Manufacturer: Samson (www.samsontech.com)
“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 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).
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.
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?
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