Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How To: Zoom H4 "tazer" audio recorders

Using the Zoom H4 Audio Recorder

What you will need to use the H4:

You will need an SD (Secure Digital) flash memory card. SD flash cards are not provided but can be purchased for $15-25 from all electronics retailers and many drug stores. Only use 2GB cards or smaller. (4GB and larger cards will not work.)

The H4 uses two standard AA batteries. Batteries are provided with the kit but it is a good idea to buy spare batteries for yourself in case you run low on power. A fresh set of batteries will last about 4 hours. An AC adaptor is provided with the kit as well.

To Record:

Open door behind Microphones and insert your SD flash card, label side out, in the slot between the batteries.

Turn the unit on. (Power switch is on lower left side.)

Make sure the MP3 Preset “4” is selected. While the other presets will work fine and produce slightly better audio quality, they will use considerably more space on your card.

Press the red REC button twice. The first time you press the button the light will flash and the recorder will be in “Record-ready” mode, allowing you to see the record levels. Only after you press the REC button a second time do you start recording. If the Record button is not solid red, you are not recording.

To stop recording, just press the REC button. After a few seconds the red recording light will turn off.

Make sure to turn the unit off before removing your SD card.

To Playback:

Connect headphones to the “Phones” jack. Press the round MENU button up toward the play/pause icon. Press the round Menu button to the left or right to move between tracks.

The filename currently being played is displayed in the screen. Make a note of file names that contain important audio so you know what files to import into the computer.

Understanding Proper Audio Levels:

Like all audio recorders, it is very important to monitor your levels throughout the recording. During recording, the H4 displays two solid horizontal bars that represent the left and right audio channels. If the bars hover around –48db or are not visible, the wrong input is selected or there is a problem with your audio source. If the bars extend across the entire screen and hover around 0db then your audio will be too “hot” and distorted.

Ideal audio levels are around the –12db mark; about 3/4 the way across the screen. Do not continue recording with bad audio levels as you will not be able to use those files!

As with any audio recorder, listening with headphones to the recording while it is being made is the key to good audio. If you think the audio sounds bad when you are in the field, it will sound even worst in the edit room.

Setting audio levels:

Make sure your subject is making noise before you start recording to let the auto-gain set the correct level. If you start recording in silence and then start talking or go to a noisy location, your audio will be too “hot”. (The auto-gain only adjusts levels before you start recording, not during the recording.)

During the recording you can adjust the levels by moving the “Mic Gain” switch on the right side of the H4. If recording from an external source, adjust the “Input Gain” switches.

If in manual gain mode, Go into the “Input Menu”. Select “Levels”. Use the jog dial to raise or lower the audio levels. (Advanced users only.)

Selecting an Input Source:

In general you will record from one of three sources: The built-in microphones, external microphones (Handheld, Lavs, etc), and line or mic level “House feeds”.

To record using the built in microphones, press the circular MENU button towards the words “input select”. Move the jog wheel (on the side next to the record button) up or down to select “Source”. Press the jog wheel and move the wheel up/down until “Mic” is selected. Then press the MENU button to exit the menu.

To record using an external microphone or other source, follow the steps above but select “IN 1&2”. Connect the external Microphone/Source to the XLR or 1/4” connectors on the bottom of the H4. See an engineer or the workshop for adaptor cables if needed.

Using your SD Memory Card:

It is important that you format your SD card before you start using it for the first time. You should occasionally reformat before starting a new project to ensure you data never becomes corrupted. When you reformat the card it erases all the data that might be on it.

Note: Do not use the card to store any other files on the card, including scripts, finished audio projects, photos, etc. It should only be used to record audio from the H4 and transfer it a computer for editing. Frequently deleting, moving, renaming files on the card has the possibility of corrupting and losing all data on the card.

Reformatting the SD card:

Press the circular “MENU” button straight down. Use the jog wheel to move and select the “Card” option. Then select the “Format” option. The card will be erased and reset.

Checking how much recording time is left on the card:

Press the circular “MENU” button straight down. Use the jog wheel to move and select the “Card” option and then “Remain”. The screen will show how much recording time remains on your card in the audio preset you have selected. If you don’t have much recording time left, make sure the “MP3” preset (4) is selected before you start to record.

Turning Auto-Gain mode On or Off:

Most of the time it is best to leave auto-level turned on. Should it be turned to manual mode you can reset it by pressing the “MENU” button down. Use the jog wheel to move to the “Auto-Gain” heading and then press the jog wheel in to select “ON”. Press the “MENU” button straight down to exit the menu.

Turning the Compressor/Limiter On or Off:

The limiter should always be left on help prevent your audio from being distorted when someone raises their voice or you enter a noisy location. To make sure it is turned on press the “MENU” button down and use the jog wheel to move to the “COM/LIMIT” heading. Using the jog wheel make sure “LIMIT” is selected.

Default Settings:

The unit will reset all settings to the factory defaults if the battery door/SD flap is opened when the unit was still turned on. Should this occur, below is a list of settings that are correct for a majority of users. It is a good idea to enter into the Input Settings Menu (press the “Menu” button down toward “Input Menu”) and make sure the settings match what is listed below. (Use the “Jog Dial” on the right hand side to adjust each setting.)

Source: "Mic" or "IN1&2" (For built-in Microphone or Handheld, respectively.)
Level: Ignore this.
Phanton: "Off"
Monitor: "Off"
Auto Gain*: "On"
Comp/Limit*: "Limit"

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