Zoom H1 review: handy recorder for the masses?

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Technology gets smaller and smaller, that’s a fact. The Zoom H1 is one of the smallest quality handy recorders I’ve seen. It’s the younger brother of two very successful products like the H4 and the H2. We’ve got one to test in these weeks, and I’m sure this is gonna be a perfect Christmas gift (or self-gift) for many of us.

Did I say it’s small? Well, the Zoom H1 is also very light (just 60 grams without battery, so let’s say 90 grams with), a perfect combination when you need to record something and you don’t want to bring heavy/big equipments with you.
Good ergonomics, great usability: you don’t need to go through submenus to use it, all the functions are one-click (or switch) away. Yes, the keys on the side are a bit small, but once you get used to it, it’s fine (unless you have XXL hands!).

As you can see there’s only one big button on the front, which lets you start/stop recording (and stop playing, when in play mode). Really, it can’t be easier than that, thumbs up for Zoom’s engineers and designers.

All the other functions are performed using the buttons on the sides (play mode, input and output level, delete) and the switches on the back of the unit (lo-cut, automatic level, wav/mp3 file format). The rewind and forward buttons duplicate also as selectors for the wav and mp3’s quality (96kHz/48kHz/44.1kHz at 16-bit or 24-bit for the Wave files, from 48 to 320kbps for the mp3s). That’s it, you don’t need to know anything else about the features, you can start recording right away!
Oh, there’s a tiny speaker too, so you can have a quick listen to your tracks. Just don’t expect much from it, think of it as a bonus.

The sound
The X/Y microphone lives up to the expectations created by H1’s bigger brothers. Good stereo image, and high sensibility (during one of the tests I was able to pick the words of some kids playing more then 20 meters from me!). The high sensibility can be a double-edged sword though. You’ll have to manage the H1 with care during the recording. My advice is to use it with a tripod. By the way, talking of the tripod mount, one of the plus of the Zoom H1 is that it’s a perfect match for DSLR cameras.

I’ve tried using the H1 with both automatic and manual recording levels. The automatic one works fine, so if you’re going to use the H1 for interviews, meetings, etc, I’d choose this method without thinking too much about it. If you’re doing something music-related, I’d go the old way, and set the levels with care first.
You can also use external microphones with the Zoom H1. You’ll need a 1/8-inch plug.

Performance
The unit comes with a 2gb miniSD card (and an adapter to use it in SD card readers) and one 1,5 v. AA battery. When plugged via USB, the Zoom H1 mounts as an external drive, so it’s just a matter of dragging the files to your hard disk and it’s done. No USB cable is provided, a bit annoying if you haven’t got one of these cables (many cameras use it though, for example some of the cheap Nikon models, so there’s a chance you have one at home).

As said, this is a very easy-to-use device, with all the basic features you may expect. I’ve used it for song sketches, interviews, field-recordings. Having the H1 it’s so easy to grab sounds around you that you can later put in your sampler or fav sound mangler.
Then, if you’re looking for more control over your recordings (like setting markers while recording mp3s, overdubbing, etc.), better mics, etc., you should have a look at more expensive/bigger models.

Blowin’ in the wind

Zoom sells also an accessory kit (Windscreen, AC Adapter, USB Cable, Adjustable Tripod Stand, Padded Shell Case and Mic Clip Adapter) which may come in handy. The package we’ve got for the test was the basic one though, so I can’t say anything about the quality of these extras.
Anyway, I’d recommend getting a good windscreen. I’ve mentioned the mics’ high sensibility, and if you’re going to use the H1 for field-recording, sound-design, or you live in a windy place, well you WILL need a windscreen.
I first got one of the standard ones, and, uhm… forget it. Ok, it was cheap but it simply didn’t work. Then I started looking on the internet and I found this guy, Kalani, and his company, Redheadwindscreens.

Redheadwindscreens makes and sells these funny looking windscreens which, well, just work (you can choose the colour)! Recently they added the Zoom H1 to the supported models, so I got one (well, two) of these windscreens and I can confirm they really make a difference.
Their size is perfect for the H1 (actually at first it’s not so easy to put them on, it takes some practice), the switches on the back and the headphone plug can be reached without problems.

With these windscreens you can use the Zoom H1 also in less-than-ideal wind conditions. If you don’t trust me, just look at this video.

These “fashionista” windscreens do not come cheap (34$ each), but they definitely add value to the Zoom H1 (and they’re made in the beautiful Hawaii, US, no mass production). Recommended (and your girlfriend may love it too)! If money is an issue, try joining their monthly giveaway, you never know…

Conclusion
Great quality/price ratio and very portable, the Zoom H1 sets a new standard in its market’s segment. A very useful tool for both journalists, musicians and sound-designers.

Price
(approx.) 99 $ – 99€ – 89£
If you’d like to support ANR you can buy it from Amazon following the links below, and we’ll get some cents out of it. Thanks!

Zoom H1 at Amazon USA
Zoom H-1 at Amazon Germany
Zoom H1 at Amazon UK
Zoom H1 at Amazon France

…a perfect Christmas gift for many of us…

Product page

PROS

  • Small and light
  • Good recording quality
  • Very easy to use
  • Great value for money
  • Great match for DSLR cameras

LOVE IT OR HATE IT

  • It’s light and cheap, but it’s not built like a tank and it’s not full-featured like its bigger brothers or other more expensive models

CONS

  • Not rechargeable via USB (but it’s only one AA battery)
  • No USB cable
  • No markers while recording in mp3
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