At my previous school, I convinced the principal to allow us to purchase a Zoom H4 recorder for the use of the music department. The Zoom H4 is still available, and although there may be other digital recorders that make a better overall recording, the Zoom offers a number of features unmatched by competitors: internal microphones, SD card recording, AC or DC power sources, multiple formats of line-in recording (XLR or 1/4″), multiple track recording, phantom power, mp3 or WAV recording at different quality levels, file management, and USB interface.
The only problem I had with the original Zoom H4 was its tricky user interface, which isn’t intuitive (read: not an Apple designed product). Its menus were hard to navigate. I also didn’t like how it mounted to a tripod…it required a separate mounting plate. We used the H4 to replace a Marantz CD Recorder which went out on us…after ruining several recordings of concerts. I decided at that point that we would pursue a direct-to-digital option for recording. You can still buy the Zoom H4, and I’d recommend it. However, after we placed our order list for the new high school, I found out that an updated version of the H4 was available, the Zoom H4n. I was able to change our order and obtain this recorder for our new school.
I have to say that I love the H4n. We do have five iPod Touches, along with my iPhone, that do an acceptable job for recording audio; but there isn’t anything quite as useful and quality to record quality digital audio as this device. The display is larger, the interface is much more intuitive (and powerful), and the device features all of the benefits of the original H4. Additionally, you can change the angle of recording field (90 or 120 degrees), and the device now mounts on a tripod through a mount on the bottom of the device. You can purchase H4n recorders for $300, and I cannot recommend them enough. We use ours (we’d like more) to record concerts, rehearsals (to listen to immediately for feedback), auditions, and more. This afternoon I was recording some Finale generated midi-tracks through our Yamaha GP-309 digital grand piano (read: excellent piano sounds) to the Zoom H4n. The quality of the audio is outstanding.
Someone decided that each music classroom needed hanging mics running back to a CD Recorder. We were never asked about that plan; and in fact, we’re rather bearish on CD Recorders. If we want to edit music, we waste a CD ripping it from a CD, rather than importing a digital file, editing it, and then making a final CD. We requested that the district return the recorder systems (furthermore, the hanging mics were replaced with floor jacks without our notification, either) and substitute one or two more Zoom H4n recorders for our use.
Yes, there are other digital recorders, but none (or few) with the options (and relatively low price) of the H4n. If you are planning on buying a CD Recorder, don’t. Direct to digital is the way to go. And if you need to import audio from a sound board instead of directly from the device, you can do that, too. It’s a great device for school music programs.