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Zoom H4n: USB audio interface noise solved

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I’ve had the Zoom H4n for close to a year now, and I’ve been incredibly happy with it on so many levels.

As a portable recorder, it works incredibly well.  The built-in microphones are solid and incredibly convenient.  The phantom power and line-in inputs might not be what you find in devices that cost three or more times its price.. but I’d peg them at being pretty close.  I made some tests against the Apogee Duet, and while it placed behind it, it was a close second.

The H4n also serves as a USB audio interface for both the PC and the Mac.  I’ve used it on both platforms, and in terms of driver and system support it’s been consistently top notch.

So what was my problem?  On my PC, when I would use the device as an audio interface, I’d get a rather high pitch whine in my monitors which I hadn’t experienced on my battery-powered MacBook Pro.  I tried disconnecting other devices, moving cables all over and in different configurations, but nothing seemed to do the trick.  I searched the Googles tirelessly, trying to find other people with the same problem.

Eventually, I found out the solution: power up the device on battery/AC power before connecting the USB cable.  Then, once the device is powered up, go through the menu items and connect the cable up to the system.  No noise, no problems.

Previously, I was relying on the USB power of the system to run the device as an audio interface.  In theory, this works rather well: connect the cable when the H4n is off, and it starts up, offering you USB connection options.  When you disconnect the device, the H4n immediately shuts off.  It seems as though the fundamental problem is that the USB power is a bit dirty; or, at the very least, is injecting some kind of noise into the system.

It is a bit more work to make sure that I don’t leave the H4n on after I shut the computer down, etc., though the benefits are well worth it.  In certain cases, the high pitched sound may not be all that apparent; and in others, it may disappear entirely.  My feeling is that the laptop, being battery powered, did not have the same kind of electrical signals running through the system, thereby making the USB power a bit more clean.

In any case, I hope this tip helps some other people; it certainly caused me some trouble and aggravation before I got it solved.

43 thoughts on “Zoom H4n: USB audio interface noise solved

  1. MLogi

    Hi there…i’ve recentely purchesd the mic and i’m really happy with but i’m also suffering from the problem that you mentioned and you seem to be the only one who’ve been talking about it across the web…anyway, your advice didn’t work for me for some reason…i plug it first to the a\c adapter and just as i plug the usb cable the noises starts to appear…this only happens when i plug it to an external monitor, headphones and little speakrs working well without any noise…i have no idea how to solve this problem and the thing is that if this is the quality of the output sound it equals to my internal soundcard and i have no use in the h4n, so could it be that the h4n is not so good as an audio interface and i’m just being dumb for trying to plug into an extrnal monitors??

  2. rlaskey Post author

    Hello, and thank you for the comment! It may be that the AC power doesn’t work, either. I would recommend you try powering up the H4n with battery power, without the AC adapter. I have some rechargeable AA’s which work reasonably well. The problem may be more related to the power from the AC strip, than about the power from the computer. Let us know if that fixes it.

  3. Joe

    Thanks so much for posting this. I looked around for a bit before finding the solution from you page. It is really appreciated!

  4. rlaskey Post author

    You’re very welcome, Joe; and thank you for the comment :) It certainly was a maddening problem before I found the solution, and I’m glad that me posting this has helped others. I hope that MLogi, who posted above, also has a working system on battery power.

    Needing batteries is sort of a drag, though I’ve heard good things about the Sanyo Eneloop series. There’s now a USB re-charging kit for cheap on Amazon, and 4 packs if you have use for AA’s in other devices.

  5. Lexxmexx

    I came acress this article while searching for information on the H4n as an audio interface. I am curious to find out about how you connect your monitors to the device? was it via the miserable headphones minijack output?

  6. rlaskey

    Well, yes; I connect the monitors via the 1/8″ headphone/line-out jack. I wouldn’t call them miserable, though, once you try it out with the steps I suggested. It can be rather noisy over USB power alone, though if you make it use battery power it does work quite well. They are, of course, unbalanced outputs, though in practice I haven’t found it to make a difference with short enough cables, etc. There are even ASIO low latency drivers for Windows, provided by the manufacturer. I’m not going to say that there aren’t better options out there, though for the price and flexibility I feel it’s a very solid contender.Realistically, if you only need 1/8″ output that’s clean, the easiest solution is to grab something like this: Logitech G330 Gaming Headset — they’re $30 and have a USB audio interface with 1/8″ output and input. I’ve found it to be quite clean, and lately I’ve been using that rather than the H4n for general listening.

