Today I’m taking a look at a fairly recent purchase of mine, the Zoom H1 Portable Digital Handy Recorder. I use this for on-site recordings these days rather than the bulky computer-based system I used to haul around. To give you an idea of the difference. Picture 1 shows my old method of on-site audio capture: An AKG Dynamic Microphone, M-Box Mini 2 Pro Tools interface, external hard drive, headphones and a laptop. Picture 2 is the new method: The Zoom H1 Handy Recorder. That’s it. Each one has a furry little windscreen we’ll talk about later.
As you can see in the picture comparison, my old method of recording audio onsite required A LOT more equipment to be setup where ever I was going to record (you can see a particularly difficult and treacherous one there on the sand). It also required more setup time. I had to turn on my laptop and get Pro Tools running (I now use Apple’s Logic for audio recording with my computer, but that will be talked about in a different post), then set up the microphone including a mic cable, M-box, headphone and external hard drive, finally and get sound levels. All of this on that crappy laptop that died within two hours, so time was of-the-essence. Now I simply set up the Zoom H1 where ever it will sound good, get a quick level, and then press record: done.
So, without further adieu, I give you the Tune Up & Travel magic ratio of gear worthiness:
The final rating of these “magic ratio” reviews are not usually a mean average per se—although this one’s coincidentally is—but rather a final rating which compares each category with its individual importance in mind. In other words, weight is more important than ease of use to us traveling musicians. With that being said, let’s break it down:
Size is what drew me to the H1 in the first place. It’s really small (about the size of a Snicker’s bar) and easily-storable. It was given 9/10 airplanes because I do think it could actually be manufactured even smaller. Here’s a picture comparison of the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder next to a 16oz bottle of water:
Durability is where the H1 needs some work, for a traveling musician’s use anyhow. The thing definitely seems like it could be crushed or broken pretty easily. The top of the recorder that surrounds the microphone scares me, to put it simply. I store it inside of a sock and then a hardshell case which I also keep my GoPro in.
Weight is where our little friend here shines. This thing is like a feather. With the battery inside, it weighs just a tad more than a pair of scissors! That’s just incredible. I don’t think we’ll find a better ratio of sound quality vs. weight. Which brings us to:
Sound Quality. I knew I would be taking a hit when coming from a dynamic microphone and a professional interface. But I was surprised that it really wasn’t much of a hit. I’ve been pretty impressed with the recordings that the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder has given me. My only note for musicians’ use: There’s a little switch on the back labeled “auto level” which you should always leave OFF. It is, I’m sure, intended for voice recording. For music, it turns the volume down when it thinks the level is changing which results in a recording that constantly changes volume. I found this out the hard way and spent hours editing the file later in Logic to get a consistent volume.
Convenience is the other thing that sold me on the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder. I mean, seriously. I’ve now consolidated probably close to 15 pounds of gear and 20 minutes of pre-setup time into about 5-6 ounces and a couple minutes. I don’t even have to bring the laptop with me when I set out to record a video! It’s really easy to use, I think. There are “level” buttons on the side to set the mic volume, which takes a couple of seconds of testing to set. Then press record and voila!—you’re moving right along.
One last note: I recommend getting a wind muff if you’re going to be recording anywhere outdoors. Note that this is different from a traditional wind screen. A wind muff is the furry-looking little microphone cover you’ll see sound guys in the movies using:
Trust me, it’s a huge difference between the two. You can find them on Amazon for about $13.00 USD. This one (pictured) fits the H1 Zoom perfectly.