Zoom H4 - Long term review / mini tutorial

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by SGNick, May 22, 2008.

  1. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    I've had a Zoom H4 since January, and I thought enough time had gone by for me to be able to put together a decent review, as well as helping others figure out little tips and tricks on how to use them.

    I'll start with a basic description.

    The Zoom H4 is a portable recording device. It features 2 built in microphones arranged in an XY Pattern, as well as 2 input jacks to be used with either XLR or 1/4" jacks. It features phantom power if you need it in variable voltage depending on your needs and has 2 different modes. Stereo, and 4 track.

    I'll start by reviewing the Stereo mode.
    What strikes me as cool is that you can control the quality of the recording. You can either record directly to mp3 (bit rate is selectable, from 128 - 320 I believe) or to wave. The wave recordings settings are 44.1k, 48k, and 96k. I've never had any use to record in 48 or 96, but the option is there if you need it!

    The Good Features of Stereo mode:
    Ease of Use. Once you have everything set, you hit the record button once, then you hit it again. The compressor and limiter are also very useful effects I use often. I won't go into many details, but you get the idea. The stereo mode also features microphone simulators, from the SM57 to a Neuman U47, but I never use them. They sound ok, but I can't imagine them sounding much like the real thing. Also has a metronome built in.

    The Bad Features of Stereo mode:
    I was optimistic when I saw the auto-gain feature. In fact, I use it when I'm setting levels. However, you're going to want to turn it off when you start recording because it has a tendency to create a strange pulsating sound throughout the recording that sound rather awful. I was told that this is because it scans continuously, either way, I don't like it.

    Here is a demo of the H4 used in stereo mode to record a band. The H4 was just placed on the guitar case on the floor, levels set, buttons mashed and off it went. I hope we won't get judged based on this one crappy clip!

    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=758446&songID=6190550

    I'll talk a bit about 4 track mode, this is the one I use the most.
    The Good features:
    When recording a band, you can use a little trick I just picked up on not long ago. you can stereo link 2 channels (1&2 or 3&4). This allows either each mic to record to a channel, or each input to record to a channel. This is fun for recording drums in stereo and then adding all the mono instruments on top of that, or to record a basic track in stereo and overdub vocals.
    Each of the 4 tracks features 4 "virtual tracks" so you can record 4 takes of each track and select which one you enjoy the most. Personally I use that feature for something else, but I'll talk about that a bit later.
    4 track mode also features plenty of preset effects and preamps which sound decent, I use them to record quick demos and the sound is decent. In fact, I have a clip here where I used nothing but the built in preamps. For a built in module, I think it sounds decent, you can at least get a good idea of the sound you'd be going for once you record for real. I still often use the built in preamps for recording bass.

    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=758446&songID=6135198

    Now, here's the same song, recorded with the mics in 4 track mode, with all mixing done on the H4 itself. I find the first track gave a good idea of how the mics would sound. Of course, there's only so much you can do when you can't set an amp properly...

    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=758446&songID=6253893
    The 4 track mode also features a tuner and a metronome.

    4 track bad features : The tuner is not very accurate at all. it will get you in the ballpark, but I wouldn't rely on it.
    The mixer that is built in can only handle 4 tracks (duh) and takes forever to use, it's a consequence of the H4's control layout.

    Overall Impression of the Zoom H4:
    For the price, I don't think you'll find a much better device for recording! Someone creative can really do a lot to expand from this simple design, either a mini mixer going into both inputs to record more mics at once, or anything like that. Very portable, with a long battery life. I'd suggest at least a 2gig card. The only real negative thing I can think of is navigating it. It's a bit strange at first to use a small thumbwheel and a clicker with 4 different places to click and all that, but it doesn't take a genius to figure it out. I found that I get the best results when I'm patient, and I am often not patient... Keep a cool head and you'll do fine, take your time to make your time be the best it can be!

    Overall, I give it a THUMBS UP for anyone who either wants to record quick demo's or even complete takes of songs.

    Now for the little tutorial part. This is mostly for people who wish to record in 4 track mode, but record more than 4 tracks.
    First of all, you'll be better of using a metronome, but it's fine if you don't want to, I don't sometimes, it doesn't hurt.


