Writers such as myself like to romanticize about technology that was once essential to our craft but has been vastly usurped with the march of time. From carrying around a legal pad or telling people that there’s “something about using an old typewriter,” to recording ideas and thoughts quickly using a personal tape recorder, it’s more about the natural usage, the image, and the heritage than the practicality, necessarily. It was with that spirit that I was excited to try out the Zoom H2n Handy Recorder.
Nothing is exempt from the forward march of progress, and even for a personal recorder, the Zoom H2n packs a wallop. In a package roughly the size of a studio microphone, the H2n houses five microphones that can record in stereo, surround, or variable mid-side in a radius of anywhere from 30 to 150 degrees. To get more out of each recording, it also comes packages with the editing and mastering package Steinberg Wavelab LE7 for Windows 7, so any recordings taken can be optimized for playback or use in other settings.
The Zoom H2n records directly to SD card and comes with a 2GB card included, but supports up to 32GB SDHC cards. It features ports for a remote control, line in microphone, or line out headphones to monitor the recording as it’s happening with adjustable volume, mic gain, and recording angles. Outputting natively in either WAV or MP3 formats at a variety of bitrates, measures can be taken to try and condense more content on your memory card if it happens to be filling up, something invaluable if a recording gets a life of its own and winds up much longer than expected.
Even with all the bells and whistles, it’s hard to get behind what the Zoom H2n doesn’t get right. Even with a boasted 20 hours of battery life, the reliance on 2 AA batteries or an AC adapter on a device which has a mini USB port on it just seems silly in this day and age. The menu systems are primitive, which isn’t necessarily so bad with a simple device, but navigating the menus using primarily the play/rewind/fast forward slider is a bit unnatural at first, and certainly takes some getting used to before it becomes second nature.
Some of the accessories included in the Optional Accessory Pack such as the aforementioned AC adapter, a USB cable, and the remote seem like they ought to be included considering the price tag of the H2n, and their absence prevents the device from being more universally functional. While far from perfect, if you have a need for a dedicated personal recorder that, most importantly, records very clear, customizable, professional sound, then the Zoom H2n is going to be an invaluable asset. For everyone else just looking to remember a grocery list or make a note of something before it slips our minds later, there isn’t any reason to take this device over making a quick recording on a smartphone.
Bottom Line: Personal recorders have had their livelihood challenged by smartphones and audio recording software on laptops, but high-quality models such as the Zoom H2n Handy Recorder seek to keep the old form alive. The ability to record using four different patterns including four-channel audio really pushes this device toward its price tag, but there really just isn’t a lot of practicality for something like this that still runs on alkaline batteries and only records onto an SD card. What the Zoom H2n does, it does extraordinarily well, just in a fairly archaic and overcomplicated alternative compared to its cross-platform competition.
- Adjustable microphone channels allow for picking up the entire room’s audio or just limiting it to one space
- Mic gain can be dialed up or down on the fly, with a display of the levels below the microphone to let you know if your recording is coming through too softly or too loudly
- Built-in features allow the device to also function as a USB SD card reader, metronome or a bass or guitar tuner with a variety of standard tunings
- Use of AA batteries as opposed to a rechargeable battery to be charged via the mini USB port on the recorder means continued costs
- If making use of the line in and out attachments, the device becomes almost too large and inconvenient to sit inside of a pocket or small case
- Navigating the menus using the buttons on the side of the recorder can be fairly confusing
The Zoom H2n Handy Recorder is available from Amazon for $151.34.