The Born Freelancer Reviews the Zoom H4N Pro Digital Recorder

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.



OK, so nobody will ever accuse me of being an impulse-shopper.

I’ve been looking into buying an up to date portable digital recorder for years. I even found a long-forgotten reference to this fact in a post of mine on this site from 6 years ago!

Meanwhile, I’ve made do with the audio recorder app on my cheap smartphone. It was basically adequate for print interviews on the go but not any good for broadcast interviews or stereo recording in the field. (I’m sure more expensive phones could do a better job but I don’t want a more expensive phone.)

All this came to a head recently when I attended portions of the Vancouver Podcast Festival where I found great inspiration and motivation to create my own. My smartphone would no longer do. My research told me the cheapest options were not the best; they would not allow me to grow.

To get the best bang for my limited freelancer buck I needed hardware that not only met but surpassed my immediate needs and would encourage me to extend my recording skill sets.

My decision

Long story short: I bought the Zoom H4N Pro.

The Zoom product line features multiple models each offering specific pros and cons. The H4N Pro seemed to offer me the most advantages with a minimal amount of drawbacks.

In appearance the H4NP (as I will now call it) resembles a bulky cell phone with buttons and a screen on the front, buttons on each side, mic inputs on its base and a pair of built-in stereo-pattern condenser microphones on top. Its rubbery body covering makes it comfortable to grip, its large screen clear to read, and its array of buttons easy to manipulate.

It’s not small enough to go into a shirt or trouser pocket but it will fit into a jacket pocket or shoulder bag/backpack with ease.

Power is supplied by two AA batteries although a custom AC adapter is also available for purchase separately. Recording media is a standard SD card.

My immediate need: broadcast quality interviews on the go

The H4NP easily accomplishes this function. The built-in stereo mics are certainly broadcast quality. The H4NP can be held like a microphone and pointed back and forth between subject and reporter. The stereo capability of the microphones is not required and so the recorder can be switched into mono mode eliminating unnecessary stereo effects.

Ideally, the quality of any broadcast interview can be optimized using an external directional hand held mic. The H4NP has multiple inputs including two XLR connections. These inputs have locks so the mic plugs cannot accidentally be pulled out. I cannot tell you the number of times I conducted a location interview in the past only to find my mic cord had been accidentally yanked out of its socket at some point, spoiling the recording. So this is an important feature newly added to the latest version of this model.

Ironically, for a digital recorder, there is no USB input for a USB-only mic. Disappointing. There is, however, a USB output.

Sound quality seems excellent. Of course, it is always recommended you record with headphones on and be aware of room acoustics, distracting background noises, etc.

Recording, manipulating and editing files takes time to learn. The imposing instruction booklet reveals all. I am working my way slowly through it, a page or so every few days.

The H4NP built-in mics are tiny and aimed in a crossways configuration to maximize their stereo recording potential. For field recordings, the stereo pattern can be adjusted from 90 degrees to 120 degrees capable of capturing a wide aural soundscape. Just point and record.

The biggest drawback so far to treating the unit as a hand held microphone – pointing it back and forth – is that the built-in mics are so sensitive in a quiet indoor space that they pick up the noise of the air rushing by them as the unit moves. And outdoors, wind is also an issue.

No custom windsock was included although one can be bought in a separate kit.

My budget solution? I went to my local dollar store and bought a pair of small black fleece mittens. I cut across the mittens at what would be the base of the fingers and the resulting fleece caps fit the top of the H4NP perfectly over its mics. Moving it back and forth now results in silence. And outdoor wind is mitigated. In appearance it now looks like the H4NP is wearing a black fleece toque. What could be more Canadian this time of year? Given the considerable savings over the custom Zoom windsock I think I can live with it.

So my immediate needs are well and truly met.

The future

But what excites me most is its potential and ability to handle future creative challenges.

In addition to regular recording, the H4NP offers the capabilities of a 4-channel multi-track recording platform. So I can record separate tracks of music, or of spoken word for radio drama, etc. and build up a production track by track. The stereo mic configuration means I can record on location and capture broadcast-quality stereo landscapes or live performances.

In short, it provides most of the capabilities of a multi-track recording studio right in my hand.

The instruction guide tells me the H4NP has other uses too – such as acting as a digital interface between analogue inputs and my laptop. In fact the booklet lists so many things the H4NP can do that I doubt I will ever use – but it’s nice to know they are there if and when I might ever need them.

The takeaway

I learned when buying computers to buy the most speed, the most capacity and the most features I could afford as my needs would always soon surpass any cheaper model’s capacity to keep up.

The Zoom H4N Pro feels the same to me. For now, it is much more than I need. Although I could have settled for a less expensive recorder, I feel that it will turn out to be the best purchase for me as my needs and demands upon it grow.

I was especially happy to get a 10% discount during the 2018 Black Friday sales off its regular retail price (currently $299.99 CDN plus tax).

Merry Christmas to me! 🙂

This is my final post for 2018. Where did it go? Well… just look at all the posts on this site for the past 12 months and read what a varied, challenging, and unusually demanding year it has been for freelancers everywhere.

I want to thank my editor Rachel Sanders for her help and support again this year; Karen Wirsig for having faith in the potential of The Born Freelancer in the first place; and Don Genova for his good work on behalf of all of us.

Finally, my thanks to you, unknown reader, for allowing me to share these thoughts and recollections and reflect upon the state of the freelancing experience – past, present and future.

I look forward to returning next year.

Until we meet again, I wish you the very best of the holiday season and a happy and healthy and successful 2019.

Disclaimer: I paid retail for my recorder minus a 10% Black Friday discount at a brick and mortar outlet. I choose to support them whenever possible. I received no remuneration or any other form of compensation for buying a Zoom product and referencing it in this post.

Have you bought yourself (or been given) a well-deserved holidays’ gift for use in your work? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted on December 20, 2018 at 3:00 pm by editor · · Tagged with: , , , ,

One Response

Subscribe to comments via RSS

  1. Written by Andy Bluebuzz
    on July 10, 2020 at 3:38 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The review of Zoom H4N Pro digital recorder here is quite good, and I’m interested in purchasing this recorder now. I just want to know how the sound quality is on this product. That’ll determine if I get this or not.

Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leave a Reply