The Zoom H4N, and other similar portable professional audio recorders, have grown at about the same rate as the DSLR revolution. The Zoom H4n became, and still is, the go-to recorder for any DSLR videographer remotely serious about capturing anything more than camera audio.
In this post we will continue to discuss recording sound in the field this time by focusing on a great review of the relatively new Zoom H6 field recorder produced by Mark Davie from videoandfilmmaker.com. What are the strengths and weaknesses, the pros and cons of H6? Is it better than its predecessor the work-horse Zoom H4N?
First let’s have a look at H6 specs:
- Modular Mic and Input System
- Includes XY Microphone Module
- Includes Mid-Side Microphone Module
- Four XLR/TRS Inputs
- Record up to 6 Simultaneous Channels
- Record up to 24-bit/96kHz Audio
- Doubles as USB Audio Interface
- Uses SDXC Memory Cards
- Optional Shotgun Mic and XLR/TRS Inputs
- Optional Hot Shoe Mount
For a long time, there’s been no field recorder with four or more XLR inputs you can simply put in your hand or in your pocket, until now. Zoom H6 gives sound recordists a true robust professional workflow that one can hardly overlook.
Further, the scenarios where more than two XLR inputs might be required on location are many. For instance, a simple interview might require two lavalier mics and a shotgun, or three omni handhelds if you’ve got two interview subjects. This is where H6 shines and definitely would come in handy.
The most noticeable addition to this portable recorder is the option to swap out microphone capsules. The standard near-coincident XY pair is replaced by two bigger capsules, and can be swapped out for a mid-side configuration or a shotgun. Rounding out the lineup is the option to clip on two extra combo jack/XLR inputs, taking the input count to six.
On the Zoom H4n the gain for each channel was only accessible via a single plus/minus push button control on the side — which was still usable, but not a great level of control, and adjusting gain while recording resulted in audible clicks in the recording.
The H6 has independent rotary gain controls for each channel, including one on each of the interchangeable capsules, with enough resistance to hold their position and side guards so you can’t easily bump them off settings.
The H6 has greatly improved preamps with an equivalent input noise of -120dBu or less on each of the XLR inputs. It is significantly less noisy at higher gain levels, especially noticeable when using shotguns or low-level handhelds.
The boot time of H6 is significantly improved as well. According to Davie some people were reporting bootup times in excess of a minute with 32GB SD cards on H4n. The H6 has no such issues.
Another significant improvement is the Battery life of Zoom H6. It has jumped up markedly. The recorder can record for almost 10 hours with all six inputs recording, whereas the H4n could only manage about six with2 inputs only.
This is the conclusion of Mark Davie on Zoom H6
The H6 is a dramatic improvement on the H4n. It’s obviously not meant as a strict replacement, as Zoom continues to sell the H4n and it serves a big slice of the market. That said, Zoom has managed to give a dedicated following more of what it wants, and it’s hard not to see people upgrading. The interchangeable capsules are a real value boost in an already packed unit — well worth it if you need more inputs and flexibility, especially without sacrificing much size.
It is a matter of time before H6 turns into the new “workhorse” for many indie filmmakers. Is it going to be more popular than Zoom H4n? Probably. However, the advantages and strengths of H4n are still undeniable and I’m sure will continue to see this little portable recorder in the hands of many filmmakers for a long period of time.