Review: Zoom H5 for simple home recording

There’s a lot of reviews on line that focus on using a Zoom recorder for podcasting and recording nature sounds, not much oriented to music (just a few), having done some research and recently purchased a Zoom H5, I thought my experience and first impressions might help the JG community. I’ve got no affiliation with Zoom.

Background: Having just purchased an acoustic guitar, I wanted a way of recording that met the following criteria:

Simple to use
Fit my budget around USD $200
Decent quality of recording

My budget meant that I was probably not going to afford an audio interface plus microphones. I also practice in different rooms depending on time of day and want to minimize the amount of gear I move around.

Internet research led me to find the “handy recorder” genre of portable recorders - I had no idea these existed! They typically save recordings to a SD card and a few have built-in condenser microphones and XLR inputs for connecting external mics. Tascam and Zoom appear to be the most common brands.

This won’t be a lengthy rundown of options and specs (plenty of that can be found elsewhere, was very helpful.

Tascam DR40x was a front-runner at first - it gets good reviews and I liked that the built-in microphones could be re-positioned. As I learned more, I decided I preferred a dedicated knob or dial to change the gain settings for the microphones - basically how sensitive the mic is. I figured I’d be adjusting this often and didn’t want to be clicking through menus (all these units are small, as are their screens).

The Zoom lineup is more targeted to musicians, and the options I narrowed down to were the H4N Pro, the H5 and the H6 models. While the H4N Pro was the least expensive ($199) and has a bunch of built-in effects (e.g. reverb), it doesn’t have dedicated gain dial, so eliminated that as a choice.

That left the H5 and H6 models (both have dedicated gain controls):
The H6 is more expensive ($399 but down to $280 on sale), has 4 XLR/TRS combination ports for additional inputs (e.g. external microphones), and has a color screen and longer battery life (H6 takes 4 AA batteries compared to 2 AAs in the H5). The screen on the H6 is angled away from the mics - helpful if you use it while mounted to a video camera, but because my use case is solo recording, the screen angle is a negative. The H6 has 4 XLR inputs vs 2 on the H5, but for solo recording, I felt 2 XLRs would be plenty if I eventually buy an external microphone.

Both the H5 and H6 use the same preamp, which online reviews indicate is super quiet (and better than the Tascam or Zoom H4N Pro).

I ended up purchasing the H5 - $240 on sale but can be had for $199 in the used gear section of GuitarCenter’s website. I opted for used and the unit I received was in original packaging, looked unopened.

First Impressions:

  • The H5 is easy to use, navigating the menus is pretty simple, was up and running quickly

  • Boot time is quick, about 4 seconds using a 32Gb SD card (I had read the H4N took a long time to start up)

  • Recordings sound great using the built in mics, for a simple setup I won’t need to buy external mics (unless I start singing). Here’s two examples:

Fingerstyle Blues - study 12
Fingerstyle Blues - study 11

  • Click track: The H5 has a metronome that can play in headphones during recording, nice feature. You might be able to hear the click track in those recordings (my headphones are semi-open)…that’s how sensitive the mics are!

  • Gain knobs: I’m glad I opted for dedicated controls, when doing my recordings I adjusted the gain frequently

  • USB Card reader: transferring recordings to my mac was easy once I figured out that the H5 needs to be in “USB mode”, then it’s plug and play.

  • Audio Interface: an unexpected bonus…I spend a lot of my work day on conference calls and the H5 can also be an audio interface and use it’s built-in mics - so I’ve been able to improve my conference call setup.

  • USB power from my Mac - using it on conf. calls won’t blow through batteries.

  • USB port is old technology, would be better if it was USB C, but this isn’t a dealbreaker

  • Screen angle: While better than the H6 would have been, it’s still hard to see the H5 screen when self-recording

  • If you buy used and the unit doesn’t come with a windscreen (or “dead cat”) you will need one, the mics are super sensitive.

Next step is to figure out how to connect the H5 to my iPhone for video+audio, I’ll post when I get that sorted.

