Is The Zoom H4n Recorder The Absolute Best?
September 15, 2009 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Is there a handheld audio recorder that tops the Zoom H4n in quality, features and price?

I will be using the device for news gathering indoors and outside.
I'm willing to pay $350 (the H4n is $320 and includes add-ons).

I have done about 5 hours of research on this today, and this seems to be the bleeding edge of handheld audio recorders in this price range. I realize that for $700 I can get the equipment that NPR uses, but I'm just getting into audio gathering.
posted by DumbPoet to Technology (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
H4 is quite arguably the best there. You can get similar-ish devices from other manufacturers for $20-$30 more or less, but they're all essentially the same, and the zooms are what most people are familiar with.

This said, what are you using it for? (as in podcast, broadcast, etc. etc.) You may not need the awesome, awesome quality of the h4, and a cheaper voice recorder w/ line in + omnidirectional mic may save you $100-$200. Sony and Olympus are the leaders here.

I have a Siny ICD-UX70 which is cheaper than a H4 and coupled with a lapel mic, or quiet room and built-in mic, is perfectly fine for podcasting interviews etc.
posted by smoke at 6:29 PM on September 15, 2009

Uh, Sony, not "siny". A heh heh heh.
posted by smoke at 6:31 PM on September 15, 2009

I'm very happy with my Zoom H2, the cheaper-yet-still-good sibling of the H4. I've heard that the H4 can be complicated to use.
posted by PatoPata at 7:03 PM on September 15, 2009

Response by poster: The final product will be for the website of a traditionally print daily newspaper.
Streaming audio interviews and soundslides (photos + audio track) will be the most common product.

Interviews will take place in offices and lecture halls as well as festivals and concerts.

Interviews will often be impromptu with people that I bump into while reporting.
posted by DumbPoet at 7:07 PM on September 15, 2009

Response by poster: PatoPata: In this purchase I am unafraid of a learning curve, though if complexity will truly be in my way (even with required training) then I might reconsider.
posted by DumbPoet at 7:10 PM on September 15, 2009

I think the Sony PCM-M10 is worth checking out. It's on-line for $299, and if enough of the features of the more expensive PCM-D1 and PCM-D50 have migrated down to the cheaper model, it'll be a great recorder.

For example, the PCM-D1 and PCM-D50 are constantly recording two signals, one at 20db lower than the main signal. If there is a sudden spike in volume, it'll seamlessly mix in the lower signal, so that almost all digital distortion is avoided. This can really come in handy.
posted by umbĂș at 7:11 PM on September 15, 2009

Get the Zoom in that case, it's much better for difficult environments.
posted by smoke at 7:11 PM on September 15, 2009

Do yourself a favor and check out the Tascam DR-1. You don't need any of the fancy features of the H4 -- phantom power, 4 channels, effects loops -- and the DR-1 is far more durable than Zoom (or Edirol) models. I know, because I've used half a dozen digital recorders under very extreme conditions (in the arctic). DR-1 wins hands down for toughness; makes excellent recordings; and has the most readable display. And it's under $300 (although I rec. the extra ac adapter unless you can really charge via USB on a regular basis).
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:30 PM on September 15, 2009

I would suggest going with the H4n. I use it to get off-camera audio to accompany the HD video I'm recording with the Canon 5Dii for television broadcast. I'm very happy with the natural sound I get off the built in mics, and the phantom power inputs allow you to move up to an external mic down the road. You'll kick yourself if you try to save $50 now and then could really use that extra feature in a year.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:47 PM on September 15, 2009

Response by poster: @shinynewnick: I'm actually looking at getting an external mic to start out with, right now I'm looking at this for a starter shotgun mic. Thoughts?
posted by DumbPoet at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2009

The Zoom is a great device at this price, but has lots of extras that aren't that useful (the whole multitracking recording notably) for your use. If you really need XLR, go with it, or else I'd second fourcheesemac with the DR-1 (on my list for zoom replacement). It's got 1/8" and 1/4" microphone inputs, so you can still use external microphone, just not condenser ones.
As a side note: a shotgun for interviews? I think you'd be fine with a directional or cardioid microphone, even for noisy environments. Shure SM58 can be bought for cheap, are durable, and will be fine for voice. The shotgun might be difficult to handle because you'll get weird frequency response as soon as you move laterally.
posted by ddaavviidd at 6:49 AM on September 16, 2009

Response by poster: @ddaavviidd:
The multitracking is useful to me in that I will be able to capture ambient noise and an interview at the same time, giving me greater control of cutting and fading vocals when putting together a piece. At least I think I'll be able to use it that way.

A lot of journalists talk about using shotgun mics for interviews. When you say "as soon as you move laterally," I'm unsure what you mean. I will almost always be standing still for interviews, and will hold the mic as still as possible.
posted by DumbPoet at 7:36 AM on September 16, 2009

I'll have my brother look at that mic, he's the expert on the audio front. Multitrack for ambient and shotgun for interview works well, but you have to make sure you're not picking up too much interview on the built in mics (point it off to the side or behind you if possible). That will be the biggest challenge, capturing audio on the built in mics without too much noise from handling the device. I know my brother has a Shure shotgun we put a windscreen on and use with a boom stick to go overhead for interviews, so it does work in that capacity. I'll have him check on the quality of the mic.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2009

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