I performed a lot of research, probably too much, when trying to decide which portable hand-held recorder to get. One of the models I looked into a lot was the Zoom H2n.
(Spoiler alert: I ended up buying one.)
I know there are already a lot of reviews out there for this unit (I think I read every single one…), so this assessment covers those things that I didn’t find out until I had the unit in my hands, as well as those features that are the make-or-break pros and cons of this unit. I also provide a final verdict.
Note: PracticalMechanic.com is reader-supported. If you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission – at no cost to you. Thank you for your help keeping this site active.
This is my review of the Zoom H2n Handy Recorder. I hope you find this helpful in your purchasing decision!
Zoom H2n Handy Recorder – (This is the unit I bought, in case you want to check the current price.)
What are the Best Handheld Recorders?
In my assessment, I considered the following hand-held recorders (a few are no longer in production). The first thing that is important is the noise floor, or the amount of self-noise that they produce, commonly measured as the A-weighted EIN (Equivalent Input Noise).
The smaller (larger the negative number!) the EIN the better. Generally speaking, the amount of acceptable self-noise depends on what you are trying to record. The following table gives some general guidelines for the recommended EIN Levels for a variety of purposes.
|Professional Recording, Scientific||< -126|
|Foley (Field) Recording||< -119|
|Soft Acoustic Music||< -114|
|Music Recording, Podcasting||< -110|
|Garage Band, Transcriptions||< -100|
|Cell Phone, DSLR Microphone||> -100|
The following table lists the A-weighted EIN of a number of recorders that I looked at. These are based on the measured values or the manufacturer specifications, derived from a variety of sources (Avisoft, Zoom, Tascam, and various forums).
|Recorder||A-Weighted EIN (dBu)|
|Zoom H2 (old)||-99.0|
|Zoom H4n (old)||-107.0|
|Zoom H1 (old)||-111.0|
|Zoom H4n Pro||-120.5|
It is important to note the difference between the older and newer versions of some of these recorders, for example, the older Zoom H2 had an EIN of -99, while the newer Zoom H2n has an EIN of -114, so make sure you are looking at the correct model number.
As you can see, the Zoom H2n has an EIN of -114, making it great for applications like home-recordings of acoustic guitar and vocals, as well as basic podcasting. For lower noise floor applications like recording far-away bird sounds in the woods, there will be a very slight, but noticeable noise in quieter recordings at higher gain settings.
Zoom H2n Handy-Recorder Unboxing
Based on the above assessments and additional research, I finally decided to purchase a Zoom H2n off of Amazon and try it out. The unit comes packaged well in a cardboard box.
There is no case included with the H2n, that is included in the optional accessory pack.
The back of the box gives a description of the X-Y Microphone capsules and the Mid-Side (MS) microphones. I’ll be honest, on the back where it says, “Five studio-quality Microphones onboard…” makes me question whether there are actually 5 microphones.
My understanding is that there are 4 microphones, the front two are oriented 45° to each other, and the back has another two microphones oriented something like 120°, with adjustable width (on-board or in post-processing), allowing recording that simulates three microphones. I was not able to get clarity on this point in my research, and I don’t want to take it apart, at least not yet. (If I am wrong on this point, please let me know in the comments.)
What is included with the Zoom H2n?
Depending on where you buy it from, the unit comes with different accessories. I bought the H2n from Amazon, and mine came with just the following items:
- Zoom H2n Handy Recorder
- AA batteries (2)
- Manual (available for download: H2n-instruction-manual.pdf)
- Software License Key Code for Cubase LE and Wavelab LE
It did not include the optional accessory kit (APH-2n) which comes with things like a remote control, foam windscreen cover, tripod stand, AC adapter, etc…
It is interesting to note that the unit did NOT come with an SD card or a Mini-USB cable. I have mixed feelings on this. If you are the type of person that already has extras of these sorts of things lying around, then you are probably better off just using what you have, rather than paying for additional cards and cords.
Especially since some versions of the H2n that I have seen for sale and do come with an SD card, only come with a 2GB card! If you are only going to get a 2GB card, what’s the point? The unit accepts up to a 32GB card, so that is what I recommend using. I realize it is a ton of space for audio recordings , but why not?
But if you don’t have these accessories around, then make sure you buy at least an SD card and a Mini-USB cable, because the unit is not really usable without them, for example, you can record without and SD card, but you cannot save the recording!
Is the Software Included with the Zoom H2n any good?
Concerning the software licenses that come with the Zoom H2n for “Cubase LE” and “Wavelab LE.” Unfortunately, the “LE” versions are significantly stripped-down versions of WaveLab and Cubase. Wavelab is a mastering tool, and Cubase is a DAW. You need to pay extra to upgrade to the full software (WaveLab Pro ~$450, and Cubase Pro ~$580).
