Analog to Digital Converter (ADC): A True Understanding

Back in the day where the microprocessor was our standard building block, we tended to concentrate on computation and processing of data and not so much on I/O. Simply put there were a lot of things we had to get working just so we could then read the state of an I/O port or a counter.

Nowadays the microcontroller has taken care of most of the system level needs with the luxury of built in RAM memory and the ability to upload our code. That leaves us able to concentrate on the major role of a microcontroller: to interpret something about the environment, make decisions, and often output the result to energize a motor, LED, or some other twiddly bits.

Often the usefulness of a small microcontroller project depends on being able to interpret external signals in the form of voltage or less often, current. For example the output of a photocell, or a temperature sensor may use an analog voltage to indicate brightness or the temperature. Enter the Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) with the ability to convert an external signal to a processor readable value.

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Aquire Awesome Audio for BeagleBone

[Henrik Langer] put his powerful audio acquisition and output board up on Hackaday.io, and we thought we’d point it out to you. It’s one of those projects that used to be pro audio just a few years back, but is doable (and affordable) DIY today: dual stereo inputs and four(!) stereo outputs, all sampled at 24 bits and up to 192 kHz. It’s configured as a BeagleBone cape, and comes with a customized Linux distribution for the ‘Bone.

What would you do with such a thing? It’s essentially a recording studio in your pocket, with a computer attached. The video (linked below the break) demonstrates using the device as a real-time stereo delay effect unit, but that’s only making use of one channel. Between effects, recording, and then all sorts of much-better-than-CD quality sound synthesis and playback possibilities, it’s an open-ended audio playground.

And all that from what is essentially a (very well-done) breakout board for a fancy DAC/ADC chip from Analog Devices: the AD1938. We’d love to have one of these on our desktop. Check out [Henrik]’s GitHub for the PCB and build instructions and BOM and everything else you’d need to get started. Very nice job!

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Audio Streaming on the Cheap With an RPi Zero

The minuscule size of the Raspberry Pi Zero makes it perfect for hacks where size is a factor. For example, a small, standalone device for getting streaming audio into your speakers. The RPi Zero doesn’t have an audio output on board, so PolyVection paired it up with their PlainDAC to build a minimal audio streaming device.

Their build uses a few lines from the GPIO header to drive an I2S digital to analog converter. The DAC is a PCM5142 from Texas Instruments that provides high quality sound output, and contains a built in programmable DSP.

The hardware fits into a 3D printed case, coming in at 68 mm by 48 mm. There’s no WiFi inside, but this can be added with an external USB device for wireless streaming. The DAC used is supported by the Linux kernel, so a simple configuration is all that’s needed to pipe audio out.

Once you have a device like this assembled, you can install a server like Music Player Daemon to remotely control the device and cue up internet radio channels.

Logic Noise: Digital to Analog with an R-2R DAC

Making sound with digital logic usually calls for a Digital to Analog converter. Building one can be very simple, and the sound quality out of an R-2R Ladder is actually pretty good.

In the last edition of Logic Noise, we built up a (relatively) simple VCO — voltage-controlled oscillator — that had roughly one-volt-per-octave response. I even demonstrated it working mostly in tune with another synth’s keyboard. But what if you don’t have a control-voltage keyboard sitting around or you want to combine all of the logic-based circuits that we’ve been building with other circuits under voltage control? That’s where the digital to analog (DAC) voltage converter comes in.

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Video FPGA with No External A/D

You have an old PC with a nonstandard RGB video out and you need to bring it to a modern PAL TV set. That’s the problem [svofski] had, so he decided to use an Altera-based DE1 board to do the conversion. Normally, you’d expect reading an RGB video signal would take an analog to digital converter, which is not typically present on an FPGA. Instead of adding an external device, [svofski] used a trick to hijack the FPGA’s LVDS receivers and use them as comparators.

