The New Zoom H2n Rewrites the Book on Portable Recording
Zoom has announced the latest addition to its highly regarded line of portable digital recorders, the new Zoom H2n. It's a big deal because this model is an update to the Zoom H2, which has been one of the most popular portable recorders ever. Along with a slew of other new features and capabilities, the reinvented H2n adds a new Mid-Side microphone functionality that will be useful for anyone who uses this recorder to capture sound in HDSLR filmmaking and video productions (I'll explain why later in the article).
With just a glance you can immediately tell the H2n is a complete redesign from the ground up. It's got a brand-new layout with updated physical controls and a rewritten user interface. Improvements on the graphical side are aided greatly by its bright, backlit 1.8" LCD screen. On the hardware end, users will appreciate the H2n's new input level wheel, and the larger (and more thumb-friendly) Record button. It’s a fine-looking piece of gear.
One of the big selling points of the new H2n is its five internal microphones (you read that right, there are five mics inside this thing). On top of that, Zoom claims that these are the best-sounding mics they've built to date. The array of microphones makes it possible for the device to offer four different recording modes: 90° X/Y, Mid-Side, 2-channel surround (2.1), and 4-channel surround (5.1). Like the original H2, the reinvented H2n shares the capability to create high resolution surround sound recordings in the palm of your hand. Zoom even included LEDs on the front and back of the H2n to inform you which mics are currently active.
A dial on the top of the H2n enables you to select the recording mode of your choice. The most basic recording mode has a very technical-sounding name: 90° X/Y. This option will create a standard stereo recording using two cardioid microphones in a fixed pattern. It’s a great choice for creating killer-sounding recordings of music, ambience and general-purpose audio. When you’re operating the Zoom H2n, you won’t need to know a lot about microphone positioning and audio engineering in order to make great-sounding recordings. You can just set the H2n’s dial on X/Y and press Record.
Another option on the H2n’s recording-mode dial is Mid-Side (MS). This mode employs a figure of eight microphone pickup pattern to the sides (meaning that the H2n will capture sounds laterally) and a cardioid mic pickup pattern facing forwards (meaning that the H2n will pick up sounds in front of it). To the casual user this might seem like a rather strange and mysterious microphone configuration. However, to anyone working in professional broadcast productions, Mid-Side miking is commonly used. It enables you to change the width of the stereo field of the recording. This is useful in video production because you can dial in the amount of ambience you want according to the kind of scene you’re shooting. Mid-Side recording is also beneficial to video productions because it holds up well in the event that the audio gets converted into mono (which is common in broadcasting). The H2n is the first portable recorder to have a Mid-Side recording feature built in. It’s also a useful mode for recording pianos, drums and other music-related scenarios.
The H2n handles Mid-Side recording in a unique new way, by giving you the option to create a “RAW” recording. In RAW mode, you don’t have to commit to the amount of ambience being used in the recording. You pull up the RAW file on the H2n after it’s been recorded, and you adjust the amount of ambience to include in the playback as you listen. Once you find a balance between the Mid and the Side recordings that you like, the H2n will create a WAV or MP3 file for you with your chosen parameters. You can then transfer this file to a computer and use it however you wish. You create and export as many different versions of the RAW file as you like.
There are lots of other new updates that make this device a favorable little recorder. It’s got an automatic data recovery system, which basically means that if the battery dies (or something else goes wrong) in the middle of a recording, the material that had been recorded up until the problem occurred will be saved to the card. The new H2n boasts really impressive battery life, getting 20 hours of usage from a pair of alkaline AAs. A reference speaker is built in so you can listen to your work immediately, and like the Zoom H2, the new H2n can be used as USB microphone to record directly into a computer. A 2GB SD card is included with the H2n, and it’s compatible with up to 32GB SDHC cards. It connects to computers via high-speed USB 2.0 for quick data transfer. A ¼"-20 tripod mount is included at the base of the recorder, which enables you to attach the H2n to anything from a standard tripod to a DLSR video rig.
Zoom is also coming out with the APH-2n, a useful accessory pack that is available separately. It includes a table tripod stand, a form-fitting travel case (an essential item for a portable recorder), an AC charger, a USB cable (the H2n can operate on bus power from a computer), a wired remote control (with an extension cable), a foam windscreen and an H2MC Mic Clip Adapter which enables you to mount the H2n into a standard microphone clip. This is really useful for bands and musicians because they can then stick the H2n onto a regular mic stand and record their jams and rehearsals.
There are other tools built into the H2n that musicians will appreciate, such as its tuner, metronome, variable speed playback, key control, and A-B repeat. More experienced users will appreciate the Zoom H2n’s 3.5mm line-level input, lo-cut filter, and compressor/limiter, as well as being able to fine-tune the gain level with the wheel. For those who prefer not to worry about adjusting the input levels, Zoom has included an Auto Gain function as well.
Our take: The new Zoom H2n is a very well-rounded update and will likely take its place as one of the most popular recorders out there. Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth review! If you have any questions about the Zoom H2n, we encourage you to post them in the Comments below.