Zoom H4 mobile recorder

For field recording, sampling, recording practices and performances, video production, and a lot of other purposes, just about everyone wants an ideal digital mobile recorder. If you haven’t been following comments, we’ve had an extended discussion by readers on the Zoom H4 mobile recorder, its upcoming smaller sibling the H2, and competitive devices like Edirol’s R09.

Now, the excellent new blog bleeps has had some hands-on time with the H4 in movie production:
10 reasons a Zoom H4 is handy on a movie set!

Interestingly, the main issue other readers have had with the H4 — difficulty accessing mic level controls — wasn’t really a problem in this application. The basic internal stereo mics did just fine for stereo imaging. And there’s no shortage of uses:

  • Recording primary on-location sound in stereo (even with the built-in mics, though the H4 also has XLRs)
  • On-the-fly foley / sound effects
  • Ambient audio, room tone, etc.
  • On-location audio playback
  • Lots of storage for interviews, extra tracks
  • It’s not a camera.

Be sure to check out the full writeup for more details.

“It’s not a camera” may seem an obvious point, but you might be surprised by how big an issue this is, even on larger productions. Video production staff have a nasty habit of trying to record everything to cameras. That means pricey cameras dedicated to nothing but recording audio, with non-standard batteries (the H4 does AA’s) and extremely limited storage on arcane storage formats. That and, of course, most cameras are lousy audio recorders.

Those of you doing on-location video production, what do you use? Some readers here are using higher-end recorders for audio from Marantz and others. What readers are not doing is fancy SMPTE sync to the cameras, because virtually no productions have the time or interest in fiddling with something like that.

In other news, I bought the bullet and bit an H4 — wait a minute. Reverse that. Anyway, I’ll let you know how it goes; I’ll be using it on location for a couple of things later this week I think you’ll enjoy. More soon.

  • dead_red_eyes


  • richardl

    I've found the Korg MR-1 quite useful for video work. Because of the 1-bit DSD recording technology the recordings can be easily made into 48kHz WAV for syncing with DV or 44.1kHz WAV for mastering to CD without the re-sampling that would be necessary with PCM recordings.

  • eS

    …both the H4 and the R-09 can don 44.1/48 KHz :-/

  • eS

    don=do đŸ˜€

  • Ap



    oh WHY,

    oh WHY…..

    Can't any manufacturer implemet THE most usable feature to any of these bloody lil' handy recorders:

    A possibility to record simultaniously from the stereo line ins AND mix it with the stereo built in mics in sertain ratio. A feature that would be SUPER handy on documenting live gigs. I personally have been waiting for a similarry easy way to records my/our live gigs for years!!!

  • ryan

    I use a Tascam HD-P2 for most of my field recordings, but I've been looking for a small and inexpensive recorder to hit the market for use in places I can't take my full rig.

    For $200 the H2 looks quite nice…

  • Kadmium

    They're pretty nice to use, although they're a little flimsy and I wouldn't recommend trying to use one as an audio interface.

  • Thanks for the mention, i bought the h4 some months ago, i didn't really 'need' it, but as a tool i carry around in my bag it proved useful more than once

  • scott l.

    well, i own one, and i used it for sound design work. it worked fine overall, but there's one serious issue with it (i second that it really can't be used as an audio interface, at least not w/ version 1.0 firmware).

    here's the big issue – when powering a single mic via 48V phantom a slowly changing high pitched whine (between 7-9 Khz) can be clearly percieved in the audio recorded. this occurs whether in 4 track mode or stereo mode, and happens regardless of being powered by AC or battery. i researched it and found info relating to the internal ADC chip as the culprit. note that if connecting two mics via 48V phantom you don't have any issue and you also don't have any issue with phantom off. my unit might be problematic (early firmware) but thought everyone here should know about the potential at any rate. also early firware had issues with recording MP3s at 256kbps, but other biitrates, higher or lower were unaffected.

