PODCAST RECORDING

The Complete Guide to Remote Recording with Studio-Link

Riley Byrne, Owner, Podigy.co

13 September 2018

As a podcast host, you know the struggle of remote guest recording. The amount of variables introduced when trying to record someone not in the same room increases exponentially, as do the potential failure points. While some companies in recent years like Zencastr, Ringr, Squadcast et al. have attempted to alleviate some of the stresses that come along with remote recording, they come with their own caveats, with updates that can introduce unwanted processing and sync issues to our audio, making the conversation you had with your guest far and away from the conversation your listeners end up hearing. I believe these issues stem from the fact that these shows use two streams of audio when recording, a lossy stream for the conversation, and a lossless stream for download later. In this system, any issues with the recording are not identified until after the recording has finished.

Studio-Link, the free plugin we’ll be discussing today, gets around this issue by using a high quality, lossy signal for both the conversation and the recording. This way any issues that you identify mid-recording can be rectified, as opposed to discovering after the fact that the audio is of an unsatisfactory quality. That being said, the audio is still a lossy codec (opus, I believe), however the quality of the stream often more than compensates for the slight dip in quality, and after rendering things out to MP3 or AAC, the differences are negligible:

Studio-Link Audio Test @ 256 kbps mp3 mono

That being said, this may not be the best route for everyone. While the upsides are considerable (a free, high quality, dependable multitrack VOIP recording), the downsides are that it is not as user friendly as Zencastr or the like, and since all the documentation on it is in German, troubleshooting (like the considerable amount I did for this guide) can be arduous, and you’ll have to make sure your guests are set up for recording properly beforehand. With that being said, let’s get started.

We’ll have to first download the plugin from the Studio-Link website. Make sure to download the non “OnAir” version, which I believe allows for a live broadcast, but I haven’t looked into much at this point. Extract the file and place it in “~ / Library / Audio / Plug-Ins / Components”  for Mac OS users. For Windows users, place the .dll file in where Reaper looks for VST files, which you can find by opening Reaper and going to Preferences > Plugins > VST:

Once you’ve added the file to the correct folder, restart Reaper.

For both Mac and PC, open Reaper again and go to Preferences > Audio > Device and ensure Requested Sample Rate is set to 48000.

Next, go to File > Project Settings and ensure the Project Sample Rate is also set to 48000. These two steps are very important, as Studio Link seems to run all of its internal audio at 48000 Hz, and you’ll hear a significant amount of crackling and audio static if you or your guest’s audio is not set to the proper sample rate. If you plan on using this setup often, you may want to click Save as default project settings.  When troubleshooting your setup, ensure all people involved are set to a sample rate of 48000 Hz.

Now it is time to set up Reaper for recording. If you’ve read our guide to recording, you should be generally familiar with this process, but Studio-Link introduces a few little wrinkles, and the Routing Matrix screen, which we’ve never used before. We’ll first go over how to set this up for one-on-one calls, and then expand it out for multiple guests both in-studio and remote.

Firstly, let’s set up our own track for recording. In our main screen we’ll use Cmd/Ctrl + T to make a new track, name it something identifiable, and then in the long grey box underneath the Mute/Solo and FX buttons, we’ll select the appropriate input for our microphone. Note: in this example I am using an interface with several inputs/outputs, but if you are using a USB microphone, you will most likely only have one or two. Don’t worry if the options under input do not look the same as mine.

Once you’ve selected the input, you can click the red circle next to the name to arm the track to make sure it is ready to record. Next, let’s create the track that will capture the audio from our remote guest. Create a new track like before (here named Studiolink-1), but this time under under the input tab select Input: None.

Next, let’s add the Studiolink plugin FX to this track by clicking on the FX button, searching Studiolink and then double clicking on the plugin:

This should open up a new window in your browser that looks like this:

Don’t worry about this screen for now, we’ll get to it in an minute. Click back into Reaper and Right Click on the Red Circle next to our Studiolink track. From here, select Record Output > Record Output (mono)

Finally, left click the red circle to make sure it is armed to record. This might seem confusing, but what we’re doing is setting up the track to record anything that comes after our FX chain, which in this case includes our Studiolink FX that will be receiving audio from our remote guest. If you read the recording guide and were tearing your hair out over trying to set up a mix-minus solution, you’ll be happy to know that the StudioLink plugin handles that automatically for you, saving lots of time figuring out the routing in Voicemeter Banana.

