Zoom H1 records high-resolution audio for $99

Zoom's H1 Handy Recorder has built-in stereo microphones and does MP3 and up to 96-KHz/24-bit high-resolution audio on the cheap.

The Zoom H1 Zoom

The Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder is exactly what the name claims. Measuring just 8x2x5 inches it's very portable, and this little thing records high-quality WAV files at 44.1- to 96-KHz sampling rates with 16-bit or 24-bit resolution.

If you're more interested in maximum recording time, it can also do MP3 files at 48Kbps to 320Kbps. The H1 records on microSD cards and comes with a 2GB card. Step up to a 32 GB microSD card and you'll get over 50 hours of recording time at 16-bit/44.1KHz.

I first wrote about Zoom products in late 2007, and came away really impressed with the company's H2 recorder's sound quality. The H1 doesn't replace the H2, but it's a more evolved design, and goes for just $99!

Connectivity is pretty basic; there's a 3.5mm mic input, a 3.5mm headphone output, and a USB 2.0 port. You can monitor the H1's sound over headphones, or in a pinch with the recorder's tiny built-in speaker. Zoom claims the single AA battery should last 10 hours, but I only got 5 or 6 hours.

The H1, mounted on a Canon T2i camera Zoom

All record functions are at your fingertips, such as track marker, autorecord, low-cut filter, record level, and volume controls.

Build quality isn't robust, so I doubt the H1's lightweight plastic body will survive too many drops onto hard floors. The plastic case picks up handling noises when you hold the H1 while recording; I'd recommend getting Zoom's $24 accessory kit, which comes with a windscreen, power adapter, USB cable, semihard carrying case, tripod, and mic clip. The little tripod eliminates handling noises while recording, and the windscreen is essential for outdoor recording (any air movement results in loud buffeting noises).

I recorded some musicians in the New York City subway, but the subway stations were too noisy to seriously evaluate the H1's sound quality. So I headed over to see my musician friends Gene and Beth with the H1, and they played a bunch of tunes for me. Gene is an audiophile, so we played the recordings back over his MartinLogan electrostatic speakers. Gene knows the sound of his 1930s-era Gibson Mastertone banjo and 1958 Gibson Southern Jumbo and 1931 Martin Herringbone 0028 guitars, and he felt the H1 did a great job of capturing their sounds. But Gene and Beth's vocals were too thin and distant-sounding, so I changed the mic position and we recorded a few more things. The new mic position helped flesh out the vocals a bit. Overall, Gene felt that for a $100 recorder the H1 was a great buy.

He thought it would be ideal for young players who want to document a rehearsal or club date. We compared the H1 recordings with some recordings Gene had done in his apartment with a $1,000 digital recorder and a $300 Audio-Technica microphone. The sound was much better, mostly because it was more naturally balanced overall, but the recording gear was 13 times more expensive! We all thought the H1's microphones were the weak link, but you can hook up a better mic to the H1. By the time we finished recording Beth was considering buying a H1 for herself. If you're in the New York area and dig bluegrass music, check out their band, Minetta Creek.

Beth and Gene really liked the H1's simplicity of operation; its one-button record system is a breeze to use. Later on I used the H1 to record interviews, and I'm also sold on the little recorder.

Gene and Beth recording with the H1 at home Steve Guttenberg
 

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