Comparing Digital Audio Recorders: Zoom H4n and Edirol R-09HR

Someone recently posted a question to the Horn People group on Facebook asking about various brands of digital recorders. Although I haven’t used all of the brands and varieties mentioned in the Facebook discussion, I have had a good bit of experience with the Edirol R-09HR  and the Zoom H4n. I bought the Edirol a few years ago for my own personal use, and have been very satisfied with both the results and user-friendliness. You can read this post to get a few more details on it. This semester, however, I’ve been using a Zoom H4n, which was purchased through a grant that my colleague Dr. Scot Humes wrote. His grant provided funds to purchase a digital recorder for each applied music studio in our Department. So far I’ve been quite pleased with the Zoom as well. What follows is a brief comparison of these two models of portable digital recorder. First, let’s cover the similarities.

Both are very well made, and should stand up to repeated and regular use, provided that they are cared for properly. They both will record to flash memory cards (SD or SDHC) at a maximum of 24-bit/96kHz, with a range of settings including .wav and .mp3 format. To my ears, I can’t distinguish a difference in the recordings made on one versus the other (using the same settings). Both have AC adapters included, which I would recommend for most recording jobs unless you absolutely can’t access a power outlet. If you can’t use the provided AC adapters, both recorders will operate on 2 AA batteries. I haven’t tested this personally, but the Zoom claims to have a max battery life of 11 hours, while the Edirol claims 7.5 hours. File transfer is very simple, with both recorders supporting USB connections. Getting a raw sound file from the device on to your computer for editing is as easy as opening a folder and dragging the file over to your desktop. The menu systems are pretty similar, to the point that I was able to figure out how to operate the Zoom with only a cursory look at the manual.

Looking at the two, the Edirol is smaller and thinner, giving it a bit of an edge if portability is an important factor for you. Here they are side by side.


And now in profile.


To give you a sense of the scale, the Edirol is slightly bigger than an iPod or standard-size smartphone. The Edirol could easily fit in your pocket, but the Zoom would be pushing it. In addition, the Edirol comes with a wireless remote, a very useful tool if you are recording by yourself. One noticeable deficiency in the Edirol is that it does not come with a tripod adapter – although it does come with with a small plastic stand. You have to purchase a separate case or use a music stand if you want to position the recorder at a specific height. (After a bit of research, it would seem that the R-09HR is no longer manufactured, and has been replaced by the R-05).

The Zoom has some unique features as well. The onboard microphones can be adjusted to 90 or 120 degrees, and the device also has XLR jacks with phantom power so that other microphones can be used separately or in combination with the onboard mics (I haven’t experimented with using the XLR inputs). In addition, the Zoom supports three different recording modes: stereo, four channel, and multi-track. I’ve only used the stereo setting, although it might be fun to play around with the multi-track function sometime. For me – and this may seem silly – the biggest advantage to the Zoom is that it will fit directly onto a tripod, shown here.


Having the tripod makes it much easier to position the Zoom for concerts, recitals and other types of recording. The Zoom also includes a built-in tuner and metronome, although I haven’t used those particular features very much.

Overall, these are both great tools, and I would recommend either of them to students and teachers for recording practice sessions and performances. They are very affordable when compared to other types of equipment, and either one would be a great introduction to  digital recording.

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