New digital recorder: Zoom H4 Handy Recorder


Seen at the Podcast Expo; Shipping soon! $299 street. Samson’s new offering will cost $100 less than the flash memory recorders I just mentioned. People, we have a new contender in the digital recording market! H4: I’ll try to puzzle out what means what: H stands for handy recorder, and as you can see, it does fit nicely into my hand. 4, I guess, stands for the 4-track recording you can do.

image I checked it out at the Samson booth at the Podcast expo, and got to see how it works.

Memory and Power
The Zoom H4 uses an SD flash memory card—secure digital (see Steve’s Flash memory primer to understand what’s what). The current maximum size card is 2GB. Buttons along the left let you select which record format—MP3 format, or WAV Audio CD quality, 16bit 44.1kHz, and two higher quality settings that range up to 24 bit, 96 kHz. I’m told that it will record in mono, to stretch that 2 GB card longer—using CD-quality mono, you can record 6 hours of conversation on a single 2GB memory card. The two AA batteries last around 4+ hours for playback and/or recording.

How fast does it get up and go?
One thing that’s important for impromptu recording sessions is a quick get-up-and-go from the moment you whip out the recorder to the moment you’re recording. If I recall correctly: Power on. Record quality setting. Press Record once to preview sound levels (a switch on the side adjusts the microphone setting to low-medium-high), then press Record again to begin recording. 

imageBuilt-in microphones
The recorder comes with two built-in directional microphones, set inside a protective wire guard. They’re arranged in what’s called an X-Y configuration, designed to pick up a stereo image with a strong “center spot” where the mics cross one another. The mics are directional. I tested it while talking with Alas, alas, I had no way to transfer the audio file, but I hope to (at least) borrow a unit to conduct some tests. We tested the position of the recorder for a two-person conversation. I found the quality to be pretty good.

If you have your own microphones, the Zoom H4 will take XLR connections or 1/4-inch (large) balanced microphone plug. I was more interested in speech recording, but with the 4-track recording, I believe you can record with the two built in mics and the two additional inputs. Musical recording, anyone?

Accessories and Connection
There’s a foam windscreen to reduce pops. Also included is a small tray-like contraption (with straps) that will mount to a tripod, so you can position recorder wherever you wish. The Zoom H4 connects to your computer via USB port (USB level 2 for faster file transfer).

The flash memory recorders in this range sell for $399; the Zoom H4’s street price will be $299, making it the price darling of the solid-state flash memory portable recorders.

It’s due to begin shipping soonSound Professionals is taking advanced orders (they’ll ship for free)

Want more info?
Samson Tech’s Zoom H4 Handy Recorder page, with links to additonal images and the PDF manual.

Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

  • Google+
  • StumbleUpon
  • Tumblr
  • Evernote

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 04, 2006 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
9 CommentsPermalink

« Previous NYTimes discusses three flash memory audio recorders ) | Digital Genealogist Next »


Does anyone know how the <Zoom H4 Handy Recorder> compares in quality to the
MicroTrack 24/96 Pocket Digital Recorder
or the
Edirol by Roland R-09 recorder?

The cost savings of $100 for the ZOOM seems to be a huge advantage?  I primarily need high quality voice recordings that will be made in the field, at weddings, and corporate events.  Two channel output seems to be important for creating “layers, but since I am new at audio recordings I am not certain what I need,

I want the quality of NPR field reports.

