Hands-On Review: Zoom H6 Handy Handheld Recorder

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Every so often, a piece of audio gear is released that quickly builds a loyal base of users to the point that it becomes almost ubiquitous, just an obvious choice for a given application because it works so well. The rise in popularity of the Zoom H4n is such an example. For years, the H4n 4-track recorder has become a go-to device for a variety of people in need of a digital recorder, including musicians, sound professionals, reporters, and videographers. It is a versatile unit that caters to multiple audio needs in numerous scenarios, and it has the user base to prove it. Rather than rest on their laurels, Zoom has recently announced the Zoom H6 Handy Handheld Recorder with Interchangeable Microphone System, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on one to try it firsthand.

The H6 is capable of tracking 6 channels simultaneously, and easily provides the I/O to do so. Whereas the H4n features two XLR/TRS inputs for integrating your own mics, the H6 boasts 4. What really brings the H6 into the realm of the unique, though, is its modular “built-in” microphones. It has interchangeable input capsules that attach right to the top of the unit that allow you to swap the “built-in” mic as easily as you would change the lens on a camera. The H6 comes standard with stereo X/Y and mid/side capsules, and those are what I was able to test. A shotgun capsule and an XLR/TRS input that gives you 2 more combo inputs (for a total of 6) are also available from Zoom.

The unit itself is covered in a rubberized plastic and feels solid without being too heavy in your hand (it weighs less than 10 ounces). It has a backlit color LCD screen that is angled slightly downward on the unit. This allows it to sit comfortably in your hand (if you’re using it for a handheld application), but more importantly, it assures that you have a clear view of the screen if you have to angle it to capture sound when you're recording. This feature will be incredibly handy for anyone mounting it on top of their DSLR.

All of the important controls are right at your fingertips; the gain control and pad selector for the four combo XLR/TRS inputs are located right above the transport. The transport itself features all of the usual suspects including record enable buttons for all 6 possible inputs, Stop, Play/Pause, Record, Rewind, and Forward.

While you have fast control over your gain and pads once you’re tracking, the H6 offers a very detailed feature set through which you will need to navigate a few menu levels to see completely. This being the case, I’d recommend spending a few minutes setting it up before you’re ready to record, as some features might be hard to access on the fly. Each channel features a selectable low cut filter with 8 positions between 80- and 237Hz. Similarly, the compressor/limiter is channel independent and can be assigned to tracks as needed, with three compression and three limiting options. I found this to be a nice touch; rather than have these controls be universal and affect every input on the device, you can set them up as needed. Perhaps the shotgun mic you have connected to the first combo XLR/TRS would benefit from a low cut filter engaged at 203Hz to eliminate some environmental noise, but the wireless lavalier mic you have on input 2 is just fine frequency-wise, but needs a little compression. Just a few selections in the menu and you can set that up.

Navigation on the H6 is fairly simple. It has two main controls that will get you through the menu system, including a 2-position joystick and selector and a menu button. Pressing the menu button once will, unsurprisingly, bring up the menu display. From here a push up or down on the joystick will allow you to navigate through the folders. Pressing in on the joystick allows you to select that menu item, and pressing the menu button will return you to the next menu layer up.

To say the menu system is exhaustive is an understatement. Zoom seems to have packed innumerable features into the H6, and has essentially given you control of them all. For me, the real standouts on the recording front are the pre-record and backup-record options. Though it is hardly a new feature, having pre-record enabled can save you from disaster. Once a channel is record-enabled, the H6 is constantly creating a 2-second buffer. If you hit Record just a second or so late, it will still capture the 2 seconds prior to you pressing Record. The backup-record feature, when enabled, provides a failsafe for your levels by creating duplicate tracks of the L/R inputs, but at 12dB lower than where you have your input gain set. Those lower-decibel tracks can save your recording from accidental clips.

The H6 records to SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards up to 128GB. You can record your files as WAVs ranging in quality from 44.1kHz/16-bit to 96kHz/24-bit. In addition to WAV files, you can track as MP3s ranging from 48- to 320 kb/s. Once you have your recording format set (in my case, 48kHz/24-bit), you’ll get a readout on the bottom of the display showing what format you selected, alongside the estimated recording time left on your SD card. It seems like a minor thing, but this is the kind of information you really want to have at all times.

