Earlier this year Japan’s Zoom announced its new F3 audio recorder. With a diminutive size, dual XLR inputs, and 32-bit float recording, it became one of the most anticipated new pieces of field recording kit in years.
Originally only available in Japan, it has only recently had wider availability. Today’s post will look at the F3’s main features. In addition to that, the article will take a quick look a few specific aspects field recordists may find interesting: what type of recordist may find this useful, contrasts with comparable models, and how this unit will impact the soundscape recording workflow of field recordists.
Zoom F3 Audio Recorder Features
What are the most eye-catching features of the Zoom F3?
- 192 kHz/32-bit Float. The F3 captures high resolution sound from CD-quality (44.1 kHz) to sound design friendly 192 kHz. In addition, it can capture audio in 32-bit float. The means the sounds you record will never be damaged from overly loud sources. In fact, there’s no need to set levels at all since 32-bit captures a vast span of sound.
- Low noise. The recorder is rated for an EIN of -127 dBU, which is just one dB short of a a Sound Devices MixPre-6 II professional recorder.
- Connectivity. Twin locking XLRs allow professional inputs. Note that these are not dual TRS/XLR combo jacks seen on many other recorders. It’s XLR only.
- Powering. The F3 is powered by 2 AA batteries and reportedly lasts for 8 hours.
- Mounting options. Along with a typical tripod mount, the F3 has “durable” side bars idea for strapping to boom poles, car engines, motorcycle frames, and so on.
- Construction. The F3 has a metal casing and slip-free rubber feet.
- Input options. Mic, mic 48V phantom power, line, and line 48V phantom power are all supported by the F3.
- Price. At $349.99, the Zoom F3 is the cheapest 32-bit recorder on the market.
Zoom F3 Secondary Features
Those are features that most concern field recordists. Here are some less-vital perks of the F3:
- Storage. The F3 supports micro SDHC and microSDXC cards up to 1TB.
- Audio interface. The F3 can function as an audio interface with 2 inputs and 2 outputs up to 96 kHz/32-bit.
- USB. The USB type-C port allows file transfer and the aforementioned audio interface capabilities.
- Wireless control. An optional BTA-1 wireless adapter allows the unit to be controlled by the F3 Control iOS/Android app.
- Software support. Typical software features such as a high-pass filter, phase inversion, delay, markers, pre-record and others are also available through the software menus.
- Additional connectivity. The F3 supports line out to cameras, as well as a 1/8” headphone input port.
- Interface. There isn’t much room to support it, but the F3 does allow for record, hold, play, stop, and 4 soft buttons.
Comparing the F3 Audio Recorder
What compares to the Zoom F3?
What about 32-bit recording? Not worrying about setting levels is an immeasurable aid to beginning recordists and allows more established pros to focus on other things. The F6 fills this space for $400 more (albeit with 4 more channels as well). Sound Devices’s MixPre-3 II (3 channels, $825) and MixPre-6 II (6 channels, $1060) are similarly 32-bit powered with higher prices commanded by superior build and feature sets. We had a first look at Tascam’s 32-bit X8 Portacapture ($398.75). For $150 more the X8 adds 2 more XLR inputs, onboard microphones, and a decidedly more attractive form factor.
How about stereo XLR field recording? The unusual form factor of the F3 makes exact comparisons difficult. However, if you don’t care about 32-bit recording then Zoom’s H4n Pro Black ($199.99) and Tascam’s DR-40X ($184.70) come close. Here’s how they compare:
Initial Reflections on the F3 Audio Recorder
The F3 ($349.99) arrives in an already established field of Zoom units. It has a pro “F” line of “field recorders” with popular modes such as the F6 and F8n. It also a set of consumer or “prosumer” handheld recorders including the H1n, H2n, H3-VR, H4n Pro Black, H5, H6 Black, and H8. Whew!
So where does the F3 fit in? What kind of people will be drawn to the F3?
- The diminutive size of this unit (75.0 mm (W) × 77.3 mm (D) × 47.8 mm (H) and 242 grams) creates an obvious emphasis on unheard-of portability. It’s so small that it can essentially become part of any stand or boom pole it accompanies.
- The mounting options (side bars, tripod mount) suggest that it is meant to fit in any nook required.
- It supports two channels, which indicates it is designed to capture focused subjects: one stereo mic or a boom and a wireless mic combo.
- 32-bit float point means every take will be recorded without distortion.
- With a low-fi screen, blocky form factor, and an emphasis on software only options for most features, the F3 has a utilitarian feel.
- At $349.99, the F3 has an attractive price not only for a portable recorder, but a 32-bit powered never-peak recording device.
The result? An ultra-portable, fit-anywhere recording device you can “set and forget” that won’t make your wallet weep.
There are tradeoffs, though. The miniature slide-and-set record button, a lack of dedicated hardware buttons for major features, and a retro screen may give more discerning recordists pause. That’s okay, though. This unit is for people who are happy to accept these drawbacks in exchange for dual XLR inputs, never-peak recording, and a rock bottom price point.
Already have a favourite, high-quality stereo microphone? Don’t mind fiddling with the limitations of the F3’s form factor? Gunning for 32-bit recording so you can record undamaged sound effects? If you just want a “bit bucket” to store audio data from a superior microphone you already own, the F3 is a great choice.
- Learn more about the Zoom F3 audio recorder.
- Read about the new Tascam X8 Portacapture audio recorder.