The reviews I’ve read about these software packages indicate that they are really good. Unfortunately, I am not personally in a position to pay that much for software right now, and furthermore, I did not want to waste time learning the LE versions while knowing that I would not be upgrading to the full version.
I use Audacity, the free, open-source sound editor which is actually pretty good (especially considering the price). The Zoom H2n works flawlessly with it, both as an external microphone, and for importing files into it.
I have to hand it to the folks working to develop Audacity because the time and dedication required to manage and improve a software with that much capability is truly admirable. Although I should warn you that the online manual is not very helpful, so if you decide to use Audacity plan on watching youtube videos or reading outside blog posts for help and learning.
What is the Size of the Zoom H2n Handy Recorder?
The physical dimensions of the Zoom H2n are 2.66 x 1.68 x 4.5 inches.
I must say that this is a VERY conveniently-sized unit, considering that it has a set of X-Y microphones housed inside. It is a nice size to fit comfortably in your hand. It will easily fit in a jacket pocket or larger purse. It wouldn’t fit well in a front or back pants pocket. If you need something that portable, go with the Zoom H1n.
The body is made of plastic and this does give it a bit of a light (perhaps cheap?) feel, although in general, a lighter unit is preferred if you are hauling it around all day. After installing the batteries, the weight increases, and it feels a bit higher quality and more robust.
Another point I want to make is that the microphones are enclosed in the cage at the top of the H2n. This is a surprisingly beneficial feature. I have no problem sliding the H2n into a coat pocket for easy retrieval while on the go. Most other hand-held recorders, including the others in the Zoom line (H1n, H4n Pro, H5, etc…) have the microphones exposed, at least to a degree. You wouldn’t put the H5 into your jacket pocket without some sort of protection (like a case) for the microphone capsule, lest you break off the isolation mounts.
The nice thing about the H2n is that since the microphones are encased in a metal cage, you don’t need to worry about damaging them. Even the Zoom H1n, which has some protective guides over the X-Y microphones, would be a concern if a car key or some other thin object in your pocket poked through the guides and damaged the microphones. The H2n simply doesn’t have this worry, so you can pull it out of a pocket and be recording quickly.
The front of the H2n has a screen and the record button as well as a red record light. The recording light is located on the front of the unit. The power light is also red and is at the top of the unit on the dial where you set the recording mode. This can be a little confusing at first until you get used to it. You see a red light and assume you are recording, when in fact, it is just the power light on top. In addition, if you are using it in Mid-Side mode (the microphones on the ‘back’) then the recording light (and button) is on the opposite side, so you may not be able to see it, depending on where you are relative to the recorder.
The front of the H2n is the side with the X-Y microphones. This makes it VERY handy for recording yourself in stereo mode, as you can easily see the gain levels on the screen while the recorder is in the correct position. This is perfect for those who are singer/guitarists, for example, as you have all of the information you need on a screen pointed right at you!
A huge downside to the other units in the Zoom line (H1n, H4n Pro, H5, and H6) are that when the recorder is positioned in front of you in the proper orientation for recording, you can’t see the screen to assess the gain volumes! You have to lean up and over to glimpse the screen while strumming a guitar, for example.
I find the record button to be just a little bit awkward to press. It is a smooth plastic button and you have press it down, but it always seems to feel like you are pressing it at a 45º angle to where it is supposed to be pressed. This is not a big deal and gets better with use.
The back of the unit (the side with the Mid-Side microphones) has the battery cover.
A common complaint with the battery cover is that it is press-fit, meaning that you need to press inward on it, and physically deflect (bend) the plastic in order for it to slide down and open. Everytime I do it, I wonder how many more times I will be able to get away with it before it breaks.
Lot’s of the reviews for this unit on Amazon talk about the battery cover breaking. It can still be used with the battery cover broken, and most people who break it end up putting a piece of tape on it to hold it in place.
One thing to mention is that every time you change the batteries, you must reset the date/time. I usually do this because the H2n has two file naming modes. The first is that each recording is labeled ZOOM0001, ZOOM0002, etc… The second is based on the date/time like many cameras file-naming structure (as an example: 20210124-123143). I find this extremely useful when needing to sort through recordings to pair with video from a different source – matching up the date/time is much easier for me to remember than a sequential grouping of names.
On the right-hand side of the H2n you have the Power/Hold button, the Gain Setting Dial, the Menu/Home Button and the Play/Toggle switch.
A few comments on the tactile feel of these buttons. The Power/Hold button is little bit hard to get used to. Like the record button, I find it slightly unintuitive to turn the unit on. You need to slide the button down, and hold it for a couple seconds. Somehow it seems like you are always not pressing it quite right, and it slips past your finger and you have to give it another go. This could very well just be me, and I assume it will become more natural with practice. Overall, it is not a big deal.
