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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|SD Card||16MB to 2GB|
|SDHC Card||4GB to 32GB|
|SDXC Card||64GB to 128GB|
|Sensitivity||-41 dB, 1 kHz at 1 Pa|
|Input Gain||∞ to 46.5 dB|
|Maximum SPL||136 dB SPL|
|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)|
|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|
|Jack||1/8" (3.5mm) Stereo Minijack|
|Rated Output Level||-10 dBu when output load impedance
is 10 kΩ or more
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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)|
|Mass Storage Class||USB 2.0 High Speed|
|Audio Interface (Multitrack Mode)|
|USB Class||USB 2.0 High Speed|
|Sampling Frequency||44.1, 48, 96 kHz|
|Audio Interface (Stereo Mode)|
|USB Class||USB 2.0 Full Speed|
|Sampling Frequency||44.1, 48 kHz|
|Continuous Recording with
|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)|
|H6||9.4 oz (280 g)|
|XYH-6||4.3 oz (130 g)|
|MSH-6||2.8 (85 g)|