Hacklet 85: Alternative Audio Amplifiers

When you think of amplifiers, you’re probably thinking of audio or some big ‘ol power amps for radios. While interesting, there are some very interesting ‘alternative’ amplifiers floating around hackaday.io that are more than just power amps, and exceedingly useful, to boot.

1601181393316190625[Ronald] bought an XMS amplifier a few years ago, and although it worked well, every time he changed the input, the loudness had to be toggled. One thing led to another, and he realized this amplifier had a four-channel audio processor that could be controlled by I2C. This was the beginning of his Network Amplifier.

Inside the box is a Raspberry Pi that controls a PT2314-based amplifier. Also included is a 2×16 character LCD, a few LEDs, switches, and a rotary encoder.  There was an Android app that controlled the amplifier, but this was discarded for a better looking web-based solution. Now [Ronald] has every audio source available over WiFi.

973501443636885535What if you want an audio amplifier without a speaker? Wait, what? That’s what [DeepSOIC] is doing with his experiments in ion wind loudspeakers.

‘Ion wind lifters’ have been around for decades now, mostly in the labs of slightly off-kilter people who believe this is the technology aliens are using to visit earth. Nevertheless, ion wind lifters produce an airflow, and if you make that wind variable, you get sound. Pretty cool, huh?

The amplifier for this project uses a tube to modulate kilovolt supply through the ion ‘blower’. Does it work? Sure does. [DeepSOIC] got a piece of 0.2 mm nichrome wire to discharge ions into the air, after which the ions drift into the second electrode. The result is sound, and the entire project is built deadbug style. It really doesn’t get cooler than this.


2981611414932529525Continuing with the tube amp trend, [Marcel] built the cheapest little tube amp around.

The design of an audio tube amp is fairly simple business. First, you start with a big ‘ol transformer, and rectify the AC into DC. This gets fed into a preamp tube, and this is fed into a bigger power tube.

In about 50 years of development, tube designers had the technology down pat by the mid 1950s, and triode/pentode tubes were created. This allowed tube designers to condense two amplifier stages into a single tube. While this setup was usually used for cheap, toy-like electronics, you can still buy the ECL82 tube today.

[Marcel] took one of these tubes, added a rectifier tube, transformer, and big cap to create the simplest possible tube amp. Use it for guitars, use it for hi-fis, it’s all the same. It’s not going to sound great, but it is a very easy amp to build.

All of these interesting audio amplifier projects are curated on this new list! If you have a build that amplifies sound in an interesting way, don’t be shy, just drop [Adam] a message on Hackaday.io and he’ll add it. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 75 – Guitar Projects

Some things just go hand in hand. Hacking and guitars are one perfect example. A huge number of hackers, makers, and engineers have at least dabbled in playing the guitar. Even those who don’t play have heard the swan song of the wayward guitarist “Bro, you fix amps?”. Seriously, once your guitar toting friends find out you tinker in electronics, you’ll never be left wanting for pizza or beer. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best guitar projects on Hackaday.io!

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We Have a Problem: Earthquake Prediction

Nepal | 25 April 2015 | 11:56 NST

It was a typical day for the 27 million residents of Nepal – a small south Asian country nestled between China and India. Men and women went about their usual routine as they would any other day. Children ran about happily on school playgrounds while their parents earned a living in one of the country’s many industries. None of them could foresee the incredible destruction that would soon strike with no warning. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the country at its core. 9,000 people died that day. How many didn’t have to?

History is riddled with earthquakes and their staggering death tolls. Because many are killed by collapsing infrastructure, even a 60 second warning could save many thousands of lives. Why can’t we do this? Or a better question – why aren’t we doing this? Meet [Micheal Doody], a Reproductive Endocrinologist with a doctorate in steel rodphysical biochemistry. While he doesn’t exactly have the background needed to pioneer a novel approach to predict earthquakes, he’s off to a good start.

He uses piezoelectric pressure sensors at the heart of the device, but they’re far from the most interesting parts. Three steel balls, each weighing four pounds, are suspended from a central vertical post. Magnets are used to balance the balls 120 degrees apart from each other. They exert a lateral force on the piezo sensors, allowing for any movement of the vertical post to be detected. An Arduino and some amplifiers are used to look at the piezo sensors.

The system is not meant to measure actual vibration data. Instead it looks at the noise floor and uses statistical analysis to see any changes in the background noise. Network several of these sensors along a fault line, and you have yourself a low cost system that could see an earthquake coming, potentially saving thousands of lives.

[Michael] has a TON of data on his project page. Though he’s obviously very skilled, he is not an EE or software guy. He could use some help with the signal analysis and other parts. If you would like to lend a hand and help make this world a better place, please get in touch with him.

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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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