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Hi everyone again!

Today I got my Zoom H4N! You cannot imagine how much I already loved this little miraculous device!!! I had a Sony PCM-D50 which I also loved... But this one, oh really I adore it. I have never seen a device with so many options available like this one!

And so cheap (well not exactly cheap, but cheap for this kind of things!) that you do not worry so much about it!

I can carry it around everywhere! I can plug everything on it (yeah ok eats battery fast! So? I get 10 packs from IKEA for under 2euros...)

Does anyone uses MTR mode though? I just wanted to ask cause my thing is either Stereo or 4CH.

Well I just wanted to share my happiness with you guys that you can understand me! My girlfriend is happy just because I am happy so I wanted someone more to share the joy!

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+1 for your girlfriend being happy that you bought a recorder! –  Olle Sjöström Jul 23 '11 at 20:19
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happy happy joy joy, happy happy joy joy… –  Jay Jennings Jul 24 '11 at 5:59
    
thanks guys! I have used it for some indoor sound effects that you will see soon in my teams first A(AA) title for iOS devices :) –  Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Jul 24 '11 at 22:08
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6 Answers

I just bought mine 2 days ago. Adore it. I've used many before, but this one is MINE!

Ok, there's my little gush; now down to business.

I would like to say, for the record, THE H4n's PREAMPS ARE NOT NOISY. They are absolutely, wonderfully, perfectly fine. Nothing at all wrong with them. In fact, all things considered, I'd say they're pretty diggity dang good.

It is the microphones that produce that low level hiss we all wish wasn't there. They're what are called 'electret' condensers, and are designed to have similar characteristics to powered condenser mics without the need for phantom power.

This kind of microphone is inherently noisy because though they are sonically similar to a normal phantom powered condenser mic, they just don't have the juice to bump up the S/N ratio.

Furthermore, the mics on the PCM-D50 are noisy as all hell too, and same goes for the H1, H2, Olympus, Edirols, and any other model of handheld recorder you can think of. The difference you hear between the D50 and the H4n has to do with tbe built in EQ that the Zoom has put in to compensate for the generally lacklustre (literally) performance of electret mics. You can see it if you look at the frequency response chart, there is a very clear, and very unnatural boost at ~12k that really accentuates the noise in the microphones.

However, this boost also accentuates what most consumers want from their $300 "Pro" recorders, clarity and spatial definition. That is what people want. Hell, that's what I want. I have no problem whatever with having to AudioSuite an EQ or run something through x-noise or RX2 if I can get a clear recording of a cricket chirping or that crazy lady screaming about demons, Donald Trump, and drugs in your mayonnaise.

So please for the love of Murch and Thom, please please PLEASE stop talking about the H4n's 'bad preamps,' you're making babies cry and giving angels indigestion.

Thanks + Hugz

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While I've not used the H4n myself, every time I stare over this chart it makes me not want to buy it: pantherfile.uwm.edu/type/www/audio-reports/RecorderList/…;. Input noise is just too low for my needs (measured at -107dBU, which is pretty damn noisy!). I'm sure it's a nice device, but looking at the measured input noise specs of the D50 for example, the Sony comes close to the low noise level of a Sound Devices 702. Of course specs don't tell the full story about a pre-amp's quality, but noisyness can be measured :) –  Daan Hendriks Jul 24 '11 at 15:16
    
Agree! The H4n is great for recording stuff that's not very quiet. For that, you would have to get more than a single recorder.. I don't think even a PCM-D50 can record quiet outdoor ambiances without there being hiss in it.. –  Olle Sjöström Jul 24 '11 at 16:46
    