After adjusting my settings, I was ready to start tracking to hear what the input capsules were capable of doing. Starting with the XY capsule, the first thing I listened for was off-axis rejection, and it didn’t disappoint. It absolutely requires you to be on-point when aiming the H6, to the point of being somewhat unforgiving; moving it slightly away from my target produced an immediate and noticeable increase in rejection and drop in volume. The room in which I was tracking had some noticeable rumble from the overhead AC ducts, but a few menu-item clicks later, I had the low cut engaged at 237Hz, removing most of the noise.   

Switching to the mid/side input capsule, I immediately noticed a jump in the amount of AC noise I picked up, which wasn’t surprising considering the dramatic difference in polar pattern between X/Y and mid/side. The H6 has an integrated mid/side matrix, and even gives you access to the raw files if you want them. This capsule might not always be the first you reach for, but if you want to capture a wider target area or environmental ambience, it is going to serve you well.

What strikes me as impressive about the H6 is how easily it could be used in such a variety of applications. The swappable capsule system shows it is an obvious choice for ENG type scenarios, but the H6 can just as easily be used to record live bands; integrate the XLR/TRS input capsule and you have 6 inputs to receive signal from a mixing board. Its USB connection even allows you to use the H6 as an audio interface. The H6 would make a great deal of sense for artists who perform and write in a more “stripped-down” fashion. If it is just you and a guitar or keyboard, it can be a useful tool for writing and recording your live performances.

 

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Recording Media
SD Card 16MB to 2GB
SDHC Card 4GB to 32GB
SDXC Card 64GB to 128GB
X/Y Mic
Mic Type Unidirectional
Sensitivity -41 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa
Input Gain ∞ to 46.5 dB
Maximum SPL 136 dB SPL
MS Mic
Mic Types 1x Unidirectional, 1x Bi-Directional
Sensitivity -37 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa (unidirectional), -39 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa (bi-directional)
Input Gain ∞ to 42.5 dB
Maximum SPL 120 dB SPL (unidirectional), 122 dB SPL (bi-directional)
Mic/Line In
Connector 1/8" (3.5mm) Stereo Minijack
Input Level ∞ to 46.5 dB
Input Impedance 2 kΩ
Plug-In Power 2.5 V supported
Inputs 1 to 4
Connectors Combo XLR/TRS (XLR: Pin 2 Hot/TRS: Tip Hot)
Input Gain ∞ to 55.5 dB (Pad Off)
Input Gain ∞ to 35.5 dB (Pad On)
Input Impedance 6.8 kΩ
Maximum Input Level 22 dBu (Pad On)
Phantom Power 12 V /24 V /48 V (Independent Per Channel)
EIN -120 dBu or less
Line Outputs
Jack 1/8" (3.5mm) Stereo Minijack
Rated Output Level -10 dBu when output load impedance
is 10 kΩ or more
Phone Output
Jack 1/8" (3.5mm) Stereo Minijack
Output Level 20 W +20 W into 32 Ω load
Built-In Speaker 400 mw 8 Ω mono speaker
Recording Formats
WAV
Sampling Frequency 44.1, 48, 96 kHz
Bit Rate 16/24-bits (Mono/Stereo, BWF compliant)
Max Simultaneous Recording Tracks 8 (L/R + INPUT 1 to 4 + L/R backup)
Backup Recording 12 dB lower than set L/R input gain
MP3
Sampling Frequency 44.1 kHz
Bit Rate 48/56/64/80/96/112/128/160/192/224/256/ 320 kbps
Max. Simultaneous Recording Tracks 2
Recording Time 
With 2GB Card 03:08:00 (44.1 kHz / 16-bit WAV), 34:43:00 (128 kbps MP3)
Power Requirements 4x AA Batteries (LR6), Optional AC Adapter, USB Bus Power
Display 2.0" (50mm) full color LCD (320 x 240 pixels)
USB
Mass Storage Class  USB 2.0 High Speed
Audio Interface (Multitrack Mode)
USB Class USB 2.0 High Speed
Inputs/Outputs 6/2
Sampling Frequency 44.1, 48, 96 kHz
Bit Rate 16/24-bit
Audio Interface (Stereo Mode)
USB Class USB 2.0 Full Speed
Inputs/Outputs 2/2
Sampling Frequency 44.1, 48 kHz
Bit Rate 16-bit
Battery Life
Continuous Recording with
Alkaline Battery
More than 20 hours
Dimensions (W x D x H)
H6 3.06 x 6.01 x 1.88" (77.8 x 152.8 x 47.8mm)
XYH-6 3.10 x 2.37 x 1.77" (78.9 x 60.2 x 45.2mm)
MSH-6 2.2 x 2.6 x 1.6" (58.0 x 67.6 x 42.1mm)
Weight
H6 9.4 oz (280 g)
XYH-6 4.3 oz (130 g)
MSH-6 2.8 (85 g)

