Put an end to inaudible movies with Zoom’s new flagship H6 audio recorder


posted Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 5:20 PM EST

If you've bought a new DSLR or mirrorless camera in the last couple of years, chances are you own not only a great still imaging device, but also a capable video capture platform as well. Audio, though? Not so much.

It's a sad fact that onboard audio is still something of an afterthought for many cameras -- even surprisingly expensive enthusiast models.The best you can hope for from all but the most videographer-friendly models is an onboard stereo mic with little channel separation, and a 3.5mm stereo mic jack. If you're lucky, you'll also find a fairly coarse-grained audio levels control, and a VU meter with peak hold display from which to try and judge if you're clipping your audio or recording just a whisper. More than a few cameras wil even forgo much of this, perhaps offering as little as a single monaural microphone with on/off control. Features like more an audio output for monitoring purposes, sophisticated microphone connectivity, and support for more than two audio channels is rare to non-existent.

Attaining really great-quality audio from your camera's onboard mic or connectivity, then, is likely to be something of a pipe dream. That's where external audio recorders come in, and one company in particular has built a solid reputation for high-quality, camera-mounted audio recorders that give you far better sound quality, and more control over the sound field to boot. Japan's Zoom Corp. has been targeting DSLR and compact system camera owners for several years now with hotshoe-mounted audio recorders ranging from the affordable to the extremely sophisticated, and the company has just launched a new flagship model, and it's available for preorder now.

The Zoom H6 accepts four different microphone accessories, of which two -- the X/Y mic and the mid-side mic capsules -- come included in the product bundle.

The Zoom H6 is, says its maker, the world's first portable six-track audio recorder. It features four built-in XLR / TRS ports, two on each side of its body, plus an interchangeable accessory mount at the top that the company likens to the lens mount on an SLR camera. This lets you tailor the remaining two channels to your needs, mounting either the bundled 90/120 degree XY or mid-side mic capsules, an optional shotgun mic, or an optional XLR / TRS input adapter.

Each input has its own gain and pad controls, and separately offers phantom power at a choice of three different voltages (12, 24, or 48V), catering to all sorts of different mic and line in setups for total control over your audio. There's also a line output that you can connect to your camera's mic input if you don't want to handle replacing audio in post (or just want an approximation of your final audio recorded along with the video), and there's a headphone jack with physical volume control to let you monitor your results as you're recording them.

A quick, glossy teaser of the Zoom H6's features.

As well as an optional hot shoe mount for attaching the Zoom H6 to your SLR or system camera, there's also an eyelet through which you can thread your camera strap, keeping recorder and camera together. A color display -- small compared to that on your camera, but large by audio recorder standards -- provides a visualization of levels and effects for all six channels, as well as serving up a graphical user interface for configuration.

 It's possible to record MP3 or BWF-compliant WAV audio with timestamps at up to 24-bit, 96k high-def, and to have recording start automatically, or even to prerecord so you don't miss the start of the action. Zoom claims new preamps allow an lower noise floor for clearer sound. Built-in effects controls include a compressor, low-cut filter, and limiter, and there's also metronome and chromatic tuner functions. Playback functions include adjustable playback speed with pitch correction.

An in-depth introduction to the Zoom H6 audio recorder's feature set.

The H6, like the company's other recorders, saves data on Secure Digital cards (including SDHC and SDXC types up to 128GB), and includes both USB data connectivity and a 5V DC input. The USB jack allows connection to a laptop or tablet not only for file transfer, but also for the Zoom H6 to act as an audio interface device for the attached machine. Power comes courtesy of four standard AA batteries, rated as good for 20 hours of recording. 

Availability is set for July 2013, with pricing of US$400 or thereabouts. If you're sold, preorder the Zoom H6 today at IR affiliate B&H Photo Video!

A color display caters both to setup, and to levels monitoring.