Following the success of the H4 digital recorder, Zoom drastically changed its direction in design. The H4 looks like an alien rocket ship. The button placement isn’t bad but it seems to put style over substance. Zoom’s H2 is just the opposite; it couldn’t be more practical. It has the look of a rectangular broadcasting mic with a high-tech interface plopped on top. Button placement is logical and reminiscent of the controls on a remote control.
The bubble type buttons aren’t as easy to press as hard buttons and can be unpredictable. Build quality is decent but not on the level of something like the Edirol R-09. Keep in mind however that the Edirol has very comparable sound quality and is about twice as expensive.
Typically portable digital recorders have two stationary mini condenser microphones. The mics either cross, with each directed 45 degrees inward, or are directed 45 degrees outwards to maximize stereo separation. Some of the pricier models allow you to adjust the direction of the onboard two mics.
The four microphones inside are what really set the H2 apart from the pack. With all the mics in the W-X/Y configuration enabled you get true 360 degree imaging (convertible to 5.1 surround sound). For more common applications you can record from the front of the H2 to pick up 90 degrees of audio or from the rear to pick up 120 degrees.
Sound quality is very impressive when using the internal mics and downright fantastic when you reach for a quality external microphone. Recording resolution goes up to 96 kHz/24-bit resolution as a WAV file. When card memory is scarce you can also opt for MP3 recording at bitrates up to 320 kbps.
The display is smaller than average, making the level bars tougher to view than I’d like. If push comes to shove you can use the H2 to record directly into your computer and view the meters in Audacity. This way you won’t have to drag the audio files onto your computer afterwards for editing.
This time Zoom doesn’t skimp on the extras. Out of the box you get earbuds, stereo adapter cable, mic clip adapter, tripod stand, USB cable, AC adapter and a 512MB SD card. The SD card is pretty tiny by today’s standards so you’ll probably want to get one with a larger capacity out of the gate.
Two AA batteries give you a mere 4 hours of battery life. Chances are you’ll want to use the AC adapter whenever possible.
The Zoom H2 is probably the most flexible portable recorder currently on the market. On top of recording sound sources in front or in rear, the device can record a full 360 degrees. That is a lot of value for a recorder costing a mere $160.
The small display screen, sometimes cryptic interface, and tendency to drain batteries fast keep the H2 from being an absolute all-star.