DreamBlaster X2: A Modern MIDI Synth for Your Sound Blaster Card

Back in the 90s, gamers loaded out their PCs with Creative’s Sound Blaster family of sound cards. Those who were really serious about audio could connect a daughterboard called the Creative Wave Blaster. This card used wavetable synthesis to provide more realistic instrument sounds than the Sound Blaster’s on board Yamaha FM synthesis chip.

The DreamBlaster X2 is a modern daughterboard for Sound Blaster sound cards. Using the connector on the sound card, it has stereo audio input and MIDI input and output. If you’re not using a Sound Blaster, a 3.5 mm jack and USB MIDI are provided. Since the MIDI uses TTL voltages, it can be directly connected to an Arduino or Raspberry Pi.

This card uses a Dream SAM5000 series DSP chip, which can perform wavetable synthesis with up to 81 polyphonic voices. It also performs reverb, chorus, and equalizer effects. This chip sends audio data to a 24 bit DAC, which outputs audio into the sound card or out the 3.5 mm jack.

The DreamBlaster X2 also comes with software to load wavetables, and wavetables to try out. We believe it will be the best upgrade for your 486 released in 2017. If you’re interested, you can order an assembled DreamBlaster. After the break, a review with audio demos.

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Hidden Bookshelf Door Shows Incredible Motion

Who didn’t dream of a hidden door or secret passage in the house when they were kids? Some of us still do! [SPECTREcat] had already built a secret door in a fully functioning bookcase with a unique opening mechanism. The intriguing mechanism allows the doors to start by sliding slightly away form one another before hinging into the hidden space. Their operation was, however, was manual. The next step was to automate the secret door opening mechanism with electronics.

The project brain is an off-the-shelf Arduino Uno paired with a MultiMoto Arduino shield to drive 4 Progressive Automations PA-14 linear actuators. These linear actuators have 50lb force, allowing the doors to fully open or close within 10 seconds and maintain a speed that wouldn’t throw the books off the bookcases.

Not wanting to drill a hole through the bookshelf for a switch or other opening mechanisms, [SPECTREcat] added a reed switch that is activated on the other side by a DVD cover with a magnet inside. In addition to that, there is a PIR sensor on the inside room to automatically close the doors if no motion is detected for 2 hours. Dont worry, there’s also a manual switch inside just in case.

Using one of the items on the shelf to trigger the secret passage is a classic move. He could also have used a secret knock code, like the Secret Attic Library Door we covered in the past. Check out the video below to see the hinge and slide movement in action.

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Voice at 700 Bits Per Second

All other things being equal, signals with wider bandwidth can carry more information. Sometimes that information is data, but sometimes it is frequency. AM radio stations (traditionally) used about 30 kHz of bandwidth, while FM stations consume nearly 200 kHz. Analog video signals used to take up even more space. However, your brain is a great signal processor. To understand speech, you don’t need very high fidelity reproduction.

Radio operators have made use of that fact for years. Traditional shortwave broadcasts eat up about 10kHz of bandwidth, but by stripping off the carrier and one sideband, you can squeeze the voice into about 3 kHz and it still is intelligible. Typical voice codecs (that is, something that converts speech to digital data and back) use anywhere from about 6 kbps to 64 kbps.

[David Rowe] wants to change that. He’s working on a codec for ham radio use that can compress voice to 700 bits per second. He is trying to keep the sound quality similar to his existing 1,300 bit per second codec and you can hear sound samples from both in his post. You’ll notice the voices sound almost like old-fashioned speech synthesis, but it is intelligible.

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Illuminating New Take on Magnetic Switches

While there’s something to be said for dead-bug construction, hot glue, and other construction methods that simply get the job done, it’s inspiring to see other builds that are refined and intentional but that still hack together things for purposes other than their original intent. To that end, [Li Zanwen] has designed an interesting new lamp that uses magnets to turn itself on in a way that seems like a magnetic switch of sorts, but not like any we’ve ever seen before.

While the lamp does use a magnetic switch, it’s not a traditional switch at all. There are two magnetic balls on this lamp attached by strings. One hangs from the top of the circular lamp and the other is connected to the bottom. When this magnet is brought close to the hanging magnet, the magnetic force is enough to both levitate the lower magnet, and pull down on a switch that’s hidden inside the lamp which turns it on. The frame of the lamp is unique in itself, as the lights are arranged on the inside of the frame to illuminate the floating magnets.

