This post will give you step by step directions for adapting an external battery pack to power a Zoom H-4 Handy Recorder using about $30 worth of supplies. For the most part, these instructions should work with pretty much any electronic device that can be powered by an AC adapter. With a little know-how, you could also get it to work with USB powered devices.
- It does not work well with external microphones. This isn’t a huge issue because the internal mics sound surprisingly good. Better, in fact than the EV RE-50 and minidisc recorder combo I had previously used. They provide a nice full, stereo sound with relatively little hiss.
- When running on battery power, you can hear a electronic noise in the recordings. It’s very quiet. In fact, it’s quieter than the hiss picked up by most recorders. But since it’s rhythmic, it can be a bit more noticeable when you crank up the volume in playback.
So it’s a vicious circle. The H-4 doesn’t work well with external mics, but that’s okay because I can just use the built-ins. But the built-ins record extra noise.
Since I usually record interviews on battery power, I didn’t realize that the noise was caused by the batteries until I read up on the issue in the Zoom forums. It turns out there’s two possible solutions (since Zoom ain’t fixing it). You can void your warranty and crack open your unit to solder some parts together. Or you can build an external battery pack so that your unit is essentially always plugged in. I opted for the latter. As an added bonus, I should be able to record for 20+ hours on a single charge, as opposed to the 3-4 hours you could get with 2 AA batteries.
Here’s a sample clip I recorded using battery power. You’ll have to pump up the volume and listen with headphones on to hear, but there’s a high pitch noise in the background.
Update: Unfortunately the audio for this article was uploaded to an internet service that no longer exists, so the sound clips are no longer available.
Here’s how I built the battery pack.
Following the advice in this forum post, I went to Radio Shack and bought:
- 274-1569 Size M coaxial DC power plug (2-Pack) $3 (I DID NOT NEED THIS, SAVE THE $3)
- 23-445 Remote control car 9.6V battery pack connector repair kit $5
- 23-432 Remote control car battery pack and charger $20
Then I realized that the instructions assumed a bit more knowledge than I had. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to get the Connector Repair Kit to fit into the Coaxial Plug. I eventually figured out it involved a soldering iron and decided to go the easy route. I decided to cannibalize the power plug that came with the Zoom H-4.
Here’s a picture of the 9.6 volt remote control battery pack I used:
The eagle-eyed reader will note that the battery pack plugs into a charger via that white plastic doohickey. The repair kit features an identical doohickey. From now on, that will be the technical term.
In other words, you plug the batter pack into the charger to you know, charge the battery. Just unplug it and plug it into the battery repair kit to power whatever’s on the other side. But instead of an RC car, we want a plug for your Zoom H-4 or other electronic device to be on the other side.
Cutting the wires
To do that, you need to cut off the tips of black and red wires and strip the cable. If you’ve got a pair of wire cutters, use those. I found a pair of needle nose pliers that could cut and strip wire, so I was all set.
Next comes the scarier part. I pulled out the power supply that came with my Zoom H-4 and stripped the cable close to the part that plugs into my audio recorder. Don’t cut too close, because you want to have some wire to work with if you need to make a second cut.
When I was done, here’s what I had:
Now all you have to do is twist the cables together. In this case, I had a red and black cable from the doohickey, and two black cables from the power supply/plug. Luckily one of those black cables had a white stripe.
Through a little trial and error I determined that the striped wire should be twisted together with the black cable, and the plain black cable should be connected to the red cable.
That’s it. If your battery pack is charged, you can plug the doohickey into your battery and the other end into your portable device, and you should have power.
Just to be on the safe side, I went and wrapped some electrical tape around each of the connections. And then I strapped the whole thing to my recorder. The result looked something like the nuclear power packs used in Ghostbusters.
I went back to my power plug and cut off enough wire to let me stick the battery pack in my pocket while holding the Zoom H-4 at arm’s length. I then spliced this wire to the others using the same methods described above.
While this hack doesn’t solve my external microphone issue, it does eliminate the buzzing noise on my recordings. I’d still like to find a good external mic that works well for settings where the internal mics are impractical. But now I’m happy with my Zoom H-4 99.5% of the time.
And these instructions should work for pretty much any device that uses a similar plug. Keep in mind that you’ll want to use a battery pack that supplies a similar voltage to the power supply that came with your device. The Zoom H-4 comes with a 12V power supply, but the 9.6V battery pack seems to work just fine. There’s little chance of frying your electronics by using a battery supply with a lower voltage than recommended, but I’d warn against using a higher voltage.