Any experience of a Zoom H4
January 22, 2008 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I want to start doing my own recordings. Does anyone have any experience/information about a machine called Zoom H4? Its seems suspiciously cheap (here in Sweden) for what it proclaims to offer - 2 built-in condensor mikes, small and portable, fits in your hand, recording on 4 tracks, CD-quality sound, can run on batteries etc Is this what am looking for? Or are there some major drawbacks. This is a new area for me - so grateful for any feedback.

I've just recently started recording our music. (Its been posted on the MeFi music pages) Anders, my fellow musician, has a small Bose 6-track porta which he hooks up to his computer for editing. He has done all the button pushing so far and now I've started to get interested in, for me, this whole area. So I want to buy something for myself. It seems great strides have been made since the first portastudios appeared - recording onto double-speed audio cassettes. I want something that does good quality recording without being too advanced. I mean I've only just realised that there is something called compression. And being an acoustic player only, I've never been quite sure what reverb really entails. But I'm learning fast. So - is this miracle machine the answer?
The Zoom H4? There has been an earlier version (H2). But this latest model seems like a major advance. Anyone know about it?
posted by jan murray to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The H2 is actually a newer, smaller relative of the H4. The H4's big advantage is that it has XLR inputs for external microphones. Either one will make nice digital recordings, either as mp3 files or without compression (WAV, pretty much the same as you find on CDs). They will record in stereo or four track surround sound using the internal microphones, but they can only record two tracks from external sources. They are cheap but they do a good job. I use an H2; I suspect a professional would want something fancier. It's easy to get the audio onto your computer just by plugging in a USB cable.

Unlike a portastudio, the H2 and H4 will NOT let you overdub - you can't use the recorder alone to play back what you just recorded and simultaneously record a new track next to the old one. If that's what you want to do, don't get the H4!
posted by moonmilk at 5:13 PM on January 22, 2008

I have heard about it, don't have one though.

They look hot. If it's cheap then go ahead and buy one. Tell us all about it.

I like the fact that it has built in stereo condensor mics, plus you can plug in external mics too. And it's easy enough to plug into a computer via USB too.

At the very least it's a decent stereo-USB microphone that you can plug directly into your PC. If you delve deeper into it's functionality it becomes pretty versatile, especially if you want to use it to record samples, or live shows. Plus it comes with Cubase LE which is pretty cool.

The only thing that bothers me is that I can't find a chart of it's frequency response. If you can find that (probably on the specs page of the manufacturers website) compare it to other stereo condensor mics on the market.

I've almost convinced myself to go buy one too.
posted by robotot at 5:27 PM on January 22, 2008

search and

I believe moonmilk is right, the H2 is the newer and probably better version for you. The H4 is a little long in the teeth and had some problems. The H2 sounds pretty good. There are A LOT of competitors out there right now and I think probably one of them is superior, so you should do some searching.

Frustratingly, all of these things seem to have at least one majorly annoying thing about them. None is totally superior to the others.

You should also look up edirol, M-audio Microtrack. I think Tascam and Sony just came out with some. The Sony one looks frigin sweet, actually.
posted by sully75 at 5:53 PM on January 22, 2008

I have an H4, for portable recording for my public radio program. It isn't quite as good as some of the more expensive options, but for the price it's fantastic. I recommend it.

The internal mics are actually surprisingly good, though I wouldn't rely on them.
posted by YoungAmerican at 5:54 PM on January 22, 2008

The Zoom recorders have gotten a lot of positive press, but whether they're the answer to your prayers depends on what you want to do with it. As I understand it, they're largely made for field recording, recording a high-quality audio file from a live source. Any tweaking you want to do (adding effects, overdubbing, MIDI, etc.) would be better handled by an audio workstation. If you and your friend want to record an acoustic set down at the local café, the Zoom would probably be pretty sweet, since it records in stereo and doesn't need an external mic. If you're looking at this as a portable studio though you'll likely be disappointed.

I also seem to remember reading that one of them (the older one) uses proprietary media that can be difficult to locate.

Caveat: I don't own one. I think they're pretty nice though, from what I've read about them. I covet one too.
posted by lekvar at 5:56 PM on January 22, 2008

I have a zoom H4, and it's extremely good. I'm not a professional sound guy, but I use it to take recordings of ambient sounds, live music etc.

A friend of mine who is in the audio visual industry is jealous of it because of the quality of the recordings, he said that a recording of a rainy and thundery night was one of the best ambient recording he'd heard.
posted by tomble at 6:11 PM on January 22, 2008

I mean I've only just realised that there is something called compression. And being an acoustic player only, I've never been quite sure what reverb really entails. But I'm learning fast. So - is this miracle machine the answer?

A field recorder isn't the answer to not knowing about reverb or compression, if that's what you meant. It's also not a complete recording package. The H2 (and maybe the H4) have some built in effects and editing capabilities, but they are nothing to write home about, and definitely no substitute for a DAW or real effects plugins/units. But in conjunction with a DAW (like Logic, DP, Live, etc.), a H4 or H2 might be exactly what you want.
posted by advil at 6:19 PM on January 22, 2008

Best answer: Recently I was looking at handheld recorders such as the Zoom. For the price and features, Zoom seems to be satisfactory, not super high-end, but not super high-end price either. The H2 runs about $220 CDN right now.

The Korg MR1 runs about $580 US and I think Sony's flagshippy model is around $1800.

Here are a couple of pretty good reviews I ran into on my search for info on Zoom.

O'Reilly Digital Media reviews the Zoom h4
O'Reilly Digital Media reviews the Zoom h2

I'm still thinking about an H2 to carry around to collect interesting noises for later sequencing and assemblage.
From the sounds of it, if you want a proper studio set-up, there are far better solutions, but I think for ad hoc sound captures on location, the H2 would work probably be adequate for me.

Here's a comparison of 5 portable recorders from O'Reilly.

If you do get a portable digital recorder, I'd like to hear about what you got and how you like it.
Good luck.
posted by isopraxis at 6:23 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have an H2 and it's fantastic for recording. I dump the tracks into my Mac (get a SD card reader; plugging it in directly is USB and sloooow) and edit them there. The H2 has four microphones, confusingly enough, so you can do stereo recordings both in front of and behind the unit if you want! Or you can just do normal stereo recordings. I'd recommend also getting a bigger SD card; they're cheap and then you never have to worry about running out of space.
posted by bink at 6:27 PM on January 22, 2008

Unlike a portastudio, the H2 and H4 will NOT let you overdub

According to wikipedia, the H4 can overdub (4 tracks) and the H2 cannot.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:36 PM on January 22, 2008

I have an H4, and it's superb. A real "Swiss Army Knife" of audio. Great field recorder that can also run external mics (and even supply Phantom Power - although not at full 48v, but usually fine for most mid range condensers). Great 4-track sketch pad with guitar amp simulators and a tuner built in. And it can run as a USB audio interface for your computer, and comes with a stripped down version of Cubase.

It really is a terrific gadget. Highly recommended.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 4:40 PM on January 23, 2008

May I suggest that if you have a computer, try looking at software that will do way more than what a handheld will do. Investing in something you can expand will be better for you if you intend to continue to record on down the line...

A small pro tools rig for a couple hundred bucks...

or any one of these.... (using sweetwater as price example, not endorsing..)

For a few hundred bucks you can buy DAW software, interface, and mikes that would really open it up for you to do a lot of things..
posted by salvomix at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2008

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