Hardware Review – Zoom H2 Handy Recorder

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the May, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


Mark Wilder at Samson sent me an email a couple weeks before NAB asking if I would be interested in testing the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder during NAB in return for a review of the product.

Since I had over 25 interviews scheduled, the ability to record them was way too good to pass up, so I gratefully said yes. Plus, I could use the interviews as part of our NAB coverage on The BuZZ.

I met Mark and some of his team at the Samson booth in the North Hall at NAB and had a great discussion on how some of the latest lavaliere and boom mikes work. Samson got its start 26 years ago designing wireless mike systems and I learned a lot in a very short period of time. They currently have three major brands: Samson, Hartke, and Zoom.

The Zoom H2 is delightfully small. What is especially intriguing is that it contains four microphones and can record in both stereo and surround sound. Due to the way the mikes are placed, it can record in three patterns: 90-degrees, 120-degrees, and 360-degrees.

H2-02It fits easily in the palm of your hand. And it’s dead easy to get it to record – press the red button. Stopping is just as easy – press the red button, again.

Recording is to a standard SD flash memory card. It can record either uncompressed WAV files or a variety of MP3 files. Because I had a lot of interviews with no time to download until the end of the day, I selected a 320 kbps MP3 recording format.

At the end of the day, transferring files is via USB. Just plug in the cable and the unit shows up on the desktop as though it were a hard disk. Each recording is it’s own file. Transferring is drag-and-drop simple.

H2-03With a street price of less than $200, this is a very attractive unit.

However, I used it for about 15 interviews and I was not particularly happy with the results.

I can’t imagine a worse recording environment than the floor of a trade show. NAB is a cacophony of noise. People need to shout just to be heard. And, in this case, the H2 was not up to the task.

It has a slider switch on the side that determines mike gain. The four mikes are built-in and while it does support an external mike, the mike connects via 1/8-inch mini-plug, which means my professional mikes won’t work.

The recorder is designed to be hand-held. So, I would look for the quietest corner I could find, hold the mike about 8-10 inches from the speaker and start recording. Even with the Mic Gain switch in the H (High) position, the audio levels were extremely low; between -24 and -30 dB. Noise rejection was also poor. It was very hard to separate the speaker from the background noise; even with the mike held reasonably close.

Now, granted, these are extreme conditions. I have confidence that the unit would sound much better in quieter surroundings. And it’s surround recording could be invaluable in a musical situation.

For comparison purposes, I also recorded interviews using two Shure SM-58 microphones recorded on a Marantz digital recorder. The quality was excellent. You could easily separate the speaker from the background noise even in the worst sections of the trade show floor.

However, the Shure / Marantz combination costs about three times more than the H2.

If you need a recording unit for general recording, note-taking, or surround work, the H2 is a solid performer. If you need something you can rely on in unfavorable conditions, the H2 would not be my first choice.


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