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Zoom F4

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Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Nov 30, 2016 11:05 am

So this isn't going to be an in-depth review that painstakingly describes the physical characteristics of the kit. It's about impressions and usability.

I did some juggling of gear and finances and got myself on the pre-order waiting list almost as soon as this recorder was announced because it seemed that it was just what I'd been looking for. Thus far I haven't been disappointed.

As a previous owner of a Fostex FR2LE and then a Tascam DR680 - both of which I probably 'moved on' precipitately - I was used to recorders that have minimal (if any) onboard miking arrangements, are definitely not pocket-sized and concentrate on a superior recording chain. That said, my Zoom H5 (now also 'moved-on') came very close in many respects, but it was usability for what I want to do that caused me to rethink.

The F4 is a 4-channel recorder with all the semi-pro - and even pro - features that you'd expect from a machine in the price-range (I paid £579): XLR inputs and outputs, 48v phantom, a good range of recording formats etc etc etc. It's surprisingly compact - 175mm x 135mm (approx) and is solidly constructed with real metal!

As well as the 4 XLR inputs you can also attach the range of various clip-in mics that Zoom make for the H5/H6, but in reality the only way you'll do that is to buy one of the eye-wateringly expensive extension cable that Zoom have available. That said, I've retained the Zoom '2 extra XLR sockets, but no phantom' adapter that I used with the H5. I can see some situations where that will allow me to connect another two mics - giving me six discrete channels of audio if I want them. But that will only be practical in a static situation as the connector socket is on the back of the machine.

You won't be surprised that in a package this small the controls aren't exactly chunky. I have fairly slim fingers and the controls are OK for me, but I suspect others with bigger fingers would find it quite fiddly. I was out field-recording yesterday and found that operating the controls even with thin gloves was impossible.

The screen is mono only and not big - 45mm x 30mm. It has a range of viewing options and as is now customary, options for brightness, contrast, duration of illumination etc. I've found it adequate when working in its designed bag in a chest harness. But it would be nice to have some of those lovely Sound Devices meters!

If you're a sound-video person, the F4 should suit you well. It comes with timecode in and out and various formats of timecode too - all a mystery to me! There's also the option to send sub-mixes to and receive them from a camera - albeit on 3.5mm TRS jacks, but, hey, it is a small recorder.

Headphone out is on 'full-size' socket and I've found the level available more than adequate for my AKG closed-back 32-ohm headphones.

Recording routing options are comprehensive - there's space for two SD cards and you can do clever stuff like record WAV to one and MP3 to the other - or record the same format to both simultaneously as the ultimate card-glitch safeguard.

Powering options are good and both external battery packs and the mains unit (supplied) can be connected via a Hirose connector - another nice 'professional' touch.

I'll skip the rest of the detail - of which there's loads - to cut to the chase: what does it sound like?

Well, the good news is that the mic pres are some of the best I've come across in a device like this - or any device in my price range: super-quiet and with 75dB of gain available. I was out wildlife recording yesterday (Rode NTG-1) and some of the levels were very quiet, requiring significant increases in gain in post. But not a hint of hiss. I'm confident that when it comes to the time to connect some of my lower output dynamics with the low noise floor and the amount of gain available I shan't have any problems. Oh and headroom was superb!

Should you be swapping your Fostexs and DR680s for one of these? Not just for the sake of it and only if the F4 gives you facilities you need and don't have - video-people may find it is worth the upgrade*... Should you look seriously at one of these if you're in the market for a 4-channel recorder that's robust and has an excellent front end? Most definitely!


*(For video people... check out the YouTube videos by Curtis Judd. A knowledgeable person with a quiet and unassuming manner who does lots of reviews and discussions on suitable audio gear for video)
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Nov 30, 2016 12:14 pm

Nice. Thanks Mike.

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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Nov 30, 2016 2:38 pm

Yep indeedy - thanks Mike!

The mic preamps seem to have come on a lot noise-wise since I bought my Zoom H4n, although I still find that useful for sound-design capturing in the field, and recording Belinda's harp.


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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Nov 30, 2016 5:22 pm

Martin Walker wrote:Yep indeedy - thanks Mike!

The mic preamps seem to have come on a lot noise-wise since I bought my Zoom H4n, although I still find that useful for sound-design capturing in the field, and recording Belinda's harp.


Martin

Thanks Martin. Yes; but in fairness to Zoom and other manufacturers who have recorders in those same price-points I think that it's horses for courses. My H5 was fine using its onboard mics as is (I believe) the 4n. And back in the day the H2 was OK on its own mics. It's only when you use the external mic inputs that things can get 'interesting'. And the H5 bounced right back once I put a MARTiAUDiO cascode preamp on the mic input.

Of course, there are many preamps in all sorts of gear that have restricted gain... 60dB is seen as the 'norm' now by many manufacturers and there is plenty of kit that doesn't give you more than 50 (ish).

