For years Zoom has excelled at making cheap, useful audio gear. Often the product designs looked like plasticky alien technology (and not in a good way) but because the price was so good struggling musicians flocked to their devices.
With stiff competition from Tascam, Zoom portable digital recorders are sporting some pretty slick designs these days; the H1 is no exception. The body of the unit is strikingly sparse and slim. A big record button, LCD screen, LED light and stereo X/Y microphones are the only physical properties to speak of on the front.
Zoom decided to place the majority of the controls along the side of the body. Although it makes for an attractive gizmo, I’m not sure I’m a big fan of this approach. After recording an audio file chances are you’ll tilt the unit on its side to get a better look at the button layout. Granted, once you get used to the feel of the buttons you won’t need to look anymore.
To further clutter the right profile of the H1, Zoom also placed the mic line in and mini-USB jack near the buttons. Oddly enough there isn’t much going on when you flip it to the opposite side. There is a headphone/line out jack, volume level plus microSD slot.
At the bottom of the body there is a tiny reference speaker for listening to playback. Chances are you’ll be using headphones most of the time but I found this to be useful for playing sound clips to a group of people.
One way the H1 trumps the comparatively priced Tascam DR-05 is the microphone setup. The X/Y configuration is more flexible and more in line with how people use a portable recorder. It accepts sound from 180 degrees in front of it and filters out audio from the rear. The H1 handles pretty well any application you throw at it, from band practice, songwriting sessions, seminars, interviews or just as an audio journal.
Recordings from the H1 sound impressive, especially when you attach a quality external mic or lavalier to get closer to the sound source. You can record either broadcast WAV (96kHz/48kHz/44.1kHz at 16-bit or 24-bit) or MP3 files (from 48 to 320kbps). Although I like to stick with uncompressed WAV files for maximum sound quality, the MP3 option can come in very handy for long, drawn out events like lectures. Files are stored on the included 4GB card, which you’ll probably want to upgrade. A 32GB microSD card can store over 50 hours of audio at 16-bit/44.1 kHz.
The H1 doesn’t come with much in the box which is to be expected at this price point. You get a 4GB microSD card, one AA battery and a manual. Zoom offers an optional accessory package which includes a windscreen, AC adapter (USB type), USB cable, adjustable tripod stand, padded-shell case and a mic clip adapter.
The Zoom H1 is a flexible, good sounding device at an extremely cheap price. The only things holding it back are the concentration of important buttons on the side of the unit and the cheap feel of the plastic body.
If you need a bullet-proof digital recorder to capture the sounds of the Jakarta jungle, you need to spend more money. For the rest of us doing a lot of recording indoors the H1 will get the job done just fine.