Congratulations on purchasing the Zoom H5 Handy Recorder! An audio recorder is your first step to capturing better audio and markedly improved productions. Now to learn how it works, we present a Zoom H5 tutorial that is faster to read than that Zoom instruction booklet threatens.

So light a match under that waste of paper (read: please recycle) and let’s get started, shall we?

Using the included capsule or an external mic

The first thing you may have noticed about your shiny new Zoom H5 is the silver-stun-baton-looking-device sticking out of the top.  Surely by now you’ve been made aware that this is not Batman’s prison riot gear, but in fact an X/Y microphone for capturing stereo sound. 

While you may end up mostly using the Zoom H5 in conjunction with a separate shotgun or lav mic, this capsule mic will let you get recording right out of the box. 

The X/Y positioning is optimal for capturing sound over a wide area while still focusing on sound from the center. Its pickup pattern isn’t quite as tight as a shotgun mic, but it’s also not an omnidirectional (or lavalier) mic. It’d be fair to call the capsule mic a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. The closer you’re able to get the capsule mic to your source, the better the sound, but this can be a limitation if you need to keep the recorder out of the shot.

The X/Y capsule mic is ideal for recording musical instruments, outdoor ambience, and is generally an all-around improvement over internal camera microphones. Because of the X/Y mic’s wide spread, I haven’t been able to capture good recordings indoors, especially in open rooms with reverb. The recordings are often echoey and heavy on environmental noise like air conditioning, computer fans, and running refrigerators. 

If you need a microphone that can reject ambient noise you might consider using an external shotgun mic or one of Zoom’s interchangeable shotgun mic capsules.

Here is an tutorial overview of Zoom’s interchangeable capsule system:

Signal chains for different setups

Next up in our Zoom H5 tutorial, we’ll cover signal chains, or the order in which to connect wireless systems, soundboards, or other external microphones.

If it helps to keep it straight, think about the signal chain as a series of pipes taking water from a reservoir. The microphone collects water and pumps it through a cable into the H5 where it is filtered into the SD card and safe to drink.

If you’re connecting a camera, the water doesn’t stop at the H5 but is pumped further through the Line Out, through another cable where it is filtered into the camera’s SD card.

If you’re using a wireless system, the microphone collects water and pumps it through a cable into the transmitter where the droplets are evaporated into the air and invisibly transported to the receiver, where the water is re-condensed and pumped into the H5 for filtering. 

There are three inputs on the Zoom H5: 

  • Input 1 and 2 are XLR/TRS inputs (located at the bottom of the H5)
  • Line In or L/R is a 3.5 mm input (located on the right side of the X/Y microphone capsule)

You can use any one or all three of these inputs at any given time dependent on your connecting microphone’s output cable.

Rundown of controls

No Zoom H5 tutorial would be complete without a description of it’s controls. Next, let’s take a look at the H5’s buttons, switches, and flashing lights. 

Zoom H5 controls tutorial: Left Side

zoom h5 left side

  • Line out jack
    • Use this 3.5 mm output to send audio from the recorder to a camera or other device. Personally, I don’t use the Line Out because I typically leave my recorder running separate from my camera. But if you want to save yourself the step of syncing the recorder and audio in post, you always have that option.
  • Phone jack
    • Monitor your audio here. Don’t forget to bring headphones to your shoot!
  • Volume buttons
    • Use these to adjust volume of the Line Out signal and the built-in playback speaker (on the back of the H5)
  • USB port
    • This is useful for supplying plug-in power and saving some batteries on long recording sessions. The port can also be used to plug into the computer, effectively turning the H5 into an SD card reader or (my personal favorite) an audio interface. If you need to record a voice over or narration, Adobe Premiere and other editing software will recognize the Zoom H5 as an audio interface and record directly into an open project.
  • Power/hold switch
    • The “hold to power” feature makes sure you don’t accidentally switch off the recorder in the middle of a recording.

Zoom H5 controls tutorial: Right Side

zoom h5 right side

  • MIC/LINE input jack
    • Located on the right hand side of the X/Y mic capsule, this input receives 3.5 mm microphone or receiver outputs.
  • Remote jack
    • The remote is sold separately. To be honest, I’m not really sure I could ever trust a remote when it comes to pressing record on someone’s wedding vows.
  • Scroll button
    • Pushing up or down will switch between menu items while pushing down will confirm your selection.
  • Menu button
    • This opens the menu if you can believe it.
  • SD card slot
    • The H5 does not read 64 GB and bigger SD cards, but a 32 GB will give you plenty of breathing room. Unless you are recording a real life Leslie Knope filibuster, an empty 32 GB SD card will always be overkill with a recording time somewhere between 50 and 100 hours depending on file format and how many inputs you are using.
    • The H5 will take a hot second to format a blank SD card with its filing system. The emptier the card, the quicker the formatting. An empty card will only take a couple of seconds but a fuller card could take five minutes or longer to format. This is important because, while the H5 formats the card, you won’t be able to use the recorder. If you’re in a pinch and the formatting is taking too long, there is no way to cancel except for yanking the batteries from the back. Seriously, don’t put an SD card with 28 GB of data into the H5 with two minutes to showtime.

