The way the Zoom H4n looks and feels when you hold it in your hand is that of a solid recorder, a professional audio recorder that is built to last. Compared to its predecessors, it’s a huge improvement from the H2’s cheap plastic build. Compared to the design of other recorders that have higher prices, like the Sony PCM- D50, it holds pretty well, pretty much offering the same features and more, at a much lower price range. The H4N is a little bulky, is definitely not a recorder you just fit nicely in your pocket. But then, it is a professional recorder with 2 XLR inputs so there’s a reason for it. The microphones are well designed and well placed in aluminum casings and can rotate for 90 or 120 degrees (for wide angle recording) recording patterns.
One thing to notice is there is no protection for the microphones like you can find in a Tascam recorder for example. So, you should be careful as only dropping it once might make these microphones not functional. Also, the Zoom H4n is wide enough (2.75 inches) that it can be placed vertically in case you need to use the minijack on the back and put the recorder on a table. Another thing to notice is that the design and feel is very intuitive. If you were to look for the buttons in the dark, it would be easy to feel the offset record button and menu controls. And if you have never used it before, it’s easy to navigate the menu and recording options. If you playback your audio, on the back you’ll find a built in speaker that will allow your to listen to your recording without having to use your headphones. Read more about the audio recording device.
Finally, we have to mention that together with the recorder, you get a mic stand mount, an SD Card (1GB), black foam windscreen which covers both mics at the same time and a power adapter in case you are close enough to an outlet and don’t want to waste your batteries.
Controls and Tour of the Recorder:
If you’re holding the Zoom H4n in your hand and you’re looking at the screen, on the left you’ll have:
Headphones Levels – some people confuse this with the recording level button. It’s on the left side and allows you to just set the playback audio level.
On the right:
Menu button and jog dial – on the right side of the recorder, after you press on the menu button, you can browse and select specific menu sections with the jog dial, which moves up and down and can be pressed.
Record Level Buttons – on the right side of the recorder and allows you to set the recording level.
Under the recorder:
The XLR inputs
On the back:
AA batteries slot in the center and right above the batteries slot, the “Stamina Switch” – well hidden behind the recorder, this switch sets the recorder at 16 bit format and 44.1 Khz sample rate so that the batteries will last you more than 10 hours.
In front: 2 inch display, record button, recording controls and input select buttons.
Stereo is obviously the most used and natural recording mode but 4 channel recording can be a useful feature in many situations as recording 4 channels at the same time will allow you to record large scale projects or use this feature just for back up purposes. In this mode you’ll basically have two stereo files, one from the built-in microphones, one from the microphones you plug in. You’ll basically be able to record ambient sound and at the same time more directional audio, may be an interview or a performance of any kind. Very nice.
If you are a musician you’ll also find interesting the MTR mode, the multi track recording option, which allows you to overdub instruments with vocals without much effort. On each track you can even adjust level, volume, effects and panning before mixing them.