Which Zoom Recorder is Right for You?

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Podcasting? Recording music? Need to get good audio for film? One company has your back in the fight for great-sounding audio everywhere. That company is… Zoom.

However, Zoom makes a lot of tools for recording, and it can be hard to know which tool to get. So, we’re zooming in on some Zoom models to give you Zoomers (and Boomers, and Millennials—but Zoomers fits with the wordplay here, so let’s go with it) a guide. If you’re podcasting, recording music, or capturing film audio, read on to see which Zoom is right for you.

Podcasting

Whichever Zoom you’d get for podcasting would change depending on your set up. For instance, if it’s basically you and a guest—or if it’s you interviewing people in the field—the H5 will work.

Zoom H4n Pro 4-Input / 4-Track Portable Handy Recorder with Onboard X/Y Mic Capsule

The preamps are suitable for a large range of dynamic and condenser microphones. Two combination XLR-1/4" inputs are on hand for your mics. You can record broadcast quality 48 kHz/24-bit audio easily, and engage limiters on the signal to protect against clipping. It also works great as a studio interface and backup recorder.

Sometimes you may need to interview more than one person at a time—you may need to interview two or three people, in any location. If that’s the case, get yourself a complementing EHX-6 attachment; you will always have two additional preamps for microphones.

Zoom EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Combo Input Capsule for H5, H6, and F4 Recorders

Maybe you host a four-person pod, and you sometimes have up to six people on guest spots. If so, go with the H6. For your purposes, it’s basically a scaled-up version of the H5; it gives you four hardwired XLR inputs at a base level, and is expandable to six inputs in total with the EHX-6 attachment. 

Zoom H6 6-Input / 6-Track Portable Handy Recorder with Interchangeable Mic Capsules

Music

First of all, don’t sleep on the H2n if you want an interesting, intimate way of capturing musicians in a room. The H2n is a five-track recorder, one making use of a built-in mic array. With four tracks of recording and various recording modes, the unit can give you a highly immersive stereo recording. So, for example, if you’re recording a great string quartet in a space with a phenomenal acoustics—but you don’t have the budget for a whole bunch of Neumann or Royer microphones—give the H2n a chance.

Zoom H2n 2-Input / 4-Track Portable Handy Recorder with Onboard 5-Mic Array

Now, if you get yourself an H4n, you’ll have more than a recorder. You’ll also have a 4-channel mixer with bounce-down capabilities, an onboard tuner and metronome, and a slew of effects for all your instruments. You use the H4n to record tracks the old-fashioned way—bouncing down multiple channels to two tracks in order to free up space and layer sound. If you’re a fan of this process, the H4n is perfect for you. It also fits into your pocket and goes easily on the road; you can layer arrangements in the backseat while the drummer is driving and hopefully not getting into accidents because, as we all know, all drummers are basically Animal from the Muppets.

Zoom H4n Pro 4-Input / 4-Track Portable Handy Recorder with Onboard X/Y Mic Capsule

If you need to multitrack up to six parts at a time, and don’t want to do that in the studio, the H6 will come in handy. Simply use the onboard X/Y stereo mic as drum overheads, loop kick and snare into two XLR channels, and route bass and guitar in the other two. Overdub vocals, and you’ve got a convenient way to multitrack right there in your pocket.

If you’re recording live shows, concerts, and other events, you only need the stereo X/Y mic of an H4n. But if you’re a more sophisticated live recordist—if your legs have better boots, in other words—you can make use of the H6’s extra channels and multiple capsules to get yourself a recording Jerry would be proud of (just, please only do this in places that welcome recording!).

Film and Viewable Media

Look, you can get away with procuring an H4n and plugging a shotgun mic into it. If you’ve got a four-person scene and need wireless mics, you can make that work with a Zoom H6. And it’s easy to do these things, too.

But I’d like to push you toward the F6 and F8n. These are field mixers that can handle a slew of filmic situations. Both offer timecode sync, which will prolong the sanity of your editor for at least a little while longer. Both have intelligent look-ahead limiters to protect against clipping, to help the ongoing fight against distortion.

Zoom F8n 8-Input / 10-Track Multi-Track Field Recorder

The F6 offers an exciting piece of technology whose implementation is new: 32-bit converters, which basically promise audio free from clipping; the headroom of the 32-bit system is, for real-world purposes, virtually limitless.

