Zoom H4 Review

Discussion in 'Musicians' started by nickeax, Jun 15, 2008.

  1. nickeax

    nickeax (Banned or Deleted)

    Dec 30, 2006

    For a street value of about $AU430.00, you get HEAPS!
    I’d read in a couple of places that the Zoom H4 Handy Recorder was not so handy when it came
    to learning to navigate it’s menus. After spending about an hour with the unit that I picked
    up this afternoon, I am wondering how anyone could have trouble with it! The user interface
    is certainly one of it’s strong points, in my opinion.

    Firsts, let’s hear some examples! The below recordings were captured at 44.1KHz and 24bit mode,
    using the built in mics. The filenames describe the subject matter:



    I’ll describe the process I undertook to achieve these samples latter in the review.

    It’s simple, elegant and there’s virtually no learning curve, apart from learning the functions
    of two buttons…!
    I thought that was an important point to make at the beginning of my short review, because
    unless you agree with those who found navigation to be a pain, or non intuitive, I reckon
    you’re on a winner here.

    For a street value of about $AU430.00, you get HEAPS!
    Now that ‘heaps’ is including some things that you may never use. For instance, the H4 has
    what it calls, ‘mic modeling’, and from what I can hear, it’s just a creative use of equalisation.
    You cannot expect this device to offer the audio characteristics of an AKG C414 (a renowned
    and very pricey studio mic)! But the mic modeling has a very good use. Signal processing is
    not available on the unit itself, unless it’s applied as the signal is being recorded. So
    if your location is not providing the stellar audio qualities that you demand, you can try
    dialling in some mic modeling as a form of onsite equalisation. Very handy. Below are some

    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/micModels/u87.mp3 35Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/micModels/sm57.mp3 31Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/micModels/md421.mp3 31Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/micModels/c414.mp3 35Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/micModels/noModeling.mp3 36Kb

    What do you get?
    Everything you need! As you can see from in the following images, straight out of the box,
    you get all the items necessary to begin recording. Well, you don’t get batteries, but there’s
    a wall-wart. You get the wind-shield (essential for outdoor work), a nice draw string bag,
    a USB cable, a 512Mb SD card and a rack to strap the H4 into for mounting onto a standard
    camera/camcorder stand. For a street value of about $AU430.00, you get HEAPS!

    Here’s some piccies of what’s in the box:

    The XY 90 Degree Pair of condenser mics atop the H4

    External Inputs

    Mounting Jigger

    Left side, showing headphones jack, line out, USB and on/off switch

    Scale shot

    SD card and battery bay

    SD card and battery bay

    Right side, showing gain selector switches and the JOG DIAL widget

    Mounted on a regular camera tripod, once in the holder

    With the wind shield affixed

    Paces, and getting put through them…
    I lied about there being only two buttons to learn, but the other four are so obvious and have
    their dual functions clearly labelled, so I can’t see any confusion there. So let’s get down
    to how the unit is actually used.
    First of all, there are two main modes. Stereo and Four Track. Stereo is for producing stereo
    files from either the top mounted 90 degrees opposed condenser mics , or by plugging an external
    source into one or both of the bottom mounted, dual function jacks. The jacks can accept
    standard XLR mic plugs, or quarter inch phono plugs. Making your first recording is as simple
    as pressing REC to arm the device and check levels, then pressing REC once more to begin the
    recording. Pressing the central MENU button on its top side (Pause/Play) or the REC button
    (Oops… That’s another button!) once more will end the recording. Your file will be automatically
    saved to the supplied SD card with an auto-generated name. Subsequent recordings are named
    with an ascending number appended.

    Recording and settings:
    Looking at the front of the H4, I could clearly see that the buttons numbered one to four could
    be used for quick selection of the desired recording format. Button four is for MP3, button
    three selects 44.1KHz, pressing button two will place you in 48KHz mode and button one is
    for the pristine realm of 96KHz recording. Selecting the bit depth for your recording involves
    some menu drilling. But not much, because as I mentioned, setting settings is a breeze on
    the H4. All of the settings are controlled by the central MENU button and the right hand side
    mounted JOG-DIAL. I wanted to change the bit depth to 24 from the default 16bit. It was simply
    a matter of pressing the central MENU button, then scrolling with the JOG DIAL until I was
    over RECORDING FORMAT. Pressing the JOG DIAL placed me at the selection screen for RECORDING
    FORMAT. All three available selections can be accessed from this menu. I.E FORMAT, SAMPLE
    and BIT. As with any menu level, you can back out by pressing the central MENU button. Having
    set the RECORDING FORMAT, you may wish to delve a little deeper into the input settings.

    a side note, each available input method has three basic input gain settings, switch-able
    from the right side of the H4. There is one switch for the onboard stereo mics and one each
    for the external input jacks. The settings are simply, Low/Med/High.

