Review: Zoom F2-BT
A self-contained 32-bit lav mic recorder.
Zoom refer to the F2 as a ‘field recorder’, but I think how you name and frame a device is important. Yes, I can use the F2 outside, and I could wear it while riding a horse or for recording sounds, but I think it could be better classified as a ‘self-contained lav mic recorder’. This might seem picky, but to me it’s clear that the F2’s strength is in capturing voice recordings essentially anywhere and anytime.
Another point of nomenclature worth noting: the F2 has a Bluetooth-enabled version called the F2-BT, which is the model I have for review.
Like other contemporary Zoom recorders, the F2 uses 32-bit recording. Thanks to the extended dynamic range afforded by the greater bit depth, I can get on with the business of recording dialogue and never care about the input peaking. If I am conducting a quiet interview or I am yelling while riding that horse, then the device will capture it all with virtually endless dynamic range — in fact, the F2 doesn’t even have a gain pot.
For recording your own voice the device is simple and easy to operate, but when used for an interview or using a pair of F2-BTs there is a free App created by Zoom that allows you to operate the device via Bluetooth. You could easily activate your own device and then remotely activate a second device on someone else as you speak on camera or conduct a wandering interview.
The mic has a ring at the input plug that allows it to be screwed onto the F2 so the mic cannot pull loose, this, combined with a hold function, means it is very unlikely to be disrupted during recording. The Hold switch on the device does not block the App functionality and, in fact, the controller App allows the user to lock and unlock the controls from the App.
I like that Zoom acknowledge the need of a good interface. While the device is nice and small, that size constrains the control you can provide. Instead of trying to create awkward combinations of functions by combining the few physical buttons on the device, Zoom has instead provided a free editor app for PC and Mac that allows you to define the setup of your F2-BT device. Using either the mobile app via Bluetooth or the computer app via a USB cable, you can access the many standard functions of recording format, filenames, battery type and other functions that would otherwise require a bigger unit with a screen. Taken to its logical conclusion I expect one day to see a Zoom device that is entirely controlled via an app and is no bigger than a tiny battery, SD card and input plug!
The F2 invites sound recordists to set the talent up with the mic and recorder, hit Record, activate the Hold switch (to ensure the unit doesn’t accidentally get knocked out of Record) and leave it — set ’n’ forget, for up to a quoted 14 hours of record time from a couple of AAA batteries.
NEED TO KNOW
ALL ABOUT THE MIC
The extended dynamic range of the F2 provides a blank canvas for the companion LM-F2 lavalier mic. By way of a simple stress test, I attached the mic to my tracksuit and recorded myself while going on a jog.
I was surprised at how little handling noise there was. There was a little bit of interference as I moved my head while running, but not much. The lack of wind noise was also impressive. I wasn’t setting a world record pace, but even gentle movement can often induce noticeable wind noise in other microphones. I noticed the mesh cover of the mic’s diaphragm is recessed slightly below the edge of the main mic cylinder and I think that might be making all the difference. It’s a simple but clever design concept.
On the negative side of the ledger, I was a bit concerned about the mic’s sensitivity characteristics. Usually, lapel mics are very sensitive close in, then they exhibit an extreme drop-off in sensitivity for anything over a meter or two. This allows for clean voice recordings while ‘backgrounding’ unwanted signal. As I jogged, the mic clearly picked up cars driving past (about five metres away), someone using a brush cutter (around 20 metres away) and generally picked up a lot of unwanted noise. This is a consideration when choosing this package. Otherwise, the mic sound was crisp and clean.
In defence of the LH-F2’s sensitivity characteristics, I should point out that good lapel microphones aren’t cheap, while the entire F2 package is less than half the price of a DPA or Countryman lav mic. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from plugging in your favourite lav mic into the F2.
FIND YOUR NICHE
The F2-BT is a niche device: it’s a lav mic recorder, and a highly capable one at that. It doesn’t have the category all to itself — there is a Tascam equivalent — but the 32-bit recording sets the F2 apart. If you have the recorder in someone else’s inside-coat pocket, then the peace of mind of knowing the mic will never peak is not to be underestimated.