Field Report: Zoom H2

August 1, 2008

Until recently, the idea of a four-channel surround recording on an affordable handheld device was unheard of. In response, Zoom created the Handy Recorder H2. While the Zoom H2 is a musician-friendly device, radio stations that need top-quality audio recordings quickly and efficiently will find the Zoom H2 a valuable tool.

The bluegrass festival

The West Virginia Vandalia Festival is where bluegrass musicians gather “impromptu” to play and sing. I carried the Zoom H2 in my front pocket at the event, anticipating finding a group to record. Sure enough I came across some dueling mandolins. I set the H2 to record in 4-channel surround mode and held it between the mandolin players as they faced each other. The front and rear stereo mics accurately reproduced rich stereo recordings of each mandolin. Atop the H2, two matched stereo microphones are housed in 90-degree cardioid (front mics) and 120-degree cardioid (rear mics) W-XY patterns under a typical microphone screen. A foam windscreen is included. The rear mics are well-suited for sources where a wider stereo range is needed, such as audiences or singing groups. The front mics have a tighter pattern, which complements small groups or vocalists.

Performance at a glance
Compact size
Multiple channel settings
Front and rear W-XY stereo cardioid mic patterns
External mic and line inputs
USB file transfer and SD card storage
Up to 24bit 96kHz sampling rate
Flexible AGC
Chromatic tuner and metronome
Windows XP and Vista and Mac OS X compatible

I also came across a bluegrass group under a tree rehearsing. Three vocalists, two guitars, two mandolins, a banjo and a stand-up bass began picking and grinning while I stood about 10' away. The front mics responded surprisingly well to the stand-up bass, while clearly reproducing all the instruments and vocalists. The rear mic pair reproduced the audience of 50 nicely. The wallet-sized H2 performed equally to a multi-microphone live recording session.

The Zoom H2 is powered by two AA batteries or a supplied 9Vdc power supply. It is packaged with a desktop stand and a mic stand adaptor. The H2 comes with a 512MB SD memory card, which can provide more than 1,000 minutes of recording (64kbp/s stereo MP3) depending on the format selected. It will also accept a 16GB SDHC card. Earbuds, a USB cable and stereo Y-cable are also supplied for in-ear monitoring, file transfer to PC or Mac, and stereo line-level recording respectively.

Under the hood

The Zoom H2 has seven front-panel buttons located below the backlit display screen. Power, volume and mic gain switches are on the sides of the unit, along with jacks for phones/line out, power supply, external mic, line in and USB. The display screen indicates remaining and elapsed time, level meters, battery status and the name of the file being recorded. By simply pressing the record button twice, the unit records per the users' preference either a stereo track using the rear or front mics, or a stereo track using a combination of all four mics. The unit will also record in mono. When the H2 is set to 4-channel surround, two separate stereo tracks are created. The two tracks can then be combined using non-linear editing software and mixed accordingly. The H2 uses USB connectivity for file transfer to PC or Mac, or the SD card can be removed and placed in a card reader. The H2 can also act as a real-time USB audio interface for PC or Mac. Monitoring recording levels and playback is done via the headphone jack.

A mono or stereo external mic and a stereo line level device can be plugged in to the H2, which will deactivate the internal mics. The mic gain can be adjusted via a switch on the side of the H2. When AGC (automatic gain control) is selected, the mic gain switch is bypassed. The H2 is equipped with two AGC settings, three compressor settings and three limiter settings.


The H2 is initially set from the factory to record stereo 16-bit 44.1kHz WAV files. Of course, the H2 will record file types ranging from 64kb/s MP3 to 24-bit 96kHz WAV. Files within the H2 can be renamed, deleted, split, normalized or converted from WAV to MP3. BWF (broadcast wave format) files are created by the H2. For example, cue points created by hitting the play button during record on the H2 are BWF compatible, meaning most editing software used by broadcasters will recognize the cue point. This allows for easy indexing during editing.

By pressing the menu button on the front panel, low cut, record format, AGC, file menu, monitor, 3D-panning, pre record and auto record are some of the features readily available. 3D-panning lets the user adjust the balance between the four mics while in 4-channel surround mode. The H2 has a two second pre record function that helps remedy a slow finger when pushing the record button. Auto record can be set to begin and stop recording when levels reach a prescribed threshold for unmanned operation.

The Zoom H2 is equipped with a chromatic tuner and a metronome. These features are excellent for musicians who want to record themselves with pitch and tempo in mind. The metronome is monitored via the headphone/line out jack on the H2.

For radio stations that make a habit of capturing ambient audience sounds, live music performances, news conferences or any other audio where sources come from all around, the Zoom H2 facilitates these needs with perfection. The two top-quality cardioid microphone pairs, all housed in the ultra compact H2 body capture clean, transparent genuine audio. The W-XY phasing is perfect, eliminating phase cancellation concerns and effects. The H2 is easy on batteries, and with a 2GB card in 4-channel surround mode (16bit at 44.1kHz), will record for 96 minutes. The H2 easily interfaces with Windows XP and Vista, and Mac OS X or later. In addition to capturing musicians and other ambient sources, consider a simple interview: No more passing a handheld mic back and forth. Set the Zoom H2 between interviewer and interviewee, and away you go.


Wygal is the programmer, engineer and Web designer for WRVL in Lynchburg, VA.

Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.

These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.

It is the responsibility of Radio magazine to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by Radio magazine.

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