    Ok, so hopefully you have some idea of the song in your head already so we'll start right away assuming you've got the levels set to your liking as well as amp settings.
    The first track you're going to want to record is something all the other takes can EASILY follow. This is usually the drums, or guitar, or bass, it's up to you. One trick I use sometimes is to record myself and an acoustic guitar just strumming the chords and singing a scratch take which I can use to guide other takes until I throw out the scratch take and am left with the good stuff!

    I'll take this song as an example. I recorded a cover of the Beatles "Yes It Is". The song features 1 acoustic guitar, a bass, and a 3 part vocal harmony... well... doesn't take much math to figure that out to be 5 tracks.
    Here's the first technique I use, this one is the scratch track technique, as I call it.

    I started off strumming the chords and humming the words on a take which I would use as a guide for the other takes. Afterwards, I got my headphones out (a good pair helps eliminate beedthrough and stuff!) and recorded just the acoustic guitar onto track 2. This was then followed by vocals on track 3 and 4. At this point is when I got rid of my scratch take and recorded the third vocal. At this point, I had 4 tracks, but I still wanted to record the bass... what is a boy to do? well... using the "virtual tracks" I cleared one of the tracks (I did NOT delete the file mind you, I just took it off of the mixer to free up a track. I then recorded the bass.
    Now, You can't mix this directly on the H4, it can't handle 5 tracks. Which is why I export them to my computer (I have all this stuff organized on my hard drive) and mix using Cubase LE (which conveniently... Comes with the H4!).
    The result after mixing, well mixing is entirely up to you, but I managed to turn it into this using Cubase.

    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=758446&songID=6517029

    The method without the scratch track is exactly the same, only you record something that can easily be followed, and add to that in the same manner. The trick is to not replace a track you need to follow when you record!

    The following was done using the method without the scratch take. first thing recorded was the rhythm guitar. you'll notice the vocals clipping at some point, that's the result of being IMPATIENT! TAKE YOUR TIME!!!!

    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=758446&songID=6242840

    I hope that was at least a bit helpful, If anyone has any questions, concerns, death threats... feel free!
     
  2. orogeny

    orogeny Supporting Member

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    nice job. pulling the trigger on one of these within the hour.
     
  3. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    did you try setting the mic to "medium" instead of "low"?

    I usually get better results when I do this.

    Also, I should note that they have a defect rate of about 0.1%, so don't be too worried about ordering one!
     
  4. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    I should add this as well. They have 3 mic gain settings. low, medium, and high.

    WHen close micing, or speaking and whatnot, I use low, as is suggested. When recording a room, I usually use medium, but with the level turned down a bit. this works well for recording bands from a bit further away. The high is designed for people who want to capture wildlife sounds and the likes.
     
  5. Lution

    Lution Member

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    I've been torn between this H4 and the Tascam DR1. Think I'm probably going to do the DR1.
     
  6. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    It bugged me at first, but it was merely an issue of familiarity. I have absolutely no problem with it anymore.

    I do hope you'll change your mind about sharing clips. Maybe if you posted the clip as well as all your settings (from the input menu) and the gain setting, we might be able to solve a problem instead of create a return!
     
  7. Tonefish

    Tonefish Member

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    Great review SGNick! But this strikes me as being odd, as I understand that the auto gain only functions at the begining when you set your levels, then it stays at that setting when you start recording. Just out of curiosity, who told you that it scans continuously? That would be a bad thing, and one of the reasons I didn't like that on the H2.
     
  8. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    Whoops! Look like you caught me in a mistake! I just tried it and you are indeed right! Press record once, and it will scan and adjust. hit it again, and it keeps that setting!

    I think I realize why it didn't work properly last time. I had the level set to high for the band I was recording, used in conjunction for the limiter. both working together created a strange pulsating noise.

    TONEFISH HAS SHOWN ME THE WAY!
     
  9. Tonefish

    Tonefish Member

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    I LOVE that auto-gain thing! That's why I paid the extra over the H2 (well and that i can use at as a portable recorder with other mics). Cheers!
     
