Zoom H1 Digital Recorder
I heard about the Zoom H1 before they were available in Australia and decided I would probably purchase one fairly soon after they became available. I have used various Zoom recorders for some years I and still consider them one of the best units you can buy in their price range and beyond their price range. I knew the H1 used the same built in microphones as the H4N and having used the H4N extensively I knew the H1 would be useful.
Initially the unit was very much as I expected it. It is a very small, easily portable device. It is not as robust as the H4N which was disappointing, but for the price this is not entirely unexpected. Zoom have done a very good job of creating a small unit that has only the features it needs and this has one very welcome consequence. The larger units such as the H4 and H4N have a series of features that allow users to capture sounds in different ways as well as adding effects and file management functions. As a result the bootup sequence for these untis is longer than I would prefer. I often have to wait up to 30 seconds from switching on the H4N before I am able to record soemthing, and I have missed recording opertunites in the past because of this delay. The H1 by comparison is a very simple unit and I timed it at under 5 seconds between switching it one and being able to record. This is exactly what I need from a device that I carry everyday in case of unexpected recording opportunities.
The H1 functions in similar ways to other Zoom recorders. It utilises micro SD cards which make files transferring very easy. It is capable of using SD cards up to 32Gb and a single AA battery will last for well over 5 hours. This allows for considerable recording time even at the highest sample rate of 96KHz/24bit.
The Microphones themselves are comparable to the H4N in record quality, but they seem to be more susceptible to outdoor wind noise on this unit. I would always recommend using wind protection whenever recording out doors, but with this unit ia wind jammer is a must have accessory.
Because of the limited functionality of the H1, once switched on it is already in preview mode and the input levels are displayed. This allows for one touch recording which also adds to the ease of capturing unexpected sounds. It would have been nice if they had included a pre-record feature, which would have been possible as this unit does have some on boa5rd memory. I am not sure if such a feature would have increased the boot-up sequence, but it would have made this the perfect unit for capturing surprise sounds
The low price of this unit also makes it ideal for students or beginners who want something to experiment with and do some simple sound recording.
In the Real World
For me the H1 works very well as a device that can be used for unusual situations. Being able to place an entire unit in a small space and know that it can recording continuously for many hours can be extremely useful. It is also small enough that I can carry one with me everywhere more conveniently than its big sister the H4N.
One of the main uses I have had for the H1 since I purchased one is for capturing the sounds of aircraft from within the cockpit while they are flying. This unit is so small that the Pilots I work with can simple place it in a leg pocket and forget it is there. While it will not ever record at the same quality as a more expensive unit being used with high end microphones, the reality is I would never be able to get a larger unit into many of the aircraft that I have recorded, so from that point of view it has become a situation of the H1 or nothing. That is a very simple decision to make.
The following is a recording of a World War 2 Mustang Fighter plane recorded from inside the cockpit during take-off using the H1
Simple to Use
Quick to get recording
Very susceptible to wind noise
Not very durable
The H4N is Zoom's third entry into the hand-held digital recorder market. As the replacement for the H4 it has some issues to overcome, but also a good solid background of a well designed and useful features. Zoom has a reputation for excellent features in low priced units and it appears the H4N will only strengthen this reputation.
After using the H4 for some time I started to wish it had certain features. Although it had 4 track recording it couldn't record on all 4 channels simultaneously, also many new digital recorders have a pre-record function so that once the record mode is active it constantly records a few seconds into memory so that if you hear something and then hit record it will have captured the last few seconds and thus record the sound you just heard. Also as I mentioned in the H4 review I thought that unit just felt too flimsy. Well it appears that the people at Zoom are able to read minds because just about everything I could have wanted as an improvement on the H4 was delivered in the H4N
The H4N looks and feels like the H4's tougher big brother (or sister). Its construction and finish look far more like something you would want to use in the field. It has added a pre-record function, and while it is only 2 seconds this should usually be enough time for you to react to a an opportunistic sound. The feature that I am most pleased with is the simultaneous 4 channel recording. I very quickly adapted to recording on all four channels. Two via the XLR inputs and the other two using the H4N's built in mics. The built in mics are actually every good for a unit in this price range, they do need protection from wind when used outdoors, but generally so do most microphones. A standard slip on fluffy will usually allow these mics to function in normal outdoor conditions. There is an extra input that allows the built in mic channels to be overridden but this is only a stereo min jack input. Including 4 balanced XLR inputs would make the unit very large.
