Zoom H4n Portable Digital Recorder
First, I have to tell you that this is a long review. I was tired of reading the same small crappy reviews so I decided to make a full blown review of the Zoom H4n Digital Recorder.
I bought my Zoom H4n digital recorder a couple of months ago. I choose the Zoom H4n digital recorder because I wanted a multitrack, compact but above all, I wanted the best sound quality for about $300.
[qrcode codeID=1]So far, I have used it in a multiple of situation and the quality of the recording I get is simply amazing. I have recorded violin, cello (me trying to play!) and my son playing his 12 strings guitar. I also recorded an English class school project my son had. The different group of student had to make a song with a text they composed. I use my H4n to record each group and I turned the live recording into a CD for them to have. I can tell you that the reaction I got was overwhelming. They could not believe the quality of the sound on the CD.
A friend of mine asked me to record (with video) a live strings concert in a small church. Her daughter was playing the cello and they wanted a souvenir. This orchestra had won multiple awards so the pressure was on to get a good recording. I use a little tripod on the Zoom and a big video tripod for the camera. I connected the output of the H4n to the audio input of my video camera.
I placed the audio recorder in front of the camera on the railing. I was installed at the rear of the church in the top part where the organ was. After the concert, I gave my friend a quick listen to the audio I had just captured. They could not believe the richness of the sound. They could hear the base coming from the 2 double bass and the 6 cellos. For me it was a big relieve because I had never used my Zoom H4N for such a big event.
OK, enough with the bla, bla, bla! Let’s get down to the fact.
Multitrack Portable Digital Audio Recorder
The Zoom H4n is the only unit for this price range in the multitrack recorders market. With it’s four channel recording capability, the Zoom H4n can be used as a multitrack recorder allowing you to use the built-in mics plus external mics, a guitar and a keyboard or the output of your mixing board – record the ambiance of the crowd plus pristine sound from the mixing board.
Being able to record using 4 mics will help you achieve great recording. The H4n is the only handheld recorder allowing recording on 4 channels at the same time using the on board microphones and your own external microphones. You can control the “Blend” of the 2 sets of mics with the built-in mixer.
Built-in Stereo Condenser Microphones
The built-in high-quality condenser stereo microphones are arrange in a true X/Y configuration with a selectable coverage of either 90° or 120°. With a uniform frequency response the H4n will give you excellent stereo recording with natural depth and accurate imaging.
Maybe they are not studio mics, but those built-in microphones are of excellent quality and deliver exceptional sound for the size and price. Voices and instruments are clear and precise. As with all condenser microphones, they are very sensitive and will capture the weakest sound… Like your dishwasher running upstairs while you’re recording a superb cello concerto in the basement!
On board Reference Speaker
One feature you will find very useful on many occasion is the built-in reference speaker. Sure it’s mono and you won’t throw a party with the level of sound, also it vibrates on very loud passages still it is useful. Ideal for checking your recording or to listen to a track without the need of headphones it is very good for field recording.
WAV and MP3 Recording
You can record in MP3 from 48 to 320kbps and in VBR (Variable Bit Rate). In WAV format you have the choice of 44.1/48/96kHz 16/24bit with BWF (Broadcast Wave Format) compatible track marker and time stamp.
USB Audio Interface & USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Port.
The Zoom H4n can be used as a USB audio interface. Use your favorite audio program, it comes with Cubase LE 4 so you can record directly in your computer.
**You will read lots of reviews about the Zoom H4n not working properly as a USB audio interface on Windows 7 64-bit machine. That was the case when I bought mine but now, Zoom as release new drivers for 64-bit PC and it now works perfectly.
I am finally able to use it as an USB audio interface! Get the latest driver for you Zoom H4n.
Operate on AC adapter, 2X AA batteries or USB power
There is an included AC adapter with the Zoom H4n. It’s very small and will operate from 100V to 240V so it can be used it most countries. If you have good USB ports on your computer, you will be able to run the H4n on USB power.
The surprising point for me is the longer than expected run time on batteries. I was skeptical about the 6 hours announced run time so I did my own test. I took 2 AA Ni-MH 2500mAh rechargeable batteries, and make sure they where fully charged. I recorded and played some tracks for almost 7.5 hours (OK, 7:28 Hours)!
The recording was done at 96/24 using the built-in mics with no effects or compressor/limiter. I let the H4n run for about 1 hour then erased the just recorded track and started over until the “Low Batteries!” started flashing on the screen. I did not test the recording time using the Stamina mode. Note that the batteries I used are not new (about a year old). I will test again with brand new AA Ni-MH 2700mAh stronger batteries. I should get longer running time. I will also test the Stamina mode with the new batteries.
