Priced at $199 street with built-in stereo mics, the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder is the lowest cost pro flash-memory recorder available. But its sound quality is more than adequate for its intended uses: recording interviews, conferences, ENG, gigs, band practices, podcasts, music lessons, and sound effects. It even works well recording orchestras and acoustic instruments.

Compared to the Zoom H4 (which I reviewed in the November 2006 issue of PAR), the H2 has a mini phone-jack mic input rather than XLRs. You could use a mic preamp or small mixer as a front end to the H2 if necessary. Smaller than the H4, the H2 is simpler to operate and more intuitive to navigate the menu items.

The H2 records WAV or MP3 files onto an SD card. Select up to 24-bit/96 kHz WAV files with 128 times oversampling, or MP3 files up to 320 kbps (or VBR). You can record a maximum 2GB file size on an SD card up to 4 GB. The unit runs for four hours on AA alkaline or rechargeable batteries, so it’s ready to grab and go.

FEATURES

Zoom supplied all the accessories you might need: earphones, 512 MB SD card, USB cable, tripod stand, mic-stand adapter, carrying strap, foam windscreen, mini-phone to RCA cable, and an AC adapter. The unit itself is the size and shape of a deodorant stick and has a high-impact plastic chassis.

On the front panel are a high-contrast LCD screen, front/rear/surround mic pattern buttons, Menu button, Record/Enter button, Play/pause button, and forward/backward buttons. The left side of the unit contains a headphone/line-out mini phone jack, record/playback level buttons, power switch, and power connector. On the right side are a USB port, line-in mini stereo phone jack, L/M/H mic-gain switch, and an external mic input jack (mini stereo phone). A battery access panel is on the back, while a covered slot for the SD card is on the bottom.

As an aid to setting the mic-gain switch, a Mic Active indicator flashes if the input signal is clipping, and stays lit otherwise.

Fast Facts
Applications
Studio; project studio; music, spoken word, and environmental location recording; rehearsal and songwriting documentation

Key Features
Stereo WAV or MP3 recording onto a SD card up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution; comes with earphones, 512 MB SD card, USB cable, tripod stand, mic-stand adapter, carrying strap, foam windscreen, mini-phone to RCA cable, and an AC adapter

Price
$334.99 list

Contact
Zoom/Samson Technologies | 631-784-2200 | www.samsontech.com
An unusual feature is the built-in mic array. The unit has two stereo pairs of XY mics aiming forward and backward. While holding the unit upright, aim the front panel at the sound source for a 90-degree pickup; aim the back panel at the source for a 120-degree pickup. You can record two sources, or a band, with the front and back mic pairs simultaneously. Or record in surround 4-channel mode. You use the mic pattern keys to select Front/90 degrees, Back/120 degrees, front plus back, or surround. LEDs indicate the mode of operation.

Four-channel recordings are created as two stereo WAV files. For playback, all the channels are mixed to stereo. After a 4-channel recording is done, you can adjust the front/back/left/right level balance (3-D panning) within the H2. The 4-channel signals can feed a surround sound encoder for playback on a 5.1 system.

The unit also accepts a stereo unbalanced line-level source or a stereo unbalanced mic that uses plug-in power (DC bias, not phantom).

Using the supplied USB cable, you can transfer recorded files to a computer for editing or burning to a CD. Edited files can be copied back to the H2 as well.

Zoom always has lots of features in their products. The H2 is no different. It includes:
  • Metronome

  • Guitar tuner with various modes

  • Audio interface for a computer; record the input signal directly to a computer, and play it back via the H2 (16-bit/44.1 or 48 kHz format only)

  • Delete, rename or split files. Display file information. Put files in folders

  • Check remaining recording time on the SD card

  • Set date and time

  • Low cut filter

  • Record mode (set wave and MP3 resolutions)

  • Automatic gain control/compression/limiter with several modes

  • Auto record function (voice-operated recording)

  • Pre-recording mode, in which audio is stored before you press Record so that no music is lost

  • Various playback modes (repeat, play all, play one, A-B repeat of a section)

  • Normalize audio files

  • Convert a wave file to MP3; convert a 4-channel file to stereo file

  • Monitoring can be always on, or off until you set recording levels (to increase battery life)

  • Check for dropout points

  • Adjust display contrast, turn backlight on/off

  • Key hold (lock controls)

  • Update system software
All these features are accessible via the Menu and don’t get in the way of recording operations. The H2 has a limited 1-year warranty.

Product Points
Plus
  • Easy to use

  • Good value

  • Many extra useful features, such as surround miking

  • Very good sound, wide stereo
Minus
  • None noted
Score
The Zoom H2 is one of the best values on the market.
IN USE

The unit is well designed for ease of use. Batteries and SD card are easy to access, as are the connectors and controls, which are clearly labeled. Navigating the menu features is intuitive. To access the features, simply press the Menu button, then press the arrow keys or the Record button to select and set various parameters. The buttons feel solid.

I first used the H2 to record an acoustic guitar at 18 inches. Here are the steps:
  • Set the mic pattern to Front/90 degrees

  • Set the mic gain to high

  • Press the Record button

  • Strum a few chords and check that the Mic-Active LED does not flash

  • Set the recording level. The LCD screen meters are easy to read

  • Press the Record button again and record a tune
That’s all there is to it.

Q: How did the built-in mics sound? A: Smooth, wide-range, and uncolored. I also recorded a standup bass with the Zoom H2 and with a flat-response omni condenser mic. The two recordings sounded the same except that the omni had a little more deep bass and about 4 dB less hiss. When I recorded a voice, the H2 and the omni mic sounded essentially the same.

Left and right signals are audibly reversed from the audience’s perspective unless you mount the unit upside down.

I recorded a loud rock band with the mic gain set to low. Stereo separation as wide. There was no audible distortion on playback. The H2 preamp clips at about 120 dB SPL but is clean at 116 dB SPL.

Even though the mics are cardioid, handling noise was not excessive. Neither was wind noise with the included windscreen in place. The H2’s stereo stage is much wider than that of the Edirol R-09 recorder, which uses two omni mics about 2.5 inches apart.

To test the line input and A/D converter in the H2, I recorded an acoustic guitar with a top-quality mic into a good mic preamp, which fed both the H2 line input and a PreSonus Firepod audio interface line input. In an A-B test, the two recordings sounded remarkably similar. The Firepod might have been slightly more open or transparent in the high frequencies, but the difference was subtle.

I wanted to transfer my recorded files to a computer for editing. I plugged in the USB cable with the H2’s power off, pressed the REC key, and dragged and dropped the files to my computer. Simple. The transfer rate was about 0.83 MB/sec.

The operation manual is very clear and explains everything a user would need to know about the H2’s operation. It also includes an index and sections on troubleshooting and error messages.

SUMMARY

I was very impressed with the H2’s sound quality, features, and ease of use. I feel that it is one of the best values on the market. If you’re looking for a low-cost portable stereo/surround flash recorder, the Zoom H2 is definitely a winner.