Zoom H2 & H4
The Big Picture for the H4
Despite all I’ve written about the H4 so far, this barely scratches the
surface of what it can do. Dig into the 100-page manual and you’ll
learn a lot more about what it’s capable of. On the plus side, you’ll
find the Zoom H4 to be a very versatile, do-nearly-everything unit.
Although the first few minutes seemed daunting, it soon became
manageable, even logical. I was also initially concerned about some of
the switches that are quite tiny – I wondered how sturdy they would
be. I’m a careful guy, though, and after some time with the unit, I think
it should last quite awhile.
The H4’s tiny display is one of the key downsides, as is the multilayered menu system and the need to work between the menu button
and the jog wheel to make selections. I wish there was a way to mount
the H4 on a stand besides the option they provide – a cradle attached
with hook-and-loop straps with a tripod-threaded nut on the back
side. The SD card is a little difficult to grasp and remove because the
plastic door gets in the way. And frankly, I don’t think I’d use mic modeling, preferring to apply EQ after the fact to accomplish approximately the same thing. Ditto with the effects, because it’s easier to edit
and adjust an unaffected track. But for quickly adding in a convincing
modeled electric guitar in 4-track mode, this is your baby. Finally, the
H4 is a bit bigger than I’d prefer, but given all that it can do, I can live
you’re looking for a moderately-priced recorder with a lot of
a big learning curve will keep you from using great features.
Keeping it Simple with the H2
The H2 Handy Recorder takes the opposite route of the H4. It’s a
simple recorder that can be brought to a gig, set up quickly, and
forgotten until the end of a set. The H2 is a couple inches shorter than
the H4, but about the same width and thickness. When I first brought
the H2 to a gig, our guitar player mimed shaving his chin with it – the
H2 has an uncanny resemblance to an electric shaver. You might also
mistake the H2 for an old-school mic from the ‘50s, at least when looking at it from the rear.
Lurking under that shaver-like screen is something surprising – two
pairs of mic capsules that can be used in either a 90 degree angle (on
the front) or a 120 angle (on the back). You can also combine them
together for recording 360 degrees in either stereo or 4-track sound
that can be edited into surround sound.
Compared to the H4, the H2 is more intuitive to operate. After sliding
the on-off switch, the H2 boots up in whatever mode you used last
(same as the H4). Although it also uses menus, more of the controls
are right on the face as dedicated buttons. Two arrow keys let you
choose the mic configuration, which is noted by a tiny red LED dot.
Another red dot lights on the top of the recorder, showing which side
has the active mics.
Rather than using the menu-button-plus-jogwheel method of selecting options, the H2 uses a single menu button and the forward/back
membrane buttons for playing back recordings. It’s a bit unintuitive at
first to move up and down by arrows that point sideways, but that’s
still a problem most of our logic systems can handle. Working this way
with the menus, the red record button in the middle becomes the
selection key for menu choices. It’s a cleaner approach than with the
H4, but it still requires patience to work your way up and down the
Stripped Down but Nicely Functional
Although the H2 lacks the effects available in the H4 – no reverb or
amp modeling, for example – it offers some useful options in their
place. There are two levels of auto-gain, plus three levels of compression and three levels of limiting. I found the limiter to be a useful
feature for managing peaks while recording at a gig, making the H2 a
set-and-forget gig recorder.
Imagine any accessory that you could possibly want – the H2 likely
comes with it. In addition to the wall-wart power supply, USB cable,
windscreen and carrying pouch of the H4, the H2 has some great
conveniences. Rather than a strap-on cradle, the H2 has a tripod
socket on the bottom. Besides using a tripod, though, the H2 has a
little three-legged screw-on base and a mic clip adapter. There is also
a pair of earbuds for listening to what you’ve recorded and a stereo
Y cable with 1/8” miniplug to a pair of RCA plugs – great for running
the H2 into a mixer, or conversely, going into the H2’s line-in jack from
your CD player.
Inputs and options are simpler for the H2. The H4’s combo ¼”/XLR
jacks are gone, with only a 1/8” miniplug mic input and 1/8” line-in/
out jacks instead. The output jack doubles for connecting the earbuds,
with a rocker volume switch alongside. If you see the H2 as a basic gig
recorder, these differences should be no problem. I can imagine using
the earbuds or running through my studio monitors, but probably
wouldn’t use the line-in or mic-in jacks.
Like the H4, when you connect the USB cable to the H2, you’re ready
to transfer files to a computer or have the H2 serve as a computer interface. Again, I wouldn’t use the H2 as an interface through its built-in
mics, but the file transfer capability is extremely handy.
Giving the H2 a Gig Test
As with the H4, you can record in WAV or MP3 formats. The MP3 format proved useful at a gig where the H2 was first tested. In part, this
was because of the long recording time on a 512 meg memory card,