Zoom F8 MultiTrack Field Recorder Review

Zoom F8 MultiTrack Field Recorder

The Zoom F8 provides users with stunning audio quality with a load of features, in a very small and relatively affordable package.

Zoom, the Japan-based audio recording company widely known for their handheld recorders, has unleashed their new F8 MultiTrack Field Recorder. The F8 is far more robust and versatile than any of their handheld recorders. Being designed in Japan, you would expect no less than premium design and build quality, and that’s what you get in this device. The Zoom F8 was produced for serious filmmakers and sound designers, and has all the bells and whistles that are essential for a professional audio device.  From the finest mic preamps and a plethora of inputs, to built in limiters and high pass filters, redundancy, and even time code, the F8 stands up to its much larger and much more expensive predecessors in the audio world.

Build and Features

Aside from how compact and well-constructed the F8 is, the first aspect you’ll notice is the number of inputs — 8 in total with the capability of 10-track recording.  There are 8 locking XLR / TRS combo input channels, which feature Zoom’s finest mic preamps, which have an extremely low noise floor (-127dB) and high gain (up to 75dB) with +4 dB line inputs. We were blown away with how good the mic preamps sounded — arguably one of the nicest features of the F8.

We also noted, there is more dynamic range than on lower-end recording devices. The specs indicate 120dB A/D dynamic range, which when we checked in post, seemed to be the case. The F8 records at an impressive 24-bit / 192 kHz resolution and is outfitted with onboard limiters, both input and output, offering 10dB of headroom and settings for release, attack and threshold.  You can choose to record in either WAV format at 16 or 24-bit resolution at any standard sample rate up to 192 kHz, or 128, 192, or 320 kbps when recording in MP3 format. The available phantom power can be turned on or off for each input individually.

The F8 records at an impressive 24-bit / 192 kHz resolution and is outfitted with onboard limiters, both input and output, offering 10dB of headroom and settings for release, attack and threshold.

Another input the F8 features is timecode. Until now, timecode has not been offered on recorders in this price range. The F8 has BNC input and output plugs so it can be easily synced to another timecode generator or camera. Zoom made the F8’s timecode top notch. It uses a Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TCXO), which keeps time to within half a frame over 24 hours — which is plenty good for most professional circumstances.

Monitoring and Controls

A welcome differentiation from past Zoom recorders is the 2.4 inch full-color backlit LCD screen. This screen is crystal clear. Did we mention it’s color? In daylight, the screen is still very readable in both color and monocrhome. The screen shows everything from the menu to peak meters and faders as well as main output and sub output settings. The peak meters are very nice, with enough segments to make them really useful. With the display, you can choose to monitor all eight channels: the left and right plus the main output and sub output levels, or the fader and pan controls.

Speaking of faders, the fact that the faders are found on the display is somewhat a drawback as most professionals would rather have physical faders on their audio recorder versus virtual faders. Currently, there is no option to re-assign the gain pots —  which themselves are a bit on the small side — to be faders. We hope to see  Zoom address this in a firmware update.

The virtual faders were still easily manageable thanks to the upgrade in ergonomics. Previous Zoom recorders used that jog wheel on the side, making it troublesome to menu dive. The F8 however, has a metallic control dial that you turn to navigate and push to select. The dial itself is very tight and made menu-diving a breeze. The menu itself was rather intuitive, yet very deep, and could be intimidating if you’re not ready for it. It didn’t take too long to get used to finding all the settings, and we were impressed with all the available options.

The F8  features trend-setting wireless Bluetooth control. The available app for iOS allows control of the F8 from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch using Bluetooth technology. The app worked just fine on an iPhone, but would be even better on an iPad with all the extra screen available. The only issue we found with using an iPhone is the screen re-orients certain menus from portrait to landscape, or vice versa, to try and fit all the controls. You’re able to control almost everything via the app except for changing recording formats and timecode.

In the Field

For our testing, we used a Sennheiser G3 ME2 — an industry standard wireless microphone. We had the channel fader and gain set so the average signal was hitting around -18dB and peaking up to -12dB. As we already mentioned, the preamps are amazing, and when we put them to the test, they truly shined bright with a very good signal to noise ratio. We set the input and output limiters so our audio would not suffer any overloading.

We monitored the audio while recording via the 1/4-inch jack, but we felt as if the F8’s headphone preamp added significant coloration to the sound. In the field, we weren’t quite sure if the preamps were performing poorly, but when we got back into post we were able to pin-point that the headphone amp was indeed causing the coloration.

All things considered, the F8 performed quite well. The mic pres sound excellent in combination with useful high-pass filters and limiters and the overall functionality of the F8.

Reliable Recording

Another aspect we’d like to touch on is redundancy. The F8 can record to two SD cards simultaneously. The dual-channel recording option lets you record safety tracks. In case your main channel was overloading for whatever reason, you can have a backup track recording at a lower level, ensuring that you will walk away from a shoot with useable audio.

Yet another redundancy feature is a pre-record mode which allows users to capture 6 seconds of audio before you hit the record button. What’s more, the F8 also saves your files periodically while recording — just another level of protection in case of power loss, file interruption, or removal of an SD card.

Speaking of power, the F8 has three possible power sources: 8 AA batteries (either Alkaline, MiMH, or Lithium), 12 volt AC adapter, or a 4-pin hirose connector allowing the use of professional grade batteries such as an Anton Bauer.  

Final Thoughts

The Zoom F8 offers stunning audio quality with a load of features, in a very small and relatively affordable package. It introduces some new to market features, and breaks all kinds of barriers previously held by much larger and more expensive professional recorders. The F8 gets a thumbs up for its excellent sounding mic preamps, eight inputs, redundancy and overall functionality.         

Strengths:

  • 8 inputs
  • Excellent Preamps
  • LCD Color Screen
  • Redundancy

Weaknesses:  

  • No physical faders
  • Coloration from Headphone amp
  • Small Potentiometers


Tech Specs:

Input Channels:  8
Types of Inputs:  8 XLR/TRS combo jacks, and 1 Mic in connector for a Zoom capsule mic.
Mono Inputs:  1-8
Stereo Inputs:  Optional stereo pairing 4 total channels.  Inputs 1/2 become stereo channel 1, inputs 3/4 become channel 2 and so on.
Phantom Power:  +24 / +48V 10 mA maximum for each channel 
Types of Outputs:  TA3 connectors, balanced output (2: hot), 3.5mm stereo mini unbalanced output jack, ¼” unbalanced stereo output jack 
Stereo Output: 
Meter Type:  Peak Meter, Peak + VU, VU only
Microphone Gain Range:  XLR: +10 - +75 dB. 
Line Gain Range:  TRS: -10 - +55 dB
Overload Indicator:  EQ
EQ Bands:  Yes
Cue:  No
Fader Type:  Virtual faders
Auxiliary Sends Returns:  Yes
Battery Operation:  8 AA, Anton Bauer, NP-style
Dimensions:  7 in (W) x 5.5 in (D) x 2.1 in (H)
Weight:  2.1 Lbs.
Carry Case:  Optional at additional cost

Devin is a freelance producer and director who has produced hundreds of television advertisements and marketing campaigns for local and top television markets.

Issue: 

Devin
Hujdic
Wed, 01/06/2016 - 2:39pm

Comments

Limiters ...

For some daft reason, Zoom has placed the limiters *after* the analog-to-digital conversion, making them useless.