Warning: Zoom H4n Users

After some issues that ruined audio that is unretrievable, it was brought to our attention via twiiter by @samsontech that they have an approved list of SD cards. I feel it should have been listed a little more prominently if it’s an issue the company is aware of. Here’s the list. Approved SD cards for Zoom

We have used the Zoom H4n on a number of shoots successfully but, it’s that one or two times that worries me. Luckily, it was a tutorial we did for the site and not a paying gig. However, that being said we have our reservations,now.

So we may just switch to Tascam DR-100.


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29 replies
  1. MikeCollins
    MikeCollins says:

    Tascam is really nice but it’s not inexpensive. But when you factor in the possibility of lost audio the better recorder is worth it. I am really psyched we had a client willing to pay for a soundman for my fall shoots.

  2. Ron Risman
    Ron Risman says:

    Hey Jon, as much as I would like to jump on the bandwagon here, I would at least like to say that while Samson may have a few cards that they label as ‘approved’, it only means they haven’t taken the time or care to take the time to test a wider group of memory cards. I think the equivalent would be me posting a list of cards that I know work with the 5DMKII or 7D because I have used them without issue. The items on the list would only mean I never had an issue, it wouldn’t mean that other cards wouldn’t work or were unreliable.

    Nikon, for example, has a recommended memory card list for their DSLR’s, but I know many people using Nikon DSLR’s successfully with cards not on the list.
    Nikon D300s: http://support.nikonusa.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/16541/~/approved-memory-cards—d300s

    In the 12 years or so that I have been shooting digitally I have had very few issues with memory cards, regardless of brand and format – and I have used many: SanDisk, Lexar, Kingston, Transcend, Dane-Elec, RiData, HP, SimpleTech, and others.

    When an issue arises with a memory card it usually is either just a bad card or could possibly be due to the use of a card in a device other than the one that formatted it. Errors can also be caused by user error – such as powering off a device or opening the memory door before a write cycle is finished (though this could also be blamed on the MFG as a device should have built-in protection for this).

    In general I think it is pretty safe to say that if the card is from a reputable manufacturer it should be safe to use in any product that uses that type of memory card.

    I am not in love with the design of the H4n in general, but any issues I have had with it have had more to do with my stupidity than with the products… aka… taking it out of REC/Standby after sound check. I also know that the H4n can only record WAV files up to 2GB in size, at which time it automatically creates another file to continue recording. These files can be joined in post production, assuming the user knows that the other file actually exits. I assume that this might be a limit of the WAV format and not a specific issue with the H4n.


  3. Dan McComb
    Dan McComb says:

    The biggest problem I’ve had with my H4N has been that if the batteries die while you’re recording, you lose the entire clip. To me, this is a design flaw. To others, it might be considered user error – just change the batteries before you start shooting, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple when you’re doing demanding documentary filmmaking and responding to things as they happen. I appreciate gear that will cover my butt rather than force me to be on my toes constantly. Also, the battery life of the H4N is horrible when phantom power is used. I routinely run out of batteries inside of an hour and a half.

    Having said all that, I like my H4N. Until I can pay the really really big bucks and upgrade to a Sound Devices 552, I’m sticking with it!

  4. Dave
    Dave says:

    I almost go the H4n this past weekend but opted for the Marantz PDM661. I have not heard to many people talk about that recorder but it seems constructed better, have better mic pre amps. Should I have saved a little bit of money and went with the H4n? Did the first shoot with the Marantz today and it sounded amazing.

  5. Richard van den Boogaard
    Richard van den Boogaard says:

    So far, I have not experienced any real problems with Zoom H4N. What I do notice with my SanDisk 16GB card is that the thing takes forever to kickstart. Probably I will switch to a 4 or 8GB card…

    As for the workflow, you *really* have to make sure that the recorder is actually running as you initially only arm the thing for recording. I follow a rather strict procedure when doing interviews and regularly check the device for audio levels while the interview continues.

