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  Samson ZOOM H2 Handy Digital Recorder

      Date posted: February 12, 2008

Manufacturer: Samson (www.samsontech.com)
Sugg. Retail Price: US $200.00

H2, USB connected

“It’s a simple idea: provide brilliant stereo recording in an easy-to-use, ultra-portable device. Now everyone can record pristine audio in an infinite variety of applications. From seminars and conferences, to electronic news gathering (ENG) and podcasting, to musical performances, songwriting sessions and rehearsals, the H2 provides amazing recording quality. Trew Audio has been very impressed with Zoom recording products ever since the H-4 was introduced. We have put the H-2 through it’s paces and find it to render a stunningly quiet and very real stereo or surround image.”

So begins the blurb on the Trew Audio site (www.trewaudio.com), a major supplier to the film post-production world. I was raving about it even before they evaluated the H2 and subsequently started to sell it. Though I probably shouldn’t say this right off the top of a review, but at the end, this tiny recorder (about half the size of the H4) is pretty much everything its predecessor should or could have been, with the single exception being the omission of balanced inputs. Here’s how the ZOOM site describes it:

Why four mics are better than two

“Recording an exceptionally realistic stereo image can be a challenge with a conventional mic pair. The H2 has dual X/Y configured stereo mics facing front and rear. This is ideal for capturing a wide and contiguous stereo image. There are two sets of mics - one pair facing the front and one pair facing the rear - allowing you to record at 90° from the front or 120° from the rear. You can even use both two pairs to produce a four-channel recording with 360° coverage. After recording, the built-in 3D panning function gives you full control over the front/rear/left/right balance. Or use commonly available authoring software to create 5.1 surround recordings. No other portable digital recorder has this ability.

24bit/96kHz linear PCM and MP3 recording

“The H2 gives you amazing versatility with its wide variety of recording formats. Choose 24bit/96kHz linear PCM(WAV files)format for the highest audio quality that surpasses CDs. Or record in MP3 format in an almost any bit rate when long recording capability and smaller file sizes are your goals. Even 4-channel, 360° recordings can be made in 24bit/48kHz format. Capture the fine nuances of an acoustic instrument or the realistic ambience of a venue with the H2’s utterly transparent, high-resolution recording capability.
H2, mike patterns
Secure Your Digital Memories

“The H2 records on Secure Digital(SD)media and a 512MB SD card is included. Compact and readily available, SD memory cards are immune to vibrations and produce no mechanical noise, unlike motor-driven media such as tape or discs. The H2 can accomodate up to a 8GB card, allowing up to 12 hours of total recording time using the 16bit/44.1kHz WAV format. At 128kbps MP3, you get an amazing 140 hours of stereo recording. And with the onboard USB port, you can to move your recordings to your computer and use recording software to edit the audio, create mixes, burn CDs or distribute your recordings by email or on your website. You can even move MP3 files to your H2 and use it as a music player.”

When I bought my H4, the capacity for recording was limited to a 2-Gig card, and I tried a 4GB, and found it worked. Now that I’ve gotten to know my H2, that capacity has doubled yet again to 8, while the price of 4GB cards has dropped to between $20 and $30 each. Now that’s my kind of recording economics - double the recording time and halve the price! Even with the 4GB card, I can record 6 hours of CD quality audio, roughly 3 hours of 48K/24Bit 4-channel, and almost 2 hours of 96K/24Bit. And we just double those numbers for an 8GB card. However, I’m still waiting for the next halving in price on these.

As far as audio performance is concerned, let’s start at the microphone preamps, first, with the internal 4-microphone array. Now that the SD card slot is at the far end of the recorder from the mikes, the low-level whine of the H4 is gone, and the preamps are dead quiet; I can hardly wait to get to the island and set it on the rock at night to pick up distant loons. In combination with the built-in electret capsules this recording array is easily the quietest electret system I’ve heard yet, and matches my Shure VP-88 stereo condenser mike in this regard.

It also offers superb stereo on either side, so one can flip it around in stereo for a wider pickup area at 120 degrees, or even in 4-channel and then reverse your quad sound in the computer mix. And I’ve also found that the 4-microphone stereo recording option provides just about the best binaural surround sound I’ve ever heard, very much on a par with my Silly Tilly recording hat (see photo at right).

The

Speaking of electret mikes, the H2 provides 3-6 volt phantom, which the H4 does not. Again, why didn’t they think of this simple thing the first time around? So, though you might not want to for the reasons noted above, you can plug in your little Sony ECM-70P mikes, or whatever other little electret model you have that needs powering.

In general, the operating ergonomics are much better in the H2 than the H4, starting with the on-the-fly level adjustment, with numeric reading of level shown to match the bar-graph metering for 2 or 4 channels. There are also 3 selectable level ranges to optimize for outboard mikes, or prevent overload from very loud sources with the internal ones.

The menu system is simpler than that of the H4, and much more intuitive. I really didn’t have to read the manual much this time, but had to literally study it with the H4. Maybe that’s because I gained the knowledge of the main concepts with the first recorder, but it cannot be denied that the H2 is much easier to use. Other nice (and professional) features include pre-roll, which allows up to 10 seconds of time stored in a buffer to compensate for those situations when you didn’t hit the little red button quite quickly enough. The Shuttle and Skip features are also better in this 2nd gen recorder, as is the display (albeit still too small), which shows both elapsed recorded and remaining card time simultaneously.
H2, all sides
What’s missing in this amazing tiny wonder machine? Well, how about a pair of miniplug stereo inputs to allow recording in 4 channels from my best microphones, such as the AKGs I love, or from the multichannel outs of my wonderful Stellavox AMI-48 mixer? Is perfection too much to ask? Well, maybe next time. And will it be the H3, or the H1? We’ll see.

