The Three Year Review: Zoom H2 portable field recorder (pros and cons)

After reading a DV247 Magazine article comparing a dozen or so different hand-held digital recorders, I wrote a longish post adding my own experiences of the device (I've been a Zoom H2 owner for several years and I think it's a great little device. However I doubt my comment will ever be approved on their blog, so I thought I'd republish here as it'll be helpful for anyone shopping around for devices. A lot of the criteria by which I judge the H2 will apply to many / every device in the price bracket, so caveat emptor as always, and always try before you buy if possible!

Originally posted to the DV247 Magazine "Portable Digital Audio Recorder Comparison article"

I own a Zoom H2 ”“ carry it everywhere irrespective of where I'm going ”“ and it saved my bacon more than a few times when collecting foley or doing quick ”˜n dirty ADR for my uni course! Its ability to do line recording from its input was also very useful.

However do bear in mind that (and this is from my own testing and other users' feedback on unofficial - but excellent - Zoom Owners Forums) a couple of key characteristics of the

  1. The gain adjustment (-10dB, 0dB, +10dB) is performed AFTER digitisation. There's nothing you can do about this except stand further back and watch the gains”¦ If you're at a venue recording loud sound, no amount of gain reduction will help an already-clipped digital signal.
  2. Even though the H2 can record to 24bit audio files, there's absolutely no point. Again, the nature of its ADC and signal path design results in audio files that have an identical noisefloor and effective quality to 16/44.1 files”¦ Except they'll be twice as large in size. This has been deduced from user testing and A/B comparison of sample recordings. Just record in 16/44.1 and get more on your SDHC!
  3. (Brucie Bonus) The supplied foam windsock from Zoom is AWFUL, I bought a small Rycote Softie custom-made for the H2 from Solid State Sound [1]other online stores are available - I just like SSS and it makes a HUGE difference to the H2”²s ability to record outdoors. Field recordings ruined by an errant gust of wind? A thing of the past! And make sure you get the silicon cover for it, it will protect both its plastic fascia AND curb the awful handling noise should you decide to do all your recordings handheld (it has a tripod mount on its base, great for a mini tripod, and comes with a mic-style handgrip”¦ even though it's side address).

Having just pointed out some of its flaws, please don't dismiss the H2 as a device not worthy of consideration. Considering it's still a very decently priced device ”“ and produces excellent quality recordings given the right conditions ”“ you should definitely consider it. It's even been used to produce VERY respectable ambisonic
(read: surround) recordings in comparative tests by people who really know surround ”“ see Radio UQAM's Ambisonic pages [2]specifically, Daniel Courville's Comparative Surround Recording article for details (and audio clips).

I regularly use my H2 for all kinds of stuff and once you've learnt how to get a good sound out of it, it's a brill piece of kit. I must admit though, I do fancy an H4n now though... And a quadrophonic turntable, just for kicks!


1 other online stores are available - I just like SSS
2 specifically, Daniel Courville's Comparative Surround Recording article

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