Zoom Digital Recorders
There a 3 models offered by Zoom, the H2, H4 (discontinued) and H4n. The Zoom H2 is the least expensive of the 3. It can’t be used as a multitrack recorder. It has 4 on board mics. 2 in front with a 90° coverage and 2 in back with a 120° coverage. You can use the 4 together as “surround” or either the front or the rear mics.
The Zoom H2 has less features, is less robust and has a really small screen but at half the price of the H4n it is still an excellent recorder (the H4n sound much better).
The Zoom H4 is the predecessor of the new H4n. It is bulkier and the screen is still too small. It has no mounting joint for a tripod and does not have true x/y mics (does have kind of X/Y mics). You can still get the Zoom H4 but for the same price just get the much improved Zoom H4n!
*** Make sure you have the latest Zoom H4n firmware and driver.
Zoom H4n Features
- *NEW* As of firmware version 1.70 (now at 1.72), recording level of INPUT1 and 2 can be set individually -this is so cool
- *NEW* MEMORY REC function that records to internal memory without SD card -you get 35 sec. of .mp3 @ 96Kbps recording that you can later backup to a memory card
- Built-in X/Y stereo condenser microphones, record at either 90° or 120° stereo patterns
- Variable speed playback (50 to 150%) makes it easier to practice those fast passages
- 4 channels simultaneous multi-track recording (2 internal mics plus 2 external source)
- 2 Hi-Z combo XLR/Phone (1/4″) jacks inputs
- +48V, +24V Phantom power on the 2 XLR inputs
- Up to 24bit/96kHz of high-definition recording
- Large 1.9 inch back light LCD screen for easy reading
- Can be used as an USB audio interface (see my how to video)
- High speed USB 2.0 port
- Support for up to 32GB SDHC memory card
- Built-in reference speaker so you can listen to your recording without headphone
- Tripod mount (you can use a mini or regular photo or video tripod)
- Rubberized chassis
- External stereo microphone input with plug-in power (1/8” stereo jacks)
- Mid-side matrix decoder enables you to use external microphones in mid-side stereo configuration
- BWF (broadcast wave format) compatible track marker, time stamp
- Built-in metronome and digital tuner
- Up to 2 second pre-record feature (1 sec. In 96kHz or 4 channels mode).
- Auto-record feature (you can adjust the start/stop levels plus the stop time in seconds)
- Low-cut Filter adjusted separately on mics and inputs (off, 80, 90, 115, 133, 150, 168, 185, 203, 220 and 237 Hz)
- Multiple setup of compressor and limiter adjusted separately on mics and inputs
- Chose from 50 effects and amp models (available for recording)
- Work on 2 AA batteries for up to 6 hours recording (up to 11 hours of recording in Stamina mode) or with the included AC adapter(good for 120/240V)
- Included in the box: Cubase LE 4, 1GB SD card, wind-screen, mic clip adapter, AC adapter, USB cable and plastic protective case
- An excellent RC4 remote control is optional. You will want to get this one, it makes for quieter recording plus it serves as view meters while recording – useful when the recorder LCD display is out of view and you want to check for clipping (the LED on the left of each input goes from green to orange to red when clipping is present)
Zoom H4n Pros and Cons
- small size
- 4 channels simultaneous recording
- lots of effects
- Exceptional sound from both built-in mics and input.
- 2 XRL/Phone (¼”) inputs
- large and easy to navigate screen
- can be used as a USB audio interface (Now work with Windows 7 64-bit, just get the latest driver and read my latest post about using the ZOOM H4n as an USB audio interface)
- looks way cool!!
- can not use the effects on playback (but honestly, I don’t use the built-in effect much because I prefer to add them on my laptop after the recording is done)
- MTR mode works only with 44.1kHz/16bit audio (is it really that bad?)
- the tripod mount is not deep enough for my Manfrotto tripod so I have to use a plastic spacer between the H4n and the tripod shoe. Note that a mini tripod will fit just OK.
- the printed manual (YES, it comes with an actual printed manual!) could have been better translated. It is sometime difficult to understand what is explained. The downloadable PDF manual from the Zoom site is a bit better translation and is much easier to understand.
*** Make sure you have the latest Zoom H4n firmware and driver.
Would I recommend the Zoom H4n? The answer is a big YES, with no hesitation!
The main purpose of the H4n is to record in 2 or 4 tracks and it does it very well. All the other features are bonuses. I don’t really use all the effects for my recordings. To me, there like all the effects and filter on a digital camera. It’s much easier and practical to work on your images or audio files on your computer.
Having recorded the following; cello, violin, 12 & 6 strings & electric guitar, flute, accordions, drum, piano and vocal, I can tell you that the sound quality is exceptional on all the instruments and voices (using the built-in mics).
One of my son’s English teacher (remember from the top of this post, she is the teacher with the song writing project) was so impress with the sound that she bought one the next week!
That’s how good it is.