A microphone without an audio recorder is a lot like a nightclub without a bouncer. Even if you’re headlining Steve Aoki, without some kind of supervision, your microphone will bring in all kinds of destructive little monsters that ruin your guests’ experience.

You paid big bucks for this microphone and you’re still dealing with obnoxiously high noise floors? The only noise you paid for was Steve’s synth… and the grunt of exertion from lobbing a sheet cake at his fans (yeah, he does that). An audio recorder is there to keep order by checking unwanted noise at the door and making sure everyone is having a good time.

If you’re a videographer ready to hire a bouncer that will unlock the potential of your microphone, the Zoom H5’s résumé is hard to beat.  In this Zoom H5 review, we’ll see how portability, quality preamps, and four-track recording makes the H5 the Jean-Claude van Damme of portable recorders.

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Zoom H5 4-Track Portable Recorder for Audio for Video, Music, and Podcasting, Stereo Microphones, 2 XLR/TRS Inputs, USB Audio Interface, Battery Powered

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Zoom H5 Technical Specs

Recording media 

  • SD card: 16 MB to 2 GB
  • SDHC card: 4 GB to 32 GB

Display 

  • Backlit LCD

Inputs

  • Mic type: Unidirectional
  • Sensitivity: -45 dB, 1 kHz @ 1 Pa
  • Input gain: -∞ to 52 dB
  • Max sound pressure input: 140 dB SPL

Phone out

  • Connector: ⅛” TRS stereo mini jack
  • Output Level: 20 mW + 20 mW into 32 Ω load

Built-in speaker

  • 400 mW, 8 Ω mono 

Stereo mode

  • WAV (BWF-compliant)
    • Sample rate: 44.1/48/96 kHz
    • Bit depth: 16/24-bit (Stereo)
    • Maximum simultaneous recording tracks: 2
  • MP3
    • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz
    • Bitrate: 48/56/64/80/96/112/132/160/192/224/256/320 kbps

Multitrack mode

  • WAV (BWF-compliant)
    • Sample rate: 44.1/48 kHz
    • Bit depth: 16/24-bit (Mono/Stereo)
    • Maximum simultaneous recording tracks: 6 (L/R + INPUT ½ + L/R backup)

Mass Storage Class operation

  • Class: USB 2.0 High Speed

Audio Interface operation – Multitrack mode

  • Class: USB 2.0 High Speed
  • Sample rate: 44.1/48 kHz
  • Bit depth: 16/24-bit
  • Inputs / Outputs: 4 / 2

Audio Interface operation – Stereo mode

  • Class USB 2.0 Full Speed
  • Sample rate: 44.1/48 kHz
  • Bit depth: 16-bit
  • Inputs / Outputs: 2 / 2
  • USB bus powered operation possible
  • (iPad operation supported in Stereo mode only)

Power Requirements

  • AA size (LR6) battery x 2
  • AC adapter: AD-17 (DC5V/1A/USB-type) (optional)
  • USB bus power
  • For more data and info, check out the Zoom website

Zoom H5 Review: What’s in the Box

zoom h5 what's in the box

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  • Hardshell case
  • Zoom H5 Handy Recorder w/ XY mic capsule
  • USB cable (Type A to Mini B)
  • Foam windscreen
  • Two AA batteries
  • Micro SD card (2GB) w/ Micro SD adapter
  • Operation Manual

zoom h5 hardshell case

Hardshell case

foam windscreen

Foam windscreen

zoom h5 handy recorder

Zoom H5 Handy Recorder with XY mic capsule

USB cable

USB cable (Type A to Mini B)

Zoom H5 Review: Feaures

Portability

If you’re a solo videographer, you understand the often overwhelming amount of gear you have to juggle on an average shoot. Just the visual accoutrements are enough to think about: SD cards, batteries, tripods, stabilizers, and lighting equipment. If you’re adding audio gear into the fray, you need it flexible, light on its toes, and ready to perform the most epic of splits at a moment’s notice. Wow. The van Damme metaphor stretches further. 

The Zoom H5 gives you all of this and accessory heaven too. The most notable feature of the H5 is the ability to switch out the XYH-5 XY stereo mic (included) with a range of modular capsules (not included) like a stereo shotgun mic, a mid-side mic, or a capsule that supports two addicational XLR/TRS inputs. 

You also need a bouncer that can handle the occasional aggravated assault. The H5’s unibody construction and rubberized grip feel solid. The metal grille that protects the gain dials and the braided mic cables make for a rugged recorder. After inevitably roughing this device up for the past 5 years, I am impressed with the condition it’s maintained.

