Back home, I plugged in headphones for a listen, and the results I heard were impressive. The familiar acoustics of the barn-loft in which we practice were clearly recognizable, the sound was wide-range and dynamic, and completely clean, excepting a couple of the more energetic rave-up moments that fooled the Zoom’s auto-record-level gain control into momentary crunchiness.
My next experiment was to set the H2n, set to 4-channel surround and 96/24 (uncompressed) WAV out on my screened-in porch on a still, moonlit, late-summer night, where it captured an hour-plus of crickets, two sessions of whippoorwill calling, and a startling incidence of owl hooting, which reproduced with astonishing spatial realism on headphones. The 4-channel mode lets you adjust the mix of Mid and Side signals after the fact, for subtle but useful changes in aural perspective. Though the session was plenty quiet enough to enjoy the details of insect sound and the occasional breeze, the H2n did not quite reach the ultimate level of low-noise digital recording; faint background hiss was audible. (A quick-and-dirty test bench check using line levels suggested record/play signal-to-noise of about 83 dB, which is very good, so much of this is likely self-noise from the microphones — with only 3 volts power-supply and the Zoom’s obvious cost constraints this isn’t very surprising.)
Other recordings I made included myself playing acoustic guitar, a lecture-type presentation with the H2n set on the podium, and a 10-minute stroll down my town’s main drag to capture POV street sound in surround. In each case the results were perfectly usable, even for pro needs: clean, quiet, and remarkably faithful. Sure, if you were recording the Julliard playing a Beethoven quartet you’d want better mics (and the Zoom accommodates with external mic/line inputs), and real studio gear should deliver another 10 dB of dynamic range. But even so, the H2n’s abilities and value are simply remarkable.
Only basic editing functions are on board the H2n: you can divide files, set “markers” (like a CD’s track numbers, more or less), and downsample WAV files to data-saving MP3s. For anything more, Zoom throws in a Mac/PC editing application, Steinberg Wave Lab LE7, which provides highly precise editing and mastering functions, with quite a wide range of postproduction tools including basic audio processing plug-ins like reverb and EQ, and compatibility with the vast universe of VST plug-ins.
Ergonomically, for so tiny a gizmo the H2n proved surprisingly usable. There are really only three controls: a menu key and an adjacent up/down/press-to-select rocker on the right side, and a volume +/- keys pair opposite. (There is also a rotary switch on top to select microphone patterns, and a Mic Gain wheel to manually set microphone levels when not using one of the Zoom’s several auto-gain options.) Using these is perfectly straightforward – indeed, I made my first recording without ever opening the manual. The up/down/select rocker proved a bit tricky – I kept selecting instead of rocking, with frustrating unintended consequences – but I eventually got the hang. Considering its combination of complexity and tininess the H2n’s ease-of-use quotient scores high.
Though it’s a serious recording tool that’s doubtless in use by thousands of pros right now, even just as an audio toy Zoom’s H2n has real value, and it’s affordable enough to qualify. Record your world. Listen to it. Experiment and learn – if nothing else, to value the serious technique behind the great recordings we take so much for granted today.
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