Zoom H5 controls tutorial: Front Side

zoom h5 front

  • Interchangeable X/Y mic capsule
    • In case you missed it, the H5 supports a range of other attachments including a mono shotgun mic capsule, a stereo shotgun mic capsule, a mid-side mic capsule, and a capsule that supports two additional XLR/TRS inputs. If you need more than 3 inputs, the EXH-6 capsule is a valuable purchase.
  • X/Y mic input volume L/R
    • The ideal volume gain will vary between devices and contexts. Just check the display to make sure the loudest sounds aren’t peaking. Peaking or clipping will cause a distorted buzzing noise. Typically, I turn the dial until the average levels are reaching 12 dB which leaves room for any screaming, shouting, or clapping.
  • Input volume 1 / Input volume 2
    • See above.
  • Track buttons & indicators
    • A red light turns on when the track is selected. If the light is off that track isn’t getting a signal and won’t be included in your recording.
  • Stop, play/pause, back, forward, and REC button
    • Above the record button is a small red light that indicates the H5 is recording. Pressing the record button again will stop the recording. The stop button will also stop the recording. The play/pause, back, and forward buttons are used for playback.

Zoom H5 controls tutorial: Back Side

zoom h5 back

  • Speaker
    • During playback, the built-in speaker is decent enough to make sure you are getting a signal, but I would not rely on its quality for picking up any unwanted noise. Like I said, bring your headphones. You don’t want to get to post-production and realize you there was some nasty buzz or WiFi interference that you couldn’t hear from the speaker.
  • Battery cover
    • There is a small satin tab in the battery compartment that is helpful for carefully removing batteries that need to be replaced. The last thing you want to do in the middle of a shoot is accidentally break one of the metal springs that make contact with the negative end of the battery. I have done this…

Zoom H5 controls tutorial: Bottom

  • Input 1 and 2
    • Don’t forget that in addition to accepting XLR cables, the inputs also receive  ¼” TRS cables.

Settings to use & why

Finally, we’ll go over how to read the home display and some of the features you might find useful in the menu.

Home Display

If you are using an SD card, a symbol in the top left that reads “SD” will appear. Next to that symbol is a number.

  • Before you hit record, the number will read the recording time remaining on the SD card.
  • When you hit record, the number will read how long your current recording has lasted. 

In the next row down, the display reads the folder into which the recordings are being stored. To the right of the folder is the name of the current file (ex: ZOOM0001)

Below the file name is the level readouts for the L/R, 1, and 2 inputs. The -48, -32, -18, -12, -6, and 0 represent the level in decibels (dB).

The first box in the bottom row tells you the file type the recordings are being created as. The next box tells you which, if either, of Input 1 and 2 are providing phantom power (48V). In short, phantom power is a boost of voltage required to power some microphones. 

Menu Display

  • “PROJECT” gives you access to play back the files that have been recorded.
  • “FOLDER” allows you to select one of ten folders to store your recordings. This can be helpful if you want to organize files from different projects. 
  • “IN/OUT” opens up to give you access to the H5’s built-in effects and phantom power.
  • “LO CUT” is short for low cut (also known as high-pass) and is a filter that is helpful for cutting out low frequencies from ambient noise. If you are picking up unwanted low rumbling from your HVAC system, using a low cut filter can be an effective approach. 
  • “COMP/LIMITER” or compression is a process where loud sounds are reduced and quiet sounds are amplified. If you’re in an unpredictable recording environment where a sudden burst of noise might cause clipping (distorted audio), turning on compression can help.
  • “REC” opens options to change the file format and other safety features like auto-record or pre-record.
  • “REC FORMAT” is divided between 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz. Surprise, the human ear can’t detect a difference between the two so if you want to avoid a boring science lesson and pretend you’re getting the best quality just choose 48 kHz. The second division is bit depth, 16-bit or 24-bit. The easiest way to understand this is by thinking about 8-bit games versus 16-bit games. The Super Nintendo 16-bit system was able to process more colors than its 8-bit predecessor. Bit depth for audio is similar. 24-bit gives your audio more “color”. Of course the trade off is larger file sizes. And whether or not humans can actually hear the difference between the two is again up for debate. So I’ll leave it up to you. But if space isn’t an issue, you might as well bring more colors to the audio rainbow.

The remaining menu items are relatively self-explanatory like “SYSTEM” which allows you to change the date/time and “SD CARD” which allows you to format the card. 

But hopefully you’ve learned everything you need to get your Zoom H5 up and running! 

If you need more info… well then I laugh as I point you to the charred remains of your Zoom instruction booklet in the ashtray. Just kidding. Please recycle.