Zoom H5 Review: At-a-Glance
- The Zoom H5 is one of the best digital recorders on the market
- It's a versatile device that lets you record studio-quality audio anywhere
- It's equally useful as part of a home recording setup too
- You can use it ‘out of the box' or customise it with additional mics
- It costs around $250 to buy one brand new
- Read on to find out whether or not you should invest in one…
I've been working in audio for a fair few years now. There's never a dull moment on the equipment front; sound companies release different bits of kit all the time. Whilst it's always fun to get a look over brand new gear, the stuff I always return to and use on an ongoing basis, you could count on one hand.
Why? It's certainly not because there's a lack of quality affordable audio equipment out there – quite the opposite, in fact. It's just that when I find something that works well, I tend to stick with it and get to know it inside out.
That's the case with my 5 year old Zoom H5. This trusty old recorder looks a bit worse for wear, but works just as well as the day I bought it. I still recommend it to many podcasters when talking about their own equipment needs with them too. This Zoom H5 review will help you decide whether or not you are one of them.
Just a heads up before we dive in. We're using an affiliate link for the Zoom H5. That means that if you bought one through there, we'd earn a small commission from it, at no extra cost to yourself.
Alright, let's take a look around the Zoom H5…
What is the Zoom H5?
The Zoom H5 is a digital recorder. It's a piece of kit that's akin to carrying around a complete recording studio with you. It can record and store audio as a stand-alone device, or you can plug external mics into it and use it that way. You can also play back the audio on the device, and upload it onto your computer via USB cable or Memory Card.
Who Would Use One?
The Zoom H5 is such a versatile device that it's easier to look at who wouldn't use one. A prime example of someone who doesn't need an H5 would be a podcaster who records solo or online interview episodes directly into their computer with a USB mic. USB mics are the only type of mic you can't plug in to the H5.
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Popular setups and uses of the Zoom H5 include folks who want to record interviews on-the-go, with studio quality audio, anywhere in the world. The H5 is equally as useful as a home recording device. You can set it up as part of your ‘fixed' recording setup, or even use it as a USB interface to run XLR mics into your computer.
Look & Feel of the Zoom H5
Slightly too large to consider “pocket size”, the Zoom H5 still fits easily in your hand, and weighs less than your average cup of takeaway coffee. It's a sturdy and robust feeling device, built for years of ongoing use in all sorts of scenarios and situations.
As standard, the Zoom H5 comes with a detachable capsule on the top, with two little mics. These are known as “X/Y” stereo mics; you can record with them right out of the box. You'll get great audio from these whether you're using them for a single voice, multiple voices, or general ambient recordings.
Zoom have a range of capsules that you can buy and use instead, if you'd like to customise your recorder. For example, the SSH-6 can turn your Zoom H5 into a laser-focused Shotgun Mic.
There's two ‘Combo' jacks on the bottom of the recorder, where you can plug in mics that use XLR or 1/4″ connections. You can also run a mic with a 3.5mm (earbud-sized) connection into the recorder if you need additional mic options. This might be a lavalier mic, like the ATR3350.
On the front of the recorder, you'll find the gain dials for each recording input. These are guarded by useful protective bars, which can help prevent accidental toggling during a recording session. You'll also find your channel selection buttons, as well as the usual Play/Pause, Record, and Stop options.
Once you've decided on what mic you're using, you simply select the corresponding channel, via its button on the front of the recorder. These have LED lights to show that they are active. The LED lights also double up as a warning, when your audio is clipping. If you see them flashing during a recording session, you'll know to turn your gain down a notch.
You can record WAV files, from 44.1kHz 16bit to 48kHz 24 bit. If this is gibberish to you, don't worry. Just set it to 44.1kHz 16 bit and forget about it. But, here's more info on sample rates, if you care to learn more.
You can record in Multitrack (independent channels for each mic) or Stereo mode. Stereo mode will almost always be fine, and will take up less room on the Memory Card, too.
At time of writing this Zoom H5 review, you can buy the recorder brand new for $250 on Amazon.com, and £210 on Amazon UK.
Here are a couple of unprocessed sound samples, recorded into the X/Y capsule, directly into the Zoom H5. With the first, you'll get an idea of how it picks up the voice, and also, how well it deals with handling noise.
I captured a small selection of ambient recordings for making audio drama in the second clip. Again, these were all recorded using the H5 in its “out the box” form.
Zoom H5 Review: Summary
The Zoom H5 is an excellent option for many podcasters, regardless of experience level. If you're looking for a robust and quality recording source in your home studio, then it's ideal. Likewise, if you want to do a lot of recordings and interviews on-the-go, then the H5 is rivalled only by its big brother, the Zoom H6.
$250 isn't a small amount of money, though. The majority of beginner podcasters won't need to spend anywhere near that to get up and running. If you're doing a solo or online interview podcast, then get yourself a Samson Q2U and that's all you'll need. It's a mic that plugs in to your computer via USB, but also operates in XLR form. Should you decide to invest in a Zoom H5 further down the line, you can use your Q2U with it.
If you're won over to the idea of getting a digital recorder, but still want to shop around a bit, check out our Best Digital Recorders roundup, too.
Need More Help?
If you need more help with choosing your equipment, or with literally any other aspect of your podcast, check out The Podcast Host Academy. There, you'll find all our courses, downloadable resources, and get access to weekly live Q&A sessions!