The Zoom H1n audio recorder

First thoughts on the new Zoom H1n audio recorder

The new Zoom H1n is a compact audio recorder with high-quality built-in microphones, and it was just announced, so I wanted to share my thoughts on it. This model is an update to the much-loved Zoom H1, a budget-friendly recorder that offered easy-to-use operation. There are many features of the new H1n that improve upon the old design, and at least one change makes it less desirable for a certain type of use. I’ll explain this later in the post.

When the original Zoom H1 was announced seven years ago, I wrote about it for B&H. I later unboxed an H1 and explained all of its controls in a video on my old YouTube channel. Here I am all these years later still yammering on and on about the same stuff. Oi vey. Get a life, dude!

It’s been a while since the old H1 came out, so it makes sense that Zoom updated it. The original H1 featured a single button on its front panel: just one big Record button. It gave the illusion that the device was supremely simple to operate. Press the big red button and you’re recording. Press it again and it stops. Simple. Pure. Easy.

Unfortunately, when you checked out the sides of the original H1, you saw that they were actually cluttered with buttons and switches. So this is one of the key changes we see in the new Zoom H1n. Now, instead of just one big Record button, the front panel features nine buttons and a big dial.

The new layout is more inline with the other portable digital recorders you can buy today. Why try to oversimplify something that isn’t actually any simpler?

The crowded controls on the side of the original Zoom H1
Crowded controls on the old Zoom H1

The buttons on the new Zoom H1n aren’t terribly different, they’re just in a different location. The front panel also has a logical set of four buttons underneath its 1.25″ LCD display. They’re labeled. Press “Lo Cut,” and you get Lo Cut. Nice and simple. If the new Zoom H1n has a statement to make, it is: “Buttons are okay.”

One of the four buttons on the front activates a limiter. While all limiters are not created equally (some are great, some aren’t), it’s still nice to have one you can easily turn on and turn off. When you turn it on, it will help avoid overdriving the device and distorting the signal. Imagine you’re recording a quiet scene where an actor is whispering. During a take the actor tries something new unexpectedly and suddenly starts screaming. This is when it’s nice to have an active limiter on your audio recorder.

Another new edition to the Zoom H1n is the rotary dial at the top of the front panel. This is what you use to adjust the audio recording level, which is perhaps the most important control on the device. NOTE: If you’re not 100% sure how to set audio levels to get clean, nice sounding recordings, be sure to read my How to Set Audio Levels post. I wrote it specifically for you.

While it can be nice to have a larger physical dial to set this level (as opposed to the “rocker” control on the side of the old Zoom H1), in some situations it’s not desirable.

The microphones on the Zoom H1n audio recorder

One of the ways the original Zoom H1 was used was to plug in a wired lav mic to its 3.5mm mic input, and then to stuff the recorder in a subject’s pocket, and clip the mic to their shirt. This is a common practice for wedding videographers. You put one of these on the groom, lock the controls of the Zoom H1 with the lock switch (so the groom doesn’t accidentally change the settings), and you just let the recorder roll and record everything.

The original Zoom H1 was a good tool for this. Its slender design made it somewhat easy to slip into a pocket, and the lock switch gave you confidence that it would work. The new Zoom H1n, with its big rotary dial, totally ruins this use case. You can lock the controls on the new Zoom H1n, but you can’t lock the audio level of the dial. I would not advise stuffing the H1n into a groom’s pocket.

If you’re bummed that the H1n isn’t good for this task, I recommend buying a few of the old Zoom H1’s. Why not, right? You like the thing, go get some. It’s discontinued now, but they will be available to buy used for many years to come.

This practice of hiding a small audio recorder in a subject’s pocket has become so popular that it’s now an entire category of products. There are now recorders available that were designed specifically for this, like the Tascam DR-10L. And wouldn’t you know it… Zoom themselves have just released a new recorder that was also designed for this purpose. The new Zoom F1 comes with a lav mic, and it’s $80 more than the new H1n.

But you know what? That’s fine. Recording the audio of a groom at a wedding is a very important task, so having a purpose-built piece of gear to do it is a good thing. The F1 is little more expensive, but it’s still very reasonably priced.

All in all, I think the new Zoom H1n is nice. It looks a little better, it has a limiter, and from some YouTube test videos I’ve watched, it seems like it might sound a little better, too. It has some other features like being able to speed up or slow down the audio without changing pitch, and overdubbing. I probably would never use these, so I won’t comment. Its new “test tone” feature might be useful, though, if it works as advertised.

Pros:

  • It seems like the H1n sounds a little better
  • The updated, front-facing controls are more practical
  • A built-in limiter is a nice thing to have

Cons:

  • It costs $20 or so more than the old Zoom H1
  • The knob-style level control cannot be locked, and can accidentally be adjusted
  • It doesn’t come with a memory card (the old Zoom H1 came with a 2GB card)

I hope this article was helpful, and mildly entertaining on a subconscious level. Thanks for reading!

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Sam

Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

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