    To get more control over the signals you are trying to capture, you can enter the INPUT MENU
    by pressing the lower quadrant of the MENU button. It’s then a matter of scrolling with the
    JOG DIAL to the desired setting. Pressing the JOG DIAL control on the setting pointed to by
    the little arrow, allows you to access any variables for that setting. As always, the MENU
    button backs out of each menu level.

    There is quite an array of input settings!

    SOURCE - Selects either external input, both or the built in XY condenser mics.
    LEVEL - Gives you fine control over the input gain.
    PHANTOM - Not the ghost who walks… It’s for switching the 48volt supply on or off to the external
    inputs. This is a really handy feature.
    MONITOR - On/off. Arming recording turns monitoring on automatically, but setting this to ON
    will keep monitoring on constantly. Monitoring is done through headphones or by running powered
    speakers from the LINE OUT jack.
    AUTO GAIN: With this turned on, the H4 tries to keep the gain setting at an optimum setting
    during recording. Arming recording with the sound source present gives the H4 a chance to
    ‘get ready’ with an appropriate initial gain setting.
    MIC MODEL: Described above. The various mic models apply equalisation to the signal being picked
    up by the top mounted XY stereo pair mics.
    COMP/LIMIT: Inserts a compressor or limiter into the signal chain before it is recorded.
    LO CUT: Is a high pass filter that stops any very low signals getting onto the SD card. I haven’t
    used it yet.
    MONO MIX: I haven’t used this mode, but I imagine it combines the stereo signal from the XY
    mics into a mono signal. Here are some samples, with explanations:

    Four examples of recording an acoustic guitar in the lounge room:
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/acousticGuitar/AGEX1.mp3 79Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/acousticGuitar/AGEX2.mp3 436Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/acousticGuitar/AGEX3.mp3 178Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/acousticGuitar/AGEX4.mp3 250Kb

    Some house hold items:
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/water.mp3 107Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/shake.mp3 57Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/paperHat.mp3 115Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/foil.mp3 76Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/closet.mp3 85Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/beanBags.mp3 122Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/houseItems/bathroom.mp3 34Kb

    Bear in mind, all of the above is for STEREO MODE. The Zoom H4 Handy Recorder has another main
    mode. FOUR TRACK MODE.

    Yep, that’s right. You can record, mix, pan and bounce four individual tracks. There’s a slight
    catch. Recording format must be at 44.1KHz and 16bits. Not a show stopper, as nobody would
    want to use the H4 for a release quality session! But let me take you through my pretend song
    writing session and you’ll see what a great little device this can be when it comes to fleshing
    out ideas.

    First step, enter FOUR TRACK mode. This is done by pressing the MENU button, then scrolling
    appropriately until you are able to click on FOUR TRACK mode with the JOG DIAL thingy. Once
    in four track mode, you need to consider what you’ll be recording, with a fair amount of care.
    Obviously, four tracks is not enough!

    I decided to build up my song with a basic rhythm section. But I had no real plan, other than
    to have fun and learn as I went along. So, I grabbed an electric guitar and plugged it directly
    into INPUT 1 on the base of the H4. I then needed to change the INPUT SETTINGS as described
    above, to allow only input one as the signal source. And the guitar sounded pretty flat an
    bland, so I had a scan through the EFFECTS patches. I won’t list the 50 built in presets,
    because they are all described in the online manual at ZOOM’s website. All effects patches
    are editable and storable, with ten locations for your own creations.

    I settled on ‘Natural Chorus’ for the rhythm guitar part. Pressing the MENU button took me
    back to the main FOUR TRACK screen where I needed to select the track where the guitar would
    be recorded. I pressed button number one a few times until it turned red. This confirmed to
    me that the track was armed. Before I recorded, I set the metronome to 4/4 and 120 beats per
    minute with the default ‘bell’ sound to denote the passing of each bar. I gave myself four
    beats (can be any number required) count in and returned to the main screen. Here’s a snippet
    of my recording:

    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/song/ElecGuitBackingEX1.mp3 149Kb

    Not too bad! Next, I recorded a funky auto-wah lead part. I don’t know why, it just seemed
    like it needed it. Anyway… To do prepare for recording the next track, I pressed button one
    until it turned green. This meant that it was no longer armed and would simply play back.
    An unlit track light means that the track is mutated. Hang on, no.. Muted, that’s it! I wanted
    the lead part to go on track number two, so I pressed button number two until it turned red.
    I also went into the INPUT MENU and dialled up the funky auto-wah effect patch. I edited the
    effect (turned the gain WAY down) and saved the patch over the preset.

