Pipehacker Tools: The Zoom Handy H2 Digital Recorder

On the March 17 episode of Bagpipe Nation we covered the benefits of making recordings of your bagpiping as a learning tool. On last night’s episode we spoke with Jack Lee who says he has had the tape recorder running for the last thirty years (with the bulk up on his site Lee & Sons Bagpipes) and has considered recording himself essential in his long and successful career. But where do you start? These days there are plenty of portable digital options for recording on the fly. Many though are designed for conventional instruments or voice and Highland bagpipes are not typically factored in to the inner workings of these devices. It can be tough to find a recorder that gives you a decent result for bagpipes but the Zoom H2 Handy Portable Stereo Recorder delivers everything a portable digital recorder should, plus it does a great job recording bagpipes. The Zoom H2 has been around for a bit, but it is an inexpensive, high quality device that is a breeze to work with and should keep all piping junkies satisfied.

Working with the Zoom H2 is no harder than working with your typical digital camera. The device is designed like a old boom mic and is about the size of your pocket camera. Recordings are written to an SD memory card (4 GB max). If you’re computer savvy, marking your field recordings in between performers or bands and dumping them into an audio editing program on computer to work with later is a snap. The H2 was designed as a tool for live music and the working musician, and here is where it shines for the eager piper, drummer, or bandsman. A two-directional mic provides the option for sound input from all directions. The standard threaded hole made for the H2’s stand also allows the insertion of a standard mic handle so the device can be placed on a mic stand. That, or the hole will allow the device to be secured to a standard camera tripod which can then be placed right in the center of your band circle or in your practice room.

The features in the H2 can accommodate just about any recording situation. The features are almost too numerous to be used at one time and leave quite a bit for future discovery and experimentation. One feature of interest to the piper is the automatic level adjustment. Can’t get a clean recording of your piping because of the room? Recording levels can be adjusted and normalized on the device for advance clean up. Getting good recordings your own practice sessions suddenly got a whole lot easier.

The H2 is also the ideal tool for your lessons or your next workshop. The features in the H2 can fine tune just about any recording session in just about any environment. The varied volumes of voice and practice chanter for example are adjusted automatically. For the playing piper or drummer, recording your practice sessions usually means a good amount of clean up for reverb and echo—not to mention just plain distortion. The H2 attenuates the recording with automatic gain adjustment. Unpredictable volume levels that plague indoor piping recordings are compressed and limited to optimize consistent recording volume. The end result is a smooth reproduction of your bedroom practice session or indoor piping competition with good balance and professional quality.

The Zoom H2 records into .wav format, which is easily converted these days in just about any piece of decent audio editing software. The H2, however, allows for .mp3 conversion on the fly via quick menu options, although this feature is a bit slow and best done off the device. If I had to come up with any downsides, I would say that it chews through the two AA batteries rather quick. Keep extras handy when out and about or use some rechargeables.

If you’ve ever wanted to experiment with audio editing software for your personal use, or if you are a seasoned software jockey who needs more convenience and better results, then the H2 is the perfect gizmo. Small enough to toss into a pipe case or sporran, and powerful enough to give you instant gratification, the Zoom Handy H2 Recorder should become as essential a piece of gear as your sticks or chanter.

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