Simple One-Chip Regenerative Receiver

Crystal radios may be the simplest kind to make, but regenerative receivers are more practical and only a little more complicated. A recent design by [Selenium] is super simple because it uses a single LM386 audio amplifier IC.

You might be surprised that you can convert an audio amplifier to a receiver using just a handful of components (a variable capacitor, a coil, a handful of capacitors, and a speaker). However, [Selenium] realized he could subvert the gain and bypass pins to cause regeneration and wound up with a very simple receiver.

If you haven’t looked at regenerative receivers before, the principle is simple (and dates back to 1912). An oscillator is an amplifier that gets (theoretically) an infinite amount of gain at one particular frequency. A regenerative receiver is just an amplifier that is almost (but not quite) at the point of oscillation. This gives it very high frequency-specific gain and a measure of selectivity. You can also nudge the receiver just into oscillation to receive CW or SSB signals.

[Selenium] built his prototype on an old receiver chassis because it had the IC and the variable capacitor already in place. However, others have built successful copies on breadboards ([Austin Heller] created several good looking breadboard versions) and on PCB material. [Selenium] also released some other unique LM386-based designs that use more parts (and, probably, have better performance). Looks like a simple way to build a practical receiver.

Retro-fit old radio with Arduino and FM module

“You can’t put new wine in old bottles” – so the saying goes. But you would if you’re a hacker stuck with a radio built in 2005, which looked like it was put together using technology from 1975. [Marcus Jenkins] did just that, pulling out the innards from his old radio and converting it to an Arduino FM radio.

His cheap, mains powered radio was pretty bad at tuning. It had trouble locating stations, and tended to drift. One look at the insides, and it was obvious that it was not well engineered at all, so any attempts at fixing it would be pointless. Instead, he drew up a simple schematic that used an Arduino Nano, an FM radio module based on the TEA5767, and an audio amplifier based on the LM386.

A single button on the Arduino helps cycle through a range of preset frequencies stored in memory. The Arduino connects to the FM radio module over I2C. The existing antenna was connected to the TEA5767 module. The radio module outputs stereo audio, but [Marcus] was content with using just a mono channel, as it would be used in his workshop. The audio amplifier is pretty straightforward, based on a typical application found in the data sheet. He put it all together on proto-board, although soldering the FM radio module was a bit tricky. The Arduino code is quite simple, and available for download (zip file).

He retained the original tuning knob, which is no longer functional. The AM-FM selector knob was fitted with a micro-switch connected to the Arduino for selecting the preset stations. Almost everything inside was held together with what [Marcus] calls “hot-snot” glue. The whole exercise cost him a few Euros, and parts scavenged from his parts bin. A good radio could probably be had for a few Euros from a yard sale and much less effort, but that wouldn’t be as cool as this.

Go deeper and explore how FM signals are modulated and demodulated for playback.

Sqonkbox 55 is a Cigar Box Organ of Awesome

Sometimes, the best birthday presents are the ones you give yourself. In [Dino]’s case, they’re the ones you make for yourself.  In honor of his 55th, he built the Sqonkbox 55, a 13-note cigar box organ based on a 555 and amplified with an LM386.

It’s based on a 555 wired in astable mode, turning it into an oscillator that outputs a frequency. This frequency is determined by the resistors between pins 6 and 7, another between 7 and 8, and the capacitor between pin 2 and ground. [Dino] shows a breadboard version first, with a single tuning pot and momentary acting as a piano key. As he explains, this portion of the circuit is repeated 13 times with pots and momentaries that he arranges like piano keys through the lid of a cigar box.

“Sqonkbox,” you ask? A second 555 in astable mode sends the output through an LED. This LED stands face to face with an LDR, and they are shrouded in this configuration with black heat shrink tubing. The ‘sqonk’ 555 changes the frequency of the first 555, providing a clippy, rhythmic tone at the rate set by a potentiometer. [Dino]’s full video of the build is after the break. A BOM is forthcoming, but it’s easy enough to puzzle it out between the video and the lovely, Forrest Mims-esque schematicContinue reading “Sqonkbox 55 is a Cigar Box Organ of Awesome”

The Magnetophone

The Magnetophone

The Magnetophone is the latest electro-acoustic instrument from [Aaron Sherwood]. This tower contains 14 strings, and 14 hand-wound electromagnets. By energizing each electromagnet with a square wave, the strings can be vibrated to create music.

The brains of the device consist of an Arduino Mega attached to the top of the tower. The microcontroller has 6 timers, which allows for 6 notes to play at the same time. An open source tone library was used to generate square waves at the correct frequencies. These square waves are amplified by LM386 based circuits, which provide enough power to the coil to oscillate the string. By using square waves at specific frequencies, overtones of strings can be created.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [Aaron] combine strings and electronics. His Glockentar used solenoids to strike strings. However, this project provides new possibilities by allowing the rate of oscillation to be controlled precisely. You can see the instrument in action after the break.

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Bass Bump Headphone Amp


Headphone amplifiers make for simple, practical electronics projects. The Bass Bump Headphone Amp is no exception, since it’s made out of easy to source parts, and can be built on a proto-board.

We’ve seen many variants of the classic cMoy amplifier, including this pretty one. The Bass Bump differs by providing control over bass frequencies. It does this by putting a filter in front of the amplifier, with a potentiometer to select the mix of frequencies. This goes into a LM386 audio amplifier. At the output is a Zobel network to keep the impedance low at high frequencies. The amplifier can be powered from either a 9V rechargeable battery, or a USB port.

It’s a simple build, but definitely a good one to try on a rainy day. The write up explains how the analog circuitry works, and gives you full instructions on how to build it. After the break, check out a video overview of the project.

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[Dino’s] talking box(es)

[Dino] is about three-quarters of the way through his talking box project. He’s completed one of the two boxes, and is showing off the technique he uses to marry motion with sound in order to mimic flapping lips with the box top.

You may remember [Dino’s] first look at the EMIC2. It’s a single-board text to speech module which is what provides the voice for the box. But what fun is that without some animatronics to go along with it? So [Dino] started playing around with different concepts to move the box top along with the speech. This is easier said than done, but as you can see in the video after the break, he did pull it off rather well. He built a motor control circuit that takes the audio output of an LM386 amplifier chip and translates it into drive signals for the motor. The shaft is not directly connected to the lid of the box. Instead it has a curved wire which is limited by a piece of string so that it doesn’t spin too far. It lifts the lid which is hinged with a piece of cloth.

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Chiptune player uses preprocessed .MOD files

[Kayvon] just finished building this chiptune player based on a PIC microcontroller. The hardware really couldn’t be any simpler. He chose to use a PIC18F2685 just because it’s big enough to store the music files directly and it let him get away with not using an external EEPROM for that purpose. The output pins feed a Digital to Analog Convert (DAC) chip, which in turn outputs analog audio to an LM386 OpAmp. The white trimpot sandwiched between the chips controls the volume.

The real work on this project went into coding a program which translates .MOD files into something the PIC will be able to play. Because of the memory limits of the chip it is unable to directly use all of the instrument samples from these files. [Kayvon] wrote a program with a nice GUI that lets him load in his music and page through each instrument to fine-tune how they are being re-encoded. The audio track from the video after the break doesn’t do the project justice, but you will get a nice look at the hardware and software.

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