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The real question that I think users have is: how much improvement has Zoom made with the preamps? And quite frankly, no one is interested in some reviewer's subjective opinion. WE WANT TO HEAR IT ALREADY! And preferably, we'd like to hear it side by side with the H4N.

And, until that happens, there is no real "review", just another sales pitch.

Second that!

Agreed, the backup record function almost has me sold. Just need to hear that improvement in audio quality to win me over.

Don't get too excited about the backup function. It looks like it can only be applied to the snap-on mic module, making it useless for the XLR inputs. Unbelievable misstep on such an important feature.

Same for me, if you ain't talking about the preamps, then you ain't talking about the main issue and duty of the device: MAKING GOOD SOUND.
I'm certainly never buying it without that improvement, and I'll keep telling people not to buy it as long as it goes that way.

The primary purpose of a Zoom recorder is to be a jack off all trades solution, a good all round device, if you want something that prioritises audio quality, buy a Sound Devices or a Metric Halo sound card.

When you operate the recording level control for one of the four XLR channels, does the H6 display the gain level that's been selected? As you turn the level control, can you see the gain in dB changing?

If so, can you set all four channels to have the same gains?

Or are the level controls really analog pots?

Hi LenMinNJ -

The H6 will display the gain level and the input level of the signal. The display is dynamic and will reflect your changes to the level.  All channels may be controlled simultaneously and set to the same gain level.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

The unit displays the signal level. I dont see gain , except as the number 0-10 from the input gain dials

Is there finally some agreement regarding the gain control? Is it possible or not to see the gain applied to each input in the screen?

Thanks a lot!

Hi -

The manual dials will allow you to view the gain setting of the channel directly and offers the tactile feedback that Zoom users have requested for years.  There is no reason to view the setting on the OLED display as that would be redundant.  As the recording is being monitored, you can view each channel and see if the signal is peaking and adjust the gain controls accordingly to achieve a "0 dB" level.  As this is a handheld recorder, the display size is kept small and does not consume valuable real estate.  You will still have the gain applied to the corresponding channel when you adjust it, so gain control is achieved for each input channel.
 

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

all channels are set independently, via their input gain dial. even while recording, and even with the hold function enabled.

I'm curious about noise levels too because that was the main weakness of the H4n, especially compared to the newer recorders like the Tascam DR-100II, Panasonic, etc.

And it was probably worth noting that the external XLR module does *NOT* have phantom power.

And did they ever fix the timeslip issue where audio eventually went out of sync w/ video because the clocks were slightly off on the H4n?

Hi Ken -

As this unit has not yet shipped, we have not had enough opportunity time to compare it to other similar recorders. Our hands-on reviewer did not feel that noise was a problem at all. This recorder will provide phantom power: +12V /+24V /+48V, independent (INPUTS 1 to 4) and
2.5V plug-in power, (XYH-6 MIC/LINE IN) ( http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/h6/ ). Like other similar recorders you have mentioned, the new H6 does not offer a SMPTE time code or Genlock to prevent the timeslip issue you raise.  Costlier recorders from Sound Devices, Tascam, and Roland.  http://bhpho.to/15F2bdC  offer this video synchronization feature.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

This wasnt a scientific test, but I generated an mp3 with 30 seconds of silence, played it from my galaxy S2 3.5mm HP out to unbalanced 1/4" into 1,2 inputs with -20db pad on. using 'studio' limit. Recorded and looked at the file from the supplied cubase sw.

