Zoom's new handheld H6 has an ecosystem of stuff to match, making it more adaptable to shooting with an SLR or using it as a musician. It even works with furballs, pictured top left. ;) Photos courtesy Zoom.

Zoom’s new handheld H6 has an ecosystem of stuff to match, making it more adaptable to shooting with an SLR or using it as a musician. It even works with furballs, pictured top left. ;) Photos courtesy Zoom.

Zoom has done a lot to popularize field recording, but perhaps equally impressive is how its products have improved. The first H4, for instance, earned the name “handy” recorder, but it was the successor H4N that finally provided dedicated controls, a body that better handled noise and that felt more professional, that didn’t require diving into menus just to set level.

Some of the video recording options reverted to more annoyances – I was once in a cab in Philadelphia in which the driver volunteered that he couldn’t stand the Q3′s interface because he couldn’t properly set levels for his heavy metal band. But in the age of ever-more-brilliant dedicated cameras, and affordable iPhones for everything else, it’s really the dedicated audio recorder that you want.

And the Zoom H6, which started shipping in August, looks like a serious contender. Zoom has continued the steady maturation of the H-series, and placed the H6 at the center of an ecosystem of accessories that adapt it to different situations. After all, even one user might fit in several categories – you want to record a DJ mix, but also shoot some interviews for fans on your Website. You’re recording your chamber quartet, but also documenting a lecture. You’re making a short film, but also doing field recordings for the soundtrack and recording a podcast for the Kickstarter campaign. (I’ll stop.)

The shotgun capsule started shipping this week. Zoom suggests switching capsules like switching lenses - smart, as they market this as videographers and musicians alike.

The shotgun capsule started shipping this week. Zoom suggests switching capsules like switching lenses – smart, as they market this as videographers and musicians alike.

The H6 fits all our moonlighting. 400 bucks gets the H6, interchangeable X/Y and Mid/Side capsules for stereo recording, a carry case, a 2 GB memory card, and, in case there’s any doubt this is for audio use, too, even a copy of Cubase LE. (You don’t even need to buy the four AA batteries.)

And, as you see in the pics here, there’s a good chance you’ll put the H6 atop a DSLR, the way most of us film these days when not just grabbing quick iPhone shots. (Actually, a DSLR coupled with an H6 has a head start on smartphones for some time to come. Look at the size of the lens, the sensor, and the mics; good as the iPhone 5S is, the laws of physics aren’t going anywhere. The good news is, you can still afford the camera and H6 – even if you blew your budget buying a Galaxy or iPhone out of contract.)

A combination it seems likely we'll be seeing, particularly with the addition of the shotgun capsule for interviews.

A combination it seems likely we’ll be seeing, particularly with the addition of the shotgun capsule for interviews.

That’s the start of the H6. This week, at the audio trade show AES in New York, Zoom North America announced they’re shipping the shotgun mic capsule – ideal for handheld SLR interviews. We’re still waiting on the dual XLR/TRS combo capsules for four additional jacks if you need more channels; but for now, you get the two jacks already on the device.

And there are other features for specific applications:

  • Videographers: Line Out connects to a camera.
  • Broadcast: BWF WAV support, and up to 24-bit / 96k (the latter I think mainly of interest if you’re doing significant processing afterward).
  • Musicians wanting to practie: A metronome, a chromatic tuner, and – in features some of us miss from cassette tape days, playback speed (now with pitch correction).
  • The nervous: Auto-record, backup-record.

For everyone, there’s USB connectivity.

For US$129.99, you can add the Shotgun Capsule (that’s SGH-6, if you care). Highly directional, Zoom says they have used internal DSP and three mic elements to mimic the pickup behavior of a shotgun twice as big – so you can tote this around easily and connect it to your camera and so on.

In fact, Zoom uses cameras as the metaphor, suggesting you’d swap capsules just as you’d swap lenses.

The combination definitely looks powerful. I hope we get to do a proper video test; this looks like formidable competition, especially at the price.

And to determine whether this is good enough for jazz, Zoom has a video they’ve done with legendary drummer/composer Peter Erskine. It was all shot on the X/Y capsule, plus spot mics plugged into the H6 pre’s. (Nice, though of course you’d want to try this in more different scenarios in the field.)

zoomh6

  • DPrty

    I’m still using my H2 … it has been dropped kicked around and still works great. $399 seems like a steal for the H6 and it looks like the interface is usefully straightforward. I think this is on my buy list. ….. Iris food.

    • Yanakyl

      me too i’m still using my h2 but i’m impressed by this!!!
      I saw this thing on audiofanzine when they presented at the musikmesse, but that picture with the camera made me realise I need to spread the news, I know people that will jump on it!
      Zoom is really doing the right things on this line of product.

    • DPrty

      I agree .. I think the zoom recorders are the right price and quality. After using the h2 I wouldn’t buy something from another company.

    • SoilSound

      Same here. For several years now, the H2 has gotten the job done for me. This is a great step up for a very good product!

  • Simon

    Hi Peter. I picked one of these up about a month ago and I’ve used it for location recording (for radio) and some field recording. It’s a great piece of gear and by far the best handheld audio recorder I’ve used in this price range. There is a slight issue with handling noise, which seems to be worse when using the M/S microphone but acceptable with the X/Y. Without a stand or some kind of shock mount, the M/S microphone is almost unusable. Rycote do a good one that I might invest in. The backup record function is great and the user interface pretty quick to navigate.

