Zoom H4N Portable 24-bit Recorder

Sound On Sound by Matt Houghton

The H4 remains one of the most flexible of the current crop of portable 24-bit recorders, but Zoom have found plenty of room for improvement — and, more importantly, they’ve used it.

Zoom’s H4 digital stereo recorder remains hugely popular and, despite a few reservations, is one of my favourites. With ‘combi’ jack/XLR inputs, 48V phantom power, a coincident stereo pair of mics onboard, and masses of extra functionality (from four-track mixing to guitar effects and a USB audio interface) it’s much more versatile than most recorders, and the sound is good for the price. The H4’s preamps could be better, navigating the menu can be fiddly, the casing might be a bit more robust, and so on, but on balance it’s an excellent portable recorder.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Zoom are continuing to sell the H4, while releasing an improved model that addresses many criticisms made of the earlier model. The H4N comes in at a slightly higher price but, like its sibling, boasts a feature set that makes other recorders look positively lightweight.
The H4N’s body has a thick, rubberised coating, which tackles concerns about handling noise pretty effectively — not to mention making the whole device feel more solid, better weighted, and altogether more ‘professional’. If you do find handling noise an issue, there’s a camera-tripod mounting socket on the rear, and a separate mic-stand adaptor for this. If noise is still a problem, there’s an optional remote control that plugs into the main unit via a mini-jack on the left-hand side panel.
Other striking visual changes include a slightly clearer screen (the one on the H4 was already pretty good) and a new control layout. Gone are the rather fiddly controls of the H4: you now have dedicated transport, input- and track-selection controls on the front panel; and the mystifying two wheel/button menu controls of the H4 have been replaced with a more intuitive system based around one menu button and a single scroll-and-click selection wheel. The track-selection buttons double up to provide shortcut keys for some of the more commonly used functions — folder and file selection, playback speed (yes, you can slow down tracks, without pitch change, to learn your guitar licks), and recording format. The recording level and playback volume settings are controlled by dedicated buttons on the right and left panels respectively. read more...

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