Customer Review

332 of 343 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best field recorders out there, March 28, 2009
This review is from: Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder (Electronics)
Just like the customer above me, I have a fairly early 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 device should not be considered a Mic in its own right. Sure, it has two condenser microphones stuck 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 device.

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 easy to grip, and seems to stand up well to surface 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 definitely better designed than the previous two recorders from zoom. The buttons are easy to press, and the screen is large, allowing you to see everything you need to very easily.

The poster above me wondered why there was no metal cage protecting the microphones (like the previous H4 had). The answer to this is the switchable pattern 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 pretty good stereo image. But when you twist them, the mics are then a 120 degree angle. This is good 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. Overall, I would rather have a switchable pickup pattern, than a protective cage. Just don't drop a $350 recorder.

Second, the packaging. Inside 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 above 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 definitely 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 good or nothing else matters. Overall 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 pretty 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 little bit of condenser hiss when the input gain was turned up. This could probably be solved or lessened if you were to get closer to the object and turn down the recording level. But still, it worries me to have a little 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 little lacking. My voice sounded a little 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 think 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 true for this unit as well. Anytime you hold the H4n and move 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)

Overall I think 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 microphones if you want to add variety, redundancy, etc. You can also just use the unit for a preamp if you only want to use your own microphones to record in the field. I won't name off all of the features, but some included features weren't even necessary and Zoom was nice enough to add them in anyway (guitar tuner, audio interface, stamina mode, MTR mode, 96k recording, etc).

Needless to say, if you need a recorder for any reason, even if it's just for a school project, or for recreation, don't buy the cheapest recorder you can find. Spend a little extra money and get the H4n, it's seriously worth the extra cash for something that will last you much longer. It's simply the best value for a handheld recorder on the market right now.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 28, 2009 11:19:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 28, 2009 11:20:18 PM PDT
Thanks for the excellent review!

Just a note: it's also possible to use four external microphones at one time. There is a 1/8" stereo jack behind the internal microphones which, when activated, cuts off the internal microphones allowing for real-time four track recording with four external microphones. Of course you'll have to provide phantom power separately for any microphone going into a 1/8" stereo jack that doesn't take plug-in power.

And a question: how are the preamps for external microphones? You mentioned that you wouldn't use the internal microphones for studio work, and I agree. But what about external microphones going into the XLR jacks? How much noise do you hear compared to studio-grade dedicated preamps, for instance? Any information on this would be great.

Thanks again!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2009 11:35:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 15, 2009 11:35:35 PM PDT
I've listened pretty closely to some samples on review sites. (Search for Brad LInder's blog. He has a few). The xlr pres don't seem to be stellar if you're using a dynamic mic that needs a lot of gain, but they seem decent for condensors. It sounds like the 1/8 stereo jack is quite good, which is a very nice option. I wasn't aware that you could use the 1/8inch plug while using the xlr inputs. That's great. I think I'm going to get this thing.

Posted on Aug 11, 2009 9:20:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2009 9:55:55 AM PDT
Rick Brenner says:
Thanks for the review.
There is one function I'm having trouble discerning if it has or not.
While recording a concert or lecture, can you PAUSE the recording so that when you resume recording it is seemless within the same file?
Or do you have to stop recording and when you start again it starts recording a new file?
I assume a recorder of this magnitude and price must be able to pause, but you never know. One cheaper recorder I have does NOT pause. So if you stop and restart it 10 times during a lecture you end up with 10 separate digital files!

Also, f you are playing back one audio file on the unit, then you stop the playback and start recording a new file, when you go back to the first one to continue playing it back does it remember the position where you stopped and start playing from there again? Or does it revert back to the beginning so you have to fast forward to the hopefully remembered spot again?
Again, the cheap one I have does this - it always reverts to the start of the file!

One other thing. Can anyone tell me the basic difference between the H4n and the H2? What would someone want the H4n for over the H2, in a nutshell?


In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2009 3:49:42 PM PDT
Chewy Teeth says:
Yes, it will pause. I just tested it. Cannot answer your other questions.

Posted on Mar 2, 2010 8:44:53 PM PST
ImEzekiel65 says:
Hello, and great review, by the way! Could you please answer a few questions for me?

How do these gadgets do as far as converting LPs or cassettes to digital/CD formats? I have heard that it does this particular thing quite well; just need to be set straight on this. Haven't really had any experience with these items and was wondering. I'm thinking about getting a CD recorder, but don't know whether to buy it or one of these babies.

And could one hook this gadget up to an iPod and record songs from it? Had my computer worked on last fall and lost a bunch of songs, some of them iTunes bonus tracks, and haven't synced my iPod since, for fear of losing them. Any answers you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Posted on Feb 15, 2011 4:11:21 AM PST
aerogal says:
Hi, I am interested in this product for 2 purposes and am hoping you could answer my questions before I invest: (1) I would like to interview my elderly mother before she dies; this appears as though it would fit the bill. Can I "rewind" (as in older cassette type recorders) listen to what was recorded, record over something we don't want to keep, and then keep going? That is, we want to Record, go back, re-record, etc. (2) My son is studying piano so would like a high quality sound. How *easy* (and I mean really, really easy) is the immediate playback? Can I push a button, record, and then have immediate playback? I guess these are dumb questions, but I'm not a professional musician and I'd really appreciate some help. thanks so much.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2011 8:36:28 AM PST
Paul says:
The preamps are unacceptably noisy for use with dynamic mics that need more gain. The signal needs boosting before it gets to the zoom. For condensers the built in preamps are acceptable as long as the source is not too quiet. I'm going to try a titan audio fethead to plug in to the dynamic mics I use to see if that is a relatively cheap work around solution to the in built preamps.

Posted on Jun 6, 2011 7:41:50 AM PDT
Great review. I need to record broadcast quality multi-track interviews in the field. Is this what you would recommend? Perhaps using the Zoom H4n with two XLR mics? Or would the more expensive Sony recorder you spoke of be a better choice? What is that product called? Any recommendations for the XLR mic?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 6, 2011 7:44:28 AM PDT
Did anybody respond to your question?

Posted on Jan 2, 2012 5:10:39 AM PST

I have a completely different question, I sold my Edirol R09HR, I used it out in the field in all weather conditions (recording bird vocalizations) but the only thing I didn't like was that it didn't have a XLR adaptor. So, I wanted to buy a Marantz PMD 661 digital recorder but it's too expensive. I find this discussion interesting but I wanted to find out if I can use the ZOOM H4n out in the field with an external microphone. Many Thanks!

Manuel Sanchez
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