A better headphone output for the Zoom F4 / F8?

A common criticism of the Zoom F8 and the Zoom F4  is the poor pre amp on the headphone output, as if you crank it a bit to high then you can definitely hear the noise floor creeping. Personally I feel this criticism of the F8/F4 is a bit overblown. Because this noise you hear doesn’t at all exist on the recorded files (or in the main / sub outputs). 
Thus 9 times out of 10 I am perfectly happy with the pre amps on the Zoom F4/F8, at least when it comes to normal dialogue levels recorded on location (at least not with my set up. Although others with headphones that need a greater output to drive them do have a legitimate concern).
But occasionally (such as when recording ambiance, or quiet whisperings) I wish the head phone pre amps would be better. As while not perhaps quite an *essential* improvement, it would be a handy “luxury” to enjoy? Thus I’m wondering to perhaps use a Behringer P1 / P2 , ART MyMonitorII, or a PreSonus HP2? (or open to any other suggestions that I’ve missed. Have seen the Fischer Amps In Ear Stick used with the F8, but that is a lot more expensive than these other options, and doesn’t seem to offer anything more?)
I’d love to hear some personal user experiences from taking this approach to monitoring (with the main or sub out from the F4/F8, which are much much cleaner), instead of using the headphone output for monitoring.
The biggest downside is that all the interaction feedback (such as the beep you’d hear when you start/stop recording) is completely gone if you’re not using the headphone output, likewise the PFL buttons become 100% useless (which would be a major downside for me, as I’m frequently using them while recording and during playback).
However, this should be an easy firmware fix for Zoom to have a toggle options in the settings as to if the effects to the headphones (start/stop beeps, & PFL button pushes) should be applied equally to the main/sub outputs as they also are to the headphone output. This firmware update should be seriously considered by Zoom as it would “fix” the biggest (or at least the most common, even though I personally feel it is a bit overblown) objection to the Zoom F4/F8: their poor headphone amp.

7 thoughts on “A better headphone output for the Zoom F4 / F8?

  1. I love my F4, I do however have a request for Zoom, after switching to it from my Tascam DR710D, which doesn’t sound as good but has an HDMI-in: please give us an inexpendive HDMI to Time Code converter, or even better, a firmware update that can use the BNC inputs to read time code off SD-HDI (is this even possible?). I know I can send TC to an analog track on the camcorder, but everything has HDMI or HD-SDI output and using that or camera-to-recorder sync and transport control simplifies things and saves time.

    • There doesn’t seem to be any product at all on the market which does an HDMI TC to BNC TC conversion, or even a video feed over SDI to BNC TC conversion. But yes, it would be handy to have a little matchbox sized device which could strip out the timecode data to then only purely feed that to your recorder.

      However I fear this is a far to niche market, and we’ll never see such a product ever developed.

      Most people are much better off just putting a timecode box (especially as they’re so dirt cheap now!) on the camera itself.

  2. It’s definitely a design flaw from Zoom. I have to crank up the headphone volume to get a decent listening level based on experience, while keeping a good s/n ratio at the preamps.

    The Zoom F4 headphone output impedance is @ 15 Ωohms or less.
    Sound devices 633 is at 100 Ωohms.

    This means your 64 Ω ohms sonyMDR-7506 or sennheiser 280HDPRO headphones are not adaquately powered by the Zoom F4.

    I highly doubt this will be a firmware fix. A hardware upgrade or a much powerful headphone amp.

    • What position do you have your headphone dial on your F8/F4? Mine is usually near the 12 o’clock mark, and at that level of gain I by no means find it obnoxious at all. Rather I must crank it much higher than that before I feel this.

    • Odd – audio amplifier design normally demands a low output impedance at the output stage. This allows the amplifier to provide enough current to drive whatever it’s driving and ensure the output voltage follows the signal. Or are you referring to the impedance it will drive, which is different to the small circuit impedance of the output circuitry?

  3. I’ve just ordered an original F8, now some sites are selling them at discount. (Still not cheap! but sufficiently closer to F4’s price I went for the greater channel count). It’s yet to arrive so I’ve yet to experience this amplifier – one thing I’m nervous about as I plan to use it as an audio interface as much as a recorder.

    In answer to the original question – could you connect an external headphone amplifier to the headphone output? Is it a problem of signal to noise ratio on the headphone signal, or an amplifier that can’t drive headphones so well? I’d heard it’s better with high impedance headphones (mine are 64R). An external amplifier presents a very high impedance.

    One of my planned uses is field mixing in theatre, where I want to use the headphone output to feed the show recording mix to the backstage monitor speakers. I’ll be using Main and Sub to feed sound cues to the front of house PA system (4 speakers). An interesting question is if I could forego the big mixing desk and live mix on the device. I lose some of the flexibility and features of a desk designed for live sound, but if the F8 is enough it saves on kit.

    • I never tried out different headphone output options than what was already built into the F4 (or later the F8n that I got).

      Perhaps if Zoom had implemented a firmware update to allow routing of the headphone bells then I would have given it a try.

      > “I’ve just ordered an original F8, now some sites are selling them at discount. (Still not cheap! but sufficiently closer to F4’s price I went for the greater channel count).”

      Got to remember context, the F8 isn’t really expensive at all for what it does! You could even say it is thousands of dollars under priced 😮

      I’m going to give the Zoom F8 my “game changer of the decade” award.

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