Monday, March 23, 2009

Zoom H4n review

The Zoom H4n digital audio recorder is Zoom's third handheld flash memory recorder. It's the most expensive of the bunch, but it also features the best build quality of the three and is much easier to use than its predecessors. The sound quality is also pretty good, although you can achieve higher quality recordings with more expensive equipment. Still, for about $350, the H4n might appeal to a wide group of audio recordists, ranging from people who are looking for a cheap recorder that can power condenser mics that require phantom power to those who just don't want to shell out $450 or more for a recorder that offers only marginally better sounding recordings.

In addition to sturdier build quality with a rubberized grip, the H4n has larger, easier to manipulate buttons on the front of the unit. And the menus are much easier to navigate using the menu button and jog dial on the side of the unit than on the original Zoom H4. You can also rotate the internal mics to change the audio pickup pattern.

I do wish Zoom would start using a separate button for making track marks. Right now in order to create a new track while recording, you hit the record button again, which can be confusing -- especially because you need to hit the record button twice to start a recording in the first place (the first press puts you into record/pause mode).

The Zoom H4n also has a speaker built into the back of the unit. It's not going to replace your book box anytime soon, but it comes in handy if you want to check your audio or play a clip for someone on the go. You can certainly use the speaker to play music as well - it's just not going to sound very good.

But there is one major problem. It's far too easy to eject the SD card from the slot by pressing on the door that protects the compartment. And if you accidentally eject the SD card while making a recording, your data will be lost. I'm not saying that it's likely you'll eject the SD card, but it's possible. And that concerns me.

Here's a little video that should explain what I'm talking about. It shows both the new menu navigation and the problem with the SD card slot:


Like the original Zoom H4, the Zoom H4n has a number of features that really set it apart from competing recorders from Sony, Marantz, Tascam, and Edirol. For one thing, you can use the Zoom H4n either to record straightforward stereo tracks or as a 4-track digital recording studio. You can record up to 4 channels simultaneously using the built in stereo condenser mic for 2 tracks and the XLR inputs for to more channels.

You can also plug the Zoom H4n into a computer via a USB cable and use it as an audio interface. In other words, when it's plugged into your computer you can connect a microphone, musical instruments, or other audio devices up to your computer. You can also use the built in mics. It's sort of like having an external sound card that doubles as a microphone and headphone jack. This feature can come in handy if you need to make a Skype call or record a few voice or music tracks on the go with a laptop.

The recorder also has a number of digital effects that can be used while recording or playing back audio. There's a metronome feature, a guitar tuner, and even a karaoke effect.

Zoom has added a new "stamina mode" as well, which the company claims will nearly double your battery life by providing up to 11 hours of record time using 2 AA alkaline batteries. It's not entirely clear what stamina mode does, but the only recording option in stamina mode is 44.1kHz/16-bit WAV audio.

The Zoom H4n can handle WAV audio sample rates from 44.1kHz/16bit to 96kHz/24bit. You can also record MP3 files with bit rates ranging from 48kbps to 320kbps.

While the recorder is larger than the original Zoom H4 or Zoom H2, it's still reasonably small and fits easily in your palm, unlike larger recorders such as the Marantz PMD661, Fostex FR2-LE, or Tascam HD-P2. Here are some close-up photos of the Zoom H4n (Click any image in the slideshow to see a larger version):


Over the last few days I've posted a number of audio samples (made using the built in mics and external mics) to give you an idea of how the Zoom H4n sounds when recording my voice, ambient room sounds, and a bit of music. These tests are not by any means exhaustive. I wish I had 10 different microphones to try out with the H4n and other recorders, but I do not. Your results may vary.

To my ear, the Zoom H4n sounds better than the Zoom H4 in most of the tests. It records a fuller range of sounds and less hiss, especially when using the 1/8th inch input instead of the XLR inputs. With a high powered condenser microphone or the internal mics, the H4n sounds quite good. But when using a dynamic mic like the ElectroVoice RE-50, I feel that the Sony PCM-D50 sounds a little better and records less hiss.

That said, the Zoom H4n is at least $100 cheaper than the Sony PCM-D50, and while this recorder costs more than the Zoom H4 or Zoom H2, I think it's money well spent.

It's worth pointing out that, like most recorders with built in mics, the Zoom H4n is susceptible to handling noise. If you move your hand around too much while making a recording, you're likely to hear the sound of your fingers scuttling about the case. But thanks to the rubberized grip on the sides of the unit, it's a bit easier to keep your hands steady with the H4n than with earlier models.

The H4n also has a spot on the back of the unit that you can use to screw in a camera tripod. This allows you to set up the recorder and forget about it in some situations, while avoiding handling noise. The Sony PCM-D50 has this feature as well, while the original Zoom H4 came with a plastic attachment that you could use to attach a tripod - but you then had to strap the recorder into the plastic attachment with Velcro. Having a slot in the back of the recorder for the tripod is much more useful.

Overall, the Zoom H4n is a solid little recorder for podcasters, musicians, or radio producers on a budget. There are a ton of features packed into this little device, and the recording quality represents a significant improvement over earlier models. But if what you're looking for is crystal clear recordings, you'll probably have to pay more than $350 and buy a more expensive recorder.

The Zoom H4n is available through Amazon for $346.

Previous Zoom H4n coverage:

91 comments:

Peter O'Connell said...

"But there is one major problem. It's far too easy to eject the SD card from the slot by pressing on the door that protects the compartment. And if you accidentally eject the SD card while making a recording, your data will be lost. I'm not saying that it's likely you'll eject the SD card, but it's possible. And that concerns me."

Hi Brad:

I agree with most of your review and a new owner and user of the Zoom H4n except for the quote above. Maybe your model has a loosey goosey door but not mine.

Further, mine came with a mic stand attachment which when mounted on my portable mic stand made operation pretty easy.

Thanks for the review, I enjoy your posts.

Best always,
- Peter

shane said...

hi brad great review. you have sold me so far. just had one question about track marking. just want to make sure i understood right. you hit the record button twice to start your recording. if you want to track mark while recording you only hit the rec button once to mark it and it will not interupt your recording.

thanks
shane

Brad Linder said...

