Little Laser Light Show is Cleverly Packaged, Cheap to Build

We’re suckers for any project that’s nicely packaged, but an added bonus is when most of the components can be sourced cheaply and locally. Such is the case for this little laser light show, housed in electrical boxes from the local home center and built with stuff you probably have in your junk bin.

When we first came across [replayreb]’s write-up and saw that he used hard drives in its construction, we assumed he used head galvanometers to drive the mirrors. As it turns out, he used that approach in an earlier project, but this time around, the hard drive only donated its platters for use as low mass, first surface mirrors. And rather than driving the mirrors with galvos, he chose plain old brushed DC motors. These have the significant advantage of being cheap and a perfect fit for 3/4″ EMT set-screw connectors, designed to connect thin-wall conduit, also known as electromechanical tubing, to electrical boxes and panels. The motors are mounted to the back and side of the box so their axes are 90° from each other, and the mirrors are constrained by small cable ties and set at 45°. The motors are driven directly by the left and right channels of a small audio amp, wiggling enough to create a decent light show from the laser module.

We especially like the fact that these boxes are cheap enough that you can build three with different color lasers. In that case, an obvious next step would be bandpass filters to split the signal into bass, midrange, and treble for that retro-modern light organ effect. Or maybe figuring out what audio signals you’d need to make this box into a laser sky display would be a good idea too.

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Retro Teardown: Inside An 8-Track Stereo Player

If you are a connoisseur of analogue audio, it’s probable you might have a turntable and a stack of records at home somewhere. If you are of a certain age you may even have a cassette deck, though you’re more likely to have abandoned that format some time in the 1990s. If you are old enough to have been around in the 1960s or 1970s though, you may have owned another analogue audio format. One of several that you might have found in a well-equipped home of that period was the 8-track stereo cartridge, a self-contained tape cassette format that fit four stereo tracks onto a single quarter-inch tape loop as eight parallel tracks, four each of left and right. A triumph of marketing, really, it should more accurately have been called 4-track stereo.

An 8-track stereo cartridge. Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC (CC BY 2.0).
An 8-track stereo cartridge. Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC (CC BY 2.0).

8-track cartridges were developed from earlier tape cartridge formats, largely to satisfy the demands of the automotive industry for interchangeable in-car entertainment. Thus if you owned an 8-track player it was most likely to have been found in your car, but it was not uncommon to find them also incorporated into home hi-fi systems. Thus we come to our subject today. Our retrotechtacular series usually highlights a video showing a bygone technology, but today we’re going to get a little more hands-on.

Some time in the early 1990s, I acquired an 8-track player, a BSR McDonald unit manufactured in the UK and dating from the early 1970s. BSR were much more well-known for their turntables, so this is something of an oddity. Where I found it has disappeared into the mists of time, but it was probably at a radio rally or junk sale. I certainly didn’t buy it because I wanted it to play 8-track tapes, instead I wanted a talking point for my hi-fi, something quirky to set it apart from everyone else’s. So every incarnation of listening enjoyment chez List for the last quarter century has had an 8-track player nestling within it, even if it has never played a tape while in my ownership. Thus we have a unique opportunity for this retro teardown.

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Scratchy Brings Digital Clarity To The Vinyl World

If you walk the halls of audiophilia, you may be aware that there has been a huge amount of work put in to software designed to clean up older audio recordings without compromising the quality of the recording itself. Sometimes the results can be amazing, such as when a stereo image is created from parallel mono recordings made before stereo was even a glint in the eye of a 1930s EMI engineer.

Bob Widlar on analogue versus digital. Original: EDN
[Bob Widlar] on analogue versus digital. Original: EDN.
But what if you are at home, without the benefit of a state-of-the-art studio or high-end digital signal processing? How can you then have pop and crackle free sound from your hi-fi when you put on a piece of vinyl? [Paul Wallace] may just have the answer, he’s made a smartphone app called Scratchy which listens to the output of a turntable, identifies the track being played, and plays the appropriate MP3 file for a digital experience from vinyl. It uses the algorithm published by Shazam to recognize tunes. The software also has a learn mode during which it can be taught about new records in the collection. The app itself is written using the Xamarin framework and has its source code in his GitHup repository, so it’s possible it could be produced for other platforms as well as Android.

Now vinyl purists will be speechless with horror at this wanton desecration of their format while audiophiles will be fuming at the smeary-in-the-midrange MP3s, but we can see its appeal if your vinyl is on the grubby side. It’s fair to say though that the stereo here won’t be sporting it, you’ll tear our analogue signal path from our cold dead hands. Take a look for yourselves, he’s put up a video showing it in operation.

