I recently bought a Zoom H2 and I'm trying to record my acoustic guitar at home. I followed the manual to set it up so the level never goes over 0db (in case you're familiar with the H2, I put the gain button in the middle and set the level to 100) and yesterday I recorded a few tests with the guitar about 50cm from it (I was playing and singing at the same time). I didn't use any effects (like compressor and limiter) from the H2.

The sound quality is great, but the volume from my recording is low when I play them in my computer, specially if I compare it to MP3s from acoustic songs. Is that normal? I tried to import the WAV file into Garageband and add a compressor/equalizer, but then I started getting some clipping, and I still think the volume is low.

What can I do to bring the levels to the same as the commercial songs I play on my computer? Is there anything I'm missing here?

2 Answers 2


If your recording levels peak at around -3dB to -6dB then there is nothing wrong at all with the recording level you are setting on the Zoom H2. The reason your recording sounds quiet compared to commercial recordings is that they have been compressed, often heavily, in order for them to sound as loud as possible, but usually sacrificing a lot in terms of dynamic range. Read up on loudness wars if you are interested in this topic. Also here is a great video explaining the implications of the loudness war.

In short, when recording, you want to get as loud a signal as you can without clipping, so the peaks would normally be around -3dB. After recording, you can normalise the sound to increase it to the maximum level it can go without reducing its dynamic range, or apply compression and limiter effects to greatly increase the perceived loudness but at the expense of reducing dynamic range. A mastering limiter plugin such as Voxengo Elephant will help you do this.

  • Great answer.. In my experience with the Zoom, most of the time, just normalizing helps quite a bit.. :)
    – notthetup
    May 22, 2011 at 9:32
  • Thanks for the tips. I'll read more on the subject and make some tests here to better compare my recordings with commercial ones, but it's great to understand why this happens.
    – Rodrigo Sieiro
    May 23, 2011 at 21:30

The Zoom H2 has a "Normalize" function in its file menu. Use it for normalizing the volume.

Some caveats: since this causes a renormalization, it introduces a tiny amount of quantization noise. Irrelevant in 24bit modes, possibly relevant when done multiple times in 16bit mode. It's less of a "last-step" measure than audio compression (MP3) or volume compression/limiting, but something to keep in mind.

To make normalization effective, you don't want to have any clicks/rattle or other high-peaked noise in your recording. So first cut off any leading or trailing parts with clicking/rumbling noises (usually from setting up your equipment and walking around and setting down your instrument).

Note that this includes the clapperboard noise (or its replacement, likely hand-claps) used for synchronizing various sound tracks to a video. So if you are doing video editing, first synchronize your tracks, then cut off the clapperboard pieces, then normalize the audio as final editing step.

So the Zoom's builtin file normalization is only useful if you don't do any further editing/combining and if the actual peaks are not going to end up in material you plan on still removing.

So make yourself acquainted with the "Split" and "Delete" functions of the Zoom as well as the "Normalize" function if you are planning to use the latter to best effect.

The Zoom fares not too bad in those departments, but it still is somewhat fiddly to do stuff like editing on the Zoom itself, and the life time of its controls is probably limited. So if you do find yourself cutting off clicks, noises, rustling frequently, going to the pain of learning some audio editing program on your computer is likely to end up making better value of your time as well as the life time of the Zoom.

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