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, soundonsound.com 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.
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:
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!