Friday, December 4, 2009

Messing around with the Zoom H4n...

So, if you've been following my exploits over at that other web site I've been producing, you would know that we just recently acquired a Zoom H4n portable recorder. We were shopping around an inexpensive way to get high quality audio while filming on cameras like the Canon 5D mark 2.
Really we were won over by the stereo phantom powered XLR ports which could be run off of a pair of AA batteries, and we really didn't even consider using the built in stereo mics. While recording some street ambiance however, I decided to try 4 channel mode (which records from both the stereo mics and the XLR's), and was surprised to find that I actually preferred the built in mics to the external I was using.

I know others have already tackled this test more scientifically, but I wanted to get a sense of what this thing could do for a voice over talent, so I put it up against one of my studio's work horse mics the RODE NT1a.
Using an intro from a project we recently produced (apologies in advance 'Surf Patrol', I'm not a VO talent) I recorded myself using the Zoom and the Rode at the same time.

Here are the results:

Rode NT1a:

Zoom H4n:

Now listening between the two myself, I prefer the RODE ever so slightly, but I really do feel the Zoom is a bit more accurate.
For those of you that care about such things, The Zoom was recording straight to SD card at "75" (I'm not really quite sure what their gain metric is, one draw back I suppose) with the mics set to 90 degrees, and using the AC Adapter.
The Rode was plugged into an ART TPS, run through a Mackie board, ending in an M-Audio Fastrack Ultra. I really do think the tubes in the ART add to the slightly more pleasant sound, but detract from the accuracy of the recording.
No other alterations were made to the recordings other than to mix the zoom down to mono (combining both tracks), and converting both files to MP3.

Well, the Zoom has just become my favorite USB mic. Of all time. Really.
I've never liked the Snow Ball, and the AT2020USB is decent, but I usually end up recommending people go with something like the MicPort Pro.

No longer.

The Zoom fulfills ALL criteria for a beginning VO talent, and I say this without hyperbole. It comes with an excellent pair of microphones built in. It can power a pair of microphones when the talent wants to upgrade (we routinely use it to power an MKH416 and C414XLS with EXCELLENT results), and it can also function as a talent's audio interface, even accepting signals from preamps and mixers.
For $300 this little Zoom is easily the most versatile bang for buck anyone could hope for, which makes it even more satisfying that it's versatility does NOT come at the expense of it's quality.

Buy the Zoom H4n from Amazon!

Lastly, I would just like to extend a quick thanks to The Voicecaster in Burbank for allowing me to use their facilities to conduct this test!


  1. You are right, zoom is a bit more accurate.

  2. I thought so.
    I value accuracy more than a "warm" sound, as warmth is harder to mix.
    However for auditioning, I know a lot of talent prefers a "richer" (albeit less accurate and more distorted) sound.

    Thanks for the comment Bingo!

  3. I agree with you. I think that Zoom is more accurate than Rode. You can barely notice the difference, but if you really listen, you'll know which one is more accurate.

  4. I was surprised.
    Usually "accurate" can be a little unpleasant (like my 414 can be on some voices), but the Zoom just sounded a little "thinner" to me.

    Which is closer to how my voice actually sounds in nature...

    Compared to the price of an NT1a alone (let alone separate interfaces, cabling, a preamp, etc), the Zoom is a steal...

  5. Greetings! Did you know that just yesterday I asked on Twitter about portable recorders? I have been looking on-line for one with excellent, no-hiss audio and with MP3 recording capability, USB connection, line in, and a built-in speaker. Your article and the samples you provided have made up my mind! Now, I just need to get Santa to put one in his bag for me. :)

    Thanks so much for the great info, and best wishes for your continued success!

    Karen Commins

  6. Hey Karen! Thanks for dropping by!
    Glad I could help!
    I was really surprised by this little Zoom. I'll definitely be recommending it to more of my clients in the future.

    If you get a chance to play with one, lemme know what you think of it!

  7. Hi. Just going through old comments and thought I'd stop by :D

  8. very useful tips and information i could have got through this post

  9. You've just persuaded me to go for the Zoom, great little review.

  10. can you tell me how to find that "75" setting on the zoom h4n? thanks. ted

  11. It seems to be wonderful to have a "portable micro-studio" as these portable recorders are, to carry them everywhere. Do you know the Tascam DR-100? The price is so close to the h4n. I can't decide.

    Your articles here in the blog are helping me so much. Here in Brazil, we don't have this kind of information. Thank you again.

    1. If I were buying a new unit today I would probably stick with the H4n. I think Tascam has slightly better build quality, better power management, and the new Mark II has a pretty trick remote.

      The H4n has a slight edge for music, it really is a guitar oriented device with chromatic tuner and metronome on board. The jacks are dual purpose XLR and TRS, and the H4n can record in 4-channel using the stereo mics and XLR jacks at the same time.

  12. Man that Zoom H4n sounds nice. Thanks, now I know what to get myself for Christmas!

    1. Glad my comparison helped! Maybe consider buying that H4n through Amazon from one of my affiliate links?

  13. I have the earlier version of the Zoom H4. Despite great
    recording qualities, I think the menu system blows.

    I recently picked up a Marantz PMD661 which has a warmer
    sound than most of the recorders I tested (at least for
    my voice) .. it's great. I have a Zoom H2 (for convenience)
    .. but for recording on camera, I'm not going to spend a
    lifetime synching things so I use a low noise BEACHTEK unit
    relying on the Beachtek pre-amp to give me a nice clear sound
    recording. They are expensive, but they're worth it.

    You've got a new fan of your site. Thanks!

  14. I've only had my H4N for a couple of weeks and am primarilly using it for direct recordings from the L/R output of my Casio PX-350. The result is pristine. I've never had any other to compare this to but I'm very happy with it so far. One of these days I'll read the manual and learn everything I should.
    I want to start using MTR Mode so I can record the Hammond B3 I have in my living room and then adding the Casio Piano to the other two tracks.
    Can you suggest the best location for the Zoom in relation to the Leslie cabinet? I'm using the Zoom's mics. Thanks for all your help.