The gain dial is perfect. It has a plastic guard over the top of it that limits accidental adjustments and it is a pleasure to adjust.
The Play/Toggle switch is also difficult to use. You press it up or down to move the selection on the screen up or down, then center the toggle and press inward to select. This is an awkward set of manipulations and about 15% of the time when I am trying to press inward, I accidentally end up toggling either up or down. Likewise, about 5% of the time when I am trying to toggle up or down, I inadvertently press the button causing a selection that I did not intend.
I doubt others will have this level of confusion, it is a personal problem, I admit, but suffice to say it is altogether way to easy to mis-select with this style of button. This is not a deal-breaker, and I just find that I need to concentrate a little bit more than normal when using this switch.
The left-hand side of the H2n has the Mini-USB port, headphone jack, remote jack, volume adjust (for the internal speaker or headphones), and the line-out jack.
The placement and function of these controls work very well.
I do want to say a few words about the choice of the Mini-USB as opposed to the more common Micro-USB. Some of the review I read said that they would prefer a Micro-USB because it is more modern and people tend to have more of these types of cables lying around.
As a quick refresher, here is a photo showing what each type of USB connector looks like.
I disagree on this point. I don’t take the SD card in and out of this unit (for reasons I will explain later), so I am constantly using the USB port to offload recordings. I find that Micro-USB connectors (the smaller ones) are too fragile for this type of use.
I actually prefer the Mini-USB because it is bigger, tougher, and more robust. I just think it has a far lower likelihood of breaking off or becoming loose, like many of my phones that use Micro-USB are!
What are the Zoom H2n Recording Modes?
A lot has been written about the various recording modes, so I am going to stick with what is most pertinent. The most useful mode on the H2n is the X-Y stereo configuration. This is used for 90%+ of the use cases, and that is why the whole recorder is optimized for that mode. The next most commonly used mode would be the Mid-Side arrangement, for getting a wider or more focused sound.
The adjustment dial for changing the recording mode is located on the top of the unit. This is a bit inconvenient if you are using a windscreen filter or dead-cat. If you want to change the recording mode, you have to remove the windscreen, change the mode, and then replace it.
Another related downside is that if you are using a windscreen, you can’t see the lights on the top dial that indicate what recording mode you are in. Since you will most likely mainly be using the X-Y configuration, and probably won’t be changing it often, this is probably not a big deal, but if you do think that you will be changing the recording mode frequently, and you record in environments that require a windscreen, this may be a consideration.
What file format does the Zoom H2n record in?
The Zoom H2n is capable of recording in the following formats:
|File Type||Recording Format|
|Stereo WAV||44.1 / 48 / 96 kHz, 16 / 24-bit WAV (BWF)|
|56 / 64 / 80 / 96 / 112 / 128 / 160 / 192 / 224 / 256 / 320 kbps|
|(Not compatible with MS-RAW recording)|
|44.1 / 48 / 96kHz, 16 / 24bit WAV (BWF)|
|(Two stereo files for each recording)|
How Much Storage Space Does a Zoom H2n Have?
Using a recording quality of 48 kHz/ 24-bit WAV, a 32GB card will hold about 30 hours of recording.
The following table gives the amount of recording time available for various recording modes when using a 32GB SD card for storage.
|Format||Quality||Recording Time (32GB SD Card)|
|MP3||320 kbps||555 hrs 33 min|
|MP3||128 kbps||342 hrs 13 min|
|WAV||44.1 kHz/16-bit||50 hrs 23 min|
|WAV||44.1 kHz/24-bit||33 hrs 35 min|
|WAV||48.0 kHz/16-bit||46 hrs 17 min|
|WAV||48.0 kHz/24-bit||30 hrs 51 min|
|WAV||96.0 kHz/16-bit||23 hrs 08 min|
|WAV||96.0 kHz/24-bit||15 hrs 21 min|
Mounting the Zoom H2n
We now move to the bottom of the H2n. This has the 1/4″ screw port for attaching to a tripod. I had a small fold-up tripod that originally came with a camera that works very well with the H2n for use on a desk. Because of the vertical mounting orientation of the H2n, the center of gravity works quite nicely on a small tripod, unlike some of the larger Zoom recorders like the H5 that are typically mounted horizontally, and therefore have a tendency to want to tip over on a small tripod like this one.
Unfortunately, the 1/4″ mounting threads are plastic, so you’ll want to be a bit careful when threading this onto something to make sure you don’t cross-thread it or over-tighten it and destroy the threads.
