In the last 18 months Zoom and Tascam have released new versions of their popular Zoom H1 and Tascam DR-05 digital recorders. The Zoom H1n was released in early 2018, and the Tascam DR-05x became available in early 2019. In this post we are going to compare the Zoom H1n to the Tascam DR-05x.

Zoom H1n vs Tascam DR-05x
From Left: Tascam DR-05x and Zoom H1n

Now, I’m usually hesitant about these kinds of comparisons. That’s because when it comes to voice recorders, it’s very hard to find two recorders that are similar. Yes, you can find different versions of recorders that are alike, but they’re usually from the same manufacture – who are doing some hokey pokey price differentiation. A few examples, Sony BX140 and Sony PX240, Olympus WS-852 and Olympus WS-853 and so forth. And buying the higher priced model gives you additional features.

So most voice recorders have very little in common, for instance the Sony ux560  and the Zoom H1n –the 2 models I get asked to compare a lot, and you’d compare dissimilar items; not like for like. But the Zoom H1n and the Tascam DR-05x are interesting in a number of ways. 1) Their marketing departments position them as direct competitors. They have a similar price point; I got DR-05x for $119, and the H1n for $119.99: a 99cents difference. And in their marketing brochures, the DR-05x wants to be the H1n; “the standard…handheld recorder.”  Whilst the Zoom H1n is sold as the “creators” “take-anywhere recorder.”

Both are marketed as what they aspire to be, but are not. I’d argue that the Tascam DR-05x is the true entry level “creators” digital recorder. Not the Zoom H1n. And the Zoom is the “standard” “stereo handheld digital audio recorder,” not the DR-05x. I’m going to explain why below, but I want to first point out the main point of this post.

When you are looking to buy a digital recorder, you should begin with thinking about how you plan to use the recorder; function is king! Don’t start looking at brands and models of digital recorders before you have a clear idea of what’s your main use scenario. Or the marketing and the hype is going to lead you astray.  

And that’s the main reason I’m penning this post, to try and illustrate how the strengths and weaknesses of the Zoom H1n and Tascam DR-05x counter the marketing hype: you want to use Zoom H1n as a hand held recorder and the Tascam DR-05x as a “creators” recorder; packed with lots of features. Now, for each recorder I’m going to share with you the one thing (just one) I hate and love. For a deeper look into each recorder, I have penned a detailed review of the Zoom H1n and Tascam DR-05x.

Zoom H1n

The Bad

When I first got the Zoom H1n, I was impressed with the ability to easily change the gain input – via the input volume dial aka the knob, but I didn’t realize this meant that it was also very easy to inadvertently change the volume input. And the volume dial is NOT locked by the Hold button. I learnt this the hard way when I accidentally changed the gain setting whilst moving the Zoom H1n. And using auto levels is not an option; too much background noise.

My wish is that Zoom can fix this, either with a lock on the knob or enabling the hold button to lock the knob (via a firmware update?). Current workaround whilst I’m using the Zoom H1n is to use a foam windscreen (come with the accessory pack) that covers the knob, so that it’s not easily accessible. And I always have to pay attention to not touch the knob after I’ve monitored my recording levels. But if you do plan to use the Zoom H1n with an external lav mic (probably the most common use scenario for the older H1), be aware there is a distinct possibility that that knob will move when you place it in a shirt pocket. So, tape it!

The Good

Holding the Zoom H1n

What I really love about the Zoom H1n is the design. This is a digital recorder that is built like a microphone. It fits perfectly into my hand. And I don’t currently own another recorder that is as good as being a handheld microphone. It just feels very comfortable in your hand. And for that reason, and the X-Y stereo configuration (good for recording at proximity and less phase issues), I consider the Zoom H1n to be the best handheld digital voice recorder.

If you plan to conduct interviews where you’ll need to hold up a digital recorder to your subject (in the field, on the go), then this is the recorder you should get.  And that’s how I use it. But it’s also a great recorder when used as a USB microphone. So podcasting, Skype, screencasts, that’s what this microphone is good at.

Now, you do need to also buy the accessories pack to get the table stand (also comes with a windscreen, cable, and AC charger), but it’s definitely worth it if you plan to use this recorder as a desktop mic that connects to your computer or as a handheld recorder.

Tascam DR-05x

The Bad

I was really excited when the new Tascam DR-05x was released. I owned the older version Tascam DR-05, but I ended up getting rid of it, and getting the H1n, because it had one big issue: radio interference. My hope, Tascam would fix this well documented issue in the x-series. They didn’t!

I still can’t fathom why. BTW, this is a known issue with DR-05, 07 and 40 models. Keep in mind, the radio in Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), does not simply refer to FM, AM – old school radio. In fact, radio waves are used in all forms of telecommunication. So, WiFi, 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, Bluetooth, microwaves etc, are all radio waves. I can only foresee our recording locations getting more saturated with radio waves as more devices get connected. For instance, my camera now comes with WiFi and Bluetooth connection. 

Why does this mean for recording audio using Tascam DR-05x? It’s not going to get easier. And you are going to need to have more control of your recording environment. For instance, if you plan to use the Tascam DR-05x in a location where people are going to be using their phones, you are likely to get RFI in your recording. Truth be told, I’ve only had issues with RFI when place the Tascam DR-05x 3 feet or closer to my phone, router, laptop. My guess is I get RFI in my recordings when I’m further away from these devices, I just can’t hear it.

And I’ve seen suggestions that’s it’s an internal microphone issue (so use an external mic). It’s not. You also get RFI when using an external lav microphone. My guess is this is an issue with the internal circuits of these recorders, (maybe those separate “digital and analog circuit boards to manage noise performance”?). Regardless, this is a major issue with Tascam DR-05x recorder.

The Good

The good thing about the Tascam Dr-05x is its sheer number of features. These features make it a very powerful and versatile digital recorder. By that I mean, there’s a lot of things you can do with this recorder. I have highlighted the features that I like in my review of the Tascam Dr-05x. So I’ll just list them here: mono recording, overwrite function, microSDXC support, start a new file on the fly, overdub and monitor mix (which I’ve not used), self-timer, chromatic tuner, maximum file feature and even more features.

And that’s what makes this a great recorder for “creators.” People who want to record music and video. You have the auto tone function and ¼ inch screw hole for synching and attaching it to a DSLR. You have wide stereo, high fidelity microphones that are great for recording musical instruments. In these scenarios, you have a good control of your recording environment – you can easily ask your band members to switch off their phones or place them away from the recorder.

In conclusion

Irrespective of their similarities, the Zoom H1n and the Tascam DR-05x are great for different use scenarios. And not easily interchangeable. The Zoom H1n is a great handheld recorder, fits very well into your hand, the Tascam DR-05x does not – it’s bulky.  The Tascam DR-05x comes with a lot of features that entry level music and video creator will find useful. Here are Amazon links to the Tascam DR-05x and the Zoom H1n.

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