Speaker Cabinet Boom Box Build

When you get that itch to build something, it’s difficult to stop unless you achieve a feeling of accomplishment. And that’s how it was with [Rohit’s] boombox build.

He started out with a failing stereo. He figured he could build a replacement himself that played digital media but his attempts at mating microcontrollers and SD cards was thwarted. His backup plan was to hit DX for a cheap player and he was not disappointed. The faceplate he found has slots for USB and SD card, 7-segment displays for feedback, and both buttons and a remote for control. But this little player is meant to feed an amplifier. Why buy one when you can build one?

[Rohit] chose ST Micro’s little AMP called the TDA2030 in a Pentawatt package (this name for a zig-zag in-line package is new to us). We couldn’t find stocked chips from the usual suspects but there are distributors with singles in the $3.50-5 range. [Rohit] tried running it without a heat sink and it gets hot fast! If anyone has opinions on this choice of chip (or alternatives) we’d love to hear them.

But we digress. With an amp taken care of he moved onto sourcing speakers. A bit of repair work on an upright set got them working again. The bulky speaker box has more than enough room for the amp and front-end, both of which are pretty tiny. The result is a standalone music player that he can be proud of having hacked it together himself.

‘Nutclough’ Circuit Board Design is Stylishly Amplified

Though there is nothing wrong with the raw functionality of a plain rectangular PCB, boards that work an edge of aesthetic flare into their layout leave a lasting impression on those who see them. This is the philosophy of circuit artist [Saar Drimer] of Boldport, and the reason why he was commissioned by Calrec Audio to create the look for their anniversary edition amplifier kit. We’ve seen project’s by [Saar] before and this ‘Nutclough18’ amplifier is another great example of his artistic handy work.

nutclough2For the special occasion of their 50th anniversary, Calrec Audio contacted [Saar] requesting he create something a bit more enticing than their standard rectangular design from previous years. With their schematic as a starting point, [Saar] used cardboard to mock-up a few of his ideas in order to get a feel for the placement of the components. Several renditions later, [Saar] decided to implement the exact proportions of the company’s iconic Apollo desk into the heart of the design as an added nod back to the company itself. In the negative space between the lines of the Apollo desk there is a small perforated piece depicting the mill where the Calrec offices are located. The image of the mill makes use of different combinations of copper, silk and solder mask either absent or present to create shading and depth as the light passes through the board. This small piece that would have otherwise been removed as scrap can be snapped off from the body of the PCB and used as a commemorative keychain.

With the battery and speaker mounted behind the completed circuit board, [Saar’s] design succeeds in being a unique memento with a stylish appeal. There is a complete case study with detailed documentation on the Nutclough from cardboard to product on the Boldport website. Here you can also see some other examples of their gorgeous circuit art, or checkout their opensource software to help in designing your own alternative PCBs.

Protocol Snooping Digital Audio

More and more clubs are going digital. When you go out to hear a band, they’re plugging into an ADC (analog-to-digital converter) box on stage, and the digitized audio data is transmitted to the mixing console over Ethernet. This saves the venue having to run many audio cables over long distances, but it’s a lot harder to hack on. So [Michael] trained popular network analysis tools on his ProCo Momentum gear to see just what the data looks like.

[Michael]’s writeup of the process is a little sparse, but he name-drops all the components you’d need to get the job done. First, he simply looks at the raw data using Wireshark. Once he figured out how the eight channels were split up, he used the command-line version (tshark) and a standard Unix command-line tool (cut) to pull the data apart. Now he’s got a text representation for eight channels of audio data.

Using xxd to convert the data from text to binary, he then played it using sox to see what it sounded like. No dice, yet. After a bit more trial and error, he realized that the data was unsigned, big-endian integers.  He tried again, and everything sounded good. Success!

While this is not a complete reverse-engineering tutorial like this one, we think that it hits the high points: using a bunch of the right tools and some good hunches to figure out an obscure protocol.

Teensys and Old Synth Chips, Together At Last

The ancient computers of yesteryear had hardware that’s hard to conceive of today; who would want a synthesizer on a chip when every computer made in the last 15 years has enough horsepower to synthesize sounds in software and output everything with CD quality audio? [Brian Peters] loves these old synth chips and decided to make them all work with a modern microcontroller.

