Sonic LAB: Zoom H6 Portable 6ch Recorder

With interchangeable input modules      10/09/14
    MP4 12:3 mins    

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If you've watched much TV news coverage, you've probably seen an on-street piece where reporters are thrusting audio recorders at an interviewee; and amongst those recorders, it's likely there's a Zoom H4n to be seen.

And even more likely that behind the cameras there's one... the H4n has become a bit of a 'go-to' recorder for mobile news gathering and location audio in general, and for good reason; it's sturdy, well laid out, easy to operate, and flexible, offering 4 channels of recording and a bunch of extra features.

But the H4n is not without its faults. It was an improved version of the original H4 and addressed many of the shortcomings of the first version, but the mic-amps were still a little noisy for some, and if you had to use phantom power, the battery life was simply woeful.
And if the batteries did run out during a recording, that file was lost forever - something you really don't want when recording a once-in-a-lifetime event.

So here we have the Zoom H6... looking like an H4n on steroids and with a whole new bag of tricks.
Is it an evolution of the range, taking on the mantle of the H4n and improving an already proven design? Or a flashy brand new kid on the block, sporting muscles and extra bling but still a bit wet behind the ears?

The video shall explain... but quick spoiler for those unwilling to sit through it... yep, the H6 is pretty grown-up. In all respects.
The battery life issue is sorted... mic-amps are quieter... and interchangeable capsules are a fancy new option.
But it's BIG ;-]

And a longer spoiler...
The H6 is very much on familiar ground, building on the success of the H4n.
The interchangeable capsules are an interesting idea... I'm not too sure how many people will make full use of the various options available, but it certainly helps you to customise your recorder for different situations.
It does that at the cost of portability, though - the H4n is a great self-contained option, and its sturdy plastic carry-case is barely larger than the recorder itself - the same cannot be said of the H6n - it's a much larger beast, and finding room for it *and* the capsules in a small kit bag will be more of a challenge - it's not something you can throw in your camera bag and go as easily as the H4n.

Yes, it comes with a hard plastic carry case for recorder and a couple of mic capsules, plus room for batteries, windshield, etc... but it takes up about 6 times the space of an H4n case.

A significant advantage though over the older model is the increased battery life using phantom power - and perhaps the most important of all to me personally, is the fact you'll no longer lose an entire audio file if the batteries do happen to expire whilst recording.

The quality of those recordings is a little better due to the decreased noise levels, the quality of the X-Y mics themselves is improved; and of course the M-S and mini-shotgun mic options are now there, plus extra XLR inputs if desired.

The display is a big change - I guess most people will see that as an improvement, but some using the H6 outdoors might be less convinced.
The positioning of the display seems to be a nod to DSLR users who mount the recorder on top of their camera or rig; it's good for that, but recording yourself is now even more difficult to monitor - can't win 'em all ;-]

The post-recording features are very comprehensive; again, personally I have little use for them as I tend to offload files and work on them in a DAW or NLE, but for those needing to edit and mix onboard, there are plenty of options.

I appreciate the new 'safety' recording ability of a duplicate track(s) at 12dB lower level - it's just available for the L-R channels, though.

However, I don't particularly appreciate the folder/file naming results when selecting Date as a file-saving preference - the proliferation of folders and similarly-named files is a nightmare for post-production organisation.

Ergonomically, it hits the spot, with many physical controls easily accessible right on the body of the recorder, rather than buried away in multi-level menus.

Overall, a definite improvement on many aspects of the successful H4n, with perhaps the added bulk (and file-naming clumsiness) as a downside.

Street price - £319 (RRP-£369) - $399 ($499)
Andy McCreeth


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