Multi-track recording with phantom power

With muscles fully flexed, the H5 can record up to 4-tracks at 24-bit/48kHZ at once, and also provide phantom power of +12/+24/+48 V if your microphone(s) needs an energy boost.

And then there’s the preamps. Which in van Damme terms is the heart that pumps the sonic blood of the H5. If you came here with the intention of eradicating that little hiss for good, then preamps are going to be the most important thing we talk about today. Unless you want to get pretty technical, all you need to know is that better preamps equal lower noise floors.

With my best recordings on the H5, I am still able to hear a little noise, but only when I’m listening intently, at a high volume, and with headphones. But that is only with a particularly quiet stretch of audio. If you slip in a music track, include environmental noise, or apply minimal audio effects, that hiss is gone, forever out of sound and out of mind.

If you still want a noise floor of absolute zero, you might consider looking up the food chain for a field mixer that costs a couple hundred more dollars. For the money, the H5’s preamps make all the wonderful difference, especially if you’re upgrading from in-camera audio.

zoom h5 phantom power

Phantom power settings

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Powerful onboard features

In the event that some punk decides to light off fireworks in your club, the H5’s built-in processing features like compression, limiting, and high-pass filters prevent volume spikes and clipping so you can still enjoy the light show and preserve your eardrums.

Another handy feature is the pre-record function which is like an iPhone Live photo, continuously buffering the 2 seconds before you hit record just in case you barely miss the audio moment of the century.

What really impresses me about Zoom’s products is the ability to include plenty of actually-useful features without over-complicating the menu. (I’m looking at you, Sony.) If you want to take advantage of special settings, they are quick to access and master. But if you find yourself a more barebones user who, for the most part, just adjusts dials and hits record, the accessory features never get in the way.

zoom h5 onboard features

Low-cut filter, compressor, limiter, phantom power

Zoom H5 Pros & Cons

Zoom H5 Review: Meet the Competition

No Zoom H5 review would be complete without a look at how it stacks up to some other popular portable audio recorders out there. Let’s take a look.

Tascam DR-44WL

Tascam DR-44WL Handheld Portable Audio Recorder with WiFi

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Zoom tends to draw its primary competition from Tascam. The lower price of the Tascam DR-44WL might suggest a step down from H5, but in terms of features and function, the two recorders are quite similar.

While there are plenty of devils in the details between these two recorders, I’m just going to focus on one key advantage the DR-44WL has over the H5: wireless connectivity. With its own Wi-Fi signal, the DR-44WL allows you to connect the major functions of the recorder with an app on your phone.

This could come in handy for situations where you have to leave your recorder plugged into a soundboard on the other side of the room but you still need to monitor/adjust the levels.

What the DR-44WL lacks is the modular capsule mic system that is unique to Zoom systems. Any attachments you add to your collection are also compatible with the Zoom H6 if you ever need to upgrade.

At this point you might be saying, those are cool features, but what about the audio quality. I’m no sound engineer, but from comparison tests I’ve heard online, I can’t really tell the difference between the two. So if one does edge out the other in terms of overall audio quality, it’s going to be minimal, and might just come down to your need for the DR-44WL’s wireless connectivity or the Zoom’s capsule versatility. 

Zoom H6

Zoom H6 6-Track Portable Recorder, Stereo Microphones, 4 XLR/TRS Inputs, Records to SD Card, USB Audio Interface, Battery Powered, for Stereo/Multitrack Audio for Video, Podcasting, and Music

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Finding a second directly competitive piece of gear to the Zoom H5 from another manufacturer was a challenging task. But a quick Google survey of “Zoom H5 vs” turns up a lot of comparisons with the slightly beefier Zoom H6.

My quick synthesis of that information is that the Zoom H6 has 2 additional XLR/TRS inputs, 2 additional tracks, the same preamps as the H5, a mid-side mic capsule, and a price bump of about $50.

Unless you are getting really serious about the number of microphones you have running at once, my suggestion would be to opt for the more portable H5 and save $50 for spare batteries and SD cards.  

Zoom H5 Review: Final Verict

Before you get lost in the gear shopping vortex, just remember that any one of these audio recorders will get you off the noise floor and onto the dance floor. But, if you really want to make sure you never get pushed around by another intoxicated clubber again, the Zoom H5 is your bouncer.

If you’re looking to spend a little less on a recorder, it may be worthwhile to check out the differences between the Zoom H5 and H4n Pro. But the versatility, sturdy build, and ease-of-use of the H5 is hard to beat.

And while you can certainly get a better sound out of high-end audio devices like field mixers, you’ll have to fork out a few hundred more dollars and devote more time to learning the world of audio engineering.

Something tells me that’s not why you became a videographer. With the Zoom H5, you can have your Steve Aoki cake and eat it too.