The screen is larger and much better designed than the H4 and the menu systems in general seem to be better designed. My other issue with the H4 was the input level controls. These have been vastly improved upon with the H4N. It is now very easy to alter input levels with a +- step controller on the side of the unit. Another change towards convenience is the access to the SD card is now on the side of the unit so the card can be removed without opening the entire unit.
Operation and sound quality are all excellent for a unit not only in this price range, but also compared to quite a few units of considerably higher cost. Zoom have removed the need for the mounting plate by adding a simple crew thread into the body of the unit itself which was a simple but clever idea. It also has the addition of a built in speaker for monitoring purposes. Personally I never use it as I would always prefer to use headphones, but its there if you need it.
Overall so far this unit has good and obvious improvements on its predecessor. I purchased one almost the day they became available in Australia. I believe the Zoom H4N continues the tradition of Zoom creating a device that has the features of a far more expensive device. In many cases if it were a choice between a Zoom H4N and a more expensive unit, if I had the money for a more expensive unit I would probably buy a second H4N
WAV (Quantization: 16/24bit, Sampling Frequency: 44.1/48/96kHz), MP3 (Bit Rate: 48/56/64/80/96/112/128/160/192/224/256/320kbps/VBR, Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz)
WAV （Quantization: 16/24bit, Sampling Frequency: 44.1/48/96kHz), MP3 (Bit Rate: 32/40/48/56/64/80/96/112/128/160/192/224/256/320kbps/VBR, Sampling Frequency: 44.1/48kHz)
24bit, 128times oversampling
SD memory card (16MB - 2GB), SDHC memory card (4GB - 32GB)
128 x 64pixel, 1.9-inch backlit LCD
2 x XLR-1/4"phone combo Jack
balanced input = 1kΩ balanced / pin 2 hot, unbalanced input = 480kΩ unbalanced
balanced input = -10 to -42dBm, unbalanced input = +2 to -32dBm
Phantom Power Supply:
Built-in Stereo Mic:
Unidirectional condenser microphone (Gain: +7 to +47dB)
External Mic Input:
1/8" stereo phone jack(Plug- in powered,Input impedance: 2kΩ, Input level: -7 to -47dBm)
Phones / Line Output:
1/8" stereo phone jack
Output Load Impedance:
10kΩ or more
Rated Output Level:
Phones Output Level:
20mW + 20mW into 32Ω load
48V, 24V, OFF
Mini-B type (USB2.0 High Speed compatible), Mass Storage Class operation / Audio Interface operation (16bit, 44.1kHz / 48kHz)
AA size (LR6) battery x 2, or AC adaptor (DC5V/1A/center plus)
6 hours (Normal mode), 11 hours (Stamina mode)
70(W) x 156.3(D) x 35(H)mm
280g (without batteries)
After some use the H4N still weighs in with far more features and better quality than many more expensive units. The improved toughness over the H4 is very apparent. I have already had mine fall off the bottom of a moving skateboard and I dropped a very heavy log on it. The log cracked the screen slightly but the unit is still completely functional. I learnt an important lesson on equipment placement, but not at the expense of my equipment. There are very few other devices on the market of any price that could cope with treatment like that.
I am still not entirely happy with the level input function even though it is a big improvment on the H4. The idea of the +- button on the side for incremental changes is fine, and when you are operating in 4 track mode you need to hold down the button for either the inputs or the mics to change them. This all works fine. (and the buttons also act as peak meter indicators which is very clever) Where it falls down is that even though there is a seperate button for both input 1 and input 2 they appear to be slaved togther, so if I have 2 seperate microphones in the two inputs (or frankly even one mic split to two channels) I cannot adjust the levels independantly. This seems not only strange, but completly absurd considering there are seperate buttons. You can kind of simulate different levels between the two inputs by navigating through a menu and setting the pan more to one channel or the other, but the designers at Zoom seem to asume anyone using two inputs will only ever be recording in stereo with identicle mics in identicle positions. I for one almost never use the unit in that way. I use each input for a different type of mic in different positions.
