Hackaday Prize Entry: Bone Conduction Headphones

Beats headphones are very popular, they’re everywhere, and they sound like trash. That’s a shame, because there’s a century of recorded music out there that sounds really good. [WΛLLTΞCH] forgot about [Dre] and started looking into a better way to listen to music. He came up with bone conduction transducers and started one of the most interesting projects for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

Instead of driving a speaker cone that vibrates the air, passes through the middle ear, and vibrates the eardrum, bone conduction amplifiers bypass the outer and middle ear completely. Not only does this produce a clearer reproduction of sound, but it’s also great for anyone with an abnormality in the ear canal, ear drum, or the tiny bones of the inner ear.

[WΛLLTΞCH]’s first prototype is using a bone conduction amplifier and a cheap Bluetooth module, stuffed into a small 3D printed case. With two 1W transducer modules, it was enough for a proof of concept. The final design is vastly more integrated, with a dedicated Bluetooth audio module. To this, [WΛLLTΞCH] is adding microphones and the ability to take calls over Bluetooth. It’s a great project, and something that could make a great product, something we’re also looking for in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Solar-Cell Laser Communication System

Forget the soup cans connected by a piece of string. There’s now a way to communicate wirelessly that doesn’t rely on a physical connection… or radio. It’s a communications platform that uses lasers to send data, and it’s done in a way that virtually anyone could build.

This method for sending information isn’t exactly new, but this project is one of the best we’ve seen that makes it doable for the average tinkerer. A standard microphone and audio amplifier are used to send the signals to the transmitter, which is just a typical garden-variety laser that anyone could find for a few dollars. A few LEDs prevent the laser from receiving too much power, and a solar cell at the receiving end decodes the message and outputs it through another amplifier and a speaker.

Of course you will need line-of-sight to get this communications system up and running, but as long as you have that taken care of the sky’s the limit. You can find incredibly powerful lasers lying around if you want to try to increase the communication distance, and there are surprisingly few restrictions on purchasing others that are 1W or higher. You could easily increase the range, but be careful not to set your receiving station (or any animals, plants, buildings, etc) on fire!

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How To Tell If You’re Installing Foil Capacitors Backwards

It only takes one mistake to realize electrolytic capacitors have a polarity, but if you’re working with old tube gear, tube amps, or any old equipment with those old orange dip, brown dip, or green dip foil capacitors you also have to watch your polarity. These old caps were constructed with a foil shielding, and there’s always one side of these caps that should always be connected to the chassis ground. If you don’t, you’re going to get interference – not something you want in an amplifier circuit.

Old caps that have long since given up the ghost usually have a black band designating whatever side of the cap the ‘foil ground’ is. This is the side that should be connected to ground. If you look at modern foil caps, you might also see a black band on one side of the cap, which should – if we lived in a just world – also designate the foil ground. This is not always the case.

To properly test foil caps and determine which side should be closer to ground, you can construct a small tester box that’s more or less an h-bridge with a single switch and a pair of alligator clips in the middle. Connect the cap to the clips, put the output of the circuit in your scope, and flick the switch: the direction that has the least amount of interference is the denotes the foil ground of the cap. Replace those old caps in your vintage equipment with a new, correctly oriented cap, and you’re well on your way to having a great sounding amplifier.

Video below.

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How to Build a Thermocouple Amplifier

A Thermocouple is a terrific way to measure temperature. The effects of temperature change on dissimilar metals produces a measurable voltage. But to make that measurement you need an amplifier circuit designed for the thermocouple being used.

Linear Technology LTC 1049 Low Power Zero-Drift Operational Amplifier with Internal Capacitors
Linear Technology LTC 1049 Low Power Zero-Drift Operational Amplifier
with Internal Capacitors

While researching “Zero Drift Amplifiers” as a follow-up to my video on Instrumentation Amplifiers I noticed the little schematic the front page of the LTC1049 datasheet which is shown here. I thought it was an ideal example of an analog application where some gain and some “gain helper” were needed to accomplish our useful little application of amplifying a thermocouple probe.

