The new Zoom H6 Handy Recorder jams a lot of technology and features into a surprisingly compact device, and it sounds great. The H6 was designed for musicians, sound professionals, journalists, and videographers, but I'm sure there's a smattering of audiophiles who would really enjoy using this thing. I spent a few days recording street musicians performing in various parks around NYC, and one feature immediately stood out, the interchangeable microphone modules that plug into the top of the recorder. The H6 carries a retail price of $399, and that price includes two mic modules, X-Y, and MS (mid-side). A "shotgun" mic module is available for $130; the Accessory Pack with a windscreen, AC adapter, and remote control runs $60.
You can also record from external mics or other sources such as keyboards from the H6's four XLR/TRS inputs, or mount the H6 on a DSLR camera. Four AA batteries power the recorder or it can use AC power. Without a mic module attached, the H6 measures a trim 3x6x1.9 inches, the mics add another couple of inches to the length. The recorder weighs less than 10 ounces. A hard plastic carrying case with separate compartments for the H6 and two mic modules is included.
The H6 records WAV files from CD-quality 44.1kHz/16-bit to high-resolution 96kHz/24-bit, or MP3s ranging from 48 to 320kb/s on SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards up to 128GB. Menu navigation and setup procedures are pretty intuitive. I experimented with the MS mic's pickup patterns, from super-wide to almost mono in Central Park while recording an all-percussion group. I also recorded jazz bands with horns, a Chinese opera singer, and a guy playing Beatles songs on acoustic guitar.
I could focus the mic's directivity straight ahead on just the instruments, or change the settings to include the reactions of the crowd sounds from all around me. In other words, the MS mic is fine-tunable, so you can include or exclude the surrounding ambient sounds. That's very cool. The X-Y module produces regular stereo. The optional shotgun mic can be used to pinpoint sounds within a noisy environment.
The H6 is extremely versatile, and it has an assortment of bass filters, and dynamic-range compression or peak-limiting modes to prevent overloading the recorder with sudden, loud sounds. The quality of the sound for on-location live recordings will vary, but I was able to get really good results with the H6. One nitpick: the headphone amplifier's maximum output level couldn't get loud enough in very noisy situations.
All in all, the Zoom H6 is an awesome little recorder, but if you're looking for something that sounds good for a lot less money, check out the $99 Zoom H1.