The H6 ships in a black plastic carrying case with two interchangeable stereo mic capsules, a foam windscreen, a 2 GB SD card, four AA batteries, an operation manual, a Cubase LE installation DVD and a USB cable. I was disappointed to not find an included power supply but later found out that the plug of my common phone charger, used with the USB cable, can serve as one. Available as optional accessories are a shotgun mic, an extra pair of XLR/TRS inputs that would replace the attached mic inputs, a remote control, AC adapter and a bigger windscreen. (Clearly, the potential user base for the H6 includes filmmakers.)
Changing mic capsules is simple and involves pushing two buttons to release and then pop in a new one. The first capsule is an XY mic that can easily be switched from a 90 degree to 120 degree pattern by pulling and turning the capsules. The second is an MS (mid-side) mic that lets the user change the stereo width. The mics sound great, and I found no limitations with them. Running around New York City with headphones on, I scored some excellent samples of traffic, trains and people. I was impressed with how directional they could be, picking up the speech of passersby and my own footsteps with excellent clarity. The onboard low cut helped reduce wind sounds very well (as discovered during a test when I forgot the windscreen).
In another test, the H6 successfully recorded a four-piece band using the onboard mics to capture the whole room and four of the XLR inputs to accommodate both dynamic and condenser microphones. The batteries hung in there, too, even though they were being used to provide phantom power to the condensers. (Zoom claims that four AA batteries can last 20 hours.) Each input has a dedicated gain knob and -20 dB pad switch. Achieving a balanced recording was easier than I have experienced with other recorders that require digging into menus. Doing overdubs was a bit tedious, though, since overdub mode was hidden at the bottom of a menu page. It also has different high-pass, phantom power and compressor settings than the regular mode, so I had to make many adjustments with the scroll and menu buttons (and manual open) while musicians waited for me. It's also worth considering the H6 for recording a live performance with the onboard mics capturing the room and/or audience while outputs from a mixing board or DJ mixer feed the TRS inputs. I tracked some vinyl into Pro Tools through Lynx converters and simultaneously to the H6 to compare the line inputs and converters. Of course the Lynx had more detail, but the difference was definitely slight enough that I would use the H6 in the DJ booth and never consider bringing a computer to record a stereo live set. The MS mic can be recorded in raw mode, which allows the side mic level to be adjusted later. It can also be used in with the side mic off so the mid is operating as a mono source, good for interviews and speech recordings of that nature.
There are many included features to make the recording process easier, safer and more versatile. One is Pre-Record, which continuously records to a buffer that places two extra seconds before you hit record in case you miss the first note or word. Backup Record saves an extra version (12 dB quieter) of the left-right inputs that can save a recording that's clipped. Auto Record starts and stops a recording like a gate responding to a threshold. It's possible to set 99 markers per recording for fast location of a section. Files can be normalized, and mixes can be internally bounced down to a stereo file. Some basic editing functions like trim and divide are possible, too. There's a speaker on the back of the unit, useful for previewing takes when headphones are unavailable or for more than one listener. Playback speed is variable which can be useful for practicing or getting difficult parts tracked. Pitch can also be changed per track and be exclusive of the playback speed. A metronome and tuner are included as well. I found that the tuner didn't work all that well on the guitar setting but worked fine as a chromatic tuner. The H6 supports bit/sample rates up to 24-bit/96kHz in WAV or MP3 formats. SD, SDHC and SDXC cards up to 128 GB are supported for many hours of recording time.
The Zoom H6 performed fairly well for several tasks. The mics are of great quality for the price, and the versatility of the unit is unquestionable. As an audio interface, the H6 connected to my Mac immediately and was recording to Pro Tools in seconds. Sometimes navigating through the menus required a lot of patience and could possibly hinder impulsive recording, but the big color screen certainly alleviated some of the pain. If you are 100% sure that you will never need more than two channels, than this recorder might be overkill. However, if you want a multichannel field recorder that doubles as a compact studio interface, the value here is strong.
Ease of use: 3.5/5