The Zoom H4n is Awesome!
by / / The Studio Guide

A Review Of The Zoom H4n Sound Recorder

One of the most difficult aspects of filming usually boils down to the sound. After all, you can have something that looks as wonderful as you want, but if the sound isn’t good, you’re likely to have some real problems. (on the flip-side of that, sometimes video that looks uninteresting on its own can actually appear startlingly amazing with some great sound).

This is where the Zoom H4n comes in. This baby has incredibly clear sound that will probably startle you at first – it startled us after all. We were initially deciding between this device and the Zoom H2, but after really weighing our choices and looking at the costs, we finally decided on the Zoom H4n.

So what’s so great about the H4n, you ask? It’s hard to know where to begin.

The first thing we noticed right when we took it out of the box was its heavy-duty build. Not only does the Zoom H4n feel heavy in your hands but it’s encased in what I would consider a fairly-protective body of metal and hard plastics. The H2, by comparison, was reviewed as being encased in cheap plastics that probably wouldn’t protect it in a fall. We wouldn’t suggest you drop the H4n, but we would venture to say that a small drop wouldn’t hurt it too much.

The H4n has a built-in microphone that, as far as we’re concerned, simply blows the competition away! Whatever competition that might be. The great thing about the angled mics in the system is that you can utilize them at a 90-degree radius, or at 120-degrees. For an idea on how that sounds, check out the first episode of Common Sense for Dummys’ Audio Podcast, which we recorded on the fly using only this device placed in front of us on a table. Beautiful. But the Zoom H4n goes many steps further: First – it has two XLR jacks in the bottom of the system, which you can set the device to record from as a separate source from its built-in mic or you can join all these sources together to pull from these sources at the same time! Second – you can record in mono, stereo and even in 4 channels – like a 4 track digital recorder! That’s right, the Zoom H4n has a 4 track recorder and mixer setting built directly into the system! (so if you’re a rock band, for instance, don’t hesitate to get one of these bad boys to play around with – you won’t be sorry – you can even play around with some reverb and compression resets built in, in real time)!

Some extra joy – 1. You can plug in a set of headphones (which we recommend over the built-in speaker) to monitor your playback and listen back to what you’ve recorded; 2. The system records data to SD disks (which varying websites that sell the H4n will tell you are limited in sizes, but we’ve used a 16GB SDHC card – which most say you can’t do – with no problem); 3. You can plug a USB cable into the system to pull data; 4. You can get a cabled remote, which we went ahead and purchased once we realized that having it up on a boom made it very difficult to consistently set up and monitor from shot-to-shot; 5. And you can manually set recording levels or set them to auto, (we actually prefer the former).

So far, we’re pleased with battery time. We actually shot for a good full day before we got close to running out of power, and that was without turning on the Stamina setting, which is supposed to make the batteries run for longer by using less juice. We haven’t run that setting yet because we don’t know how it would affect sound, but I can’t imagine it would be too much – we currently record in 16 bit WAV (which is another setting you can change to be up to 24-bit, or lower – like MP3 – if you prefer). As it is, the Zoom H4n comes with an AC Adapter, but we haven’t tested that on-set yet to see if it presents a 60-cycle hum issue.

The standard H4n kit came with an adapter that screws into the system and acts as a microphone base so that you can place your Zoom H4n into a microphone boom or stand just like any other mic. It also came with a Wind Filter that goes over the built-in microphones. We used that once but didn’t have much luck – mainly because it was so windy.

So how does the H4n stand up to all the fun stuff we’re doing? Well, we’ve been using this device since late Summer – early Fall, and though we’ve run into a few sound problems here and there, most of that comes down to us still learning the best ways to capture sound. We would honestly say that it has little to do with the device itself. In fact, it picks up more sound – and much clearer – than the actual shotgun mic we were using before it! It picks up a lot of background sound too, so if you want a clear, distinct sound with no extra noises on your set, make sure it’s deadly quiet! Our favorite thing about this device though is that if you have it hanging over your actors’ heads, pointing directly down at them (as you should) you’re going to get some great sound. We have yet to master it ourselves, but we think we’ll get there. You’ll be able to hear how much of this sounds (after post-production of course) when our Common Sense for Dummys pilot comes out later this year.

We’re also seeing if we can come up with something akin to an automated boom setup that’s mounted on a rolling dolly so that it’s easier to move, hold, and – the most important – utilize when we’re short on man power. If we do that, you’ll be sure to see us blabber about it on here!

We give the Zoom H4n an 8 out of 10, mainly because we never score anything a 10, and we still haven’t discovered all it can do! It’s nonetheless highly recommended! You won’t be disappointed!

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