Zoom Corp puts a multi-track studio in your backpack
Musicians can use computer-based music production platforms to record, mix and produce songs, but some prefer the more tactile experience afforded by dedicated hardware. That's what the R20 from Japan's Zoom Corporation provides.
Perhaps we should start by pointing out that the R20 comes from the brand that makes audio gear like the mighty H8, and not the comms company that's become so popular we now just say that we're on a Zoom when virtually attending meetings or having video chats with distant loved ones.
The multi-track recorder here is regarded as portable in the sense that, at 378 x 206 x 58 mm (14.8 x 8.1 x 2.2 in) and 1.3 kg (2.8 lb), it can easily be thrown in a backpack and hauled to the garage, loft or remote cabin where the recording session is taking place. But it doesn't have its own battery, so will still need to be plugged into a wall outlet.
The slightly wedge-shaped unit allows up to 16 tracks to be recorded straight to SD card media, with up to eight available for simultaneous use. There are two combo and six XLR pre-amp inputs up top, with phantom power for condenser mics available on four of them. And each channel has its own gain control, track record button and level fader.
Zoom has also included a 4.3-inch (480 x 272) DAW-inspired LCD touchscreen for editing and navigation, or to access the device's internal polyphonic synthesizer, while transport buttons below offer more control. The physical controls for each input channel are color coded, and correspond with the tracks onscreen for workflow ease.
Standard MIDI files can be imported into the system to be sliced into recordings or played back for practice, the system comes with a bunch of built-in effects to help give your recordings some professional pop, and there's an onboard tuner for guitar or bass so there's no excuse for being out.
If you're a singer-songwriter or your rhythm section hasn't turned up for rehearsal, the R20 comes pre-loaded with 150 drum loops, or there's a metronome included to keep you in time. You could also cable up an external hardware synth over USB MIDI to add atmospheric layers to your recordings if needed.
The portable studio records at up to 24-bit/44.1-kHz resolution in BWF-compliant WAV format, and users can monitor the session through headphones via an output jack to the rear. It can serve as an audio interface for a computer too, and an optional Bluetooth adapter allows for remote control of the unit from an iOS device running an upcoming companion app, which supports voice control.
The R20 is due to go on sale in the first quarter of 2022 for US$399.99, and comes bundled with Steinberg Cubase LE music production software if you need to perform final touch-ups on a laptop before releasing your next hit.
Product page: R20