Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The First Real Zoom H2 Review On The Internet

I've been fielding questions about the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder since it was announced over half a year ago. Questions like, "Will it sound as good as the H4?" and, "Is it true that it will record in 360-degree surround sound?" Now, I don't mind answering questions about gear... it's just that this piece of gear never really existed, and I'm always hesitant to simply affirm what a manufacturer's advertising department decided to say about a product that hasn't been produced yet.

But this morning, I was witness to the official launch of the H2: the first in the country to see it as it will ship. And after its debut, I stayed behind and spent an hour of one-on-one time with it.

Now, in case you haven't heard of this little thing, it's basically a handheld recorder that looks a bit like a communicator from the original Star Trek series. Very portable, very powerful, and very coveted. Why? Two main reasons: it's going to be a hundred bucks less than the hot-selling Zoom H4, and has been advertised as having three mic capsules for mid-side recording.

Well, sorry to disappoint you folks, but it's doesn't have three mic capsules. It has FOUR. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, the engineers at Zoom made the first production run of H2's and concluded after listening, "This thing sounds terrible. Back to the drawing board." Fortunately for us, what they ended up with was a gem.

In response to the question, "Will the H2 be as good as the H4," I can say it certainly seems so. Wonder of wonders, the mic capsules in the H2 are the SAME MICS as the H4! Yes, those same mics that can handle 120db of SPL and have a pretty flat frequency response across 70Hz to 20kHz. (There is admittedly a bit of a boost around 6kHz.)

How can they fit four of those mics into this little guy? Well, believe it or not, all that metal isn't all mic. The H4's mics are actually pretty small. And they're tightly packed into the H2 in a W/XY pattern (NOT the mid-side design that was originally developed): a 90-degree stereo pair in the front, and a 120-degree setup in the rear. That doesn't provide a true 360-degree omnidirectional recording device, but it sure makes for convincing surround sound. Setting it up in the middle of a band rehearsal or orchestra recital will yield some great recordings.

How would you do that? Quite easily, because the H2's mounting options are great. Not only does its 2.5" x 4.3" x 1.25" size fit perfectly into your palm for single-handed operation, but it also can be left alone using either the stand or mic stand adapter.

Both accessories screw into the threaded hole at the bottom. The mic stand adapter is especially ingenious in its simplicity: It's an extension shaped like the barrel of a microphone, easily mounting into any available mic clip.

Speaking of accessories, the H2 comes as a complete package. In addition to the stand and mic stand adapter mentioned, it also includes a 512Mb SD card, a windscreen, a USB cable, a 9vDC adapter, earbuds (necessary because there's no speaker built in), and a stereo RCA to 1/8' cable (for connecting to a home stereo system for example). Contrary to what all the music retail websites are reporting, the H2 does NOT come bundled with Cubase LE.

That's hardly a deal-breaker, considering how much benefit you're getting for a street price of two hundred bucks. Consider what you're getting:

USB Interface
The H2 can be plugged into your computer's USB port and serve as both mountable storage for file transfer and as a two-channel audio interface - functioning as a USB mic! Just plug in the USB cable and select either "Storage" or "Audio I/F". (By the way, it is USB 2.0-, Mac OSX-, Windows XP-, AND Vista-compatible.)

High Resolution, Long Recording Time
It can record either WAV or MP3 files. WAV resolution is from 44.1kHz/16 bit to 96kHz/24 bit. MP3s can be from 48k to 320kbps or variable bit rate. (Just decide what you want in advance, because there's no on-board conversion after the fact.) With a slot in the bottom of the unit, the H2 can take SD cards (including SDHC) up to 4Gb, and record a max file size of 2Gb. That equates to 380 minutes of recording 44.1kHz/16bit stereo WAV files or 68 HOURS of stereo MP3's encoded at 44.1kHz/128kbps.

Light Weight and Long Life
The H2 weighs just four ounces before you put in the two AA batteries, and will run for 4 to 4 1/2 hours on them.

