Zoom H1

With its noticeably small build and light-weight, the H1 is a great unit for quick recording, conversation, and ‘recon’ projects that involve lots of moving around. It runs on a single AA battery which its makers claim will provide up to 10 hours of continuous operation (this figure tends to decrease over the product’s lifespan).

As with other recorders at UBC geography, you’ll immediately notice the XY positioning of the microphones here. Because both mics are arranged on the same axis, they are in effect ‘equidistant’ from the sound source you are pointing the recorder at. zoom_h1_handheldThis allows for perfect “localization” of the sound (e.g. it feels like you are listening in the middle of the audio picture) and no “phase shifting” (e.g. an audio effect when two identical signals are combined, but one signal is delayed by a small and gradually changing period).

Unlike Zoom’s larger and more expensive cousins the H5 and the H6, the H1 can be set up almost instantly. The Record button on the H1 acts in a simple On/Off mode. Press it once and you start recording. IT records WAV audio at rates up to 24-bit/96 kHz, and MP3 audio at rates up to 320 kbps. For professional quality interviews (e.g. things you hope to put online, share with news outlets etc.) WAV offers better quality. For personal reference, or if you notice a low battery signal, MP3 is the way to go.

With the Zoom HD1, audio files are saved to a microSD card. This is not the most ideal flash recording card since it lacks interoperability with other platforms (e.g. your mac likely doesn’t have a mircoSD hub), but is still effective in capturing information. Most card readers and computers don’t come with a microSD reader, but the A/V room should have an SD adapter included.

zoom_h1_sideUnsurprisingly, there are differences in overall sound capture between this recorder and the high end ones available at UBC Geography. Although you can adjust the input level with the H1, compared to the H6, the dynamic range here is far less subtle. when you attempt to record quiet passages with the H1, you will notice the ‘gain’ very quickly rising toward ‘max’ levels. This doesn’t happen nearly as often with the H6, meaning you are able to collect a broader range of high and low sounds without risking distortion.  If you want the hear the soul-defying sound of a mega distorted drum kit, put this one close to your feet and start playing (actually, that’ll produce distortion regardless!).

Also interesting feature here is the “automatic gain” (Auto Level) function. Auto Level works by adjusting the level of tracks according to a standard volume level. This ensures all the files in your library are operating at roughly the same volume level. In effect, the zoom automatically calculates an Auto Level value for the track, setting it to an imagined ‘middle’. AGC is designed to help you in business conference rooms, where the dynamic range of different speakers’ voices – due both to projection and proximity – becomes hard to transcribe Auto Level makes it easier for the recordings to be transcribed because they come across as more or less the same. As such, it has a sort of normalizing function – and as Foucault taught us, normalization is what economic boardrooms are all about!

zoom_h1_backAt the same time (and Foucault would love this) Auto Level can be unpredictable, and sometimes produces ‘clips’ even of sounds of medium intensity. For that reason, you might want to turn it off and experiment with spatial placement (e.g. how close you move the mic to the sound source). When the room goes quiet the recorder turns its gain up raising the noise floor to an “undesirable” level (hiss all over the place) which might actually be really interesting – but that’s up to you do decide!

Note as well how this H1 has a “low cut filter.” Also known (somewhat confusingly) as a “high pass” filter, this mechanism basically removes – or filters – low frequencies from an audio signal. Normally they are designed so they remove frequencies below a certain determined frequency. Again, this can be useful when conducting interviews, when all you want is clear speech above a rumble of trains in the background (that said: you might lose certain details in the recorded voice, which you might want to capture for other kinds of analysis – studies of affect, questions of embodiment, etc.)

It’s been noted by users of this recorder that it has an unfortunate tendency to pick up “accidental” sounds, or noise. When recording, you may find that movement of the hand will be ‘picked up’ and thus made audible as muffled noises near the speaker. At the risk of sounding pretentious, we suggest that these artefacts should be embraced as a conceptual problem associated with any recording. Perhaps the ‘accidental’ sounds are revealing in some way of the recorder’s interests? Perhaps they provide aesthetic details that augment other sounds? It is up to you to decide, but make it part of your experience with the recording process, rather than something you ignore outright!


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