At long last, Zoom has announced the follow up to their popular H4n Handy Recorder, the new H6. Recently, when I shared my opinion on the new Tascam DR-60D, the first thing I looked for was more than two XLR inputs, and unfortunately, I didn’t see them. You can’t see the four inputs on the Zoom H6 either (in the press photos—at least), but they are there. So that’s a good thing.
Earlier today I was reading the forums at DVXuser.com, and I offered some advice to a Creative Director who needed to shoot a project that involved having four people on camera. This person wanted suggestions for how to properly capture the dialog without a dedicated sound person. I suggested a Tascam DR-680 with four Sennheiser G3 wireless systems. However, the DR-680 is really large, and it would require the camera person to have it slung over their shoulder in the CS-DR680 carrying case. It’s just not an elegant solution for run-and-gun video work.
For this specific person, the new Zoom H6 would likely be a much better option. It’s smaller, and it’s possible to mount the H6 to the shoe of a camera. I’ve been hoping that someone would put out a small, multi-channel recorder like this, however, the Zoom H6 isn’t love at first site for me.
The design seems a little odd. The XLR inputs are on either side of the top of the unit. This makes it a bad candidate for bag use. Zoom claims that you can mount it to the shoe of a camera, but with XLR cables sticking out of either side, it would be a pretty unwieldy thing to have up there. The display of the recorder is angled down, so you could still see it if it was mounted on top of your camera. This is a nice touch, however, if your tripod is jacked up tall, you’ll have a hard time trying to adjust the audio level knobs on top of it. I prefer the “mount-to-the-base-of-the-camera” style of the Tascam DR-60D, however, the DR-60D is a little too bulky. The H6 is a bit larger than it initially looks as well.
I find myself staring at the Zoom H6, and wondering where it should be placed. If you have a big camera rig with arms and rails, this likely isn’t as much of an issue. But for my current workflow, I’m scratching my head a bit.
Another thing I find a little odd about the H6 are the removable microphone heads. It looks a little clunky. I had an issue on set recently where the capsule of my Audio-Technica 4053b came loose in the middle of a take. The experience soured my opinion of modular microphone systems for video work. However, it is nice that you can remove the mics when you don’t need them, and jettison unnecessary bulk and weight.
The module with two additional combo XLR inputs is pretty neat. On the other hand, the module with the shotgun microphone head is a little scary. It looks like a cyber-robo-unicorn gone bad. Hopefully it sounds good. Shotgun microphones are new territory for Zoom.
When you buy a Zoom H6, you get the XY capsule and the Mid-Side capsule included. If you’re not familiar, a Mid-Side microphone is the combination of a mic with a “figure-of-8” pattern, and a cardioid mic. The figure of 8 microphone picks up sound to the right and left of the recorder, and the cardioid faces dead ahead. MS is a useful configuration because you can adjust the level of the mic that’s picking up sound from the left and right, so you can dial in how much ambience you want. Keep in mind that this is only two tracks (stereo), not three. MS recordings convert to mono more graciously than other kinds of stereo recordings, so there is less chance that you’ll encounter phase issues down the stream.
NOTE: If the phase of a multi-channel audio recording has issues, and it’s broadcasted and converted to mono (some TVs only have a single speaker, so the audio is summed down to mono), the phase issues can make bad things happen. When two audio signals are 180 degrees out of phase, they cancel each other out. So, there have been instances where the dialog disappeared in a broadcasted show, but the other sound design was present. Not good. You can avoid phase issues like this by summing your sound mix to mono and giving it a listen in post. I personally use a Presonus Central Station for this purpose.
Zoom makes no mention of phantom power in their description of the Zoom H6. Let’s hope it’s in there. That would be a pretty upsetting omission. Zoom does claim the the H6 gets 20 hours of life from four AA batteries. That’s a pretty appealing spec. It can also record six independent tracks, which is another very appealing spec. It’s also a nice little perk that it can operate as an audio interface. The additional 3.5mm line output on the back is nice to have too.
I like the dedicated audio level knobs, but I’m also a little worried that they’ll get bumped and adjusted unintentionally. There appears to be little fenders on the sides of them to help prevent this from happening, but it’s still going to be an issue if you’re not careful. All in all, it’s a pretty cool new option. Pad switches, a decent transport control… all good stuff. If I can just figure out where I’d put it, I’d be in business. At $400, the H6 will likely find its way into various places in many people’s setups. It’ll surely take to the air like a flying robotic unicorn.