First Impressions: Zoom H1 pocket field recorder

My biggest question about the H1 is its sound quality.

Zoom H1 Handy Recorder - First Impressions

Zoom H1 Handy Recorder - First ImpressionsThe new Zoom H1 Handy Recorder has just arrived (finally) at the Stark Insider offices. I’m not sure why it took so long as I pre-ordered it in August and was expecting it to get here on or near its September launch. Those that follow portable audio or are involved with on location video are probably familiar with the Zoom for its much-loved H4 multi-track field recorder. The H1 incorporates some of the same features (X/Y mic design), but is dirt cheap (Retail $159, but only $99 from Amazon). Below are some first impressions, and a photo tour.

I intend to use the H1 in the field when recording video segments, mostly interviews and backstage shoots. I continue to marvel at the Canon T2i and it’s never let me down yet. One glaring (and well documented) weakness, though, is its lack of audio monitoring. So if you plug-in an external mic, like a wireless mic or a shotgun mic, you’ll be blissfully ignorant of audio levels. You can use earphones, but still the T2i should have on-board monitoring (and at least a few base controls).

With the H1 I can set it down to capture dual audio and then in post we can use it as necessary. If a wireless mic drops for example because of interference, my hope is that the Zoom H1 will save the day.

Zoom H1 Handy Recorder - First ImpressionsIt can also be used as a wired recorder, capturing audio from a mic or lav. Just put the Zoom on the subject and it can record on the go. Of course, you’ll need to sync later, but I’ve found that syncing audio in post on Premiere Pro is not all that difficult, and the results are very often worth the effort.

My biggest question about the H1 is its sound quality.

I’ve read mixed results online. Some say it’s fantastic, especially given it’s low price point. Others say it’s disappointing and can’t touch it’s bigger brother, the H4. So which is it? I’ll put the little guy to the test over the coming weeks and report back. For now, some initial impressions.

Zoom H1 First Impressions:

  • The Zoom H1 is very light! On the upside this will be great for tossing in to the gear bag without a second thought, but it does feel somewhat fragile (it’s designed in Japan, assembled in China)
  • In the hand, it feels like holding a traditional audio recorder (but with space-age mic array at top).
  • Standard control buttons line the side (play, forward, backward, stop) and are responsive, easy to use.
  • It uses micro-SD memory, 2GB is included.
  • Micro-USB 2.0 connector facilitates file transfer using a cable.
  • Three slide switches on the rear for setting options: (1) Lo Cut (Off/On), (2) Auto Level (Off/On), (3) Rec Format (WAV/MP3).
  • Records WAV to 24-bit/96kHz for high resolution audio (57 min recording time at max quality with 2GB card).
  • Records MP3 to 320kbps for maximum time (13hrs 53 min recording at max quality w/2GB)
  • A small red LED on front indicates REC/PEAK (see photo).
  • It operates on a single AA battery.

Zoom H1 Handy Recorder

Retail: $159 ($99 from Amazon, currently in stock)

Planned use: dual audio for use with Canon T2i set-up; interviews, backstage, etc.

First impressions: light, possibly fragile, feels good in the hand, easy to use, MP3/WAV recording flexibility… sound quality tests to come.

I’m still awaiting the accessory package which includes a stand, a wind sock/foam mic cover and other bits.

Click through for more photos.

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  • Eric McGrew

    I just read your review on the Zoom H1. I courious though, since the T2i doesn’t have the audio controls like its bigger brothers, would this zoom do well recording directly from the Rode/other shotgun mic? How different is the sound from the audio recorded directly into T2i and what the Zoom records?

    By the way, my T2i is only 6 months old, so I don’t know if there have been any updates in comparison to the one you have. I really new to HD vid and Canon Cameras.  Thanks for any help you can give.

    • Great questions. And I had to pinch myself when I realized I posted this almost 18 months ago. I’ve been using the H1s ever since, and still think they’re superb. And – an aside – no issues with breaking, or lost data (though the microSD card cover broke off one of my units but is not a big deal).

      I’ve only recorded using wired lavaliers. I run a lav into the input and then have my interview subjects wear them in a pocket. Works great. I assume it would be equally effective with something like a Rode Videomic. In fact, this year I’m planning to get a boom pole for my Videomic Pro and then attach a Zoom H1 to the base – and presto, a portable, high quality boom pole!

      I always set the H1s to WAV mode so quality is highest (24-bit/96kHz). My understanding is the T2i records at 48 KHz, 16-bit (stereo). I could be wrong and I’m certainly not an audio engineer, but I suspect the Zoom would yield better results.

      As far as I know there have been no recent firmware updates for the T2i. Last I year I took it to the Baja and took 1,100 shots. Just fantastic. This year I took my 60D, but aside from speed, and low light, there isn’t much performance difference. The T2i (and now the T3i) is just that good!