Zoom or not to Zoom?

Zoom or not to Zoom?

Tooty and myself have found Papa Noel has left us some euros this year and we were wondering about buying a Zoom recorder . A friend of ours made an LP with one and we thought of doing something similar . Any one tried to use these machines ? Have you any advice on which machine to buy ? Common pitfalls or know any similar or cheaper or indeed better machines to buy for about the same money. ? ;-)

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I have a Zoom H4 (one of the older silver ones) and the recording quality is just amazing. The stereo mics really are fantastic. I’ve done various concert and session recordings with it and am always amazed at how good the result is. If I was being picky then I would say the resulting audio is warm (that is, it’s slightly bassy and not entirely natural) but to be honest it’s a nice warmth :)

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

Well Dave I have one, the H4n. Cracking device IMO.

As a multi track it’s limited in recording resolution when in multi track mode, not a problem if your mic’ing bass cabs or grundge guitar amps, but limiting for acoustic instruments (which you’ll want to record at the highest possible resolution), still very doable mind.

Basic recorder mode is where it comes into it’s own. You’ve the inbuilt mics giving an adjustable X/Y stereo pair which are good enough for a lot of different recording situations, solo recording through to live/field recording. The H4n also has a pair of XLR’s and balanced line inputs allowing the 2 inbuilt mics and up to 2 external condenser mics to be used simultaneously in straight record mode whilst preserving high record resolution.

Or, the inbuilt mics can be left out allowing either 2 sky’s the limit mics using the zoom inbuilt pre amps to be used, or 2 sky’s the limit mics and a couple of sky’s the limit external pre amps of your choice, the external signal from the pre’s being plumbed into the zoom via the balanced inputs, that would give you as near an industry standard signal path as you’d need, only limited by the external gear.

So as a recorder with some basic external equipment; mic’s pre-amps mic stands and headphones, you could achieve some high end results, I’m sure with a spot of careful recorder (inbuilt mic) placement you could achieve some rather high end results also (by wandering around with your recorder whilst wearing some closed back headphones at rehearsal to find the sweet spots to set your mic placement, it’s even got a usable middle and side decoder onboard, handy if your recording for broadcast as this method of recording preserves mono compatibility important for radio broadcasting).

The girlfriend used it to do her pre production for her solo fiddle album to good effect, with a little more care, time and effort, I think it possible that she could have produced the final recording on the zoom, but I agree with her that it was probably the least stressful move for her to leave the final recording to a professional, the results speak for themselves.

That said, when she was art director of a project last year her producer was drafted in to produce the audio for the show and CD, much of which was recorded on a similar, but older, device. It was the results of this project that turned us on to the zoom and the recent leaps and bounds made in small portable recorders.

When I were a lad, a recorder of this quality and dexterity was unaffordable by mortals. Yes, you could produce a trad album on this, even in multi track mode. Twined with decent software and a computer (eg, logic express etc) you could do all sorts, from upping the sound quality on your youtube vids to producing radio shows, albums etc. Add a little quality external equipment and you could achieve some industry standard results…

But then again, just as a general portable, carry it in your pocket, note pad/sketch pad, it’s a cracking bit of kit just to have access too.

If I were looking at one of these, I’d also budget for a pair of reasonable closed back headphones, a mic stand (to hold the device thus avoiding handling noise when recording) and a couple of largeish memory cards (rather than one big card). I’d also buy a book or two covering basic recording and production methods.

I don’t see many pitfalls for the "want to be" occasional amateur recording musician/engineer or as a handy additional tool for the professional musician/engineer. Great bit of kit I must wrestle back, soon ;~)

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I’ve had a Roland (previously Edirol) R-09HR for several years and rate it highly. It’s small, gives great quality, and very easy to use. If you get the chance, have a look at the Roland as well as the Zoom.

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Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

If you want to record "live" using mics (which is the way I read your question), you will always be better off with good external mics and a cheaper recorder.

The Zoom H4 is difficult to use as the menu is fiendishly complicated and the screen too small.

The Zoom H2 is probably less robust but I’ve heard very good recordings from it’s internal mics.

The Zoom H1 is cheap but little more than a meeting recorder.

The Edirol RO-9 is not well built but produces, in my experience, quite warm and pleasant recordings with it’s internal mics.

The Sony PCM-M10 is the best in class, by a long long way. Superb in all respects. The problem is it costs about £300 in the UK, but if you know someone is the US who is coming across, it is about £150. (The difference is daylight robbery and would probably influence choice, but is still cheaper than an H4).