Every major sound chip from the 80s is included in this roundup. The Commodore SID is there with a chip that includes working filters. The SN76489, the sound chip from the TI99 and BBC Micro are there, as is the TIA from the Atari consoles. Also featured is the Atari POKEY, found in the 8-bit Atari computers. The POKEY isn’t as popular as the SID, but it should be.

[Brian] connected all these chips up with Teensy 2.0 microcontrollers, and with the right software, was able to control these via MIDI. It’s a great way to listen to chiptunes the way they’re meant to be heard. You can check out some sound samples in the videos below.

Thanks [Wybren] for the tip.

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A Custom Control Surface for Audio/Video Editing

Control surfaces (input devices with sliders, encoders, buttons, etc) are often used in audio and video editing, where they provide an easy way to control editing software. Unfortunately even small control surfaces are fairly expensive. To avoid shelling out for a commercial control surface, [Victor] developed his own custom control surface that sends standard MIDI commands which can be interpreted by nearly any DAW software.

[Victor]’s control surface includes several buttons, a display, and a rotary encoder. His firmware sends MIDI commands whenever a button is pressed or the rotary encoder is turned. [Victor] plans on adding menu functionality to the currently unused LCD display which will allow the user to change the scrubbing speed and other various settings.

One advantage of making your own control surface is that you can customize it to your own needs. [Victor] has posted a model of his 3d-printed enclosure and his source code on the project page so you can easily modify his design with any button configuration you might want.

Beverly-Crusher, the Greatest Name for an Audio Effect

Image is © aliceazzo [http://aliceazzo.deviantart.com/].
Image © aliceazzo [http://aliceazzo.deviantart.com/].
When it comes to audio effects, you have your delay, reverb, chorus, phasing, and the rest that were derived from strictly analog processes. Compared to the traditional way of doing things, digital audio is relatively new, and there is still untapped potential for new processes and effects. One of those is the bit crusher, an effect that turns 8- or 16-bit audio into mush. [Electronoob] wanted to experiment with bitcrushing, and couldn’t find what he wanted. Undeterred, he built his own.

There are two major effects that are purely in the digital domain. The first is the sample rate reducer. This has a few interesting applications. Because [Shannon] and [Nyquist] say we can only reproduce audio signals less than half of the sample rate; if you run some audio through a sample rate reducer set to 1kHz, it’ll sound like crap, but you’ll also only get bass.

The bitcrusher is a little different. Instead of recording samples of 256 values for 8-bit audio or ~65000 values for 16-bit audio, a one-bit bitcrusher only records one value – on or off. Play it through a speaker at a decent sample rate, and you can still hear it. It sounds like a robotic nightmare, but it’s still there.

[Electronoob] created his bitcrusher purely in software, sending the resulting bitcrushed and much smaller file to an Arduino for playback. Interestingly, he’s also included the ability to downsample audio, giving is project both pure digital effects for the price of one. 1-bit audio is a bit rough on the ears, but 2, 3, and 4-bit audio starts to sound pretty cool, and something that would feel at home in some genres of music.

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The Cassette MP3 Player

1994 was twenty years ago. There are people eligible to vote who vaguely remember only one Bush presidency. You can have a conversation with someone born after the millennium, and they think a 3.5 inch disk is called a save icon. Starting to feel old? Don’t worry, all the trinkets of your youth have now become shells for MP3 players, the cassette tape included.

[Britt] is aware you can pick up one of these cassette tape MP3 players through the usual channels, but she wanted her build to be a little different. She’s using ar real, vintage cassette tape for starters, and from the outside, looks pretty much like any other cassette tape: there’s a thin strip of tape at the bottom, and the clear plastic window shows the tape is at the beginning of side A.

Outside appearances are just that; inside, there is a small, repurposed MP3 player, with tact switches wired up to the old buttons, actuated by moving the spools back and forth. Yes, you actually play, pause, rewind and fast forward by sticking a pencil in the spool and moving it back and forth. Amazing.

It’s a great build, and considering both cassette tapes and cheap MP3 players can be found in the trash these days, it’s something that should be hard to replicate.