That's pretty much it. But now that I take a closer look, I realize that the Zoom H4n treats track marks differently from some other recorders. Instead of splitting the track and making a new file it creates up to 99 mark points in a wave file. You can then jump to these points during playback by hitting the ffwd and rew buttons.

It's also worth pointing out that making track marks while using the internal mics will in most situations result in a slight clicking noise. You probably won't have this problem if you use an external mic.

Mohan said...

Hi Brad,
It's great to finally have some reliable audio samples to listen to for the H4n. Thank you.

One of the features that is attracting me to the H4n is its monitor speaker. I would like to be able to use the recorder on business trips and holiday (hence traveling light) to record a backing track on and then play it back on the monitor speaker while jamming along to it on a quiet semi-acoustic or unplugged electric guitar. Would it be loud enough? The specs for the monitor channel suggest that it would be louder than the Edirol or Marantz recorders.

I have to agree with the people who have suggested that the H4n sounds somewhat biased towards the higher frequencies. Is this something that could be EQ'd out on a PC and by doing so, help reduce the hiss? Could this bias towards high frequencies be a result of the conversion to MP3? To my ears, even the Sony sounds a little brittle, but less so than the H4n.

By the way, has anyone had any experience with the wired remote? Is it even available? Again, I have to agree with the people who said that it should have been bundled in with the recorder, and ideally, it should have been a wireless remote.

Does the H4n have any issues with long recordings going over the 2GB limit?

Thanks again for all the information you have provided.

Mohan.

Brad Linder said...

@Mohan: The speaker is fairly loud, but the sound is really tinny. You can probably use it the way you suggested, but it's really not intended for that.

I encoded the samples at 320kbps and they sound pretty close the original WAV recordings.

I haven't had a chance to hit the 2GB file limit, partially because I've only been using the recorder with the included 1GB SD card.

As for the remote, sure it'd be nice if every recorder came with a free remote... but that would probably drive up the base price of the recorder. I think a lot of people will find they don't need a remote and would rather pay a lower price for a recorder and buy a remote separately if they need one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brad, for all the work you've done.

And Mohan: If you look at the frequency response chart (http://www.samsontech.com/products/productpage.cfm?prodID=1994) of the internal mics you can see that there is a boost at 4K and 6-7K Hz. This can easily be adjusted with some EQ'ing on a PC.

/Patrik

Mohan said...

Brad/Patrick,
Thanks for your inputs. I was originally set on getting the Edirol R-09HR, but I think in this price range, the H4n may well be the better of the two - especially as the monitor is somewhat louder and the unit seems to be aimed more for the guitarist, which is where my interest lies. I believe the Edirol also came in for some criticism for having noisy pre-amps.

I expect most of my recordings to be of fairly loud bands (big band and jazz band), so I probably won't have to worry too much about noisy pre-amps there! But, I also hope to record some acoustic guitar, so it would be nice to have a unit that can cope with the dynamic range presented by something like that.

Thanks again. Mohan.

Anonymous said...

Thinking this tool was designed primarly for musicians, i decided to purchase this but for my application it was useless because recording quiet parts of the piano was very tricky and could not get one successful recordings with this device. So I decided to loan a pcm d50 to compare and the recordings with Sony was quite accurate very little unwanted noise and the tones were very precise. Final verdict I am returning H4n for a replacement with Sony.

Anonymous said...

"for my application it was useless because recording quiet parts of the piano was very tricky and could not get one successful recordings "

What was the problem?
You couldn't get one successful recording?
Why?
How were you using the h4n?
The Sony sounded more accurate?
Did you use identical setups etc.?

Give me some science please.

Anonymous said...

Used internal mics for both recorders and it was very difficult for H4n to produce a mirrored recording because the sound reproduced seemed very artificial, overbright, harsh and quite hissy during quiet piano sessions. While hitting the piano keys hard the limiter was also not as affective as Sony's dual intelligent limiter - occasionally distorting with H4n. The Sony developed the sound like for like as if almost i was playing it real time. H4n is a multi tool for people wanting OT features but not high quality. Sony has been specifically marketed for enthusiast.!!!

Anonymous said...

The whole characteristics of recording changes with H4n. With Sony D50 sounds is silky smooth with lots of spark and yet very controlled without being over bright and its full bodied too!.

fritz said...

This article that I am writing is not related to the above product. Any how today, I have just purchased a Tascam DR100 and I have been playing with this tool for several hours. My brother owns Zoom H4 and so we decided to do back to back comparison. Starting first with the internal microphones. The Zoom H4 does quite well hear producing a very good recording of various strange sounds. Majority of the recordings had excellent clarity and good detail.
The pre-amps for internal mics are superb. The Tascam has 2 pairs of internal mics. The omni mics recorded the acoustics well but it seemed to have a lot of background noise. So I switched to directional mic but again the quality is not as pristine as Zoom H4. It lacks energy and power, with sort of less than forward sound. It also loses timing now and then; very like Digital jitter. Overall not pleased with the internal mics. Moving onto XLR connections, starting with Dynamic mics (SM57) connected to Tascam DR100, the background noise was low but the output was not sufficient even though the recording level was turned all the way up. With Condenser mic (AKG C3000)the results was absolutely stunning. It reproduced very transparent recording capturing every ounce of detail. The Zoom H4 with SM57 dynamic mic developed very natural sound and the output was better than Tascam DR-100, while with the condenser mic also sounded good but it lacked bottom end, here the Tascam DR100 had the edge but only by a whisker.
Conclusion.
Tascam is better built, comes with wireless remote control, has intuitive interface, built with dual power and comes with 2 pairs of internal mics but the sound quality did not live unto my expectation. On the other side, I think H4 is a lot better value for money and produced much better and cleaner recordings!!!

GJ said...

Fritz,

This is the first review I've seen online about the Tascam DR-100. I didn't even know it was shipping yet. I'm sure a lot of people would like to hear more, since I'm not the only one holding off on buying the H4n until I learn more about the DR-100.