    All in all I’m really happy with it.

    • Obscure Robot

      Self-noise seems to be the achilles heel of Zoom recorders. What does it take to embarrass Zoom enough to work on this issue the next time they design an audio recorder?

    • DPrty

      Well they could put less sensitive mics on it.. but that wouldn’t be good.

    • Geissler

      There are other ways of getting around this. The Sony recorders have some basic form of suspension built into the capsules to isolate them from the case, and it’s obviously not perfect due to space constraints but it does reduce handling noise quite a bit.

    • Obscure Robot

      My Sony M10 has so little self-noise that I rarely even use the included remote. It is clearly possible to reduce self-noise, Zoom just doesn’t care to do it.

    • Geissler

      Great to see someone else enjoying their M10. Isn’t the battery life and instant on amazing? :)

    • Obscure Robot

      Almost everything about the M10 is great, except its complete inability to keep time for more than a month. I guess I’d rather have a forgetful clock than high self-noise though.

    • http://dinside.no Øivind Idsø

      The M10 is fantastic. Considering the price, the battery life and the quality of the internal mics it’s a bargain.

    • Derp

      Been wanting to get an M10 as a supplement to my D50. The mics don’t sound as great, but that puppy would be with me more than the D50…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Thanks for this!

      Of course, handling noise isn’t such an issue if you’re sitting atop a tripod/camera. But yes. Wonder how the shotgun will respond.

    • Derp

      I’ve have a rycote lyre shock mount for my PCM-D50, with a windjacket over it… It should work on this. (The lyre that is)

      http://www.rycote.com/products/portable_recorder_audio_kit/
      http://thewindcutter.com/shop/index.php?route=product/category&path=179

      If they ever make a wind jacket for it… The only problem I had, is that the fur where the mount goes should be shaved down, as it gets hard to turn.

      I’ve been gassing over the h6 since I heard about it last March, but I’d probably use the unit for the 4 channels plus the extra XLR module: http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/H6EXH6 and not require any suspension or wind protection on the unit itself.

  • http://twitter.com/urbster1 urbster1

    Here’s a question: Can you use the onboard mics simultaneously in conjunction with external mics, unlike the H4n?

    • neinkob

      Umm, you CAN use the internal mics in conjunction with external mics on the h4n by using the 4 channel option.
      this one looks even more interesting though, i really do hope they improved the preamps!

    • http://twitter.com/urbster1 urbster1

      No, I’m not talking about the XLR mics on the bottom, I’m talking about the jack on the underside / back panel for external stereo microphones. If an external mic is plugged in there then the built-in mics are disabled even in 4CH mode. Which is a bummer.

    • neinkob

      Oh yeah you’re right, that actually sucks

    • hemant

      Even on the zoom h4n ,you can use the external mics and onboard mics simultaneously ( 2 channels for external and 2 channels for internal)

  • Geissler

    Is that four XLR inputs I spy? Looks very tasty, first thing I’ve seen that makes my little Sony PCM M10 jealous!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, via the external XLR module they’re working on. Two otherwise. But that could work for people complaining about noise with the attached mics.

    • Korhan Erel

      As far as I know and have seen, it has 4 XLR inputs as standard + two onboard mics. The external XLR module replaces the onboard mics with two more XLRs, hence the 6 in the model name.

  • Chryst

    I’m really happy to see another Zoom recorder in this price range. They make great products. The only issue I have is the form factor. I would rather have a standalone recorder that is sturdy that can be easily controlled in a recorder bag. This would make my Souddevices obsolete, because I can settle for these preamps…

  • niere

    Is it possible to use the H6 without the capsule (that is, with only the four built-in jacks)?

  • Foosnark

    I still have my big, clunky, weird H4. It gets the job done though.

  • http://melodiefabriek.com/ Marco Raaphorst

    Interesting concept. I have a Sony D-50 which is great and much better than H4n (build in mic much better, mic input much more quiet and powerful). Wondering about the sound. Love the concept to put a shotgun mic module on it. This is great also for DSLR film because all DSLR’s have super noisy inputs. I’m denoising all documentary stuff done on these camera’s. Still using a separate recording and synching it is the best option.

  • kenzo

    I just spent a few weeks using this on a short movie and while I appreciate the utility (and price) I would only recommend this if you don’t have another option. I used it with a Sennheiser MKH-416 shotgun mic, a pair of wireless LAV’s, and the built in mic’s (stereo/mid-side).

    I appreciate the ability to use it as an interface for an iPad/Computer and it does solve some of the flaws of the H4N (ganged channel adjustments / audible button gain adjustment). However, that said, it seems like it wasn’t properly field tested… Why would you put a gain knob on a microphone (all the more so when you can’t access it with a softie)? Really awkward on top of a camera (at least on a Panasonic GH3) / really bad handling noise (especially with the mid-side)/the only thing worse than the mic pre’s (which sound dry and tinny (as opposed to the H4N’s boomy and slow) are the mic’s! I bent the xy within two weeks…

    I have to do more research about what I would use in it’s place for film (at this price point) and I am definitely not complaining because you can do it with this thing…but what a relief to come back to my USBPre 2. If you are doing field recording for music / ambient film sound I would skip this and get a used PCM-D50.