I think it's really down to what you want the recorder for. I wanted a recorder that I can have in my bag all the time and take out whenever I want to record something. For this purpose the D50 is perfect, it's a handheld recorder and that's the only thing it does. Generally I record in towns or places where it's not that quiet, so i've not had an issue with any noise. I just don't see the point in having a handheld recorder with all the other functions and connections when, more than likely, it will be in your bag / pocket and you will very rarely plug anything into the XLR's. –  Si Charles Jul 24 '11 at 17:29
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@SiAudio I get the feeling that most people's opinions on this matter come down to the size of their bank account/credit limit, i.e. it's all a question of perspective. To those who find themselves able to buy a 722, a 744, or a 788 (heavens to Betsy), these H4ns are sub-par toys to keep in your bag "just in case." For other people, an H4n is an absolute godsend and becomes the core of their ability to do business. The fact that I can get literally everything I need out of a recorder for >$400 is in every sense of the word a lifesaver. –  g.a.harry Jul 24 '11 at 22:41
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For me, more than likely, it's going to become the center of my kit alongside a couple of affordable preamps, cables, and microphones. It won't live in my bag that I take everywhere, because I can't let it get damaged accidentally. It will live in my kit where I can take the best kind of care of it to make sure that I can continue to make a living... No bitterness intended b.t.w... I'm just at a different stage of the game. –  g.a.harry Jul 24 '11 at 22:47
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Personally, I find it very difficult to like the H4n! The mics are not that good, the preamps are noisy, the quality of materials and the build are questionable. Yes it has a hell of a lot of functions but it's really a "Jack of all trades, master of none" type machine.

I wanted a handheld recorder and looked at all of the models on the market in my price range, and chose the Sony PCM-D50 in the end as it does exactly what I wanted, the mics are great and the preamps are pretty quiet. No, it doesn't have XLR inputs, or multitrack recording function. But it does have excellent build quality and the battery life is phenomenal. If I need multitrack recording I will use a recorder that is designed for that purpose. Sometimes I do need to use other mics but I can just plug in a SD MixPre to the line in and if necessary put in the 20dB pad (another thing that the H4n doesn't have on the 'line' inputs, inline pads are required if plugging in line level signals to the jack sockets.)

A handheld recorder should be a 'master' at being a handheld recorder!

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I just did some recordings of city ambiences, like subway platforms and bus rides and such with an H4n, and it's doing a great job with those kinds of sounds. It's not as good for quiter sounds like general field ambiance or crickets and such...

I often use my Sound Devices 302 as an external mixer and plug my microphones into there. That way I know the signal to noise ratio is the best and that I have great limiting and monitoring capabilities.

MTR mode is good for music only, it's basically an ability to record several takes and mix them together. It's stereo only, I think.. haven't used it that much.

4CH mode is great for FX recording! That way you can get multiple angles at once. Like trains for example :)

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4CH mode? How does the Zoom accept 4 inputs? I'll have to look that up. That makes it 2 times cooler. –  Chris Jul 23 '11 at 5:18
    
@Chris - In 4CH mode the zoom classes the inbuilt mics as two channels and then the combo xlr/jack inputs as another two equalling the four. In this mode however you are limited to a maximum of 24bit 48kHz. I'd have a flick through this post as well if you're looking for info/opinions on the h4n: socialsounddesign.com/questions/3547/zoom-h4n-opinions/… –  Alan Pring Jul 23 '11 at 8:30
    
I don't know but it might work, if you plug something into the mic input on the side, does that count as the internal mics in 4ch mode? –  Olle Sjöström Jul 23 '11 at 9:13
    
Oh right the 2 onboard mics. I already own an H4n and am currently retrofitting a path to bypass the pre's and convert the line level. I used a TASCAM a couple of weeks ago and it felt so plastic compared to the zoom. Plus there were some wierd software glitches. +1 for the Zoom's solidity –  Chris Jul 23 '11 at 18:39
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Yea it's a nifty little device. I carry mine all the time - it's so useful being so small and light without the quality compromise. I get frustrated at how long it takes to boot up though, it's not like a camera that you can just whip out for that 'in the moment' shot.

What are people's thought on the onboard mics? What external mics to you use with it in the field?

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The boot time is dependent on the size of card. If you want it to start up faster put a smaller card in it. –  Iain McGregor Jul 22 '11 at 17:55
    
depends on the size of the card or the write/read speed of the card @Iain? I will try some tests tomorrow with the faster 8gb card from my dslr and tell you! - external mics are fine @AshleyBest for their job, i guess they could have a lot better stereo imaging but thats alright! –  Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Jul 22 '11 at 22:18
    
@Iain - I feel like there's a "That's what she said..." joke in there somewhere. –  g.a.harry Jul 24 '11 at 22:52
    
