“Nixie” Tubes Sound Good

A tube is a tube is a tube. If one side emits electrons, another collects them, and a further terminal can block them, you just know that someone’s going to use it as an amplifier. And so when [Asa] had a bunch of odd Russian Numitron tubes on hand, an amplifier was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

A Numitron is a “low-voltage Nixie”, or more correctly a single-digit VFD in a Nixiesque form factor. So you could quibble that there’s nothing new here. But if you dig into the PDF writeup, you’ll find that the tubes have been very nicely characterised, situating this project halfway between dirty hack and quality lab work.

It’s been a while since we’ve run a VFD-based amplifier project, but it’s by no means the first time. Indeed, we seem to run one every couple years. For instance, here is a writeup from 2010, and the next in 2013. Extrapolating forward, you’re going to have to wait until 2019 before you see this topic again.

Circuit Design? Spread the Joy

Accountants and MBAs use spreadsheets to play “what if” scenarios with business and financial data. Can you do the same thing with electronic circuits? The answer–perhaps not surprisingly–is yes.

Consider this simple common emitter amplifier (I modeled it in PartSim, if you’d like to open it):

In this particular case, there are several key design parameters. The beta of the transistor (current gain) is 220. The amplifier has an overall voltage gain of about 3 (30/10). I say about, because unless the transistor is ideal, it won’t be quite that. The supply voltage (Vcc) is 12 volts and I wanted the collector voltage (VC) to idle at 6V to allow the maximum possible positive and negative swing. I wanted the collector current (IC) to be 200mA.

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Building Better Tube Amps With Heathkit Parts

[Justin] had been trying to find a good tube amp for years, but all the best examples were either expensive or a complete basket case. Instead of buying a vintage stereo tube amp, he decided to build his own using the guts of a Heathkit AA-100, a popular tube amp from the 60s and 70s that doesn’t have a great reputation for sound quality.

This project was based on an earlier project from a decade ago that replicated the very popular Dynaco ST-70 tube amp from parts taken from the Heathkit AA-100. The schematic for this conversion was readily available on the usual tube head message boards, and a few PCBs were available for the input stage.

With the schematic in hand, the next thing for [Justin] to do was get a nice enclosure. High quality tube amps are valued as much for their appearance as they are for their sound quality, and after giving his father-in-law a few sketches, a cherry hardwood chassis stained in a beautiful golden brown appeared on [Justin]’s workbench.

The big iron for this new tube amp was taken directly from the old Heathkit, and a few hours in front of a mill netted [Justin] a chassis panel drilled out for the transformers and tube sockets. The rest of the project was a bit of assembly, point-to-point wiring, and wire management giving [Justin] a fantastic amplifier that will last for another fifty years until someone decides to reuse the transformers.

Photodiode Amplifier Circuit Spies on Your Phone

In order to help his friend prepare for a talk at DEFCON this weekend, [Craig] built an IR photodiode amplifier circuit. The circuit extended the detection range of the hack from a few inches to a few feet. We’re suckers for some well-designed analog circuitry, and if you are too, be sure to check out the video embedded below.

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Books You Should Read: Instruments Of Amplification

Psst… Wanna make a canning jar diode? A tennis ball triode? How about a semiconductor transistor? Or do you just enjoy sitting back and following along an interesting narrative of something being made, while picking up a wealth of background, tips and sparking all sorts of ideas? In my case I wanted to make a cuprous oxide semiconductor diode and that lead me to H.P. Friedrichs’ wonderful book Instruments of Amplification. It includes such a huge collection of amplifier knowledge and is a delight to read thanks to a narrative style and frequent hands-on experiments.

Friedrichs first authored another very popular book, The Voice of the Crystal, about making crystal radios, and wanted to write a second one. For those not familiar with crystal radios, they’re fun to make radios that are powered solely by the incoming radio waves; there are no batteries. But that also means the volume is low.

Readers of that book suggested a good follow-up would be one about amplifier circuits, to amplify the crystal radio’s volume. However, there were already an abundance of such books. Friedrichs realized the best follow-up would be one on how to make the amplifying components from scratch, the “instruments of amplification”.  It would be unique and in the made-from-scratch spirit of crystal radios. The book, Instruments of Amplification was born.

The Experiments

Microphonic relays
Microphonic relays, via H.P. Friedrichs Homepage

The book includes just the right amount of a history, giving background on what an amplifier is and how they first came in the electrical world. Telegraph operators wanted to send signals over greater and greater distances and the solution was to use the mix of electronics and mechanics found in the telegraph relay. This is the springboard for his first project and narrative: the microphonic relay.