The H4N is otherwise an excellent unit, I have come to carry it with me often even though it is not pocket sized. I still carry my R09 always as an emrgency unit, but I have been so impressed with the quality of the H4N that when practicle I simply walk and carry it in my hand. There is now custom wind covers made for the H4N by a 3rd party company, these are a very good idea for outdoor recording. Check out the review for them under the equipment section.
In the real world
The Zoom H4N has been one of my primary recording devices for well over a year. One of my main motivations in using these devices was to illustrate that it is possible to capture good quality material without having to purchase expensive equipment. Obviously all equipment has its limitations and you do generally get what you pay for, but capturing good recordings is as much about technique and attitude as it is gear selection. If you can capture good sounds with inexpensive gear then you should be able to capture great sounds with the high end equipment.
The advantage of a small unit such as a Zoom H4N is that it can be placed in locations that other equipment wouldn't fit. It is also small enough to carry around for opportunistic recordings.
Simultaneous 4 track recording
Has the features of more expensive units
Input control levels still not perfect
I personally think the speaker is added weight and wasted space
Outside of Japan Zoom is virtually unknown as a company, but their entry into the hand-held digital recorder market is about to change all that. The Zoom H4 is one of the cheapest units on the market and yet it still includes features such as twin balanced XLR inputs, phantom power and multi-track recording functionality. The H4 is going to change the way people think about portable recording.
I was living in Japan when I first saw the Zoom H4, in fact the first one I bought I sent to my brother in England as a birthday present; it was a couple of months later before I picked one up for myself. Initially I was concerned with its size because I already owned an Edirol R09 which was easily pocket sized and the H4 was much too big to carry in my pockets. Also initially when I used the H4 with its built in mics I found them far more susceptible to wind noise the the mics on the R09. Where the H4 really started to come into its own was when I used it for serious recording.
The Zoom H4 has 2 modes of phantom power and so was perfect for using with my Sennheiser MKH60. It completely removed the need for a bulky inline phantom power unit I had been using. It also had balanced XLR inputs which neither the R09 or my old Sony portable DAT recorder had. The increase in quality was sudden and very obvious. After only a couple of recording sessions using the H4 with the MKH60 I realized I had entered a phase of my sound recording. Not only was the H4 a better record than I had previously used, it was also smaller and lighter and made being mobile much easier.
The H4 comes packaged with quite a few useful accessories, the most useful for me was a mounting plate with a screw thread hole to attach the H4 to a camera tripod. Although I did find it interesting that they chose to match the thread on a camera tripod rather than a standard microphone stand size, I later came to appreciate this feature. For a start a camera tripod is much lighter and more compact than a microphone stand so was another plus for mobility. Also I adapted an old broken tripod I had and mounted the attachment head onto the side of my boom pole allowing me to mount the H4 directly onto the boom pole just beneath the microphone mount. This allowed my entire recording setup to be mounted on a single pole. This was so useful and convenient that I still use this exact system 3 years later.
The unit itself can be used as a four track recorder, but only by recording up to two tracks initially and then a further two tracks at a later time. This is not a feature I have ever used. Many small digital units like both the R09 and H4 include a range of software features that I find somewhat pointless. Being able to add reverb and other effects to sounds on board seems to be pointless to me as there is almost endless software available that will serve this same purpose. I would rather a good basic recording unit that does its primary purpose well rather than a bunch of extra features that I suspect few people will use.
The H4 uses SD memory cards for data storage, and depending on what recording rate you are using you can recording significant amounts of data on even a 1 gig card. Available recording formats are 44, 48 and 96 KHz wav file and mp3. I tend to use 48KHz most times unless I am recording sounds with extreme high frequency material such as breaking glass or something similar. The battery life on the H4 is quite good. I use rechargeable batteries and a four gig SD card at 48KHz sample rate will allow about 4-5 hours of recording. The batteries will usually last this long with no issues allowing for continuous recording if needed.