Our next step is to send our local audio out to our remote guest so they can hear us. First we’ll go to View > Routing Matrix, to bring up a new screen that shows all of the outputs of our tracks on the y-axis (Sources), and the inputs of tracks (Destinations), on our x-axis. This might be a little confusing at first, but I’m going to try my best to keep everything straight.

First, let’s breakdown what we’re looking at. Along the y-axis we can see that we have a Master Output, the two tracks we created (Riley and Studiolink-1), and the six physical inputs of my audio interface (IP 1-6). IP 1 has a bright red circle in the Riley column so we know that anything from the first input of my interface is going to the input of track we named Riley. The ‘X’s going diagonally downwards also indicate that we cannot route the output of a track into its input, which would cause instant feedback. In the Master/Parent column, we see that both tracks we set up (Riley, Studiolink-1) are routed to it, meaning that both tracks are going to be heard in our headphone mix, which in this case is Master Output being sent to Output 1 (stereo/MC). It’s not the most intuitive, but if you take a few moments to look this graph over, you’ll (hopefully) start to make sense of it.

Now, we need to route Riley’s output to Studiolink-1’s input. We do this by clicking on the box that where that row and column meet:

You’ll recall early that we told Studiolink-1 to only record the output of its track, instead of the input. Because of the plugin’s internal mix-minus routing, Studiolink-1’s input (the audio from Riley’s track) will be sent automatically to our remote guest, and the output of the plugin (our remote guest talking) will be recorded. Think of the Studiolink plugin in Reaper as the on and off ramp for audio going to your guest. We send our audio to the on ramp so it can get on the information superhighway to go to your guest, but we only record what exits at that off ramp from our guest. It’s not a good metaphor.

Also on this screen, if you like, you can click the very first box (Riley, master/parent) to keep from hearing yourself in your headphones. Handy for one-on-one sessions, although you may need to route yourself to headphones if you have several local guests (which we’ll get into in a second).

At this point, for convenience, let’s save some templates. First, right click on the Studiolink-1 track and select Save track as template. Name it however you like, and from here on out, anytime you want to add an additional Studiolink track, just right click under your tracks and select Insert track from template > [Whatever you named your saved track].

Also, let’s save the two track version as our default template for when we’re talking with guests one-on-one by going to File > Project Templates > Save Project as Template…

Once again name, it however you see fit.

Now, let’s click back into our Studiolink browser tab. When you test into your mic, you should be able to see the Outgoing bar fill up, which indicates that your audio is being sent to your guest:

Note: If you don’t get any signal, it may be because something happened while we were setting up/deleting tracks for our initial setup. If that is the case, don’t fret, just close the tab, then close Reaper, then reopen Reaper, open the template, and it should boot up a Studiolink tab that is receiving audio properly.

Once we have our outgoing signal, let’s test to make sure what others are hearing are what we are sending out. In the Enter Partner ID box, type in Echo and hit enter. Make sure you have your headphones on to avoid feedback issues. Now you’re hearing exactly what your guests are hearing, and the delay between between when you speak and when your guests hear you. With both of our recording tracks armed (the red circles next to their name are bright), we can click the record button at the top and get a sense of the quality of our recordings:

Once you’re done recording (hit the square Stop button), listen back to the recordings. To do so, first click on the red Arm button each track to stop them from listening to outside sources, and turn off the FX on the Studiolink-1 track to have it stop listening to incoming audio from the browser tab. Finally, click the first box next to the Riley source row (Riley, master/parent), to route the audio from the track back to our outputs, (if you unselected it before) and click on the third box in the row (Riley, Studiolink-1) and then press Delete to stop routing Riley’s audio through Studiolink-1’s track:

If the audio is crackly, you have drop outs, or it sounds generally mangled check the following issues:

  1. Good internet connection. It doesn’t have to be the fastest thing in the world, but it should be fairly consistent. Wired is great, but being reasonably close to a router is good too. Turn off any VPNs or anything else that might be sapping you bandwidth.
  2. Sample Rate is 48000 Hz. This is a huge thing. Go back, make sure both Reaper and your project settings are both 48000 Hz, otherwise you will get crackling audio no matter what. Make sure your guests are using it too!
  3. Buffer size. If your buffer size is too small, your CPU can fall behind trying to write all the audio down to disk in time, which will lead to dropouts and a poor signal. 512 is usually a safe bet, but if you’re still getting crackling, up it to 1024. This will cause greater latency on the call, but that can be fixed easily in post.

