OT: regarding Zoom H4N

UlfLaursen wrote on 6/25/2011, 12:13 PM

I was recording a conferece today and had a "tape out" from the mixer into my H4N.

At some times when a choir was singing and musicians were playing, the feed I got was somewhat distorted and my levels went crazy... I tried all kind of things both in manual and automode but nothing helped. I have a feeling that the feed out was already distorted before I got it.

What could I do in a situation like this?

I could try to record separate tracks with the build in mics and mix them with my camara sound on the singing part, and then use the feed only on speaking and "normal" level music.

Thanks for any input. :)



Byron K wrote on 6/25/2011, 1:22 PM
If the audio is clear and you're only getting distortion from the tape out, the mixer may have a bad tape out amplifier circuit.

Some other options:

Depending on the mixer, most better mixers have have SUB out buses. On better mixers you can press the sub channel button on the channel strip to route the audio signal to one of these sub channels which you can plug directly to a sub mixer or directly to your recorder. You can control the level the SUB channel output before the signal goes to your recorder.

Another option, depending on the mixer you can use the AUX (Effects out) bus. This is used to route the signal of each channel on the mixer to an effect loop. Each AUX channel has a level control to send the signal to the AUX port so you have something like a small sub mixer for your audio. One nice thing about using the AUX channels is you can adjust the levels of different channel strips going to the AUX out separately from the master mix.

Here are the connections on a Mackie mixer (because I have one) but most other mixers w/ these features will look similar.

The last resort is to use the headphone out or the control room out connection. This is another output feed similar to the tape out but usually with separate level controls. Pls note: The headphone out puts out a lot hotter signal than the standard line outs mentioned above so watch the levels or better yet use a buffer box.


UlfLaursen wrote on 6/25/2011, 1:56 PM
Thanks a lot Byron - I'll check it out tomorrow when I'm back for the last recording

cold-ones wrote on 6/25/2011, 2:13 PM
Depends on which inputs you're using, too. In my experience the XLR/phono jacks on the H4N work OK with line level inputs (although the manual only shows them being used for electric instruments, like an electric guitar, which I believe may be greater than mic level but less than line level). But I've been also using the stereo mini inputs on the H4N, which seem strictly mic level, with a matching transformer on the output from the mixer to reduce its line level outputs. Also, if your mixer has trim pots, reduce the input on your mics so they meter lower but also send out a lower signal to the H4N--this is a crude workaround if you can't match the input levels any other way.
farss wrote on 6/25/2011, 2:29 PM
"I could try to record separate tracks with the build in mics and mix them with my camara sound on the singing part, and then use the feed only on speaking and "normal" level music."

That's the safest approach.
As Byron said, the feeds you get can be anything and maybe nothing like what goes to the house. Depending on the size of the venue it's quite possible the band + choir was not mic'ed nor feed to the house, all you got was whetever open mics picked up and the master faders were pulled down and your feed was before them. Also keep in mind that house mixes are most likely mono. Only once have I had the sound guy kind enough to build me a stereo mix on it's own buss.

The Zoom H4 can record 4 channels, 2 from the internal mics or XLR inputs and 2 from a 3.5mm "minipin" input. The problem with using the device in this mode is using the unit's mics you need to put it in the right place and there you'll likely not be able to monitor what it's recording. Also the minipin input is unbalanced.

What you could do is use your camera to record the house mix, all you need is enough cable. Then position the H4 to record from it's own mics with it handling the choir. In the right place you should get a decent stereo recording of them. The auto level function is usable on these units as it's not simple AGC, if it detects an "over" it will wind the gain back and leave it there.


[edit] If you do this kind of gig a lot then the extra expense of a recorder such as the Edirol R-44 is very worthwhile. Being able to record 4 channels with 4 channels of balanced inputs each with it's own metering, level and gain controls and the ability to monitor the inputs individually can make life a lot easier.
UlfLaursen wrote on 6/25/2011, 2:50 PM
Thanks guys :)

UlfLaursen wrote on 6/25/2011, 2:58 PM
Btw. I have a small Mackie mixer. Could I take the "tape out" on the big mixer and put it into the mackie and then from there into my H4N?


farss wrote on 6/25/2011, 3:17 PM
"Could I take the "tape out" on the big mixer and put it into the mackie and then from there into my H4N?"

