Review: Improving Your Guitar Playing Using Zoom H5

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One of the best ways musicians can improve is to record their own playing. Obviously it is, many times, frustrating and depressing to hear what all your hard work has or has not accomplished. However, knowing where to improve is the first step towards making the necessary changes. And ultimately, hearing the piece eventually played well is the final reward.

Zoom H5 Captures Sound Better Than A Phone

For the past few decades self-recording has become the norm. Almost everyone reading this post has a device in their pocket that will record and edit audio. The drawback is that these devices lack in sound quality and fidelity. This is another way of saying you really cannot capture the specifics of the sound you are actually creating on the instrument very well. Dynamics and phrasing are hard to hear and very distorted at times depending on the device. This is where the Zoom H5 comes to the rescue.

Zoom H5 Sound Quality

Let’s begin with the sound quality of recording because it should be the main reason to upgrade your recording device. Before MP3 players compact disks (CDs) were the cat’s meow. They had a standard of 44.1 KHz/16 bit sampling frequency. Because of this standard for CDs, MP3s followed suite and have pretty much the same sampling rate. To put that in perspective, the Zoom H5 can do up to 96 KHz/24 bit sampling rates when recording WAV files. MP3s are still at the standard of 44.1 KHz but can do an amazing 320 bit sampling. By now, you have probably tuned out so check out this quote from Sony on high resolution audio (96 KHz/24):

How does that translate to the listening experience?

Listening to High-Resolution Audio allows you to pick up on the subtle details and nuances that you would hear in a recording studio. So, if you’re waiting to get your hands on Adele’s newly released album, “25”, try listening to it in high resolution. It’ll sound like you pulled up a stool next to the British diva, allowing you to hear every note of her soulful, impressive range.

On the other hand, when you convert analog sound to digital formats like CDs and MP3s, that process can compromise the purity of the original signal. High-Resolution Audio brings your favorite songs to life by retaining more data during the analog-to-digital conversion process.
— Sony.com

Obviously, Sony has a bit of skin in the game when it comes to selling audio devices. However, the topic is a hot debate when it comes to audiophiles. Not matter whether you think this is just blowing smoke or not, the point to be taken with the Zoom H5 can record at a very high quality when storing data. But the real question when comparing to a phone or other mobile device is the way the audio is captured. And this, is everything to do with microphones.

Interchangeable Microphone Capsules

The Zoom H5 has an incredible selling point, interchangeable microphone capsules. You can interchange a number of different setups from shotgun microphones to the standard stereo XY microphone capsules (which come with the device). You can also plug in a 1/4 inch or XLR cable to the product. Since simplicity is the point for most using this product, let’s stick with the XY stereo that comes with the product.

When taking the upgrade from a phone or other device, these microphones will seem like you just walked into a high end recording studio (remember, compared to another device like a phone). The ability to capture sound is unmatched between this an lower grade devices.

These mics are housed within an advanced shockmount that employs rugged external mic wires and rubberized material to minimize vibration and handling noise, making the XYH-5 ideal for location videography and live broadcast/podcast applications. The design of the XYH-5 also allows it to handle extremely loud sounds—140 dB SPL, to be precise (equivalent to the sound of a jet aircraft from less than 200 feet away)—making it perfect for capturing the sound of live rock concerts and for electronic news gathering.
— Zoom-na.com

The above quote from Zoom’s website should allow you to see how many diverse this microphone setup allows. For the acoustic/classical guitarist, this translates to being able to really hear dynamics and phrasing. More advanced uses include the ability to record up to 4 channels at once. However, the purposes proposed in this article do not justify this discussion.

Zoom H5 Memory, Display, and Other Issues

Recorded music takes up a lot of memory. Fortunately the Zoom H5 can handle up to 32GB using a SDHC memory card and up to 2GB using a standard SD memory card. The SDHC is preferred because the read and write speeds are faster (i.e. the Zoom H5 works quicker).

The most complained about part of the Zoom H5 is the display and using the onboard editing interface. I strongly suggest ignoring these complaints if you read them. Very few people I know actually use the functions other than getting the settings where they want them for recording. Then, set it and forget it. Whenever wanting to do playback it should always be through a plugged in speaker system or exported onto a computer for playing through a speaker system. Editing the audio files, in general, is better suited on a desktop with the appropriate software.

The final complaint that come up often is the lack of battery life. I think we are so conditioned to think that everything needs to last 8 hours. Zoom claims that the Zoom H5 will last for 15 hours. However, the 4 hours seems to be about where it sits comfortably. Still, 4 hours of straight playing of any kind is pretty hard to do. Let alone, if you record 4 hours, then are you going to listen to all 4 hours some time in the future? Bottom line, buy some rechargeable AA batteries and change them out when necessary.

Finally, one of the added benefits to the Zoom H5 is the ability to use it on top of a DSLR camera. This feature is not necessary for recording your practice sessions and practice performances when audio is the only concern. However, if you want to record great audio with high resolution video, this feature is a huge selling point. It keeps you from having to buy another set of microphones for your camera.

Conclusion

If recording yourself playing increases your ability to solve problems, then it is important that the recording is of a high quality to actually hear the problems. The Zoom H5 really does help in this area. There are other Zoom products (H1, H2, etc.). But for the features the H5 offers, I think it is the best of the bunch for the price. Check out the best prices for the Zoom H5 on Amazon.


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