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Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

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Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Jun 18, 2020 11:12 pm

#2 son is thinking of buying a portable recorder. We've pretty much narrowed it down to the H4n and the DR-40x. Both seem to offer the same features and I know there is a lot of love for the Zoom on here but the Tascam is £50 cheaper. Before I advise him to go for the Tascam has anybody used both?

Things I'm concerned about are the quality of the mic preamps* and of built in mics as initially at least he'll be using it with the built in mics but the external mic inputs are a useful bit of future proofing IMO.

I'll read the manuals to confirm that they would both allow overdubs and other niceties.

* I had a DP-02 and while I loved it in so many ways I did find the mic pre's very noisy. I haven't heard similar comments elsewhere though so maybe it was just me.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jun 19, 2020 12:24 pm

Not used the Tascam, but just thought it worth pointing out that there's an H4n and an H4n Pro. Not sure what the difference is but worth looking into and making sure you're looking at the right one.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Jun 19, 2020 12:58 pm

Yes, thanks Drew, I've just been reading reviews, unfortunately SOS haven't reviewed the H4n Pro only the older H4n. They don't comment on the DR-40 mic preamps which are my main concern so I'm assuming they are fine.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Tim Gillett » Fri Jun 19, 2020 2:46 pm

Sam, the H4n model has been discontinued for some time.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Jun 19, 2020 3:28 pm

Yeah, sorry it's the HN4x Pro he's looking at. I believe the preamps in the HN4x and Pro are the same though (upgraded on the HN4x I believe) so comparisons between either of them and the DR-40 and DR40x WRT preamps would be useful.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Arpangel » Fri Jun 19, 2020 4:10 pm

Just my experience, but I’ve got a Tascam DR1000 MK111, and I bought it over the equivalent Zoom at the time, I liked the sound of the mic’s, omni mode especially, plus the machine seemed a bit less harsh than the Zoom.
Also, a friend has just bought a cheaper Tascam than the one you’re looking at, he’s very critical about gear, but he’s more than happy with it.
I like the feel and ergonomics of my Tascam, and I think that will play a big part in your final choice, whatever you end up getting.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Jun 19, 2020 4:26 pm

Thanks Arpy, price is also a consideration, the Tascam is £50 cheaper. If the Zoom has significant advantages then it might be worth spending but I suspect it doesn't. He's recording horn stuff mostly so the extra fx the zoom has are probably not useful, and he'll do most editing on either an iPad Pro or a Windows laptop.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby trvln » Fri Jun 19, 2020 5:50 pm

I'm also looking for one of these types of portable recording devices in this price range. What I gather after some reading and listening to sound demos is that none of them have decent mic preamps, meaning the amount of available gain is much too low for dynamic microphones and the noise floor is even fairly high when using condenser microphones. Recording from the onboard microphones seems to be fine. Recording from the line inputs seems to be fine with the Tascam devices but not with the Zoom devices.

So it seems to be with these devices that the practical recording choices are to use the onboard microphones, use external condensers and accept that the noise floor will be high (similar or higher noise level of the very lowest quality mic preamps in the lowest quality audio interfaces), or use the line inputs connected to a mixer with the Tascam devices.

It seems too bad on the mic preamp situation in these devices, as I want one as a good-enough live recorder for all playing situations from home practice and songwriting to live gigs, not having to fiddle with everything involved with my daw setup. And the varispeed function in these devices is important to me for learning and practice, which is a major function that keeps me chained to my daw.

Looking outside of these devices, the field recorders seem to have usable mic preamps and line inputs, but they don't have onboard microphones and varispeed. And the small portable studio devices seem to almost hit the mark, having onboard microphones. But the Tascam devices are limited to only 2-track simultaneous recording. And the Zoom devices seem to have too many ongoing issues, including phantom power noise and time drift. Then there are the newer small format live mixer recorder devices at a significantly higher, don't have varispeed, and who knows what other issues since mum seems to be the word these days on device flaws from too many product reviewers.

Also, of all the devices that do have varispeed, it looks like none of them have varispeed that works at 96k sampling rates. 96k is nice for varispeed with source material that is 96k for preventing artifacts when slowing down recordings to half speed. It's a pretty big difference in clarity from 48k, which is a good thing when listening to touch to hear passages.

Does anyone have it together on these devices? The things have been around for over a decade. It is looking like for now that I should just keep using my daw at home for practice and songwriting and carry a laptop and interface for other playing situations.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby trvln » Fri Jun 19, 2020 7:23 pm

To the original poster, what I'm reading is that the H4n line inputs aren't really line inputs, but are instrument level unbalanced inputs which will clip with line level sources unless you use some pads to knock the levels down. And it seems that the DR-40X has more mic preamp noise, but both are said to be not very good with dynamic microphones, unless you are ok with a high level of hiss or use boosting devices such as fet heads or cloud lifters, for which a pair of either will cost more than the recording device itself. I found some sound clips over here of the mic preamps using an Audix OM2 dynamic mic. https://www.sam-mallery.com/2019/09/in- ... l-thoughts
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby trvln » Fri Jun 19, 2020 7:46 pm

There is some discussion here on recording line sources with the H4N. https://forums.creativecow.net/docs/for ... 41&pview=t

One poster mentions using 40-50db pads on the H4N's inputs. Another poster further down the page mentions using unbalanced xlr to 1/4" cables and getting good results.