  • buster

    I've done back to back comparison of recordings and sound quality of the H4 and the M-Audio Microtrack. The Microtrack is ugly, but it's recordings beat the H4 hands down. The H4 definitely has fairly high harmonic distortion.

  • <blockquote cite="difficulty accessing mic level controls — wasn’t really a problem in this application.">

    I certainly wouldn't want to be on a hectic film set trying to record audio into a H4 and having to go through 5 menu steps just to set levels.

    I think getting a good level into these cheaper units is pretty important as they tend to be noisy. I do a lot of location recording and interviews and having a dedicated input control means I can ride the level as I record. But for found sounds when you might only get the one chance to record, you really need to be able to do these things quick.

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  • Tom

    I call my H4 my little buddy. It travels with me almost everywhere. The internal mikes are pretty fine. This tool is very sensitive, so set the external to medium and the internal levels to about 94. The mike emulation can be set to the Zoom default or to some very high end condenser mikes. I mostly save in MP3 at 320kps, stereo. I use rechargeable AA batteries, that last about 4-5 hours. The .wav format is capable of higher resolution, and accordingly takes more storage space. The USB does not push USB 2. to it's max but I have not found that to be a problem. Sweetwater music sells the very top end and they have the H4 on the same page as units selling for much more. I do not use the built in guitar effects nor the four track capabilities. Pleased customer, yes. Anyone seriously considering this unit there are .mp3 and .wav downloads on the web. And granted it probably may not live up to a multi thousand dollar unit. This little unit just empowers me to do quality recording on a small budget and with a very small footprint. No I do not own any shares in Zoom.



  • JollyRogered

    After checking on a taper forum (sorry, can't remember url), I decided the R-09 was a better bet and bought one. Whatever your views of 'taping', these guys know their tools, and the R-09 seems to be by far the most popular choice right now.

    I have also been using R-09's where I work for a couple of months, and everyone here who's used one has commented on how easy they are to use (cf. the H-4's layered menus and you begin to see why this is an issue).

    Sure, there are no xlr's which is a bummer, but I made some recordings with a pair of Soundman binaural mics last weekend at The Big Chill (strictly for evaluation purposes, you understand!) and I'm well pleased.

    (Fwiw, I made a pair of DIY binaurals a little while back, by sticking the capsules from a cheap stereo tie-clip mic (why would anyone make a stereo tie-clip mic!?) into a pair of earphones, and although though the results fell short of the Soundman's quality, they still produced a pretty fine stereo image…)

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  • Mr.Wong

    This is not a device for filmmaking!! You will be billing your client enough to get a professional recording device, by the time you finish trying to sync the media from this device your video.

    is it 100.0348%, or 100.049%or 100.0083% or 100.05%. I have done all the methods and tests to figure out the sync for this device.. I have no hair anymore. I LOVE the idea of it… and a great price point… But for filmmaking look elsewhere

  • Donraphael

    U recently bought a Zoom H4 firmware version V1.0 which I upgraded immediately to version V2.10

    The purpose of the H4 was for me to use it as an extra recording device for video and also as a phantom device in stead of buying a Beachtek.

    Reading the experience of other users who stated the Zoom H4 has a drifting sync which runs up and down I made myself a test. The duration of the test was 30 minutes. Every 5 minutes I clapped my hands to give a mark.

    The configuration was as follows: camcorders Sony FX1 and Sony VX2000, Zoom H4 setting on 48kHz Wave.

    NLE Adobe Premiere V2.0 also setting on 48kHz.

    The soundtrack of the H4 was 5 frames longer than the soundtrack of the Sony camcorders. Not bad at all.

    After putting the start of both soundtracks on sync and shrinking the timebase of the H4 soundtrack to sync with the last mark (clapping hands) the marks in between also were in sync.

    This was for me the proof the sync of the Zoom H4 was steady and not running up and down.

    Zoom H4 great stuff…

    Definitely a device for filmmaking. Maybe the sync problems of other users were caused by the old firmware.