At A Glance: Zoom F8

I was lucky enough to be invited to the West Coast introduction of the new Zoom F8, an 8-input, 10-track recorder capable of recording a stereo (or 2-track) mix, plus 8 isolated tracks. The F8 is the first product from Japanese audio company Zoom that’s designed to compete with industry-established offerings from high-end pro competitors such as Sound Devices and Zaxcom, but at a much lower price point. So how does the Zoom F8 stack up against the much more expensive competition?

The unit features a high-accuracy time-code generator, dual SD card recording, 8 low-noise preamps, multiple file formats, bit-depth and sample rates, metadata capabilities and Bluetooth app capabilities for iOS devices, all for a retail price of $1,000.

The Zoom F8 can record in 16- and 24-bit depths, as well as in 44.1, 47.952, 48, 48.048, 48.048 (F), 88.2, 96 and 192 kHz sample rates. The F8 has a slate/tone switch, scroll and selection wheel knob and button combo, menu button and headphone volume knob, dedicated transport controls on membrane buttons and 8 sets of trim knobs and buttons for each input. Unfortunately, the trim knobs and buttons aren’t really effective for live mixing—they’re too small, and their calibration and scale are fine for setting a level, but not really ideal for riding gain, which is what many location sound mixers need to do much of the time.

The F8 has 8 XLR/TRS combo jack inputs, all of which are capable of accepting a mic or line input, and can provide +24V/+48V phantom power. The F8 also has a microUSB jack to connect to a computer for transferring files. Also present on the F8 is a 4-pin Hirose jack for DC input. On the right side of the chassis, the unit has two TA3 jacks, one for each output bus, and a 3.5mm TRS jack for a stereo sub output bus. The F8’s outputs are switchable to mic or consumer line level (-10 dBV).

The F8’s menu structure and layout are logical and simple to navigate, but without the Zoom Bluetooth app and an iOS device, the screen seems to be the only way to change fader levels and mix. For professional sound mixers, this method of operating the F8 in high-pressure situations where quick reaction times are crucial isn’t very practical. For time code, the F8 can do free run, record run and slaved mode, but there’s no ability to enter time code manually. This isn’t desirable in a pro-level product. The F8 has good-sounding mic preamps and clean recording capability.

From a purely analytical viewpoint, the F8 is a very capable tool with many innovative features, though it’s missing some operational functions and capabilities. The F8 breaks ground in value-for-cost performance, but until Zoom can update some of the missing capabilities via firmware, I’m not sure it will be embraced by location sound mixers, Zoom’s intended audience.

Learn more about the F8 and other Zoom products at zoom-na.com.

*Update – Dec 23rd saw the F8 Firmware v2.00 Update offering bug fixes and System version 2.00 for the Zoom F8 with the following function updates:
Added Trim Knob option that enables adjusting fader/pan settings with input trim knobs.
Added the function of moving the previously recorded take to the new FALSE TAKE folder.
Expanded Function Shortcuts as well as Shortcut List Menu.
Added the function of selecting alphabet letters for the scene number.
Added Trim Link function for adjusting the input levels of multiple tracks simultaneously.
Added the function of editing track name in Meta data.
Added the function of showing track names on the level meters.
Added the function that enables selecting “Scene_***” for the format of take name.
Added the function of adjusting L/R track volume.
Added SOLO function that enables monitoring signals of specific tracks only during playback.
Added sound report function for exporting CSV format file including recorded take information etc.
Changed the location of Next Take menu on MENU>REC>Next Take to MENU>META DATA (for next take).
Added the function of applying edits of the selected card to the other card when two SD cards are inserted.
Changed the track order of Poly WAV recorded files from Tr1, Tr2, …, Tr8, L, R to L, R, Tr1, Tr2, …, Tr8.

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