We’ve been watching Zoom’s upcoming, unannounced $199 H2 recorder, seen at NAMM. The H2 has the advantage of price and flexible mic patterns for its built-in mic. But its shipping, larger sibling, the $299 H4, may be a better choice, depending on your needs. The H4 has basic 4-track operation, built-in effects, X/Y-pattern mics, and — most importantly, unlike the H2 — real XLR jacks for using your normal mic. That alone could make the H4 the killer recorder in this category, especially since it still costs less than competing recorders without good mics or XLR ins from M-Audio, Edirol, and Korg. The best feature: use the XLRs as mic ins for your computer, power the H4 off your USB bus, and you’ve got an instant computer interface, as well.

Mark Nelson gets the hand-on for O’Reilly’s Digital Media site. Now this getting out of hand: he writes yet another portable recorder review in Hawaii. I guess they’re getting a good humidity test or whatever, but could they maybe test this somewhere else, too? (I’m in Hawaii at the beginning of March, so I can’t be bitter. Maybe I’ll do a soft synth test, just for CDM’s competitive angle.)

O’Reilly — Review: Zoom H4 Handheld Recorder

Mark’s verdict: great for both convenience and sound quality, even if navigating menus and setting levels is clunky. That’s consistent with what we’ve heard from readers here who own the H4. Be sure to read Mark’s review, and check out the CDM comments thread on the H2 and H4 from last week. As usual, Mark has some sound clips to back up his impressions:

External mic guitar recording, uncompressed WAV

Thanks for another great review, Mark!