Zoom Updates F8 Multi-Track Recorder With The F8N

The new Zoom F8N offers a lot of value to an already popular product.

The new Zoom F8N offers a lot of value to an already popular product.

The Zoom F8N—More Of A Good Thing?

Zoom recently announced an update to the very popular Zoom F8 recorder by announcing the new Zoom F8N. In doing so, it has enhanced an already popular product.

The Zoom F8 has been on the market for three years, gaining immense popularity among advanced amateurs as well as professional sound mixers, both as a main unit and as a back-up recorder for many pros. One reason is that it’s packed with features, which makes the Zoom F8 an excellent value.

Typically, pro-level sound recorders with this sort of feature set have sold in the $3,500 to $6,000 range. Zoom decided to pursue this market by adding sophisticated features, like state-of-the-art timecode implantation, dual SD card recording and three-way powering (that’s the ability to run off of external DC 9-18v power sources, internal AA batteries or the AD-19C AC adapter to the F8).

Zoom has been selling the F8 for a list price of $999, which offers a lot of value for the money and might even change the paradigm of what a sophisticated audio recorder is and what it should sell for.

The new Zoom F8N features Neutrik combo plugs.
The new Zoom F8N features Neutrik combo plugs.

Zoom F8N New Features

What does the F8N add to the package? Quite a bit. Just for starters, Zoom added +4dB In/Out levels, integrated advanced look-ahead hybrid limiters and the ability to record to an internal SD card and USB-output simultaneously. Zoom also added its new AutoMix functionality, as well.

But there’s more. While the F8 is an excellent recorder and value for the money, it wasn’t perfect. For instance, some complained about the lack of routing options and its lackluster headphone out. The F8N addresses these issues with an upgraded headphone output amplifier that has more routing options for monitoring your recordings. Zoom also added a more powerful headphone amp. Plus, you can integrate the unit with an Ambisonic recording mode, perfect for recording 360-degree Ambisonic audio for VR, AR and 360-degree video.

Zoom tweaked the Look-Ahead Hybrid Limiters, too, by adding a 1-millisecond delay that “looks ahead” and adds between 10-20dB of headroom to each of the eight channels at full resolution. This can be a lifesaver if you’re recording loud, highly dynamic sources, especially at sporting and live events, where it’s difficult for even the most nimble sound mixer to keep up with quickly changing subjects.

The new Zoom F8N offers mini XLR outputs as well.
The new Zoom F8N offers mini XLR outputs as well.

The Zoom AutoMix functions like an advanced version of what you could do if you had eight hands: It automatically ducks recording levels on unused channels to reduce overall ambient sound and noise on tracks that aren’t being utilized. In my experience, while you don’t want to always count on these sorts of automated features on a day-to-day basis, for certain situations, they can be a lifesaver.

This sort of technology is becoming more common and more sophisticated. In my view, features like Hybrid Limiters and the AutoMix may not be a feature you’ll use on every job. But for some jobs, they can be essential.

Volume and clarity are equally important so that you can tell what you are recording and any adjustments that need to be made to record high-quality audio. The F8N’s headphone processing has been improved to give the end user a better experience and the ability to hear every nuance in what they’re recording.

You also can set headphone alert tones for recording errors, low battery or recording start/stop. The F8N also features iOS Wireless Control, which lets you control your F8N from your iPhone or iPad, giving you fader, panning and transport control. The wireless also monitors input levels, battery status and timecode. Best of all, the iOS Wireless gives you the ability to add and append metadata, a very helpful element in keeping your media well labeled and organized.

The new Zoom F8N is perfect for the advanced amateur or working pro.
The new Zoom F8N is perfect for the advanced amateur or working pro.

However, various audio professionals continue to debate the merits of the F8N. For instance, there seems to be some suspicion among pros about the actual sound quality and construction of the F8N. Most pros compare the device to its competition, like the Sound Devices recorders.

My advice, if you’re interested in the F8N, is to go to a retailer that has one on display and try it out. It makes sense that a recorder that costs three to six times as much may have slightly smoother sound quality and better A/D converters.

But does having the ultimate quality mean paying three to six times as much to get that slightly better mic pre-amp? Does that really make financial sense for you and your clients? The only way to find out is to rent or borrow the F8N, record some tests and listen to it compared to sound recorded on a much more expensive recorder and make your decision to fit your needs.

Not every client and project needs the best sound quality possible. Sometimes, excellent sound is good enough.

Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B Dynamic Shock Mounted ENG Microphone with Neodymium Capsule

I was recently hired to record just the sound for a documentary film. The film tells the story of a producer who worked with some of the biggest names in popular music during the ’60s and ’70s. The assignment was that we were to record interviews in a pressroom, just off stage, where a television special was being shot.

Overall, it was a very straightforward project, and my only job was to obtain the cleanest, clearest audio possible.

However, what made it a logistical challenge was that it took place at a press conference.

And it wasn’t the type of event where the speaker was positioned at the front of a room giving a presentation and fielding random questions from the press corps. Instead, the talent would be brought to the pressroom, where quick, on-camera interviews with eight to 10 different news outlets would be shot. In other words, we were located literally 2 feet from the next press outlet, which was interviewing right next to us.

The desired result was to record clean, clear audio, despite the extraneous noise and other people talking very close by.

The producer wanted me to record the interviews with both an overhead shotgun on a boom pole (which is the same mic we’d use for an on-camera interview) and a handheld microphone placed right in front of the talent.

The Electro-Voice RE-50 is an industry standard handheld dynamic microphone for a reason.
The Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B is an industry standard handheld dynamic microphone for a reason.

I haven’t used a handheld dynamic microphone in years, mainly because they’re usually relegated to news and live events, and I don’t shoot news or many live events. But I instinctively knew which microphone would work best from my experience from decades ago, when I recorded man-on-the-street-type interviews where a reporter or producer would work with a handheld dynamic mic.

With this in mind, I ordered the Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B – Omnidirectional Dynamic Shock mounted ENG Microphone with Neodymium Capsule.

Here’s why:

  1. Handheld dynamic mics are the opposite of a condenser shotgun or cardioid variant in that they don’t use or require power from an onboard battery or through phantom power from the recorder. Because they’re not powered condensers, dynamics generally aren’t as sensitive, requiring the mic be placed very close to the talent’s mouth to obtain decent recording levels.
  2. Having a non-powered mic also means that the dynamic microphone is able to handle high sound levels much better than a condenser-powered microphone.
  3. The Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B has been an industry standard in news reporting for decades, with very low handling noise and ruggedness and smooth sound being its main attributes.

The variant I ordered was a version of the RE50N/D-B that featured a Neodymium Capsule for greater sensitivity.

I did find that this capsule offered a significantly hotter output, which is handy so that you don’t have to raise the input-gain level on most recorders and cameras, raising the signal-to-noise ratio and reducing noise overall. The sound, overall, was great from the RE50, with much less ambient noise than the shotgun recorded.

If you’re recording in noisy situations with high levels of ambient sound and need the cleanest, clearest sound possible and you can have a microphone in picture, I highly recommend checking out the Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B. It’s a workhorse tool in the news business that works great for other specialized situations, like the one I just described.