The mixer in was showing about -48DB. I have absolutely no idea of what an H4n would show for the same test FWIW.

I simply cannot find a quiet enough environment so be able to measure noise on the mic capsules. even under blankets and pillows locked in the closet..

I used my cell phone rather than my PC, since the PC is indeed audibly noisy, but has a number of things plugged into it.

I hope that this will be available with the XLR Input adapter rather than the XY mic adapter.

When recording the Mid-Side head, is it possible to get to the raw side signal for processing in post? If the cartridge forces us to decide on the pan angle during recording, the recorder is defeating the beast feature of M-S.

Hi T Day -

When recording in MS-RAW mode, you can monitor the mid mic input through the left channel and the side mic input through the right channel.  NOTE: Select “Stereo” if you want to monitor with an ordinary stereo mix.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

update to my prior note on MS decoder..

Heard back from Zoom-na this morning. They have an MS decoder plug-in at
http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/h2n/software/

Here, they are a little unclear about what recording in MS-RAW mode means.

Recording formats appear ignorant of anything MS, except that I believe it has to be a wav format selected.

Before starting record, with the MS mic installed, the toggle allows setting of the side mic level from -24 to +6. one step up from 6, and it switches to RAW.

It's worthy to note that the Cubase LE 6 shipping with the unit does NOT have a phase invert toggle on the mixer, a small detail which appears to have slipped by everyone, which is about the only flaw which I have found. Steinberg US support confirmed, and I spoke with Zoom-na late yesterday on this.

When monitoring on the HP out, not line out, you can further choose stereo or MS raw before you start record. Separate setting from the side mic level.

Can anyone say whether this recorder records 4 tracks simultaneously to one file? Meaning, can it record signals from the 4 XLR signals into in MONO and STEREO into their own tracks? Or is there a mix down?

Hi -

Four XLR inputs cannot be recorded simultaneously in mono and stereo. But it can it be done by mixing:

Record all of your tracks independently with 4 microphones on separate tracks. Once your audio is recorded, switch the recorder into mix mode. Then mix your tracks to a mono file. EQ, EFX ,etc. for a separate mono mix. In a second file  create your stereo mix using internal panning. Now rerecord (“bounce”) your original tracks by reprinting the mono mix on track 1 and your stereo mix on tracks 2 and 3 -  panned hard left and hard right.  It seems a bit involved, but it’s really not too bad. Your second guess was spot on  -  mix down.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

I don't think there is a way to mix down the tracks to mono on the H6, only to stereo. The mixing down seems much more limited than the H4n

Hope you can clarify on this.

Just to be clear, I just recorded 6 tracks simultaneously at 96/24. The following files created:
zoom0076_LR,zoom0076_BU, zoom0076Tr1,TR2,TR3 and TR4

6 files

If I combine 12 to stereo and 3,4 to stereo, then it does 4 files.. Tr12 and Tr34.

When I playback on the unit, it gives me the mix automatically.

Mine came in Tuesday evening

Are levels controlled in digitall or analog way? If it is the former, does one hear any clicks while riding levels (the case of Tascam dr60), are those level adjustment smooth or discrete (say increments of 2db)?

Hi Denis -

The levels are controlled digitally with smoothly stepped increments and no detents.  There is no discernable clicking or other spurious noise incurred.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

My biggest issue with the H4N is time slip I hope you have addressed that issue with the H6

I didn't know time slip was still a problem with the H4n. I bought the original H4 and it had that problem. Zoom were useless in solving the problem, not acknowledging it even existed. As the primary use was to record audio for my video cameras, this was a show stopper. The H4 also easily overloaded on the mic inputs and internal mics, even with attenuation and reducing the level controls. I ended up using external pads, negating the compact size of the recorder. In the end, it had no use for me and it sits in a drawer unused. A massive waste of $500 and no offer of a refund from zoom.

