The inexpensive Zoom H2 Handy Recorder makes quality
WAV or MP3 recordings on removable SD media. It's loaded with features, comes with many useful accessories, and is easy to interface with a computer. The H2 reminds me of most cell phones that I've owned; it has tons of features I'll never use, an awkward user interface, and feels cheaper than it looks, but it's a miracle of technology that does something incredibly useful.
The H2 endeared itself to me almost immediately; I was able to record a low-noise stereo WAV file and load it onto my Mac via USB cable in minutes without cracking the manual. This alone makes the H2 worth its weight in gold to anyone who has ever fiddled with a MiniDisc recorder. I would love to see USB power and a more accessible USB mode, but the ease of use and relatively high-quality result makes the H2 Handy Recorder live up to its name. For power users, the H2 can also make 2 and 4-channel Surround Sound recordings at different resolutions; can power a 2.4 volt external mic; can double as a USB audio interface, storage device, or audio file player; has many file editing functions; has useful auto-record and pre-record functions; has a compressor/limiter; and even a metronome and tuner. It also comes with lots of useful accessories, like a mic clip, tabletop stand, USB and audio cables, earbud headphones, windscreen, carrying pouch, and a 512 MB SD card.
Unfortunately, the H2 has that familiar cheap plastic feel. I would guess it would break if dropped, but its build quality is not out of line with similarly priced audio hardware. The H2's user interface is also less than inspiring, as the H2 employs its horizontal FF and RW buttons to scroll vertically through menus. This would be acceptable if buttons were scarce, but apparently they aren't. There are two dedicated buttons used to select all of the H2's four mic patterns-buttons that some users may use once per session at best. My guess is that these buttons are Zoom's attempt to foreground the H2's unique mic pattern and Surround Sound capabilities; I would rather see dedicated menu controls for quick menu access, making all of the H2's functions more accessible. A dedicated rocker or scroll wheel on the side would do the trick, as the vinyl covered "buttons" are finicky and give little tactile feedback. An oversight shared by similar products is the absence of a monitor speaker, in my opinion, and the single reason I still carry my battered Sony cassette recorder to every rehearsal. The last thing I want to do is tangle with audio cables or headphones when I'm strapped to a guitar, and a tiny monitor speaker would make the Handy Recorder infinitely handier to musicians.
If not ideal for musicians, the H2's versatile mic patterns and Surround Sound capabilities will certainly find favor among interviewers as well as field and concert-recording enthusiasts. And despite its interface shortcomings, I found the H2 very useful for its basic functionality, and its scores of additional features make it a great value. ($334.99 MSRP, www.samsontech.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.