The Zoom H5 Handy Recorder is an excellent piece of kit for your recording with a few quirks you should be aware of before you buy one. In this review I am attempting to cover some of the lesser known or discussed details concerning the H5.
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Zoom H5 (Check current price on Amazon.com)
I’ve divided this review into three sections: Look and Feel, Functionality, and Software/Interface.
Zoom H5 – Look and Feel
The Zoom H5 comes well packaged. There shouldn’t be any worry of damage in shipment.
In the box you get the H5, a plastic case, a foam windscreen, manual, two AA batteries, and mini USB cord.
The plastic case is a nice touch with just 2 areas of improvement. The first is that the case opens ‘backwards.’ You would expect it to open like a book, but it opens on the other side. This is NOT a big deal, just a minor issue when you go to open the case and start pulling on the wrong edge!
The other thing to note about the case is that it does not have room for the windscreen (or anything else). The case only holds the H5. So if you are using the case to take it somewhere, you will need an additional bag or case to carry the windscreen and anything else you will need.
Zoom has fixed a complaint that used to exist with the H5, and that is that the rubberized coating on the body of the unit tended to get sticky. Fortunately, the rubberized coating has been removed, and now the body is a matte black plastic finish. The finish is slightly slippery but there is enough heft there that you likely won’t drop it.
The H5 feels great in the hand, it has a good weight with a plastic but solid feeling. It weighs about 9.4 oz (270g), or just over 1/2 a pound.
The size of the H5 is 2.6″ x 1.7″ x 7.7″ with the x-y mic attached. Without the x-y capsule attached, it is about the size of the Zoom H2n, or about the size of a typical smartphone but 4-times thicker.
The 1/4-20 mounting screw-hole on the back of the unit is well-placed for balance and is made out of metal giving it a solid feel when mounted.
The gain knobs on the front of the unit are a pleasure to use. The knobs have just the right amount of resistance and turn smoothly and quietly. In addition, the projective bar in front of the knobs does an effective job of limiting accidental gain adjustments.
One added benefit of the bar on the x-y capsule is that it protects the x-y mic gain from accidentally being adjusted when putting on or taking off a dead-cat/windscreen.
The battery compartment is in the back. It is nice that the H5 takes two AA batteries. These are easily accessible and last for about 15 hrs of recording (less if you are using phantom power for a microphone).
Of course you can always use rechargeable AA batteries as well. I appreciate that this unit has removable batteries so that you don’t have to throw it away after 2 years like most modern cell phones…
The battery cover itself is plastic, though it feels fairly robust. The one worry is the plastic tab that has to be flexed every time the batteries are changed.
Zoom H5 – Functionality
In this section I am going to discuss what it is like functionally using the H5.
The first and foremost thing to mention is that the H5 has the same excellent pre-amps as the H6 and the H4n Pro. The pre-amps have an A-weighted EIN of -120.5 dBu which is excellent for a handheld recorder. Take a look at the following table for a comparison of other similar recorders.
The sound quality from the X-Y Stereo mic capsule is very good – from recording speech, to nature sounds, to guitar and singing. No complaints at all in that department! I have heard that the sound quality from the optional MSH-6 MS (mid-side) microphone or the directional SGH-6 Shotgun mic capsule is not as good as the X-Y mic.
One possibly overlooked feature is that if you are not going to use the X-Y Stereo capsule for recording, it can easily be removed, thus reducing the size/fragility of the unit substantially. The buttons/clips to remove the capsule feel very solid and have excellent action giving you the confidence that they won’t wear out. There is no plastic flexing in that design, it is a mechanical release.
One con I will give on the H5 is the angle of the screen. If you are doing some self-recording with the x-y microphone capsule at the top, you need to mount the recorder so that the microphones are pointed at you and/or your instrument. In this orientation it is difficult to see the screen. This makes adjusting the gain knob a bit awkward.
The H5 has two XLR/TRS ports at the bottom. I didn’t see this in any reviews, but the H5 does work really well plugging in a standard 1/4″ instrument cable directly into it! It is not immediately obvious because the port looks like it will only accept an XLR cord, but a regular instrument cable works as well. I’ve plugged in a keyboard directly to the H5 and the sound was great.
Also because of the XLR/TRS ports, you have the option to connect higher-quality microphones to the H5 than you could to the H2n or H1n, for example, as those units only have the 1/8″ input port.