In the video I don’t really talk much about the thermocouples themselves other than the type I see most of the time which is type K. If you’re not already familiar with the construction of these probes you can find an informative write-up on thermocouples and the different types on the Wikipedia page and you might also want to check out the Analog Devices app note if you would like to know more. What I will cover is a reliable and precise way to read from these probes, seen in the video below and the remainder of the post after the break.

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A Class D Amp Made From Scrap

[Boolean90] needed an amplifier for a subwoofer, and had a lot of parts sitting around in a scrap bin. His project, a Class D sub amp made out of scrap, is a great example of what you can build with the right know-how and a very large pile of junk.

With digital logic and PWM chips, a Class D amp is one of the simpler ways to get a lot of amplification easily in an efficient package. It’s really not that complicated; an audio signal is turned into a PWM’d square wave, this is sent out to a Mosfet bridge, and finally out to the speaker.

Most Class D amps have a switching frequency of hundreds of kilohertz to the Megahertz range, but since this is an amplifier for a subwoofer that has a cutoff frequency of about 1kHz, the switching frequency doesn’t need to be quite as fast. [Boolean] is using a 50kHz carrier frequency; it’s more than high enough to recreate low frequencies.

With the completed project, [Boolean] has an extremely loud amplifier that has around 75-150W of output power. The subwoofer is only rated for 200W, but with the volume [Boolean] is getting, this isn’t an amp he’ll be rebuilding anytime soon.

Annoy Your Enemies with the Hassler Circuit

[Craig] recently built himself a version of the “hassler” circuit as a sort of homage to Bob Widlar. If you haven’t heard of Bob Widlar, he was a key person involved in making analog IC’s a reality. We’ve actually covered the topic in-depth in the past. The hassler circuit is a simple but ingenious office prank. The idea is that the circuit emits a very high frequency tone, but only when the noise level in the room reaches a certain threshold. If your coworkers become too noisy, they will suddenly notice a ringing in their ears. When they stop talking to identify the source, the noise goes away. The desired result is to get your coworkers to shut the hell up.

[Craig] couldn’t find any published schematics for the original circuit, but he managed to build his own version with discrete components and IC’s. Sound first enters the circuit via a small electret microphone. The signal is then amplified, half-wave rectified, and run through a low pass filter. The gain from the microphone is configurable via a trim pot. A capacitor converts the output into a flat DC voltage.

The signal then gets passed to a relaxation oscillator circuit. This circuit creates a signal whose output duty cycle is dependent on the input voltage. The higher the input voltage, the longer the duty cycle, and the lower the frequency. The resulting signal is sent to a small speaker for output. The speaker is also controlled by a Schmitt trigger. This prevents the speaker from being powered until the voltage reaches a certain threshold, thus saving energy. The whole circuit is soldered together dead bug style and mounted to a copper clad board.

When the room is quiet, the input voltage is low. The output frequency is high enough that it is out of the range of human hearing. As the room slowly gets louder, the voltage increases and the output frequency lowers. Eventually it reaches the outer limits of human hearing and people in the room take notice. The video below walks step by step through the circuit. Continue reading “Annoy Your Enemies with the Hassler Circuit”

Fail of the Week: Cat6 != Coax

With a new Kenwood 5.1 receiver acquired from questionable sources, [PodeCoet] had no way to buy the necessary coax. He did have leftover Cat6 though. He knew that digital requires shielded cable, but figured hacking a solution was worth a try.

HAD - Coaxfail4To give hacking credit where credit is due, [PodeCoet] spent over a decade enjoying home theatre courtesy of a car amp rigged to his bench supply. Not all that ghetto of a choice for an EE student, it at least worked. To hook up its replacement he pondered if Cat6 would suffice, “Something-something twisted pair, single-sideband standing wave black magic.” Clearly hovering at that most dangerous level of knowledge where one knows just enough to get further into trouble, he selected the “twistiest” (orange) pair of wires in the cables. Reasonable logic, one must select the strongest of available shoelaces for towing a car.

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