Curt Norman
charleston sc

curt norman  on 01/09  at  09:08 PM

I just picked up a H4 yesterday.  Tried to record a podcast while riding in the truck to pick while making a quick trip to town.  However, nothing recorded.  I read the manual when I got home.  I found that starting a recording is a little tricky.  To make the H4 record, you turn it on, then press the REC button, then press it again.  I did not like this feature, until I realized that by requiring that extra button push allows you to monitor the recording settings before recording.  Using a good headphone, I can listen for background distractions like a fan running on my computer.  I like the one clip button on the front so the file type can be selected.  For the price, ZOOM should at least include a set of batteries.  Maybe they do, I did not get any.  Also, my copy of the free software was missing.  Not to complain, this was just my experience.  I am saving my money for a couple of XLR mics and cables to use with it.  One last point - if you use the H4 as a handheld device, set the mic gain to L and use MP3.  The L or low gain cancels most of the noise that results from holding the device in your hand.  MP3 compresses the file.  Go ahead and buy a 2 GB SD card when you buy it.  Look around for cheap 1 GB cards if you do not need to record a long presentation.  Also, buy a tripod.  I found a cheap one at a store called Big Lots that was designed to use with a camera.  Also, I recommend investing in recharge AA batteries and a charger.  I am looking for a carrying case for it too.  One last impression- if you are over 50 years old, make sure you have your reading glasses nearby when operating the H4.  I was not designed for farsighted users like me.

John Blake  on 02/11  at  02:53 PM


Thanks for your report. Since my only experience of the Zoom H4 was with Samson representative at a trade show, I got to experience the press record twice phenomenon. Score one for the advocates of RTFM!* Yeah, yeah, I know. You want a product to be intuitive from the get-go, and the initial counterintuitive thing turns out, on second examination, to be a nice feature.

RE: visible for the presbyopia crowd, I think that’s a problem for all these types of tools. They don’t go for the larger type. My Sony HiMD (2nd or 3rd generation, I can’t recall offhand) is pretty egregious on this count. (But no, I’ve not done a thorough and systematic investigation of all these tools and gadgets.)

I totally agree on the rechargable batteries. I experienced that since January 2000 with my first digital camera. NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries tend to have a longer life-per-charge than your use-once then displose of

Susan A. Kitchens  on 02/11  at  03:41 PM

OFF TOPIC:  I need some help updating the latest system software on my H4 ZOOM.  I was able to download and install 1,xx—-> 1.10, but have tried for HOURS to go from 1.10—-> 1.20.  I respectfully ask someone contact me privately at latest system software. T.I.A.


Curt Norman  on 02/11  at  09:34 PM

I want to by Marantz PMD671 Flash card recorder?
Does it support FAT32 File system?
Can I use Flash Cards of 6GB or 8GB capacity with PMD671?

Dilip Kumar  on 05/18  at  08:59 AM

Also am having problems updating software from version 1.01 to 1.3 - I download the new version onto the SD card OK but then get an error message when trying to go “version up” on the machine.
Any thoughts ?

Robin Harris  on 06/02  at  12:20 AM

Robin, I hope that one of the others who’ve commented in this thread asked to get follow up comments and helps you out. I don’t have a Handy H4, so I am not able to help. Good luck!


Susan A. Kitchens  on 06/02  at  12:54 AM


I have a Handy H4 also, and have no problems with my device.  Is there some reason why you must upgrade to the newer version?  If you are not having issues with functionality, it may be fine to use it with the older version. 

Sorry I do not have a specific answer to the issue.  I also tried to upgrade and never was successful, but my H4 has never failed me.  Except the times when I thought I had pressed the record key, done a great interview, then got home and realized that I had not started the recording session and the H4 was instead on PAUSE.  That is so embarrassing, but it happens.  I have learned I must do a test recording, listen to it with headphones, and after the interview listen again to make sure the level is ok and make sure I recorded the segment.  I would love to be able to monitor what is being recorded Live.  I have not figured that one out yet.  Got any ideas on how to manage that?

John Blake  on 06/02  at  04:20 AM

help!I have a Zoom H4, which comes with cubase LE, and I have read the manual, but I can’t figure out what’s going wrong when I try to export my 4-track project to mixdown. The software is totally new to me, and I can’t get any help with basic functions!

Cori  on 01/10  at  09:20 PM

Add a comment





Remember me.

Please let me know if someone else comments here.