    Here’s a portion of the lead guitar track:

    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/song/LeadGuitSoloEX1.mp3 238Kb

    This pattern was the same for the acoustic guitar part and the bass part, except for the bass,
    I used one of the bass effect preset patches, SVT (Ampeg bass amp sim!). I dialled in a little
    bit of drive, because how I damn well like my bass!

    This filled the four tracks. Oh no! Would I have to finish the song without vocals or drums?
    No. I could ‘bounce’ what I had recorded to a stereo file and keep going. From the main screen,
    I simply thumbed the JOG DIAL doover until it’s little arrow cursor rested next to BOUNCE
    at the bottom of the display. Pressing the JOG DIAL allowed me to name my new stereo bounce
    file and execute the bounce. But not so fast! A bounce freezes your mix! JOG DIALing over
    to the MIX icon and thumbing it, allows you to set levels and panning before you make the
    bounce. I was clever, and did this.

    I recorded and bounced my way to a complete production, with drums and two vocal parts. Here
    are some samples of the individual parts. Note the lead vocal has one of the vocal effect
    preset patches applied.

    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/song/LeadVocalEX1.mp3 236Kb
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/song/BassEX1.mp3 234Kb

    Bouncing is easy, but it’s not so easy to get your stereo track back onto some tracks. Obviously,
    you want to replace two of the tracks that you just bounced with the newly bounced stereo
    mix. In order to bring your stereo bounce back into two of the tracks, you need to go to REC
    MODE SELECT and choose ALWAYS NEW as opposed to the only other option, OVER WRITE. Then you
    will need to set two tracks as LINKED TRACKS. This is another sub menu accessed by pressing
    the central MENU button. Once you’ve set either tracks one and two or three and four as a
    linked pair head back to the main FOUR TRACK screen. JOG DIAL your way to the file name on
    the lowest track number of your pair and you will see, by JOG DIALLING, that your stereo bounce
    file appears as one of the files selectable. Awesome! And here, for your extreme delight,
    is my masterpiece:

    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/reviews/zoomh4/audio/song/Baby.mp3 1.78Mb

    That song was completely made using nothing but the Zoom H4 Handy Recorder, with a guitar lead,
    a bass and a guitar. I made the fade out in Audacity.

    The Zoom H4 may also be used as a USB stereo mic, powered by USB. I initially had trouble getting
    it to play nicely with Vista Business 32bit, but after removing the batteries and the power
    adapter, everything worked perfectly once powered solely by USB.

    The overall build quality is very good, but the main MENU button is quite loose. As long as
    it keeps working, it will not bother me, but a firmer feel would be nice. And those things
    are all I could fault the unit on. Really. For the price… You know the rest…

    If you want an affordable, rapid fire field recorder with great versatility and the added bonus
    of multi tracking capabilities, you need look no further than the Zoom H4 Handy Recorder.
    I found it very easy to use and after ten minutes and a few peeks in the manual, I was able
    to do all the tasks you’d ever ask of the H4. Even without USB capability with my OS of choice,
    I simply removed the SD card and slotted it into the card reader on the lappy. All my recordings
    were there in .wav format, ready for use. No proprietary formats here.

    The one task I didn’t perform with the H4 was connecting an external mic and applying the 48volt
    phantom power. I have seen triumphant examples of this elsewhere, so I trust that I will have
    the same success if I ever need to use the unit with a studio mic. I can’t foresee this need
    any time soon though.

    The below song was also made completely on the H4, with the only extras being the instruments used:
    http://www.guitaraustralia.com/FTATR.mp3 5.09MB

    What are you doing? GET ONE!
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2008
  2. hypersonic6

    hypersonic6 Member

    Jun 3, 2002
    listening to ASoT
    nice, the quality really is amazing.
  3. 303

    303 Member

    Jul 2, 2003
    land of acid
    Since these were first released I've wanted one for bootlegging... but now I can't be arsed :o
  4. seb

    seb Member

    Jun 28, 2001
    How long do the batteries last...? in your exp of course
  5. alch

    alch Member

    Oct 9, 2006
    This is so stolen from the tazer idea... speak in to the microphone bitch! ;p *zap*
  6. OP

    nickeax (Banned or Deleted)

    Dec 30, 2006
    With constant use, a set of Duracells lasted for at least two hours. I recorded an English band in February.
  7. 151528

    151528 Member

    Jan 23, 2007
    Hmmmm, of the heavy metal genre? ;)
  8. OP

    nickeax (Banned or Deleted)

    Dec 30, 2006
    Yes! Of the New Wave variety. :)

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