  10. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    I'm having a hard time finding things I don't like about this thing. once you understand the layout, the sky is the limit.
     
  11. Frankenstrat2

    Frankenstrat2 Member

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    I was about to post about the auto-gain. I used my H-4 for live recording since I got it and its a pleasure to use it for 'set-it and forget-it' live capture. Once you get a max level on the auto-gain in standby, you can just hit record and walk away for the night. 2 AA Duracells and a 2 gig SD card set to MP3 are good for 3 sets of live music including the breaks! I think the sound quality of the built-in mics are more than adequate. I did use the U87 model- no complaint. I have recorded big bands with vocals, multiple guitars, bass, drums, keys and even horns. You can hear everything.
    Yes- the interface is a bit unwieldy, and hard to see with middle-aged eyes.
    At the last gig I tried to hook the tripod onto one of those glass racks on the bar over the heads of the patrons. My H-4 took a 3 foot dive into a pint of Lager. LOL.
    Now the LED display is good for a glowing green nightlight, thats about it.
    Its not under warrantee either.
    I called Zoom service. The US distributer is Samson, right here on LI. They charge a minimum advance deposit of $100 for out of warrantee service, and will let me know if it will cost more or less. If its more, I may trash it and go for something even better. But it 'was' a very utilitarian tool for my purposes.
    I was hoping they had a policy similar to HP. When an HP printer dies (and they often do) they do not repair them or sell parts. They sell you a reconditioned one at around 1/2 price and extend the warrantee.
    I'll let you know what Samson says about my tipsy H-4 after they give me the estimate.
     
  12. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

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    Agree on all counts. I was also going to comment on the auto-gain.....much preferable to the "continuous" version on the H2 IMHO. I also tend to use the limiter as a safety net, but never the compressor.

    Otherwise an excellent review by the OP!:AOK The H4 has replaced my D8 DAT w/$1000 DPA mics and is almost as good but much easier to deal with post recording.
     
  13. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I have a Zoom H4 and my wife has a M-Audio MicroTrack. For songwriters or anyone who uses it as an audio notepad, the H4 is no fun at all. The MicroTrack is a clear winner, there’s no contest.

    It keeps track of sequential file numbering even after you clear the flash drive, it gives the files a date and time stamp, and you can easily delete bad takes (for klutzes like me that’s a godsend). The Zoom, on the other hand, has no internal clock so all files have identical creation dates, it re-starts the file numbering from zero every time you clear the flash drive, and deleting bad takes requires stepping through menu after menu, or just leaving them be and wading through them later - which is a huge waste of time.

    I do like that Auto-Gain, tho
     
  14. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    Gonna have to point out a small plot hole in your post. When recording with the H4, you don't need to go back and delete a take that did not work. There is a setting you seemed to have bypassed.

    When in 4 track mode, go into the menu (not the input menu) and scroll down to REC MODE and select it. Yours must be set to "Always New". Mine is set to "overwrite".
    With the H4 in overwrite mode, you don't have to delete the rejected takes if you screw em up. just go back, hit record, and do it again. Very simple, and much easier than going back and deleting a take and re-recording and all that... much simpler.

    When in overwrite mode, one more little thing chances. to start recording, you hit the record button and then you push "play" instead of hitting the record button twice. not sure why they did that.
     
  15. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    As I said, I use it as an audio notepad, so I was talking about recording MP3s one after another. 4-track mode is impractical for what I do.

    Frankly I can't imagine how recording 4 tracks on any menu-driven handheld device would be anything but immensely frustrating, but to each his own.
     
  16. SGNick

    SGNick Member

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    I see what you mean, I use it that way as well, only I do it differently.

    I always use 4 track mode (which is ridiculously easy to use if you can match the 4 buttons to the 4 tracks (I don't know who can't) and I usually do as follows.

    When I get an idea, I use the old acoustic and record a basic track and sketch out ideas on track 1. I then use the 3 other tracks to figure out possible basslines and overdubs with an electric.

    It's really quite simple, but it's to each his own anyways.
     

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