Zoom H2 Digital Audio Recorder

A New Portable Audio Recorder

There are many choices for digital audio recorders that are computer-friendly, meaning that you can record a conversation or a live event directly to a digital file, then transfer the file and edit it on your PC. The Zoom H2 is a new entry in this field that began shipping in September. It packs a bunch of features into a device that is about the size of a very thin iPod, and looks a bit like an old-style radio mic. Unlike the iPod, though, everything you need to do recordings comes with the unit.

The best thing about the H2 is its complement of built-in microphones - it comes with several, and you can set it up to use whichever suits your environment. There are four basic settings: Front 90 (stereo recording at a 90 degree angle from the front of the unit), Rear 120 (stereo from 120 degree angle from the back of the unit), two-channel surround (stereo using both front and rear mics), and four-channel surround (using four channels). If none of these works for you, there is an optional external mic input jack as well. You also have three different adjustments for gain and complete control over the recording mic levels to give you the best recording results. In our tests, the sensitivity of the unit was great, and sound quality clear, even in cavernous hotel conference rooms.

The user interface is a bit quirky, and the menus involve a somewhat lengthy series of choices. Helping somewhat is a user manual that is well written with clear examples; not helpful is the fact that you have to scroll through the menus using the control buttons, which is tiresome and requires good eyesight (they are displayed in very tiny type). A key item for me doing podcasts is seeing that the recording levels are appropriate and also keeping an eye on the elapsed time of the recording - neither is very large on the unit’s LCD screen.

The unit runs on two AA batteries, and according to the vendor, their life can be as long as four hours, although we didn’t measure this in our use. The package includes a 512 MB SD card for file storage and can recognize up to 2 GB SD (and 4 GB SD HC) cards that you purchase.

There are some drawbacks to the H2. First, its native recording mode is to WAV files, although it supports a wide range of stereo encoding rates from 16 bit / 44.1 kHz to 24 bit / 96 kHz. It does come with a built-in MP3 encoder, but it is so slow that you are better off doing the compressing and processing on your PC - a 10-minute, 100 MB file took close to 45 minutes to convert.

There are two ways to move files over to your PC: remove the SD card from the recorder and put it in your PC (if you have an available SD reader), or navigate its menus to allow the PC to see its storage via a USB cable. This brings us to our second disadvantage of the H2, though: both are more cumbersome than they should be. Finally, speaking of that SD card, if you use the cute little tabletop screw-in stand to keep the unit upright, you will have to remove the stand before taking out the data card. That seems like a bad design decision to me.


The H2 is the latest in the line of audio recorders from Samson’s Zoom subsidiary. For $200, you can certainly find less expensive units, but the H2 does offer a nice array of built-in mic options, and its recording quality is superb.

David Strom
Strom is the former editor-in-chief at Tom's Hardware and the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine. He has written thousands of articles for dozens of technical publications and websites, and written two books on computer networking.