 

Finally, the last step to all of this is to get our guests to set up their end of the conversation properly. This could be a whole endeavour onto itself depending on who you are chatting with, but feel free to copy and past this template to send to people:

Hey there!

Thanks for agreeing to be on the podcast. It’s too bad that we can’t meet in person, but luckily for the listeners, we’re going with a setup that is the next best thing. We use a program called Studiolink that lets us record both ends of the conversation separately, but it does take a little tinkering on your end to set up.

First: Head over to Studiolink and download the latest version of the program (it’s very small) and unzip it. Before you run it though, follow these instructions (or the gifs on the site) to make sure you’re sending your audio out in a compatible format (very important!)

If you use OS X:

  1. In spotlight search for “Audio MIDI Setup” and open that program. If a window that says “Midi Studio” pops up, press ⌘1 to bring up the audio page.
  2. From here, find the microphone you’re going to use (hopefully an external one!) and select it from the left hand menu

Under Format make sure that 48000 Hz is selected:

If you use Windows 10:

  1. Right click on the Speaker icon in the bottom right hand of the screen, and select Open Sound Settings
  2. From there, choose the microphone you’re going to use (hopefully an external one!) under the Input heading.
  3. Click on Device Properties, which should open a separate window. In that window click the Advanced tab.

For the Default Format choose the setting that has 48000 Hz somewhere in the name (usually it says something about DVD Quality)

After this little setup, you’re ready to pop on some headphones and open Studiolink! It should open a tab in your browser, and once it does, just send along your ID listed along the right hand side and I will call you up!

Thanks so much for agreeing to the show, and the little extra setup. This is the most reliable way I’ve found to record so far, and it makes for a great sound for the listeners. If you have any issues don’t hesitate to email me.

 

Once you’ve got your guest’s ID, call them up, arm your tracks in Reaper and start recording and you’re done! Done setting up, that is. You probably want to record the podcast now. But that is it for setting up a one-on-one call in Studiolink. Again, the people who will see the most benefit are probably those who record remotely with people who don’t want to wait for tracks to be sent over or are wary of getting an odd recording back from Zencastr or a similar service. If you’ve got people who are more technology-oriented as guests on the podcast frequently you could also probably integrate Studiolink setup instructions into your email prep beforehand pretty seamlessly as well, with the extra benefit that your guests won’t have to keep the tab open afterwards as they wait for their end of the audio to upload. That being said, it does take a little more time to get running on your end, there is no echo cancellation, and on a multi-person call it can be tricky to figure out where issues like crackling and whatnot are coming from. The biggest pro, in my books, of Studiolink is that any crackling you do hear you know you have to fix, and you won’t be confronted with issues afterwards that happened during the upload of the wav file.

To start editing your tracks, click on the red Arm button each track to stop them from listening to outside sources, and delete the Studiolink plugin from the Studiolink-1 track. Finally, click the first box next to the Riley source row (Riley, master/parent), to route the audio from the track back to our outputs, (if you unselected before) and click on the third box in the row (Riley, Studiolink-1) and then press Delete to stop routing Riley’s audio through Studiolink-1’s track:

If you would like to test your luck even further, you can make a complete mix-minus, with in studio guests and multiple remote guests all from within Reaper, in a way that is much simpler than how we outlined it in our recording guide. Mercifully, Studiolink will route each remote guest’s audio to each other automatically, without us having to route it in Reaper, so the only changes between having one remote guest and several is making sure all the in-studio audio is routed to each remote guest like so:

Here, we can see that we’ve routed both Riley and Studio Guest’s audio (coming in from external inputs IP 1 and IP 2, respectively) to all three Studiolink tracks, so that they can hear both inputs. The program will automatically route the Studiolink outputs to each remote guest so you don’t have to route between Studiolink-1-3. Finally, all of our tracks are being sent to the master output, which is being sent to the first stereo output of our interface for Riley and Studio Guest to hear.

That is about it for the Studiolink plugin. In the future, if there is interest, we may try figuring out how to do the On-Air version, but I think I’ve had my fill of sussing out the automatically translated closed captions on German youtube videos for now. Best of luck recording!

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