Monday, October 22, 2007

Making cheap and free PC to land line calls

As a reporter, I spend a fair amount of time recording telephone interviews. Sometimes I use excerpts of the audio to produce radio stories, and sometimes I upload complete interviews for this site or Download Squad.

If you want top of the line telephone audio recording equipment, you could easily spend $500 or more. The JK Audio Broadcast Host, for example, is highly recommended by radio professionals, but it'll set you back $495. On the other hand, you can pick up a cheap audio interface from Radio Shack for less than $20, but you kind of get what you pay for when it comes to sound quality.

Anyway, when I started out as a freelance reporter, the point was moot because my telephone line had a loud, annoying buzzing sound on it. All the post-processing I could throw at it wouldn't make it go away. I had a Verizon tech come out and "fix" the line twice, to no avail. So I eventually canceled my land line service altogether and signed up for Skype. At the time, you could get a SkypeIn number for $30 for a year, and make unlimited calls to US land lines and cellphones for free. (Eventually they raised the price of the unlimited calling plan to $30, but I signed up in January when there was a deal to get a year's service for $15).

Skype quality depends on a lot of factors. But if you've got a broadband connection, a fast CPU and a decent amount of RAM, calls to land lines sound at least as good as cellphone calls, and often quite a bit better. And most importantly, if you record the calls using your PC's sound card or by plugging in an external MP3/WAV audio recorder, the quality was significantly better than anything you were going to get with a $20 recorder.

Apparently about a year has passed since I started using Skype, because I got the renewal notice for my SkypeIn phone number the other day. The price has risen to $60 per year. That's still pretty good compared to what I'd pay for a land line. But I don't use my SkypeIn number ever day, or even every week, so I figured I'd to a little bit of digging before signing up for another year.

When I first looked at Skype, I also checked out Gizmo Project. I'd heard some good things about Gizmo, including the fact that you could record calls without plugging in an external program. But the call quality wasn't as good as Skype, the long term payment plans were more complicated, and the call recording feature was pretty low quality.

I took another look this week and it turns out that a Gizmo Project CallIn number is cheaper than a SkypeIn number. $60 for Skype, $35 for Gizmo. On the other hand, Skype has an unlimited plan for calling out, while you have to pay 1.9 cents per minute for domestic calls with Gizmo.

So I started to think about a complicated solution where I would use Gizmo to receive calls and Skype to make calls. It didn't seem like it would be worth maintaining two separate systems just for $25 in savings. But then I saw that Gizmo offers free numbers for incoming calls if you're willing to take a number with a 775 (Nevada) area code.

Now here's where it gets tricky. (Yeah, I know, I probably already lost you). I planned to use Grand Central to ring all of my phones simultaneously. Grand Central is a startup that Google bought a few months back. It's still in beta, which means you need an invitation to sign up. But it offers a few nice features. At its most basic level, Grand Central lets you give out one phone number to anyone you meet. When they call that number, GC will ring any phones numbers you've linked to your account. I already use this for my SkypeIn number and my cellphone. So when I'm trying to schedule an interview, I give people my Grand Central number. When they call me, if I'm at my computer with Skype open, I can take the call and record the interview right away. If I'm out of the office, my cellphone will ring and I can ask to call them back when I return to the office.

I figured I could easily link my new 775 number to Grand Central so that nobody would ever know I had a Nevada-based phone number.

As it turns out, I didn't even need to do that. When I signed in to Grand Central, I noticed that there's an integrated Gizmo option. You can connect your Gizmo account to Grand Central even if you don't have a CallIn or 775 number. When people call your Grand Central number, Gizmo will ring, your cellphone will ring, any other number you want will ring. Brilliant.

So now if I'm calling someone for an interview, I can fire up Skype and my Zoom H4 to record the interview right away. If I'm waiting for an interview, I don't need to have Skype open. I can just open up Gizmo Project and wait for the call to come in.

Since incoming calls will be routed through GrandCentral (which is free) to Gizmo, I'll never have to pay for an incoming call or for my phone number. And since Skype allows you to pay an annual fee for unlimited calls to domestic land lines and cellphones, I'll only have to pay one VoIP bill per year.


Anonymous said...

To record VOIP interviews I highly recommend MiaRec (

MiaRec is a software tool, specially designed for recording VOIP calls (such as Vonage calls, X-lite calls and lots of other VOIP services).

Brad Linder said...

Yeah, I used Total Recorder for a while after trying out a couple of other applications. And while it's nice being able to separate the channels, I found that I feel a lot safer using a hardware recorder. I've had a few too many instances where the recording session is humming along nicely until I click the stop button and then the program crashes and my entire interview is gone.

Running a line out from my PC to my digital audio recorder (actually I usually run two at a time just so I have a backup) is a lot more secure.

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased a Skype 3 months onlin number for 10 Euro.

Are you telling me that at renewal time it will cost me 40 Euro for another 3 months?

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased a Skype 3 months onlin number for 10 Euro.

Are you telling me that at renewal time it will cost me 40 Euro for another 3 months?

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