  7. Simeon Amburgey

    Thanks for the tip!
    This also works on the H2. I am using it to capture the audio for some screencast tutorials and had been using only the built in microphones as I had never considered using the aux ins until today and ran into the USB “NoIsE” issue.

    These are going to be so much better now thanks to your advice.
    Best,
    Simeon
    PraiseTracks.com

  8. Jost

    I was having the same issue but came to the solution myself. Then I found this article. Pretty funny!

  9. Page Lynch

    Hey, man thanks for posting your issues and solutions with the H4n because it seems like everyone says it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and just leaves it at that.

    I’ve been having a different type of issue with my H4n though. NOISE. LOTS of noise! I use a Rode NTG2 shotgun mic and have tested it through my home recording gear, and the noise levels are silent as the grave so, I know it’s not my mic. But the plugged into my Zoom it’s a nightmare.

    When I start trying to EQ a little high end boost and do some compression in post, the noise comes screaming through any recording dialogue, no matter how close the mic was to their mouth. The actors could eat the mic, and there would still be a ton of noise. Have you encountered this (and by the way, I’m talking the static-in-your-recording type of noise generally caused by cheap preamps)?

    I can’t seem to get anyone to answer me back about this problem, and I don’t know why. Do you have any suggestions? Or am I just spoiled by my high end studio preamps and compressors at home and doomed to only solve it by splitting my bank account wide open on something else?

  10. rlaskey Post author

    Hey, thanks for the post! I’m guessing you’re using the same cable for the NTG2 on the other gear. I’ve used an NTG1 on my H4n and haven’t had any issues. With the NTG2, you can have battery power or no battery power. If you use the battery, make sure you disable phantom power on the H4n. Ditto for the other way around: disable the battery and enable the phantom power. The phantom power on/off is in the Input settings in the Menu. I don’t know for sure that this will do it, but it’s worth checking. Do make sure if you are using phantom power to shut the device off or the phantom power off before pulling the microphone out of the plug.

    Secondly, I might go to a local shop and try out their microphones with your H4n. It’s possible that there’s been some damage to your unit, at which point you could resort to repair or warranty. I’m guessing that the built in microphones are fine. You also could try the other input, and make sure your levels are OK.

  11. Alexis Cornellier

    i’m new to the podcast producing scene and i bought the H4n and a AKG D5 microphone. I get some kind of noise problem in my recording. I use the H4n as external card to hook my microphone to the computer by xlr cable. When i hook the device through USB, about every 10 seconds, i got a cut in the sound with a weird noise that make the recording seems like his been edited badly, is that the “noise” you’re talking about? i dont have battery in my devices and mostly use it connected to electricity but i never see if i’m connecting the usb before the power supply.

    You suggesting to put some batteries and plugin the power supply before connecting to USB? I hope this will solve my problem.

    Thanks for the info. At least, now, i have something to try.

  12. rlaskey Post author

    Hm. That does not seem like the noise I experienced. Every ten seconds leads me to think that it’s a problem with your computer; perhaps a program that is running in the background which is also accessing the audio device. If you can, I would record to the H4n directly rather than using it through the computer. You can then tell if the sound is generated by the H4n or by the computer. If it’s still there while just using the H4n, you might want to send it in via your warranty or get it checked out by an audio repair shop.

  13. Kristin Casey

    I am new to owning a Macbook Pro, and have been recording oral histories on a H4n . I want to download the recordings on my Mac so I can then edit them using Audacity, but can’t figure out how to do it. I have connect the recorder’ USB cord to the laptop but it doesn’t seem to be reading it. Can anyone help me?

