Using the Samson Zoom H4n Digital Audio Recorder:
First to turn on the ZOOM, slide the power button down and hold it for a couple of seconds. Let the slider return to the middle position, because if you slide it all the way up it will be LOCKED and none of the buttons will work. Only lock it if have everything set the way you need it and have begun recording, but don't want any buttons accidentally hit by anyone. On the back in the battery compartment, there is a switch labeled STAMINA. Make sure this is turned off as it makes the recorder have limited functionality for very long recordings, like meetings or court proceedings.
To access the Menu Settings, press the MENU button on the right side. Use the scroll wheel to move the selection and then press down on the scroll wheel to make a selection. Press the MENU button to go back up a level or return to the main screen.
You should all have your own SD card, that you can put into the ZOOM on the right of the recorder. Don't forget to take it out when you return the recorder. If you would like to format your card and start with a totally clean card, you can go into the Menu, select SD CARD and then select FORMAT. Do not do this if you have anything important on the card, as it will erase everything. You do not need to do this, only if you need to wipe the card for space.
At the top of the recorder, under the Zoom logo, are 3 indicator lights showing which mode of recording is set up: Stereo, 4CH, and MTR. MTR is for multitrack recording so that a singer/songwriter can overdub vocals on a song. We won't be using this mode. 4CH will allow you to record all 4 inputs, the two microphones on the top of the recorder and the two external inputs on the bottom of the recorder, labeled 1 and 2. These can accept both XLR microphone inputs as well as 1/4" TRS cables from a musical instrument. However, for most situations you will only need to record either the onboard mics or external mics. For this reason, I suggest using the STEREO mode, and selecting which input you would like to record. To change modes go into the menu system and scroll all the way to the bottom of the list and select MODE and then select STEREO to only record 2 channels of audio.
If you are using the onboard microphones, make sure that the mic button on the front panel is selected (indicated by being lit red.) If you want to use an external microphone, like a shotgun mic, you need to switch the input by pressing the 1 or 2 buttons directly below the mic button. The recorder is now looking for input from the bottom of the recorder. You will need an XLR cable to connect the microphone and and condenser microphones, such as shotguns also need power. You can also use a 1/4" TRS cable to connect to other professional audio gear.
Power can be supplied in two different ways to condenser microphones, either by installing a battery in the mic by unscrewing the base and installing a single AA battery or by turning on Phantom Power. Normally indicated as +48V, Phantom Power supplies balanced power through the XLR cable. To turn on Phantom Power on the Zoom recorder, go into the Menu system and select input, and scroll down to PHANTOM and select +48V. The other option, +24V, is used for some older microphones, but all of the mics we have will use +48V. Phantom Power will be indicated as being on with a small 48V in the lower bar on the main screen. When Phantom Power is engaged you will use your batteries up faster, so only have it on if you need it.
One thing that often gets people confused with this recorder, is that you won't see the levels moving or hear any input, unless you arm your track for recording by pressing the REC button. It isn't actually recording yet, as indicated by the pause symbol in the upper left portion of the screen, but is ready to record and now you will hear audio through your headphones. This can be confusing and we can change it so that we always hear and see input. To do this, go to the MENU system, and scroll down and select INPUT, and then select MONITOR, and switch it to ON. You will now hear audio and see levels on your meters if you have headphones plugged in. If headphones aren't plugged in you won't see levels unless you press record, but you should always use headphones to listen to what you are recording.
This is an annoying feature to me, but you can't expect all of the features of expensive recorders on a device this cheap. I wish that you could monitor a single input in both ears, but not affect the recording. This feature will actually sum both channels together into a mono mix, which is not what we want. So if you are recording just using one shotgun microphone, it is tempting to use this feature to hear it in both ears, but it is actually mixing low level noise from the second channel preamp into the other channel. I prefer to leave this off and only monitor in one ear. In post production you can then strip out the silent channel. FCPX actually has an import setting to do just this.
Suggested Record Settings:
- 48Khz/24bit - Can be found in menu settings under REC or accessed on the front panel by pressing the WAV/MP3 button with a #4 on it.
- You should always record uncompressed WAV files and never record as an mp3.
- Recording in 24bit vs. 16bit allows for greater dynamic range in the recordings.
The biggest mistake people make make with digital audio recording is having levels that are too hot and and that hit digital zero. Once you hit digital zero the audio signal will distort and there is no way of ever recovering the information that was lost. You want to make sure that you never come close to the top of the meters. I try to have my levels, averaging between -24 and -12 with no peaks going over -6dB. Make sure to leave some headroom for any unexpected spikes in level. So before you start recording take a look at your meters on the front panel and adjust your levels by pressing the REC LEVEL buttons up or down on the right side of ZOOM. If you are using two external microphones, you can adjust them individually, by pressing the 1 or 2 input buttons after pressing the REC LEVEL. I generally try to be pretty conservative when setting levels. DON'T RECORD TOO HOT!
Also called auto gain control or ACG on some cameras, this sounds like a great solution to getting good levels, but don't be fooled. This is great for consumer products and people who aren't thinking about how to get the best sounding audio, but not for us. The recorder will try to automatically turn up and down the volume based on how loud the input is. So when it is quiet it will start to turn up the gain up and as soon as there is a louder sound it will try to turn it down. This often ends up resulting in audio that "pumps" as it is being turned up and down. You should always have this feature turned off and set your levels manually. You can access this through MENU, then select INPUT, then scroll down and select LEVEL AUTO and make sure it is OFF.
If you are using two external microphones and need the levels to be linked together for various stereo microphone techniques like binaural recording, you can link the levels together by going to MENU, selecting INPUT, and turning on 1/2 LINK. This will match the gain for both channels.
OUTDOOR FIELD RECORDING
The onboard microphones as well as microphones like shotguns are very sensitive to wind. Use a windscreen if you are recording outside. These can be checked out with the recorder and fit over the microphones on top or the over the shotgun microphone. In a pinch you can use a piece of cloth or a sock, but the foam windscreens are designed to tightly fit the mics and block moving air from hitting the capsules, while allowing sound to be recorded cleanly.
Another way to get rid of unwanted rumble from wind, subway vibrations, or AC units, is to filter out all of the frequencies that we don't need. You can engage this by going to MENU, selecting INPUT, and then LO CUT. This can be turned on separately for the onboard mics or external mics. You can select the frequency that will begin to rolloff everything below it. I usually select 80hz unless I am recording something that I know I want those lower frequencies.
COMPRESSION and LIMITING
Audio compression is affecting the dynamic range of the signal and isn't the same thing is data compression for an mp3. Compressors are a great tool, but unfortunately this process in the Zoom is happening after the Analog to Digital converters have already turned your sound waves into zeroz and ones, which doesn't make them very useful in my opinion, and I would rather apply compression in post, where I have more control over the settings. Limiting is just a more extreme form of compression, and can be very useful for not overloading the ADCs if they are put in front of them in the signal path. This is a great feature that is found on the Sound Devices recorder we have as a special check-out from Rob. In general, I don't use the compressor or limiter on the H4n, but you might want to try some of the settings. Just remember not to record to hot, because it won't save you from hitting digital zero.
Here is a decent video introduction on Youtube:
H4n studio in the palm of your hand
Samson's very own H4n page:
H4n support documents
Download the User Manual:
H4n User Manual
If you've got any more questions, come talk to Nick or Merche in the residents' office.