Review: Zoom M4 Mictrak Stereo Microphone and Recorder

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Review: Zoom M4 Mictrak Stereo Microphone and Recorder

Zoom M4 Mictrak
words by Rob Gee

Dynamic Music | RRP: $799

If you’ve already read my review of the Zoom M3 MicTrak in this issue, it means that our esteemed editor laid out the magazine in alpha-numeric order. Or, you’re just jumping around reading what you like at your own choosing. But, if not, then I suggest you look at that first as it will give you a good idea of just where Zoom is going at present with their latest innovations, and will lay some groundwork for understanding what is happening with this series. But, for now, we’re looking at another model in the range, the Zoom M4 MicTrak handheld digital recorder. I am not going to get quite as excited about this unit, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s any less capable. In fact, for those of you with a focus on musical recording, rather than video production, this is really going to win the day.

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I think it goes without saying that Zoom has really cornered the market with portable, handheld digital audio recording over the past decade. Yes, there have been other contenders, but none have come close to offering the quality and flexibility that the extensive range of Zoom recorders brings to the market. Ever since the iconic H4 made waves, we have seen a steady delivery of improved models with more features and greater connectivity. Well, for those of you only just discovering Zoom recorders, you’ve come along right as a new mark in audio recording is being notched. The M4 MicTrak takes the legacy of the H4 and its later cousins and drags them all into a new generation of digital audio recording. Ok, so I am fairly wrapped with this unit too, so I make no apologies for talking it up. For what it offers, the M4 MicTrak deserves the praise. 

What’s on offer here is a 4-track digital recorder that includes 32-bit float recording. If you’re not au fait with the workings of 32-bit float recording, in a nutshell, it’s digital recording with no clipping. I talk about it a little more in the M3 MicTrak review, so you can read all about it over there. What this means is that the Zoom handheld recorder you’ve always loved and used has just jumped ahead leaps and bounds as far as audio quality goes. You need not worry about gain control on the input side of things, as everything is captured and you can adjust the levels in your DAW. That means you know you’re getting almost carefree perfection in your audio recording, so we can focus on the features offered in the unit itself.

As is expected with any Zoom recorder, there is a stereo pair of condenser microphones that offers excellent audio quality in their own right. Set the M4 MicTrak up on a microphone stand and use these to record an acoustic guitar or piano and you’ll be amazed at the quality on offer. Put it in front of an ensemble or choir to capture a room recording and the M4 MicTrak defies previous ideals with a new level of articulation and detail in the onboard microphones. These just about sell the unit in itself, especially when backed with the power of the 32-bit float recording. 

However, if you need more colour in your recording, or simply just more tracking options in one take, there are two XLR inputs for an extra pair of microphones. You can go to town here with the flavour you want to bring to your recording. Throw a 58 into one for a rough and raw dynamic sound, and go crazy with a U87 in the other for a rich studio sound that has a timeless warmth of tone. Or, just be sensible and use a couple of microphones that suit the intended purpose. You’ll end up with a stereo pair of condenser microphones and two independent microphones for more isolated sound sources. Of course, you can run a DI signal or Hi-Z signal in via the TRS connectors on these combo jacks rather than a microphone via XLR. This means you can even feed a balanced stereo input from a mixing console and capture an entire mix with the M4 MicTrak, whilst blending that with a room sound from the onboard stereo pair of microphones.

This means that in the studio or in a live environment, this compact unit can offer a range of setups to suit various situations. It can also be used as an audio interface when linked to your computer via the USB connection, so you can run directly to your DAW. That makes it a great option for podcasters who work from home, but also need to take their show out and about from time to time.

The unit itself is something to behold. Zoom has moved away from the clunky box with externally mounted microphones of previous models and really gone with a more handheld aesthetic in this rendition of the audio recorder. It looks like a microphone, a little like a 421 with a whole lot more going on. And with that, you’re almost encouraged to use it in a handheld manner, where previous models felt like they needed to be mounted on a stand or, as was so often the case, left balancing precariously on a table top, always a brief moment away from being toppled when someone pulled on a mic cable a little too hard. So, given that this unit wants to be held, Zoom has ensured that handling noise is kept to a minimum. The microphone capsules are beautifully suspended and isolated from the housing, so you can opt for in-hand recording and know it isn’t going to affect the quality significantly.

Finally, for those of you looking to combine your audio with video capture. The M4 MicTrak has a built-in timecode generator. That means you’re getting 4-track audio recording that can be perfectly aligned with your video and snapped to position without a care in the world. Think about the possibilities of stereo location recording with two directional microphones for isolated dialogue capture in your video, and suddenly the M4 MicTrak takes on a whole new level of creativity. And did I mention 32-bit float recording? Yes, this thing is a game changer.  

For more information, check out Zoom’s product page. For domestic enquiries, get in touch with Dynamic Music.