  14. rlaskey Post author

    Hi, Kristin! When you connect the H4n via the USB port, you should see a menu pop up on the H4n which says “STORAGE” or “AUDIO I/F”. Hit the menu scroll wheel on the right, to select “STORAGE”. You’ll then see the files in a drive mounted on the Desktop, or via the Finder. The files are then generally under STEREO -> FOLDER01. Hope this helps; if not, find me via my contact info on the About page and I’ll try to help further.

  15. Wags

    hey, congrats for the article, i came across it while looking for a problem i´m having. well maybe you´ve been through this: when using it as audio interface there is no noise but sometimes the recording just slides a bit after a minute or so. i have updated the firmware and drivers but nothing worked. i am not running any plug in and i´ve got a dual core windows 7 laptop. played around with the latency settings also did not help. any idea how to avoid those bumps? tks

  16. rlaskey Post author

    My guess is the problem lies in the software you’re using to record, rather than the driver or other parts of your system. You also want to make sure your sampling rate is consistent, as recording at 48KHz within a 44.1KHz project, etc., will result in a considerable amount of drift.

  17. Paul

    Note to Kristin and MacBook Pro users. You can simply remove the card from the H4n and slide it directly into the card reader of your mac, first slot on left side. Then you can move files around or import them into a sound program. Thanks

  18. Paul

    Hi I am getting a weird interference noise trying to use the H4n as an interface to my MacBook Pro. It sounds a bit like the levels are peeking. This is driving me nuts, and got really excited when I found your post, but powering up the H4n on batteries has not solved my problem. Tried it on a friends H4 and same problem. AAAArgh Thanks

  19. Naveen

    I experience a problem like Alexis Cornellier – a cut out every ten seconds. called the experts up (416) 628 3698 and emailed steinberg@soundupport.ca and was told its my AMD processesor laptop, and the problem won’t happen with Intel processesors. The solutions given (to reduce latency etc) made my laptop hangup so bad I had to reinstall the operating system with loss of data! grrr. Now I use the H4n as a stand alone, and transfer the files to the computer for editing after. limits multitracking projects to listening to three tracks while laying down a new one. Still quite a lovable handy recorder though

  20. fab

    Hi all,

    Pluging the 5v external power supply, turning on the zoom H4N and THEN entering the menu and select USB / connect… worked perfectly !! Thanks a lot, RLASKEY ! You saved my dayS I spent on that. I wouldn’t have found the solution by myself.

    But THIS is important too : I tried once with battery only, and that didn’t work at all. My battery might not have been powerful enough ? Anyway, don’t bother trying with the battery : just plug the AC power supply, and see if it works.

    Before finding your article, I plugged the zoom H4N USB port on FIVE W7 computers (32 or 64 bits) without additional power supply. The quality of the recording was either bad or… worse (inaudible). So it’s not an issue which just occurs with rare computers ! Zoom should publish this issue on their FAQ !

  21. fab

    By the way, do you know how to contact the guys from Zoom, to let them know about this issue ? (did someone already sent the link to this page ?) I couldn’t find a contact link on their website… :-(

  22. Cat Faber

    I got a problem like Paul is describing–a sort of crackle on the loudest notes (which also happened to be the highest notes) of the recording. It wasn’t the levels because I tried recording so it peaked at -3 dB all the way down to recording so it peaked at -12 dB and still had the problem (I could mostly only hear it in my good earphones with the sound turned up, but it was definitely there.)

    I had it only when using the H4n as an audio interface (using the H4n alone and recording to the card was working fine) with my macbook pro or powerbook G4 (the only computers I had to work with). Someone named operaflute finally suggested I try recording with a sample rate of 48K and that solved the problem. It’s there in 44.1K recordings and gone in 48K recordings.

  23. Wags

    i watched that video and another one, copied the steps, adjusted the sampling rate in the software to match the device but… still some glitches in the recording. the funny thing is, i had an h4 and it worked fine in the same laptop and software (audacity, reaper and cool edit). maybe the AC power is dirty somehow ?… the only thing that changed was the house i live in. i am thinking of selling it and getting a good old h4.

  24. Rick

    I have same problem of Cat Faber:
    when H4n is used as USB-soundcard the sound is affected by cracks/pops. This problem is more noticeable with high frequencies (>600 Hz) and high gain.

    I have also tried to powerup the H4n before to connect it to USB but it doesn’t work.