On the side of the H5 you have the line-out, headphone jack, headphone volume adjust, the power/hold slider button, and the mini-USB port.
Even though mini-USB may be considered an ‘older’ interface, I still prefer it to the micro-USB contained on a lot of cell phones because mini-USB is just a larger, more robust fitting. You don’t get the sense that it is going to wear out and become loose over time (like micro-USB ports tend to do).
The other side of the unit has the menu button, selector knob, the remote port, and also the SD card slot. The selector knob works fine, but takes some getting used to. You angle it up or down to highlight different options, then press it to select.
The SD card boasts a max of 32GB, though I have read some reviews that you can go higher (one person claimed to have used a 64GB Sandisk Micro-SD card successfully in a Zoom H1n).
Either way, 32GB gives a lot of recording time. For example, at a recording level of 48kHz/24bit WAV you can record for over 30 hrs on a 32GB card.
Another point to mention is that the slot takes a standard-sized SD card. I am successfully using a micro-SD card inside of a micro SD to SD adapter. I have not had any issues related to this setup.
One con of the SD card arrangement is that the door cover is plastic and the little plastic ‘hinges’ must flex every time the SD card is removed. I imagine that these would eventually wear out and crack. Fortunately, you really don’t need to remove the SD card since you can use the mini-USB cable to download recordings.
This would mainly be a factor for those users who record a lot and need to frequently swap out SD cards.
Zoom H5 – Software/Interface
Overall the software and interface are easy to use and relatively intuitive.
The H5 takes less than 10 seconds to power on, and you are immediately ready to record in the last recording mode that you left it on.
One thing that is a bit clunky is the file structure. It is different whether you are recording in “Stereo” or in ‘Multi-file’ mode. Stereo mode means you are using the X-Y Stereo capsule to record. The Multi-File mode means you are using some combination of the X-Y capsule and/or the XLR/TRS ports, or using the over-dubbing feature.
The stereo recordings are pretty straightforward, subsequent recordings are saved in the same folder with names like Zoom001, or by date (e.g. 210130-123454). I personally prefer the date-format, but that comes down to user preference.
In multi-file mode, things get a little more complicated. Each new recording is saved in a separate file, within a separate file. This makes it somewhat complicated when you browse to the folders on your computer. There are all these folders inside of folders (many of them empty) that you have to search through to find your recordings. In the end I just use the search function and select the top ‘Multi” folder and search for *.WAV to find the actual recordings.
The overdubbing feature actually works pretty well for musicians, but is not intuitive and has a bit of a learning curve on figuring it out.
I wrote this article on How to Overdub Tracks on the Zoom H5 that goes into detail on how the overdubbing works.
Zoom has an instructional video on youtube that was helpful to me:
I understand that the Zoom H4n Pro has an “MTR” mode, that makes overdubbing quite easy, but neither the H5 nor the Zoom H6 have this feature. The H6 cannot even overdub using the same x-y channels like the H5 can (though there is a workaround if you are willing to copy files around manually – but obviously not user-friendly).
Using the H5
The H5 is a pleasure to use. It feels good in the hands, the sound quality is phenomenal, and the microphones are extremely sensitive when needed!
I use this dead-cat windscreen with my H5 and it works really well at blocking the buffeting from wind noise.
For transport of the H5, I have opted to use a small case I had from a pair of binoculars for carrying it around. It is larger than the plastic case that came with it, so that it can accomodate the dead-cat, a small tripod, cords, and batteries.
In conclusion, the Zoom H5 typically retails for around $280 (though I’ve seen it as low as $250 on Amazon) and I would say that the price is definitely worth it for what you are getting. The H5 seems to fit right in that sweet spot of being portable for times where you just want to be able to quickly record some nature sounds or a group of friends making some music outdoors (without powering on a laptop and stringing a bunch of cords), and having the flexibility to plug in a couple of XLR microphones or 1/4″ guitar jacks for a tighter sound or for recording a podcast.
Zoom H5 (Check current price)
The Zoom H5 is a great little handy recorder!
Looking for something a little more portable? Checkout my Review of the Zoom H2n Handy Recorder, perfect for recording on the go with totally enclosed stereo microphones!
Thanks for reading, and catch you next time…