed IP for the skype computer
port forward 1023 to that IP
set the priority to HIGH or PREMIUM

http://protocolinfo.org/wiki/List_of_protocols

4) get a newer router that can run something like DD-WRT (the USR one for $40 is nice) then you can packet shape to your hearts content. we like the ASUS 20WL-520GU and here’s a review.

5) you might need a gay shirt.

6) using the latest (Skype 4 or later) you can turn off SuperNodes explicitly.
http://www.skype.com/security/universities/
https://www.cs.uwaterloo.ca/twiki/view/CF/SkypeConfiguration

7) look into getting more bandwidth or newer “business class” bandwidth.
old, old DSL has lots of traffic shaping built-in.
servers were not allowed. Skype is acting like a server.
your old contract may cost more then newer better service.

8 ) Comcast biz class for example is very cool with all kinds of overhead
you can run servers.
they give you real IP addresses (block of 5)
you can get 16Mbs down and 2Mbs up (or more) for up for $80.
http://business.comcast.com/service-availability/available-plans_possible.aspx

9) recording the call
skype based tools. there are lots of choices.
wire it into your board.
we do this.
use WireTap, Sound Flower or
the equivalent on Windows.

10) echo, echo, echo…
everyone has to wear headphones.
AKG K-240’s SUCK
they aren’t closed
ear buds work better!
Sony
MDR-7502
MDR-6V

Sennheiser
HD202
$90 for 5. send them to people!
Audio Technica
AT-HM20

YMMV

bottom line:
don’t do anything else but TALK. not YouTube, email or chat on both sides
have a good microphone.
use a Skype on Windows on your side.
where headphones.

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4 Replies

    • the question of “compare” is relative. I have to ask things like:
      “what are you routing? office traffic or home?”
      “how many users?”
      “what problem are you trying to solve?”
      “is there a specific feature that is in use with what you have that you can’t give up?”

      a good example of a recent router upgrade was replacing a Airport Extreme with a router that was flashed with DD-WRT. we did this because it was a high traffic environment. the traffic was people not packets. the Airport didn’t like managing hundreds of DHCP request in a day. even if we set the lease time to 10 minutes it would still get overwhelmed by 9PM. the router that replaced it doesn’t have this problem. it will serve all day without issues.

      I like a few different routers. but I really don’t like the Apple Airports doing the job of connecting to the internet. they work fine for the most part but they have a limited feature set in terms of QOS, blocking, port routing and statistics. that said, there are Airports on my network handling wireless, sharing a printer and playing music.

      because of the area of our office I’ve put wireless in the corners while the internet router lives in a cabinet. this has few advantages. people can move around the office using the same IP address. their computer will automatically pick the best wireless signal but their connections won’t get interrupted. but that’s a story for another day.

      the current internet gateway is a Linksys WRT-54GL. it’s an older router but when it’s reflashed with DD-WRT (you can also use Tomato) it makes it a much more usable tool. this device can also be a wireless access point but I turned it off. there is a long list of hardware that you can flash DD-WRT on. so there is no “best” router. although there is a longer list of “not the best” routers.

      one problem is that you really can’t compare Airport Extreme to a DD-WRT/Tomato based router. it’s two different animals. the Airports are easy to maintain while the other offers BOFH power. I really like that I can plug a printer into a port and have every computer on the network be able to use it. but I also like that my router will automatically block P2P traffic without question. when you have an office full of geeks you have to have this kind of control.

      I’ve also spent some time with pfSense. the idea here was to bind 2 or more “DSL” lines to get greater bandwidth. it’s a great theory but has a list of issues. the next version of the software may allow this tool to be used in production. this isn’t a “cheap” router. you have to make it out of an old PC or build one using a small motherboard. I found a Jetway mobo that would host a four ethernet ports. this would allow 3 DSL lines to give the appearance of 2 megabits a second downstream.

  • Can you explain the “don’t run 10.6″/”10.6 is the Star Trek 5 of operating systems” lines? Was that just in reference to running it on older hardware, or is there something about it that you two have discovered sucks for recording? Thanks!

    • Sure. We’ve had production issues when using 10.6 that didn’t exist in 10.5. some of this is “the devil you know” but in this case it’s real crashes that caused lost production time. I’ll post the stories as articles. –John

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