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Customer Review

222 of 228 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive with minor flaws, April 11, 2009
This review is from: Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder - 2009 Version (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 short 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 good 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 speaker, and more. I also like the little things I'm still discovering, like when I put 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 little exposed without a wire cage on the top like others have, it would probably not be a good thing to drop this unit and have the mics hit first.

4) Cost - This recorder was midrange even with it being brand 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 amazing to be it's as inexpensive as it is.

5) Sound quality - The H4n sounds clean. I believe turning on the built in compressor, or boosting a really weak input signal with a lot of input gain could cause 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 might have different results, time will tell.

6) Menu and button layout - I really like the way they set this unit up. Very easy 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 never having used one before and the H4n is the best I have to compare with:

1) Menu system - While easy 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 little like a 5 year old put them together, Zoom could have done better with the screen they put 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 trying to be a little too fancy with the menus. There is a little expanding box effect that happens when you open a menu, but it ends up just looking like screen artifacts when changing the menus. It would have been better to immediately jump to the menu, it would be faster 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 changed, 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 easy 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 above. 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 device to fix it since the best you can do is replace 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 folders, but not a lot you can do on site except stop and restart recordings versus using "marks").

4) Documentation - I'm not sure what Zoom was thinking here. The documentation looks like it was passed through a translation program without any proof reading before shipping. It is filled with sentences such as "On stereo mode can be made 19 different setting using. WAV & MP3. If you want to change, operate before recording". I get the general intent most of the time but it hurts. Luckily the unit is easy enough to use that you don't have to rely on the documentation too much.

As I see it, the complaints I have are mainly around details of the UI implementation and documentation and relatively minor. All around the unit is great and a lot of fun to use. The sound quality is top notch, and the capabilities of the device are astounding. I would have given it 5 stars if the few UI details had been better thought out and someone had read the documenation. For a great all around handheld recorder with excellent sound quality, lots of features, and a reasonable price, the Zoom unit is going to be very hard to beat.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 31, 2009 7:24:28 AM PDT
Tico J. Punk says:
To comment on the part about the H4n recharging NiMH batteries. Is doesn't do this. I wanted to make sure anyone reading this review wasn't misled by this. NiMH batteries can sometimes appear to gain some life after resting for a period, and this may be what the original poster experienced. But I have checked and confirmed that the H4n absolutely does NOT recharge NiMH batteries. That said, the H4n rules. :)

Posted on Aug 11, 2009 9:19:53 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 11, 2009 9:56:41 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, if 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 Sep 28, 2009 9:44:40 PM PDT
Giuseppe C. says:
I caught the bug from the H2 and decided to move up, going to the Sony PCM50 and the similar, slightly less expensive H4n. After lots of rationalizing, I've had to admit my actual feelings about all three. The Zoom H2 may not be as sensitive and accurate as the H4n or the Sony, but it offers the most pleasing sound to the listener, and the most flattering to the performer. Perhaps the 4-mic pick-up "colors" the sound, but it's definitely for the better. Zoom simply created an instant classic with the affordable H2. I'm trying to sell the others I invested in and look at the forthcoming Zoom with video.

Posted on Feb 2, 2011 3:31:56 PM PST
Karen Joy says:
What a comprehensive review - thanks ! Very helpful.

Posted on Sep 4, 2011 11:00:35 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 4, 2011 11:05:15 AM PDT
Doc says:
I was interested in the note that implied that the H4n would charge/recharge NiMH batteries while they are installed in the recorder. The manual says that it does not, and my testing confirms that the manual is correct.

On the other hand, the input channels have some features that I was not aware of: The XLR inputs have programmable phantom power (none, 24V, or 48V). You can plug in a condenser mic that has it's own phantom power using a TRS plug and it is insensitive to the internal phantom power - so you can use a mic that needs only 24V phantom power via an XLR plug in one channel and another mic with internal (battery powered) 48V phantom power with a TRS plug on the other and both channels will operate properly. You can also plug in a dynamic mic with a regular 1/4" phone plug in combination with either of the two choices above and it also seems to work.
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