Getting often around for work and always looking for something that would avoid always carrying a studio with me, I bought the Zooms’s H4N microphone/recorder. I found out something much more powerful. Follow me!
What I was expecting
A few years back it was almost impossible to imagine a high-quality portable recording system which could be hand-held, but yet that time has come! Zoom churned out two models of “microphones”: H2N and H4N. In this article we’ll be talking about the H4N model which is the most complete between the two and we’ll be analyzing its abilities. The microphone in reality is a double microphone, meaning that it has got 2 built-in condenser capsules which can record at either 90 degrees (X) and at 120 degrees (Y) by simply moving them around. It’s provided with an accessory which allows you to mount it on a standard stand. When it’s used in this way, it can be considered a good STEREO/MONO microphone (it is possible to set) which we can always bring with us and it’s easy to use. It records on an internal SD card (bundled but even replaceable with a maximum 32GB one) and it can record in different formats, among which are WAV and MP3. It works on batteries (2 AA) or with a bundle power supply. Just like a standard microphone, it can mount a wind sock as well (also provided). The length of a recording depends on the card capacity, but if we’re recording in stereo MP3 at 256 we’ll have over 6 hours with just 1 GB capacity.
What I was not expecting
Let’s get to a more extreme use of our “microphone”. First of all, we realize that there are two additional inputs on the bottom, both balanced and unbalanced. These inputs allow you to use it as a travel sound card, and to record even from external devices, complete with an integrated mixer. Actually it’s multitrack with up to 4 channels or better said 2 external inputs + a built-in microphone. The two microphones can be replaced with an additional external microphone. The balanced inputs (XLR) are phantom powered (controlled via the menu) and this is really something you don’t expect as well. Via the four-channel mixer we can set the volumes, the pan and various functions related to the audio tracks. It’s even possible to make a mixdown for the tracks. As a final step, inside a folder on the SD card, we’ll find all the files we’ve been recording, in chronological order. Otherwise, we can connect the USB hub to a pc and recognize the microphone as an external hard disk. The ability to use it as a USB microphone, which can be predictable but not very common, is convenient for the fact that we don’t need to connect it to external soundcard. This characteristic is no small thing considering the actual usb-mic boom.
What I did not imagine
I had forgotten that Zoom produced effects which are among the best ones on the market. They did not forget to include about fifty of them inside this microphone! Basically we could use the microphone as a multieffect device, choosing an effect and connecting an output to an amplifier. The effects are really good. Besides, it is provided with a tuner featuring different modes and a metronome. And what to say about the chance to use it as a sound card? By connecting it as a USB interface and installing the provided drivers we can run the H4N as a four-track sound card for file transfer and for further editing with our favourite editing software. Actually, I can bring along my studio choosing between 2 balanced/unbalanced inputs + 2 built-in microphones, which are independent as well. 4 mono channels we can work as we like. The latency can be up to 1ms, the quality is excellent thanks to its new ASIO drivers. There is also the possibility to direct-monitor the effect during the recording (or for trying out the effects). The H4N also has some (small) on-board speakers allowing you to use it as a usb source for listening or as a mp3/wav player, in short, really versatile! It’s not lacking a headphone line out. The SPEED function allows you to slow down a track without pitch change, which is very useful in terms of best analyzing a track. Indeed this is not a function that can be compared to professional time-stretching software, this is not the case, but the quality in slowing down a track to 50% and speeding it up to 150% is quite acceptable. It’s not possible to export the result, it’s a function which can only be available for listening while playing. There is also the possibility to add a limiter and a filter for the inputs.
The surprise There is a Steinberg Cubase LE 5 license inside the box!
The price? 300,00-350,00 Euros, well spent, in my opinion.
Given that my overall opinion about this product is rather good, anyway, I have to list, for the record, all the weaknesses which could not be an insignificant detail to someone. There is a light crackling surface noise, probably due to the amplifiers. Of course it is not a studio microphone and that noise can be bearable when it comes to environmental recordings. I personally don’t think it’s that big of a deal unless you really want to use it in studio (but then again, I would not be that sure about it because any preamplifiers let a bit of noise in). The masks are not so immediate to use, but this limit is due to the little space. The integrated software allows the stand-alone use, as, for example, splitting a track, mixing 4 tracks, the mixdown, the automatic mono mix for the microphones, a minimum of equalizing, settings effects, recording volume, format options…It’s is difficult to use from a practical point of view, too uncomfortable. Once you’ve set the recording format and the volume (which has a convenient up and down switch on a side), I forget everything about its presence. Obviously, should I need it, it’s always better to know that I do have it there, but if allowed, I prefer to save my eyes! The microphone can be set for an “auto volume” to choose the proper volume in. It’s not a big deal but you need a 1/8” stereo jack (the headphone-like one) and then go to the sound card via a couple of mono1/4” jack adapters (in case of stereo recordings) or setting the mono mix by the integrated software in order to mix signals for both the two microphones and then go to the sound card with a mono 1/4” jack. Anyway, things can be sorted out although this is not the main use we can do of this device.
SD / SDHC memory card (up to 32 GB) – various recording formats such as WAV and MP3 – Quantization up to 24bit/96kHz – USB 2.0 interface – X/Y stereo microphone (variable 90° or 120°) – 2 preamplifiers for external microphones – 2 external line in can be used combined with the built-in microphones to record 4 tracks simultaneously – Multi-track recording – Instrument line in – mini onboard speaker – Wide LCD screen and intuitive interface – Broadcast Wave Format support – Pre-record and auto-record function – Marker function – Slow playback function for educational purposes – Effects – 50 preamp simulation for guitar and bass – Up to 10 hour life with AA battery – Optional remote control – AA size battery or AC adaptor (provided) – 6 hours of average battery life – Provided with a 2GB SD memory card, a windscreen, external CA adaptor, a mic clip adaptor, a USB cable, a protective case and a Steinberg Cubase LE.
Italian to English translation:Umberto del Giudice