Zoom F6 6-Input / 14-Track Multitrack Field Recorder

What does this mean? You can set the level of the mic to catch the intimacy of a softly spoken scene and not worry about distortion when the actor suddenly roars. If you’ve got an Al Pacino, Octavia Spencer, or similar powerhouse on your set, you want to be able to give them room to move through a scene; you don’t want to kneecap their performance, nor make them do different takes at different volumes to accommodate your recorder. So, give the F6 a whirl.

Conclusion

Zoom makes a ton of other things worth checking out—stompbox processors for guitars and basses, personal recorders for note-taking, lectures, and other small use-cases. But we only covered the Handy and Field series here for a reason with impressing.

Zoom B1X Four Bass Multi-Effects Pedal with Expression Pedal

If you want to great-sounding audio, you need tools up to the task. They don’t have to break the bank, but they do need to deliver quality and reliability. Zoom’s Handy series and Field series do exactly that—they deliver the goods on quality and durability. Because of this, they have a solid reputation in the podcasting, radio, tape-syncing, and—more and more—filmic communities.

It’s always better to procure the apposite tool for the gig, rather than replace a stopgap later. Therefore, we hope this list zooms in on a panoply of tools appropriate for many years to come. Have questions? Ask them in the Comments section.

2 Comments

Two questions, I already have a Zoom H4n but am looking at either a Sony A7R IV or A7 III for both photo and video use. Since I have the Zoom, does that mean that I do not have to buy the Sony XLR module and that I can use the attenuation cable in the optional kit to send the output to the microphone jack of the camera and record it on SD as a backup?

Secondly, I know there are devices that allow you to electronically sync some of the larger zoom devices to the camera. Can this be done on the H4n?

Hi Andrew -

You will not have to purchase the SONY XLR module.  Use the attenuating cable and you are good to go.

TENTACLE SYNC

The Zoom H4N has no timecode generator build in (although the files it produces seems to have timecode - but this pseudo timecode that comes from the internal and very imprecise Real Time Clock). Therefore we need to make use of Tentacles Audio-Timecode feature wich makes it possible to record the timecode information onto one unused audio track. The Zoom H4N is capable to record 4 channels simultaneously. These are divided into 2 stereo tracks. One stereo track from the internal microphones and one form the XLR Jacks at the bottom of the device. If you are using the H4N together with Tentacle you are able to record one stereo track with the wanted audio-signal and the other stereo track will be used for recording timecode.

The compact, lightweight Tentacle Sync E Single Set (BH #TETE1)[https://bhpho.to/321zryy] includes a timecode generator, and a downloadable Tentacle Sync Studio software license (macOS). This successor to the Tentacle Sync features Bluetooth setup and monitoring, enabling you to easily view frame-accurate readings on your iOS or Android smartphone device. Use this updatable generator to extend Bluetooth-broadcast timecode to virtually any mobile device. The Sync E also features a locking clamp for its 3.5mm cable, ensuring compatibility with a wide array of devices without the need for an adapter.

The Tentacle E functions as a master clock, or to jam-sync to an external timecode source. Compatible with pro equipment, the Tentacle outputs SMPTE-12M-standard LTC timecode and supports all SMPTE TC rates. The Tentacle E's integrated, high-quality mic enables you to record both timecode and ambient sound simultaneously.

Each Tentacle E TC generator is powered by a built-in LiPo battery with a runtime lasting up to 35 hours. The battery charges via the unit's USB Type-C interface. A handy industrial-strength hook-and-loop surface is built into the back side of the box for secure mounting to your rig.

  • Timecode generator functions as a master clock or can jam-sync devices when used with an external timecode source
  • Bluetooth connectivity for cable-free setup and monitoring, iOS and Android–compatible
  • Includes a Tentacle Sync Studio Software license
  • Supports SMPTE 23.98/24/25/29.97/29.97DF/30 fps TC rates in 12M-standard
  • Connects via 3.5mm mic jack; includes a locking clamp
  • Integrated LiPo battery lasts up to 35 hours
  • Highly accurate with <1 frame/day drift
  • Built-in hook-and-loop surface on the unit's back for attaching to your rig

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