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ZOOM H6 – More and More and…

ZOOM recorders dominate the DSLR video market. And the new ZOOM H6 looks like it will have the competition playing catch-me-if-you-can.

ZOOM H6 recorder

There are a couple of features here that may make this a perfect recorder for you.

First, this recorder has interchangable microphone heads. If you're using a recorder to capture sounds in many different circumstances and would like to choose from a variety of modules to match the situation, this could be a perfect solution.

Second, one of the modules adds two XLR/TRS inputs to the four already on the unit. If you need to record six channels of simultaneous audio this feature alone could make the ZOOM H6 your new best friend.

But wait… there's more…

The basic unit will ship with two mic modules. The X/Y module has two adjustable condensor mics for stereo recording.

When set the mics at 90 degrees you'll get a tight stereo image, good for a small group. Set the mics at 120 degrees when you've got a larger group or when the sound of the environment is an essential part of the recording – like a choir in a cathedral.

The mid-side module provides a different kind of stereo recording. It has a uni-directional mid microphone to capture sound from the front and a bi-directional mic to record audio from the left and right. Mid-side recording was included on the ZOOM H2n.

Some recordists will welcome having one unit with both options. Others will need to read a Wiki article to understand what mid-side recording is about and then quickly decide to keep using their lav and shotgun combo.

But, if you actually read the Wiki article, you'll see that mid-side recordings produce perfect mono tracks. Mono tracks may be very useful if your primary distribution is on mobile devices. Also, mid-side set ups are often used in film recording because you can vary the width of the stereo field during post production. So maybe mid-side could be useful to you after all.

There's an optional shotgun module. There are no specs for the mic but it looks like a medium short tube so it should have a moderately tight pickup pattern. To use the shotgun mic most effectively you'd need to mount the whole recorder unit on a stand or boom pole. There is mention of a remote control to make that mounting option more useful. But there was no word about wind screen protection for any of the mics – particularly useful for shotguns. 

On a more practical side

There are lots of physical rotary knobs for level setting. Besides individual controls for the four input channels, the mic modules have level controls knob right on the front. This means you can easily control the level of each input independently whether you're plugging in external mics or using a module on the recorder or all of the above. That's a good thing as most touch screens or small up/down buttons are difficult to adjust quickly and reliably.

The H6 has a color LCD screen making it easier to check levels. You can tell when the signal turns yellow or red from several feet away. Not so easy to do with the monochrome LCD monitor on portable recording devices.

For DSLR shooters, there's a line out so you can feed the audio directly to your camera. And the optional hot shoe mount will let you mount this right on top of your camera or on most of the cages used to adapt DSLR cameras for video shooting.

It will record high-definition audio up to 24-bit/96kHz so the quality will be determined by how quiet the mic preamps are. The H6 will record on SDXC memory cards up to 128GB – which covers more than most of us will ever need to hold on a single recording session.

One interesting feature is a 6-in/2-out USB audio interface. I've used a ZOOM H2 plugged directly into an iMac through USB and the sound was very, very good. For some people, a quality portable 6/2 USB audio interface would be very cool.

Is this right for you?

ZOOM says the H6 will be available in July 2013 for under €400 – that's about $520 USD. If you are in the market for a recorder and we're thinking of buying the ZOOM H4n you may find the H6 is worth the extra cost. Some would pay that much just to have a decent rotary knob to set the volume on a mic!

Of course, that price does not include the optional modules. And some people prefer to choose exactly which shotgun or mid-side mic rather than using the only one delivered. Combo systems can be great until one part breaks then you need extra backups to keep working.

At this price point there are several tested and proven recorders to choose from. We'll need some decent testing in the field before the H6 can be recommended for everyone. Time will tell.

Here's the official release from ZOOM but you'll find more details in this blog post than in the page on their site. And below you'll find a pitch from a ZOOM spokesman at Musikmesse 2013 so you can see their new flagship recorder for yourself.

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