Don’t be deceived by the F3’s diminutive form — there’s a seriously useful recording device lurking in this box!
There’s been a steady flow of useful little devices coming from Zoom in the last few years, and the F3 is one of the most portable. This two‑channel solid‑state recorder can run for up to eight hours off two AA batteries — though you can, if you prefer, power it from an external supply, such as a battery pack or phone charger, over the USB connection. (It worked just fine with my Samsung Galaxy phone charger, for example.) Of course, as with other Zoom devices, the USB connectivity also caters for file transfer and stereo audio interfacing.
When paired with the company’s Bluetooth adaptor, the F3 is also capable of wireless operation (iOS at the time of writing, with an Android version promised soon). And when partnered with a third‑party Bluetooth master clock device, you can also sync recording of multiple F3s and/or some other Bluetooth devices; Zoom’s UK distributor recommended the Atomos AtomX UltraSync Blue to me for that purpose, and it supports up to six devices used within 10m of the clock. I didn’t have the adaptor or an UltraSync Blue available for the review tests, though I have used Zoom’s BT adaptor with other devices, and it worked just fine.
Arguably, the F3’s headline feature is the 32‑bit conversion. At heart, it’s the same dual‑converter approach that we’ve seen in recent years on a handful of other devices, including portable recorders by Zoom, Tascam and Sound Devices, and some studio interfaces, such as Audent’s EVO range. Essentially, quiet signals are handled through one A‑D converter and louder ones through another, and the benefit of this clever approach is that signals with a vast dynamic range can be accommodated. Greater, in fact, than any mic is capable of throwing at the conversion stage, and that’s why there’s no input gain control: you just don’t need one.
32‑bit conversion could be a real boon ‘out in the field’, where levels are more likely to be unpredictable, your monitoring setup less than ideal, and time of the essence.
While 32‑bit conversion is of arguably more limited benefit in the studio — a helpful fail‑safe for novices, but in such a controlled environment levels are usually easy to predict, making gain easy to judge — it could be a real boon for professionals working on location, where levels are more likely to be unpredictable, your monitoring setup less than ideal, and time of the essence. Since you don’t have to (and can’t!) concern yourself with setting the preamp gain, you can get up and running quickly, capture a clean signal easily, and tweak the levels in post‑production without the risk of clipping or the noise floor ever becoming problematic.