    At one specific assignment, a press conference, I had the Zoom connected to the central audio system, only to find out in post that due to poor cabling it actually featured more static noise than my on-board camera mic. Using a noise reduction filter in Adobe Audition and mixing this with the in-camera recorded signal, I was still able to make sth audible out of it: http://www.vimeo.com/13712192

    Needless to say, I long for the days when a DSLR made-for-video comes along with an add-on device that allows for XLR-inputs and headphone monitoring. The AF-100 almost meets my requirements… but not quite yet.

  6. Peter
    Peter says:

    When I use the 4track mode (mic/line combined) on the Zoom H4N I have data write errors with the Kingston SD4/16gb (SDHC type). Although it is on the “SD card approved list” I am unable to store my recorded data correctly: I get gaps and soundleaps. I have recorded with 48khz/24bits settings. Cleaning contacts of the card did not help. The card was correctly formatted in the H4N as well.

  7. Steph
    Steph says:

    On 3 separate occasion I have lost audio for very important shoots. We are lucky the ambient is surprisingly good (thank Rode Video Mic), but it is not optimal. We were using a variety of different 4GB SD cards, some on their suggested list.

    What has happened is that the Zoom looked like it was working properly, but when we went to transfer the audio files to the computer, the file size was 0kbs. There was a file, but no audio. I even used CameraSalvage to retrieve any data (yes it works for wave files by the way). Nothing. There were files before and after, but this had been corrupted. Another person might have suggested that I changed the battery or card without turning off the unit. I never had to replace the batteries and the cards were large enough for our audio needs (5+ hours).

    I will do some tests and see what, if any, situations might have led to this problem. In the meantime, I got a Tascam DR100 until I, or anyone else, can give me a valid (and tested) reason why this might have happened and how to avoid it in the future.

    • Geri
      Geri says:

      Yes, I have just experienced the same problem and am not a happy camper. Recording was for academic research purposes. Lost two full interviews and half of another, despite no change of batteries, correctly formatted SD card etc. File size was large to indicate recording (500+MB in each recording), but when I checked on Audacity – no waves. No audio at all for 2.5 interviews. Rang technical support, also did another recoding check and only two of three following recordings recorded sound. Suspected technical problem and in process of returning recorder. Not happy at all.

  8. CarnivalFR
    CarnivalFR says:

    I have a problem where I get “Data Wright Error” on my clips. When you playback the clip it has seconds skipped at random points during the take. It’s frustrating as hell. It seams my new SanDisk 4gig Extreme card that has been formatted in the Zoom is not on the list, but the cheaper SanDisk cards are. Is this really the issue causing my “Data Wright Error”? I guess I will go out and buy a new card from the list and find out.

  9. Mitchell
    Mitchell says:

    I stumbled on this thread looking for those with the same issue I just ran into: the jumps and weird stutters that get recorded. I found this while recording 4CH 44.1/16 on a Kingston 16GB SD10. This card is NOT on the list, but I assumed when it formatted fine it would work. For stereo I have never had an issue.

    4 Channel? Not so. I also get the error messages about writing sometimes. I’m trying to go through all the tracks to see if it is consistent with the scrambled tracks or all 4 ch. This does alarm me though because I was planning on using 4 channel with my 7D.

    I’d just like to isolate the issue. If it is the cards, then that’s easy. But it does’t make sense that a faster card would not work. If it’s the unit, then we’re all screwed! 😉

  10. Allen
    Allen says:

    I just purchased this device. Will this sd card issue cause me not to be able to use 4ch/mtr modes? If i push menu, the mode option isn’t even listed. Is there a problem with it or will this be fixed with a “approved” sd card? I used a brand new 16gb Sandisk and I formatted it correctly, but still no mode. I just updated the firmware and that didn’t help either. So any help on this topic would be great. Thanks

    • JD Mitchell
      JD Mitchell says:

      You have it set in “Stamina Mode”. Turn off the H4N, open the battery compartment and switch it off. Turn the H4N back on and now it will appear in the menu.