If you intend using a mixer and the Line In of your recorder, be aware the Zoom H2 cannot handle line levels and needs an external attenuator. I understand the H1 is the same. Both RO-9 and M10 are fine.

As someone stated, you will need suitable audio editing software. Audacity is free.

Hope this helps.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

My experience of Sony kit is that obscure little parts tend to break when the thing is just out of warranty and there is no way to get it fixed, the staff will just laugh at you. Bringing something like that back from the US sounds nuts.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I’ve used the Edirol. the Zoom, and the Olympus LS 10. Of the three I much prefer the Olympus. It’s the most user-friendly, which may not be a criterion for your use. The Tascam looks like the same thing for less than half the price.
You can look up reviews at Amazon under "digital recorder," as well as reviews on other internet review sites.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

The H4n is a different beast to the predecessor; the H4 and at the time of buying, 6 moths ago, was in a category of it’s own regarding spec out stripping the competition by some strip.

The market may have changed now and there maybe new up grades to existing models/makes out there or new rival machines? I don’t know and I can’t be arsed looking, but as of 6 months ago, the H4n was without parallel.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I have a Tascam DR-1 from a couple years ago and I have been very happy with it. I think they are onto newer models now which are cheaper, smaller, and more feature-ful. Might be worth checking out?

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I bought a Zoom and never could get it to communicate with my macbook, no matter what apps I downloaded. So I bought a Sony PC-M10 and am very happy.

In short, make sure whatever you purchase links with whatever computer(s) you’ll be using to edit, etc.

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Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I cannot do a comparison but can tell you that I am very happy with the Zoom H4. I am no techno genius but found the menu system easy enough to navigate.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

"I bought a Zoom and never could get it to communicate with my macbook, no matter what apps I downloaded. So I bought a Sony PC-M10 and am very happy.

In short, make sure whatever you purchase links with whatever computer(s) you’ll be using to edit, etc" Will Harmon

Why would you need it to talk to your mac book? You simply pull the files off via the supplied USB cable and load them up into whatever editor/sequencer you fancy, for a spot of production. Couldn’t be simpler.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

No, my macbook didn’t recognize the Zoom at all. The only device it’s ever pretended didn’t exist, USB’d and all.

The Sony works a treat.

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Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

Likely operator ineptitude….

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Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I have a Tascam and it eats batteries. That’s my only complaint.
It’s only good for about an hour on rechargables. Why can’t they
make these with the same sort of batteries that mobile phones have?

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I did a battery life test on my Zoom H2 a couple of years ago. Going on memory, ordinary AA batteries lasted about 2-1/2 hours before giving up. Fully charged rechargeables lasted about 5 to 6 hours. I believe the reason for the difference is that the voltage curve for the non-rechargeables dips suddenly at about 2-1/2 hours to a critical voltage where the H2’s electronics cease to operate. The rechargeables, although their starting voltage is slightly lower, take a lot longer (5-6 hours) to discharge to that critical voltage - it’s somewhere in the region of 1.1v I think.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

Agree with Trevor. A Zoom H2 will run for about 3 hours or so on top of the range alkalines, more of NiMH; although I wouldn’t want to trust it for 6 hours.

Sony PCM-M10. 40 hours on either alkaline of NiMH! No brainer.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

Just found a web site with both PCM M10 and Zoom H4n at the same price ;-) 256€

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

"Just found a web site with both PCM M10 and Zoom H4n at the same price 256€" bazouki dave

With no external expansion options, IE the opportunity to use outboard equipment mic’s pre’s etc, the Sony is limited in more capability.

The H4n is the better deal, by far, especially at that price, IMO.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

That should read: "the Sony is limited the Sony is limited in capability by comparison"

Silly me, hit the wrong button

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

Are we talking about the same Sony? I’ve used an external mic on mine, no problem. And I paid only $230 USD new.

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Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

Definitely get the H4n if you can. It’s amazing. I have all sorts of digital recorders from DATs to multitrack soundcards, but for when you want to grab a quick idea (the built-in mics are fab) to when you want to plug in external 48v mics, this thing can’t really be beaten on quality / price / convenience.

Re: Zoom or not to Zoom?

I’ve had two H2’s. The sound quality was superb, and I used on Mac and PC. My problem was the front panel buttons died after 6 months on one (replaced by Zoom for free, although it took months) and 8 months on the replacement. This was not abused in any way, and used lightly (1 hour a week plus Catskills Arts Week).