Here are some more observations on the new Zoom H2n recorder. In this entry we’ll look at the Mic/Line input for connecting external mics and line level sources. In the H2 these were separate inputs, with the mic input controlled by the Mic Gain H-M-L switch while the line input had no adjustment. On the H2n these inputs are combined and the Mic Gain dial adjusts the sensitivity of that input.
External mics with the H2n
I rarely used external mics with my H2, but others at the Zoom forum tested and indicated that it is quite noisy. I’m open to the possibility that the external mic pre of the H2n could be a gem, with plenty of clean gain and headroom, but the only way to know is give it a try.
My first use of the external preamp was a test to see if the external mic could be used as part of the four channel recording capability of the H2n. In the four channel mode using internal mics, the front XY pair and rear MS pair each contribute a stereo file. I read an internet post indicating that an external mic could be used and it would replace the XY pair. This would allow 4 channel recording for other than surround purposes.
I was disappointed when I plugged in the Rode NT4 because it delivered a much lower signal level than the internal MS mics and there was no way to adjust the gain independently. I could record four channels, but two of them were much lower in volume than the others. I assumed (and you know what that means) that the NT4 was just low in sensitivity.
Today I tried again, comparing the H2n with the NT4 to a pair of Shure KSM141s into the Echo Audiofire Pre8.
Here’s the mic setup I used.
Once again the level available from the H2n->NT4 was unimpressive. I don’t record hot, but these levels were down around -27 dBFS. By the time I added 9 dB of digital gain to get this track to match the ones from the Echo, the noise level was pretty severe. Here are the clips with matched levels:
Hey, looking in the docs actually turned up something. Input gain is listed as 0 to 39 dB, which is definitely on the low side. So unless there’s a firmware update that adds some gain without raising the self-noise, this external mic input is better suited to amplified concert tapers and drummers rather than acoustic guitarists. And it’s even worse news for folks interested in recording nature sounds and sound effects using external mics.
Line In on the H2n
I’ve used my H2 to record several shows by connecting to the PA mixing board. I find this is usually a cleaner sound than simply miking the room. I almost always have camera sound as well, so I can mix the board track with a room track. But the H2 has a serious weakness for my purpose – its Line Input is too sensitive for the outputs of a common PA mixer. The result is a horrible clipped mess. There’s no adjustment to reduce the sensitivity on the H2 and the tape outs on most mixing boards do not have a level control, so I’ve resorted to a passive attenuator, a simple ganged variable resistor which I use to cut the signal from the board to the H2.
I had hoped that the H2n would offer a solution. A built-in pad (fixed attenuator) would be ideal, or a wide gain range on the line input, with a low minimum sensitivity. Looking at the specs in the announcement, and then at the documentation, I found no mention of a more useful Line In connection. But a test was in order to see if things were improved.
I set up a comparison between the Line In on the H2 and the same on the H2n by connecting two hardware outputs of my Echo Audiofire Pre8 to the Line In on the two Zooms. I used an adapter to split the mono output to two channels. I adjusted the gain on the H2n to 0, there’s no gain adjustment for the Line In on the H2. To generate the test signal I used REAPER and created a 1 khz sine tone with a level of -18 dBFS – this is about 0 dBVU and should be a good starting point for evaluating a line level connection. When I checked the two Zoom recorders they were both clipped. I reduced the level and both recorders showed the same levels as they dropped below clipping.
My test tells me that the Line In on the H2n performs the same as it does on the H2, so I’ll still be bringing my passive attenuator with me when I record from the mixing board.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2011 at 8:40 pm and is filed under Recording. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.