ZOOM H3-VR an initial review
There is always something new to spend your money on. All this talk of ambisonics stirs in me the need to get “hands on” experience of it and somehow reminds me of the 1970's when wildlife recordists were considering what the next way forward was. Stereo, would you believe, was considered the next step, those little cassette tape recorders were becoming all the rage and combined with the now, ready available, condenser/electret microphones, the step into a new approach to wildlife recording was obvious.
Binaural has my take on the stereo way approach because of the “spaciousness and dynamism” of the sound, its reality. Problem was though, you had to wear headphones to appreciate the full effect. Headphones these days seem “de rigour” for many people of a certain generation, they always seem to walking around with headphones on or the equivalent in their ears.
Following on from this is the use of some device clamped around your head that makes the wearer completely blind and deaf to the real world, but lets you into an “unreal” one of virtual reality (VR). The image of lots of people all absorbed in their own “bubble world” is quite frightening as far as I am concerned, but there again, escapism of some sort, has always been a need for all of us, sometime or other.
Nevertheless the way of audio recording things to suit this/these “worlds” is fascinating and enthralling. Ambisonic recording is needed to provide the needs of VR, but it is also used for sound installations where multiple loudspeakers and video screens take the place of VR headsets. These installations have to use the higher orders of ambisonic recording, and can be spectacular to experience.
The Zoom H3-VR gives the ability to record first order ambisonics, enough for 5:1 surround sound, but you can also set the H3-VR to record binaurally or just plain stereo. It is simple to use package. Four microphones are positioned on top of a 78mm diameter based cone shaped recorder/computer, all of which stands only 123mm high, and weighs just 120 grams. Quite remarkable.
For detailed specifications see www.zoom-na.com
I bought one in November 2018 and as I write this at the end of December you will realise that its use has not been extensive, but it will be, because it is such fun to use, really fun to use. I have placed it among the rushes by the lake where the ducks were being fed. It just disappeared into the foliage. I have walked around the nature reserve I manage with it attached to a monopod held over my head, while I did a bit of a podcast as I walked along. The result was good, a podcasting friend who I sent it to had this to say about it:-
Roger, what struck me about the recording was that it was real, what I mean by that is that I found myself sitting with my eyes closed, listening to your voice amidst the ambience, and I was transported to the place. Even though I have no idea what the reserve looks like, I do now, the sonic picture in my head is quite clear.
-: that was nice to read. I have also positioned it in my garden pond, just a few millimetres above the water and left it for a couple of hours so as to get a recording of Starlings having a “splish splash” all around it. As I said before, great fun.
All the recordings so far have been recorded in Ambisonic A format, some at 24/96, the highest quality available with the H3-VR, and some at 44.1/16. The results were all good --- the mic pre amps live up to the quality found on the Zoom F8 which were much better than previous Zoom recorders. The linkage to the recorder/computer section works extremely well, the whole thing running off two AA batteries for up to 11 hours and all saved on a “thumbnail” micro SD Class 4 and above card whose capacity can be up to 512 GB. Mind you the cost of a 512 GB micro SD card is about £130.00, so a couple of those would nearly cost the same as the H3-VR which cost me £325.00.
I am using a SanDisk class 10 card of 64GB capacity that will give me approximately 15 hours of recording Ambisonic A at 24/96 and whose cost is around £13.00. A couple of these and my handy laptop for downloads should be easily enough for a week’s recording trip.
The machine feels robust, no “sticky out” bits or fragile flaps, one has to be careful with the microphone array, but that would be the same for all ambisonic microphones. There is plenty of mic gain without too much pre amp noise as indicated previously, it has an easy menu system with a clear screen. It also has a USB port for downloads and alternative powering, if needed. There is a ¼ inch tripod socket in its base and it comes with a foam windshield and a good bracket for use with a camera. If you have an Apple device using iOS 10 and above you can buy a remote control device that will work for up to 10 metres. The only other extra is a fluffy “dead rat” windshield that fits over the foam one and that’s your lot.
Zoom also offer some free basic player software which lets you play with the ambisonics, converting the Ambisonic A format to other types such as Ambisonic B (FuMa/Ambix) and also to 5:1 surround, binaural and plain stereo. It works very straightforwardly. This gives me the ability to listen in 5:1 surround seated in a comfy chair that is positioned I my own “sweet spot”, or binaurally through my favourite headphones or even in straightforward stereo.
To conclude, I consider it a wonderful device, it’s easy to use, it’s very discreet when placed in the wild, it records at a decent quality and keeps going for a long time on just two AA batteries. What more can anybody ask. Above all though, it’s so much fun to use and I keep on thinking of so many different ways of using it.
RCB December 2018