I do a lot of field recording, so I had plenty of opportunities to test the H2 in real-world situations. It was my constant companion for several weeks, and I think I got a really good idea of the H2's capabilities during my tests. I used it to record a number of band rehearsals and solo acoustic instruments, plus sound effects and ambient audio whenever I came across something interesting. For the price, it performed really well.
The H2 comes loaded with some pro-quality features such as 24-bit/96 kHz resolution and four-channel recording, but the construction seems a little lightweight to truly be called a professional piece. The plastic shell isn't going to survive a serious fall, and I'm not sure it will hold up to rigorous road abuse. That said, I had no issues during my trial period, though I was probably babying it a bit more than I would if it was mine to keep.
Onboard microphones are a huge part of any handheld recorder's success, and the mics on the H2 are a
Out In The Field
The sound effects and ambient audio I captured always sounded fantastic. I really liked the depth that the H2's stereo mics added. The ability to switch the stereo field from 90 degrees to 120 degrees to 180 degrees was a big plus, and the four-channel mode was useful for getting surround-ready audio. In some situations, I had sources located directly in front of me but also wanted to get supplementary sounds well out to the sides. The two-channel recording modes did a fine job of preserving the stereo field, and the four-channel recordings were especially balanced and detailed.
I can see how the lightweight chassis would lend itself to handling noise issues, but I didn't really have any problems when I stood really still while recording. Still, I'd recommend a stationary mount for critical situations. The H2 includes a mic stand mount for easy positioning, and the mounting base (also supplied) works fine when you have a flat surface handy. I've also seen shoe mounts that will allow you to affix the H2 to a video camera.
I was able to get good results recording band rehearsals, but it took some fiddling. For louder bands especially, you'll want to make sure you've turned the limiter on and set the input levels to prevent clipping. Otherwise, you'll end up with a bunch of distortion on the track. I had to experiment with placement and stereo width to find the right combination for our setup, but once I did, the recorded tracks were a really useful reference for working out parts at home.
Results were mixed when recording solo acoustic instruments in the studio. Fingerstyle acoustic guitar and marimba sounded very nice, with a healthy stereo image and good detail. Hard-hitting brass and drum kit recordings were a bit underwhelming. The H2 wasn't great at capturing the transients, lessening the impact you would expect with a pro quality studio microphone and a preamp. It's not that the tracks were horrible. I'd have no problem using them as scratch tracks, but would want better quality for a final take in these situations. If you were on location and had access to a quality mic preamp and studio condenser microphone, you could always record to the H2's direct input and take the tracks back to your own studio for further processing.
I tried a number of the selectable resolution settings, and got the expected results; lower quality but more recording time with the MP3 variants, and the opposite with the WAV options. Zoom's user guide suggests there may be dropouts when recording at the full 24-bit/96 kHz setting, but I experienced no problems. I didn't use that one too much, though. If they're coming right out and saying it, it's probably worth noting.
The H2 has an onboard USB port for offloading audio to computer. It says USB 2.0, but seemed much slower than I was expecting. I ended up removing the SD card and plugging that into an external reader. Transfer went much faster and probably saved some wear on the recorder anyway.
(H)2 Will Get You 4
I've mentioned the H2's four-channel recording capability a few times already, but it's worth mentioning again, especially if your studio is set up for surround sound. Some DAW software is capable of sending the four tracks to the proper speakers automatically, but you may need to to some manual tweaking. Also, there are some conversion utilities such as the Vortex Zoom Encoder and the (free) Zoom2Five plug-in that can get you going with a minimum of hassle. I was very impressed that such an inexpensive device had this type of functionality.
Bottom line, Zoom's H2 handheld audio recorder is a tremendous value for the price. Its compact format and better-than-average audio quality is perfect for a variety of common recording tasks. From basic voiceovers and podcasting to sound effects and ambience-gathering to full-on surround recordings with spacious sonic imaging, the H2 is equal to the task. If you need serious professional quality, expect to pay a whole lot more and plan to sacrifice some of the compact portability. For what you get with the H2 compared to what you'll pay, you should be very happy.