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Good sound comes in small packages.
The audio hardware market is crowded with a cornucopia of portable digital recorders, ranging from tiny dictation devices to multitrack monsters. The Zoom H2 Handy Recorder does an admirable job offering a happy medium, combining pro-level 96KHz recording with a small form-factor and price tag to match—the street price is just under $200. Aside from its cheaply built feel, there’s very little not to like about this diminutive wonder.
The construction of the H2 could be sturdier—it’s all plastic—and in a few weeks of field use, we managed to scratch up our unit quite a bit. The power switch doesn’t inspire confidence either—we’re betting it’ll be the first thing to break. And the membrane controls on the front panel of the device are not as smooth as we’d like, but everything worked right out of the box, so we can’t complain too much.
The H2 offers an impressive array of recording options, making it a compelling choice for a wide range of recording tasks. There are four microphones with four capture modes, letting you record everything from standard stereo to a full 360 degrees of surround sound, and while the quality of the mics is not going to put high-end offerings out to pasture, it’s really quite good. This is an excellent gadget for recording interviews, live music, ambient or studio sound, and just about anything else you might need to capture in digital form. Using the included 512MB SD card, you can record 48 minutes of 44KHz 16-bit audio, or just shy of 6 hours of 192Kbps MP3 audio. We were able to capture just a hair less than two hours in the full 96KHz 24-bit lossless format on a 4GB SD card, which stretched to 46 hours of 192Kbps MP3 audio.
A built-in limiter, three gain settings, and automatic gain compensation all go a long way toward helping you get the most quality from your recording, even if you’re not an audio engineer. The menu interface is straightforward and easy to master, and transferring recordings is as simple as connecting the H2 to your Mac with the included USB cable and dragging the files to their destination in the Finder.
The H2 also works as a solid real-time USB audio interface. You can plug in an external mic (though there’s no support for powered microphones) or an analog stereo line input (for recording directly from anything that supports a 1/8-inch stereo output jack). A stereo headphone-output jack rounds out the ports, and we‘re happy to report that the H2 is powered by a pair of standard AA batteries, rather than expensive (and often hard-to-find) proprietary batteries. We got up to 4 hours of constant use with a set of alkalines.
Even with its low price, the H2 includes a windscreen, a flat plastic tripod, a screw-on handle, USB cable, AC adaptor, earbuds, a 1/8-inch stereo RCA input/output cable, and even a 512MB SD card to get you started. To our surprise, there’s even a built-in chromatic tuner, as well as a metronome—both extremely handy for musicians. The manual is well written, informative, and complete.The Zoom H2 is just about perfect for anyone looking for a small digital recorder that doesn’t skimp on sound quality or recording flexibility. We’d like to see a more solidly built version, but you can’t beat it for the price.