Zoom H6

zoom_h6The H6 is great live concert and rehearsal recordings, but can be used for anything on-the-go you need to record. Of the recorders available at UBC geography, this is one to use to record sound effects in outdoor environments. It is simply the best one in terms of overall sound quality. You get on-board microphone preamps so there will be no need to boost the gain later on — meaning you’re already getting high-quality sound from the start. As any experiment will confirm, the H6 blows any phone audio out of the window. No more iPod recordings please!

At the same time, there are demonstrable differences within the recorder capacity too. You can customize the quality of the MP3 all the way up to 320 kbps – a process that creates progressively larger files (the same 2 min recording shifts from 4 MB to 12 MB). Also, you have the options of recording in WAV format. Larger still in terms of file size (e.g. 22 MB), WAVs are nevertheless considered ‘standard’ for professional quality audio. Record a passing car in MP3 at 96 kbps and then WAV at 24-bit. Play it on your iPod. You will notice the difference.

With the H6, you have option between mid-side (MS) and X-Y microphone mounts. As you can see from the images, the X-Y has two little mics facing each other. What this does is produce a stereo effect, ‘centering’ the sound via two directional mics placed 90 degrees (or more) to each other. The mid-size has an omnidirectional capacity, and looks like a standard mic, with a round ball head.

X-Y Stereo Mic
X-Y Stereo Mic
Mid-side Mic
Mid-side Mic

In general, the X-Y works better for enclosed areas, whereas the mid-side works better for open settings, where sounds converge from multiple pathways (as opposed to reflected edges).  Relatedly, the mid-side gives you the ability to adjust the ‘width’ of your stereo audio after it has been recorded. Adjusting the width is, as the term would suggest, a kind of ‘spatializing; technique – it changes the kind of space evoked in the recording. The mid-side also provides ‘mono’ (as opposed to stereo) compatibility – meaning you only get recording from one approach. This factor comes into play in all sorts of situations, including television production. To figure out these fascinating differences you should experiment!

You will quickly notice a lot of “stuff” on the sides and back of the H6 (essentials for the display of any high-quality recorders!). Especially worth taking note of here are the headphone jack (top) and SD card slot (side). You need an SD card in there to record anything (Bret has these at the office; or you can use the one in your digital camera once your format it). And you need headphones for… yeah. The bottom also has combo input jacks which accept XLR connectors, so you can ultimately plug in a condenser mic to this thing for added recording depth (not essential for first time users).zoom_h6_handheld

When recording, hold the H6 as you would any kind of searchlight, with the facing toward the object in question. In general, the detailing will be the same regardless of a 90 degree or 70 degree orientation, but small details might be more noticeable (wind in leaves etc.). Also, be sure to constantly monitor the levels on the input (screen shot below) to ensure that you aren’t creating clipping or other distortion effects (unless you want to!). These can be gauged by the fluctuations of the ‘energy bars’ which should not ‘hit’ the top of screen in most situations.


Final (interesting) thing to take note of: The H6 features a backup-record option that tracks a duplicate of the left and right channels with -12db input gain. What this means is that if you find that you have tracked your main audio too loud and distortion has occurred in your audio, you will have a backup stereo mix with 12 db more headroom as a fail-safe. This sets up a fascinating experiment –as you can quickly hear the difference 12 db makes to a quality recording of a loud area.

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