According to your comments, I shouldn't wait. Do you know of any other reviews out there? Or better yet, samples?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Tascam DR-100 is available:

http://www.gigasonic.com/Tascam-DR100.html

Anonymous said...

Yes, the DR-100s have shipped and I too have received mine. I wish I could say it lived up to my hopes and expectations.

First, it's a little tank of a thing, very solid -- but actually almost too large to be held comfortably in one hand.

Here are some observations after playing with it for the last six hours:

-- Audio sounds "tinny" -- although the speaker would appear to be large enough to produce good sound, any recording that's not made at just the right level will sound like its down in the mud -- perhaps others can comment on this.

-- The jog dial is uncomfortable -- although it has 8 short rubber ribs on it, it is still difficult to get it turning -- actually downright uncomfortable to manipulate.

-- On recording -- when you're using the UNI mics, you darn well have to be right in front of them or you get a very bad recording. I actually find that I get better recording with the OMNI mics than with the UNI.

-- There appears to be no "battery charging" display on the LCD when the unit is powered off but plugged in to a USB source -- very strange -- all you get is the red charge light on the left. Very strange design decision.

-- Buzz is heard from the speaker -- it's either from the speaker or coming from the LCD display -- not clear as yet whether this is going on to recordings or is just the speaker/and or display.

-- Concentric manual gain wheels are quite rough -- not as smooth as they could be and certainly inferior in comparison with the SONY D50 for example which has very nice smooth turning knobs left and right.

-- Whoever at TASCAM decided to make the AA battery door a pop off rather than have it attached needs to have their head(s) examined. you lose the door and you have a hole in the back you will have to cover with tape -- what a dumb idea.

-- Speed/pitch control and its menu technique leaves much to be desired.

Because I'm a gadget geek, I really wanted to like the TASCAM. It looked nice with the right features. But I am seriously considering sending it back for a refund at this point.

So far, the SONY D50 has it all over the TASCAM, particularly where sound is concerned. And even my LS-10 seems to do a better job with wav and mp3 files.

Sorry to have to report this -- I look forward to hearing more from others who got the DR-100.

dxace1 said...

Additions to my previous remarks:

First -- the positives are that it has both a wired and wireless remote -- AND, if you ordered from Sound Professionals, you get a very nice hand microphone with the DR-100

Second -- one can't help but observe that the foam wind shield they supply with the DR-100 looks like it wasn't even designed for the recorder. It just plunks on the top -- certainly nothing like the Zoom H2 shield which actually looks like it was made for the H2 (I'm sure it was). I would be embarrassed to hold the DR-100 up to someone in a recording situation with the wind shield (although the LS-10 with its Micky Mouse wind shields frequently brings strange comments)

Third -- so, even though the DR-100 is built solidly -- hand noise is definitely a problem. It's so wide, and thick, that you really have no choice but to grip it hard in an interview situation, but doing so will inevitably apply hand friction/noise to the recording.

Not sure what Brad and others are finding with the H4n and its rubberized coating, but if you have to change any of the controls on the DR-100, the toggles on the back of the unit, or even the main concentric manual level wheel, you better do it BEFORE the interview.

At least with smaller recorders, and I have the LS-10 in mind, you can get your hand fully around the recorder to minimize hand hoise.

A positive note -- after listening to several samples, using Audacity as my processor, the DR-100 does produce quiet files -- you do NOT hear the "buzz" that I referred to earlier, which is coming from either the LCD display or speaker or both. So, at least preliminary observations show that this does not throw noise on to the recording itself.

Brad Linder said...

@dxace1: I've found that you get some handling noise when using pretty much any handheld digital audio recorder. And that means you're always best off adjusting the volume, making track marks, or pressing other buttons either before you've started the recording or when using an external mic.

The best solution I've found for this so far is the hardware dials that the Sony PCM-D50 uses instead of buttons for record and playback volume. Since there's no button to press, you can adjust the volume without hearing a "click" on the recording.

Anonymous said...

Wanted XLR inputs so purchased Tascam DR100 and Zoom H4n. So far Zoom H4n is a lot better product offering full 24/96 and most of my recordings with this unit have been of a very good standard. While the Tascam DR-100 has too many issues:

- internal mics - sounds very
harsh (Zoom H4n sounds fuller)
- Recording level knob - not smooth
- Too bulky - heavy.
- Screen quality - not as clear as
ZOOM H4n.
- Does not offer full 24/96 (H4n
does)
- built in speaker - the sound
breaks/cracks (H4 sound better).
- Battery life is ok - just over 4 hours with combined power (H4n 9
hours on stamina mode).
- External mic - pre amps are weak
not enough to drive dynamic
mics with condenser is fine(H4n
has better drive through 1/8
inch input).
- Noise level - same as H4n
- Average features - H4n offers
lot more.

I do like the pcmd50 but it does not offer XLR. So am happy with ZOOM H4n and have no option but to return Tascam DR100 - this is over rated product.

dxace1 said...

I have with regret sent
my DR-100 back to SP.

As others have noted (and
we can only hope that TASCAM
takes not) it's just not up
to the quality level seen in
other units, and in that I
mean specifically the SONY
D50, and probably the H4n,
which I have not yet had a
chance to try.

All of the previous poster's
comments, including one I
missed -- about the heavy
friction hard-to-turn manual
level wheel -- are spot on.

I will stay with my D50,
H2 and LS-10 for now for
my professional needs and
wait to see if TASCAM learns
some lessons.

Sorry to say that, but it's
true....

John said...

@Brad. You should have a new blog for Tascam DR-100 - interestings comments are getting posted.

Moun said...

Re: Zoom H4n

I'm as skeptical as anybody.

I just used the Zoom H4n for a four channel recording.
I used the built in mics + a couple of small condensers.
It was a small room with a guitarist/vocal guy.

It took me a while to figure out how to get the levels right.
I turned off all of the compression and effects.
I was recording all the while.

I imported the two stereo files into my DAW.