From the Zoom site and manual, it looks like the backup recording can only be applied to the snap-on mic module, meaning that it's useless when you're using the XLR inputs.

If that's true, it pretty much kills the whole feature. Incredible mistake.

I was wondering if it is at all possible to shut off the on board preamps and use a pair of external preamps.

Hello lordzool -

I'm not sure why you would do this as the newly redesigned mic pre's are excellent  But yes -  the internal preamps will automatically disconnect when line inputs are connected to the combo XLR/1/4" phone inputs.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hello,

On the H4n I was disappointed that the line inputs were only high impedance line level meaning that I could not receive any useable line signal either off of a mixing board or out of my Sound Devices 442. I always needed to record at mic level which required the use of the preamps and in some ways negating the quality of my Sound Devices.

Does the H6 fix this issue? Can I record proper line level out of a mixer or off of a mixing board?

Hi Matthew -

The combo XLR/TRS inputs are switchable for microphone or line impedance.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I have used a Zoom H4n & a 442 together very successfully to get good quality sound. You turn the input gain down completely on the H4n, right down to less than 1. You feed the zoom a line level signal from your 442 and boost it using the 442's preamps by setting your recording levels on the mixer. This way the H4's preamps don't come into effect and cheapen the quality of your sound.

I had hoped Zoom would make this a multichannel USB interface to a DAW on my laptop. The so-called multichannel, does a mix down to stereo.

No, the H6 is not limited to doing a stereo mixdown for the output. It is a true multichannel recorder, and you can download all of the channels into your DAW. It says in the specs and description of operation, and I have no reason to doubt that. I own an R16, which works in much the same way.

Is there any information about the frequency response of the "internal" XY- mikes?
To me, that is a crucial point.
Also, I am surprised that the max SPL is considerably lower than in Olympus LS-100.
What could be the reason for that?

Oops, sorry about the question about max SPL, I noticed I had looked at the MS mikes´s value.
But how about the frequency response ?

Hi Seppo -

Zoom has not published any frequency response specs fot the built-in mics.  You may contact Zoom directly for more details:

1-631-784-2200

http://www.samsontech.com/support/

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

My zoom is for sale now, a little cheaper, excellent condition! :)

Hi Rixsta -

Please contact our USED AUDIO Department

Call our Used Department at (800) 606-6969 ext. 2700 to receive a quote by phone.

They may be interested in purchasing it from you.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi, from my understanding, can this device be used to replace a mixer?

Thanks

Hi -

Absolutely!  It's like having a handheld studio that fits into a pocket.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Thanks for the hands on! I was just wondering what the preamp gain maximum or range is on the h6. I am using am electro voice re20. Will the h6 be powerful enough?

Hi -

As the RE20 is a dynamic microphone - the H6 has plenty of range to handle its input signal. Its pre-amp stages are very clean and quiet as well.  This combination should work out well for you.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I have a Zoom H2N for my field recordings. This looks like a good upgrade. One challenge that I have with Zoom H2N is the high boot time. Can anybody comment on the boot time for H6?

Hi RP-

Based on our own experience and customer feedback - the initial "boot time" of the H6 is greatly improved over the venerable H4n.  In this instance - faster is good!

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Can the Zoom H6 substitute the place of a mixer for my Skype recorded interviews? I am just looking to do a 2-person in-stuido setup and attach my H6 to my MacBook Air, so we both can talk directly from our mics to the H6 and have it go via USB to our Skype line. What I don’t know is if I can do a line-in from the computer to my H6, so it can get a recording of both of our mikes AND the Skype caller? 

If it can't do this, then what mixer would you recommend to go with the H6 for this type of podcasting setup?

 

Hi Grant -

The Zoom H6 can be used in the manner you propose.  At start-up of the device, you will need to select the mode for USB interface (not data).  It can also mix line and mic signals as a mixer would do.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

some people have comments about the noise on MS noise. Any feedbacks? 

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