Many of you have read my recent reviews of two new Zoom audio products, the ZDM-1 dynamic studio microphone and the H8 recorder. Some of you are wondering why I haven’t (yet) reviewed Zoom’s new PodTrak P4 (≈US$200) or PodTrak P8. I haven’t requested those two models so far because (just like a segregated video camera or a locked cell phone), they are currently locked. The PodTrak P4 and PodTrak P8 are locked because they are designed intentionally to inhibit 48 kHz audio recordings (the absolute standard in the video and film world, and my preferred sampling rate for audio podcasts too). Ironically, the PodTrak P4 and PodTrak P8 both have stronger internal preamps than the ≈US$400 H8 multitrack audio recorder I recently reviewed. In this article, I explore why I believed Zoom decided to impose this severe limitation (even the much lower cost ≈US$130 H1n recorder from Zoom thankfully still offers 48 kHz and even 96 kHz), and my speculation about the potential that Zoom may soon unlock the PodTrak P4 and PodTrak P8 via a firmware update, either free or for a fee, as both Canon and Sony historically did with their professional segregated HDV camcorders for a fee… and later free with the Sony FS100, after editorials and market pressure convinced them to do so.
In this article
- Why I believe Zoom imposed this severe limitation to the PodTrak P4 and PodTrak P8
- Why I respectfully disagree with Zoom’s decision
- Will Zoom unlock them, free or for a fee?
- Related articles
Why I believe Zoom imposed this severe limitation to the PodTrak P4 and PodTrak P8
Unlike the ignorance that betrayed the Canon engineers who designed the original 5D MK1 camera to record video at a framerate not standard since before 1953 (exact 30 fps instead of ≈29.97 fps) until a firmware correction after a perceived eternity. Those innocent engineers simply read the menus in many broadcast and consumer cameras that recorded ≈29.97 but rounded to 30 in the menu. I suspect that the designers at Zoom knew exactly what they were doing with they programmed the PodTrak P4 and PodTrak P8 without 48 kHz capabilities. I am convinced that they imposed this limitation for marketing reasons, to avoid taking away sales from other Zoom recorders which do support 48 kHz audio sampling (and higher), which make them appropriate for television and cinema production too.
Why I respectfully disagree with Zoom’s decision
The PodTrak P4 is an extraordinary value for the ≈US$200 price. If it had 48 kHz audio sampling, I would have already bought one myself, based upon the specs and test recordings made by my friend and colleague Curtis Judd in his excellent review of the P4 and test with a Shure SM7B. (Curtiss also criticizes the lack of 48 kHz in his PodTrak P4 review, although more softly than I do here.)
I recognize that audio podcasts may be produced and distributed at either 48 kHz or 44.1 kHz (mine and my clients are always at 48 kHz), but here I’ll summarize why it’s much better to produce absolutely all audio at 48 kHz (and distribute it that way too whenever possible):
- It is both silly and pessimistic to think that even an audio-only podcast will never be included in a video documentary, TV news segment or film. Once you have recorded at 44.1 kHz, to make it compatible with the video or film world requires damaging upsampling to 48 kHz, since you must create non-existent samples out of thin air. This process also consumes additional time and annoys the professional video or film producer, who needs to upsample it to make it compatible and sync it with the rest of the standard video with 48 kHz standard audio.
- If downsampling is ever required for a particular venue (i.e. ACX until they finally upgrade), downsampling while encoding/exporting a distribution file to 44.1 kHz requires no noticeable extra time and does not degrade the audio quality to the extent that upsampling does.
- Even if recording for interactive telephone systems (virtual PBX) like the ones I implement for clients (aka IVR for Interactive Voice Response), the 8 kHz telephone system represents an even fraction of 48 kHz (48 ÷ 6 = 8) so its a cleaner downsample than doing it from 44.1 kHz, and the system I use allows uploading the file at 48 kHz and downsamples on the fly, which makes my suggested workflow ready for HD Voice.
There are so many reasons to produce all audio at 48 kHz and zero justifications to do anything lower. Fortunately, other manufacturers who target the same markets agree with me, which is evident with the RØDECaster Pro and RØDE Reporter app, both of which record 48 kHz exclusively. They make it simple. They do it right, and they still allow downsampling later for a backward venue like ACX, while it learns to upgrade.
In today’s economy, few independent multimediographers who need to serve both audio-only and audio/video projects can afford to purchase different recorders for different segregated applications. Many need to purchase a single, versatile device, be it an interface, mixer, recorder or combined device.
Will Zoom unlock them, free or for a fee?
I really hope Zoom will read this article and see the light. Whether or not Zoom does it as a free firmware update will likely depend upon whether the overall structure allows firmware updaters restricted by serial number of each device (or not). This is a technique used both by Panasonic and Sony in some of their paid camera upgrades to 4K and to RAW recordings.
If Zoom has such a structure, they might charge US$55 for the unlock. If these devices don’t have not have that structure, they might take one of the following two paths:
- Offer the firmware upgrade free, justifying it to gain more market share.
- Offer a more expensive version of each device, possibly called the P4-48kHz and P8-48kHz.
Say “No!” to segregated cameras, locked mobile phones and locked audio recorders. Say “Yes!” to worldcams, unlocked mobile phones and unlocked (or 48 kHz exclusive) audio recorders.
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