PROS / You can record up to four tracks.
CONS / It only comes with 2GB of storage.
VERDICT / The Zoom H4n is an excellent all-around digital voice recorder, but the internal storage and battery life are lacking.
Zoom specializes in recording high-fidelity audio for music and film, and the Zoom H4n is no exception. While it's a digital voice recorder that comes with features such as pre-record and voice activation, which allow it to excel in recording simple situations like lectures and interviews, the H4n's best value is in features designed for musicians and amateur film producers. With an XY crossed unidirectional microphone design, the audio features excellent stereo depth without sacrificing definition, making it ideal for live performances and field recording for film.
The audio is recorded at a 16- or 24-bit rate in a linear PCM format, which is CD-quality audio. The playback formats are WAV and MP3. You can convert the WAV files to MP3, which compresses the audio so that the file isn't as big. This is important because the H4n only comes with 2GB of storage, which is very little considering how fast you can fill up 2GB with audio – an hour of recording a live performance can result in a WAV file that fills up your storage. An SDHC slot allows you to add up to 32GB of additional storage.
The best feature of the Zoom H4n is the four-track recording. With the four tracks, you can layer and mix the sound to create a stereo landscape that you can't achieve with single-track voice recorders. The XLR/TRS inputs give you the ability to add extra microphones and instruments and to connect directly to mixing consoles, which is ideal for recording live performances. It also features a metronome and a tuner – essential tools for any musician or songwriter.
You can also connect the H4n to video cameras to record audio for film, making it an excellent tool for podcasts and amateur films that need high-quality audio to match the video. It's also an excellent tool for Foley artists who recreate ambient sound effects for film, because the portability allows you to take it anywhere to capture B-roll sound.
While it's very much a handheld recorder, it doesn't easily slip into your pocket. The body is 6.03 inches long, 3.06 inches wide and 1.88 inches thick. It also weighs 9.88 ounces, which makes it one of the heaviest portable recorders we reviewed. What you gain in recording ability, you lose in portability. In addition, the battery life is only 11 hours in stamina mode and only six hours when recording in the four-track mode.
The Zoom H4n is one of the best digital voice recorders because it features four-track recording with high-fidelity microphones, allowing you to record layered and complex CD-quality audio. The downsides are the lack of storage, short battery life and bulky size.