To adjust settings and get the H4n doing whatever it is you need it to, you’re reliant on a 1.9in, backlit monochrome display, a selection of face-mounted buttons and a jog dial on the right hand side, which you can use to navigate the various menus. You’ll also find playback volume and record volume rockers on the left and right-hand sides, respectively. This is where things get tricky. The H4N has three main modes of operation, and a fairly bewildering range of options in each. The functions of the different buttons and the availability of particular settings varies from mode to mode, and while the menus are actually quite sensibly structured, it takes a certain amount of time before you work out what is where. However, this isn’t as much a criticism as recognition of the fact that the Zoom has a wider range of features than the LS-10, so inevitably it’s going to be a little more complex to operate. There are some products I review where I can get away with only the most cursory glance at the manual. The H4N was not one of them. Bar making the most basic recordings, I found myself referring to it regularly.
In the baseline stereo recording mode, the H4N simply takes the signal from the built-in stereo mics or an external source and captures it in your required file format. Tellingly, the external sources include not only a 3.5mm jack for an external microphone, but two clever, multi-function inputs that can take either a 1/4in jack or an XLR plug. Pressing the record button gets the unit ready to record, and from there you can set sound levels before pressing the Play/Pause button to commence recording. There is an auto record level function buried in the Input Setting menu, along with options for a lo-cut filter for blocking out wind noise or background hum, and a comp/limit function designed to compensate for variations in volume. You’ll need either the lo-cut filter or the provided baffle if you’re planning to record outdoors, as the microphones are extremely sensitive and will pick up passing air like you wouldn’t believe. The same goes for handling noises. You don’t want to fiddle with settings too much while you’re actually recording, because every movement and click sounds pretty thunderous on the final result.