Zoom H1 “Handy Recorder”: Hands-On Review

The Zoom H1 is a remarkable value in a portable stereo audio recorder

One negative aspect of the otherwise-excellent Sony NEX-5 camera is its lack of a high-quality microphone input. To remedy this situation, and for general portable recording tasks, I purchased a Zoom H1 “Handy Recorder” portable microphone. Overall, I’m quite impressed with this device, especially when it comes to audio quality and usability, but have some questions about the quality of construction and durability.

A Single-Tasking Recorder

Multitasking devices, especially smart phones like the iPhone, are really hurting the market for “single-tasking” special-purpose devices. Most consumers no longer need to buy a solid-state camcorder, voice recorder, or even point-and-shoot camera. But as the low-end market evaporates, space remains for high quality single-tasking devices like the H1. Quality continues to improve, but there’s no substitute for high quality camera or microphone.

The Zoom H1 is the most affordable professional microphone from respected Japanese manufacturer, Zoom, and is distributed in United States by microphone reseller and developer, Samson Technology. The H1 is intended as a highly portable stereo solid-state recorder that can be kept at hand and instantly record professional quality audio at the touch of a button.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the H1, apart from its small size and light weight, is the unique “X/Y” arrangement of its stereo microphones. These are said to produce excellent stereo imaging since both microphone elements sit on the same vertical axis, equidistant from the subject. The H1 records in WAV or MP3 format in standard (16 bit/44.1 kHz) or professional quality (24-bit/96 kHz) directly to a microSD card.

The H1 In Use

The H1 is intended for high-end applications (musicians, filmmakers, and journalists), but I use it to record business meetings and events, as well as to augment the microphones in my Sony NDX-5 camera. Some SLR-toting filmmakers use the standard tripod mount to attach the H1 to their camera, but of course my NEX-5 lacks a hotshoe as well. Therefore, I tend to use the H1 as a tabletop microphone or holding it in my hand, which is perhaps not the optimal method.

The user interface is extremely friendly and simple to use. A single large red button on the front starts and stops recording and the LCD screen shows sound levels and status effectively. One side of the box houses a variety of recording controls, including a microphone or line level input. The other side contains the headphone or line output, volume control, and microSD slot. On the bottom, hard switches allow you to cut bass response, automatically limit audio input levels, or select WAV or MP3 recording. My only suggested changes would be to move the USB port to the “playback” side of the device and improve the usability of the “slide and hold” power switch.

Battery Issues

The Zoom H1 is powered by a single standard AA battery, and recording time is excellent. In fact, I have no idea how long the H1 will last on a single battery, since it has never run out of power during use. But this brings me to my chief concern about this portable microphone.

My H1 seems to “eat” its batteries even when powered off. This is a serious issue, since the H1 is supposed to be an “always ready” handy recorder. Instead, I find myself carrying around batteries that I insert as needed (requiring me to re-set the clock as well). I asked the Samson Technology representative at the NAB Show about this situation. He reported that this was a known flaw with one batch of H1 Handy Recorders, and advised me to return mine to the company for replacement. I will do just that, and report back once a replacement is in my hands.

Accessory Package

In addition to the basic H1 recorder, I also purchased the H1 accessory package. This includes a fitted and contoured carrying case, which I consider a “must-have” for this portable device. It also includes a handy mini tripod and foam wind guard, both of which are somewhat useful, as well as a microphone adapter and USB power adapter, neither of which I needed.

The H1 recorder is remarkably compact and lightweight, perhaps too much so! On first opening the box, I was shocked by the light weight and concerned that the H1 would not stand up to travel and repeated use. I am pleased to report that my H1 has had no issues in over six months of heavy travel and light use. No doubt the carrying case helps protect it in my bag, but perhaps the device is not as flimsy as it appears.

Stephen’s Stance

The H1 is a very handy device, produces excellent quality recordings, and is reasonably priced. It does just about everything I could want, including recording directly to MP3 on solid-state microSD storage. But I cannot recommend it with the battery drain issue I have experienced. Hopefully the replacement unit will remove the single concern.

Although not all of the accessories are useful, I do recommend purchasing the accessory pack along with the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder. The carrying case alone is worth the $10-$20 extra, and if this microphone to my backpack carrying case and travel schedule, I bet it can stand up to yours. Amazon currently carries a bundle of the H1, accessory pack, and microphone all for just $99 shipped, an unbelievable value!

  • http://twitter.com/bob_fine Robert Fine

     Steve, did you have any luck with the replacement unit to resolve the battery drain issue?

    Bob Fine