Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder

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  1. Oresti Tsonopoulos says:
    420 of 426 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Kodak Zi8 + Zoom H4n Audio Test + Review, March 6, 2010
    Oresti Tsonopoulos (Brooklyn, NY) –

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    This review is from: Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder (Electronics)

    Customer Video Review Length:: 1:42 Mins

    After having done a quick video test for the Kodak Zi8, I chose to do something which would focus more on its audio recording capabilities. I also wanted to test the Zoom H4n, a portable flash recorded I recently bought… so, here I am, killing two birds with one stone.

    I setup the Kodak Zi8 about 5 feet from the sound fund, which is an upright piano… that’s me noodling on it. The Zi8 is mounted on a tripod.

    About 15 feet away from the piano, I’ve setup the Zoom H4n recorder. This unit has an XY stereo microphone built into it. It also has the ability to record two inputs, in the form of XLR or 1/4-inch. So, we’ll be hearing the built in XY microphone on the unit as well as a pair of AKG 414s which I positioned higher than the piano, pointing into the open lid.

    “Kodak Zi8 Internal Microphone”
    Here we hear the internal microphone on the Zi8. Mono, a bit noisy and perhaps a small too close to the piano to capture a clean sound. In any case, this does the trick for capturing an thought, but certainly doesn’t cut it if you’re looking for high-quality audio.

    “Zoom H4n XY Microphone”
    Here the stereo image opens up suddenly. This XY microphone which is built into the unit is capturing a very natural, immediate stereo sound. It’s a very reflective room, so you hear that, as the microphone is about 15 feet from the sound fund.

    “Zoom H4n Pair AKG 414s”
    Here we’re hearing the pair of AKG 414 microphones pointing into the piano. Because the microphones are very close to the sound fund, there is significantly less “room” sound. This would be more suitable for a studio recording, while the XY sound would be more appropriate in perhaps a classical or field recording.

    “Zoom H4n Mix of XY + 414s”
    Here we have the best of both worlds. We have a blend of the direct signal from the 414s AND some of the room sound from the XY microphone. I judge this is the best by and large choice in most scenarios.

    Finally we return to the Zi8 internal microphone to hear the major difference when using external audio equipment. At below $200, I judge the Zi8 does a fantastic job capturing the visual and at below $300, the Zoom H4n does a remarkable job with the audio.


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  2. Aaron Morris "Audio Engineer" says:
    253 of 258 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    One of the best field recorders out there, March 28, 2009
    Aaron Morris “Audio Engineer” (Seattle, Wa USA) –

    This review is from: Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder (Electronics)

    Just like the customer higher than me, I have a honestly ahead of schedule model (serial 2211). I don’t imagine them having any revisions or anything, because this unit is really solid. Let me start by saying that this contrivance should not be considered a Mic in its own right. Sure, it has two condenser microphones wedged on top to record in stereo, but I wouldn’t use these mics in any studio unless I had nothing better. This unit is for those people who want to record in the field, and be able to capture 4 tracks of audio in a handheld contrivance.

    First, the build quality. Obviously Zoom took a lot of criticism to heart from their first H2 and H4 models. The H4n sports a “rubberized” hardshell design that’s simple to grip, and seems to stand up well to go up scratches. (Mind you, the rubber texture can attract greasy fingerprints which can get annoying if you’re a gadget freak like me). The top of the unit where the mics are is metal. There is some plastic on the unit, but certainly better designed than the previous two recorders from zoom. The buttons are simple to press, and the cover is large, allowing you to see everything you need to very easily.

    The poster higher than me wondered why there was no metal cage protecting the microphones (like the previous H4 had). The answer to this is the switchable try out on the microphones. Each mic can be twisted and swiveled to change the directionality that the mic pics up. In its native position the mics pic up at a 90 degree angle, giving a sweet excellent stereo image. But when you twist them, the mics are then a 120 degree angle. This is excellent for picking up sources that are farther away, or even ambient sounds for a wider stereo image. If there was a metal cage over the mics, you couldn’t reach your fingers in to twist them. By and large, I would rather have a switchable pickup try out, than a protective cage. Just don’t drop a $350 recorder.

    Second, the packaging. Surrounded by the box, the unit came with a hardshell plastic carrying case, usb cable, foam windscreen, ac adapter, mic stand adapter, manuals and cubase le software, and a 1gb memory card. This is leaps and bounds higher than the competition. Most other recorders won’t come with any of this. Other companies will even make you buy your own ac adapter and memory card. And Zoom went even further and added a plastic carrying case (for those of you worried about dropping it). They were certainly thinking about the customers on this one.

    Third, and most importantly, the sound quality. This is why you buy the unit right? The sound quality has to be excellent or nothing else matters. By and large I was surprisingly impressed with the sound quality. I am an audio engineering student, going to school for sound reproduction, and sound reinforcement. Needless to say, I know my way around a microphone. I was expecting this unit to sound average, just like a pocket (or handheld) recorder usually sounds. But in fact, the H4n sounds sweet decent. The high end is nice and defined, the microphones built into the unit sound really clear. The one thing I can say about the sound is that it is accurate. I have recorded a few tests using my voice, a guitar, and some other misc. elements. I did notice that the microphones gave off a small bit of condenser hiss when the input gain was turned up. This could doubtless be solved or lessened if you were to get quicker to the object and turn down the recording level. But still, it doubts me to have a small bit of noise floor coming from the mics, especially if I were to use the recordings for post production video work.

