To be perfectly honest, Zoom's previous two handheld recorders (the H2 and H4) felt a little cheap. The H4n, however, feels rock solid, with a rubberized, shock-absorbing casing, big buttons, large screen, and a healthy heft. The construction isn't quite as reassuring as the Sony PCM-D50, but it certainly rivals the Edirol R-09HR.
The bottom of the Zoom H4n includes one of the holy grails of professional portable recording: XLR/TRS combo jacks. There's two of them, in fact, and they can be set up to record in stereo or dual-mono. These jacks make it easy to connect professional microphones, instruments, or mixers, without investing in adapters.
On the right side of the Zoom H4n you've got an SDHC card slot (there's no internal memory, but a 1GB SD card is included), recording gain control, and menu navigation controls. The Zoom H4n supports memory cards up to 32GB.
The Zoom H4n's built-in X/Y stereo condenser mics allow variable recording patterns at either 90 degrees or 120 degrees by twisting the mics within their sockets. Like the Zoom H2, a windscreen is included that shields the sensitive mics in outdoor recording situations. The Zoom H4n's built-in mics can be used in conjunction with its external mic inputs for a total of four independent channels of simultaneous recording--perfect for a basic drum set recording set-up or a multi-mic recording of an acoustic guitar.
The trouble with many pro-audio handheld recorders are their teensy, cramped screens. The Zoom H4n's screen is big and glorious, with a high contrast and large, legible text and icons. The four buttons beneath the screen act as quick keys for frequently used features.
There's nothing more reassuring than pressing a nice, big button when it comes to capturing an important interview or performance. The Zoom H4n's buttons feel great and the offset recording button makes it easy for your hand to find in low-light situations.
On the back of the Zoom H4n you'll find a battery compartment, threaded tripod stand, and an integrated speaker. Built-in speakers sure come in handy when you need to quickly play back a recording and you can't find your headphones. As far as power goes, the H4n operates for 10 hours continuously on a single set of AA batteries.