The mix of all four channels was quite breathtaking.
I'm thinking this might be the strength of the H4n.
I listened to each stereo pair soloed and it was pretty good.
When I listened to all four channels, it opened up into a full soundstage.

I'm thinking the H4n is not an audiophile high end machine.
I'm sure the Sony blows it away in stereo mode.

That being said, the ability to record 4 tracks with two XLR phantom powered inputs is quite remarkable.
I can't send it back after hearing these sounds.

Anonymous said...

My Tascam Dr-100 came in yesterday and I have to say...so far so good. The auto gain feature is a little confusing because it seems to actually adjusts the levels, not the gain. So in auto mode you have to make sure to have the gain set properly for good recordings. I'm not an expert on these recorders so I can't compare it to the others but the recordings sounded very good. I also read on Tascam's website that 96kHz is coming in a 1.10 software update.

Trident said...

****IMPORTANT VERY IMPORTANT***

NOISE OF SILENCE OF ALL RECORDERS CAN FOUND ON THIS SITE (including Sony D50, Tascam DR100, Zoom H4n, Fostex FR2le many more..) :

http://www.wingfieldaudio.com/portable-recorder-noise.html

With following mics:

- Internal
- External Dynamic & Condenser mics

Using Headphones to compare recorders.

Zoom H4n & Tascam Dr100 were both rubbish with Dynamic mics.

With internal mics Sony D1 was king followed by D50 and then Tascam-DR-100.

Even with XLR using condenser mics both Zoom H4n and Tascam had some humming noise on the background.

Under $600

Best for internal mics: Sony PCM D50

Best for External Dynamic mics: Sony D50 followed by FR2le

Best for Condenser mics: Fostex FR2le, followed by D50.

What do you think?

Trident said...

Also did line input test:

Under $600

Marantz 661 is the best followed by D50 and FR2le. Zoom H4n and Tascam DR100 are not far behind.

link again;

http://www.wingfieldaudio.com/portable-recorder-noise.html

Jack said...

Thanks Trident:

I did exactly what u did listened via headphones and for mid range recorders the FR2le and Sony D50 rocks as both of these devices give high end recorders run for the money.

I am buying Sony D50 with confidence and will also add Rolls XLR phantom to use my AKG C3000 mic pair.

Anonymous said...

These are the first reviews I've read concerning the Tascam DR-100, and I must say it sounds disappointing. I held off on buying the Sony D50 because I was waiting for a device to be released with XLR jacks (I was not considering the Zoom devices because of the "Noise" factor. I don't need 4-track capabilities, and would be using the device for a lot of field recording). Anyway, it looks I'm back to considering the Sony D50 again. Thank you for all the opinions, and will continue to keep my eyes and ears open for any and all information.

Jarvis said...

I too have visited that site. The new Tascam DR100 and Zoom H4n sounds very similar to my classic Edirol R09, that means they are nothing special. I am therefore leaning towards Sony PCM D50 or Fostex FR2le as I don,t really need four shit channels or four crap mics.

Thanks Trident

Anonymous said...

@Trident. Now it has become very clear to me and I ordered Sony pcmd50 today will also order ART phantom power to go with it later. BTW, Wingfield audio is very informative site with lots of samples.
Thanks again, Trident

Soundman said...

Thank you for sharing this information Trident. I have listened carefully to those samples (using my Grado headphones)@ wingfield audio.


http://www.wingfieldaudio.com/portable-recorder-noise.html

The samples of Tascam DR100 and Zoom H4n was quite appalling. Especially with Dynamic mic the background noise was very severe. Within $800 bracket the safest bet would be Fostex Fr2le or either Sony pcm d50 - depending on your application and utilization. If you have a huge collection of condenser microphones and want ultra quiet mic pre-amps then opt for FR2le. If you merely use Dynamic mics even low output ones then Sony pcm d50 is hard to beat.

Anonymous said...

hey, what's happen to Zoom h4n
and Tascam D100 samples using dynamic microphone @ wingfield audio? was it that bad!! it got removed.

uranium said...

There are more samples of Tascam DR100 at this link:

http://www.soundprofessionals.com/cgi-bin/gold/category.cgi?item=TAS-DR-100

for all u guitar lovers enjoy..

rowen said...

Any recommendations for a good, economical recorder for a small amateur singing group (occasional concert and practice recordings)? I prefer to use internal mics (simplicity, cost), but not sure if that gives up too much. I was considering Olympus LS-10, Edirol 09RH, Zoom H4N and Sony PCMD50, but any suggestions welcome. The Sony is stretching my budget.

Paul said...

Thanks for the review Brad. And thanks to all the commenters for the additional info!

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I want to replace my Studer PR-99. Do any of you think that digital recorders like the Marantz PMD-661, Sony PCM D-50 or Tascam DR-100 sound quite so good as my old Studer?

My main use is to pick up signals from a (High-End) Stereo System (RCA/Chinch). So the Line Frequency Response is most important.

Only sometimes I'll recording a concert with Soundman OKM's.

What do you think? Get a Sound Devices 702?

Anonymous said...

If you're in a band, then would this help at all for recording a demo CD of 8-9 original songs?

Brian Funshine said...

I noticed in the video in this review how quickly the card loads up. With a 1gb card, it takes up to 15 seconds (in stamina mode) to load. But yours took like 3 seconds. How big of a card are you using? SHould that make a difference? When I used 16 gig card it took around 40 seconds to load the card. Is that right?

Brad Linder said...

@Brian: The size of the card shouldn't make a difference. I was using a 1 or 2GB card in this video. I forget which. What does probably matter is the speed of the card.

SD and SDHC cards come in a variety of ratings and some are faster than others. For the most part, you won't notice a difference in digital audio recorders. Most SD cards are fast enough to handle real-time audio recordings. But if you're using an SD card with a computer or digital camera, you may notice more of a difference. It's possible that slower cards also take longer to load on audio recorders such as the Zoom H4n. I haven't really tested this.

Brian Funshine said...

