The H6 has four XLR inputs built-in to the body with individual phantom power options. I noticed in an earlier comparison that the preamps behind these XLRs seemed very high in quality, basically indistinguishable from those in my RME UFX interface in a quick and dirty comparison. I set out to do a more careful comparison to see if my initial impression was correct.
One Mic in Mono
Years ago I needed a line level switcher. The device I bought, the Coleman Audio LS3, has become one of my handiest accessories over the years, giving me a fairly easy way to do comparisons of different bits of audio gear. Another tool that helps is the Rode NT4 mic, which can be battery powered. This allows me to use a single mic as a source while I avoid phantom power issues and still have some confidence that impedance loading is not coloring the results.
In my first comparisons of the Zoom H6 XLR preamps and the RME UFX I did some pretty crude level matching and used different mics for each chain, all in the interests of stereo and expediency. Now I’m attempting to do a bit more careful job of evaluating the H6 preamps by using a single mic source and a mono recording. I fired up the Rode NT4 on battery power and connected the left channel through the Coleman and into channel 4 of the Zoom H6 and channel 12 of the RME UFX. I then played a 1 khz test tone through the Dynaudio BM6p and into the Rode mic. After adjusting both preamps to about -12 dBFS I recorded a bit of the test tone. This is a pretty loud tone, and I used it to check and fine tune the level matching in post. Then I turned down the tone by 40 dB and played the tone followed by silence and recorded that. I measured the tone and it showed a level of 55 dB, about the same sound level as a quiet office setting. I’m not reproducing the loud tone, but here is the quiet tone, followed by what passes for silence in my suburban bedroom studio. Remember, these are WAV files so you’ll need to download them to play them smoothly.
A Musical Sample
Test tones are useful but perhaps a musical sample would be more satisfying. I set up the Lumix GH3 camera and the Rode NT4 mic in front of the guitar stool, tuned up the Wingert to taropatch open G, and played a bit of “Ke Aloha” for the camera and the recorders.
Here’s the audio clip from that session:
and here’s the video:
I hope you’ll listen to the samples yourself and make your own judgment, but I must say that I can hear no difference at all between the preamps in the H6 and the preamps in the RME UFX. To me that is remarkable, and a demonstration of how tech progress has brought high quality audio down to a very accessible price point. Whatever the limitations and problems the Zoom H6 might suffer, it seems very capable of capturing clean clear audio when connected to high quality external mics.
Update – High Gain Comparison
A commenter on the YouTube channel mentioned hearing a lot of noise on from the preamps in the H6, then he explained that he was using a dynamic mic with the preamp cranked to 10. I realized that my comparison had left the H6 preamp around 7, so perhaps I was too kind.
I pulled out the mic with the lowest sensitivity in my collection, a Beyer M260 that has been re-ribboned with an RCA ribbon. This is a velvety sounding mic with very low output. I recorded a test tone followed by “room tone” or what passes for silence here in Walnut Creek on a Friday afternoon. The test tone registered 50 dB slow C weighted on my Radio Shack meter – this is pretty darned quiet.
Even with my RME UFX preamp cranked to the max I had to add 2 dB of gain in REAPER to match the level of the Zoom H6 file, so that preamp in the H6 is pretty darned hot. The RME was maxed at 65 dB of gain + 2 in post gives 67 dB from the H6.
At this level, though, the H6 is making a lot more noise than the RME. Not that its audible at normal listening levels, but when the playback is really cranked their is more garbage in the Zoom recording.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 at 6:41 pm and is filed under Comparisons, 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.