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Your True Voice

VoSky Call Center puts Skype on steroids.

I once worked in an office with a receptionist who sang on weekends. I don’t know exactly what her vocal training did to her voice, but even when she was speaking the most mundane lines, it sounded like music. There was a blend of Laura Nyro and Kathleen Turner to her “hold please” that I’ve never heard before or since. People would stop working when she paged people over the loudspeakers, and after extended announcements, I would often give her a standing ovation.

OK, I made that last bit up. But I should have done it.

Anyway, I thought of my happy year in that office when I was testing the VoSky Call Center this month. It’s a terrific add-on to a Skype account that enables you to dial out using your Skype account from any phone. At $60, it’s not a cheap device, but with long-distance and international calls at 2.1 cents a minute from Skype, you’ll save enough on calls to pay for it eventually.

Your Dialing Buddy

The VoSky Call Center is black box half the size of a beach-read paperback that plugs into your USB port and your phone line. Install the VoSky software, and the box links your phone and Skype in the best ways possible. Pick up your phone and press the # key twice, and you can speed-dial any contact you have on Skype. If you’re on the road, you can dial your phone and use Skype to call out anywhere.

Dialing your home phone to access Skype may seem redundant, but it makes sense in a couple of crucial cases. It enables you to make long-distance calls from work that won’t raise the boss’s eyebrows. And it even makes sense for cellular phone calls, even though most cell phone programs don’t charge extra for domestic long-distance calls: If you ever need to cell-dial an international number, the VoSky Call Center will pay for itself very quickly indeed.

Better yet, when people call you on Skype, you can have their call redirect to any number: You home, your office, your cell phone … you name it. This requires a little preparation, of course. The software has a little configuration window: You tell the software how many rings an incoming Skype call should take before it forwards the call, and after that, it dials out through your phone line.

The Call Center can also act as a basic PC-based voicemail system that can record anybody who calls into your regular phone (though if you prefer your phone-company voicemail system, you can turn this feature off).

There’s one more neat trick: If you want to call a Skype buddy who’s seldom online, you can get the the VoSky Call Center to call you as soon as they log on. (That’s the beauty of Skype–it knows these things).

Of course, there are downsides to this system. For one, your PC needs to be on whenever you want to use the system, and not in hibernation mode. And if you plug in the wrong number of rings in the configuration, any callers to your regular phone line may hear a VoSky Call Center prompt instead of your voicemail. But these are quibbles rather than real gripes.

Hold, Please

So what does any of this have to do with the receptionist with the musical voice? Well, whenever I call the VoSky Call Center, I wish they’d hired her to do the recording. The person they did hire speaks in a self-conscious voice that’s not so much Laura Nyro as Poly Styrene from the old punk band X-Ray Spex: Fine in context but not what you want to hear every time you make a phone call–and definitely not what you want for the outgoing message on your answering machine. And wouldn’t you know it? The Call Center software gives you no choice in the matter. You’re stuck with Poly.

For me, this would be a complete deal-killer, but I’m a hacker at heart and I knew there was a way to replace Poly with a better voice (or as a last resort, my own voice, even though it tends to swallow syllables in a Hugh Grant-style mumble).

Sure enough, there is a fix. The voice prompts are housed in fifteen WAV files tucked away in a subfolder on the hard disk: C:Program FilesVoSky Call CenterVoicePromptUnited States. The files are labeled vp1.wav through vp15.wav. All you need do is listen to these and replace them with your own.

And I dug up just the tool for that too. It’s a free download called Audacity that you can use to record and edit sound files. It handles only WAV files unless you also download the inaccurately named LAME MP3 encoder (also free, and also available from SourceForge), but WAV is all you need for this exercise.

Audacity shows a groovy timeline of your voice when you record it, and through the wonder of cut-and-paste, lets you graft a beep after your own voice to signal people to leave a message. (You can cut the beep from the end of VoSky’s announcements). And once you’ve finished with the 15 voice prompts for the VoSky Call Center, you’ll have enough audio editing skills to go out and make family-friendly radio edits of your favorite cuss-filled songs. Before you know it, you’ll be the next Brian Eno or Rick Rubin, producing tomorrow’s Next Big Thing. And you’ll have a good outgoing message for all the would-be recording artists to hear.

Now all I need to do is dust off my research skills and track down that receptionist with the Laura Nyro-Kathleen Turner voice. It would be worth whatever she’d charge for a recording of 15 sentences to get standing ovations on my answering machine.

Contributing Editor Matt Lake writes SOHO Advisor monthly for ComputerUser.

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