Zoom H2 Handy Recorder

A toy it may appear but a joke it ain’t.


18 January 2008


The smaller, less flamboyantly shaped Zoom H2 ‘Handy Recorder’, actually reminds me of an old electric razor I once owned. It’s virtually the same size but its cutting edge nature is a little different… Unlike the Zoom H4 I reviewed back in Issue 56, the Zoom H2 is a genuine pocket sized two- or four-channel recorder, housing two dedicated stereo mics. These mics are embedded in the headstock back-to-back, facilitating what could be best described as ‘quadraphonic’ recording – a surround sound capture device minus the ‘centre’ and sub. There are many other features the H2 offers, like a chromatic tuner, a metronome, on-board limiters and compressors, but none are more appealing than this.

The H2’s ability to record four channels simultaneously via its two stereo mics makes it great for capturing ambient spaces. The two mics face 180º off-axis to one another in a side address configuration, giving the unit has the capacity to record in fixed X/Y stereo (90º) from the front, wide X/Y stereo (120º) from the rear, or both simultaneously. Selecting between these options via the left/right arrow keys on the front panel is a cinch. The unit is also capable of recording ‘surround sound’ as a four-track file or a folded down two-track file, which is handy. The only downside is that, in four-channel recording mode, the resolution drops from 24-bit/96k to 24-bit/48k,which is a shame.

The unit is nonetheless a high quality quasi-surround and stereo recorder, which can be ready for duty at a single button press. The H2 is more than capable of acting as an ambient field recorder, a ‘dual-stereo’ desktop-style interview mic (facing the interviewer and interviewee) or as a self-contained recording device for countless other situations where a lightweight, simple to use, digital recorder might be required. To that end the H2 is very much an audio consumer device – it’s cheap, lightweight, portable and a piece of cake to operate. In fact, it’s so light that at one point during an outdoor recording session the unit actually blew over, although to be fair it was blowing 30-knots! In that circumstance the foam pop shield also managed to act as fairly crude shock absorber…

When I reviewed the larger Zoom H4 a couple of issues ago I used that unit to ‘freewheel record’. That is, I had it permanently tracking during a session independently of the main computer. The lengthy file it captured was then later flown into the session, edited up and manually sync’d with the main recording session files. The results were fantastic. It stands to reason then that the newer H2 could also be placed virtually anywhere thanks to its small upright stature, sturdy little tripod stand and bantam weight (110g).

Sonically the H2 is remarkable. For the price ($445) the recording quality is quite amazing. Any audio the unit captures via the built-in mics sounds very smooth and articulate. The H2 also has a mini-jack external mic input (if you’d prefer to use your own mics) and separate headphone and line outputs with a physical up/down volume control for monitoring. There are hi-pass filters for all the mics and a simple to use three-position gain control can also be fine tuned with the H2’s dual function rewind/fast-forward buttons on the front fascia.

Like the H4, the H2 also has a built-in USB 2.0 interface that facilitates the easy transfer of files into a computer. Moreover, whenever the supplied USB cable is connected to a computer the H2 turns into a full duplex external audio interface. So rather than relying on the internal SD card, files can be recorded directly from the unit into your computer.

The H2 accessories include: AC adaptor, reasonable sounding earbuds, stereo mini jack-to-RCA cable, USB cable, foam pop shield, 512MB SD card, plastic microphone ‘grip’ adapter (for not so silent handheld operation) and a tripod stand (which makes the H2 look like a three legged wind-up robot toy). Batteries are not supplied.
There are so many portable recorders on the market nowadays we really are becoming quite spoilt for choice. More than any other reason, your budget will be what steers you towards one product over another. Most of the units on the market today sound very good so it’s more a question of what facilities you require and how durable you need your recorder to be. In that regard, the Zoom H2 feels a bit more like a consumer device thanks to its plastic casing and switches – none of which are exactly bullet proof. Regardless, the Zoom H2 can claim poll position as one of the smallest, lightest and cheapest portable recorders on the market, and for the price the H2 sounds great. It’s versatile and simple to use, offers lots of connectivity and the dual stereo recording option is brilliant. If you need a highly portable and cheap digital recorder that doesn’t need to survive life inside a cement mixer, the H2 is really very hard to fault.


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