Inputs and Output
In addition to its four mics, there is an external stereo mic input (using this disables the built-in mics), and a line in for devices with line-level output like a CD player. Output options are both USB and line out to headphones or other monitoring options.

Metronome and Tuner
The H2 has a couple benefits for players: a five-sound metronome with pre-count, adjustable from 40-250 BPM, as well as a built-in chromatic, guitar, and bass tuner.

Date/Time Stamping and Markers
The H2 is capable of date/time stamping your recordings, as well as adding markers to your audio file. Whether you're indicating when the next song in the set started or when your interviewee uttered some un-airable profanity, you can just hit the play/pause button while recording to insert a marker. These markers will be exported as Broadcast Wave Files (BWF), readable by any DAW that can read the metadata in BWF files.

All these features and benefits really make the H2 attractive. Even better is the fact that recording couldn't be simpler. This is due in large part to the fact that Zoom seems to have really listened to people's input about the H4's shortcomings. The new H2's display is backlit, with a resolution of 128 x 64 dots. They've made the font larger than on the H4 for easier readability. And the user interface is much easier than its larger cousin's. The 92-page manual is well-written and comprehensive.

But I didn't need to crack the manual before beginning to work with the H2. I quickly figured out how to power on and start recording. There's a three-level mic gain switch, fine-tunable using the on-screen menus, as well as choice of four recording modes: Front (90-degrees), Rear (120-degrees), 4-channel surround (which records two stereo channels of Right Front, Right Rear and Left Front, Left Rear), or simple two-channel surround of Left and Right.

Listening to 4-channel recordings in the headphones doesn't quite do it justice, since the H4 is having to sum to a stereo monitor. However, if you load these tracks into your DAW, you will have four independent tracks of audio (technically, they are two stereo tracks, but you can easily split them to four mono). And don't forget, the markers will import as well, if your DAW supports BWF.

You may need to consult the manual for some of the more technical features, like the Auto Record start and stop, which allows you to set the H2 to start recording from 0-2 seconds before the sound in your area rises above the db level you set. And you can also set the Record Stop level to stop 0-5 seconds after the sound drops below your defined level (individually programmable from the record start db level, by the way).

There are lots more things I don't have room to cover, most prominent being the 3D panning adjustment screen. This allows you to adjust the Front/Rear/Left/Right balance of a file pair recorded in four channel mode. Suffice it to say it's just plain COOL, and you have to see and hear it.

As for the inevitable audiophile questions: No, I didn't get to take it into the studio and analyze every nuance of the mic pres and frequency response. All I can tell you is that I recorded some ambient room noise, conversations, and a good bass player (thanks, Biscuit!) with the H2, and later was fooled by the authentic sounds coming through the headphones (I thought he had started playing the same song again). My brain bought it... I'm guessing yours will, too.


At 10:56 AM, Blogger James said...

Well, there's hardly anything left to say but "Thank You!" The fidelity question was really the crucial factor for me, having never heard any zoom nor the H4. When I buy a mic or a recorder, that's really my big question: "will it remind me of that room? will it capture what I thought was special, qualitatively, about the sound?"
My second most important concern has been to answer: "does it honor/encourage a good workflow?"
It has taken me a long time to jump on the hand-held recorder bandwagon, here's why:
1)Up until now, most recorded using some form of algorhythmic/mathematical compression. Whether I can hear the difference or not, some people can, and I don't want to alienate them from my recordings.
2)removable media has been expensive. I always thought the cards were a hidden cost to these kinds of devices. They used to package with 16mb cards; demanding that you run out for a new card. And those 516mb cards would not have been cheap. My workaround has always been to invest my money into moving/spinning hard drives and more muscle-bound equiptment for the studio.

