Field Report: Zoom H6

January 24, 2015

Zoom H6 with X-Y and M-S mic capsules

It''s obvious that there is a plethora of handheld, portable audio recorders. Even your handheld device (we used to call them phones) can record audio at a decent quality. So why look at yet another recorder with the Zoom H6? Because this one packs all the expected recording functions into one package, but it adds a variety of input options with multiple mic capsules and input jacks, and allows you to record up to six tracks at once.

At first glance, the recorder by itself looks like many other recorders. It''s about as tall and wide as a smartphone, but much thicker. Still, it fits comfortably in one''s hand. The bright, color display measures about 1.2 x 1.6 inches. It shows the recording status of the six recording channels with record ready, level setting, lo-cut filter, compressor and phantom power (selectable for 12, 24 or 48 volts), as well as the settings for the current storage folder, recording rate ad bit depth, file name, recording counter, storage remaining time and battery level.

The physical controls and connections are logically placed around the recorder. On the face are four level-setting knobs for inputs 1–4, which include pad switches, six record-ready buttons to arm the recording channels and the transport controls. There are two combo XLR/TRS jacks on each side (inputs 1–4). On one side is the power button (with function hold), playback volume, 3.5 mm headphone out and the SD card slot. On the other side is the USB jack (for file transfer and remote power), a menu button and a menu select toggle. On top of the unit is a multi-pin connector to attach the various mic modules. The bottom has a 3.5 mm line out jack, remote control jack and two slots for a hand or camera strap. The underside has the battery compartment, speaker and a threaded tripod mount.

The recorder includes two mic capsules (X-Y and M-S) with a wind screen, four AA batteries, a USB cable, a 2GB SD card, a copy of Cubase LE and the operating manual. This is all housed in a compact plastic case.

There are some optional accessories: A shotgun mic capsule, an external XLR/TRS adapter and an accessory pack that includes a wired remote control, a hairy windscreen and an AC adapter.

Record ... Ready!

Operation is typical for a recorder. I will note that it takes about 20 seconds for the unit to boot and be ready to record. Via the menu, set the various recording parameters for the destination folder, sampling rate, bit depth, the compression (six settings and none are available), the lo-cut filter (selectable from 80Hz to 237Hz in 10 steps) and the recording format. A two-second pre-record can also be set. Once these are set, you''ll probably not need to dive into the menu again.

To record, attach the desired mic or input capsule or plug in a favorite mic, arm the tracks (the buttons show a steady red light), set the recording level and press record. The display has individual level meters to show the recording level of each track. The L/R inputs are locked as a pair. The other four inputs can be left as individual tracks, or can be linked in pairs (1/2 and 3/4) by pressing the 1/2 or 3/4 arming buttons together. As you record, if the level exceeds the maximum level, the bargraph of course shows red, but the arming indicators will flash as well. That''s good visual feedback that''s easy to see while using the unit. When using the L/R input mics, a backup file can be simultaneously recorded at a level 12 dB less than the regular recording. This can save your recording if the audio unexpectedly gets too hot.

To play back, press the menu button, select the folder and the file to hear. The record-ready buttons will light in green to show which tracks have audio recorded on them. To transfer files to a computer, go to the menu and select USB > SD Card Reader. From the computer, there will be folders and subfolders with the recordings. Files will be saved as mono or stereo files depending on the initial record settings.

In the Field

Because of its multitrack capability, the H6 can be used for much more than simply capturing sound bites. With my field recording work I had two specific uses in mind. I have owned a larger Zoom multitrack recorder for several years, and I still use it frequently. But that recorder is larger than the biggest laptop. Some newer models have a smaller footprint, but you sacrifice simultaneous record channels as the size decreases. Having six channels in a handheld unit appealed to me.

In one instance, I recorded a concert band with my own X-Y mic on the ensemble. That has always worked well. But if there is a soloist or an announcer, the X-Y pair doesn''t usually capture enough of them. Rather than set up the large recorder for one or two extra tracks, or run a separate recorder and try to synchronize the files later, the H6 captures it all. I can layer the added track to fill in the final production.

In another case, I recorded a quintet. I also like to use an X-Y on this ensemble, but there are times when one instrument simply overpowers another. With six tracks, I placed a clip-on mic on each instrument to give me the direct sound I needed for a later mixdown.

But what''s the use for radio? How about recording a live band in X-Y and adding crowd mics to give it a richer sound? Or maybe even setting the other four mics in a surround setting? Perhaps you need to record a three- or four-person interview. Put a mic on each speaker rather a single mic in the center. Now you can control each speaker''s level and reduce some of the unwanted noise the silent guests are making.

The H6 has certainly more capability than many traditional stereo recorders, and it offers the additional functions at an affordable price.

Top Five Features:


  • •Multiple mic capsules
  • •Multiple audio input options
  • •Multitrack recording
  • •Compact size
  • •Large, bright display


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