Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by Sam Spoons »

I'm not sure Youtube videos are much use for judging audio quality but he is using the dynamic mic close up so I'd expect even a marginal signal to noise performance to come over ok.

Even pretty decent preamps can struggle with quiet sources at a distance with stage vocal mics (it's simply not what they are designed for) and poor gain structure is only ever going to make things worse.

I did a test for #2 son this morning recording a 60 sec video on my iPhone 6 of me speaking and playing acoustic guitar. The purpose was to compare the audio captured by the iPhone and the audio captured by my antique Marrantz PMD620 portable recorder's built in mics. The Marantz was on a cardboard box just out of frame near my left knee and the iPhone was a couple of metres away at (seated) head hight. Once I had remembered to set the pad and manual gain on the Marantz the recorded quality was much better than the phone, mostly because of the respective positions of the mic on the iPhone in 'cameramen' position and the mics in the Marantz placed somewhere close to where I would place a mic for an audio only recording (compromised by wanting to keep it out of frame). Noise was not an issue.

The upshot is that we've decided that either will get the job done and the additional features in the Zoom are not a benefit to him. Add to that the +4dBU line level inputs are potentially useful and the Tascam may well have been the winner even if the price had been similar, the saving of over £50 makes it a bit of a no brainer.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by trvln »

The vast majority of my dynamic mics usage has been close to the source. I have used them as overheads for acoustic guitar and drums, but that needs preamps with tons of gain (as in 70db or so) to avoid the noise floor of the preamps, which most interfaces and mixers don't have, and condensers are almost always better suited for that anyway.

Still, it does seem that the preamps on these devices (and particularly the Tascam units) are on the low gain side of prosumer devices. But I think I can get along with one as they are for my uses.

I need a device for songwriting, practicing, and live band good-enough recording from the mixer that is highly portable and not a hassle to use. For personal playing and songwriting I tend to move around with an acoustic guitar to different spaces around the house depending on who is home and the weather, including outdoors, and dragging around a laptop, interface, and microphones for that was never feasible for me. I have instead used a phone for that, but the audio from a phone is too low quality for my taste. And worse is the distraction of the internet. I also want a device with varispeed for learning and practicing phrases. And I want a device that can either be used with onboard mics or just a stereo line cable (least hassle) for capturing jams, rehearsals, and live gigs with good-enough quality. It seems that one of these devices will cover all that, like a much more portable and convenient modern approach on a 4-track machine.

I don't really need the interface features of the newer DR-40X, so I'm thinking of getting the older non-X version. I guess it might be nice to have a backup interface, but I doubt that I would ever really use it. The newer version does allow for using higher capacity SD cards, has a slightly bigger display, and is lighter weight, but I doubt that those things would really matter to me. After getting the required accessories for either model (SD card, rechargeable batteries, and mic stand adapter) and taxes, the non-X version comes out at about $40 less for me. Maybe I'm missing something on the X version that is worth paying more for, but I'm not seeing it yet. Also, I think I prefer the older version's yellow display.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by Sam Spoons »

Relatively inexpensive devices like these tend to be feature rich to have as wide an appeal as possible, volume sales being the target (and the means of keeping the prices low). High gain/high quality preamps which run successfully off a couple of AA batteries are likely to be the most difficult thing to achieve, the pro recorders like the F6/8 and Sound Devices use much more powerful batteries providing higher voltages which must make the designers job easier.

I think a point comes where you have to make a decision and live with it (unless you buy a complete shocker when the distance selling regs become your friend). That is what I have suggested to Dan (#2 son).
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by trvln »

Just reporting back.

I ended up mulling it over a little longer and going with an H4N Pro since supposedly it has higher gain preamps over the older H4N and DR-40 / DR-40x, realizing that I would have to use an unbalanced cable to the 1/8" external mic input near the capsules for recording from line inputs from a mixer for band stuff (or one of a couple of other solutions).

Part of my reason for wanting either an H4N or DR-40 in the first place was for the builtin practice features, including varispeed, looping, and pitch adjustment. But I found out that these are all separate functions that can't be used together. Varispeed can't be used while looping and the other way around, since these are separate playing modes. That makes both of them not very useful for learning from recordings since they can't be used together. And pitch (and all effects) seem to only be usable on inputs during recording, not for playback at all, so an audio file can't be tuned to an instrument unless it is pitched while recording input audio, say from the line out of a laptop or phone. That means that dropping audio files onto the SD card for learning is a no go.

The preamps sound to me to be in the 50db range, not terribly quiet but faily ok for ultra portable recording with sm57's placed close to the source. Same goes for the built in mics and their preamps.

But had I known that the H4N Pro practice features would be useless to me, still having to be stuck in front of my daw for that, I probably would have opted for something else.