Sure. Just watch the levels going into the H4n.
At Record Levels below "10" the Zoom is claimed to be recording "Line". I have some reservations over just how much headroom that leaves you to cope with what mixers can ouput.

Byron K wrote on 6/25/2011, 4:46 PM
How many channels does your little mackie have? Is it a 402, 802, 1202 or 1402? This can add a whole new paradigm of audio control (and complexity).

You'll have to verify If the audio coming from the tape out is distorted or if the level is just to much for the Zoom preamp to handle.

A suggestion that can provide better quality and more control using your "little" mixer is, if the gig is using multiple mics and or direct feeds into the house mixer and the house mixer has direct outs, you can get the audio signal to feed directly from each channel from the house mixer's direct outs, right into a separate channels on your "little" mixer. You can now create your own custom mix into the Zoom. (Provided that your mixer has the same or more channels than is being used on the house mixer.)

The direct outs are right above the SUB outs in the picture or similar location on other mixers.

UlfLaursen wrote on 6/25/2011, 9:58 PM
Thanks again Byron and Bob really appreciate all your help.

My Mackie is the 402, and I can adjust the "tape in", so I think I'll try that this afternoon and see if it is better.


Geoff_Wood wrote on 6/25/2011, 10:35 PM
It will be better than my H4N - I pulled it out the other day to find the little clamshell case full of white crap. First (and last) time I'll forget to remove the alkalines. Totally rooted.

So ..... Should I get a Q3HD ? The lack of a real 'zoom' lens puts me off a little.

UlfLaursen wrote on 6/25/2011, 10:40 PM
Sorry to hear Geoff...

There has been a short thread here reg. the Q3HD:


Found a review here too:


PeterWright wrote on 6/26/2011, 6:02 AM
I have the Q3HD and have grown quite fond of it for certain purposes.

Relevant to this thread, I took it on a recent multi cam shoot. I intended to capture desk audio onto the Zoom H4 and to put the Q3HD behind the drummer to get a diagonal shot from there, but the mixer could only offer a stereo mini jack out from the desk and I didn't have the necessary adaptors for the H4.

Instead I put the Q3HD near the mixing desk to get a wide shot and to record desk sound. It worked really well, particularly because the audio level was so easily visible, and the mixer could control the output level. I asked him nicely to keep an eye on the level, and the result was the cleanest stage sound I've ever obtained.

craftech wrote on 6/26/2011, 7:43 AM
For that application I think using something that tiny is only worthwhile if that's all you have.

I use the Tascam DP008.

It doesn't fit in my shirt pocket, but then again it doesn't need to for location recording. It was only around $200 and has decent reviews.

earthrisers wrote on 6/26/2011, 5:29 PM
We shot two graduations in the same site last week... used the H4N for one of our audio resources both days... had to take a feed from the "out" connector (1/4 inch) of one of the system's speakers -- ran that through a DI, thence into one of the H4's XLR channels.
One day it worked beautifully, the next day almost all of the audio was very badly distorted. Coulda sworn I hadn't changed anything, but who knows?
(Unfortunately, we can't monitor the H4 in real-time: it's way up at the front of the amphitheatre, and we're way up in back with our cameras.)

HERE'S ONE FACTOR I'm experimenting with: I have been using the H4N in its "auto-levels" mode; for our next event I changed it to a pre-set level (about 50) and at first "audio-glance", it seems to have come out a lot better, even tho I'll need to boost the level in post-production. At least no clipping.
There are other variables at play here, too, between the different sites where we've been shooting, but that levels-setting is one I'm experimenting with controlling.
UlfLaursen wrote on 6/26/2011, 9:11 PM
I changed it to a pre-set level (about 50)

Hi Ernie

Very interesting - where in the menu did you find this setting?


plasmavideo wrote on 6/27/2011, 7:49 AM
Is anyone using the Zoom R16 or R24 multitrack recorders? I'm very intrigued and interested, if these will replace both my mixer and a recorder, and offer multitracks for later post mixdown.