Happy to answer any questions!


I also own a H5 and am very happy with it. Have seen other musicians use the lower end Zoom models to good effect.

One feature I’ll add that you hopefully won’t have to use is great after sales support / warranty. After I’d had the zoom for about 4 years, I noticed the plastic case had become quite sticky feeling. Weird for sure. I googled and didn’t find any solutions so I contacted Zoom to find out how they would suggest fixing the stickiness. By this time the unit was well and truly out of warranty.

To my surprise, they contacted me and said they would replace the unit with a brand new one.

When I started recording with my Zoom via the pc and a DAW, I was struggling with the audio through the zoom xlr inputs. Musician friends suggested the quality of the audio interface on the zoom was sub standard and that I should get something like the focusrite scarlet (and others).

I was able to resolve the issue by working on the mic positioning and gain levels and was able to compare it to a scarlet (owned by a friend) and couldn’t state that the scarlet was enough better to warrant replacing the zoom. Admittedly that was based on my side by side testing of the two units and my general lack of experience with such units. To be honest, my friend and I couldn’t see any difference between the two units.

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That’s good to know about Zoom’s customer service. I’d read about the sticky rubber issue, nice that they are taking care of their customers.

One other plus is the 1/4” tripod mount that is on the back of the H5 - I’ve got mine on a mini tripod that makes it stable and easy to change where it’s pointed.

Thanks for the useful and detailed write up.
If I recall correctly, @LievenDV has a Zoom unit.

I have the older iteration of the H4N, which can only hande data cards of 2gb.
That is, today, its weakest point as it to todays standards; that is peanuts.

The H series are so cool though, combo inputs, multitrack, easy to use, sensistive but also capable of capturing loud gigs on lowest gain settings.

I even bought the R24 after that, which is next to my Mod Devices Dwarf, my preferred device to record/interface with.

I have little experience with the other brands but the Zoom products haven’t let me down once.


I have been thinking about this concept as my next purchase. Thank you for your detailed and very straight forward review!

Thanks for a fabulous write-up James.

In hindsight I might have met me needs when starting more effectively with such a device than the AI plus mic I settled on.

And if it can be used as the mic to provide the audio when recording a video with your phone or when joining a Community Open Mic on Zoom then the value proposition is even stronger.

@sairfingers maybe something for you to consider at an appropriate moment, Gordon?

I’m just so non techie David. Never say never though. I find learning guitar difficult enough. :smile:

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Maybe something like the Zoom Q2N 4k would be more useful for Gordon which is a video camera and audio option for musicians that way he doesn’t have to learn klingon and can just record and post. Also I think it’s compatible with OBS etc if he decides in the future to do an OM.

Edit: or he could just get one of their iOS microphones to plug into his iPhone or iPad and make them look like they belong to a Klingon.

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Well today I got a Zoom H5 delivered along with a manfrotto mini tripod stand and plan to try hooking it up to my mobile phone for some more impromptu recordings to analyse my progress more often.

@sairfingers I’ll keep you posted if you want on how I’m getting on with it (and if it’s too techie) as maybe an option for you my good friend.

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Hi James, hope you enjoy playing with your new toy. Thanks for thinking about me and yes I’ll be interested to hear/see the results of how you get on with it.
To be honest though, I’m only ever going to record myself in order to post here on AVoYP so I feel the iPhone audio/video quality is good enough for that.
I also only listen to others’ performances on my iPhone or occasionally my iPad so I’m afraid all the high tech audio wizardry is lost on me. :smiley:

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@Socio what phone are you using, and did you get the Zoom to act as an external mic for it?

@jsgreen haven’t had the chance yet to give it a go… I’ll be using a Samsung Galaxy Phone and might try it with iPad Mini too (but will need to buy adaptor first). I’ll keep you posted on how I get on and if it helps post on here how I set things up for the zoom to act as external mic.

Yes, I got the Zoom H5 to act as an external mic for the phone.