FX Recording in Japan with a Zoom H2 Recorder

Unfortunately just before I left for my trip to Japan my Fostex FR2 recorder died. Although I wasnt planning to take it and my Sanken shotgun mic & Rycote with me, I did want to be able to record sounds whiel travelling. For the next film project I will replace the FR2 with a Sound Devices 722 or 744 but I was after a small, portable, cheap alternative and luckily ZOOM released the tiny H2 recorder at just the right time. I read a great review here and bought one at Yodbashi camera on my first day in Tokyo.

The crucial specs that intrigued me were: it can record 24 bit audio, up to 96k and it has 4 mics built in enabling quad recording. And it costs only US$200!!! The idea sounded too good to be true and given the cost I was quite prepared to be sorely disappointed, but no! This unit performs amazingly well. But don’t get me wrong – it has none of the resolution of a seriously good mic, but theres the cost issue again – my Sanken CS5 stereo shotgun mic alone costs 8 times the price of the H2. You can’t expect miracles, but it does a remarkable job & is so easy to use.

I always used the H2 in 24 bit 48k Quad mode and was surprised to find it didnt have a gain knob but a switch – the gain could only be set to Low, Medium or High and I would say 90% of the time I left it set on High. The H2 also runs on penlite batterys and in total I recorded over three hours of quad recordings over a six week period and used just two sets of batteries. The advantage of no moving parts – it records to a flash card.

Ok so what does it sound like?
When you listen to the recordings in isolation the H2 sounds good and you can definitely perceive the surround components. But it leaves a slightly nagging feeling that some vitality or detail is being lost. It is a bit like listening to an ipod. With nothing to compare it to, an ipod sounds fine. But put it up against a good record player through good speakers and the short comings soon become apparent. This became obvious when I met up with a friend who was recording sounds for a dance project in Tokyo. He was recording with a Sound Devices 744 and a very nice Schopes mic in Rycote and when I compared some of the subway recordings he had made with mine it was like chalk and cheese – his recordings were more vital, detailed and alive. And so they should be, there is a US$5000 difference in the setup – its a bit like saying a Mercedes drives better than a Mini.

So the only complaint I have about the H2 is this: it doesnt sound like a million bucks!

There are a few little things that annoyed me, but none were critical eg the unit is very light plastic and any handling transfers directly to the mic, so dont try clicking the button to turn up or down the headphone monitor level or mic gain or you will get mic bumps in your recording. I also found it a bit odd that the LCD display is facing the same way as the front mics. So for example if I was recording a train pass, I would have the LCD screen pointed away from me & couldn’t see it. I prefer to know if I am clipping digital record levels while I record and it would make more sense for the LCD screen to be facing the same way as the surround mics. Virtually swapping the front and back mics doesnt solve this problem either as the front mics are set 90 degrees apart, whereas the surround mics are 120 degrees.

But the proof is in the pudding, so have a listen to some of my H2 recordings – as someone wise once said to me “Trust your own ears, only” so I will post some 24bit 48k quad recordings plus MP3 stereo versions of the same, incase you are only interested in instant gratification…

Zoom H2 Recordings:

H2FX01 Train bridge Shinjuku LR + sLR – recording underneath a train overbridge near Shinjuku Station – I love the aggressively percussive nature of this sound! There were some homeless people sleeping under this bridge & I couldnt help thinking about the city as an oppressively loud environment….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 9MB

H2FX02 Train int Yamanote Line LR + sLR – this recording in onboard the train on the Yamanote Line – it helped me with my pronouciation hearing these annoucnements each day….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 35MB

H2FX03 Temple singing Kamakura LR + sLR – this recording is from a temple in Kamakura – I love the bells!
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 28MB

H2FX04 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – a quiet temple ambience with mainly just insects & crows
download mp3 or download Quad .AV 16MB

H2FX05 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – ditto
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 12MB

H2FX06 Temple Ambience Kamakura LR + sLR – ditto but much more arhthymic… note the mic bumps
for long ambience recording best to plant the H2 & walk away for a while…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 20MB

H2FX07 Int Shinjuku Station LR – busy busy busy Tokyo – the human river that is Shinjuku Station
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 14MB

H2FX08 Int Taya Cavern LR – this is a recording of water drips inside Taya Cavern, an amazing network of caves carved out by Buddhist monks a long long time ago… I figured the sound of these drips would not have changed over the centuries – the place filled me with quiet…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX09 Train to Ofuna LR + sLR – INT the train back to Tokyo from Ofuna & Taya Cavern, I had my ipod on & kept hearing weird strings everey time the train stopped & started again… turned off the ipod & realised it was the train – what a beautiful pitch ramp! The next station also sounds like its called “Kooky”
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 48MB

H2FX10 Jidai Matsuri drums Kyoto LR + sLR – Jidai Matusir is an annual festival where people dress in traditional costume from various ages & parade through Kyoto… some playign music, as in this recording
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 20MB

