If you are looking for a handheld audio/video recorder, and audio performance is a priority, the Zoom Q8 may be your best bet. This little unit, with its seemingly endless options for making high-quality audio recordings, is unmatched by its competition. Simple to set up and operate, it's great for documenting recording sessions, live performances, and rehearsals — to name a few scenarios — and you will have the added benefit of a visual reference to boot!
The versatility of the Q8 starts with its interchangeable mic modules. Included with the recorder is the Zoom XYQ-8 module, which features two cardioid-pattern, electret-condenser capsules pointed at a relatively wide 120° for X/Y stereo recording. You can purchase other modules for the Q8, including various stereo, mid-side, and shotgun mics — all of which are cross-compatible with the Zoom H5, H6, F4, and F8 recorders and U-44 interface. Optional extension cables even let you position the mic modules away from the recorder.
In addition to the modular mics, the Q8 also has two onboard XLR/TRS combo jacks for mic, line, or instrument–level signals. Phantom power (+12, +24, or +48 V selectable) and a -20 dB pad are available for these two inputs. With both the modular mics and the combo inputs enabled, a total of four tracks of audio can be simultaneously recorded at various bitrates up to 24-bit, 48 kHz, or even up to 96 kHz if recording a single stereo file. Auto-gain, compressor/limiter, and high-pass filter functions (all implemented digitally) can be applied while recording.
For video, the Q8 has a fixed-focus, 160° wide-angle lens; and it supports a number of resolutions at 30 and 60 fps, maxing out at "3M HD" mode (2304 x 1296 pixels, 30 fps). A swing-out LCD panel acts as the camera viewfinder, playback monitor, and touchscreen interface.
Audio and video files are recorded onto a user-supplied SD/SDHC/SDXC card, and you can choose to either embed AAC-format audio directly into the MOV video file, or record separate WAV audio files. If you go with separate WAV, you can further decide whether to mix the mic and combo inputs together for a single stereo file, or to write a stereo file for the mic inputs, and stereo or dual-mono files for the combo inputs.
Additionally, the Q8 is USB class-compliant, so it can operate as a USB 1.1 Full Speed audio interface for macOS, Windows, and iOS devices. The Q8 is also recognized as a USB 2.0 Mass Storage device, so file transfers are a breeze. Moreover, Zoom offers a webcam driver for macOS and Windows that turns the Q8 into a live-streaming webcam or a USB mic with direct no-latency monitoring. HandyShare video-editing software is also available as a free download from the Zoom website.
While producing a demonstration video of Afro-Cuban rhythms, I achieved excellent results when I connected a pair of Audio-Technica PRO 37 condensers [Tape Op #47] to the Q8's combo jacks and positioned the A-T mics on the congas, while the XYQ-8 stereo module captured the room sound. I set my record levels using the dedicated gain knobs (one on the mic module and two next to the record-enable buttons on the Q8 itself), while watching the high-resolution meters on the LCD. Wearing headphones, I set monitor levels using the touchscreen mixer. (The virtual controls on the touchscreen are tiny, so those with large fingers might do better with a capacitive stylus. However, the gain knobs and other physical controls are a bit more manageable.) With the proper camera angle, the action of the conguero's hands was clearly visible in the video, and I was very satisfied with the high quality of the recorded audio. Afterward, I uploaded the files to my DAW to add a bit of reverb and fine tune the mix.
The Q8 is a great tool for the studio. For example, a stereo mix from a console or DAW can be fed into the Q8, while its camera is focused on a musician or ensemble during a recording session. Not only would this be useful for documenting the session, but it would also be an effortless way to generate content for social media and online press kits. Likewise, during an on-stage performance, you could feed a stereo FOH mix into the combo jacks, use your choice of mic modules as room mics, and then later, when you're back in the studio, mix accordingly.
Despite the Q8's ability to shoot in HD, video performance is its weakest link. The recorded picture can look "squiggly" due to image compression artifacts, even after fiddling with the various settings for recording mode and lighting (Auto, Outdoor, Sunset, Night, Concert Lighting, Jazz Club, etc.). As such, this camera isn't suitable for broadcast-quality productions, but it will still provide a very good document for reference purposes; and it's certainly good enough for social-media posts. I know one pro audio engineer that told me he is so pleased with the audio quality of the Q8, that he would gladly pay more for a similar product with much better picture quality. I could not get any confirmation from Zoom if there is a better camera or image processor in the works, so we'll have to keep our fingers crossed.
One last note on the video — some may not care for the fisheye effect of the Q8's wide-angle lens, but it does allow you to capture everyone in a room even if they're spread apart, or a full stage of musicians without having to be too far back. If you prefer a smaller field of view for certain situations, the camera does offer five levels of digital zoom. When zoomed, the fisheye effect is less noticeable.
I did all of my recording with the Q8 mounted on a camera tripod or a mic stand, and the stock XYQ-8 stereo mic module worked very well for me. The tripod was troublesome to use in tight spaces, but a fellow engineer recommended the On-Stage Stands CM01 ball-head adapter. I threaded the CM01 onto a round-base mic stand to hold the Q8, and I found this to be a great solution. Other options are the Zoom MA-2 and MSM-1. The former looks like a handheld vocal mic with a camera mount in place of the capsule; if you thread this onto the Q8, you can slip the Q8 into a standard mic clip. The latter is a pole clamp that allows you to attach the Q8 to a mic stand, pipe, railing, etc.
Zoom doesn't offer an official accessory pack for the Q8, as it does with its other handhelds, so I had to put one together myself. For $20, the semi-rigid, zip-up SCQ-8 case can hold the Q8 and everything that comes with the recorder, including the XYQ-8 mic module, lens hood, USB cable, foam windscreen, and GoPro-compatible mount. You get one BT-03 Li-ion rechargeable battery with the Q8, but you can purchase more for $25 each. If you do, the $40 LBC-1 external battery charger is handy for charging a second battery so it's ready to go, without waiting for the battery to charge while it's inside the Q8. Both the Q8 and the LBC-1 are powered by mini USB, and Zoom recommends the $19 AD-17 USB power supply. I recently saw a "Q8 Starter Package" offered by Sweetwater <www.sweetwater.com> that includes the Q8, SCQ-8, and AD-17, as well as an On-Stage CM01 adapter, and a SanDisk Ultra 32 GB Class 10/UHS-I SDHC card — all for $70 above the price of the camera alone.
Overall, the Q8 can be applied to a myriad of applications, making it a great tool for musicians, recording engineers, podcasters — or anyone that needs high-quality sound with a video recording. I highly recommend this product if you're interested in documenting a performance — in studio, on stage, or at your desk. With the Q8, your video reference will be supported with fantastic audio quality. I'm very satisfied with my purchase of the Zoom Q8.