The interface is fairly straight forward although I occasionally have trouble remembering which sub menu contains the functions I am after. When recording with both inputs it is possible to set the input levels separately via a menu system and there is also a 3 stage switch for each channel that allows a rapid drop in input level. I am not sure I like this system as it is very fiddly to adjust in the field.
WAV(Quantization: 16 / 24bit, Sampling frequency: 44.1 / 48 / 96kHz), MP3(Bit rate: 48 / 56 / 64 / 80 / 96 / 112 / 128 / 160 / 192 / 224 / 256 / 320kbps / VBR, Sampling frequency: 44.1kHz) ●Playback Format: WAV(Quantization: 16 / 24bit, Sampling frequency: 44.1 / 48 / 96kHz), MP3(Bit rate: 32 / 40 / 48 / 56 / 64 / 80 / 96 / 112 / 128 / 160 / 192 / 224 / 256 / 320kbps / VBR, Sampling frequency: 44.1 / 48kHz)
5 sounds (Beat: 0/4 - 8/4, 6/8, Tempo: 40.0 - 250.0BPM)
24bit, 128times oversampling
24bit, 128times oversampling
SD memory card (16MB - 2GB), SDHC memory card (4GB - 32GB)
128 x 64 pixel, back lit LCD
2 x XLR-1/4" phone combo Jack
balanced input = 1kΩ balanced / pin 2 hot, Unbalanced input = 480kΩ unbalanced
balanced input = -20/-30/-40dBm, Unbalanced input = -10/-30/-40dBm
Phantom Power Supply:
48V, 24V, OFF
Buit-in Stereo Mic:
Unidirectional condenser microphone (Gain switch: +6/+20/+30dB)
1/8" stereo phone jack (Output load impedance: 10kΩ or more, Rated output level: -10dBm)
1/8" stereo phone jack (Output level: 50mW into 32Ω load)
Mini-B type (USB2.0 Full-speed compatible), Mass Storage Class operation / Audio Interface operation (16bit, 44.1kHz / 48kHz)
AA size (LR6) battery x 2, or Supplied AC adapter AD-0006 (DC9V/300mA/center minus type)
4 hours recording, 4.5 hours playback
70(W) x 152.7(D) x 35(H)mm ●Weight (without batteries): 190g
AC adapter (AD-0006), USB cable, SD memory card (512MB), Wind screen, Tripod adapter
I'm still not happy with how lightweight the H4 feels, but it is really just aesthetic. I have used this unit solidly for many years now and its still working well. General wear and tear have not been an issue as far as performance is concerned. This was my main recording unit and probably still would be if it hadn't been replaced by its successor the H4N (we'll get to that later)
I was lucky enough to buy the H4 in Japan where I paid the equivalent of $250 dollars Australian for it. (about $200 US at the time) When I returned to Australia 18 months later I found they sold for over $700 in Australia, so I guess value for money really depends on where you are buying.
The only disappointment I really had with the H4 was that the built in microphone were a little too sensitive for outdoor use. Apart from that I really consider the H4 to be the herald of the new age of low price digital sound equipment that can allow pretty much anyone to record high quality audio pretty much anywhere. (It may not have been the first, but I think it was the best) Even after purchasing the newer model I still keep this unit in my kit bag and use it any time I need a second unit running. Literally thousands of sounds in The Library were recorded on this unit.
In the real world
As this was one of the first digital recording units I purchased it was the device I used for much of the recordings I captured in Japan. One in particular was a bird that I had been stalking for months. I still do not know what species of bird it was, only that it only came out at night and produced a clean clear whistle call at regular intervals. The H4 allowed me to capture very clear recordings of this bird with very little hiss or unwanted noise. This is often difficult when trying to record sounds in a natural environment as sound sources such as birds and animals can be quite far from your microphone.
On board phantom power
Duel Balanced inputs
Input level controls are fiddly
Feels very plasticy and fragile