Thanks for your response, Brad
I think this card has a problem. It usually works, but sometimes displays "no card" and I have to insert it again, usually, then OK.
Also, I noticed that on any card, it loads up faster with plug in, compared to battery. Or maybe it slows when the battery is low. But aside from that, yea, it's slow. What troubles me, is that nobody else seems to have these problems.

Andy Thacker said...

I bought the Tascam DR100 (probably first shipment in the UK).
Previously I have had Edirol R1 and R9H. I got rid of both those becuase they build quiality was just so flimsy.
Anyway DR100 was meant to be a robust, tough replacement.
IMHO it sounds poor.
I record mostly voice (my children etc) ... I had to set the gain settings so high to record at an acceptable level, it became just too hissy. Very disappointed.
The spin wheel feels cheap, but not painful or unuseable to me.

But here is the odd thing I have noticed.

If you hold the device up to the light, you can see through the microphone mesh and see the microphone capsules.

They seem to be aligned very strangely. One would expect from outward appearances that they simply point forward.

NO.

Are they in an X/Y alignment like the HN4?

NO

They both seem to be poiting outwards, and away from each other at about 45%. I would describe it as a "Y" alignment ... though I have never heard of such.

Can anyone else verify their microphones on the DR100 have been set up this way?

SoundOnSound have just given a glowing review of the HN4 btw.

dxace1 said...

I pre-ordered the DR-100 and got it probably among the first to have the unit.

I soon found that it was FAR below expectations. Not only is it bulky and hard to hold -- even bulkier in terms of how it feels in the hand than the H4n, but that selector wheel just cries out for a re-design (it's actually better on the other smaller TASCAM DR-07).

And the sound was TERRIBLE -- unfortunately although I returned it, Sound Professionals wouldn't consider a refund so I'm stuck with a $378 credit there.

I now have a H4n (also use the SONY PCM-D50 and Olympus LS-10). This week I did an interesting experiment at a news conference -- had the H4n and LS-10 sitting together on the podium. The result is VERY interesting. Though the H4n, which I do like by the way, especially it's large screen and job dial selector, yielded very nice clean audio, the LS-10 was equal to it in every respect. And of course, for those of us in the news business, the LS-10 takes up MUCH less space than the larger units on a cramped podium, or on the very thin mobile press conference podiums we often have to put up with.

After all of my testing of various units to date, dating back to the original Edirol R-1 (which I agree was terrible), I have pretty much concluded that the LS-10, H4n, and SONN D-50 are at the top of the heap.

Michael said...

Hi
can anybody help me.
I want to record church organ in wave, to make audio cds as presents
for friends and family.
I want a good audio quality, and
easy handling of the recorder.
I want to decide between the 4 recorders, but I'm not shure about
the use of the different mics, like the Sony, where it is possible to choose dif. positions of the mics.
T
ascam DR-100
Olympus LS-10
Sony PCM D50
eventually I also want to a
Rode NT4 mic

Thank You so much

Ginny Webb said...

Hi Brad and other Zoom H4n commenters,

I've recently bought the H4n (I'm in Western Australia but found an online US vendor who did quite a good deal, considerably cheaper than the cost of buying it here). The package included a remote, which I have found very useful for minimizing handling noise, and a tripod- ditto usefulness. All I had to buy additionally was an adapter for Australian power points and even that's optional as it can be used with batteries alone.

I've made some preliminary recordings of my songs and I have to say I'm very happy with the sound quality. My needs range from demo recordings, to four part arangements of acappella and acoustic songs, to recording students and live gigs.

What I haven't been able to decipher from the (somewhat Japanese English) manual is how to use the multi-track recording function. Say for example I wanted to put down a piano or guitar part and then add a vocal whilst playing back the instrumental recording, how do I go about this? I've already had good results recording directly from my digital piano in MTR mode, but am not sure how to add my vocals now, nor can I reliably play back the previous part (it appears to be playing but I can't hear any external sound either straight from the device or through headphones).

So any help, or suggestions about where to go for information I would very much welcome.

By the way, the matter of the accidental memory card ejection seems to be a non-issue on mine, so is the least of my worries- I've struggled to get the rubbery flap open to get at it!

Also a friend who has the Z4 recommended a program called Reaper over the Cubase software that comes with the Zoom H4n as being far more straightforward and versatile (user-friendly I guess).

Cheers,

Ginny Webb

Henrik Rathje said...

Hi,

Just bought a Zoom H4N.. borrowed a H4 from a friend last week end LOVED it, so I went for the newer N version..

All fine.. BUT.. sitting playing around with the internal mics and recording some drums, i'm shocked.. I can't get the rec level down to a level that does not distort the recording!

even when level is on 1 (level range:1-100) it still can't record a drum nearer than 8-10 feet(2-3m)!

I'm going to a club later tonight and will record a live bands club gig.. if it can't record that at a appropriate level without distorting I will return it to the dealer.

I simply don't get why the level is SO high on the lowest setting?? The Zoom H4 was no way near these problems with the low-mid-high gain settings..

HMM!!

Henrik Rathje said...

Update..

Just found out that the 1.40 firmware update PARTLY solves the gain problem.. it lets you set the gain level below 1 (0.1-0.9).. which is a hack in my opinion.

I will test it with my band monday.. if it does not work out, it will be returned to the store. Reason: unusable for band recordings!

So musicians: be aware!.. watch this blog.. I will update as soon as it is tested thoroughly.

Luca said...

Please, test the mp3 recording @ 320kbps ! I had some issues with mine when recording rehearsal longer than 1 hour : even if the file lasts, for example, 1 hour and 15 minutes, the file is always blank, damaged on the final part, missing circa a 5% from the effective ending ! I sent an email to Zoom and to local distributor but they told me that it's not a known issue till now and suggested me to test other device with my sd card to see of it happens anyway...if yes we should wait until a new firmware update....While i'm writing this i'm just testing recording in mp3 at another bitrate...let's wait and see, hear, what happens...!

Luca said...

Oops, i'm sorry, it was only that cheesy Audacity which used to add a blank part at the end of every mp3 converted to wav ... forget about it!

Henrik Rathje said...

