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Zoom F6 Portable Field Recorder Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Zoom F6 battery operated, multi-channel portable balanced field recorder. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $650 from Amazon including Prime shipping.

I must say, the F6 is one sturdy feeling and looking recorder despite its small size:

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder Audio Review.jpg


There are six independent channels each with their own XLR input. They can all be configured as Microphone or Line inputs. I tested with the latter.

A camcorder/SLR style batter powers the unit but you can also use USB as I did in my testing:

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder XLR Inputs Audio Review.jpg


For my testing, I took advantage of the ASIO driver which allows the F6 to be used as an input-only audio interface. This allowed me to run full suite of tests on it that would otherwise be very difficult to do with first recording on a card and then shuffling that to the PC. It is possible though that the USB noise has interfered with operation of the unit to some extent as you see later.

Also, while I did my best to disable limiters, set the inputs to lowest gain, etc., there may be obscure options that I did not see that impact performance.

ADC Audio Measurements
I quickly read the spec for the input to be 4 dBu but didn't realize until later that was for mic mode. For line level it is higher but my measurements were at 4 dBu: (not shown but performance didn't improve at higher levels)

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder Audio Measurements.png


This is very disappointing. Not only distortion rises up to -80 dB, we also have a strong rising noise the lower the frequency gets. As it is, the performance ranks way at the bottom of all (desktop) audio interfaces I have tested:

Best portable field recorder review 2020.png


The dynamic range test uses AES filters and doesn't see the above noise, resulting in much better looking numbers:

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


But even here, we are struggling to get to dynamic range of 16 bit audio.

Frequency response is nice and flat:
Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


Intermodulation versus level is not bad until it starts to clip and clip early:

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder IMD Audio Measurements.png


Linearity shows the device to essentially be a 16 bit ADC despite all the claims of 32 bit capability in the manual:
Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder Linearity Audio Measurements.png


THD+N versus input level shows the problems we have seen before:

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder THD+N vs Level Audio Measurements.png


Sweeping the frequency instead of level gives us this awful display:

Zoom Mulltitrack Balanced Portable Field Recorder THD+N vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


The excessive low frequency noise gets confused with the test tone resulting in very poor THD+N/SINAD at lower frequencies.

Conclusions
The Zoom F6 has incredible build quality. Alas, that great mechanical engineering did not translate into great electronics engineering. No wonder they don't provide any distortion specification. I appreciate that there is a lot of functionality crammed into this little box but come on now, there is no excuse for high low frequency noise or distortion.

Note that noise and distortion are enemy of lossy compression so performance can degrade more there at anything but highest bit rates.

Needless to say, I can't recommend the Zoom F6. I have another recorder to test and hopefully that does better.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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jae

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#2
Not surprised by these measurements at all. Zoom products are used a lot in the mobile recording industry and it seems to be a trend that some of the most highly regarded audio products definitely do not perform the best. I wonder how the H series (H6) measures, I would not imagine much better.

It seems like the RME is still king, and the Motu M2/M4 is the best value.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #4
@amirm The frequency response is impossible at 48KHz sampling. Are you sure it wasn't at the default 192KHz of the unit? It's still incredibly flat to 100KHz.
Yes, something is wrong there as this device won't even support sampling rates above 48 kHz. I am testing something else but will go back to this a bit later. Thanks for catching it.
 

PeteL

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#5
Not surprised by these measurements at all. Zoom products are used a lot in the mobile recording industry and it seems to be a trend that some of the most highly regarded audio products definitely do not perform the best. I wonder how the H series (H6) measures, I would not imagine much better.

It seems like the RME is still king, and the Motu M2/M4 is the best value.
None of these compagnies make field recorders tough, a quick search for products like that and the competition is sparse. Wondering what is the go to brand to capture sound in a remote environment for cinema, I've seen a lot of zoom recorders with integrated xy stereo mics and stuff, maybe in the end, this kind of fidelity is enough for these use cases but still. Nagra Perhaps? Tascam looks to be a player as well, but it is generally cheaper even.
 

garbulky

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#7
Hi thanks for doing this. I use a Tascam DR 70 D mk2. It's amazing in what it can do in terms of powering four phantom power microphones at the same time and the flexibility. For me the capability to power phantom power and see clipping levels at the same time was a must have. But I suspect that there are lower distortion solutions in the market and it would be nice to see what those are.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #8
I use a Tascam DR 70 D mk2.
the other one I have in is the Tascam DR-100 MKIII. Alas, it doesn't have USB capture so I am trying to figure out how to measure it.
 

Xyrium

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#9
Zoom makes some cool..feature packed stuff. However...it has always been more akin to Behringer to me in regards to studio gear that I've purchased, at least for my guitar rig.

Edit, btw captain...you sure have been busy with reviews this week! Thank you!
 

NDC

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#10
Could there be some configuration error or something wrong with this unit? From memory the configuration options are quite extensive - Gerald Undone did a good overview on using it in a videography context on YouTube and I remember there were some odd settings hidden in various menus.
 

dfuller

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#11
What are some real world applications for this? Recording music while camping?
Field recording, usually. These are very capable of running on battery power etc.

