Zoom R8 recorder — my favorite gadget

Updated July 2019

…(awesome) lap-sized 8 track recorder…!

I’m updating this in 2019 to add a few more comments. I’ve owned this since at least 2013 and maybe before. I see from a quick web search that this is still available which should immediately tell you something in this day of advancing technology.

See the outstanding review with photos by Rich Menga; a good takeaway is that he makes this comment, which I fully agree with:

I’m very surprised anyone who records at home doesn’t own an R8.

For various reasons I wanted something very small and portable I could use as a songwriting/scratch pad. I looked at several from Boss and Tascam but settled on this unit. It can be actually battery powered with AA batteries; and even supports rechargeable AAs (!) It runs several hours on fresh 4 AA alkaline batteries.

The recording medium is an SDHC card. It ships with a 2 GB card containing a lot of excellent drum loops, but you can install up to a 32GB card, which I highly recommend, particularly as they are sub-$10 at this point. I copied the loops to the larger card and there is tons on room now for projects and takes. If somehow you fill up a card just put in a new one…but I’d be surprised if you did.

Two tiny condenser mics are built right into the device. They’re obviously not ultra high quality but fine for recording acoustic instruments/vocals.

The audio effects and processing options are very good. In particular, the guitar effects are great for me. With an electric or acoustic guitar, or a piano and your voice you can create really good tracks. There’s plenty of processing options for vox, bass, special effects, eq.

I cannot recommend this too highly. One of the things I’m finding out is that I’m more likely to record a passing idea when I can boot this up in 15 seconds, plug in my guitar or sing (or even take a voice note!) into it. You don’t even need to set up mics, but can play an acoustic instrument or sing right into the built in mics! Later on when the whole studio is booted I can easily transfer the audio files to Reaper or Live.

The included loops and rhythm patterns are surprisingly good. Not only that, but if you have a collection of your favorite loops, you can use your computer to copy them to the R8 and use them just as you can with the supplied ones! Of course they have to be 44.1k WAVs, but plenty of those fit on a 32 GB SD card.

Real guitar players have dissed the R8’s built in guitar effects, but for my money I never use my Pod or Korg Pandora. I never play live so for my needs the built-in effects are outstanding. Not to mention the bass, clean channel, mic channel and mastering effects. (Full disclosure: once I got Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 I use that for everything; I can even track guitar parts with it and my computer is not that recent or fast.)

The display is bright enough to actually see.

Yes, it can be cumbersome to operate (e.g. trim audio files) but for its size you just can’t beat it. Really, even though Zoom has released some newer versions of there recorders, for my needs none of them are really as good as this one. I was looking at the R16 but I really have no need for 8 track simultaneous recording. The R16 uses 6 batteries too, and doesn’t have the rhythm unit that the R8 and R16 does.

Maybe it’s just my own personal taste, but I demoted my Line6 PodXT off my desktop (and onto ebay, sayonara) and only use the Zoom to record guitar tracks into my computer. Sometimes I’ll use NI Guitar Rig to punch up the processing. The nice thing is that you can record your guitar lead dry while monitoring effects, and bounce the effected part to another track. Then you can import the clean and FX track into your DAW, and add further effects.

Battery powered! Using 4 AA alkaline batteries you can get up to 5 hours of use, per the manual. But I am using 2500 mAh NiMH, which give at least 2 hours and more likely 3 or more depending on what you’re doing. (I’m going to actually measure this and will update the page when I do.)

Quick Pros and Cons list: based on my usage, YMMV of course!

The Amazon “From the manufacturer” section is informative and accurate. Not going to link to them for free though!

Pros:

  • Small and extremely light (257 mm × 190 mm × 51 mm, 780 gm) – not sure if that’s with the batteries or not
  • Boots up in a few seconds
  • Bright backlight
  • Built in stereo mics
  • 2x XLR inputs in the back
  • 24V/48V phantom power (you should probably be using USB power in this case)
  • USB 2.0; files transfer to computer pretty quickly
  • Usable FX
  • Simple sample feature
  • Simple drum machine feature with hundreds of usable patterns included
  • Up to 32 GB SDHC cards supported
  • Some of the supplied audio loops are pretty cool (I mean, how impossible is it to make everything thrilled with all the musical styles that are out there)
  • Quick control surface capability
    • I love this, I can quickly assign a couple faders to some of my Ableton controls if I decide I need to do some tweaking

Cons: a lot of these are pretty trivial, but just to let you know:

  • This is not a cheap item. Pretty much everywhere will charge you USD299 for it.
  • Some functions like bouncing and file trim/split are a little arcane, but with some dedicated reading of the manual supplemented with YouTube lessons you can easily learn it
  • You can only record two audio channels at a time
  • Be careful; if you are wedded to 48kHz you can’t record with FX at that SR
  • It will lose the date and time if the batteries fail and you don’t replace them or hook to USB power within a few minutes. (It’s not a big deal to reset the date/time). If you don’t reset the time then new files will have wrong timestamps; I don’t know if there are any other gotchas.
  • Renaming files is cumbersome using the jog wheel/cursor
  • Supplied SD card is only 2GB; about half of it is supplied loops and drum patterns.
  • Setting loop timing on fx comes up in ms; but Rich Menga in his review above shows how to get to the musical tempo setting

Last modified 8 Jul 2019