Issue 60
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January 11, 2011

H1_top copy

If Zoom handheld recorders get any smaller they’ll disappear entirely.

Review: Calum Orr 

AT has reviewed all of Zoom’s handheld recorders in the last few years so we couldn’t very well ignore its newest, smallest and lowest priced offering, the H1 Handy Recorder. Not everyone needs the full feature set or super rugged construction of the Zoom H4, and it may ironically turn out that the new H1 becomes the most popular model amongst users who record their files ‘on the run’.

This style of portable stereo recorder is designed to do just that of course – record stereo files on the run at a variety of resolutions: low or high-res MP3 (48kbps – 320kbps), and broadcast wave files ranging from 16-bit/44.1k right up to 24-bit/96k. More importantly perhaps is that the in-built X/Y stereo condenser microphone of the H1 delivers clear, crisp audio at all of these bit and sample rates (much to my surprise) and I wouldn’t hesitate to make a recording of an acoustic guitar or small choral concert – even a string quartet – with the Zoom H1’s onboard mics.

While not as robust as its older brethren, the plastic casing of the H1 is by no means flimsy, and indeed feels quite substantial in the hand. The orange LCD display is easy on the eye and allows an overview of metering and all other settings at a glance. Below the mic cage enclosure is an LED that indicates record and input peaks, while at the business end of the unit the Record button is unmistakably placed fare and square at the centre of the body.

On the back of the H1 are slider switches for selecting Low Cut (for low end or rumble filtering), Auto or Manual input level control and the choice between MP3 or Wav recording formats. Also on the rear is an inset thread for attaching the unit to a tripod or video camera. The last thing to mention ‘round the back’ is the all important battery compartment. Unfortunately, this became an all too familiar orifice during my time with the H1 as the review model exhibited some bad behaviour with respect to batteries. Even after the unit was fully powered down, if a battery was left in the compartment its power would fully drain over a period of eight to 10 hours. To avoid this unfortunate process also draining cash from my wallet I quickly learnt to turn the battery around after each recording session. Not the ideal workaround admittedly but a solution nonetheless.


The recording medium du jour in the Zoom H1 is the now ubiquitous SD memory card – up to 32GB cards can be accommodated while the H1 itself ships with a smaller 2GB card. This was easily formatted after a quick perusal of the excellent instruction booklet. The rest of the H1’s ‘busy side’ includes a mic/line jack input (in case you want to record from sources other than the inbuilt mics), a mini USB output for transferring recordings to a computer and the usual stop, fast forward, fast reverse and play buttons. Of course, not all recordings go to plan and for this eventuality a delete button is also provided along with a power button that incorporates a hold function for added security while you’re recording. (There’s also provision for a wall-wart power supply, which is handy, but which will presumably be less often used since it undermines the very nature of the unit’s portability in most circumstances.)

Monitoring via the headphone jack sounds fine, and the onboard speaker is a reasonable option for setup purposes, but the H1’s fidelity is only fully appreciated once recordings are transferred into your DAW and listened to through a decent setup. The audio quality of the H1 is very impressive, and exhibits minimal operational and handling noise (particularly if you’re careful not to manhandle the unit too much during recordings). Its controls are also very well thought out and implemented.


How Zoom makes these things at such a low price point is almost beyond me. The H1 is verging on a marvel I reckon, illustrating in the starkest terms imaginable just how far we’ve come since the unreliable and expensive days of portable DAT machines. I sincerely hope the battery issues of my review unit constituted a one-off because in all honesty, apart from this annoying tendency, the H1 is a great unit, one that’s cheap enough to buy almost without giving it a second thought.



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Issue 60