Now I've rethought my criteria. non-moving media, like smart cards, means less noise, which to me means lower noise floor. If you've ever recorded somthing from your ipod, cassete deck, or minidisc, you'll know what I mean. There's the occasional spinning and grinding noise that a mic will pick-up when it's close by. I would have given more consideration to the new korg 1-bit if not for this concern.
And how can you argue against removeable media when the prices have gone so much lower?
Coupled with the potencial quadraphonic recording of this device, or its usefulness as a podcasting mic etc, and it's a no-brainer. As far as workflow: being able to record quickly is important. And being able to ingest the digital sound into my DAW, without going through further A/D conversions or playbacks is really the biggest breakthrough. Coupled with the timestamp feature, this means that I can really honor my ideas from conception to finished product without compromising my time or my sound.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger musicman said...

so can you record while listening to the metronome through the headphone jack?

At 5:14 PM, Blogger musicman said...

One more question. I noticed somewhere on the web that the mic gain switch has 3 settings LM&H. Is this the record volume we are talking about? Is there any other way to set the recording level?Are there any settings somewhere between these 3 options (perhaps hiding in some menu) or are we stuck with just those?

At 12:04 AM, Blogger jmac said...

Thanks, Ron. Many questions answered in your review.

Do you have an opinion as to whether the 8th inch stereo line and mic inputs will be lower quality compared to the H4 paired quarter inch and XLR inputs?

At 7:57 AM, Blogger rastAsia said...

Hi there Ron. Thats a well concise review on the H2. What got me interested is that it records BWF - with markers? Does this mean if I were to set markers during recording as Takes (without stopping the recording) and later import it to ProTools then I can actually easily see the markers on the recorded files? Coz that would be really handy for post editing.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Headrick said...

Sweden, october 2007.
Just bought the H2. Live recordings sounds great. But I have to say I´ve expected something better when it comes to solo recording.
I really miss the brilliance in vocal recordings. Perhaps thats to much to ask.
I guess what I´m asking is: Is the H2 for live/rehearsal recordings only?

At 11:03 AM, Blogger Gilead said...

On its own, The H2 is a very handy piece of equipment. In the week that I have had it, I have tried it out in a number of different recording situations, and I have been generally pleased with the result.

Where the H2 fails is when you're recording audio to it for subsequent synchronization. In a recent event involving both audio and video recording, I recorded the desk output (3 radio mics) onto the H2 and a DAT recorder for safety, while filming the video onto two small handheld cameras.

When lining these up in the editing programme, the two video recorders' audio tracks and the DAT audio stream all lined up bit-perfect over a 60 minute segment, but the audio from the H2 had drifted by around 200ms over that period of time.

So the H2 is great for some of my requirements, but for others, it fails. It can not be used as a backup or an extra pair of channels for a multitrack recording due to this drift.

To be fair, this could be a problem with my particular model, but I would suggest that other users try this as well. And if you are going to require synchronized audio, better to rely on a different recorder, not the H2.

At 4:56 AM, Blogger paul said...

I would like to ask if anyone has tried this--> recording CDs as MP3s. The manual says you can do it. What I had was CDs that had been converted ONCE in OSX (MAC) to AAC or whatever ITunes does to a file. Then tried to make an MP3 from it. Zoom support said without going into detail that my file type must be wrong, but they ARE MP3as. Does one have to go direct to MP3 and, if not via Itunes, then how. Someone said on a PC they use Nero. But if I don't need to get any more software, I wonder if there is already something on the MAC?



At 12:33 AM, Blogger Lisa & Mike said...

I can't get the normalizing funtion to work on my h2 any thoughts ?

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Steve Struthers said...

lisa & mike said:

"I can't get the normalizing funtion to work on my h2 any thoughts ?"

I don't bother doing any normalizing with the recorder. I prefer to do my normalization in the post-production process using a freeware software program called Audacity. For me, it's simpler.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger gofourth said...

You can convert files after the fact.

You can navigate over to the file and encode it to an mp3.

