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Old August 30th, 2015, 06:46 PM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 1,482
Zoom H6 info/ not all good

This post got really long. That is because it is not just about my problem with the Zoom H6. Most of it is about the devise. If you have a Zoom H6 and I am wrong about anything here please tell me. So far I seem to be the only H6 owner on the boards that is not thrilled with the recorder.

I have had my Zoom H6 for a few months now. Up to this point all I have done with it is use it as a basic audio recorder. That is pretty straight forward it works OK at that. But I had not had the time to really beat on this thing and get my head wrapped around all of the things it is supposed to do. So I sat down in the edit bay and put it through the works. I came away disappointed. Bottom line, one of the functions I wanted to use it for was the muti-track audio interface. That feature does not work well, my recordings are slightly distorted and have the classic “click” noise in them. It is faint but it is there so they are no good. I will get to the details but first I am going to state several things I have learned about the device to hopefully save someone else a couple of hours on the learning curve. It is not all straight forward, in the book, or readily available on the net.

This is not going to be a comprehensive review but I have a lot to say that I could not find any place on web, I learned by using it. Since it has been released for over a year now I am surprised there is not more good information out there. All I can find is tons of glowing reviews from everyone, hacks, retailers, and so called pros. This is not one of those glowing reports. I own it and I have tested it. I wonder if some of those reviewers even put batteries in it. On a side note, I have now vowed to never again click on an “unboxing” video. There is no time in my life to watch some yahoo spread cellophane wrapped accessories around on his dirty bed sheets and gush about how great his new purchase is before he has even powered it……..

I am generally pretty forgiving of prosumer type gear. I know I paid dimes on the dollar for this thing compared to similar gear in the Sound Devices class. But I do expect the device to work as advertised to a certain extent. So far, this one doesn’t, maybe someone here can help me make it work.

Some Zoom facts:

There is no AGC capability on this device. I do all of my recording manually. That is why I DO like AGC. I shoot a lot of onetime events like high end business conferences. It is common for me to have one source recording in AGC mode for a set it and forget it bomb proof back up just in case I have a tragic failure with my manual recordings. This is not a set it and forget it recorder.

Instead of AGC they push a -12db back up track. It will automatically record at -12db less than your settings. This sounds great but what you need to know is that function only applies to what is called the left/right inputs. Those are the tracks fed by the onboard mic. So unless you buy the XLR adapter that -12 db backup is limited to the onboard mic.

I have little or no use for the on board mics so I did get the XLR adapter. That was the big reason I picked this recorder, I want a recorder with six XLR inputs. The adapter is OK but know that it cannot provide phantom power to those inputs. Tracks 1 thru 4 can provide it.

Speaking of onboard mics Zoom is really proud of the Mid-Side mic that comes with it. They act like it is the greatest audio invention since the telephone. If you have a use for such a thing it is nice to have. To us it is just a mic with a selectable pick up pattern. It is a unidirectional pattern (they do not tell you what it is) out the middle (front) and figure eight out the sides. You can adjust the mix with the device or wisely they have a raw mode for it so you can mix them in post.

The preamps are exactly what I expected. My opinion is perfectly clean up to 5, usable up to 7, noisy over that, YMMV.

The sound marker function is outright stupid. Notice I said sound marker not track marker, that’s what they call it because that is what it does. It records a sound over your incoming audio, it does not mark tracks. So say you have the two second pre-roll turned on, a nice thing to have. Two seconds after you hit record the sound marker is going to record one of three dumb sounds instead of your feed and you will lose .3 seconds of your recording. I am keeping it turned off.

The manual is super useless. There is very little information in it. It is one of those books that is just a list of how to scroll through the menu on every page. And there are things I figured out that are not mentioned at all.

It will solo during recording but I don’t think that is in the book. Hold down a track button during record and it will solo that track. Remember that it is still recording all tracks to the card but it does solo the line output. You can’t solo on playback, you just mute whatever tracks you want to mute with the track buttons.

You can take a feed from a line level pro mixer (+4) under optimal conditions. But, depending on what the sound guy does, if it is not your mixer, he can quickly overpower the 20db pad. That is not a fault of the devise, it is the way things work. All I am saying here is if you are not familiar with mixer feeds do not assume you can feed the H6 any signal just because it has a 20db pad for each input. Have your own pads with you.

