I use a Zoom H4n and when I'm recording something that is quiet I get a lot of hiss. The room is good acoustically with no interfering sounds I don't know why it happens. I have used various cables into my Rode NTG-2 but there was no difference. Would getting a pre-amp before it goes into the H4n, reduce the hiss?


  • can you give us a little more info into what your budget is and what type of recording you're trying to do? thx!
    – Rene
    Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 14:32
  • @Rene - I'm pretty open to suggestions on pre-amps so no real budget as I don't know where a 'decent' one would start. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 12:52
  • 1
    "Zoom H4n and when I'm recording something that is quiet I get a lot of hiss" ... welcome to the H4n my friend ;) Commented May 9, 2013 at 20:50

4 Answers 4


Yeah, the Zoom doesn't do too well with quiet sources. A good preamp before it would definitely help out a lot. It would allow you to hit the recorder much harder and allow for much better gain staging.

However, the Rode NTG-2 isn't know for being all that quiet either...

How quiet are you talking about?

  • Foley sounds, mostly coat movements I have to push the H4n to around 90% input on the NTG-2 to get a steady -6dB level. This creates a lot of hiss as you can imagine. Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 12:54
  • -6dB? why do you need it so hot?
    – georgi
    Commented May 10, 2013 at 11:18

Yes, a separate (better) pre-amp would help. Most of the handheld recorders that are out there are designed for recording loud sound sources; concerts and the like. So, the amount of available gain and noise floor are not comparable to the higher quality pre-amps in professional recorders.

The only exception to this seems to be the Sony handhelds; PCM-D50/D1 definitely, but I'm not sure about the PCM-M10. Of course, the downside with those units is that they don't have XLR inputs.

  • @Shaun, the XLR inputs are must for me I will look for a decent pre-amps, do you recommend any in particular? Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 13:58
  • @Adrian - are you looking for something portable? @Sepulchra is probably a better person to speak with regarding pre-amps, because I personally don't know of any decent ones that cost less than double what the H4 does. maybe you can find a used shure fp32 or fp33 on ebay, or a sound devices mixpre. Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 14:14
  • @Shaun The Sony PCM-D50 has a break out cable component you can get for it that gives you XLR. Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 8:33
  • @Syndicate Synthetique - good to know. i only ever use it for quick on the spot recordings. my assumption is that it must be unbalanced though, since the port is designed for Sony's little camera mount stereo electret mic. so, that's something to keep in mind for anyone who might be thinking of purchasing and using it with XLR's. i'll stick with my 744t for using better mics. ;) Commented Feb 17, 2011 at 12:44
  • The Marantz PMD661, although more expensive than a Zoom H4N, is a lot quieter in the input stages. If you already have an H4N however, a good external pre-amp like a Sound Devices unit should improve things dramatically. As for the Sony PCM-D50, you are correct that the 1/8" inputs are unbalanced. Its preamps are pretty good, but you still have to contend with small, fragile unbalanced mic cables and no phantom power. Unless you buy the external preamp accessory for it. I'm not trying to sell anybody anything, but this is one of the main reasons I ended up going with the PMD661.
    – Nathan
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 0:42

I'm not sure if you've found a solution to this problem yet, but even I deal with this same problem with the same gear and at the moment unable to afford new preamps or a good noise-removal software like Izotope RX. One thing I guess I have to do to get the best sound (if EQ isn't an option) is to use Audacity's noise-removal, I was surprised at how well it worked, I always leave 2 seconds of silence before the recording (which I'm following from Ric Viers' SFX Bible) and then import to Audacity, EQ out all the frequencies that aren't present in the sound I want, highlight the silence get the noise profile and then highlight the whole file and apply these settings most of the time:

[Noise Reduction: -24dB] [Sensitivity: 0.00] [Frequency Smoothing:500] [Attack/Decay time:0.00]

Here's an example:


Obviously adjust it if it sounds weird but most of the time I get pretty good results, let me know if you've figured out anything yet :) Also read this article written by Stephen Schutze it helped out quite a bit http://www.stephanschutze.com/noise-reduction.html


Also, I have found that if you plug a very sensitive mic into the xlr instead you get a much lower noise floor. For eg, I used the H4n as an audio interface with an SM58 in the xlr input then i tried my Rode condenser and the noise floor was lower by the amount of the difference in mic sensitivities. It's not convenient, but i guess it supports the theory that a mic pre would do the same thing

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