Zoom H4n Handy Recorder - Zoom H4n General Usage

Article Index
Zoom H4n Handy Recorder
Closer Look at the H4n
Buttons, Controls and Testing Info
Zoom H4n General Usage

General Usage:

I thought that probably the best way to "test" out the H4n Handy Recorder is to use it for a lot of different applications and find out how it handles and performs.  The overall construction is quite sturdy and the button placement on both sides is quite well thought out.  The jog wheel and buttons are in logical places and it doesn't take you very long to get used to the device and change folders, file formats and more.  

Menu navigation is quite easy and as you cycle through the Folder, File, Input, Recording, Tool, Play Mode, System, SD Card, USB and Mode menus, everything is in a logical place and is very easy to find.  For instance, if you want to turn Phantom Power on for a XRL mic that uses the bottom input, go to the Input menu and you'll find it there.  Zoom also gives you the ability to play back files that you've recorded through the devices speaker or through the line-out jack.  

Recording sound is done by pressing the "Rec" button on the front of the unit - not once, but twice.  The first press puts the H4n into standby/record pause mode where you can monitor levels on the display and tweak some settings prior to recording.  In this standby mode, the device will quickly enter full recording mode simply by pressing the main recording button.  Another recording mode you can choose to use is the automatic recording.  This will start the H4n automatically based on sensing sound.  You can adjust how loud the sound should be to trigger the automatic recording as well.  If you are worried about missing something when using the standard recording mode, there is an option to enable a "pre-record" as well that makes sure you don't miss any of the action.

One thing that may be handy for some of you is the ability to plug the H4n into your computer via the USB connector.  This will turn the mic into a high-quality USB microphone that will give you professional results and you can capture it to your computer directly if required.  Other handy features include a metronome, a guitar tuner and even an interesting karaoke feature.  We will all be glad that I didn't do too much recording with the Karaoke.

Although the Zoom H4n is much larger than most simple audio recorders, the size is still very functional.  You also have to keep in mind that this isn't a simple audio recorder.  It's a recording studio in a box.  It features a very basic mixer, as well as support for 4-channel audio recording.  We've tested this out in several situations and it appears to work as advertised.  The H4n can provide enough "Phantom" power to devices and while this certainly affects battery life, it is still usable for hours of non-stop recording.

Leonard Nimoy It's not all gravy though.  There are some concerns regarding the SD Slot cover and the memory card.  The issue is that if you press with a medium amount of force on the SD Card cover door, it will actually eject the card and you can lose your recording.  I never experienced this problem, but I could certainly see it happening if you were trying to quickly grab and set up the H4n in a rush.  Another issue that I find even more troublesome is the job wheel.  It works great, but emits a mechanical click as it is used - think of it as a noisy mouse wheel on your aging Logitech mouse.  The huge issue is that if you use the wheel while your recording, it picks up the sound and embeds a very irritating clicking sound on your audio track.  The volume buttons do the same thing.  Instead of a membrane switch inside the H4n, they use mechanical switches (which will last much longer), but if you're adjusting monitor volume or microphone volume, you'll certainly here that in the final recording.

So how well does it work?  We used it at CeBIT in Germany to record our Weekly Tech Update podcast and were in a very small room that had horrible acoustics.  There was a very hollow sound on our recorded tracks as we boosted the microphone sensitivity so that we could simply talk with the H4n about 1 Meter from either of us.  As we didn't have a clue what we were doing, the audio quality was not great.  As I've used it more, I've learned how to record better and this has certainly helped.

I took it with me to several events and one of the most fun was when Leonard Nimoy visited my hometown of Vulcan, Alberta.  I was hand-holding the Zoom H4n while playing paparazzi  with my Nikon D300s and a fast 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens.  If I would have had a proper mount, you wouldn't hear me handling the H4n.  As it stands the handling noise is my fault, but at almost 100m of distance you can still here "Spock" very clearly.  You can also hear my D300s bursting very quickly in the background as well.

Please download a sample audio file here.

Final Thoughts:

The Zoom H4n certainly isn't for everyone.  It's not for people who think that audio recorded with their cell phones is good.  Is not for those who are on a tight budget and need a simple device to leave on the professor's desk to record a lecture.  It is for those who care about high quality recording, diverse features, expandable inputs, on-the-fly tweaking and easy-to-use functionality.  Although it is very easy to use, it takes a bit of time to know the device, understand what it can do and set it up correctly for your situation.  It's like an expensive camera.  Everyone can press a button, but you have to understand what it can do in order to maximize its potential.  I'm very pleased with the quality of the product and after last weekend, I've invested some money into a rig so that I can use my Nikon D300s to record video while having the H4n mounted to my camera rig for ultra-high quality audio recording as well.


  • Professional audio quality with stereo microphones
  • Support for two additional XRL or 1/4" powered mics
  • Provides phantom power even when powered by "AA" batteries
  • SD Card supports 32GB cards for extensive recording capability
  • USB interface works as a USB Audio Interface on compatible OS'
  • Multiple file formats, compression and folder storage options  



  • SD Card can be ejected by pressing on the slot cover
  • Volume and jog dial makes enough noise to be heard by the recorder



I'd like to thank Samson Audio for sending over the Zoom H4n and working out some interesting details.  We got it under the wire and it save us packing 40 lbs. of kit to Germany.  I hate to send it back as it is a handy recorder for sure.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.