Recently I picked up a Zoom H6 to replace my Zoom H4n. The choice to upgrade (for me) was based on the overall improvement of the device in speed and versatility with the included and optional mic capsules. Now, let me preface this review and say that I'm not a sound guy at all, so this review will be more of an overview of the device and a comparison between the H6, H4n and H1 field recorders from a practical and usability perspective. I also picked up the optional SGH-6 shotgun mic capsule and the APH-6 Acessory Pack (which includes a furry windscreen, remote, and AC Adapter), so I'll be covering those in this overview as well.
I do apologize for the rather unstructured article, as I've been writing this (lazily) over the course of a few weeks in spare time. I hope to have a more structured and thorough comparison and review in the future.
So, what do you get for your heard-earned $399.99 (retail, at time of writing)? Here's what comes in the box:
- Zoom H6
- XYH-6 X/Y mic capsule
- MSH-6 MS mic capsule
- Micro SD card (2GB) w/ SD card adapter
- 4x AA size (LR6) batteries
- Cubase LE Software
- WSH-6S Foam Windscreen
- USB Cable
- Carrying Case
On The Surface
At a glance, the H6 already looks bigger than the H4n. The H6 unit itself (without a mic capsule on it) is roughly the same size as the H4n overall. The increase in size is understandable because of the two (2) additional XLR inputs that they've added to the H6. I've also included the Zoom H1 in here as well to complete the size comparison (I don't own an H2 or H2n, unfortunately). The H6 will be replacing my H4n, and I'll be keeping the H1 for voice memos and stuff.
The first thing you'll notice is the 2.0" Color LCD screen to monitor your levels and navigate menus. It's a nice addition and definitely makes the menus much easier to navigate versus the older H4n. Another very welcome addition to the H6 are 2 more additional XLR inputs, for a total of four (4). All 4 XLR inputs on the main body can be phantom-powered, but if you add two more via the optional EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Combo capsule (for a total of six  XLR inputs), the additional two XLR inputs can NOT be phantom powered.
On the main "face" of the device you have a big one-touch record button, a play/pause, stop, ff and rewind button, along with your channel controls (L/R, and 1-4) to disable or enable your inputs, level dials, and a -20dB PAD switch for each of the 4 channels. The play/pause, stop, ff/rew, and channel controls have a nice tactile "click" when depressed. In contrast, the "record" button is more of a soft-touch button. It's also surrounded by rubberized plastic, to make sure it isn't accidentally pressed. Not sure why the buttons have a different feel, other than to maybe make operation easier if you can't see the buttons (if it's sitting on top of your camera or a cage, for instance). The face of the H6 also features 4 independent gain dials to adjust the levels of each of the inputs. The stereo input (L/R) is controlled independently, as each mic capsule has its own adjustment knob. The top also features a -20dB PAD switch for each of the 4 inputs.
The right side of the device has a 5v Mini-USB port for running off of the optional AC adapter, using the H6 as a USB interface, or downloading your audio directly without a card reader. It also features a menu button to access menus and functions, and a 3-way jog dial. Two powered XLR/TRS inputs are also featured on this side.
The left side of the H6 features two more powered XLR/TRS inputs, an SD card slot, a 1/8" stereo headphone jack, volume controls, and the power/hold switch to prevent any accidental button presses during recording. Note that this DOES NOT prevent audio levels from being changed during recording.
The bottom of the H6 features a 1/8' unbalanced stereo line out jack and a port for the optional remote. The line out jack is a nice addition over the H4n when recording directly into your camera, while still being able to monitor your levels coming into the H4n via the headphone jack.
The top of the H6 features the interface where you can plug in a number of different microphone or input capsules. The H6 comes with two of the 4 currently available capsules as part of the kit -- The XYH-6 X/Y mic capsule, and the MSH-6 MS mic capsule. There are two other optional capsules available -- the SGH6 Shotgun mic capsule which adds a shotgun microphone to the top of the H6, and the EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Combo capsule which adds two more XLR/TRS inputs, for a total of six (6) on the device. It's important to note that the added XLR inputs via the EXH-6 CANNOT be phantom powered. I picked up the optional SGH-6 Shotgun mic capsule.
