Zoom H4N Handy Recorder
Oct 2012. Reza Nasseri
The H4N is the next generation of the widely popular Zoom H4, improving on the size of the display and adding a new 4-channel capture mode. Just looking at the unit I was impressed with its solid build, perfectly positioned XY stereo mics, large on-screen display and simple to use interface. This unit is far more flexible than one might think, operating in three modes for stereo, 4-channel surround and multi-track record.
The stereo mics can be adjusted at 90º or 120º, and a mid-side matrix decoder allows for extra spatial dimension during field capture. Two XLR inputs also take Hi-Z ¼” guitar leads so you can plug your guitar bass/ drum machine straight in, and the addition of 24/48V phantom power means any type of mic is compatible with this unit.
The specs on paper are pretty impressive, with up to 24 bit 96 kHz WAV/ 320kbps MP3 recording it records audio as well as a DAW. With 32 bit effects processing and up to 50 types of effects including guitar/ bass amp sim, reverbs, delays, modulation, and compression, so every sound source has a suitable effects chain. All the information is stored on an SD storage card (the unit comes with a 2G card and can go up to 32G), and can be later transferred to computer via USB. When using ‘Stamina Mode’ you get up to 11 hours of continuous recording and even Cubase LE 6 is bundled in should you wish to further edit your masterpieces.
I tested the Zoom H4N in Stereo, 4-Channel and Multi-Track modes to see what it was capable of. I grabbed my acoustic set it to stereo mode, threw on some headphones and played. All you have to do is adjust your headphone level, mic level, hit record + play and you’re off recording a stereo track at 44.1 kHz/ 16 Bit WAV. The quality is nothing short of studio grade and the onboard mics sound amazing if you’re just singing along with an acoustic guitar. This function is perfectly suited to singer/ songwriters that want to capture ideas on the spur of the moment. You can even email your band-mates the MP3’s later. The onboard compressors and low cut were an amazing way of adjusting to different environments ensuring levels are balanced and clipping is absent in noisy places like band rehearsals and concerts.
Activating the 4-Channel was a great way adding extra depth to your field recordings, sounding wonderful on pianos when paired with a couple of close condensers. You can even be use it for capturing a simple drum kit by close miking the kick and snare while using the XY’s for overheads. Multi-Track Record mode was where this unit really shines, and it’s easy to get a little demo together very quickly. Plug a drum machine, bass or guitar and use the onboard amp sims for convincing amp modeling and put together a killer demo in no time.
The Zoom H4N is the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of portable recording, with so many features making it so relevant, for so many situations.