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