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Zoom H4n gets tested, reviewed, adored

Donald Bell offers his review of the Zoom H4n portable audio recorder and shares the results of his test recordings.

The best sounding songs you'll ever hear are the ones you record yourself. Just like amateur photography or amateur film making, amateur musicians take a lot of pride in their art and are always looking for new, affordable tools to take things to the next level.

Photo of the Zoom H4n on the recording studio floor.
If you're a musician or podcaster looking for a rock-solid, four-channel pocket recorder, the Zoom H4n is the best we've seen for the money. Donald Bell/CNET

Computer-based recording software, such as Pro Tools and Garage Band, have gone a long way to help today's musicians create digital recordings that rival the results from professional recording studios. But even the best laptop-based recording rig can be limited by battery life and a less-than-convenient jumble of components (external sound cards, mixers, microphones). For the sake of convenience, some musicians and podcasters have turned to popular standalone portable recorders, such as the Edirol R-09HR and Sony PCM-D50.

Historically, the trade-off you make by using a handheld recorder is limited support for additional microphones and the restriction of recording only two tracks (stereo) simultaneously. The minute you want to use three microphones to record your band (or an interview), things start to get complicated. That is, unless you're using the Zoom H4n.

The H4n is a solidly-built portable audio recorder that retails for about $350, and lets you record four channels of audio (two stereo files) simultaneously. It's a brilliant feature that's a little hard to describe, so why not let the audio speak for itself? To hear the difference four channel recording can make compared to standard stereo recording, we enlisted the help of Alan Stewart and Jesse Clark from the Bay Area music group Agents Del Futuro. The guys set up an impromptu rehearsal at their recording studio to let us capture the sound of a variety of instruments.

To hear the results, check under the Performance section of my Zoom H4n review, or click through the following audio-enhanced slideshow.

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Zoom H4n
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Zoom H4n