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H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

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H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Pat Nghia Long » Tue Feb 07, 2017 1:44 pm

Hello,
I am thinking of acquiring a zoom H4n Pro as a standalone 4-track recorder.
Reviews I have read so far are good, however there are some question marks left. Being the very unproud and unsatisfied owner of an H1 also by Zoom, there are key features I am very wary about in Zoom products. Therefore If anyone here has used this version of the H4 or its predecessor the H4n, I have three questions:

1) Is recording with the H4n Pro in standalone mode really quiet with respect to self-noise?

[the H1 definitely is not, it’s very noisy, and when the preamp goes below the 30 mark (100 being the max) it produces very audible, awful sounding digital parasite noise.]

2) Does the H4n Pro really take high SPL without clipping? The specs say 14O dB. Is that true?

[The H1, with an acoustic guitar placed 30 cm in front of it, clips straight away and massively if you play a chord forte, not even fortissimo, which makes the H1 unusable for music applications in my opinion.]

3) When used in MTR (multitrack) mode can one import a wav or mp3 file not made by the H4n Pro?

[In the H1 it is impossible to read any file not originating from the device itself, including files renamed so as to fit the syntax of filenaming by the H1]

I am thinking of a situation when you have a full mix done in a DAW, barring one element, like for instance lead vocal, and you want to record that last track listening to a real mix, but using the H4n Pro alone, as opposed to having a computer (and thus a fan, and therefore more ambient noise) running in the room.

Thanks in advance for any feedback.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Mike Stranks » Tue Feb 07, 2017 6:18 pm

Key issue: Do all your questions relate to use with an external mic or the internal mics?

But assuming it's an external mic...

The H4Pro, H5 and H6 have mic preamps that are much better than those that Zoom have used in the past, but they still get noisy if you have to crank up the gain.

I had an H5 and the way I got over that was to use something like the Cloudlifter or FetHead in-line preamps. Personally I used a MARTiAUDiO one, but the principle's the same...

But I wouldn't chose to use any of this series for the sort of work you have in mind. Horses for courses and all that... IME wrong horse for this course. :D
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Pat Nghia Long » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:49 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Key issue: Do all your questions relate to use with an external mic or the internal mics?

But assuming it's an external mic...

The H4Pro, H5 and H6 have mic preamps that are much better than those that Zoom have used in the past, but they still get noisy if you have to crank up the gain.

I had an H5 and the way I got over that was to use something like the Cloudlifter or FetHead in-line preamps. Personally I used a MARTiAUDiO one, but the principle's the same...

But I wouldn't chose to use any of this series for the sort of work you have in mind. Horses for courses and all that... IME wrong horse for this course. :D

Thank you very much for your answer. I hear you, I think I am expecting too much from the portable Zoom recorder.

I was in fact referring to the internal mics. Still, what you wrote is a very valuable input. Thank you.

There two reasons why I am looking for a standalone device for tracking

a) I like recording with all computer screens off primarily because I want to spare my eyes. I'm a translator (written translation) and like everyone in the trade nowadays I cannot avoid using on-line resources for background research/terminology and of course software applications for actual delivery (Trados, wordfast etc...), which means clocking long hours of PC-screen-time. Therefore when it comes to producing music in my free time, much as I appreciate a tool like Reaper, I would really like to reduce the use of a PC to mixing only, and keep at least the tracking process really "out of the box".

b) My recording (and living) space is really tiny (9m²), so having a computer running, with an old-fashioned hard-drive and cooling fan adds a considerable high level of ambient room noise, which is frustrating, especially for acoustic arrangements with quiet passages.

With those parameters in mind, the Zoom H4n Pro appeared as a possible alternative to acquiring an audio interface for 100 EUR or so and a condenser mic in the 130-150 EUR price range, the retail price of the H4n Pro being 220 EUR in France/Germany.

