Could 32 Bit Recording on the Zoom F3 Save You Time & Money?

Today I am going to dive into 32 bit-float recording via the Zoom F3. You may be familiar with sample rate, but did you know that, among the million other factors that affect a recording’s quality, bit depth is one that’s often forgotten about? My colleague Matthew sums up bit depth, saying:

The higher the number, the higher the quality, and the more the recording is able to accurately capture a noise with substantial difference in volume from its quietest parts to its loudest parts.” 

However, 32 bit-float recording in modern technology now has benefits that are also helpful for podcasters and audio drama producers. 

In this article, I’ll be using the Zoom F3 to demonstrate:

The Pros to 32 bit-float recording

The cons to 32 bit-float recording

Why the Zoom F3 is a good introductory device for 32 bit-float recording

And more!

Editor’s Note

Our link to the Zoom F3 is an affiliate. We’d earn a small commission should you choose to buy through it, though never at any extra cost to yourself!

Audio Recording in a Nutshell

To achieve optimal recording quality, the biggest factors are:

Healthy recording levels

Equipment used (microphone and interface)

Room Treatment

Microphone technique

A Zoom F3 and its ability to record in 32 bit-float WAV format will cover you for half of that list.

What is the Zoom F3?

The Zoom F3 is a portable recorder that fits in the palm of your hand and is capable of 32 bit-float recording. Other features include:

No input gain setting needed (it may be enticing for you, as a podcaster, not to have to set your input gain!)

2 XLR mic inputs

1 line-level output

3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring

Can be used as a recording interface to a computer

Can be controlled via Bluetooth via an extra adapter

Can record 44.1-192kHz.

Has phantom power

It’s worth noting that the Zoom F3 does NOT have a built-in mic like the H5 or H6, though.

You can find more features and tech specs on Zoom’s website.

Overall Thoughts on the Zoom F3

The F3 sports many of the features that Zoom gear users will be familiar with. These include the ability to use it as an audio interface and easy drag-and-drop file transfer. The device is super tiny, and, as a result, the buttons to navigate its settings are pretty small.  However, the preamps are a major improvement from the H6, comparing my use of both the H6 and F3. The self-noise on the F3 is insanely low, whereas on the H6, I could hear hiss from the device itself at times.

When I use the Zoom F3 as an audio interface, it’s smoother for playback compared to the H6.  However, I wouldn’t recommend it as your main audio interface due to the line out being a singular 3.5mm jack, so using studio monitors would be tricky. 

Throughout all my recording tests from the last month, the Zoom F3 didn’t have any interference issues. Typically this would be things like hums picked up into a recording from waves travelling through the air or from other devices.

The Big Benefit of 32 Bit-Float Recording With the Zoom F3

The major benefit to recording in 32 bit-float is that it’s much harder to distort the audio.  Below is a test recording using a SSL2+ interface, Skylight mic from 512 Audio at 48kHz, 24-bit:

You can probably hear a crunchy harshness throughout.  I purposely set the levels incorrectly to simulate when you or a guest on a podcast speaks louder.  This harshness can’t always be repaired after the fact.

Below is a test recording using the Zoom F3 as a recording interface and the same mic at 48kHz, 32 bit-float:

You shouldn’t be hearing any of the harshness like you do in the previous test recording.  That’s the beauty of 32 bit-float recording! You no longer need to fear distortion – mostly! The Zoom F3 did a decent job with the recording levels too! When speaking normally, my levels were reading at -24LUFS, which is good for raw unprocessed audio!

It is important to note that your audio software must support 32 bit-float recording when using the Zoom F3 as an interface. DAWs such as Pro Tools, Audition, Cubase, Studio One, and Reaper support this function.

The Second Benefit of 32 Bit-Float Recording With the Zoom F3

When you record at too low for input gain, you typically run the risk of introducing more self-noise from the recording device. Background noise from your recording environment will also become louder. This can result in there being more noise than voice, which can make it very difficult to clean up in editing when you boost the recording level. However, with the Zoom F3’s dual analogue to digital converter design, recording too low is less of an issue to worry about.  If you do need to boost the level during editing, you can do so without introducing self-noise.

The Cons of 32 Bit-Float Recording With the Zoom F3

In my testing of the Zoom F3 as a foley artist and sound designer, I’ve observed that the recorder picks up A LOT of detail compared to the H6 or SSL2+ interface. This can potentially mean that more background noise from your environment may be picked up in the recording. It’s a double-edged sword.  The amount of detail my mics were picking up was surprising, but you just need to be mindful of your surroundings. That said, my mics did sound better with the Zoom F3.   

The next con is debatable as to whether or not you see it as a con. With 32 bit-float recording, the file size is going to increase. This is due to more information being captured, which means higher quality at the cost of higher file size.

The lack of control can be seen as a con for someone who is used to setting your recording levels.

As a final note here, you’ll need an XLR mic connected to the Zoom F3 to record anything. Again, it has no built-in mics, and you couldn’t plug a USB mic into it, either.

Conclusion & Takeaways

The ability to lessen the risk of distorting your audio is the benefit of 32 bit-float recording, regardless of the brand of recording device that has this feature. 

Distortion is a pain to fix, and it’s not always fixable.  This can sometimes be a costly mistake that results in re-recording, higher editing fees, or more of your time if you’re doing it yourself rather than creating and promoting your podcast or audio drama.  Listeners are becoming savvier about audio quality, so it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward as much as possible.   

The other benefits, such as no gain setting and being free from the woes of low recording levels, are tied to the Zoom F3’s design. I believe the Zoom F3 offers a great entryway into the world of 32 bit-float recording. Its price tag is roughly $349.99 USD

Who Would Benefit From 32 Bit-Float Recording via a Zoom F3?

People on the go or don’t have much space (it’s so tiny)

People unsure how to set recording levels

People who want the benefit of distortion risk reduction

An indie audio drama producer who wants to record their own sound effects and foley

You can still distort audio with a Zoom F3, but it is much harder to do. The auto-gain can help you pick up more timid guests that don’t project their voice as much. The Zoom F3 is just another tool to solve a potential problem.

Our Rating: 4.5/5

Recording Quality: 4.5/5

Features for Price: 4/5

User Friendliness: 5/5

Originally posted on December 6, 2022 @ 2:24 pm

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