    I have 1.72 firmware. By PC side I tryed normal driver and ASIO driver: same bad results.

    H4n is a good handy recorder but it’s not possible to use it as Sound Card (at least for me)

  25. Rick

    Hi everybody,

    I test it in another PC, problem is still.
    I analyzed better what’s happen:
    my H4n lose same samples during the playback. That always happens. Not necessary to render high frequency note or high level. Anyway, to better hear the cracking noise it’s necessay to render an high frequency note having a considerable level.

    Very easy to identify the problem:
    open your favorite waveform editor then generate a sinus waveform of 1000 Hz normalized at -3dB about.
    Hear the waveform just generated… my system produce a lot of ckacks

    I tried to follow all the tips kindly suggested in that blog but nothing change.

    Would be interesting to know if this happens to you too…
    I will contact Zoom staff soon to report my mistake

  26. Radu

    @Rick, did you find the solution? I still have the crackles when in USB mode. Tried the AC power but no help. Everything you described is the same here

  27. Tyler

    Hello, thank you for all the insight you have provided about the Zoom H4n. I have what I think is a similar problem with mine, although I am not using the Zoom as an audio interface, I am just recording with a condenser mic directly to the Zoom. I get a high-pitched buzzing noise sporadically: sometimes it is there, sometimes not, with no apparent rhyme or reason. I have gotten the buzz whether the Zoom is running off of batteries or plugged into the AC adapter. I even tried running the mic through an external sound board, but I still got the buzz. Does anyone have any insight on this issue? Thank you so much.

  28. Joe

    Hey rlaskey! I’m happy that someone solved this issue. I can’t seem to get it to work myself though. Have plugget the H4n into the adapter that came with it, turned it on and then opened it as an audio interface like you described.

    I’ve used it to record some singing with the dual michrophones, and it was very clear and good quality. When I used the jack inputs and connected my electric guitar however, the buzzing noise came, and I cant seem to get rid of it.

    I’ve tried with batteries as well, but without any luck. I put on phantom power, but nothing happened. I changed jack cables, no effect.

    I’m running win7 and using Cubase Artist 7. Also I’d like to point out that I’m completely new to mixing, and recording.
    Could it be the adapter?

    Thanks a lot

    Best Regards
    Joe

  29. Chris

    Does anybody suspect this noise may have something to do with the Headphones mini jack? The jack in my h4n seems slightly loose, not sure if Im game enough to pull it apart, may get someont to look at it.

  30. Elviin

    Hi, I am using this configuration:

    Zoom h4n + Rode NTG-1 (with dead cat) + 8m long low impedance XLR cable iromb900-bk. I use headphones to check the sound connected in zoom’s 3.5 input. When the sound is being played or recorded on Zoom H4n I can hear very subtle but still noticeable “digital like” interference noise of a very high frequency. I also use a 3m boom pole from Rode but I guess it does not affect the issue.

    The Zoom settings:
    Phantom 48+V, 44khz (16 or 24 bits), with AA bateries
    I can hear the noise when the external mic is connected in both inputs 1 or 2. Internal recording on H4N does not suffer from this issue. It happens irregularly. I do not wear any electronic gadget or portable PC during recording which could cause this interference.

    Thanks for a hint or solution.

  31. Elviin

    Solution: I have returned the Zoom recorder and got a new one which does not suffer from the issue. My guess is that it is crucial to turn on the phantom power after the XLR cable with the mic is connected. But it just my guess and I am curious if this is really the cause of the issue.

  32. Kim

    This was really helpful, I never thought about that but i use it with the power of the laptop, i cannot wait to get home and try this out, thanks a lot man,

  33. Rob

    Just a comment in case anyone else looking for answers to a problem of MASSIVE static. I don’t mean a bit of extra noise, I mean I couldn’t hear what the interviewee was saying. I lost two interviews before I realized there was a problem. I “fixed” it by plugging my earphones into the external mic jack, recording something, and then taking them out. I sweartogod the problem’s fixed. Second time it’s happened in two years of having the machine…

  34. 김병용

    I have the same problem with my H4 and it’s solved with the solution. Thank you very much for your posting.

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