It seems like the H4N along with some way of reducing or padding the input levels might be the better way to go, given that it has lower mic preamp noise.

Also, if you're looking at the H4N, it seems that there is very little difference between the mic preamps on the H4N and H4N Pro (sound examples linked to in previous post). And Zoom said in a few places that the new all black version of the H4N Pro is merely a cosmetic change from the previous H4N Pro.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Jun 19, 2020 9:38 pm

Thanks for the info #trvin, it's much along the lines I was reading, I haven't been able to listen to the recording on that review yet will do so in the morning, but it would be a possible concern, have you had personal experience of either? It would be useful to have feedback from anybody who has used either in the real world, especially with decent mics and acoustic music as that is probably what to will be most used for.

Just to throw another option into the pot, he was originally considering a Zoom IQ7 mid sides mic for his iPhone. I don't think it is a good choice for using when filming for various reasons but for recording just audio it might be a decent choice. Any thoughts?
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby trvln » Sat Jun 20, 2020 9:39 pm

Sam Spoons wrote:have you had personal experience of either? It would be useful to have feedback from anybody who has used either in the real world

I have no experience with them. And I would like to hear from others too.

I have been listening to more demos today of the DR-40x, and the preamp noise really doesn't sound that bad with dynamic microphones, at least for my intended purposes. So I think either the H4N or the DR-40x would be fine for me. But the DR-40X has actual balanced line inputs not requiring any sort of workaround as with the H4N that has unbalanced instrument level inputs. And the DR-40X is a little less expensive right now with the Tascam instant rebate thing going on.

In this video at around 5 minutes 30 seconds a Sennheiser E835 dynamic is being used and the preamp noise level seems fine for this type of device. Also, a full range of mic types is demonstrated during the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUVJutxxC4c

That is the DR-40, and from listening to other demos, the preamps in the DR-40X are just slightly less noisy.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Jun 20, 2020 10:01 pm

I'm not sure Youtube videos are much use for judging audio quality but he is using the dynamic mic close up so I'd expect even a marginal signal to noise performance to come over ok.

Even pretty decent preamps can struggle with quiet sources at a distance with stage vocal mics (it's simply not what they are designed for) and poor gain structure is only ever going to make things worse.

I did a test for #2 son this morning recording a 60 sec video on my iPhone 6 of me speaking and playing acoustic guitar. The purpose was to compare the audio captured by the iPhone and the audio captured by my antique Marrantz PMD620 portable recorder's built in mics. The Marantz was on a cardboard box just out of frame near my left knee and the iPhone was a couple of metres away at (seated) head hight. Once I had remembered to set the pad and manual gain on the Marantz the recorded quality was much better than the phone, mostly because of the respective positions of the mic on the iPhone in 'cameramen' position and the mics in the Marantz placed somewhere close to where I would place a mic for an audio only recording (compromised by wanting to keep it out of frame). Noise was not an issue.

The upshot is that we've decided that either will get the job done and the additional features in the Zoom are not a benefit to him. Add to that the +4dBU line level inputs are potentially useful and the Tascam may well have been the winner even if the price had been similar, the saving of over £50 makes it a bit of a no brainer.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby trvln » Sun Jun 21, 2020 12:44 am

The vast majority of my dynamic mics usage has been close to the source. I have used them as overheads for acoustic guitar and drums, but that needs preamps with tons of gain (as in 70db or so) to avoid the noise floor of the preamps, which most interfaces and mixers don't have, and condensers are almost always better suited for that anyway.

Still, it does seem that the preamps on these devices (and particularly the Tascam units) are on the low gain side of prosumer devices. But I think I can get along with one as they are for my uses.

I need a device for songwriting, practicing, and live band good-enough recording from the mixer that is highly portable and not a hassle to use. For personal playing and songwriting I tend to move around with an acoustic guitar to different spaces around the house depending on who is home and the weather, including outdoors, and dragging around a laptop, interface, and microphones for that was never feasible for me. I have instead used a phone for that, but the audio from a phone is too low quality for my taste. And worse is the distraction of the internet. I also want a device with varispeed for learning and practicing phrases. And I want a device that can either be used with onboard mics or just a stereo line cable (least hassle) for capturing jams, rehearsals, and live gigs with good-enough quality. It seems that one of these devices will cover all that, like a much more portable and convenient modern approach on a 4-track machine.

I don't really need the interface features of the newer DR-40X, so I'm thinking of getting the older non-X version. I guess it might be nice to have a backup interface, but I doubt that I would ever really use it. The newer version does allow for using higher capacity SD cards, has a slightly bigger display, and is lighter weight, but I doubt that those things would really matter to me. After getting the required accessories for either model (SD card, rechargeable batteries, and mic stand adapter) and taxes, the non-X version comes out at about $40 less for me. Maybe I'm missing something on the X version that is worth paying more for, but I'm not seeing it yet. Also, I think I prefer the older version's yellow display.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jun 21, 2020 10:34 am

Relatively inexpensive devices like these tend to be feature rich to have as wide an appeal as possible, volume sales being the target (and the means of keeping the prices low). High gain/high quality preamps which run successfully off a couple of AA batteries are likely to be the most difficult thing to achieve, the pro recorders like the F6/8 and Sound Devices use much more powerful batteries providing higher voltages which must make the designers job easier.

I think a point comes where you have to make a decision and live with it (unless you buy a complete shocker when the distance selling regs become your friend). That is what I have suggested to Dan (#2 son).
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