  11. Joey Llanos
    Joey Llanos says:

    I recorded on an 16GB Ultra Scandisk Not listed approved by H4N. I found that it plays back on the H4N but when I transfer the file to my Mac, it imports the file to Itunes and it flashes the play back mode for two second but does not playback. The file was recoded in wav. Does anyone have an answer or should I just buy an upgraded machine?

  12. JayK
    JayK says:

    I’ve had a problem a few times when I turn my H4N on and it comes up right away and says “No Data” or “No Data Card”. This is with several hours of precious recordings on there. So far, when I turn it off and on a few times, after a few tries it sees the card and data. It seems to be related to a few things: (a) if the battery is running low, (b) when it was on AC with no batteries and I unplugged the power cord before shutting it down, or (c) after I left it in a hot car for a few hours. The card I’m using is a Transcend SD HC 16GB.

  13. Jason
    Jason says:

    I have had a couple of EPIC failures with this and I used a SanDisk SDHC Card 4GB when conducting interviews over the phone. I have it switched to Mono recording and using the EXT MIC jack on the back by the microphones. It doesn’t tell you till after you hit stop then it get “Error Writing.” I’m able to get the audio but it has been majorly compromised. There isn’t any one you can talk to either about your problems. Although fantastic when it works; I would think twice….. You’ve been warned.

  14. Surya
    Surya says:

    On every SD card you have the class of the card mentioned on it. It’s a number inside an incomplete circle. I think higher the class better the functioning so if you are using a 16 or an 8 GB crad, go no more below than a Class 6 card and you might be safe. I am not sure about this but if any pro could throw some light on that then I’d be greatful

    • Tom
      Tom says:

      You’re an idiot for “thinking”. Anyone can think dumbass. And no it’s not the higher number in the circle the better. It’s come down to Kingston 8GB Class 10. Or Kingston 16GB Class 4.

  15. Pringle
    Pringle says:

    I’ve been using the H4n without any problems for a year. Now, suddenly, it cuts out at random intervals, switching itself off – sometimes after a few seconds, sometimes after 30 minutes. Sometimes it stores the recorded file, sometimes it is lost forever. Sometimes it gives me a “Data Write Error” message, even though the file seems to have recorded fine. It’s incredibly frustrating. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    • Kayode
      Kayode says:

      My Zoom H1 failed on a recent shoot so I went out and got an H4N however I still dont have the confidence to leave my faith in these sound devices anymore so I’ve invested in a splitter, for the cost of £5 (about $8) I now have a backup line into my camera so worst case scenario I still have back up audio on my dslr. May not be as clean but its better than the dslr mic.

  16. Bryant Trae Gilbreath III
    Bryant Trae Gilbreath III says:

    I use the H4n to create sound effects, it records fantastically, but here lately I’ve been getting a bit of static.
    Would really like to know from whence it comes? and what to do for a remedy.

  17. Henry Posadas
    Henry Posadas says:

    My H4N stopped reading SD cards. Sent it to a device centre here in the Philippines (JB Music) and after more than a month, they finally called and said it will cost P9,500.00 ($210.oo) to fix it. The cost of a brand new one here is P21,120.oo ($469.oo). So it means it cost 50% of what it cost here or more than 100% of a brand new unit in USA to have it fixed. When I asked, they said “the board burned”. I asked how can it happen? I rarely use the adaptor plug. Most of the time I use AA batteries. I also use it rarely since I only use it for personal work and I let the clients hire a professional sound field recorder and mixer (I direct, produce, write and do cinematography). All he said is “that was what the man from the service centre said”. It’s almost as if their saying “it happens” or worse, that this stupid H4N is disposable. BTW, they also told me, it was a common H4N problem. Looks like a large part of people who had their H4N fixed had this.


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