The compressor/limiter shows the consumer side of the device. Even the book does not tell you what parameters are used with the name of each choice. So here are the real numbers, copied from another thread :

Below are the parameters for the compressors and the limiters in the H6.

Regarding the Attack and Release time, the parameters are not measured in a
unit of time.
They are relative to each other.

Attack 1-10 (The bigger the number, the faster.)
Release 1-10 (The bigger the number, the longer.)

Threshold: -48.7dB
Ratio: 4:1

Threshold: -8.4dB
Ratio: 16:1

Threshold: -48.2dB
Ratio: 3:1

Threshold: -14.4dB
Ratio: 60:1

Threshold: -13.8dB
Ratio: 32:1

Threshold: -12.0dB
Ratio: 8:1

The Work Flow: This is where things get a little funky.

It has a 3.5mm unbalanced line output to feed a camera. I would prefer a balanced XLR but it is what it is. And the DSLR craze is what caused this plethora of low budget recorders to flood the market place. Here is what you need to know. EVERY change you make with the monitor mixer is going to change the line output. Including Solo! If you can hear it in your cans that is what it is sending out….. period. The monitor mix is nondestructive and is NOT changing the file being recorded to the card but it is changing the line output.

Devises these days often come feature rich because it is so easy for manufacturers to add functionality with little more than firmware. Many of these add-ons look good on paper but are not so useful in the real world, the H6 is one of them. Take the mix down function. I can see a few times when it might be nice to tell the recorder to output your multi track recording to a single stereo file. Like when you want to dump it into your NLE to show a client some dallies or during those late night editing sessions in a hotel room when you are working on your NLE and you want the recorder to mix down while you work, whatever. This is what it does.

The H6 has two mixers, a “monitor mixer” and a “project mixer”. This is the funky part. The monitor mixer is all about what you are listening to while recording, as it should be. But, not really, before you use it you must decide if you are going to use the mix down function or not. If you use the monitor mixer to randomly monitor tracks as I do you will be hosed when it comes to mix down. The project mixer is where you can change your mix after recording to adjust for your mix down. The problem is that the monitor mixer automatically applies all of its values to the project mixer while recording. So any file you play back after recording will have your monitor mix settings applied to it by the project mixer that was set BY the monitor mix. So…if you were you using the monitor mixer as we normally would to isolate certain tracks and ignore others or generally mix things up to properly monitor your feeds it is a problem later if you mix down. This is why it is a problem if your going to mix down. It’s the file structure. I am not going to explain the entire file structure, this is the part that matters. The Zoom considers every single track you record, every time you hit record, to be a PROJECT. There is absolutely NO global settings to apply project mixer settings to even one sub folder or any folder. You have to go in and adjust EVERY single track you recorded every time you had hit record! Think about that, you fed it six inputs, and over the course of a days shooting you hit record how many times? And to make changes for a mix down your going to use two buttons, a menu button and a scroll button (slow one at that), to painfully change the value of every single file you recorded? There could be a couple hundred of them. Don’t leave the office without your DAW on a good lap top, I don’t. I know this is not a big deal for me or most users. I am explaining how it works because of how ridiculous it is. It seems to me that one more firmware addition that would allow you to apply project mixer settings to folders or sub folders would solve this craziness. I have little need for it to mix down my records because I have a work station quality lap top on set with me. But not every Zoom owner has that and might want it to mix down. Bottom line, if you are going to feed a camera OR mix down you will have to sacrifice the ability to properly monitor a mix. You will need to set the monitor mix to be what you want for your final mix and leave it alone. If you don’t, you will be changing the mix of every file recorded in a painfully slow process.

Muti Track Interface Recording:

Now I am getting to my real problem with the Zoom H6

First, my installation of the Zoom drivers for muti-track was not a clean process, but I don’t fault Zoom, I think it was windows. I detail that fix in this thread:

Zoom H6 / Multi Track Problem

I want this feature to work, it is important to me. With this feature I am supposed to be able to feed six tracks directly into my DAW and have all of that power to record with instead of managing the recordings with just the Zoom settings and a 1 1/2 inch LCD screen. It is all “working” but my records are slightly distorted and have a faint click in them. They are crap. They sound just like any recording that went through a analog to digital process by an under powered codec. That processing problem is in the Zoom, not my lap top, I will explain. My lap top is new and it is not an ordinary lap top. It is designed for graphics processing and has almost work station capabilities. It eats multiple layers of HD video/audio for lunch and does not hiccup. I am running an old version of the Adobe Production Premium Suite CS 5.5 on it. My DAW software is Adobe Audition.

