July 26, 2015 at 1:27PM, Edited July 26, 1:28PM


Preamps: Zoom H5 vs H4n. Big difference??

I recently bought a Rode NTG3. I've had a H4n for a few years now and everywhere I've read its preamps are terrible and that the H5 has much, much better ones. So I was ready to change my H4n for a H5 but I decided to do a few tests with the NTG3 and the H4n. And I thought it sounded quite ok, even with the volume all the way up. But then I am not a sound expert at all.

Then I found this video review of both recorders with the NTG3 connected. And to me they sound quite the same. And even the reviewer says he didn't hear much difference between them.

Has anyone experienced the 'much better preamps of the H5'? Do they make a huge difference compared to the H4n one?

I;m just wondering whether I should go ahead and try to sell my H4n to get a H5...

Any comment would be much appreciated


Sam Mallery often does good gear reviews, but he blew things a bit on this one...

1- For the stereo mic tests he has the recorders too close to the woman speaking. These recorders use a XY mic configuration so to get best results you need to have the person far enough away that they are at least partially facing one of the mic capsules. ( these are directional mics so there pickup spread is not that wide )

2- For the external mic tests, Sam had the gain set too high with the Tascam DR-40 so you're getting self-noise from the unit. The DR-40 sounds a lot better if you lower the gain and boost your recording volume in post.

3- With the LINE level test it's obvious that the Zoom H4n is distorting because it can't handle a LINE level signal without adding a 20 dB XLR pad. ( you might notice that the Zoom H5 has a switchable 20 DB pad built-in, which Sam did use when testing LINE level with the H5 )

What's missing from Sam's test is a noise-floor test ( or self-noise test ), where you test to see how noisy the recorder is all by itself. I normally test this using the 1 kHz test tone from a Sound Devices mixer ( like the one Sam used for the LINE test ) to calibrate the correct LINE recording level. ( I use -12 dB most of the time ) Then I record 10 seconds of this test tone, then switch off the test tone but I keep recording for another 20 seconds. When you examine the recording in your audio editor you should see the test tone recorded at it's correct level ( -12 dB ) and then when the test tone is switched off you will see what the noise-floor of the recorder is. The Sound Devices mixer that Sam was using has a 110+ dB dynamic range, so these low-cost recorders would never be able to record the self-noise of the mixer itself when doing a test like this.

With the Zoom H4n the LINE level noise-floor is -66 dB RMS when using a 20 dB pad to stop the Zoom from overloading from the signal, which is good as long as you don't have to make volume corrections in post. ( without the 20 dB pad the recording is pretty much unusable from the distortion )

WIth the Tascam DR-40 the LINE noise-floor is -75 dB RMS, and this recorder does not need a 20 dB pad to handle the LINE level signal.

With the Zoom H5 the LINE noise-floor is -80 dB RMS, and it has it's own built-in 20 dB pad to handle the LINE level signal.

When using MIC level signals all of these recorders can become too noisy if you use a lot of gain, so it's usually better to use no more than about half the maximum gain and then boost the volume in post. ( an even better idea is to use a high quality mic pre-amp like a Sound Devices mixer or the JuicedLink Riggy mic pre-amps, to feed the audio signal into your low-cost recorder or camera )

July 26, 2015 at 5:26PM, Edited July 26, 5:33PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

Thanks for the incredibly detailed answer Guy.

Jose Miguel Jimenez

July 27, 2015 at 3:56PM


Guy - I accept your criticism of my reviews. I suppose you may be right -- but I'm not sold. My reviews are not intensely technical. I tend to lean more toward the impression the equipment gives on a practical level -- rather than how it preforms in a scientific lab.

Jose - I didn't experience a radical difference between the H5 and the H4n. In general, recordings from the H5 sounded slightly better than stuff from the H4n. Is it worth selling your H4n to upgrade? If you're doing this just for sound quality, I don't think it's worth it. If you want a new recorder with new capabilities and new options, then yes.

August 24, 2015 at 10:51AM


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