I finaly tried the H4N with different cards and I don't think that there is a "problematic" start up time here! With the 1gb card that H4N comes with it starts up at around 15-20 secs and it is the same with a 8gb class 6 card. With a 8gb class 10 though it starts at about 3-4 seconds faster! (All cards had some data in them but not full) –  Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Jul 26 '11 at 11:45
    
btw I noticed that on my pre-previous answer I have a mistake, replace "external" with "internal" –  Nikos Chatzigeorgiadis Jul 26 '11 at 11:46
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I bought the recorder and only have one major grievance with it: each different mode is limited with a different bit/sample rate as opposed to them all being able to record up to 24bit 96kHz broadcast wav. It goes like this:

Stereo: max 24bit 96kHz wav
4 Channel: max 24bit 48Khz
wav multitrack: 16bit 44.1kHz wav

As I bought it to get into field recording I was slightly disappointed with the multitrack option being only 16/44.1 as I had hoped this would have allowed me to record a solo mono track using my NTG-2 at 24/96. HOWEVER I improvised a work around: If you want to record 1 or 2 mono tracks using the XLR inputs, record in 'Stereo' mode (24/96) with inputs 1/2 selected and then separate the stereo file into left and right tracks later (I use Snapper to quickly do this) which will produce your two mono tracks e.g. input 1 = left track, input 2 = right track. Not ideal but good for those of us with lower budgets or whom are just getting started.

Also the firmware updates now allow for individual adjustment of the record levels of the mics (e.g. can set mic 1 at rec. lvl 70 and mic 2 at rec. lvl 50) as opposed to this being fixed as the same for both XLR inputs, which it previously was. This makes my little work around above even more viable. When using inputs 1/2 press the button of the input you wish to change then press the rec. lvl button on the side and adjust the level to your liking e.g. press button '1' then press 'up' on the record level on the side - this will only adjust level one and not level 1 and 2 as was the case before the firmware update.

Here's the link for the updates:

http://www.zoom.co.jp/downloads/h4n/software/

When using it with jacked mics I ran into the 1/4 -10dB problem when trying to use a hydrophone with it. I found the levels very quiet and in some cases it was necessary to turn the rec. level up to 100 (when recording stiller water generally) which produces a bad signal to noise ratio. Early days with the hydrophone though so I'll update more on that in the future.

After all that though, I do find it to be a good recorder! I'm just starting out so it's great not to have to spend a load of money to get such flexibility. For around £600 (inc. recorder, mics and accessories) you can get yourself a nice little recording setup capable of stereo ambiences but also of recording sound effects for which I normally use the XLR inputs with my Rode NTG-2 and NT1A

All in all though, for what it is, two thumbs up from me!

note: I've posted this in another h4n post but thought it important to share my knowledge and experience with it, so everyone can get the best use out of it. The other post is here: http://socialsounddesign.com/questions/3547/zoom-h4n-opinions/

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The signal to noise ratio is the reason I use a mixer instead of the built-in inputs. It's a bit more expensive yeah, but it beats noisy recordings. You could buy the Sound Devices Premix, it's extremely affordable –  Olle Sjöström Jul 23 '11 at 11:24
    
@Olle Sjöström I'm assuming you mean the SD MixPre? I've seen some people mention that, could be a future investment. So I'm assuming your signal chain goes something like: source>mics>MixPre>H4n via XLR? Does it do a lot to clean up the signal? –  Alan Pring Jul 23 '11 at 13:37
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@Alan Pring, yeah that's my signal chain exactly, but I use the SD 302 mixer. The thing with H4n is that you need to pad the input level from your mixer like -30dB or something, but the Sound Devices mixers can attenuate the output levels straight from the mixer so no need for pads! And yeah it does put the noise down because you can turn the rec level on the H4n down greatly. –  Olle Sjöström Jul 23 '11 at 17:21
    
@Olle Sjöström brilliant, cheers for the advice man, will definitely look into that! –  Alan Pring Jul 23 '11 at 18:02
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Just on the '10 batteries for 2 Euro' thing — consider getting rechargeable batteries. They'll cost you less in the long run and are much better for the environment.

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Actually, my experience is that economically there's no real difference. You have to take in consideration that it's extra work having to charge the batteries, and you'll need at least 3x the batteries the device requires. So let's say you have a 302 mixer and h4n recorder + 2 EW100 transmitter/reciever systems you're up to 13 batteries. So you'll need like 40 rechargeable batteries to be safe. And two chargers... in Sweden anyway, there's no economical advantage in the long run I'm afraid... –  Olle Sjöström Jul 23 '11 at 11:21
    
But ecologically I agree :) –  Olle Sjöström Jul 23 '11 at 11:21
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