It wasn't the superb preamps that were the decider for me... it was the usability. For what I need, the H5 with cascodes was good enough from an audio perspective... it was field usability that made me decide I needed a different form-factor. I think this emphasises to us all that we need to think carefully about how we'd intend to use a piece of gear before buying it! :blush: Of course, I thought my radio/location days were behind me... only to find that they weren't! :lol:
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Dec 10, 2016 11:59 am

... and although I've posted this elsewhere, for completeness I'll also put a link here to the external controller that Zoom have just announced. According to my supplier of choice it will be in the UK in January. Price TBC.

https://zoom-na.com/products/field-video-recording/field-recording/frc-8-f-series-remote-controller
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:12 am

Just a quick update on something I need to investigate....

As a default the machine gives a quick tone through the headphones when you activate (and deactivate) recording.

I did some voice recording late last week where I was sat behind 'the voice' while we recorded a multi-take extended commentary to go with a CAL package. Obviously in this situation good S/N ratio is crucial. I achieved that to my satisfaction, but in the edit yesterday discovered that there is some bleed-through of the record tone at very low level. Not an issue of course - can simply be edited out. But how did it get there? I shall investigate...
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Mar 01, 2017 1:27 pm

.... the smart money says that because the environment was so quiet and the preamps are so good I was picking up the sound of the tone bleeding out of the headphones - at a distance of 2+ metres, with closed-back headphones at 'conversational' level and a dynamic mic! :o

Tests to prove this to follow. If it is as suspected I'm a very happy bunny as it shows what an excellent S/N ratio I'm achieving....
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Mar 01, 2017 2:22 pm

Doesn't surprise me, Mike.

Tone is a very easy thing for the ear to pick up, even when exceptionally very low in a mix, and the acoustic isolation efficiency of headphones is rarely that good -- especially if one side is pushed back off the ear.

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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed Mar 01, 2017 8:34 pm

Tests now confirm that there is zero bleed-through within the machine.

So it was the mic picking-up the ' bip-bip' tone from the headphones.

Something to be aware of in the future when recording myself as the cans will be much closer to the mic!
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Bob Bickerton » Fri Mar 10, 2017 11:53 am

The alert tone can be turned down or off (well on the F8 and therefore probably the F4).

Menu > Output > Headphone > Alert Tone

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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Mike Stranks » Wed May 10, 2017 9:15 pm

Quick update on the F4....

Still very pleased with it, but the external power multipurpose flylead packed up a couple of weeks ago.

Fortunately, I'd bought from Pinknoise Systems who are, comparatively speaking, just down the road. Paid them a visit... lots of fault-finding by them which took some time, but they weren't bothered... confirmed that it was the lead that had gone dead short. An instant replacement was produced... followed by a cup of coffee and 20 minutes chat about many things location recording. Good guys; definitely not box-shifters!
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed May 10, 2017 9:26 pm

:clap: :thumbup:

I agree. They were very helpful and supportive when I had an issue with a Nagra VI a while back.

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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Martin Walker » Thu May 11, 2017 12:53 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote::clap: :thumbup:

I agree. They were very helpful and supportive when I had an issue with a Nagra VI a while back.

Ooh, you name dropper you :yawn:

:mrgreen:


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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri May 12, 2017 10:11 am

:lol:
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby jagraphics » Thu Aug 10, 2017 12:39 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Quick update on the F4....

Still very pleased with it, but the external power multipurpose flylead packed up a couple of weeks ago.

Fortunately, I'd bought from Pinknoise Systems who are, comparatively speaking, just down the road. Paid them a visit... lots of fault-finding by them which took some time, but they weren't bothered... confirmed that it was the lead that had gone dead short. An instant replacement was produced... followed by a cup of coffee and 20 minutes chat about many things location recording. Good guys; definitely not box-shifters!

I did an external power pack for my F4 using 8 D-Cel batteries (about a 10 hour life) and to save messing about got a second 4pin adaptor lead from Zoom UK.....

If you need one of these leads GO DIRECT to Zoom UK as their price is about half that of many on-line places. The part is a DHC-1
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby IronFilm » Sat Sep 09, 2017 2:35 am

I purchased the Zoom F4 earlier this year, but only just now got around to uploading an unboxing of it that I filmed ages ago on my cellphone:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXSLbg8DrqA
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby Guest271017 » Sat Sep 09, 2017 8:58 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote::clap: :thumbup:

I agree. They were very helpful and supportive when I had an issue with a Nagra VI a while back.

H

Issue with Viagra??? What??? :beamup:
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Re: Zoom F4

Postby IronFilm » Wed Jul 18, 2018 5:40 am

Just got notified B&H has a Zoom F4 for $420 daily deal.

Pounce on it! Is the golden perfect recorder for any one to start out on, and that is unbelievably cheap.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/ ... order.html
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