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!

Baby Monitor Rebuild is also ESP8266 Audio Streaming How-To

[Sven337]’s rebuild of a cheap and terrible baby monitor isn’t super visual, but it has so much more going on than it first seems. It’s also a how-to for streaming audio via UDP over WiFi with a pair of ESP8266 units, and includes a frank sharing of things that went wrong in the process and how they were addressed. [Sven337] even experimented with a couple of different methods for real-time compression of the transmitted audio data, for no other reason than the sake of doing things as well as they can reasonably be done without adding parts or spending extra money.

receiverThe original baby monitor had audio and video but was utterly useless for a number of reasons (French).  The range and quality were terrible, and the audio was full of static and interference that was just as loud as anything the microphone actually picked up from the room. The user is left with two choices: either have white noise constantly coming through the receiver, or be unable to hear your child because you turned the volume down to get rid of the constant static. Our favorite part is the VOX “feature”: if the baby is quiet, it turns off the receiver’s screen; it has no effect whatsoever on the audio! As icing on the cake, the analog 2.4GHz transmitter interferes with the household WiFi when it transmits – which is all the time, because it’s always-on.

Small wonder [Sven337] decided to go the DIY route. Instead of getting dumped in the trash, the unit got rebuilt almost from the ground-up.

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Simple Vacuum Tube Preamp Results in a Beautiful Build

We have no intention of wading into the vacuum tube versus silicon debates audiophiles seem to thrive on. But we know a quality build when we see it, and this gorgeous tube preamp certainly looks like it sounds good.

The amp is an attempt by builder [Timothy Cose] to give a little something back to the online community of  vacuum tube aficionados that guided him in his journey into the world of electrons under glass. Dubbed a “Muchedumbre” – Spanish for “crowd” or “mob”; we admit we don’t get the reference – the circuit is intended as a zero-gain preamp for matching impedance between line level sources and power amplifiers. Consisting of a single 12AU7 in a cathode-follower design and an EZ81 for rectification, where the amp really shines is in build quality. The aluminum and wood chassis looks great, and the point-to-point wiring is simple and neat. We especially appreciate the neatly bent component leads and the well-dressed connections on the terminal strips and octal sockets. There’s a nice photo gallery below with shots of the build.

As much as we appreciate the miracles that can be accomplished with silicon, there’s still magic aplenty with vacuum tubes. For more thermionic goodness, check out these minimalist homebrew vacuum tubes or these artisanal vacuum tubes.

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Synchronize Data With Audio From A $2 MP3 Player

Many of the hacks featured here are complex feats of ingenuity that you might expect to have emerged from a space-age laboratory rather than a hacker’s bench. Impressive stuff, but on the other side of the coin the essence of a good hack is often just a simple and elegant way of solving a technical problem using clever lateral thinking.

Take this project from [drtune], he needed to synchronize some lighting to an audio stream from an MP3 player and wanted to store his lighting control on the same SD card as his MP3 file. Sadly his serial-controlled MP3 player module would only play audio data from the card and he couldn’t read a data file from it, so there seemed to be no easy way forward.

His solution was simple: realizing that the module has a stereo DAC but a mono amplifier he encoded the data as an audio FSK stream similar to that used by modems back in the day, and applied it to one channel of his stereo MP3 file. He could then play the music from his first channel and digitize the FSK data on the other before applying it to a software modem to retrieve its information.

There was a small snag though, the MP3 player summed both channels before supplying audio to its amplifier. Not a huge problem to overcome, a bit of detective work in the device datasheet allowed him to identify the resistor network doing the mixing and he removed the component for the data channel.

He’s posted full details of the system in the video below the break, complete with waveforms and gratuitous playback of audio FSK data.

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FPGA Powers Blazingly Fast LED Matrix Audio Visualizer

[Sam Miller], [Sahil Gupta], and [Mashrur Mohiuddin] worked together on a very fast LED matrix display for their final project in ECE 5760 at Cornell University.

Real time!
Real time!

They started, as any good engineering students, by finding a way to make their lives easier. [Sam] had built a 32×32 LED matrix for another class. So, they made three more and ended up with a larger and more impressive 64×64 LED display.

They claim their motivation was the love of music, but we have a suspicion that the true reason was the love all EEs share for unnaturally bright LEDs; just look at any appliance at night and try not be blinded.

The brains of the display is an Altera DE2-115 FPGA board. The code is all pure Verilog. The FFT and LED control are implemented in hardware on the FPGA; none of that Altera core stuff. To generate images and patterns they wrote a series of python scripts. But for us it’s the particle test shown in the video below that really turns our head. This system is capable of tracking and reacting to a lot of different elements on the fly why scanning the display at about 310 FPS. They have tested display scanning at twice that speed but some screen-wrap artifacts need to be worked out before that’s ready for prime time.

The team has promised to upload all the code to GitHub, but it will likely be a while before the success hangover blows over and they can approach the project again. You can view a video interview and samples of the visualizations in the videos after the break.

Thanks to their Professor, [Bruce Land], for submitting the tip! His students are always doing cool things. You can even watch some of his excellent courses online if you like: Here’s one on the AVR micro-controller.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: 8-Bit Arduino Audio for Squares

A stock Arduino isn’t really known for its hi-fi audio generating abilities. For “serious” audio like sample playback, people usually add a shield with hardware to do the heavy lifting. Short of that, many projects limit themselves to constant-volume square waves, which is musically uninspiring, but it’s easy.

[Connor]’s volume-control scheme for the Arduino bridges the gap. He starts off with the tone library that makes those boring square waves, and adds dynamic volume control. The difference is easy to hear: in nature almost no sounds start and end instantaneously. Hit a gong and it rings, all the while getting quieter. That’s what [Connor]’s code lets you do with your Arduino and very little extra work on your part.

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A Cake Tin Makes A Great Tube Amp Chassis

If you have ever had a go at building a tube-based project you will probably be familiar with the amount of metalwork required to provide support structures for the tubes themselves and the various heavy transformers and large electrolytic capacitors. Electronic construction sixty years ago was as much about building the chassis of a project as it was about building the project itself, and it was thus not uncommon to see creative re-use of a chassis salvaged from another piece of equipment.

This morning we stumbled upon a rather nice solution to some of the metalwork woes facing the tube constructor courtesy of [Bruce], who built his tube audio amplifier on a chassis made from a cake tin and with its transformers housed in decorative display tins.

The circuit itself is a straightforward single-ended design using an ECL82 triode-pentode on each stereo channel, and comes courtesy of [Nitin William]. The power supply is on-board, and uses a pair of silicon diodes rather than another tube as the rectifier.

It’s true that [Bruce] has not entirely escaped metalwork, he’s still had to create the holes for his tubes and various mountings for other components. But a lot of the hard work in making a tube chassis is taken care of with the cake tin design, and the result looks rather professional.

We have something of a personal interest in single-ended tube amplifiers here at Hackaday, as more than one of us have one in our constructional past, present, or immediate futures. They are a great way to dip your toe in the water of tube amplifier design, being fairly simple and easy to make without breaking the bank. We’ve certainly featured our share of tube projects here over the years, for example our “Groove tube” round-up, or our look at some alternative audio amplifiers.