I have completed one 60-minute documentary film and have finished primary filming on my second. I make videos for these blogs, my YouTube channel, and also for classes I teach and I can state unequivocally that audio is the most frustrating and difficult part of the process. Now, while trying to edit audio is one thing, even capturing decent quality audio is another altogether. As any filmmaker will tell you, whether they are producing moving images for the big screen, television, or the web, it does not matter how much you spend on your camera because while onboard camera audio recorders will work in a pinch, they are anything but professional quality. Frankly, some wouldn’t even qualify on any point of the quality spectrum. Sure, some on-board camera audio recorders are better than others but you will always be better off with an external audio recorder. Thanks to ZOOM and their H5 Audio Recorder, the art of quality audio recording is now easier and better than ever.
ZOOM H5 OVERVIEW
The ZOOM H5 is a compact recorder whose most potentially important feature is that it has a quick swap interchangeable mic system that accommodates a variety of compatible ZOOM products (I will have a blog and video looking at these attachments posted shortly). It comes with the XYH-5 X/Y condenser mic capsule featuring 2 uni-directional mics in a shockmount. The shockmount simply functions to prevent vibrations from the unit to make their way to the microphone capsule and accomplishes this by cradling the microphone in an elastic or rubber suspension that absorbs the vibrations created by your environment and/or handling of the unit, thus protecting the capsule. The XYH-5 mic can handle extreme volume as well, recording sound as loud as 140 decibels, or a jet engine from a couple of hundred feet, so is a go to recording device for live music and other noisy scenarios you need to record. On its own, this is a great quality microphone that will work for most audio requirements but in seconds can be swapped if you need something more or something different. For example the optional ZOOM SGH-6 Shotgun microphone capsule, the SSH-6 Stereo Shotgun mic capsule, or the MSH-5 Capsule will instantly up the game of your audio capture even more.
The H5 can record 4 channels simultaneously although the base unit only has 2 combo XLR/TRS inputs on the base of the unit, both of which feature phantom power capability. You can, however, do a quick swap and pop on the interchangeable EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Combo Capsule and in no time flat you are able to record 4 channels of multi-track audio. As the H5 is also an Audio Interface, you can connect it to our computer with the included USB cable and using either the H5 mic (whichever model you have attached) or the XLR/TRS inputs to record directly to your MAC or PC. To help facilitate this, ZOOM includes a free download for Steinberg’s WaveLab LE Software and Steinberg’s Cubase LE Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software. The H5 is ideal for recording audio with video, podcasting, newsgathering, recording music, and doing in-person interviews.
It has standard and easy to use built in controls for play/record/stop/pause/rewind/fast forward as well as mute and has a hold switch so that when you are set to record, you don’t accidentally hit a button or switch and change your settings or stop operation. It also mounts nicely on a microphone stand, DSLR or mirrorless Camera, or camera cage via a mount on the back of the unit. You can record music ambiently with the microphones or by directly connecting mixers, music players, keyboards, or guitars with active electronics. A gain knob gives you control over input levels and a 1/8” mini phone jack lets you record audio on the H5 and output it to your video camera’s audio input for perfectly synced audio. There is also a headphone jack with a volume control so that you can monitor the recording while it is in process or to listen back to it after. It has a built in playback speaker as well. All of this runs for a claimed 15 hours on 2 AA batteries (an AC adapter is optional) although I didn’t quite get that with my use, more like 10 or 11 hours. It records to a max 32 GB SD card in WAV or mp3 formats with 16 bit / 44.1 kHz up to 24 bit / 96 kHz. Included with the H5 are a foam windscreen, usb cable, a plastic case, 2 batteries, and a 2GB SD card. There is also the possibility to control with an optional wired remote control. The H5 is truly loaded with options and possibilities.
ZOOM H5 IN USE
I primarily used the H5, and will continue to do so now that I have purchased one for myself, to record audio for my video production. I attach it to my camera cage with a hot shoe mount as that works in most scenarios for me. I also did some sit down interviews for my new documentary film and mounted it to a mic stand just off camera. I have also used it to record live acoustic guitar, both mounted on a mic stand and using the X/Y mic capsule as well as inputting an MXL condenser mic into one of the XLR/TRS inputs and mounting the mic on a stand. As I started to use it more I found the sweet spot for recording levels with various microphones and configurations and all I can say is that it is easily the best audio I have ever recorded. The noise floor is ridiculously low to the point of being essentially indiscernible to the human ear. The new preamp in the H5 (and also the H6 model) is just plain stellar and records amazing audio in every environment I have encountered thus far. There are even features I haven’t personally tried yet like on-board effects including compression and limiting as well as looping, pitch changing, playback speed changes while maintaining pitch (this would be perfect when having to transcribe interviews), a metronome, and a guitar tuner. Quick and easy to set up I do wish that there were an app for smartphones or tablets that allowed remote control of the unit. Most of my cameras feature this and it would make it much easier to operate all of my equipment when working alone and/or from a distance. A small quibble and a reminder that there is an optional wired remote available.
H5 BOTTOM LINE
Amazing. I had an H5 to test for 30 days and when I sent it back, bought one. There are more expensive field recorders available but for what you get in the H5 and the quality of audio that is records, in addition to all of the other things it can do (have I mentioned that it is also an audio interface? I have, but it bears repeating) the ZOOM H5 is both affordable and remarkable and in today’s climate where money is tight, this may well be the last portable audio recording device you will ever need, well, for the foreseeable future anyway. As always, check out the manufacturer’s website, the Best Buy website, and drop in to your local Best Buy store to see if the ZOOM H5 is the right product for you. I really believe that you will be glad you did.