Review: Zoom H6

Zoom H6 – perspective 1

Zoom have released their new handy recorder flagship:

The Zoom H6 is a six-track mobile recorder with exchangeable microphone modules.

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Zoom H6 – package and case

Zoom’s H6 (rrp in Finland: 398 €) comes in its own carrying case.

Zoom H6 – the set

The package includes the H6 itself, two mic modules – the XYH-6 offering XY-stereo and the MSH-6 with an MS-stereo capsule – a foam windscreen, a USB-cable, four AA-size batteries and a 2 GB SD-card.

Also included is Steinberg’s Cubase LE audio-sequencer software.

h6n

At the moment the H6 is the only field recorder offering you different exchangeable mic and preamp modules.

In addition to the supplied XY- and MS-modules you can also buy Zoom’s shotgun module (SGH-6) or a module with an additional pair of XLR-/TRS-inputs (EXH-6).

Zoom H6 – accessory pack

For this review we were also supplied with Zoom’s accessory pack for the H6 (APH-6), which contains a furry windshield for outdoor recording, as well a USB-power supply and a remote control.

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Zoom H6 – XY-module

Except for its control panel the Zoom H6 is entirely covered in a non-slip rubbery coating, which also cuts down on handling noise during recording.

Zoom H6 – XY 90 deg

A typical Zoom-feature has been carried over into the recorder’s XY-module:

You can switch the stereo width of the XY-setup by turning the capsules. The options are the slightly narrower 90 degrees angle…

Zoom H6 – XY 120 deg

…and the wider pickup pattern of 120 degrees.

Zoom H6 – left side view

The combined XLR/TRS-connectors have been placed on both sides of the H6. The Zoom offers switchable phantom power for condenser mics.

On the left side you’ll find the access to the SD-card, as well as the headphones output and the volume control.

Zoom H6 – right side view

In addition to the recorder’s mini-USB-port the right side is home to the Menu-button and the device’s nifty navigation toggle.

Zoom H6 – back view

This recorder runs on four AA-size batteries, and will run for approximately 20 hours on a fresh set of alkalines.

You can place the Zoom on most camera tripods, thanks to its standardised thread. There’s also the HS-1 hot shoe adapter available, which makes it possible to mount the recorder straight onto a camera.

The small monitor speaker isn’t particularly Hi-Fi, but it’s good to have it for quick checks.

Zoom H6 – line + remote

The unit’s line level output, as well as the connector for the optional remote control, has been placed on the bottom rim of the Zoom.

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The Zoom H6 can handle two audio formats:

Linear WAV-files offer you sample rates of 44.1, 48 or 96 kHz with 16 or 24 bits of resolution. When you choose WAV as your recording format the H6 works as a multitrack recorder, which makes it possible to do overdubs, and which allows you to mix the recorded tracks afterwards. You can do your mixdown internally, using the Zoom’s own Project Mixer, or by exporting the separate tracks to an audio-sequencer.

Another function that only works when you’ve chosen WAV as your recording format is called Backup Record. This nifty function records the input signal from the exchangeable module twice – one set of tracks uses your input gain settings and is routed to the L/R-track, as usual, while the second set is recorded with 12 dB of attenuation as the so-called Backup-track. The Backup-track is your safety in case your own settings were too hot.

The big advantage of using the H6 in MP3-mode is, of course, this mode’s greatly extended recording time, made possible by data reduction. The recorder lets you choose from many different recording quality settings between 48 and 320 kbps. When in MP3-mode you use the Zoom’s Monitor Mixer to mix all of the six inputs into one stereo file, which is the recorded. This means that, when recording using the MP3-format, the end result is always a single stereo file, instead of the separate tracks you get when running in WAV-mode.

Zoom H6 – MS-module

When you’re using the MS-module you can adjust the side-mic level, either before recording (WAV and MP3) or afterwards if you’ve recorded the module’s input signal using the Zoom’s MS-Raw-mode (WAV only).

More information on MS-stereo can be found HERE.

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Zoom H6 – level knobs

The Zoom H6 is very easy to use, because the signal routing is fixed:

The module’s output always goes to the L/R-track (stereo), while inputs one to four are routed to their corresponding mono tracks (1-4).

Zoom H6 – display

Beneath the Gain-controls there’s a row of track status buttons, as well as the recorder’s ”transport” buttons.

Zoom H6 – monitor mixer

The Zoom’s Monitor Mixer is where you adjust the signal levels and pan positions of all the signals for monitoring.

The Monitor Mixer window also shows you the status of each channel’s bass cut, compressor/limiter and phantom power.

Zoom H6 – menu view

This is what the Menu-view looks like.

Zoom H6 – project mixer

To mix down recorded tracks you use a different internal mixer, called the Project Mixer.

The Project Mixer allows you to adjust each track’s volume and pan position, as well as the playback pitch for each track (without changing the playback speed).

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Zoom H6 – top view

In my opinion Zoom’s H6 hits the bull’s eye:

The exchangeable mic modules give you an enormous amount of flexibility to tailor the recorder quickly to the recording situation you find yourself in. The H6 is easy to use, and the recorder’s sound quality is very, very good. Thanks to the built-in metronome and chromatic tuner it’s easy to make sure you play in time and in tune. I’ve also enjoyed the Zoom’s nice compressors and limiters, which work very musically.

To demonstrate the H6’s performance and sound I recorded a short song using the recorder’s overdub function. I used the X/Y-module (at 90 deg) to record the steel-string acoustic, and recorded two mandolin tracks and two vocals with my trusty Shure SM57.

First, I mixed the song using the Zoom’s internal mixer, after which I exported the stereo file to Garageband, where I cut off the count-in and added a little bit of reverb:

I also tried taking the other route by exporting all the separate files from the H6 into Garageband, where I remixed the song using the original tracks:

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I used a series of sine-wave sweeps to give you an idea of the effect the side-mic level has on the stereo-width of the recorded material. The lower the side-mic level is, the narrower your stereo image gets.

Side-mic +6dB:

Side-mic -2 dB:

Side-mic -9 dB:

Side-mic -22 dB:

Side-mic off:

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Zoom H6 – perspective 2

I think Zoom’s H6 is a great field recorder and portable multi-track studio. The H6 works great to capture your song ideas or to for quality recordings of your band rehearsals or live gigs. The Zoom makes pro-quality recording on the road possible.

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Zoom H6

Finnish distributor: Studiotec

Zoom H6 – 398 €

APH-6 – 48 €

EXH-6 – 58 €

SGH-6 – 118 €

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Pros:

+ exchangeable L/R-modules

+ rugged build

+ colour display

+ Overdub-, Pre Record- ja Backup Record -functions

+ quality compressor/limiter-section

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