While we don’t typically feature design hacks, it’s good to see interesting takes on common things. After all, you never know what’s going to inspire your next hackathon robot, or your next parts drawer build. All it takes is one spark of inspiration to get your imagination going!

Plus Size Watch with a Pair of Tiny Nixies

When you stuff a pair of Nixie tubes into a wristwatch the resulting timepiece looks a little like Flavor Flav’s necklace. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your taste and if you’re comfortable with the idea of wearing 200 volts on your wrist, of course.

As a build, though, [prototype_mechanic]’s watch is worth looking into. Sadly, details are sparse due to a computer issue that ate the original drawings and schematics, but we can glean a little from the Instructables post. The case is machined out of solid aluminum and sports a quartz glass crystal. The pair of IN-16 tubes lives behind a bezel with RGB LEDs lighting the well. There’s a 400mAh LiPo battery on board, and an accelerometer to turn the display on with a flick of the wrist.

It may be a bit impractical for daily use, but it’s a nicely crafted timepiece with a steampunk flair. Indeed, [prototype_mechanic] shows off a few other leather and Nixie pieces with four tubes that certainly capture the feel of the steampunk genre. For one with a little more hacker appeal, check out this Nixie watch with a 3D-printed case.

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Brain Controlled Tracked Robot

[Imetomi] found himself salvaging a camera from a broken drone when he decided to use it in a new project, a tracked robot with a live video feed from the mounted camera.

… I had a cheap Chinese drone that was broken, but its camera seemed to be operating and when I took apart my drone I found a small WiFi chip with a video transmitter. I (decided) that I will use this little circuit for a project and I started to buy and salvage the parts.

Being a tracked robot, it can negotiate most types of terrain and climb hills up to 40 degrees. It is powered by two 18650 lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 2600 mAh and the remote control is based on the HC-12 serial communication module. You can control it with a joystick and watch the camera’s live-stream in a virtual reality glass. That’s pretty neat but it’s not all.

[Imetomi] also used a hacked Nacomimi Brainwave Toy to make a brain controlled version of his robot. The brainwaves are detected using sensors placed on the scalp. To actually control it the operator has to focus on the right hand to move right, focus on the left hand to move left, blink to move forward and blink again to stop. There is also an ultrasonic sensor to help navigation so the robot doesn’t bump into things. It’s not very precise but you can always build the joystick version or, even better, make a version with both controls.

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Multiextrusion 3D Printing and OpenSCAD

In a recent posting called Liar’s 3D Printing, I showed you how you can print with multiple filament colors even if your printer only has one extruder and hot end. It isn’t easy, though, and a lot of models you’ll find on sites like Thingiverse are way too complicated to give good results. An object with 800 layers, each with two colors is going to take a lot of filament changes and only the most patient among us will tolerate that.

What that means is you are likely to want to make your own models. The question is, how? The answer is, of course, lots of different ways. I’m going to cover how I did the two models I showed last time using OpenSCAD (seen below). The software is actually really well suited for this hack, making it easy for me to create a framework of several models to represent the different colors.

About OpenSCAD

I’m not going to say much about OpenSCAD. It is less a CAD package and more a programming language that lets you create shapes. We’ve covered it before although it changes from time to time so you might be better off reading the official manual.

The general idea, though, is you use modules to create primitives. You can rotate them and translate them (that is, move them). You can also join them (union) and take the difference of them (difference). That last is especially important. For example, look at the callsign plate above. Forget the text for now. See the two holes? Here’s the OpenSCAD that creates that shape:

 difference() {
 // cut holes
 translate([4,basel/2,0]) cylinder(r=2,h=basez+2);
 translate([basew-4,basel/2,0]) cylinder(r=2,h= basez+2);

The cube “call” creates the base. The cylinders are the holes and the difference “call” is what makes them holes instead of solid cylinders (the first thing is the solid and everything after is taken away). One key point: instead of numbers, the whole thing uses (mostly) variables. That means if you change the size of something, everything will adjust accordingly if you wrote the script well. Let’s look at applying these techniques for multiple colors.

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