Spectrum Analyzer on the Cheap

Provided you have an NTSC-compatible TV you can build yourself a really inexpensive spectrum analyzer. From there you just need one trivial piece of hardware to complete this build. [Bruce Land] has come up with a spectrum analyzer that shouldn’t cost any more than $5, if that’s what’s been keeping you from adding this tool to your workbench!

The spectrum analyzer is based on a PIC32 microcontroller which was previously proven in his Oscilloscope project. [Bruce] has managed to squeeze quite a bit out of this robust chip; the spectrum analyzer has 450 kHz bandwidth and runs a 256 Hz TV display and can output over 30 updates per second. The microcontroller runs the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) to do calculations, with great results.

[Bruce] notes that the project was based on TV framework from another project, and that the FFT was added on top of that. Be sure to check out the source code on the project site if you’ve been on the hunt for an inexpensive spectrum analyzer, and if you need something with more processing power but only slightly more money, check out the FFT that runs on the Raspberry Pi’s GPU.

Dirt Cheap Motor Balancing and Vibration Analysis

Ever the enterprising hacker and discerning tool aficionado, [Chris] knows the importance of “feel”. As a general rule, cheap tools will shake in your hand because the motors are not well-balanced. He wanted a way to quantify said feel on the cheap, and made a video describing how he was able to determine the damping of a drill using a few items most people have lying around: an earbud, a neodymium magnet, scrap steel, and Audacity.

He’s affixed the body of the drill to a cantilevered piece of scrap steel secured in a vise. The neodymium magnet stuck to the steel interrupts the magnetic field in the earbud, which is held in place with a third hand tool. [Chris] taped the drill’s trigger down and controls its speed a variac. First, [Chris] finds the natural frequency of the system using Audacity’s plot spectrum, and then gets the drill to run at the same speed to induce wobbling at different nodes. As he explains, one need not even use software to show the vibration nodes—a laser attached to the system and aimed at a phosphorescent target will plot the sine wave.

Just for fun, he severely unbalances the drill to find the frequencies at which the system will shake itself apart. Check it out after the break.

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Is That a Tuner in Your Pocket…?

As a musician, it’s rare to consistently recognize with the naked ear whether or not a single instrument is in tune. There are a number of electronic devices on the market to aid in this, however if you’re leading into an impromptu performance to impress your friends, using one feels about as suave as putting on your dental headgear before bed. When tuning is necessary, why not do so in a fashion that won’t cramp your style?

To help his music-major friends add an element of Bond-like flare to the chore, [dbtayl] designed a chromatic tuner that’s disguised as a pocket watch, pet-named the “pokey”. The form for the custom casing was designed in OpenSCAD and cut from aluminum stock on a home-built CNC mill. Under its bass-clef bedecked cover is the PCB which was laid out in KiCad to fit the watch’s circular cavity, then milled from a piece of copped-clad board. The board contains the NXP Cortex M3 which acts as the tuner’s brain and runs an FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) that uses a microphone to match the dominant pitch it hears to the closest note. Five blue surface-mount LEDs on the side indicate how sharp or flat the note is, with the center being true.

[dbtayl’s] juxtaposition of circuitry in something that is so heavily associated with mechanical function is a clever play on our familiarity. You can see a test video of the trinket in action below:

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Easy and Effective Way to Measure PWM… Without a Scope!

Sometimes when a project is coming together, you need to cobble a tool together to get it completed. Whether it’s something very involved, like building a 3D printer to fabricate custom parts, or something relatively simple, like wiring a lightbulb and a battery together to create a simple continuity checker, we’ve all had to come up with something on the fly. Despite having access to an oscilloscope, [Brian] aka [schoolie] has come up with his own method for measuring PWM period and duty cycle without a scope, just in case there’s ever a PWM emergency!

The system he has come up with is so simple it’s borderline genius. The PWM signal in question is fed through a piezo speaker in parallel with a resistor. The output from the speaker is then sent to an FFT (fast fourier transform) app for Android devices, which produces a picture of a waveform. [schoolie] then opens the picture in MS Paint and uses the coordinates of the cursor and a little arithmetic to compute the period and the duty cycle.

For not using a scope, this method is pretty accurate, and only uses two discrete circuit components (the resistor and the speaker). If you’re ever in a pinch with PWM, this is sure to help, and be a whole lot cheaper than finding an oscilloscope!

Sine Waves, Squares Waves, and the Occasional FFT

I became aware of harmonics and the sound of different shaped waveforms early in my electronics career (mid 1970’s) as I was an avid fan of [Emerson Lake and Palmer], [Pink Floyd], [Yes], and the list goes on. I knew every note of [Karn Evil 9] and could hear the sweeping filters and the fundamental wave shapes underneath it.

bil1

I remember coming to the understanding that a square wave, which is a collection of fundamental and (odd) harmonics frequencies, could then be used to give an indication of frequency response. If the high frequencies were missing the sharp edges of the square wave would round off. The opposite was then true, if the low frequencies were missing the square wave couldn’t “hold” its value and the top plateau would start to sag.

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The Teensy Audio Library

There are a few ways of playing .WAV files with a microcontroller, but other than that, doing any sort of serious audio processing has required a significantly beefier processor. This isn’t the case anymore: [Paul Stoffregen] has just released his Teensy Audio Library, a library for the ARM Cortex M4 found in the Teensy 3 that does WAV playback and recording, synthesis, analysis, effects, filtering, mixing, and internal signal routing in CD quality audio.

This is an impressive bit of code, made possible only because of the ARM Cortex M4 DSP instructions found in the Teensy 3.1. It won’t run on an 8-bit micro, or even the Cortex M3-based Arduino Due. This is a project meant for the Teensy, although [Paul] has open sourced everything and put it up on Github. There’s also a neat little audio adapter board for the Teensy 3 with a microSD card holder, a 1/8″ jack, and a connector for a microphone.

In addition to audio recording and playback, there’s also a great FFT object that will split your audio spectrum into 512 bins, updated at 86Hz. If you want a sound reactive LED project, there ‘ya go. There’s also a fair bit of synthesis functions for sine, saw, triangle, square, pulse, and arbitrary waveforms, a few effects functions for chorus, flanging, envelope filters, and a GUI audio system design tool that will output code directly to the Arduino IDE for uploading to the Teensy.

It’s really an incredible amount of work, and with the number of features that went into this, we can easily see the quality of homebrew musical instruments increasing drastically over the next few months. This thing has DIY Akai MPC/Monome, psuedo-analog synth, or portable effects box written all over it.

Measuring Car Engine RPM via the Cigarette Lighter

delorean

Sometimes we forget how many things we can do with a simple oscilloscope. In this video [Ben] uses one that Tektronix lent him to measure his DeLorean engine RPM. By checking the car main ~12V voltage one may notice that the voltage spikes occurring are directly related to the engine speed, as they are created by the inductive kicks from the ignition coils. Obviously the multiplication you have to do to get the RPMs from the number of spikes per second depends on your engine configuration (flat 4, v6…).

The method that [Ben] used was to search for high amplitude spikes on the (AC coupled) car 12V Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) to get a reliable measurement given the many electrical noise sources present in his car. At the end of his video, he however mentioned that it could still be possible to get a good measurement with a simple voltage comparator and a high enough voltage reference.

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