Well.. did a short test with my band rehearsal yesterday, and the setting between 0.8 and 0.9 was enough to get the gain to a good level!

So I'm happy again.. but very bad engineering that we had to wait for a version 1.40 firmware to resolve this stupid issue!

But again.. it's fixed well enough for me, so I'm keeping the thing ;-)

Anonymous said...

Great review.. To all the Zoom owners out there that take this thing outside, you may or may not be interested in this inexpensive but very effective accessory. http://www.redheadwindscreens.com

Bill said...

Brad -
I would like to add podcasts to my blog sites. The H4n seems great. My question is. Where can i learn how to integrate it with a PC? How to connect a cell phone for remote recordings? What PC sofware works best with it? I am kind of looking for an all in one package that i can transport and use with a regular phone and cell phone as well? Is there a site that would tell me what software and hardwaer i need to pull this off?
Thanks - Bill

Anonymous said...

THINKING OF BUYING H4N...
I'm interested in monitoring voiceover recordings with headphones AS I RECORD. I know the H4n has a headphone jack for monitoring, but can anyone tell me if it monitors in real time, or if there is a "lag" (as usually occurs in digital audio recording/monitoring). Thanks.
Vixter

Henrik Rathje said...

I have not noticed any lag in the headphones output..
I'm pretty sure what you are hearing, is the direct output of the mics, and not the recorded sound.

-Henrik

Mario said...

As I read once in a Hi-Fi Magazine, the only real and valid tests, are blind tests. If you hear the tone of a recording just a little tiny bit louder, as the other ones in test, our brain thinks it sounds better as the other. They made some blind tests with profi audio journalist, they foolish them with different sound levels and they couldn't distinguish a $5000 amplifier from a $ 400. They could just guess! and they failed.

If you really want to do a real test, make different recordings at different levels and differnt sounds, hear them ramdomly without knowing which equipment and brand it comes from, and you'll be surprised. This happens here in this very same blog, by mistake as the same file was uploaded for a Sony and Zoom recordings, "profi" people listened to them making statements on the very same file, saying one sounded better then the other one, influenced by the "brand" placebo effect.

The Windfield audio test website, is useless for three reasons:

1.- some recordings sound louder as other ones.

2.- you "see" the brand, so no blind test

3.- You hear "the same" sound. In real world recording, same mics and preamps, behave and react differently to diffente sounds.

I would like to see you, making statements, on real live recordings and different sound levels, saying which one was recording with what brand or equipment. Most of you, would mostly fail! As that test confirmed. So don't be fool with those tests, I have read all kind of comments comparing specially the D50 and H4N. Why? Different recordings, different micros, differente sounds, different headphones, different amplifiers, different loutspeakers and different EARS! A portable recorder will sound completely different in different situations. Are you listening those recordings in a computer speaker? or in a neutral $ 10.000 dollar studio sound equipment? In real world you record real sounds, not someone just talking 5 seconds at 4am in a isolated dark room.

So, be causius when saying a H4N is just rubbish just because it costes $ 350. Most of you would not be able to distinguish a recording made with it from one made using a $800 unit in real world and blind tests...

My 2 cents...

Stephen said...

I might not share many of the opinions here, but anyway this is what happened to me when visiting the wingfieldaudio site:
I got there with the mindset that the Sony's sound best anyway, and listening to the noise samples I was happy to have my mindset confirmed.
Well, until, out of curiosity, I've listened to the Cello recordings.
OMG, how revealing!
Suddenly it was both Sony's that sounded rather lifeless and sterile compared to e.g. the Zoom H-4n or the Marantz PMD620.

I have to agree with Mario that obviously, noise levels alone do say *nothing* about subjective sound quality, apart from the fact that I cannot remember having *ever* recorded vocals or instruments in a sonically dead room. (Background noise is naturally everywhere anyway).

Also, I was surprised how well the Olympus LS-10 compared to the bulkier and more expensive alternatives, when actually recording live instruments.

To be continued... ;-)

robin said...

Stephen, that's because the LS-10 rocks. :-)

It seems lots of people here can benefit from the portable digital recorders summary I just finished. Twenty different units compared on a few main points, plus an overview of terminology and features.

Anonymous said...

How about using the focus feature of your camera? That would have made your good informational overview 13% better.

dzad said...

If someone were shooting a movie using this recorder, where would they need to place it in terms of length and position. Meaning with a boom mic, we would hold the boom pole over the actors.

How does this one work?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad,

Thanks so much for all the great and useful information! I'm a novice as far as digital recorders go and am looking for a multi track recorder for around $300. I 'm a classical guitarist and would like to use it for compositional work as well as recording myself playing solos,duets etc. Would this do the trick do think or is there something better out there? Thanks so much in advance for any advice you may have.

~Anthony

Kalani Prince said...

I'm thinking of picking up a Tascam DR-100 as well. I currently own all the Zoom recorders an have been totally happy with them. I also created a nice windscreen for the Zoom products that everyone's been lovin : ) http://www.redheadwindscreens.com Still, I am compelled to pick up a Tascam as it seems to be a pretty good recorder. More later.. Thanks for the in depth review Brad !

ArtInvent said...

Here's my problem: I intend to use external high quality condenser mics that have XLR connections. Say you have a budget of $1000 tops total - my point of view is to spend at least half of that on mics and the other half on the recorder. So I have a stereo pair of Rode NT5's and a Zoom H4. I want to replace the H4 with maybe the H4N for mostly ease of use reasons. But then the Sony PCM-D50 comes along and people say it has better mic preamps - but mostly they seem to mean it sounds better with dynamic mics. Also, the Sony doesn't have XLR or even TRS inputs, so with my mics I'd have to get some kind of 1/8" plug adapter or an external preamp anyway. And I'm not sure if the Sony has 48V phantom power for such, which I need. If a separate preamp is needed, the Sony seems to make little sense. The expense and complexity starts to make other $1000 recorders with XLR and built in preamps look a lot better.

I haven't seen a lot of feedback on just how good the *condenser* mic preamps are on the H4N or how they compare to the H4, if there's any difference.

