The Zoom H2N Field Recorder: Now It's Personal
I usually don’t write reviews in first person, but this time it is personal. Currently I am in four projects, three of which are relatively new. With all the new material I’m learning, I want to keep track of what’s what and this is where the Zoom H2N Handy Recorder comes in.
While this unit would be a fine consideration for a journalist or someone looking to record soundscapes, I’m only concerned about how it works for me (remember? It’s personal). So this is a review as it applies to a working musician/songwriter/guitarist.
Looking somewhat like a large diaphragm studio mic, the H2N actually has five capsules hidden under the mesh. Three of these are arranged is a Mid-Side (MS) arrangement that can be adjusted for the amount of stereo spread to middle ration. The other two mics are in a stereo XY configuration. There’s also a 1/8th stereo line in jack on the side of the unit which can be used instead of the XY mics: more on this shortly.
These mics feed the H2N’s digit recorder. SD cards are used as the recorder’s storage device; the unit ships with a 2 gig card and can handle cards with up to a whopping 32 gigs of memory. Using the included card, I was able to record 2 hours of rehearsal in 44.1/16 bit .wav mode. There are six higher .wav modes and a dozen or so lesser MP3 modes which, of course, would yield less or more recording times (respectively).
But in addition to recording in stereo, the H2N has surround modes that allow you to use all of the mics to record front stereo and back stereo both at once. This can be done in either a single stereo mode or two stereo modes at once! If you record in the double stereo mode, you can mix the two files together either onboard the H2N itself internally, or on your computer using the included Steinberg Wavelab LE software.
There are other on-board options, such as a compressor-limiter, lo-cut, auto-gain, as well as a nifty pre-recording mode. This feature captures 2 seconds of audio before the record button is pushed!
But all of this wouldn’t mean a thing if the H2N didn’t sound as good as it does.
With the H2N sitting on the table in front of me, I recorded several songs just guitar and voice. Playing my old beat up Gibson Southerner Jumbo, the H2N captured every nuance nicely. In fact, if the unit’s pre-amp added any color, I liked it. I had never thought of the Gibson having a silky top end (but then I’m rarely in front of this guitar either), but I was amazed at how nice it sounded. Other’s that I played these demos for complimented the guitar’s sound as well.
(Plus the H2N has a built in speaker, so you can listen to check to make sure you’ve captured the performance without headphones. Kids, put those iphones away.)
Given a good sound room to perform in, these recording could have uses beyond mere demos. It would have been cool if the second of the duo stereo tracks could have been used for adding to the original tracks…but hey, that’s what the computer is for. (the H2N can also be used as a USB mic for computer recording)
I’ve also taken the H2N to rehearsal with a few of my bands, one of which plays LOUD. At first I thought I wasn’t going to be able to use the recorder without kicking on the comp/limiter, because I had to turn the gain control all the way to zero. As luck would have it, zero still allows signal through. In spite of the high volume, and even the occasion flash of the peak indicator, I was able to get a distortion free, uncompressed recording.
Plus…by running a line out of the PA system into the line input and setting the H2N in 4 channel mode, I was able to record the vocals into what was the XY portion of the recorder with the full band mic’d live in the MS portion. This allowed me to later mix the vocals at an appropriate volume that was missed (or some might say, overpowered) by the band.
Of course, this brings to mind how I’ll use the recorder when I tape one of my other bands at an upcoming full-production gig: A front of house mix in the direct in, and the built-in mics recording the house.
It’s very rare that I get all I want, and this is no exception. One of the things I wish this unit had is the recording indicator on the top of the unit: it’s on the side and half the time it is on the side that is not facing me. Another thing I would wish for is a metal casing. The plastic body of the H2N doesn’t instill a mindset of roadworthiness without special consideration.
But these minor considerations aside, the H2N delivers all I want in field recorder and a little bit more. And since there are no cables to string and is powered by a pair of AA batteries, the only excuse I have for not capturing a moment, whether songwriting or playing live, is me not turning it on.