I mainly record acoustic guitar, sometimes electric guitar, more rarely vocals. The H1, if it weren't for a) high self-noise, b) close no headroom and c) digital noises at low recording volume settings, does deliver a fairly decent acoustic guitar recording. I was hoping to find something not overly expensive that might not have the three serious drawbacks I just mentioned and provides overdubbing functionalities (the H1 being a stereo only recorder). :)
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby resistorman » Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:53 am

I have a Zoom H6 and am very happy with it. I've used it for live recording of big bands, combos and choirs, as a backup recorder for 5 day seminars, an audio interface on a Windows PC for a massive archival project, gathering sound efx, rehearsal recordings and more. Anything needing quick and quality recording from mp3's to high rez. Since I have high end recording equipment, it functions as an auxiliary system, but I've always been well pleased with the results. Low noise and not even close to clipping. A video company I work with has an H1, and it is not even remotely in the same class. All that said, I don't know if the H4 has the same mics and dna, I would assume so, but...

Transfer of files into the H4 seems doable but somewhat convoluted: http://zoomforum.us/viewtopic.php?t=19808
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Dramatic Hammer » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:10 am

I've used a OG H4n to record drums - mounted above drummer's head to use internal mics as stereo OH and a kick and snare mic running into the external inputs. It gave surprisingly decent results but it's a lot more level than an acoustic guitar.
I've found from using it for location recording that the internal mics sound quite tinny or 'crispy' on distance low-level stuff.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Pat Nghia Long » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:24 am

Resistorman,
Thank you ever so much for your answer and for the link to the zoom forum thread, which answers one of my questions. So the H4n can in fact import a file from a DAW into an on-board MTR session, which is really good news (assuming this functionality has been kept in the H4n Pro).

As regards what you write about the H1, your assesment confirms what I have been told, namely that the H1 is really way below the other "H" products in terms of quality. I think the H6 at least and possibly the H5 are in turn in another, higher category than the H4.

However, judging by what I have read here and there about the H4n Pro, it would appear Zoom is aligning it on the H5 as regards preamps. But the H4n Pro (as opposed to the H4n) it is still a fairly recent product and there isn't that much user feedback, especially for music and MTR use.

I would also like to thank Mike Stranks again for hinting at the inline preamps/boosters, which are a great idea. Mike published a review of the MartiAudio In-line Preamp Booster he mentions in his answer, and that article might be of interest to anyone working with preamps that either don't provide enough gain, or do so but at the cost of much added noise.
http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/mar ... mp-booster

Thanks to both of you for your very helpful feedback.

If I do buy an H4n Pro, I will post an example of acoustic recording on soundcloud and give you the link here.

Have a great day.
Best regards from Paris,
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Pat Nghia Long » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:39 am

Dramatic Hammer wrote:I've used a OG H4n to record drums - mounted above drummer's head to use internal mics as stereo OH and a kick and snare mic running into the external inputs. It gave surprisingly decent results but it's a lot more level than an acoustic guitar.
I've found from using it for location recording that the internal mics sound quite tinny or 'crispy' on distance low-level stuff.

Dramatic Hammer, thank you for your answer.

The fact the H4n can take the SPL of a live drum kit without clipping is a very good point.

As regards the “crispy” quality of the sound, as you quite rightly put it, I know what you mean and I agree. The microphones are clearly back-electret designs, and have a very small diaphragm, so it's not surprising they sound more tinny than a true condenser or a higher-quality elecret mic.

However, even on the H1, where that crispiness is undeniably present, I find the sound –meaning: when the mic is not clipping, and within the range of input vol. free of digital interference – is still way above that found on most cheap electret mics, which always seem to lack clout, to be somehow more sensitive to ambience than to the source and to have exaggerated treble. The sound from the H1 mics is consistent, the low-end and “woodiness” of the acoustic guitar is there, and the high-end, if not very smooth, is fairly transparent and clean.

Thanks again.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Pat Nghia Long » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:54 am

resistorman wrote:I have a Zoom H6 and am very happy with it. I've used it for live recording of big bands, combos and choirs, as a backup recorder for 5 day seminars, an audio interface on a Windows PC for a massive archival project

Resitorman, I have one more question for you. You wrote you also use the H6 as an audio interface. What are your general impressions for that specific application? Does the H6 compare with a decent dedicated entry-level audio interface?