So my question is, is it possible to get better recordings with condensers straight into the Sony? Or is that possible? Or will the Zoom sound just as good or better? Or would it be more cost effective and better sounding to get some really good dynamic mics and plug them into the Sony?

Gary Mabry said...

Hi Brad. Did you grow up in Houston?

Brad Linder said...

@Gary: Nope.

Ynnon said...

hello. Thanks for the review.
I have a question that I have yet to find an answer to!
Is it possible to upload a sample. lets say a drum track (in WAV, or whatever format.) and then overdub it?
I make loops on my pc, and want to send them to the H4n, and so far am unable to record WITH them....i hope its clear....
Please help,
Thanks

YT

Fernando Rosas said...

Hi Brad,

I just bought an H4n, with a pair of RODE NT1000. I dont' know why I get no signal from the mics... I read the manual, I turned on the phantom power to 48V. Do you have any idea about solving this problem? I used the same inputs jacks 1 and 2 to record from a keyboard and it works... but the mics don't want to work... please help me.

Fernando

Hans said...

First of all, this is a great blog, I've learned so much already, but I have two questions still. The H4n is supposed to come with free headphones right (according to http://store.daleproaudio.com/Items/ZOOM-H4N%20KIT?gclid=CMrNvob32Z8CFQ8eDQoddEnbHw)? Where are they? Getting shipped later? Also, when I try to turn it off it always freezes at the loading screen where is says "GoodBye See You!" Any idea why? Thanks

-Hans

Brad Linder said...

@Hans: Not all retailers bundle a pair of headphones with the recorder. In fact, this is the first time I've seen any store do it. If you ordered from Dale Pro Audio and haven't received the headphones, I'd contact the store's customer support line about it.

As for the problem turning the recorder off, that's not supposed to happen. It sounds like you may have a defective unit.

Anonymous said...

Please mr., when you say there are more expensible equipment with better quality, what you mean?
What are those equipments, where can I find them?
Aproximatelly how much do they cost?
Buy the way, can I also find a high- end recorder (portable) along with high-end condenser mics?
How much do you think I should spend?
Thank you!
Rogério.

Martin said...

When buying a recorder, I think one should consider using external electret condenser microphones like the Audio-Technica ATM33a (or ATM8033) which I have used for a long time with my Sony MiniDisc for ambient sound recording and radio interviews. Look also at microphones marketed to video recorders, they often need to be condensers without external phantom supplies which means they often are elctrets.

Listen, test and undertand that electrets have a bad reputation for being used in cheap equipment, but they can be made to sound really good also.

Technical reason for using electrets:
Consider the fact that in order to supply an external condenser microphone with 48 volt (48 volt is for historical reasons a standard, not out of technical necessity), the phantom power converter in the recorder will have to do a lot of unecessary work since most condensers really need only 11 - 25 volt. Depends on mic. If, and I say if, your recorder makes a hissing sound when recording with phantom power on, it's because the internal phantom converters interfere with the preamps. This can happen because designing the power supply in any serious device is quite tricky.

The Audio-Tecnica electrets, like the ATM33a need only one 1.5 volt internal battery to work, no external phantom supply. The downside of the ATM33a is that it's slightly less sensitive when operating from the 1.5 volt battery compared to external phantom power supply, but I think it's a compromise worth it since you will get to use the internal preamps in your recorder without the phantom power converter turned on.

A note to "radio people": when interviewing people, the ATM33a sounds like a Sennheiser 421 but with more clarity and a slight precense peak, it makes male voices much more integlible in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad
i dont usually comment on gear but this H4n recorder is a dam good bargin for the money... I do 'Front of House' engineering from time to time and to be able to take the 2 tracks from the mixing board and 2 from the built in mics (that sound pretty good to me) is just what I've been after for ages, that and the fact that the device is small and weighs very little make it extremely portable and usable... when not on tour i record records (CDs to you youngsters) and i have used the H4n for location recording a couple of times... it works well and sounds fine...

so folks the bottom line here is, IF YOU NEED REALLY TOP DOLLAR SOUND QUALITY PAY LOTS OF DOLLARS... IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT SOUNDS GOOD AND IS REALLY USEFUL FOR LOCATION RECORDING AND YOU DON'T HAVE MORE THAN 400 BUCKS GET H4n... simple!

if there's a problem with your results its probably your lack of recording experience not the machine...

head

Anonymous said...

Hi brad...

You said if you want crystal clear clarity you'll have to fork out more dosh for a more expensive recorder... Just how crystal clear is it? The recording on their website sounds pretty decent, but I'm intending on using it for field recordings, particularly street environments and general background noises of different environments... How suitable do you think it is for this purpose? Thanks for the helpful review -andrew

Anonymous said...

... and if I do need top quality sound (which I do), what would you recommend over this unit?

carlton said...

hey brad, nice review. having some issues crashing in stamina mode with a 16 gig card. anyone come up against this? at a loss.

Gil said...

I have used the H4N in live recordings in small and large auditoriums with 1,000 people present and a large orchestra and choir and the result was quite stunning. High quality and because the recorder was on the front seating area, it picked up audience response which gave it a real presence.

I have not had any problems with SD card being ejected during recording while holding in my hand. With the mic stand attachment makes it really stable. And the remote control, you can control all functions without touching the recorder.

To RECORD you hit the RECORD BUTTON once, then the PLAY button to start the recording.

Excellent product.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the fact that you can't record in 4 channel mode in MP3 format. ONLY Wav. And I don't like that even if you have a large SD chip in, the record stops after a 2GB file has been recorded. It's not a seamless stop either... Shame. Otherwise it's a great recorder. But these two issues above are killing me!

Anonymous said...

You can encode and change an MP3 into a different bit rate internatlly. But, you CAN'T encode a WAV into an MP3.

Anonymous said...

It seems that "Zoom" is saying that the H4N and the new Q3HD have the same Mic's but does it offer the same quality level? Have you compared both at this point? Thanks love your site.

Anonymous said...