How is the pre-amp quality?
mdopp wrote on 6/27/2011, 7:57 PM
Distortion is a well known issue with the Zoom H4N.
Basically the external inputs are pretty much useless as their levels can not be controlled (the level-setting seems to work AFTER the A/D-converter). Furthermore they are also very "hot" - so you need to feed them from an external mixer and set the H4N's internal level to 100 (straight) to avoid distortions.
For details see here:

farss wrote on 6/27/2011, 8:29 PM
"Distortion is a well known issue with the Zoom H4N"

Thanks for the link to those test results. I've heard a lot of H4n recordings and many of them just sounded tragic to my old ears and yet everyone else in the shop reckons they're fine and I'm nuts. Maybe they're the ones who need their hearing tested :)

earthrisers wrote on 6/28/2011, 9:57 AM
Re the menu-settings I'm currently trying (in connection with using one of the XLR inputs):
The "Mode" I'm using is Stereo, using the INPUTS rather than the built-in mics, and with the "1/2 Link" turned OFF.

In the "Input" menu, for INPUT (as opposed to Mic), I have "Comp/Limiter" set to "LIMIT1 (General)"

And this is the biggest difference from the settings I had been using---
In the "Input" menu, I turned OFF "LEVEL AUTO" (I used to have it ON),and then...
I pressed one of the "REC LEVEL" buttons, then...
pressed the "1" button to select the XLR input I'm using, then...
(quickly, before the onscreen selector reverts to something else...)
pressed the "REC LEVEL" buttons some more, to choose the setting I want.
I haven't yet post-produced the project for which I used these settings (an outdoor graduation ceremony), but from a quick listen to the H4's WAV file on the computer, I'm pretty sure I got good clean audio.
UlfLaursen wrote on 6/28/2011, 9:42 PM
Thanks Martin and Ernie..

When I recorded on the last day of the conference I put my small mackie in between the soundboard and the H4N, and I could control the input to the H4N much better.

I will try the settings you guys recommended when I'm home again from job at the end of the week.

Thanks again for all input - it's great to share practical experiences here :)

R0cky wrote on 6/30/2011, 11:54 AM
After looking at Martin's data on the H4N I tested my original H4. The results are basically the same, it is terrible. I was wondering why I occasionally got good recordings with it but was frequently disappointed. It is usable on the lowest sensitivity but gets bad on medium and completely unusable on high.

Tested on all 3 gain settings at -6 dBFS, -12 dBFS, -20 dBFS with 1 kHz sine. There was no point in doing intermodulation after I saw how bad the harmonic distortion was.

I also found that on the high sensitivity setting for the external inputs that auto gain seems to be turned on no matter what. The input level meters stayed around -6 dB no matter how far I turned down the input signal. The distortion on high sensitivity was incredible - didn't look like a sine wave anymore.

Just ordered a Tascam DR-100. According to their website they use AKM converters and spec distortion at 0.01%. It is not specified on the H4, now I know why.

I'll test the Tascam and post some distortion info.

musicvid10 wrote on 6/30/2011, 8:29 PM
Unbalanced 1/4" input on H4 on Low sensitivity handles reasonable line levels with ease. Limiting should be on nevertheless.
Balanced inputs are always going to be mic level on these devices.

I've made many perfect recordings for live event CDs using the original H4.

That being said, many board outputs are hot because they have neanderthal operators. Rule of thumb, and one that I've always followed is a DI interface between the board and outboard recording device. That's to pad the signal and lift the ground if necessary, and block DC from the path. it's just good commercial practice.
Baron Oz wrote on 6/30/2011, 8:49 PM
Guess I lucked out today, shot a concert in Brick, NJ using feeds off the board directly into my H4N. I had to ask the sound guy to reduce the output of my mix 3 times before I could get anything under -6db on the H4N meters. Still the recording sounds great!

I like the idea of DI boxes, even brought a couple but didn't use them. Next time for sure!

musicvid10 wrote on 6/30/2011, 9:01 PM
A pair of Matchbox direct boxes is usually all you'll need, and fit easily in a camera bag.
Of course you can get much fancier and pricier than that.