How NOT to use a Zoom H4N

I’ve been happily using a Zoom H4N digital recorder since last October to record audio such as interviews. I use it primarily with a AT875 shotgun mic, which requires phantom power. It’s no problem, because the Zoom has a mode that provides it. But I’ve noticed the price you pay for using phantom power, at least with my AT875, is reduced battery life. WAY reduced. I generally can expect about two hours max of record time. And if you’re using rechargeable alkaline batteries, that drops to less than half an hour, as I discovered this morning.

But here’s a far worse discovery that I made today, which amounts to a serious design flaw with the Zoom: if you’re recording when the batteries die, you lose everything recorded on the clip up to that moment (it saves a 0 kb file, rather than a file with your data in it).

Bottom line: the Zoom H4n is a great recorder. Just don’t EVER let it run out of batteries, and it eats them like candy, at least if you’re using it with phantom power and an AT875.

16 thoughts on “How NOT to use a Zoom H4N

  1. Dan

    I’m less concerned about how fast it goes through batteries than I am disappointed that it loses the entire session when the power dies. This seems like a major design flaw to me. My JVC HM100 has run out of batteries a couple times while I’m shooting and it has some kind of graceful internal process that allows it to first save the file and then go black. (I’ve tested this by pulling the battery while shooting and discovered that in that case, it does NOT save the file).

  2. Shamar

    I have a slightly different problem. The battery did not die but I still lost everything. Has this happened to anyone else?

    1. chris kehnle

      ****this is not my original idea***** from Creative cow****** not looking for credit***********

      but it may be helpful

      I picked this up off of another post after my batteries died on Zoom 4hn at the end of a 1 hour interview. IT WORKS! Even if it reads 0 on your card!

      Dear H4n Mac users,

      I thought all was lost. My batteries ran out during a shoot (phantom power drain horror) and when I got back to the studio the file came up as 0kB. But thanks to hints from forum member aumeta I’ve managed to recover it. I thought you all should know it can all be done on a mac using freeware. Follow these steps:

      1. As soon as it happens remove the SD card and don’t use it. Unknowingly, I did use it, but for less time than I had previously recorded, so I was still able to rescue a large portion of my file. The SD card works a lot more like a tape than you might imagine. So when the batteries fail, it will start recording the next file at the start of the file that failed when your batteries went. This means if you’ve recorded, say, a 25 minute track, then the batteries have run out, and then you’ve recorded 2 more 2 minute tracks on the same card with new batteries, that you can still recover the last 21 minutes of your track. Clearly, it’s better to recover all of it, so next time, carry a spare SD card, and stop using the battery damaged one!

      2. Back in the studio, plug in your SD card into the card reader so it mounts.

      3. then open
      What we’re going to do is unlock some advanced features on another utility Disk Utility

      4. Once Terminal has started up copy and paste this in:
      defaults write advanced-image-options 1
      then press return

      5. Now open
      Applications>Utilities>Disk Utility

      6. Select your SD card in the list of drives, then click the New Image button

      7. What we’re doing is making a copy of the entire SD card, including all the empty bits. This allows the audio program we’ll use which can read RAW files to read the entire disk image as one enormous audio file.
      So, in the Image Format tab select “Entire Device” and have encryption set to “None” and save your disk image to a drive big enough to hold it.
      instructions with pictures are here (ignore the last section about file juicer it will not help your problem

      8. Now you’ve got a file that you can open in your audio program. One that can do it is a piece of freeware called Audacity which I found out from the forum post by johnsantic.
      Download the Mac version from here:

      9. Here I’ll adapt John Santic’s instructions from this post which saved some files for me which we’re’n’t 0kB (
      “The normal way to load an audio file into Audacity is to use the typical “File > Open” command. But they have another way to read in a file in case the header is damaged or missing. This uses the “Project > Import Raw Data” command. The next step is to select your new disk image in the dialog box that opens.

      10. Another dialog box should open which asks for audio parameters, this should be the same as the way in which you recorded the file:
      In my case this was:

      – Signed 24-bit PCM (ie 24 bit WAV on the zoom)
      – Little-endian [this means the audio data in the file is least-significant-byte first – it will be the same whether you recorded at 24 or any other bit rate]
      – 2 Channels (Stereo)
      – Start offset = 910 [this is the normal size of an H4n header, you should also try 0 and 2 if you are at 24-bit, or 0, and 1 for 16-bit]
      – Amount to import = 100%
      – Sample rate = 48000

      After you click “Import”, Audacity reads in the file. What you’ll probably find is large blocks of interference with audio files inbetween. If you find your lost recording, select that section, then use the command “File > Export” and save it under a different file name, with the same settings as your other original sound files. Joy! OK so you’ll probably lose a tiny bit at the end and at the start, but I’m sure you’ll live having recovered the vast majority of what you thought was lost forever

      11. If you don’t find your audio file in there this time do not despair. Instead just go back to the start of part 10 and enter in a different start offset (0, 1 or 2) and you’ll find a different portion of the audio you recorded will appear. I found my lost file on the second attempt when I set it to 0. Just keep on trying.

      I thought I’d messed up the whole project. Now I’m full of the joys of life, and thought I should share it with you all.




      Post subject: Re: Ran out of Battery and found only a 0Kb file? There’s hoPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2012 4:11 pm

      new to this board

      Joined: Sun Jul 08, 2012 6:12 pm
      Posts: 1
      I just wanted to affirm Jimmybulb’s post. Thank you! and to anyone else who did the behind the scenes work to make recovery possible, you rock! I spent 4 hours troubleshooting and downloading random freeware programs, but when I found this post, all was saved except about 15 seconds that were somehow corrupted. I ran the process twice through to see if the file would come out clean but it didn’t so I’m guessing somewhere in the process of my Zoom H2 becoming unplugged, the file became corrupted. I’m not really sure. I was recording a wedding and it finished. Because my batteries were dead, I had confidently plugged my zoom H2 into a power strip thinking it was the ultimate, safe source of power. Well, the sound board just happened to be plugged into this power strip and the sound engineer unplugged it after the wedding. The zoom power was cut off before I could stop recording. Note to self – set up at least 2 layers of good quality audio backup if possible.

      A couple helpful notes.
      1. Don’t stop trying if you get an audacity file that is ALL interference. You probably got the audio parameters wrong. The sample rate, offset, stereo or mono, little endian all seems to matter. I tried multiple settings before I got the right one and sometimes the audio came out as all interference (LOUD interference) or super slow low voices.
      2. All the freeware recovery programs I tried didn’t do what I wanted. Most recover deleted files, pics, etc.. not fix audio files without a header.
      3. I tried 0 for the offset, and it came out as pure interference. 1 and 2 both worked in my case. I was recording 16bit, stereo, at 44kHz.
      4. DEFINITELY choose a low percentage to import to test first. Setting it at 5% for about 7.4GB of a card only took about 30 sec to process on my macbook pro.

      Good luck!

  3. John

    I use my ZOOM H4N at least twice a week. Each recording session last AT LEAST 8 hours. When the DURACELL RECHARGEABLE batteries die, ( anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, depending on how new the battery is ),, I NEVER LOSE THE FILE.

    I used to lose files using the old H4 model, when the batteries are suddenly removed if the recorder falls, hits the floor, and the batteries were ejected. ( THIS WAS DURING MY NOVEL RECORDING DAYS WHEN I DIDN’T SECURE THE H4 PROPERLY )


  4. John

    My friend has the H5, and he lost a 12 hour file, when the power cord was suddenly disconnected.
    * You should ALWAYS have FULLY CHARGED BATTERIES in ANY machine when using wall power as a back up.

  5. John



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