I'm wondering here if the DR-40 / DR-40x practice features are also separate functions that can't be used together.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by Sam Spoons »

I can't help you with the 'practice features' as #2 son is an orchestral french horn player and his need are significantly different to yours but he has bought the Tascam and tested it on a couple of recordings and he is pretty happy that is (not surprisingly) a significant step up from his iPhone for the purpose.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by trvln »

According to screen figures in the manual for the DR-40x it does look like playback speed and looping can be used simultaneously, which should be a very obvious choice for a company adding such features, which it doesn't appear to have been for Zoom.

Zoom really hosed the H4N Pro on this feature set (and likely all other models with varispeed). I thought that maybe it would be different with the H6, but that doesn't appear to be the case after looking at the manual. Also on the H6 it appears that only internally recorded files can be played back, not any external audio files, where the H4N Pro does playback external audio files. That's bonkers. What is Zoom even doing making these devices? Why would a person need varispeed playback if external audio files can't even be played back? Also, while A/B points can be set for looping during playback, those points can't be adjusted, which would make things difficult for looping a small number of notes during a fast passage. And the loops points vanish when leaving this special looping playback screen. The features are there, but they just aren't available to use together in any useful way.

On a trainer feature set (varispeed and looping) it should also be obvious to add playback pitch adjustment for tuning the file to an instrument, but none of these devices have this. The Tascam models don't have a pitch algo at all, and Zoom's pitch algo is only available on the input during recording. How much sense does it make to have a pitch algo during recording? Not much at all. A trainer feature set should also have means for adjusting or cancelling left, right, and center for aiding in better hearing the part being learned. But this is aside stuff to very basic functionality of simultaneous varispeed and looping that the Zoom devices don't have.

It seems that all the development time for the H4N Pro was spent on adding cheesy built in effects combinations and bad amp simulations. To Zoom's credit here, the parameters of the effects can be edited to a satisfying level, which is surprising, and the onboard effects could possibly be genuinely useful to someone who doesn't already own a guitar effects processor or amp and will be using the device for primarily recording electric guitar. But giving this much depth to onboard effects while skimping on basic functionality just doesn't makes sense. And while the H4N is loaded with effects (that can only be recorded, not used during playback), the H6 doesn't have any effects outside of a software low cut and limiter, which probably aren't so useful since they can't really aid in bringing up the recording levels. Tascam got the effects right for a wide use case by adding a reverb to the DR-40.

Also, it doesn't appear that the recording format can be set to defaults. It always defaults to 16-bit/44.1k. So if you want to record in another format, you must always dive into the menu before pressing record.

Apologies for being so critical, but the software in this device is just very disappointing. It isn't really 'Pro' at all. This thing just oozes with poor software design choices. It's too bad because the hardware seems to be well made and the preamps are just adequate (not really good), except for the very obvious lack of line inputs!

So now my choices seem to be, keep the thing and use it for portable recording only. I won't use the built in effects and the trainer features are useless to me as is. Send it back and get a Tascam that has noisier preamps but has simultaneous varispeed and looping, where at least all my basic functionality of such a device would be covered (mic recording, line recording, varispeed and looping for learning parts). Or just forget about these devices and use a laptop or phone with a usb mic/line device, where nothing is lacking on the software side, just being a matter of convenience and internet distraction
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by Arpangel »

A friend has a Zoom H2 that he’s been using for years, for recording orchestral and opera rehearsals, it’s a good machine for the money, and has lots of different mic combinations.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by siderealxxx »

Reviving an old thread with a related question...

I'm looking at these two recorders with the intention of using to capture late night synth noodles. A sketch pad so that I don't have to touch a computer when seeking inspiration.

So I'm not overtly fussed about preamps and noise floor etc as it's only for demos/ideas. But I'm curious about two things...

What exactly is the 'four track' capacity of these things? Is it effectively 4x mono or 2x stereo track overdubbing capacity? I appreciate you can bounce down but I won't be going that far, I just want to be able to overdub 2-3 synth parts.

And, with that in mind, how clear and quick is the interface for doing this between the two machines? I don't want it to be fiddly so it kills the fun.

Any thoughts appreciated - thanks!
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by The Elf »

I can't speak for the Tascam (I have an H5/H6), but for a synth-only recording device I'd say look at something more mixer/portatstudio-ish. For me, being able to reach out for a fader, and having a 'quick glance' view of what you have running would trump over the smaller shell/built-in mic's of a hand-held.

Something like the Tascam DP-006 might be a good option. I have a Zoom LiveTrack L-12 that I bought for capturing live gigs, and it's been very useful for similar purposes to yours.
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by Mike Stranks »

Having just investigated the current crop of 'portastudios', I agree with The Elf...
Zoom do a range of several: R12, R20 etc. which are also available in seemingly good condition on the S/H market... (Other makes are also available!) :)
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by siderealxxx »

After posting this I realised what you have indeed suggested! A portastudio might be more efficient for the purposes. It would be handy to have a field recorder but I can live without one. Trouble is, then you start thinking you need multiple inputs and before you know it you've ended up with a 96 channel SSL desk ;)
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Re: Zoom H4n vs Tascam DR040x

Post by Wonks »

Why limit yourself with just 96 channels? Think big! :D
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