The back of the device features a standard 1/4-20 threading for mounting, a battery compartment which holds 4x AA-sized batteries, and a 400 mW/8 Ω mono speaker for playback. Claimed performance on alkaline batteries is as follows:
- XY mic, 44.1kHz/16-bit (stereo x 1): 21 hours
- XY mic and Inputs 1, 2, 3 and 4 used, 96kHz/24-bit (stereo x 3): 9 hours 45 minutes
This seems quite good given the number of improvements over the H4n, and actually better than the H4n's performance in my experience, if these numbers are met. I'll report back sometime once I've had some more time with the device. I imagine it'll be even better with some eneloops in there.
The Zoom H6 vs H4n In Use
The most noticeable improvement is the overall speed and performance of the H6 over the H4n -- Startup time is much, much quicker. The H4n would take what seemed like eons to boot up from an off state and get ready to start recording.
One of the nicest things, from a usability standpoint, are the physical adjustment knobs for each channel. This gives you a nice, quick "at-a-glance" visual of each of your inputs on the H6, without having to fuss with menus, making adjustments much quicker to handle on the fly. From what I've read, there seems to be a noticeable jump in gain from the 5 to 6 or 6 to 7 settings on the knobs -- I've found this to be true, so fine tuning if you're at or around those levels may be necessary to achieve optimal sound quality.
The extra bulk of the device is negligible, in my opinion. The H6 carries a sleeker, more streamlined design over the boxy H4 and is quite comfortable to handhold in a pinch for interviews or the like, because of its contoured back panel.
The line-out jack is a nice addition over the H4n when using it to record audio straight to your camera. With the H4n, you'd normally have to use the headphone jack as a line-out. The drawback there, obviously, is that you couldn't monitor your audio and record to the camera at the same time without a janky splitter or other setup.
The nice, bright color screen is refreshing and fairly detailed. Though in the VU meter mode, the meters are so small and unreadable, which renders them almost useless.
One drawback is the menus -- the menus on the H6, while easier to navigate and much improved over previous Zoom devices, is still a bit...inconsistent. Some things aren't where you'd expect them to be, and the verbiage has changed. Folders hold "projects" instead of "files", which is a bit confusing, since "project" has more of a bigger-picture implication. I spent about 20 minutes when I first got this thing trying to figure out how to delete an individual file until I realized they like to call them "projects". The rest of the menu structure seems okay, apart from the inconsistencies.
Zoom H6 Mic Capsules & Accessories
The X/Y Mic Capsule is a good general use microphone for recording -- the mic diaphragms here here are much larger than the H4n's (and actually touted as the largest on any portable recorder at 14.6mm), so the H6 should offer better sound quality in all situations. And like the H4n, the H6's X/Y microphones rotate 180 degrees to go from a 90-degree polar pattern to a 120-degree polar pattern if you want to capture a bit of a wider stereo image.
The Mid-Side mic is great for interviews or video production. What's really cool about the M/S mic is that you can adjust the width of the stereo image before you record by adjusting the levels of the side mics. If you record in RAW, you can even adjust the side mics after the fact! Really cool.
I also picked up the optional SGH-6 Shotgun capsule since I'll be using this mostly for video, and interestingly, don't have a Rode Videomic/Videomic Pro yet. The SGH-6 contains 3 mics and is highly directional, great for picking up speech at close working distances. I haven't had a chance to test this out yet, but will soon. Because of the SGH-6's design, while it does have a narrow pickup pattern, you have to be pretty close to the source to get good audio, or else it starts sounding distant.
I'll have some sound samples up from all of the mic capsules as well as some condenser mics soon. Stay tuned!