Some of you might remember how last summer the internet was all a-frenzy as Zoom introduced what for many was the long-awaited successor to the Zoom H4n on steroids: the H6. It promised (you’ve guessed it) 6 tracks of simultaneous recording, as well as a handy selection of interchangeable input capsules.
I have long been a fan of Zoom products, and was interested in upgrading my handy recorder, but as I didn’t need the 6 channels and wanted to first check how the new features would play out, I sat that one out. Although I use them alongside a number of other recording options, some of them far bulkier, I see Zooms as the absolutely ideal products to carry along when travelling: sketch pads to the traditional easel & canvas solution.
Reviews online appeared mixed: some people enjoyed the flexibility and portability of the swappable capsules (although apparently only 2 of the heralded 4 were actually provided with the recorder), but there were niggles- including flimsy rotating input level knobs and issues with handling noise. At the hefty price of Eur350, it just didn’t feel worth it.
Cue one summer on, and lo and behold: Zoom has listened, introducing to market the Zoom H5, a new (4-track) recorder to fill the gap between the H4n and the H6 both in terms of capabilities and price range, arguably packing the best bits of both in a neater, streamlined package. With a good bit of travelling on the horizon, this was my cue to finally take the plunge…
From the moment the box came through the post, I knew this would be ideal in size.
As you can see above, the recorder comes encased in its own hard plastic case, sponge lined for protection. Also included are a couple of extras- more on that later – although nothing to particularly write home (or a blog post) about. Zoom does charge for separate accessory packs, so there you have it.
So back to the box:
The H5 is compatible with the interchangeable capsules created for the H6 mentioned above, which is handy for any upgrading down the line, and comes with the XYH-5: a stereo X/Y capsule of shockmounted matched unidirectional microphones, similar to the H6’s XYH-6.
The difference here lies in the smaller size condensers and the fixed 90-degree X/Y angle. It would have been good to have the option to switch these to 120-degree, but it wasn’t to be. What the XYH-5 does appear to have over the XYH-6 is its ability to record an impressive 140dB SPL, apparently more than any other Handy Recorder mic currently on the market. I also like that the external mic wires and material isolate the unit from the main recorder’s body to minimise vibration and handling noise. The capsule slots in and out with ease, by simply pressing the two buttons on the sides simultaneously.
As you can see, size is ideal for a handy recorder at 66.8×135.2×42.1mm. It fits neatly in one hand, and possibly in a jacket pocket (depending on what jacket we’re talking about, possibly not a blazer). The outside is rubberised and has a nice grip and feel.
Zoom also seems to have addressed the issue of the H6’s rotating-knobs-with-a-mind-of-their-own – perhaps not subtly, it’s fair to say- by shoving a metal bar across them. Right, so it may not be Philippe Starck, but it works. No more random switching for these boys.
Inputs: in addiiton to the X/Y stereo capsule, at the bottom of the H5 you will find the two XLR/ TRS combos for external mics or instruments. Each input has its own phantom power. They come with -20dB pads and, crucially, the same preamps as the H6. There is also a line-in jack at the X/Y capsule for small condensers that require power.
Outputs: headphone jack with dedicated volume control, stereo out and a built-in speaker.
Main body: The screen is a large, backlit LCD screen with playback and recording levels clearly displayed. In addition to the standard transport controls there are dedicated record arm buttons for each of the 4 inputs and a 2-way selector on the side of the unit to navigate through the menu, this works pretty intuitively and smoothly.
The H5 records to SD or SDHC card up to 32GB in a variety of resolutions (WAV or mp3) and up to 96kHz/24bit in stereo, which is good news. This is one reliable sketch pad.
Another attraction of the H5 in relation to the H6, is its 15 hours of continuous recording using just 2 AA alkaline batteries (as opposed to the 4 of the H6). An optional AC adapter is available separately, which unfortunately seems to have become the norm with Zooms.
On-board effects: a number of channel-independent lo cut filtering, compression and limiting. Pre-recording function, back up recording (this new feature creates a duplicate of your recording at 12db lower than the input settings, providing a safety net in case of any unexpected clipping- handy in loud recording environments). Also on board are the usual metronome and instrument tuner, if you’re musically inclined (I just never-ever-ever use these.)
Last but not least, like the H6 the Zoom H5 can also be used as an interface, via USB cable (what, provided?! hooray.) which can also connect to IPads. Also built in is the useful thread for tripod mounting, which can also be used to connect to a DSLR via a shoe mount, sold separately.
Extras: in addition to the X/Y capsule- USB cable, black foam windscreen, hard carry case, 2GB SD card, AA batteries, and (throw this in the bin now) download CD for Wavelab LE. And the mandatory whole load of cardboard.
And now let the recording fun begin….From the preliminary test runs I liked what I heard, enjoyed the portability and found it fussless to adapt to. I will be starting a series of interviews this month and will definitely keep this handy for that purpose. In the meantime keep an ear on my Soundcloud and you’ll hear this little beaut in action over the coming weeks….