The H6 has two interface modes, Stereo Mix and Multi Track. Zooms own terminology in the manual does not make sense to me.

Quote “Set to Stereo Mix it is a 2 in/2 out interface. Set to Multi Track it is a 6 in/2 out interface”

In reality this what it does: In Stereo Mix all 6 inputs on the device are active. It mixes them down to a stereo pair Audition recognizes as two inputs. To me that is 6 in/2 out

In Multi Track mode Audition recognizes all 6 inputs as separate inputs, as it should. That is 6 in and what ever you want to mix out. Maybe on their output count they are referring to the physical outs 1 usb & 1 line out? I don’t know where they get the input count?

This is important: When you put it in Multi Track mode it wisely gives you a choice of powering it from batteries or USB. USB would seem to be the obvious choice but it’s not. All signals were clean until I fed it a line input from the same computer it was hooked up to. At that point I got dirty power and picked up a hum. I know it was the power and not the feed because I could switch it back and forth to batteries and it was clean.

When you put it in interface mode it disables recording to its SD card, I can’t complain too much, it is an inexpensive devise, how much can you expect out of it. But it sure would be nice if you could record to the card at the same time as your computer.

It also sets its self to 41.1 for all of its processing. You can’t change it and 41.1 is all it says so I am assuming it is in 16 bit not 24 bit mode.

In Stereo Mode I get clean recordings. In Muti Track mode they are slightly distorted and click, what a shame! This is what I think is happening:

In Stereo Mode it operates off of MME drivers in device type. That means the computer and its sound card are in use. Even though that would normally be a weak set up on some lap tops I get good recordings. In Muti Track mode you have to switch it to Zooms ASIO drivers. ASIO basically turns the Zoon into your sound card and a true audio interface. That is when I get bad records.

I reduced my test all the way down to the simplest signal flow and processing I could. I used one mic and set Audition to 41.1 and powered the Zoom on batteries. Same bad result.

For input sources I tried dynamic mics, condenser mics, line level music (consumer & pro level) everything is bad and it does not seem to get better or worse with the number of inputs.

I believe the problem is being generated in the analog to digital processing within the Zoom. If anyone has any suggestions for me I would love to hear them. And what about other Zoom users, does your interface work? Have you listened to them carefully? My clicks are faint but they ARE there to the point of being non usable. When I record music I am familiar with and play it back I hear the slight distortion. Bottom line is I am not getting clean records.

I had my eye on the new Zoom F8, I would love to try one. But after my experience with the H6 I have to wonder about the F8. For a thousand bucks it might be too good to be true? Did they really step up to a pro level or did they just pack all those pro features into a mediocre box? We all want to save money but not many manufacturers can beat the you get what you pay for part of life.

Kind Regards,

Steven Digges
Still learning twenty years later.

Last edited by Steven Digges; August 30th, 2015 at 10:09 PM. Reason: SP
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Old August 31st, 2015, 03:30 AM   #2
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Join Date: May 2005
Location: Burnaby, BC, Canada
Posts: 2,829
Re: Zoom H6 info/ not all good

For me with the step down H5, I had to change my frequency and bit depth selection in Multi Track USB interface mode via Windows. It recognized it and immediately defaulted to 24bit. You had to change it to 48k in Windows, not Audition. I also got my drivers from Zoom North America's site.

If there are separate controls in Audition that override that, might be worthwhile to change that.

Also, if Windows has the default device set to the Zoom in Multi Track, it will take Windows' priority over Audition. Make sure you do not have the Zoom as the default audio device for Windows.

Finally, your laptop charger could be the reason for hum. Remember that laptops usually don't have a ground.
I wait for the day cost-efficient global shutter 60fps capable CMOS sensors emerge for use on major manufacturers' cameras. (Sony, Canon, etc.) Rolling Shutters are a plague.
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Old September 2nd, 2015, 01:54 PM   #3
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Posts: 1,482
Re: Zoom H6 info/ not all good

Thanks for the input Jack. Because of what you said about Windows now I know how to change the frequency rate of the ASIO drivers. I had been there before but when Audition is open the change is not available. When I go in through Windows I can change it.

Of that has no effect on my bad recordings though. I am really disappointed I cant use muti track interfacing.

Steven Digges
Still learning twenty years later.
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