The microphonic relay example shown on the right places a speaker facing a microphone; the speaker is the input with the microphone amplifying the output. He uses a carbon microphone salvaged from an old telephone headset, housing everything in an enclosure of copper pipe caps, steel bar stock, nuts and bolts mounted on an elegant looking wood base. All the projects are made with simple parts, with care, and they end up looking great.

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Hacklet 116 – Audio Projects

If the first circuit a hacker builds is an LED blinker, the second one has to be a noisemaker of some sort. From simple buzzers to the fabled Atari punk console, and guitar effects to digitizing circuits, hackers, makers and engineers have been building incredible audio projects for decades. This week the Hacklet covers some of the best audio projects on Hackaday.io!

vumeterWe start with [K.C. Lee] and Automatic audio source switching. Two audio sources, one amplifier and speaker system; this is the problem [K.C. Lee] is facing. He listens to audio from his computer and TV, but doesn’t need to have both connected at the same time. Currently he’s using a DPDT switch to change inputs. Rather than manually flip the switch, [K.C. Lee] created this project to automatically swap sources for him. He’s using an STM32F030F4 ARM processor as the brains of the operation. The ADCs on the microcontroller monitor both sources and pick the currently active one. With all that processing power, and a Nokia LCD as an output, it would be a crime to not add some cool features. The source switcher also displays a spectrum analyzer, a VU meter, date, and time. It even will attenuate loud sources like webpages that start blasting audio.


muzzNext up is [Adam Vadala-Roth] with Audio Blox: Experiments in Analog Audio Design. [Adam] has 32 projects and counting up on Hackaday.io. His interests cover everything from LEDs to 3D printing to solar to hydroponics. Audio Blox is a project he uses as his engineer’s notebook for analog audio projects. It is a great way to view a hacker figuring out what works and what doesn’t. His current project is a 4 board modular version of the Big Muff Pi guitar pedal. He’s broken this classic guitar effect down to an input board, a clipping board, a tone control, and an output stage. His PCB layouts, schematics, and explanations are always a treat to view and read!

pauldioNext we have [Paul Stoffregen] with Teensy Audio Library. For those not in the know, [Paul] is the creator of the Teensy family of boards, which started as an Arduino on steroids, and has morphed into something even more powerful. This project documents the audio library [Paul] created for the Freescale/NXP ARM processor which powers the Teensy 3.1. Multiple audio files playing at once, delays, and effects, are just a few things this library can do. If you’re new to the audio library, definitely check out [Paul’s] companion project
Microcontroller Audio Workshop & HaD Supercon 2015. This project is an online version of the workshop [Paul] ran at the 2015 Hackaday Supercon in San Francisco.

drdacFinally we have [drewrisinger] with DrDAC USB Audio DAC. DrDac is a high quality DAC board which provides a USB powered audio output for any PC. Computers these days are built down to a price. This means that lower quality audio components are often used. Couple this with the fact that computers are an electrically noisy place, and you get less than stellar audio. Good enough for the masses, but not quite up to par if you want to listen to studio quality audio. DrDAC houses a PCM2706 audio DAC and quality support components in a 3D printed case. DrDAC was inspired by [cobaltmute’s] pupDAC.

If you want to see more audio projects and hacks, check out our new audio projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. 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!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Ears On The Back Of Your Head

From context clues, we can tell that [TVMiller] has been in and around NYC for some time now. He has observed a crucial weakness in the common metropolitan. Namely, they deafen themselves with earphones, leaving them senseless in a hostile environment.

To fix this problem, he came up with a simple hack, the metrophone. An ultrasonic sensor is hung from a backpack. The user’s noise making device of choice is plugged into one end, and the transducer into the other. When the metropolitan is approached from the rear by a stalking tiger or taxi cab, the metrophone will reduce the volume and allow the user to hear and respond to their impending doom. Augmentation successful.

The device itself consists of an off-the-shelf ultrasonic sensor, an Arduino, and a digital potentiometer. It all fits in a custom 3D printed enclosure and runs of two rechargeable coin cells. A simple bit of code scales the volume to the current distance being measured by the ultrasonic sensor once a threshold has been met.

In the video after the break, you can observe [TVMiller]’s recommended method for tranquilizing and equipping a metropolitan in its natural habitat without disturbing its patterns or stressing it unduly.

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