Zoom H2 Handy Recorder 

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Zoom H2 Handy Recorder - A "musthave" for the chattering classes?
Zoom H2 Handy Recorder

Zoom set up in 1990 to provide sound gear and effect processors to the music industry. The company offers a range of sound mixing desks with recording facilities and a number of recording units.

Until recently, I had used a mini disk recorder for background sound and sound bites for use with my films and video. My MDR disappeared in my son's direction, never to be seen again, so I was in the market for a new recording device.

On researching the market I came across the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder, a solid state recorder with a lot to offer.

The Zoom H2 is a little larger than a packet of cigarettes and looks like an old broadcast microphone. It comes boxed with 512MB SD card, A Desktop Stand, A Mic Clip Adapter, A Wind Screen, Small inearphones, A USB Cable, A Stereo Y Cable and an AC Adapter plus a comprehensive User Manual.

This compact device has four electret microphones in the wire covered cage at the top. These are set up as two stereo pairs one facing the front and the other facing the rear of the unit. The front pair have a 900 angle between them and the rear pair are angled at 1200. The layout allows for a solo or small group recording or a wider band recording to be made. The microphones are normally used as stereo pairs but can be combined to record a four channel sound field that can be converted, in a computer, to Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

The recordings are made on to standard SD cards that slide into a holder in the bottom of the H2. The H2 will accept cards up to 8Gb memory size and these are formatted by the H2 prior to use. Formatting provides one folder for 4 channel recording, 10 folders for stereo recordings and a SYS folder to hold user set parameters. The SD card can be read by a computer and the recordings easily downloaded. The Zoom H2 will record in either .wav format (16 or 24 bit and 44.1, 48, or 96kHz sampling rate) or .mp3 format (64, 128, 192 or 320 kbps)

So what about the sound? Opportunities to record great musical works (without being arrested) are rare. There is a superb recording of choir and organ on one forum which is mind blowing in its clarity. My own experience with electronic keyboard (Yamaha EL-900 organ) is that there is no degradation of sound between the original and playback, using the same speaker and amplifier system. Live recordings are clear and accurate.

The Zoom H2 has no speakers so all the output must be through headphones or a Hi-Fi system. The data format levels exceed those on a CD so more information is available for playback.

The flexibility of the H2 is enhanced with an external microphone input, this can accept powered microphones or, with a phantom power supplied by the H2, normal dynamic mics. I was not happy with using powered microphones as the input level seemed very low, I had better luck with using phantom power and a particularly useful combination was the H2 connected to a lapel (lavalier) microphone. Both internal and external microphones feed through a amplifier and the Gain switch on the side gives High, Medium and Low settings. High creates a lot of hiss so the Medium setting is the most useful. There is a variable electronic "volume" control but this works on the digital recorded signal and has no effect on the analogue input signal. Below the Gain switch is a Line input. All take a 3.5mm stereo jack plug.

The rest of the world is entertained through a Line Out socket controlled by a volume toggle switch. This will feed both Headphones or an input to an amplifier. On the same side of the H2 is a power socket for the AC adapter and an On-Off switch. Power is also supplied from two AA batteries and rechargeables can be used, but an external charger is required.

The main controls are buttons located on the front of the unit underneath a small LCD screen. The settings are controlled through a lengthy menu system but are then stored on the SD card. The first row of buttons selects the microphone pair to be used. The next set, in the form of a cross, are multipurpose, Menu, Record and Playback with Forward (+) and Back(-) on either side.

Recording is as easy a two presses on the Record button. The first press selects record/standby when the level can be set with the +/- buttons and the second press starts the recording. Every recording sets up a new file in the selected Folder. This can be a nuisance because it is not possible to "pause" a recording and restart where the old one left off. The two files need to be added together in post production. The whole process can be monitored through headphones.

Play back again is one button press and the required file can be selected using the +/- buttons which also operate as Fast Forward and Reverse.

Menu selection gives a mass of extras, a low cut filter, two levels of Gain Control, three levels of Compression and three distortion limiters. An auto recording mode can be set to start recording when the sound exceeds a set level and stop again when all goes quiet, a "pre-record" samples the sound and continually stores two seconds of sound to be added to the start of a recording so you don't miss an unexpected start.

Two unusual extras are a programmable Metronome, this will give a count in and keep the beat, and a Tuner. The Tuner samples the sound, selects the nearest note and gives a degree of Sharpness or Flatness. This is based on A=440Hz but can be varied from A=435Hz to A=445Hz special tunings for guitar or bass are also available.

Connection to a computer is via a USB port, the USB not only transfers data but powers the H2. In this mode, the SD card is directly available to the computer as a file system and can be downloaded or recorded to from the computers own music files. I prefer to remove the SD card from the H2 and use the computer's own card reader. The second use of the USB connection is to turn the H2 into a microphone. This can be used for voiceovers or podcasts and gives a high quality input.

So a lot is packed into a small box. I would position the Zoom H2 as being between an Olympus voice recorder and a small recording mixing deck like a Tascam. Sound quality is excellent , versatility less so. It provides a handy, portable recorder that could be used equally for an interview or a concert, a sound effect or a voiceover. It can also be used as an Ipod with CDs or other music sources downloaded in .mp3 format through a computer on to the SD card.

There are downsides. Any handling of the unit when recording, including pressing the record button, will be picked up by the internal microphones, the Mic Clip adapter, which is like a small handle, reduces this. The LCD screen is very small and carries a lot of information so can be difficult to read, there is a backlight which helps but with an increase in battery drain. The H2 is power hungry so a spare set of batteries is essential.