H2FX11 Temple ambience Kyoto LR + sLR – this is a quiet temple ambience near Daisen-In zen temple, I loved the pitch in the sound of the pigeon, had I looked up & discovered he had a flute I would not have been surprised.. the footsteps of the woman walking past gives some indivation fo the H2 ability to record spatial ambience but also notice the mic bumps – it was hot & I was getting tired – too much beauty! Wouldnt be a problem with a mic in a Rycote…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 19MB

H2FX12 Temple insects Kyoto LR + sLR – another quiet temple ambience, mostly insects & distant city….
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX13 Temple insects Kyoto LR + sLR – another quiet temple ambience, mostly insects & distant city…. This is another example where 24bit helps, but a betetr mic & preamp would reveal a lot more detail & spatial information… the image feels smeared
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 13MB

H2FX14 Temple bell Kyoto LR + sLR – a temple bell and I had the H2 practically inside the bell
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 19MB

H2FX15 Subway train INT Tokyo LR + sLR – this is recorded interior subway & as opposed to the Yamanote Line in Tokyo which is above ground, I loved the shreiks, graunches & pitch ramps that the Tokyo underground subway produces…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

H2FX16 Monkeys Shodoshima LR + sLR – recorded quite wide because I preferred not to get bitten by one of them, towards the end of the file there is an outburst from one of their vigilantes/guardians over on the Left…. to translate: shake tree = F+CK OFF BIPEDS!
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

H2FX17 Birds Shodoshima LR + sLR – beautiful frequency sweeps by a number of birds, recorded by a temple built into a rock face where we experienced a zen buddhist fire ceremony – something so beautiful I won’t ven try and use words to explain it…
download mp3 or download Quad .WAV 18MB

So what an amazing device! My only wish is I could buy the exact same unit with US$1000 mics in it. And the true comparison, I think, should be between carrying a recorder/mic or not.
I am so happy to have all of these recordings, and no doubt some of them will make it into a film one day, but imagine the opposite ie no recorder, no mic….these would all be sound memorys, slowly fading as time passes with no ability to reference them – I know which i prefer… US$200 well spent! And its like the size of two cell phones… and it makes you listen, be quiet and listen… I stopped counting the number of times I suddenly realised I had stopped breathing & was starting to hear my heart pouding in my chest, why? Simply because of the sonic beauty of engaging with the environment in Japan…. a joy to behold!

Note: the visual record of my travels in Japan is here: steampunk.co.nz/travelzen & includes the best 50 or so photos of the 2,600 I shot in my six weeks of travel..

17 Responses to FX Recording in Japan with a Zoom H2 Recorder

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  8. Emon says:

    Hi Tim! Thanks for being generous with the SFX. Having ‘trained’ myself by producing and editing radio plays I approach film-making very differently. Considering the price, the recordings have come out very good.

    You’re right, these seemed more like captured memories.

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  13. simon mantle says:

    hi there – I’m going to Tokyo on March 20 and planning to buy a Zoom H2 – can I ask how much you paid at Yodobashi Camera? and do you know if their prices were the best?

    thanks
    Simon

  14. tim says:

    I didnt shop around for the H2 as I wanted to start using it day one… maybe if you hunt around Akihabara you might save a little but personally I’d rather get the device & start enjoying Tokyo (unless you enjoy shopping 😉 i bought mine at the Akihabara branch of Yodobashi so if i was you I’d go there first, get a price & then go for a hunt & see if you find it elsewhere for an hour or two…. I cant actually remember exactly what I paid for it & I cant find the H2 in stock on Yodobashi website but Sofmap is another tech shop (that also has secondhand gear – music gear, Macs etc) and they have the H2 for Y23,800 = US$237
    http://www.sofmap.com/product_detail/exec/_/sku=10771413/-/gid=AX14040400
    I think you can get a discount ie duty free, so take your passport when you go shopping….
    In comparison Amazon have them for US$190 and Sweetwater have them for US$199…

    bit of a guide to Akihabara here:
    http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html

  15. tim says:

    Please note: The Zoom H2 will not mount as a USB Drive on MAC OS X 10.5.0 Leopard unless you update to H2 Firmware version 1.2 or higher. Download the latest H2 firmware and read the installation instructions at Zoom’s site
    http://www.zoom.co.jp/english/download/software/h2.php

  16. sagethesoundburglar says:

    Has anyone checked audio quality of H4 compared to H2? I use OKMII binaurals – great 3D, looking for digirecord interface. Plus interviewing. So basically ‘wild’ sound for foley and interviews are the end result, broadcast quality (and sound performance sometime), movies…

  17. Please note: The Zoom H2 will not mount as a USB Drive on MAC OS X 10.5.0 Leopard unless you update to H2 Firmware version 1.2 or higher. Download the latest H2 firmware and read the installation instructions at Zoom’s site

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