Pretty easy. I read where you said you can't convert after the fact. You can to an mp3. I'm unsure about converting an mp3 to a wav file (though I'm unsure you'd want to).

Nice review though.

At 5:59 PM, Blogger spencercperry69 said...

Zoom H2 Review by Spencer Perry of Saybrook

Recently I had the opportunity to demo and review the Zoom H2 courtesy of X-TREMEGEEK.com. www.x-tremegeek.com When I first unpackaged the zoom h2, I found that it was a very well packaged device; everything was well organized and neatly laid out. It even had tons of information about it on the box. The recorder though looked a little too plain. Samson’s website says, “The H2 is the only portable recorder with 4 mic capsules on-board for 360° recording. With 4 mic capsules in a W-X/Y configuration, the audio is decoded instantly, bringing these four signals together for unparalleled stereo imaging. But the H2 doesn't stop there. For maximum flexibility, you can record from the front of the H2 in a 90° pickup pattern or the rear of the H2 in a 120° pickup pattern at up to 96 kHz/24-bit resolution as a WAV file, or as an MP3 file at bitrates up to 320 kbps. Additionally, you can record in a 360° pickup pattern at up to 48kHz/24-bit resolution which will allow you to convert your recordings to 5.1 Surround.”

I read the simple recording guide and found that the controls were quite easy, press record once to put into record mode. Adjust the sensitivity with the [MIC GAIN] switch. Press record once more to start recording, and one more time to stop recording. To play back I plugged in my headphones, and simply pressed play/pause button. My younger brother and I tested it out on a new song he had been writing, and for $199 the sound quality was great.

I used it also to record solo drum tracks. If the guitar/ piano player in my band has a new song he can record his part with the zoom h2, and pass the music file to me so I can practice the song without him being there. It also records unmiced vocals quite well, I apologize that I have not yet had the opportunity to test it on vocals through a pa system. The Zoom H2 has 2 file structures wav and mp3.

The Zoom H2 has great mounting capabilities. Right out of the box we could mount The Zoom H2 on its own stand, a handle that allows you to connect to a mic stand, or a camera tripod using a standard camera mount, which I chose to use for convenience. I think that the Zoom H2 would make an excellent holiday gift. Tell all of your friends. For samples visit http://www.myspace.com/saybrook123.

Product details and purchase information:

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Chris Wong said...

Did you really listen to the fidelity and clarity of this piece of equipment?

I just bought one, and have tested it out in various situations.

Live band recording = OK
Getting your ideas down easily = OK
Clarity and Transparency = HORRIBLE!

This is one of the most noisiest piece of equipment I've heard, and is quite similar to recording through the in built mic in your Macbooks!

When i bought this, I was after clear sound, what I got was HISS! My advice is, if you're not after professional sounding recordings, and just a toy to play with, go for it!

If you want a quality product, then DO NOT BUY! You're better of spending a little more to get a clean sound.

This is yet another Zoom product, out to destroy the world of audio, much like Behringer! Pretty damn depressing...

At 2:29 AM, Blogger Rakesh Verma said...

PA systems are often used in small venues such as school auditoriums, churches, and small bars. PA systems with a larger number of speakers are widely used in institutional and commercial buildings, to read announcements or declare states of emergency. The simplest PA systems consist of a microphone, a modestly-powered mixer amplifier and one or more loudspeakers.There are four Types of PA System: Small Systems, Telephone paging system,PA over IP,Long line PA.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Champs said...

This is very helpful for the event recording....

Wireless KVM Switches solution provider

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Inheritx Solution said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Igor Kopmar said...

I like the Zoom H2's all features.
Igor Kopmar,
Cheap Flights Advisor

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Pen Camera digital recorder.

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At 6:24 PM, Blogger Stephen Smith said...

Is there any way to pause recording and then start again with out having to record a new track?

At 6:25 PM, Blogger Stephen Smith said...

Is there any way to pause recording and then start recording again since the H2 doesn't have a pause button.?


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