I hate the H4n as a field recorder. Slow to boot. Doesn't finalise a recording when batteries run out. Far better off with just a simple old cassette deck. Any time I've relied on getting an important recording, it has let me down. User unfriendly piece of crap. I want the Earth to open up and swallow the Zoom company for selling it to me.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing podcast interviews and I would like to make some phone interviews. I have a line input connection from the phone and I would like to record my own voice with internal mic of Zoom H4n in same time. Is this possible: recording from line input and with internal mic same time?

Anonymous said...

What about track marking???? What is the best device when it comes to labelling your tracks at the end of a shoot for example?

Michaelauknz said...

Hi,

Have you had this fault just appear on the upper main screen of a Zoom H4n

Volume : 100

Which relates to the speaker volume controls on the left hand side.... and it can not be removed...

I know I am very stupid but i need some serious tech help asap from a very experienced H4n engineer ..

The Zoom web site does not provide any effective assistance for tech or error help...

I have owned a few of these H4n and for the audio project work I do they are just brilliant and I am very happy...

My current Zoom H4n is serial no..00074617 software version 1.72 and boot 1:01

But recently a VERY strange error has occurred...and it repeats VERY frequently and is very annoying...and prevents usage and locks the recorder

During powering up and also when switching the recorder on to record and also when the Menu is selected and required on the screen VOLUME : 100 just appears and it locks the device ... and next the H4n automatically adjusts the H4n speaker volume back up to 100% and blocks access to the menu item and the record controls ....

And if I try to adjust it down to any setting say 45% or anything under 100% it just adjust it self back up to 100% ....and locks the screen ............................k bugger

Help me please....as we have recently lost several hours of recording time..

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm quite happy with the HN4. However...the folders are a bit confusing. When connecting to the PC the folders sometimes change their numbers. In addition, when I try different folders my wave files seem to go to one only. How many wave files can you put in one folder? Can you mix wave and MP3 files?? Other than that it's a great unit. I use it on gigs to provide my back up instruments

Anonymous said...

It seems that "Zoom" is saying that the H4N and the new Q3HD have the same Mic's but does it offer the same quality level? Have you compared both at this point? Thanks love your site.

Fernando Rosas said...

Hi Brad,

I just bought an H4n, with a pair of RODE NT1000. I dont' know why I get no signal from the mics... I read the manual, I turned on the phantom power to 48V. Do you have any idea about solving this problem? I used the same inputs jacks 1 and 2 to record from a keyboard and it works... but the mics don't want to work... please help me.

Fernando

Brad Linder said...

@Gary: Nope.

Bill said...

Brad -
I would like to add podcasts to my blog sites. The H4n seems great. My question is. Where can i learn how to integrate it with a PC? How to connect a cell phone for remote recordings? What PC sofware works best with it? I am kind of looking for an all in one package that i can transport and use with a regular phone and cell phone as well? Is there a site that would tell me what software and hardwaer i need to pull this off?
Thanks - Bill

Henrik Rathje said...

Well.. did a short test with my band rehearsal yesterday, and the setting between 0.8 and 0.9 was enough to get the gain to a good level!

So I'm happy again.. but very bad engineering that we had to wait for a version 1.40 firmware to resolve this stupid issue!

But again.. it's fixed well enough for me, so I'm keeping the thing ;-)

Andy Thacker said...

I bought the Tascam DR100 (probably first shipment in the UK).
Previously I have had Edirol R1 and R9H. I got rid of both those becuase they build quiality was just so flimsy.
Anyway DR100 was meant to be a robust, tough replacement.
IMHO it sounds poor.
I record mostly voice (my children etc) ... I had to set the gain settings so high to record at an acceptable level, it became just too hissy. Very disappointed.
The spin wheel feels cheap, but not painful or unuseable to me.

But here is the odd thing I have noticed.

If you hold the device up to the light, you can see through the microphone mesh and see the microphone capsules.

They seem to be aligned very strangely. One would expect from outward appearances that they simply point forward.

NO.

Are they in an X/Y alignment like the HN4?

NO

They both seem to be poiting outwards, and away from each other at about 45%. I would describe it as a "Y" alignment ... though I have never heard of such.

Can anyone else verify their microphones on the DR100 have been set up this way?

SoundOnSound have just given a glowing review of the HN4 btw.

dxace1 said...

I have with regret sent
my DR-100 back to SP.

As others have noted (and
we can only hope that TASCAM
takes not) it's just not up
to the quality level seen in
other units, and in that I
mean specifically the SONY
D50, and probably the H4n,
which I have not yet had a
chance to try.

All of the previous poster's
comments, including one I
missed -- about the heavy
friction hard-to-turn manual
level wheel -- are spot on.

I will stay with my D50,
H2 and LS-10 for now for
my professional needs and
wait to see if TASCAM learns
some lessons.

Sorry to say that, but it's
true....

Brad Linder said...

@dxace1: I've found that you get some handling noise when using pretty much any handheld digital audio recorder. And that means you're always best off adjusting the volume, making track marks, or pressing other buttons either before you've started the recording or when using an external mic.

The best solution I've found for this so far is the hardware dials that the Sony PCM-D50 uses instead of buttons for record and playback volume. Since there's no button to press, you can adjust the volume without hearing a "click" on the recording.

Anonymous said...

Used internal mics for both recorders and it was very difficult for H4n to produce a mirrored recording because the sound reproduced seemed very artificial, overbright, harsh and quite hissy during quiet piano sessions. While hitting the piano keys hard the limiter was also not as affective as Sony's dual intelligent limiter - occasionally distorting with H4n. The Sony developed the sound like for like as if almost i was playing it real time. H4n is a multi tool for people wanting OT features but not high quality. Sony has been specifically marketed for enthusiast.!!!

Raymond said...

Hello Brad
My H4n freezes when i turn it on. It shows me the zoom logo and that's all.
What can I do? Please help...

Tyler Faires said...

Hey brad,
I am looking to use my on board mic as well as the line in at the same time. Do you know how this is possible?

So for an example I would like to record ambient sound with the on board mic in mono mode in channel one. While at the same time recording into the line in channel two with a off board mic. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Tyler Faires

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