When that burst of inspiration hits, there’s never enough time to set up extensive recording gear to document it. Much of the time these spontaneous musical ideas need to be captured instantly, before they’re lost forever inside that incessantly channel-surfing cartoon highway of the brain. Those hurdles of setting up 100 microphones and convincing Pro Tools not to crash are guaranteed creativity killers, but Samson’s Zoom H2n Handy Recorder is an excellent solution for on-the-go recording.


The H2n is a powerful recorder, complete with five microphone capsules, an 1/8″ line in, and a USB jack with audio-interface compatibility. Shipping out with an easy-to-read backlit LCD screen, it’s a fabulous tool for those who like to analyze their own playing (complete with a very handy built-in speaker), want to record a concert, or need to produce some audio for film.

It’s slightly on the bulky side, but not necessarily in a bad way. While it’s too big to fit inside the pocket of some hipster’s skinny jeans, it is light enough to live inconspicuously in a backpack. It’s also reasonably durable as it survived a few days unprotected in my back pocket while biking around San Francisco. Will it blend, however, is a question for Blendtec.


By far, the coolest features of the H2n are all its pickup patterns and recording options. To start, there are two different microphone setups to choose from: XY stereo and mid-side. These are located on opposite sides of the zoom and can both be used simultaneously for a 360 degree surround-sound pickup pattern. The XY configuration features a standard setup, but the mid-side function, commonly used in film, is particularly cool because the reach of the side pickup pattern can be tailored, and thus the ambience of the room is somewhat adjustable.


When recording in a 360 degree format, utilizing both XY and mid-side microphone arrays simultaneously, the unit can record audio from each side as a single stereo file or it can capture them as two separate stereo files that can be mixed later (Samson calls that 4 Channel mode). This latter feature is helpful when recording a rehearsal from the center of the room and Johnny “Full-Stack” Guitar God decides to blast out the singer by turning his amp up to 11.


To further aid in recording drums and other loud sounds, Samson added an analog preamp gain knob, a compressor/limiter, and an auto-gain function. I found that when the mike was 3′ in front of a drum set and the gain was down at zero, it captured the drums well without any clipping or distortion.


Overall, a full kit sounds pretty decent through this device, and I’m always thrilled when something so small can capture the drums without distorting. Using the XY pickup pattern, it paints a lovely stereo mosaic with a widespread, healthy depth, and articulate subtleties. Additionally, the low end of the kick comes out strong and the crispness of the snare and hi-hats make listening back actually enjoyable. I also tested it out sitting in front of the mains at a club during soundcheck and the results were remarkably clear and pleasant. That said, it did distort when placed in the middle of the stage with a rock band playing at full volume and monitors and PA cranked. And that’s even with the gain at its lowest setting and the auto-compressor engaged, so this might not be ideal for extremely loud bands in small quarters.


Another particularly cool and useful aspect of the H2n is that it can be used as either a hard drive or an audio interface. I was able to record some voiceover work with it in Final Cut Pro, and I reasoned it would also be an excellent conduit for the audio portion of a Skype drum lesson. Additionally, it can be mounted onto any standard tripod for optimal placement.


While there’s no doubt the H2n is a powerful little beast with lots of bells and whistles, there are three elements I wished were included; a dual recording function of line-in and onboard microphones, which at a show would allow the capturing of audio from both soundboard and the room (the H4n has this feature), a wireless remote control (a wired remote is sold separately), and a dB pad to ensure zero distortion in loud situations.


A few bonuses I noticed when using the H2n is that it’s fantastic on battery life (much better than it’s sister video recorder the Q3HD), the included 2GB flash card is great if you’re diligent at transferring files (it easily holds an hour-and-a-half of 44.1k wav files), and the interface is fairly easy to navigate (recording alone only takes pressing two buttons). It also comes with a metronome and tuner.


This is an excellent and powerful tool for those who wish to document rehearsals, gigs, or field sounds on the fly. Although it might not be great for extremely loud metal bands in tiny sweatbox rehearsal units, it definitely earns its keep in the creative process as an executive documenter.


Features Records in XY and 360 degree patterns; can record up to four tracks as two separate stereo channels; great on batteries; also functions as an audio interface; includes metronome and tuner.
Street Price $152