Zoom H2 Handy Recorder (Bonus)

The Zoom H2 is a pocketsize digital recorder that records in stereo or 4-channel surround.
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The Zoom H2 is a pocketsize digital recorder that records in stereo or 4-channel surround.
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This online bonus material supplements the review of the Zoom H2 Handy Recorder in the March 2008 issue of EM.

Surround and Surrender

One thing I noticed when using the H2''s 4-channel mode to record in surround was that the recordings didn''t have much front/rear isolation. The spacing angle between the front and rear mics is just 75 degrees, and the mics are essentially coincident. In my experience, more dramatic front/rear differentiation happens with greater distance between the front and rear mics, which creates time-delay cues that enhance your ability to localize the source of a given element in the recording. With near-coincident capsules such as the H2''s, the only directional information is provided by amplitude cues.

It would be very helpful if the H2 could record four channels using a combination of internal mics and external inputs. For example, the perennial problem with line-out board mixes of live gigs is that the vocals are too loud and the audience is too soft. If the H2 could record two channels from its internal mics and another two from its line-level inputs, you could have the best of both worlds—the direct sound from the board, and the audience and room ambience to mix down later.

You might want to record four channels even if you''re interested in stereo playback only, because you can take a 4-channel recording and later mix it down to stereo—right inside the H2. You can combine front and rear channels in equal amounts, or you can set any front/rear and left/right balance you desire using a virtual-joystick-like 3D Pan function. A new stereo file will be created, copying the 4-channel recording into a new stereo file using your custom pan settings.

I did a 4-channel rehearsal-room recording of my band, the Sippy Cups, with the vocals coming from behind the H2, and the drums, bass, guitar, and keys set up in front. Later I was able to use the 3D Pan function to rebalance the vocal level relative to the instruments (within the limits of the H2''s internal mic''s front/rear isolation). Down-mixing the results makes a WAV file, but you can convert it (or any H2 stereo recording) into an MP3 file at any of the bit rates the H2 supports—handy indeed.