There’s still the nagging problem of poor microphone shock isolation, now doubled, as it were, with the 4 capsules. However, the ZOOM engineers got this one half fixed by providing a small screw-on stick for the bottom of the recorder, which is tapered in order to fit not just the hand, but a wide variety of isolation mounts. The one I use is a Shure A53M rubber air-filled grommet type, with a small tripod screwed onto it for hand or table use. A larger camera tripod is also quite feasible for floor mounting with height adjustment. And the use of any standard mike shock mount effectively also adapts from the small thread of the tapered handle and H2 to the standard mike stand threading.

But when all is said and done (And I will be doing a lot with my H2, from organ and chamber music recordings to those outdoor of loons and trains), this tiny thing is a marvel of audio engineering that delivers a quality of recording comparable to all but the most expensive and sophisticated digital gear. The ZOOM H2 is definitely my pro product of the year 2007, and with 4-channel line-ins next time out, could repeat for 2008, though I’m also eagerly awaiting the Edirol R-44 96/24 4-channel recorder due out this April. High resolution digital multichannel recording is fast becoming affordable, and that’s a good thing, isn’t it, Martha?

Andrew Marshall

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12 Responses to “Samson ZOOM H2 Handy Digital Recorder”

  1. jimmy c-ie Says:

    can anyone tell me if it’s possible to use this zoom h2 through a portable amp unit??? and would it be good for a trad group 4 banjo’s and 3 guitars and 2 singers to overcome some of the noisy places you play in? pubs clubs ect, the portable amp I have is 30 watts

  2. D-R c-ca Says:

    Got an H2 to use for recording conference and lectures. Amazed at how easy it was to set up. The display is a bit small. Like the directional recording options.
    In general I’m very happy.
    But the USB transfer speed sucks big time. And I don’t like the alternative of SD card insertion/removal given the el-cheapo flap for the SD card-slot. From the zoom H2 FAQ:
    Q: Does the USB interface of the H2 support USB 2.0 High Speed data transfer (max. 480 Mbps)?
    A: No. The USB 2.0 standard has three transfer speed modes (High Speed, Full Speed, Low Speed). The H2 supports only Full Speed (max. 12 Mbps).

  3. Jack c-us Says:

    Can anyone tell me (computer Dummy) how to easily transfer
    files from H2 to pc. I need step by step instructions. Read
    the manuel, still having trouble.

  4. Aaron Marshall c-unknown Says:

    Hi Jack,

    The simplest way is to simply plug the zoom into your computer via USB cable. Make sure the H2 is turned off when you plug it in. It will power up off the USB bus and ask you to select either “Storage” or “Audio I/F”. Choose “storage” and the zoom will mount the same way an external hard drive would. You can then copy the WAV (or MP3) files right off the card and onto your hard drive and then manipulate them in a DAW or iTunes or whatever software you choose.

    Hope this helps.

    Aaron Marshall

  5. Karen c-ca Says:

    Can you tell me if there is a transcription software I could use with the zoom H2? thanks, Karen

  6. iAudio G3 user c-us Says:

    Why did they give it USB 2.0 so-called “Full Speed”, when the High Speed standard had already been around for several years already? Even my mp3 player from 2005 has a UBS 2.0 High Speed.

  7. Fudoki c-us Says:

    Since I got my H2 it’s just been amazing to experience such a level of quality from such a small device! Picked up a 4Gb SDHC card at Sam’s Club for $12.47, and I’m good to go. They have been including 1Gb cards in the units lately…

    As for the sloooowwww 12Mbps USB, just pop the memory card into a card reader and deal with it that way…

    Enjoy!

  8. danl c-us Says:

    ANybody else have trouble transfering files to their computor. Especially after upgrading….? Simplist solution is to just buy a $15 little card reader!
    Way cool….
    danl

  9. Gordon c-us Says:

    Can you recommend any of the authoring software to create 5.1 surround recordings for this device mentioned in this article.

  10. John c-unknown Says:

    I could really use some help with the h2. I’m not up to speed on the electronic world, but I really like the h2 for recording my jam sessions etc. I just don’t understand how I can easly play back the recordings to either play along with, or just listen to, or share with a friend. Can someone explain this in a very simple manner? I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.

  11. Andrew Marshall c-ca Says:

    Hi John,

    All you need to listen to your H2 recordings is cable with s stereo miniplug at one end (H2 Phones/Line Out) and RCA plugs at the other for your home stereo or BoomBox. If the stereo’s input is another type of connector. you’ll have to look for the stereo version of that connector on your new cable.

    For Gordon in the preceding query, the best source of information about compatible programs is ZOOM themselves, but check out also online info by googling “ZOOM H2 editing” or “ZOOM H2 5.1 software”.

  12. John c-unknown Says:

    Thanks Andrew, I got the cable and yes, it worked. Now then, can you tell me how to transfer to the computer. I do have an itunes account, however, when the zoom automatically transferred to itunes, then after I disconnected it from the computer, it shows a file, (ste-000) but I cannot get it to play. The same file will play as long as I have the zoom connected to the computer. I hope this is understandable. Thanks for your help. John

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