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Introducing The Hackaday Passive Aligned Ferrite Active Quantum Crystal Nanoparticle Reference Sticker

As you know, here at Hackaday we take our audio equipment very seriously indeed. We’ve seen it all over the years and have a pretty jaded view of a lot of the audiophile products that come past our door, but once in a while along comes something that’s a bit special. That’s why today we’d like to introduce you to a new product, The Hackaday Passive Aligned Ferrite Active Quantum Crystal Nanoparticle Reference Sticker.

Here’s the problem: we’re surrounded by electrical noise. You can’t see it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t hear it, but your audio equipment can, and when that happens it will degrade your listening experience without your realising it. You might have shelled out your life savings on a top-end Hinari amp, Marc Vincent surround sound processor, Friedland carillon wire cables and a set of Saisho floor-standing speakers, but if you haven’t dealt with your system’s magnetic compatibility they’re never quite going to reach their potential and you’ll always be left wondering why your broader soundstage just doesn’t zing. You need an HPAFAQCNRS.

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Record Players Explained for the Streaming Generation

How do you consume your music, these days? Aside from on the radio, that is. Do you play MP3 or other files on your phone and computer, or perhaps do you stream from an online service? If you’re really at the cutting edge though you’ll do none of those things, because you’ll be playing it on vinyl.

The legendary Technics SL1200 direct-drive turntable, as used by countless DJs. Dydric [CC BY-SA 2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.
The legendary Technics SL1200 direct-drive turntable, as used by countless DJs. Photo by Dydric CC-BY-SA 2.5
A few years ago reporting on a resurgence of sales of vinyl records was something you would never have expected to see, but consumer tastes are unpredictable. Our red-trousered and extravagantly bearded hipster friends have rediscovered the glories of the format, and as a result it’s popping up everywhere. For those of us who are old enough to have genuinely been into the format before it was cool again, the sight of Sergeant Pepper and Led Zeppelin II on 12″ at outrageous prices on a stand at the local supermarket is a source of amusement. It’s good to see your first love back in vogue again, but is it really the £20($25) per album kind of good?

With the turntable having disappeared as an integral part of the typical hi-fi setup the new vinyl enthusiast is faced with a poor choice of equipment. Often the best available without spending serious money at an audiophile store is a USB device with the cheapest possible manufacture, from which the playback will be mediocre at best. We’ve lost the body of collective knowledge about what makes a good turntable to almost thirty years of CDs and MP3s, so perhaps it’s time for a quick primer.

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Reverse Engineering Enables Slick Bluetooth Solution for Old Car Stereo

Those of us who prefer to drive older cars often have to make sacrifices in the entertainment system department to realize the benefits of not having a car payment. The latest cars have all the bells and whistles, while the cars of us tightwads predate the iPod revolution and many lack even an auxiliary input jack. Tightwads who are also hackers often remedy this with conversion projects, like this very slick Bluetooth conversion on a Jeep radio.

There are plenty of ways to go about piping your favorite tunes from a phone to an old car stereo, but few are as nicely integrated as [Parker Dillmann]’s project. An aftermarket radio of newer vintage than the OEM stereo in his 1999 Jeep would be one way to go, but there’s no sport in that, and besides, fancy stereos are easy pickings from soft-top vehicles. [Parker] was so determined to hack the original stereo that he bought a duplicate unit off eBay so he could reverse engineer it on the bench. What’s really impressive is the way [Parker] integrates the Bluetooth without any change to OEM functionality, which required a custom PCB to host an audio level shifter and input switch. He documents his efforts very thoroughly in the video after the break, but fair warning of a Rickroll near the end.

So many of these hacks highjack the tape deck or CD input, but thanks to his sleuthing and building skills, [Parker] has added functionality without sacrificing anything.

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A Six-Voice Synth Built On The Raspberry Pi

Over the last few decades, audio synthesizers have been less and less real hardware and more and more emulations in software. Now that we have tiny powerful computers that merely sip down the watts, what’s the obvious conclusion? A six-voice polyphonic synthesizer built around the Raspberry Pi.

The exquisitely named ‘S³-6R’ synthesizer is a six-voice phase modulation synthesizer that outputs very high resolution (24-bit and 96 kHz) audio. It’s the product of R-MONO Lab, who have displayed interesting musical devices such as a recorder-based pipe organ in the past. This build is a bit more complex, offering up some amazing sounds, all generated on a Raspberry Pi 3.

While talk of oscillators and filters is great, what’s really interesting here is the keyboard itself. The S³-6R is using the Roland K-25m, a tiny MIDI keyboard meant to serve as a ‘dock’ of sorts for Roland’s recent re-releases of the classic Jupiter and Juno synths. Building a MIDI keyboard is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and using this little keyboard dock is a cheap way to pipe MIDI notes into any project without a lot of fuss.

Below, you can check out the audio demos of the S³-6R. It’s a real synth and sounds great. We can only hope the software will be uploaded somewhere eventually.

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