    The other thing I noticed was a lack of bass response. This could have been because I was a foot or two away from the microphones, but the bass on the microphones was a small lacking. My voice sounded a small thin. My guitar sounded fine, but guitars don’t really have a lot of low end in the first place. Also watch out for handling noise. If you reckon that you’re going to carry the unit around and do interviews while holding it, forget it. All handheld recorders suffer from this (I’ve read), but its right for this unit as well. Anytime you hold the H4n and go it around, you can hear low end rumbling and handling noise. Just use a tripod, or the included hand/mic clip adapter and you should be fine. (Also get a better windscreen if you’re going to use it outside, the one included doesn’t do anything outdoors for wind noise. You should buy a fuzzy or “hairy” windscreen if you want to use it outside)

    By and large I reckon this recorder is the best on the market right now. Although there are a few units that have better sounding built in microphones (sony), it’s only marginally better. Plus the H4 is cheaper (by about $150) and has more build in features/functionality. Like the fact that the H4n can record with two built in mics, and two XLR mics simultaneously (4 tracks at once). This means that you can record with the built in mics, but also use your own…

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  3. J. Doubek says:
    139 of 140 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Impressive with minor flaws, April 11, 2009
    J. Doubek (Salt Lake City, Ut) –

    This review is from: Zoom H4n Handy Portable Digital Recorder (Electronics)

    In looking for a portable handheld recorder for scratch tracks and samples, I weighed the benefits of a few of the handhelds available today and settled on the H4n. The other recorders on my small list were the Edirol R-09 and Sony PCM-D50, and also the H4. So far the H4n hasn’t disappointed.

    I settled on the Zoom H4n for a couple of reasons:

    1) 1/4″ and XLR inputs with phantom power – Very handy for throwing a mic on a kick and snare, and the H4n will record those plus the internal condensor simultaneously, which is perfect to get the rest of the drum kit for some quick loop scratch tracks.

    2) More geeked out features than the others – They are not needed but still fun to have. The H4n is like the Leatherman of handheld pocket recorders with plenty of built in effects (which sound really excellent btw), built in 4 track recorder mode, tuners and metronome, playback speed control, MP3 encoder, acts as USB audio interface (both input and output), built in monitor lecturer, and more. I also like the small things I’m still learning, like when I place Ni-MH batteries in and then plugin in the adapter it recharges the batteries.

    3) Build – I like the build quality compared to the H4 – Not as nice as the Sony but the thing does feel solid and substantial in your hand. The built in mics are a small exposed without a wire cage on the top like others have, it would doubtless not be a excellent thing to drop this unit and have the mics hit first.

    4) Cost – This recorder was midrange even with it being groundbreaking new. It’s less than the Sony and more than the H4 or R-09. I suspect the price will come down a bit when it’s been out for a couple months down to where the R-09 is now. For what it has built in it’s incredible to be it’s as inexpensive as it is.

    5) Sound quality – The H4n sounds clean. I judge turning on the built in compressor, or boosting a really weak input signal with a lot of input gain could produce hiss, but for the most part I don’t notice any. Usually the noise floor is so low on what I’ve recorded that it is not audible. Some different mics and setups force have different results, time will tell.

    6) Menu and button layout – I really like the way they set this unit up. Very simple to navigate and record with, and does what I want quickly with only a few caveats mentioned below.

    7) SD card format – SD cards are cheap and readily available. I don’t care so much for the memory sticks the Sony uses.

    Now the downsides, maybe all these handheld recorders suffer from similar issues but I’m going to give my first impressions by no means having used one before and the H4n is the best I have to equate with:

    1) Menu system – While simple to navigate, still feels like it could use refining through a firmware update. It feels like it wasn’t finished when the product shipped. The fonts look a small like a 5 year ancient place them together, Zoom could have done better with the cover they place in the H4n. A lot of products like this are rushed to market to meet revenue goals, so hopefully they will get time to take another look at the firmware and make UI improvements. Also the firmware is tiresome to be a small too fancy with the menus. There is a small expanding box effect that happens when you open a menu, but it ends up just looking like cover artifacts when changing the menus. It would have been better to immediately jump to the menu, it would be nearer and would look better.

    2) File naming (another UI complaint) – I really wish the firmware gave you the ability to delete a character in a file name. The filename can be edited, but characters can only be added or altered, not deleted. If you use divide alot, the name gets larger and larger but cannot be made smaller. This is a bit annoying when combined with the divide implementation….

    3) No divide while recording – there is no divide while recording that I could find. It seems like it would have been very simple to make one of the unused buttons act like a divide when recording. Instead you can set a “mark” (non editabled btw, after one is set it is permament in that wav file). The marks let you easily jump to that point and divide it later, but when it divides the file you end up with an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ tacked on to the filename. Now, imagine recording an entire gig or practice with only marks to use to delimit the songs, and then you have to divide them later with the naming scheme and lack of delete character function I mentioned higher than. What you end up getting is files named something like ‘STE-001A.wav’, STE-001B.wav’, ‘STE-001BBBBA.wav’, and eventualy ‘STE-001BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBA.wav’ etc and there’s not a lot you can do on the contrivance to fix it since the best you can do is exchange the extra characters with spaces so that you end up with a file named something like ‘song blah .wav’ (you can plug it in as a USB interface later and fix all the filenames in the…

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