New recorder

I’ve owned various portable recording devices over the years, and gotten a lot of work done with them. For the past four or five years I’ve used a Sony minidisc recorder, which unfortunately is a great technlogy like Betamax videotape was a great technology—great, but mishandled by Sony so badly that other kinds of devices captured the market. Now you can’t even buy a minidisc recorder, and I depend so heavily on the fragile mechanical recorder I do own that I’ve been constantly looking for a suitable replacement.

Over the past year or so high quality solid-state recorders have begun to appear on the scene, though most of them cost much more than I wanted to pay. One of the most interesting was the Zoom H4 from Samson, almost exactly the features I wanted but a bit clunky and at $400 too pricey. Well, Samson has just released the H4’s little brother, the Zoom H2, keeping the features I wanted but dropping the price to $200. I just received mine today.

One of the features I need the most is quick recording. With the Zoom H2 you flip the power switch on, wait five seconds until the display shows the sound leve meters, press the red button once, check the sound level (if you need to), then press the red button again and it begins recording. Very simple, very nice.

The top of the unit contains four microphones that can be set to record in four patterns: 90 degrees (facing the front), 120 degrees (facing the rear), and either 2-channel or 4-channel 360 degree sound. The microphones themselves are much better quality than the tiny built-in mics you find in devices in this price range.

I was hoping that the Zoom H2 would be simple enough that Chris and I could knock out reference recordings without the hassle of setting up the mini-studio we used for our podcasts. The H2 comes with a handle shaped like a microphone base that screws into the bottom of the H2, which you can then insert into a microphone stand and position anywhere you need it. We did just that tonight, grabbing a mic stand, putting the H2 into it, turning it on, and doing some quick takes on three songs we’ve been playing lately.

Miner’s Prayer (90 degrees)
One Teardrop and One Step Away (90 degrees)
Coal Tattoo (120 degrees)

The only audio processing I did on these tracks is to normalize them (i.e. boost the volume level a bit), otherwise they are as the H2 captured them. The H2 is capable of recording CD quality sound (WAV files), but I have it set to record 128K MP3 files, which can fit ten times as much audio into the same space. If we were recording a CD for distribution I might record in WAV format, but MP3 is fine for most of what we do. Right now I’m using a 2GB memory card that cost me $19, and it will hold 35 hours of 128K MP3 audio.

The Zoom H2 is small and light, almost cheap feeling with lots of plastic. The lightness and compactness are features to us, though; we want something that can be kept in an instrument case and pulled out at a moment’s notice when we need to record something, e.g. another musician who wants to teach us a song or show us a technique.

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