The Zoom R16 is a 16-track digital recorder, and you can record on 8 of those tracks simultaneously. The quality of the end result is astounding and the R16 has now become a common companion to all of my band's practice sessions.
Several months ago my band decided that we should be recording some of our music. We wanted to have some high-quality demos to share, but we also wanted to listen to ourselves outside of the "performance" bubble. We knew we wanted a multi-track recorder because we wanted the ability to mix our recording properly after tracks were laid down. Since I'm the gadget guru of the group, I set out to find a suitable recording deck.
As I shopped for our recording equipment, I found that most only allowed for simultaneous recording of a couple of tracks. We needed to record at least 7 tracks. Sure, it's possible to have your lead singer lay down a track, your lead guitarist lay down a track, your bassist lay down a track, etc., and then mix them to a master after the fact. However, we didn't want to do it that way. We feed off of each other when we play, and we wanted to capture that experience in our recordings.
That's when I found the Zoom R16. The R16 is a 16-track digital recorder, and you can record on 8 of those tracks simultaneously. The quality of the end result is astounding and the R16 has now become a common companion to all of our practice sessions.
In this review, I'll show you how we use the R16 and why I feel it's a great choice for anyone who's interested in recording audio. Whether you are a solo performer or you perform with a group, you owe this cool piece of gear a strong look.
The first thing you notice about the Zoom R16 is its light weight. It weighs in at just slightly over 4.5 pounds. Even so, the unit feels solid and has performed very well for me. The components are high quality.
At the rear of the unit, you'll find 8 combination mic/line inputs. That means that you can plug in either an XLR input or a balanced 1/4" input. (Stereo inputs are supported as well. More on that later.) One of these inputs is a high impedance input, great for a guitar or bass guitar input. Inputs 5 and 6 have phantom power for those of you who use condenser microphones. The R16 also has two built-in microphones that are adequate for a live recording during a gig or for a quick recording session. Audio from these mics is recorded to tracks 7 and 8.
Also on the back side of the unit, you'll find a standard 1/4" headphone jack and two 1/4" outputs for speakers. There's a separate level adjustment for headphones and for speaker output.
On the unit's face, you'll find a gain knob, a peak indicator, an LED meter, and a slider for adjusting level. Each channel also features a mute/solo/record button with an LED light to indicate the current mode of that channel. The gain knobs are suitably sensitive for setting your gains accurately, and the sliders have a nice feel. The LED meters are helpful, but unfortunately, Zoom opted for only four LED segments for each channel. This can make setting levels challenging, but once you get used to the unit, it becomes less of a problem.
To the right of the channel controls is a four-way button panel for navigating the menus in the R16, a jog wheel for quickly navigating through menus and for selecting a time-code in a recording quickly. The jog wheel is sometimes a little touchy, but it works well. Transport controls are above the jog wheel, and both the record and play buttons are lighted. The transport buttons have a satisfying click when pressed, and it's almost impossible to press one of them accidentally.
Directly above the transport buttons are five function buttons. These are programmed with built-in functions, but you can program them for other functions when using the R16 as a controller. When using these in recording mode, they can be used for punch recording and for setting markers within a recording so that you can easily move to a particular point.
The LCD display is suitable, but I would have liked to see higher resolution, allowing for additional characters. To the left of the display is a small, red LED that blinks to the tempo of the R16's metronome, useful when laying down a non-quantized beat. Wrapping up the basic controls is a series of buttons that allow you to access features such as effects, track settings, bank selection, project settings, and more.
I have used my R16 primarily for multi-track recording with my band, and it has worked very well in that regard. We use it not only so that we can carefully listen to ourselves play after the fact, but also so that we can make practice CDs for each band member. By simply mixing out the tracks that contain a particular member's performance, I can easily make a practice CD customized for each person so that we can practice "with" each other when busy schedules don't permit it otherwise. That feature alone has been worth the investment in the R16.
When we perform, we lay down 7 or 8 tracks simultaneously. When recording, we turn the speaker output to 0 and use the headphone output exclusively so that our mics don't pick cause instruments to leak into other channels. The R16 only has one 1/4" output for headphones, and in order to get anywhere near the sound quality you need through multiple headphones, you'll need a headphone amp. I bought a Rolls HA43 amplifier specifically for this purpose, and it does an excellent job while allowing each band member to adjust the sound level to his personal preference.
If necessary, you can use the R16 to record up to 16 tracks, but only 8 can be recorded simultaneously. There's a toggle button that switches the R16's channels from 1-8 to 8-16. For example, if you toggle the switch, channel 1 becomes channel 9. Toggle it again and channel 9 becomes channel 1 again. This setup is actually convenient when I use the R16 to record solo compositions. I will often use the R16 to put together my own music, and since I play each part individually on my keyboard, I can easily lay down two instrument tracks without having to plug my keyboard into a new channel and set the gain again.
If you have a need to record simultaneously on more than 8 tracks, you can connect a second Zoom R16 via USB and the two units will synchronize with each other so that you can record to 16-channels simultaneously! This is an incredibly cool feature and configuration and setup is as simple as it could possibly be.
Incidentally, my keyboard has a left and right output since many of the sounds are in stereo. The R16 can accommodate this nicely using a "stereo link" feature. Each odd-numbered channel can be stereo link enabled, and doing so links that channel and the next channel for one stereo input. Each channel will have a separate gain control and the level control for the odd-numbered channel controls the level of both stereo-linked channels.
The R16 records to SD memory. A 1GB card is included in the box, but you'll almost certainly want to buy a larger card. The unit supports up to a 32GB card, and considering the low cost of memory these days, there's really no reason not to spring for the largest card you can get. You can get a 32GB SD card on Amazon for less then 30 dollars as of this writing.
Each track you record is saved to a WAV file on the SD card. Therefore, it's easy to use the audio recorded on an R16 in any DAW software or for any other purpose. In fact, I will often record samples from my keyboard on my R16 and then use the WAV files in GarageBand or other software. The R16 can also do a straight dump of all of the recorded audio files to a USB jump drive. Simply plug the jump drive into the R16 and you can use the menus to easily transfer all of your audio to the attached jump drive. This is a great way to send all band members home with their own copy of the session.
The R16 has both reverb and chorus effects, and you can choose to record each either wet or dry. I prefer to record dry so that the vocalist can have the comfort of hearing the effect in his phones, yet allowing me to mix a master track with different effect settings. It also allows for the flexibility of adding effects in software on a computer after the fact.
There's one more thing that I must mention. The R16 comes with an AC adapter for power, but you can also power the unit using 6 AA batteries for up to 5 hours! That means that you can have the full power of a recording studio with you no matter where you go. It's really great to have that kind of freedom in a recorder.
Interface and Controller
As I mentioned, in addition to being a very capable recording device, the R16 can also be used as a MIDI interface and a MIDI controller. I haven't used it extensively, but I have tested this functionality and I was easily able to configure it. It works well, and if this is something you're interested in doing with your R16, I'd recommend that you check out one of the numerous YouTube videos on the subject.
I really can't recommend the Zoom R16 highly enough for anyone who wants to make CD-quality recordings. There are enough features to satisfy even the pickiest musician, and the flexibility provided by 8-track simultaneous operation, wet and dry recording, battery operation, and more will meet the needs of just about anyone. Add to that the unique features such as the ability to chain multiple R16s together, and you've got an impressive device that will meet your needs today and your needs in the future.