Today we review the new H5 four-track portable recorder by Zoom. We’re all relatively familiar with Zoom as a major player in numerous recording electronics equipment, but their latest four-track portable recorder is very top-of-the-line. This thing isn’t just handy because it says so in the title. If you’re looking to grab an H5, they’re ideal for live concert and rehearsal audio, but can be used for anything on-the-go you need to record. I’ve heard of some people using this to record sound effects outside in natural environments to add to their songs and recordings. I have a friend who does reporting for her community college and she uses a Zoom for interviews and broadcasting. Many, many uses with this because it blows any phone audio out of the window. Let’s review the H5.
Main features of the Zoom H5
- Weight: .6 lbs
- Dimensions: 7.8″ x 5.2″ x 1.7″
- Built-in speaker
- 24-bit/96kHz resolution
- Five Interchangeable input mic capsules
- Detachable X/Y recorder capsule
- Extended signal capacity\shock mounted microphones (two)
- Simulatenously record with four-tracks
- Two mic/line inputs
- XLR/TRS combo connectors
- Selectable phantom power
- Powered via 2 AA batteries
- Record directly into SD/SDHC cards (32GB max)
- Captures audio in WAV and MP3 file formats
- Comes with: SD card (2GB), foam windscreen, case, USB cable
- Auto-record mode for automatic detection
- Built-in FX: Low-cut filter, compressor, limiter
- Mark, trim and divide editing
- LCD display
- Built-in speaker and chromatic tuner
Sound quality of the H5
The first and most important aspect to consider with a portable audio recorder is the sound quality. What’s most noticeable in the H5 is the X-Y microphone technique. As you can see in the images, it has two little mics that are facing each other, a bit non-traditional but very effective in terms of how it works. What this does is it basically achieves a stereo effect with two directional mics placed 90 degrees (or more) to each other. The two different angles have different sound pressure levels which gives us a less spacey recording for an overall solid audio quality.
It’s one of the best portable recorders in terms of overall sound quality. You get on-board microphone preamps so there will be no need to up the gain later on — you’re already getting a full, high-quality sound from the start. You get 24-bit/96kHz, which is one of the best available within this price range (and even higher). The MP3s go up to 320kpbs — very solid.
Build and stability
This thing isn’t cheaply made. Not only is light as heck coming in at nearly half a pound, it’s sturdy with a nice metal make throughout. The top mic capsules are high quality, although a bit fragile so just be careful when handling it while you’re traveling. I recommend taking the top off completely and keeping it in a safe place while you roam around, otherwise you may break the most important part of the whole thing. You can always buy replacements but just keep it in mind.
Standout features of the Zoom H5
The fact that the input mic capsules are interchangeable is quite promising when looking at long-term usage of the H5. Although you’ll obviously have to buy them, if you ever need to switch them out for new ones it’s very, very simple. Let alone if you accidentally drop it (you will be on-the-go most of the time, so that chance is always high), or if you merely want a fresh pair of mics to record with. If you feel like switching it out for an entire new top unit, it’s compatible with all of Zoom’s I/O capsules out there.
The transport controls on the front are very easy to use, although relatively standard. You get a stop, plause/pause, record and track skipping button on the front of the unit. The LCD is also here along with level tweaking functions. The sides give you a line out, headphone jack, volume control. SD card slot (32GB) and a settings navigation and menu button. The bottom also has combo input jacks which accept XLR and balanced TRS\unbalanced TS 1/4″ connectors, so you can ultimately plug in a condenser mic to this thing for phantom power. It can also double as an audio interface.
Another cool feature I like of the H5 recorder is that it has built-in processing — you can compress and limit the audio tracks you record in the device itself, or you can switch a highpass (low-cut) filter to help with annoying sounds, such as wind, rumble and other background junk. It’s also got a metronome inside so if you’re recording something in terms of music this won’t hurt at all.
Although there are so many features on here I could write a novel, one of the last features I’d like to point out is the auto-record function. This is extremely useful for not only saving memory but for convenience purposes. If you’re in a setting where there may be pauses here and there and you need to concentrate on something else, just set the H5 aside and you’re covered. It’s only a plus.
Possible cons and vs. the competitors
Well, I’m not going to complain about this part but the fact that it’s run on batteries is a bit annoying to me. I am accustomed to devices that charge so I can easily maintain when my stuff is going to power down. However, in terms of portability, battery powered may not be too big of a deal considering if you’re going on a long trip or will be using it for a while, you can switch out the batteries easily by carrying them with you. You’ll probably need a case for this, stick in your bag or merely in your pocket. The battery life is about 15 hours, anyway.
Other than that, I really see no cons to this thing. It lives up to the name and features bullet point list and fancy pictures Zoom gives us. A competitor may some Tascam portable recorder models but I’d stick to Zoom since they know what they’re doing.
The final word on the Zoom H5 recorder
There are also various accessory packs available, such as the Zoom APH-5 which comes with a professional hairy windscreen, a wired remote control, an AC adapter and USB cable. Something that may be needed, but it depends on what you’re going for. It also comes with Steinberg’s Wavelab LE recording software which I don’t use, but you may like it — it’s only an additive.
For an even higher model with more capabilities, check out their Zoom H6 recorder (yes, it’s 6-track), or you can go a bit lower to save a few dollars with their Zoom H4N. The H5 is however in the middle and one of our favorites of their audio recorders.
All in all, the Zoom H5 four-track portable recorder is worth the money. Grab it if you want a higher-end portable audio solution and want one of the best out there. With such a small size, it’s suprising how many features Zoom actually jam-packed into this thing. Keep this in mind, however — if you’re not using all of the features it has, it may not be worth it and you might be able to get away with something cheaper that has fewer extras that’ll fit with your needs. Nevertheless, even if you do go with this and plan on learning the extra functions later, you’re investing in a device you’ll be using for years.