The bottom of the unit also has the SD card port. This port is for a standard-size SD card. One thing I didn’t find in any of the reviews I read was:
Does the Zoom H2n work with a Micro-SD card?
The answer is, Yes. I used a 32GB Samsung Micro-SD card inside of a Micro-SD card adapter, and it worked perfectly – no issues whatsoever. The card slot in the H2n is designed for a standard-size SD card, but using a Micro-SD card inside of an adapter also works.
The issue with the SD card port is the cover. It is plastic, and relies on two plastic pegs that slide out and need to flex when you put in or take out the SD card. This is another plastic cover that could easily break off.
For this reason, I do not take the SD card in and out frequently. You can download the recordings using the Mini-USB port, and that works quite well, so there is really no reason to take the SD card out at all.
Another point concerning the SD card location is that it is right next to the 1/4″ mounting screw, so if you do have the H2n mounted on a tripod and need to remove or swap SD cards, you will need to remove it from the tripod first, then deal with the SD card.
How is the Sound Quality of the Zoom H2n?
The sound quality of this unit is excellent. There is really no question here in my mind. If you are thinking about getting a Zoom H2n, you absolutely should do that if your main question is on the sound quality. I have used this for recording acoustic guitar and vocals, and it literally makes you sound better than you are! Especially if you are used to recording yourself with your phone, the crispness of the H2n will blow you away. The noise is virtually non-existent and the bass and treble come through better than your hearing, it is really that good!
I also used the H2n for recording sounds out in the woods. These microphones are extremely sensitive, be aware of that. I was literally picking up the sound of cars passing by on a road a 1/2 mile away. Also, recording in the wind will absolutely require a windscreen of some sort.
I found that the ‘dead-cat’ variety works much better at cutting wind than the foam filters used for mitigating “P-pops.” I bought this one for about $10 and it works great.
It has an elastic band that fits perfectly on the H2n.
Buy the Zoom H2n, you will not regret it! For the final verdict, I am going to list out the pros and cons that were discussed earlier, so that you have them in tabulated form. Sometimes that makes it easier to make a decision. I like to start with the cons.
- Plastic Body. Battery cover, SD card cover, and mounting threads are plastic.
- Bare Bones. No SD card or Mini-USB cable included in the box. An accessory kit is available.
- Mode Dial. The recording mode dial is covered by windscreen (if using one).
- Toggle Switch. The multi-function toggle switch takes a bit of getting used to.
- Size. Too big to fit into a pants pocket.
- Time/Date. Must reset the time and date after changing batteries.
- Portability. Great size, form factor, and protected microphones for easy use on the go.
- Versatility. It’s set of 4 microphones allows for a wide range of recording capabilities.
- Sound Quality. The sound quality of the Zoom H2n really cannot be beat for its size.
- Battery Life. The batteries last for 20 hours of use.
- Ease of Use. Great for quick, quality recordings. No computer and/or cords.
- User-Friendly. Turn on, press record, get amazing sound. Easily.
- External Mic. H2n can be used as a microphone for your computer or even your cell phone.
- Line-in. The Zoom H2n has a 3.5mm line-in port to record from an external lavalier mic.
- DAW Compatibility. Easily compatible with Audacity, ShotCut, and other common DAW.
The Zoom H2n costs around $170, and I would not hesitate to purchase one again. I have been quite pleased with the performance and sound quality. This is the perfect recorder for musicians, take a look at Josh Turner, for example, who used the Zoom H2 (older version) for many years, producing some awesome recordings!
If Josh can get sound like that with the previous version of the H2, how can you go wrong with the newer, less-noisy, H2n?
Anyway, I hope you found this review helpful. And have fun recording!
Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!
Why shouldn’t I get a Zoom H2n?
Still not sure if you should get an H2n? In this final section, I analyze some use-case situations where you would want to go with something other than an H2n.
What are the use-cases where you shouldn’t get a Zoom H2n, and should you get something else instead? If the following cases apply, you should consider getting something else.
- You are only using this for going around doing interviews. In that case you’ll want something smaller that looks/acts more like a microphone. Get a Zoom H1n.
- You are doing a podcast and want to have more than one speaker, ie guests, each with their own microphone. Get a Zoom H5.
- You are starting low-key with some music recordings for youtube, but you eventually want to invest in high-quality external microphones. At the same time, you still value portability, like recording on-location. Get a Zoom H5.
- You want to do high-quality nature recordings and don’t care about lugging a lot of equipment out into the woods. Get a Zoom H6.
- You are on the verge of getting a rack-mounted pre-amp with lots of channels, but occasionally want the flexibility to go out and record on the go, like weddings or small outdoor concerts. Get a Zoom H6.
Even in these cases, you may still want to have a Zoom H2n as a backup, it is just so versatile.