But yes, I agree with @Xyrium about their generally... how shall I say this... bad sound quality.
 

NDC

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#12
Wonder how the Sound Devices gear compares to this as that’s one of the main competitors for field recorders with 32bit float
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #13
Could there be some configuration error or something wrong with this unit? From memory the configuration options are quite extensive - Gerald Undone did a good overview on using it in a videography context on YouTube and I remember there were some odd settings hidden in various menus.
It is possible as I noted in the review. But I did go through the options for input settings and set them correctly. What setting would generate low frequency noise though?
 

Blumlein 88

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#14
These will do up to 192 khz recording in wav.

I almost purchased one last month and was going to have it sent to you.

What stopped me is reading the specs carefully, the specs listed by them match your results. The important points being the specs NOT LISTED.

Now I see why.

Maybe someone will let you have a Sound Device MixPre 3.

Can you do some testing to see how it handles clipping or not. That is the big benefit to this device when recording wav to 32 bit float. You more or less cannot clip it.

1598749964182.png
 

NDC

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#15
It is possible as I noted in the review. But I did go through the options for input settings and set them correctly. What setting would generate low frequency noise though?
Yeah, not sure on the low frequency noise! Thanks for measuring this one btw, it was on my shopping list of field recorders and isn’t necessarily as high up any more given the pretty poor performance.

I’m going to look into the Sound Devices MixPre II a bit more.
 

Tks

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#16
I've been so curious about ADC's for a little bit now.

RME still slays everyone it seems as the best all-in-one package. Though I wouldn't call it a field recorder. I get the sneaking suspicion that they're all like AVR's or something (where the entire industry of them are sub-par performers on paper). Unpublished performance metrics are almost certainly failures in disguise.

I wonder why more audio companies making mainstream devices destined for desktop use, dont consider ADC function. Every person using a PC for communication and their mother need ADCs.

It also kinda reminds me of the ordeal concerning headphones and IEMs. Audiophile companies simply don't make any with in-line mics. Instead we have to rely on mainstream companies to produce them.

Schiit has that Hell ADC/DAC/AMP device. I just don't get why more companies don't try and differentiate themselves by offering more functionality. DAC's are fine (if any company is reading this), give us DSP or ADC boxes (or will you all leave RME to reign in a category all on it's own, along with a few other handful of offerings?).

Oh but before you undertake this burden. Can we get some half decent screens with nice things like spectral analyzers please?

Ty whoever sent this in, and amir for reviewing it.
 

Blumlein 88

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#17
Are you sure you had it in 24 bit or 32 bit mode? It does have a 16 bit mode which would explain the seeming 16 bit performance.
 

dfuller

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#18
I've been so curious about ADC's for a little bit now.

RME still slays everyone it seems as the best all-in-one package. Though I wouldn't call it a field recorder. I get the sneaking suspicion that they're all like AVR's or something (where the entire industry of them are sub-par performers on paper). Unpublished performance metrics are almost certainly failures in disguise.

I wonder why more audio companies making mainstream devices destined for desktop use, dont consider ADC function. Every person using a PC for communication and their mother need ADCs.

It also kinda reminds me of the ordeal concerning headphones and IEMs. Audiophile companies simply don't make any with in-line mics. Instead we have to rely on mainstream companies to produce them.

Schiit has that Hell ADC/DAC/AMP device. I just don't get why more companies don't try and differentiate themselves by offering more functionality. DAC's are fine (if any company is reading this), give us DSP or ADC boxes (or will you all leave RME to reign in a category all on it's own, along with a few other handful of offerings?).

Oh but before you undertake this burden. Can we get some half decent screens with nice things like spectral analyzers please?

Ty whoever sent this in, and amir for reviewing it.
A combination ADC/DAC/Headphone amp is the realm of more "pro audio" devices, IME. And considering a Scarlett Solo is about $100 and (other than the headphone amp) performs pretty well, for consumers there's little point for anything better.
 

infinitesymphony

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#19
Quite a bit of Sound Devices gear is used in the field at national events. Not that far off from their field mixer series:

These are extremely rugged, sound great, have several options for redundant power support, several storage methods, and they support timecode. Also expensive. The pictured device is the 633 ($3,575).

Guessing Zoom are targeting that crowd. Of all the people I've known in broadcasting, I can't think of one who would overlook those terrible A/D results.
 
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#20
These will do up to 192 khz recording in wav.

I almost purchased one last month and was going to have it sent to you.

What stopped me is reading the specs carefully, the specs listed by them match your results. The important points being the specs NOT LISTED.

Now I see why.

Maybe someone will let you have a Sound Device MixPre 3.

Can you do some testing to see how it handles clipping or not. That is the big benefit to this device when recording wav to 32 bit float. You more or less cannot clip it.

View attachment 80532
Hi @amirm, I have a MixPre 3 II and I live near your general area. If you'd like to review this one, let me know!
 
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