Zoom H4n

November 1, 2009

In an era when our world is computer-based and everything needs to be finished yesterday, we'll invite any opportunity to make our jobs faster and easier. The is a perfect solution when top-level audio must be captured quickly. With every on-board tool needed in today's competitive and high-impact ENG or production environment it is more than capable.

During a recent interview I was asked to record the interviewer and his guest as they strolled around the airplanes at an aviation mechanics training facility. So I took the H4n on its maiden flight. There was nothing intricate about recording the interview material; I simply brought along my favorite condenser shotgun mic and plugged it into one of the two XLR jacks on the bottom. Luckily, the H4n provides 24V and 48V phantom power. I wanted to also capture the ambient noises of machinery and tools used during the interview. Typically, I would have plugged another shotgun mic into another channel on the recorder. However, I wanted a lively, stereo recording of the room noises. Good nat sound was a priority on this project.

Atop the device is a built-in X-Y mic configuration. The mics are switchable between 90- and 120-degree directivity patterns (by rotating the mic elements), which make the reproduction of ambient source sound remarkable. A very accurate stereo image is reproduced without the threat of off-axis anomalies such as phase and delay problems found in typical V-shaped miking techniques. Since the mics are mounted directly to the body, I was careful to handle the unit so as to not record handling noise on the two tracks. The H4n includes a 3.5mm headphone output, so monitoring the handheld shotgun mic and the stereo mic pair was easy.

When the recording was ready for production, one track was the interview material from my shotgun mic, and two tracks were from the built-in stereo mics. Simply dumping the files from the recorder to a folder on my PC via USB was a snap. The file folder configuration is easy to navigate when moving, editing, playing back or deleting files if necessary. With the USB connection in mind (cable included), the H4n can also be used as a USB interface for PC (XP) or Mac (OS X) and it can also make a handy SD card reader. It uses an SD card as the storage format. A 4GB card, for example, will record 68 hours of stereo audio.

The warehouse

In an interview session much like the aforementioned, I recorded another interview with the same shotgun mic, headphones and recorder. The session took place in a warehouse where noisy packaging equipment, large metal doors and forklifts were actively making ambient noise. I wanted to capture natural sound on this project as well and we set aside time to do so. I closely followed the forklifts, stood next to the doors while they opened and shut, and hovered nearby while workers boxed items. All of these sources were piercing and loud and would typically be cause for nervously checking recording levels for peaks and distortion. I applied Limit3 (Studio) and the H4n handled high SPLs and general conversation on the shotgun mic perfectly. Low-cut settings ranging from 80Hz to 237Hz are available for each input and five other compression settings and limiters are available for vocal and instrument recording as needed.

Performance at a glance
1/4”/XLR combo jack inputs with phantom power
3.5mm input
High-quality X-Y built-in stereo mic configuration
Quick recording setup
USB interface
Includes 1GB SD card
File editing and multitrack capabilities
Includes Cubase LE4 editing software
Records MP3 and WAV files
Powered by two AA batteries

Recently, I placed the H4n in front of a guitarist and vocalist each at separate times. From 6' away, the stereo reproduction of the guitar was accurate and especially transparent. The recording of the vocalist was accurate as well. One may assume that an expensive microphone should be used with the H4n, but the built-in stereo X-Y configuration mounted on the unit is deathly accurate.

All in one

The comes with a 152-page manual covering endless applications explaining where and how the unit can be used, especially for musicians who need metronome, chromatic tuners, simultaneous multitrack recording and playback and track bouncing. A resourceful producer may find a need for these musical features. However, for now we'll focus on the absolutely necessary functions. A 3.5mm jack is located on the back for an external stereo mic. On the bottom of the unit are two XLR and ¼” combo jacks for mics and instruments plus the jack for the supplied power supply. The left panel facilitates a wired remote control (not included) 3.5mm headphone and/or stereo line output, output volume control, USB jack and power switch. The right panel includes a slot for the SD card, record level control, menu button and the menu toggle dial. The front panel is home to the LCD menu screen, transport buttons, input select buttons and four buttons that double as track select or menu navigation buttons. The H4n is highly menu driven. Within minutes however, the user finds the menu and its submenus easy to navigate.

The recorder operates in stereo, four-channel (4CH) and multitrack (MTR) modes. In stereo mode, the built-in stereo mics, an external stereo mic or the XLR/¼” combo inputs are recorded to two tracks. In four-channel mode, four tracks of any combination are recorded. In multitrack mode, the H4n acts as a mulitrack recorder, using a built-in menu-driven mixer with pan, level and other common mixing capabilities stored with the multitrack files in the folder archive. Available recording formats range from 48kb/s to 320kb/s or VBR MP3 files to 96kHz/24-bit WAV files in stereo mode. It will record at resolutions up to 48kHz/24-bit in four-channel mode. Of course, it will make mono recordings as well.


The H4n uses two AA-batteries. The battery compartment is on the back and inside the compartment is a stamina switch. Stamina mode tells the device to conserve battery power by using the orange backlight and other display and recording features more economically. The unit is packaged with a microphone stand adapter, wind screen for the built-in mics, a 1GB SD card, USB cable, ac adapter and a clear carrying case. A Cubase LE4 DVD comes standard as well so editing can happen immediately on a PC or Mac. Information about how to create surround recordings using the H4n and other Zoom products is also available online.

Wygal is the programmer, engineer and Web designer for Liberty University 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.

Performance at a glance

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