• Rugged, shock-resistant build, XLR inputs, and high-quality stereo mics.
• Bright, readable LED display and easy learning curve.
• Four-Track mode with bounce capabilities and onboard effects.
By most accounts, the Zoom H4 stereo and 4-track recorder was a serious slam-dunk when it was released in 2006, and the updated H4N ($299, street) trades on its predecessor’s savvy design while adding some cool extra features—a built-in mono speaker, a bigger, more readable display, a “stamina” mode to extend battery life while stereo recording, and an XY 90/120-degree built-in mic arrangement that Zoom argues makes for better center source intelligibility, a wide stereo field, and reduced phase issues. What’s more, the audio specs have improved with the H4N’s digitally controlled preamp. In addition to stereo and 4-track modes, the H4N now adds a “4CH” mode that allows for simultaneous recording of two separate stereo pairs—use the built-in mics for one pair, and the two phantom-equipped XLR/phone jacks for the other, and then mix the signals in surround or dual stereo.
The mics themselves are a clear step up from the H4, and the rubberized, shock-resistant build is heavier and tougher. The H4N compares well to a proper field recorder and its stereo imaging is excellent, on par with many more expensive devices. The H4N is even easier to use than its predecessor, with a scrolling and menu system that becomes second nature after a few hours (though you might want to do some deep-breathing exercises for those first few hours).
One place where the H4N clearly hasn’t grown up, though, is in its amp models and effects, which haven’t changed a lick since 2006. Those models were never earth-shattering to begin with, frankly, and it’s hard to understand how a major upgrade to this product would have overlooked such a significant part of the unit’s appeal. Here’s hoping the next H4 features a major overhaul of the guitar and effect presets, with vastly improved sonics, patch organization, and far more options. A more inspired rhythm brain would be a nice touch, too.