Command Line

A blog and podcast exploring the rough edges where society, public policy and computers meet.

Recording Skype with My Portable Recorder

Posted by Thomas Gideon on May 19, 2008

I’ve been spoiled by recording Skype calls in my studio. Using a hardware solution, one commonly documented elsewhere, as opposed to a software solution has netted me some pretty good sound quality. Even better when I switched to using my old Griffin iMic to pull better quality audio directly out of Skype and into my mixing board.

Not having a comparable solution I can drive with my MacBook Pro has very much limited my availability for interviews. I enjoy getting great guests for the podcast but dread the inevitable scheduling hassles that arise from having a day job and not portable recording option.

I was dealing with this very hassle, trying to accommodate a recent guest’s travel schedule when inspiration struck. It started with the realization that my portable recorder has two channels which should be enough to drive a field mic and bring in Skype through the iMic.

From top to bottom, here is what I put together. For reference, I have an M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 which which has two quarter inch mono inputs and a monitor out. You are going to need something comparable, especially the monitor out to make a similar rig work. I also use a Mac, as mentioned above, and while I will try to keep my description from being too Mac specific, bear it in mind when adjusting for your system.

  1. Connect the Griffin iMic
    After connecting it, I launched Skype and switched its audio input and output both to the iMic. On my system, I have to connect the iMic first so it will be available in Skype’s audio preferences.
  2. Temporarily connect headphones to the headphone jack of the iMic
    I did this to get the audio level out through the iMic dialed in. I left the Skype preferences up and opened my sound preferences. I temporarily switched the system sound to run out of the iMic since Skype alone doesn’t afford that level of control. I found setting the output level to about 20% works well. You can click the little icon next to the output setting in the Skype preferences to hear sound through the iMic. If you have a Skype voice mail, you can replay it for an even better idea of the level. I also adjusted the pan, the left-right balance, all the way to the left. This helped push the Sykpe audio out well to the mono channel on my portable recorder.
  3. Switch system sound back to the usual setting
    I did this to keep random system noises from piping through the iMic. I left the Skype ringer set to the system sound setting, this kept notifications from Skype from sounding through the iMic.
  4. Disconnect the headphones and connect the iMic to one channel of the portable recorder
    I used a stereo splitter and connected just the left channel (hence the pan tweak above) to one of the portable recorder’s inputs. I used my test audio, a Skype voice mail, to check that sound was making it into the connected channel of my recorder.
  5. Connect a mic to the open channel
    My portable recorder puts out phantom power so I connected a condenser and sat close to get a good, clear signal.
  6. Connect a headset mic to the monitor on the recorder
    My portable recorder only sends sound out the monitor when recording. I recorded a couple of samples while playing my test voice mail from Skype. At this point, I was hearing what my recorder was capturing, audio straight from Skype!
  7. Connect mic jack from headset to iMic
    This is necessary for my caller to hear me and closes the loop. If you use an iMic, you need to make sure the powered preamp is switched on. Most headset mics are unpowered on their own, mine certainly is.
  8. Get a buddy to agree to a Skype call
    I performed this test to make sure my actual caller for the interview would be able to hear me as well as I can hear through the rig.

Thanks to this bit of experimentation, I now can record Skype calls anywhere I can find a reasonably quiet space and an internet connection. This is a huge relief when contemplating the scheduling exercise involved in pinning down a busy guest.

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2 Responses to “Recording Skype with My Portable Recorder”

  1. parvenu74 said

    I’m having a hard time visualizing what you’re saying in this post… any chance you could publish a picture or schematic?

  2. cmdln said

    Yes, I will try to put a diagram together and update the post to include it. My diagramming tool of choice lacks suitable icons so I have just been trying to think about how to draw the configuration out and get it online.

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