Again, I am aware the H1 is another class of product, but it does also have the ability to work as an interface. The self noise of the H1 as an interface, however, is something like thee times what it is in standalone mode, which makes the interface function simply unusable for music, since the noise floor even as an autonomous recorder is really not low. While I expect the H6 to have a far higher S/N ratio, I was wondering did you notice a difference in that respect between interface and standalone modes.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby blinddrew » Wed Feb 08, 2017 11:33 am

Just one thing to be aware of with the H4n, if you're recording multi track it only records at 16 bit. 24 bit recording is only available in the stereo recording mode.
I understand that the H5 allows 24 bit recording in multiple track mode.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Feb 08, 2017 11:46 am

blinddrew wrote:Just one thing to be aware of with the H4n, if you're recording multi track it only records at 16 bit. 24 bit recording is only available in the stereo recording mode.
I understand that the H5 allows 24 bit recording in multiple track mode.

Very good point....

Y'know, I'm wondering whether the O/P would be advised to have a look at one of these: https://www.zoom.co.jp/products/multi-track-recorder/r8-recorder-interface-controller-sampler#overview

24-bit, phantom; battery-powered if desired, etc etc.

It's built for the job of multitracking in a way which the H series isn't...
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Dramatic Hammer » Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:21 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:
blinddrew wrote:Just one thing to be aware of with the H4n, if you're recording multi track it only records at 16 bit. 24 bit recording is only available in the stereo recording mode.
I understand that the H5 allows 24 bit recording in multiple track mode.

Very good point....

Y'know, I'm wondering whether the O/P would be advised to have a look at one of these: https://www.zoom.co.jp/products/multi-track-recorder/r8-recorder-interface-controller-sampler#overview

24-bit, phantom; battery-powered if desired, etc etc.

It's built for the job of multitracking in a way which the H series isn't...

You've just reminded me that a friend records multitrack audio with an iPad and Tascam interface. Could be a silent recording option for the OP as well.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby blinddrew » Wed Feb 08, 2017 2:24 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:
blinddrew wrote:Just one thing to be aware of with the H4n, if you're recording multi track it only records at 16 bit. 24 bit recording is only available in the stereo recording mode.
I understand that the H5 allows 24 bit recording in multiple track mode.

Very good point....

Y'know, I'm wondering whether the O/P would be advised to have a look at one of these: https://www.zoom.co.jp/products/multi-track-recorder/r8-recorder-interface-controller-sampler#overview

24-bit, phantom; battery-powered if desired, etc etc.

It's built for the job of multitracking in a way which the H series isn't...

I've still got a much earlier version of one of those Mike, I use it occasionally for location recording. It doesn't get dragged out very often because the ergonomics / operating system are just horrible and I have to look in the manual every time I want to do something. I'm sure that's moved on a lot though - mine must be at least 10 years old.

As to using an ipad and an interface - that sounds like a good option, I have a tascam us8x16 that definitely fits the simplicity brief - but it does mean the OP having or buying suitable mics and an ipad as well.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Feb 08, 2017 2:30 pm

Dramatic Hammer wrote:
You've just reminded me that a friend records multitrack audio with an iPad and Tascam interface. Could be a silent recording option for the OP as well.

And I've recently come across similar kit and apps for those of us who are Androids. :lol:

Bought it, using it, pleased.....
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby Dramatic Hammer » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:21 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:
Dramatic Hammer wrote:
You've just reminded me that a friend records multitrack audio with an iPad and Tascam interface. Could be a silent recording option for the OP as well.

And I've recently come across similar kit and apps for those of us who are Androids. :lol:

Bought it, using it, pleased.....
Nice!

I'm wondering whether even a phone has enough umph to do it these days... Even if not for overdubbing but the initial multitrack recording? I suppose you run into storage issues at some point.
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Re: H4n Pro as standalone multitrack recorder

Postby awjoe » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:15 pm

Pat Nghia Long wrote:
1) Is recording with the H4n Pro in standalone mode really quiet with respect to self-noise?

[the H1 definitely is not, it’s very noisy, and when the preamp goes below the 30 mark (100 being the max) it produces very audible, awful sounding digital parasite noise.]


Hi. You might get something from this thread, in which Hugh explains why I was getting noise using a Royer R121 with the Zoom H6:

http://www.soundonsound.com/forum/viewt ... oe#p473316

The fix was to get a Fethead, and now everything's fine.
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