Friday, August 05, 2016

Zoom F8: Firmware Suggestions

UPDATE: Firmware 3.0 addressed a number of my concerns. These have been indicated below.

UPDATE: After using the unit for a month, I have added three more ideas. Some of these are less critical than others, but I have edited the article to remove any attempt to grade them. Our priorities are all different!

In my first article I discussed my justification for buying a Zoom F8, and gave a handy overview of the features. No doubt this multichannel recorder offers the best bang-for-the-buck of any on the market, while not compromising on professional features: time code, pull-down and pull-up sync rates, dual SD card slots, and so on.

But no matter how good a recorder is out of the box, there is room for improvement. I was encouraged to buy a Zoom F8 because of the feature set and pricing, but the deciding factor was the firmware updates. Zoom looked at the critiques after the first months of availability and issued Firmware 2.00, which added many useful features. A further 2.10 update fixed more bugs.

In this field, a company that cares about their customers should be willing to enhance their hardware beyond initial release. Anything else is a wasteful approach to hardware that, let's face it, uses up precious resources from our environment. I like to use a piece of kit for as long as possible!

Zoom have shown that they care... and have me as a customer as a result. The signs are encouraging that this policy will continue, and so I present my list of requests, restricted to those that can be implemented without hardware changes.

Several shortcut functions involve holding down a key combination involving the STOP button. It is my fervent belief that that STOP button should only be used for one thing: to stop the recording.

Change the shortcut key to something other than a transport button.

While recording, the record button itself no longer needs to be pressed. The shortcut can be activated by pressing only the corresponding channel button.

During recording the OVER light cannot be reset without using the STOP+5 shortcut.

The OVER light should reset itself after a certain time. Add a setting to customise this, in the same way that we can already customise the PEAK light.

Not implemented, but the above fix helps alleviate the issue.

When playing back files from the Finder, you scroll through the takes in a folder using the data entry knob. But you rewind and fast-forward a file by holding the |<< and >>| transport buttons. This is inconsistent.

A short press of the |<< and >>| transport buttons should move to the previous and next takes/files.

This has been added.

On playback, the PFL button acts as a pre-fader solo. But there is no channel mute functionality. Correction: It's been pointed out by Nick Shostak that on playback the PFL is actually post-fader, which is another inconsistency.

A long press of the PFL button could act as a channel mute.

We can now monitor channels that are not designated for recording. This doesn't exactly address the issue.

The timer resets for every take file in a continuous recording. Recording stereo in 24 bits at 192Khz, every file is only 7:46. So very quickly I have no way of knowing the actual elapsed time since I hit record.

The timer should not reset until STOP is pushed.

There is now a setting that allows this behaviour.

If I have a take selected and hold down the entry knob it says "Are you sure?" Am I sure what? I have no idea what function might occur!

Simply change the prompt to be more explicit.

The myriad software settings are not easy to manage.

Add a save and recall function, so that the overall state of the machine can be stored in a file on an SD card. As a bonus, we could then trade settings between units.

This is implemented. Named settings files can be saved and recalled from either SD drive. You can also save headphone monitoring settings.

There is no physical button that locks the interface.

Though a dedicated switch would be much preferable, perhaps in the near term the Slate switch could be used? There could be a firmware setting to change the function of either the Slate Mic (slide to left) or Tone (slide to right) to LOCK.

The phantom power options are restricted to 24V or 48V.

There's no reason to send more power out the XLR jack than necessary. If the power settings included 12V and 5V settings, the unit would support additional microphones, including those designed for the PIP standard.

Some respondents, here and elsewhere, thought this a bad idea, based on the problem of potentially ruining a microphone with the wrong voltage. However, if this is a recorder for adults I think we can be responsible for setting the correct voltage. It can also be argued that even 24V is enough to fry some electronics, so the problem already exists.

For many, the dual-channel recording mode is annoying, since both the main channel and the safety must have their levels set independently.

Devices from Tascam automatically record the safety at a set level below the main channel. Zoom should add this as an option. In the menu we could have different dB settings, say -9, -12, -15, plus a "free" setting where the F8 works as it does now. (Suggested by KJ.)

The high pass filter is set to 80 Hz, which is too high for certain sources.

Allow different cut-off frequencies, set in the menu, if the circuitry allows for this. For example, 10, 20, and 40Hz. (Suggested by KJ.)

The range now extends from 10-240 Hz.

The screen stays on at all times. This is inappropriate for certain stealth recording situations where you do not wish to call attention to yourself by being a light source.

Since there is no hardware dial (unfortunately), a menu setting could control dimming or turning off the display after a certain length of time. Touching a control would then turn it on again. This might also save battery power.

An upcoming article will address improvements that require a new hardware iteration. I am sure that Zoom will be happy to oblige!



Dan Dugan said...

Re problem 9: never wire a PIP mic to an XLR connector! It would be destroyed if phantom was applied. F8 does have PIP for channels 1-2 on the Zoom special connector. A mating connector for this could be made for using your own PIP mics.

araudio said...

yup, I agree with all of your suggestions, it would make the F8 the last recorder anyone would buy, firmware upgrades are smarter than hardware changes!!!
I own 3 of them and i am still glad I upgraded to zoom.

robin said...

Good idea, Dan, and your warning is appropriate. However, it is also true that 24V phantom is enough to kill certain microphones. I think that in the market Zoom is targeting, we can assume a certain degree of responsibility on the part of the user. So... check your wiring and voltage requirements BEFORE turning on any power to a microphone!

robin said...

Araudio... even with all the suggestions implemented, the F8 would not be the LAST recorder I will buy, since there are also a number of improvements that cannot be fulfilled through firmware, but instead require hardware changes. I will put some of those forward in a future article, so stay tuned!

This is good news for Zoom, who are hopefully building a market with this recorder. Some of those people might want to step up to a Pro model.

K.J. said...

Hi Robin, thank you for your article(s). I agree with most of your suggestions.
I would like to add some more:

Problem 10:
Abysmal implementation of the dual-channel recording mode.
You have to nurse several pots and keep the dB values in mind at the same time. Much to laborious. Tascam's "Dual Recording" is much easier to operate.

Please implement a dual-channel recording mode รก la Tascam.

Problem 11:
Missing 10, 20, 40Hz setting for the high pass filter.

Deepest tones/frequenzies (approx.):
Double bass/electric bass: 40Hz
Organ: 16Hz
Wind/Traffic noise/air conditioning: down to several Hz

Add a 10, 20 and 40Hz setting to the high pass filter.

Feel free to add my suggestions to your list.



robin said...

KJ, I agree completely! Will update my article after my next recording trip.

David Peterson - IronFilm said...

An automix feature would be fantastic! Especially as you've got 8 XLR inputs, which can sometimes be a bit much to manage all at once on the fly.

Ed R said...

Great article, totally agree especially about the dual recording, it would be even better if once you set the level below, you could use the lower knob as a fader with the top knob as gain to mix more easily on the fly.

In a similar way it would be great if on a stereo pair with linked gains, the left knob could control gain and the right control fader? You also don't seem to be able to PFL more than one channel at once meaning you can't PFL a stereo input.

My main suggestion though would be a way to use tracks 7/8 as a return, with the tracks active but not being iso'd, and when they are turned on they are fed to the HP output only with PFL still working for other channels. It would be great to be able to utilise all those channels even when working with just one or two sources!

If you agree then it'd be great to see it on this list, as I know Zoom are quite good at listening to their customers and this seems like a good platform for it.


robin said...

I've finally updated this article to reflect the improvements in firmware version 3. Of my suggestions, only the following remain valid: 4, 8, 9, 10, 12.

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