I bought mine through Imuso. The current price is £138.99

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Comment by Sinan, Feb 15, 2010 0:57

Series of unfortunate events or My H2 is dead after 2 days

I've purchased my piece over (Mistake 1: That was first mistake because after purchasing then i realized it is just shiny cheap plastic, looks like old toys, feels so delicate, buttons are so lame). The day I received it I started testing it. (Mistake 2: Menu is really sucked. I made recordings in different types, wav and mp3, 2 channeled and 4 channeled then plug it into a computer but my computer didn't recognize the H2. I went through manual again and again but no use. (that was third mistake)Later I used my computer sd reader slot. Wavs were fine, but mp3's did not work. Probably codec problem. Must be H2 own codec because I have db converter, K-Lite and Color 7 music editor, 4media converter installed on my pc. (probably fourth mistake). Last and the greatest is I plug it into ac. I used the adapter comes with the machine. Since it drains batteries so quickly I ran out of batteries then though to use ac instead. I plugged my H2 into AC then it died. I doesn't work any more. I used different batteries. I don't think it is a software problem. If so there is no little reset button. I feel stupid and nothing but regret I'm filled with.

Comment by Terfyn, Nov 2, 2009 10:24

Can't comment on the Tascam but the Zoom H4n may be worth a look. The four channel facility on the H2 is for surround sound. The H2 has four mics, two at 90 deg at the Front and two at 120 deg at the Rear, it is primarily designed for surround sound. If you download the Operation Manual from the Zoom site (.pdf file)the explanation is on page 6. (Band Practice)

I believe that you need to consider what you want from the recording you make. The H2 will give as good a quality as a CD but will suffer from the fact that you can't compensate for the different volumes from each instrument. It will hear a mix of the sounds at its location. You will need to output from the Zoom into a decent Amp and Speakers to hear the best effect. (which is why I suggested Monitor Speakers with their own built in Amp)

In my case, the Fostex allows positioning of the mics plus direct input from my Yamaha EL900 organ. Four inputs feed directly to four recording tracks and allow me to balance the individual inputs during mix down.

Comment by lholland, Nov 1, 2009 12:44

Thanks, for you comments. I have had a look at the devices you mentioned but would ideally like something that doesn't have an external mic that I need to carry around so thought the handheld recorders were the best thing for the job. Out of the 2 I mentioned or others on the market under £200 what has the best reputation for that type of recorder.

Comment by Terfyn, Nov 1, 2009 10:19

To be honest with you , I would not use either because you have very little control over the location of the microphones or the mic quality.
I would invest in a multitrack home studio such as the Tascam DP02, teh Zoom HD16 or, as in my case, the Fostex MR16 HD/CD. I would then buy the best mics for the job, (take proper advice on this) You can record up to four mics with the Fostex. You will get a truer reproduction with a better set up.
I output from the Fostex through two active monitor speakers again, in my case, Edirol 15s.
Hope this helps.

Comment by lholland, Oct 31, 2009 23:57

Hi I am a classical musician who wants to record concerts of my own and rehearsals producing good quality so I can really listen to the tone of instruments. It needs to be able record for about 1 hour continuosly. I am looking at 2 devices. The Zoom H2 recorder and the Tascam d-07. What are the differences between these 2 recorders? I also heard that the H4 has a 4 track facility is this worth the extra money, and does the h2 have a 2 track facility in comparison. Very confused about technology so any help would be great thanks.

Comment by Terfyn, May 26, 2008 8:16

MD is right, the H4 will record four independent tracks, The H2 is designed as the "handheld" for instant sound bites although it will do a lot more.
David's comment suggested a multitracker with overdubbing facilities and, possibly, more than four tracks and more than two inputs. I use the Fostex MR16 which, like its counterparts from Zoom, Tascam, Boss etc. is a very versatile machine. If my choice was between the H4 and similar, I would probably chose the Fostex MR 8 Mk II, battery powered with a CF card recording medium. ( but this is another story!!!)

Comment by MD, May 25, 2008 13:25

To record in multiple tracks, the Zoom H4 may be a good option for you.

Comment by Terfyn, Mar 9, 2008 23:12

Sadly No. The H2 is more like a voice recorder but with a higher level of fidelity.
I suggest you look at the Zoom HD-8, the Fostex MR-8 or the Tascam, all of which will do what you require.

Comment by David, Mar 9, 2008 16:47

I am looking for a recorder with several channels so I can listen to one while recording an other and hear my self in the head phones at the same time. Is that possible with Zoom H2?  /David

Comment by Chico, Dec 19, 2007 10:30

Thank you for responding to my comments it is much appreciated. I have managed to get everything sorted and am well pleased with the H2's performance. Thanks again


Comment by Terfyn, Dec 19, 2007 6:07

It does not have any speakers. You will need to plug it into a Hi-Fi or MP3 speaker system.
Re the USB problem. You do not say what computer you have, if it is a Mac you will need to update the software to 1.20 from the Zoom website. It should power up from the USB port and be recognised as a  USB peripheral. If not, check your USB drivers.

Comment by Chico, Dec 18, 2007 10:22

I have Just bought this item and so far I am a bit disappointed. (1)
My computer does'nt recognise it, using the USB. (2) it will only playback using the earphones,no speakers.
As I said it's early days so maybe when I become more familiar
with it it might be a bit more friendly.

Any suggestions are welcome.

Thank you.


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