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ESP8266 As A Networked MP3 Decoder

Support libraries, good application notes, and worked examples from a manufacturer can really help speed us on our way in making cool stuff with new parts. Espressif Systems has been doing a good job with their ESP8266 product (of course, it doesn’t hurt that the thing makes a sub-$5 IOT device a reality). Only recently, though, have they started publishing completed, complex application examples. This demo, a networked MP3 webradio player, just popped up in Github, written by the man better known to us as Sprite_tm. We can’t wait to see more.

The MP3 decoder itself is a port of the MAD MP3 library, adapted for smaller amounts of SRAM and ported to the ESP8266. With a couple external parts, you can make an internet-connected device that you can point to any Icecast MP3 stream, for instance, and it’ll decode and play the resulting audio.

What external parts, you ask? First is something to do the digital-to-analog conversion. The application, as written, is build for an ES9023 DAC, but basically anything that speaks I2S should be workable with only a little bit of datasheet-poking and head-scratching. Of course, you could get rid of the nice-sounding DAC chip and output 5-bit PWM directly from the ESP8266, but aside from being a nice quick demo, it’s going to sound like crap.

The other suggested external IC is an SPI RAM chip to allow for buffering of the incoming MP3 file. WiFi — and TCP networks in general — being what they are, you’re going to want to buffer the MP3 files to prevent glitching. As with the dedicated DAC, you could get away without it (and there are defines in the “playerconfig.h” file to do so) but you’ll probably regret it.

In sum, an ESP8266 chip, a cheap I2S DAC, and some external RAM and you’ve got a webradio player. OK, maybe we’d also add an amplifier chip, power supply, and a speaker. Hmmm…. and a display? Or leave it all configurable over WiFi? Point is, it’s a great worked code example, and a neat DIY device to show your friends.

The downsides? So far, only the mono version of the libMAD decoder / synth has been ported over to ESP8266. The github link is begging for a pull request, the unported code is just sitting there, and we think that someone should take up the task.

Other Resources

In our search for other code examples for the ESP8266, we stumbled on three repositories that appear to be official Espressif repositories on Github: espressif, EspressifSystems, and EspressifApp (for mobile apps that connect to the ESP8266). The official “Low Power Voltage Measurement” example looks like a great place to start, and it uses the current version of the SDK and toolchain.

There’s also an active forum, with their own community Github repository, with a few “Hello World” examples and a nice walkthrough of the toolchain.

And of course, we’ve reported on a few in the past. This application keeps track of battery levels, for instance. If you’ve got the time, have a look at all the posts tagged ESP8266 here on Hackaday.

You couldn’t possibly want more resources for getting started with your ESP8266 project. Oh wait, you want Arduino IDE support?

Thanks [Sprite_tm] for the tip.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Dr. DAC

The theme of this year’s Hackaday Prize is. ‘build something that matters.’ A noble goal, but there’s also a second prize – the Best Product prize – that is giving $100k to one lucky team who can appeal to people with open jaws and wallets. It’s a fabulous prize that also includes a six month residency at the Hackaday Design Lab, but right now there aren’t many contenders for this part of The Hackaday Prize.

[drewrisinger]’s DrDAC USB Audio DAC is one of those project that’s in the running for the Best Product prize. He’s solving the problem of terrible low-quality built-in soundcards that seem to be everywhere. Yes, it’s a simple idea, but the execution is great.

The electronics for DrDAC are pretty much what you would expect for a DIY audio sound card; A PCM2706 takes USB audio and sends it out over I2S. A PCM1794 converts the I2S to analog audio, and an OPA2836  amplifies it and sends everything out through a 1/8″ jack or a pair of RCA plugs.

[drewrisinger] started DrDAC as a school project, and after receiving the PCBs, he noticed a problem. MultiSim’s footprint for a TQFP-32 package was too small, meaning the IC simply wouldn’t fit on the board. It was too late in the semester to order a new board, meaning some sort of rework needed to happen. [drew] fixed this problem by soldering jumper wires between the pads to the leads of the chip. Yes, it looks crazy, but apparently it works. You can check out a video of that whole process below.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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