Zoom H5 vs H6 – Which one is better to choose?

Zoom is a Japanese company known for relatively affordable yet high-quality guitar effects processors, vocal processors, and recording and mixing devices. In this article, we'll take a look at both the Zoom H5 and the Zoom H6. Both are compact, portable field recorders.

Zoom released the H6 in 2013, and a year later, the H5 was released as a follow-up. While newer models are typically packed with more features, the H5 was intended to be a stripped-down, affordable version. We'll look at the Zoom H5 vs H6 and help you decide which one may be right for you.

Introducing the Products

Zoom H5

The Zoom H5 is a small portable recorder that can be used for field recordings, podcasts, music, and more. It has a battery life of about 15 hours, which makes it suitable for most uses. While it can be battery-powered for field use, it also can be powered by AC or by USB. The USB connection also lets you use it as an audio interface for home recording into your DAW of choice. The H5 can record in 24-bit/96 kHz quality, putting it on par with many professional interfaces.

The H5 comes with two built-in, shockmounted X/Y mics, but you also can connect up to two external mics. This lets you record up to four tracks at a time. The input jacks are combination XLR TRS inputs, which let you connect either a 1/4" TRS cable or an XLR mic cable. The H5 is equipped with phantom power for use with external condenser microphones. On-board effects and an easy-to-navigate LCD screen make it a relatively intuitive device to understand.

Pros & Cons of Zoom H5

Pros

  • Versatile build can be used for field recording or as an audio interface for home recording
  • Mic connectivity options let you record up to four tracks simultaneously
  • Onboard effects add value and let you process audio using only the H5
  • This is an affordable, easy to navigate recorder

Cons

  • Compared to the H6, the H5 has a shorter battery life
  • The H5 only lets you record up to 32 GB on an SD/SDHC card

Zoom H6

The H6 expands upon the already-impressive functionality of the H5. You get the same shockmounted X/Y mics as you get with the H5, but the H6 includes four XLR TRS inputs, meaning you can record up to six tracks at once, and it also is equipped with phantom power. The H6 has a modular build that also lets you use included mid-side mics. While the H5 only has one output for use as a line out or headphone jack, the H6 has two.

The H6 can also be used as an audio interface for home recording, and like the H5, it also comes with effects. With either one, you get a metronome, chromatic tuner, high pass filter, compressor, and a limiter, and a looper mode. Like the H5, the H6 also can record audio up to 24-bit/96 kHz for pristine sound quality.

Pros & Cons of Zoom H6

Pros

  • You can record up to six tracks at once, making it ideal for those who need to record several mics at once
  • Unlike the H5, the H6 comes with a copy of Steinberg's Cubase LE DAW software
  • The H6's modular mic system lets you choose from X/Y or mid-side mics
  • The H6 lets you record up to 128 GB on an SD/SDHC/SDXC card

Cons

  • The H6 is bulkier than the H5, which may not be ideal for those who want a smaller, easier to handle option
  • It comes with fewer onboard effects, which may not be ideal for those looking for an all-in-one processing solution

Features Face to Face

In this section, we'll give you a head-to-head feature comparison of the Zoom H5 vs H6.

Inputs

Both recorders come with shockmounted X/Y mics, but only the H6 includes mid-side mics. The H5 includes two XLR TRS inputs, with the H6 offering four. Both recorders have a separate gain knob for each input, letting you dial in your desired sound before you start recording. It's also important to note that the X/Y mics on the H6 are movable, letting you adjust the stereo image. The mics on the Zoom H5 are fixed, so you don't have the same ability to adjust.

The Winner: Given the fact that the H6 offers more diverse microphone options and two more input jacks for external mics, we think it wins this round.

Outputs

The H5 includes one 1/8" output for use as a line out or a headphone jack. The H6 includes two of these, so you can line out and monitor via headphones at the same time.

The Winner: Because the H6 has multiple outputs, we think it wins this round, too.

Effects

Many recording devices and digital audio interfaces don't include any kind of effects at all, so the fact that you can apply effects to polish tracks before the final mix is impressive in itself. Both the H5 and the H6 include the following effects:

  • Metronome
  • Chromatic tuner
  • Highpass filter
  • Compressor
  • Limiter
  • Looper mode

The Winner: Since both recorders have the same effects, we think this round is a tie.

Battery Life

Both of these recorders can be used for fairly extensive recordings when run on battery power alone. However, the H6 has a longer battery life--this recorder can run for up to 21 hours with fresh batteries. The H5 can run up to 15 hours. While this is still impressive, it's still significantly shorter than the battery life of the H6.

The Winner: We think the Zoom H6 wins this one thanks to its longer battery life. If you plan to power your recorder via AC or USB, battery life may not be an issue.

Display

Both recorder options have an LCD display, but there are some important differences between the two. The H5 has a backlit LCD display, while the Zoom H6 has a larger, full-color display. This display is also mounted at an angle, making it easier to read as you record. The display on the Zoom H6 also offers more information than the screen on the Zoom H5. More information is often a good thing, but if you're new to recording or becomes easily overwhelmed, the simpler H5 display may be enough.

The Winner: We think that Zoom H6 has the better display, especially if you're an audio enthusiast who wants access to as much information as possible.

Sound Quality

Zoom devices almost always offer impressive sound quality for the price, and these two recorder options are no exception. However, some users have noted that recordings made with the Zoom H5 tend to have less of a powerful low end. Higher frequencies tend to be ell-defined, but the reduced midrange and low frequencies mean that some recordings may sound tinny or artificial. This is something you can remedy somewhat with a good EQ, but it does seem to be a persistent issue for many.

With the Zoom H6, you get more balanced recordings overall. The Zoom H6 recorder helps more accurately record the sound that you hear with your own ears as you record.

The Winner: We think that the more natural-sounding recordings of the Zoom H6 make it the winner of this round.

Standout Features

As we mentioned, both the H5 and the H6 have fairly similar features with some key differences. Here are some of the major differences::

  • Hold Settings -- The H6 includes this valuable feature, which doesn't come with the H5. Using this setting prevents you from changing settings if you accidentally tap any buttons while recording.
  • Mid-side mics -- The modular format of the H6 lets you use these or X/Y mics. On the H5, the X/Y mics are fixed.
  • Handling -- This may not be the most important feature when purchasing a recorder. However, the thinner and lighter Zoom H5 is much less bulky and easy to handle. Given the features that it has, it's remarkable that Zoom was able to make the H5 as small as it is.

Final Thoughts: Should You Choose the Zoom H5 or H6?

Choose the H5 If...

  • You don't need to record more than four tracks at once (and won't need more than two inputs for your outboard mics)
  • You don't need multiple outputs
  • You need a recorder that comes in a very small, portable package
  • You don't need or want to adjust the stereo image of your X/Y mics

Choose the H6 If...

  • You need to record long sessions and need more battery life and storage space
  • You want more options when it comes to your onboard microphones
  • You want to be able to record up to six tracks at once and will use the additional inputs
  • You have a little more to spend on a field recorder
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