An Audio Based USB Oscilloscope and Signal Generator for $20


Are you interested in building a 20kHz 2-channel oscilloscope and a 2-channel signal generator for only $20 with minimal effort? Be sure to check out [Jan_Henrik's] Instructable that goes over how to build this awesome tool from a cheap USB audio card.

We have featured tons and tons of DIY oscilloscopes in the past, but this effort resulted in something very well put together while remaining very simple to understand and easy to build. You don’t even need to modify the USB audio card at all. One of the coolest parts of this build is that you can unplug your probe assembly from your USB audio card, and bring it wherever your hacking takes you. After the build, all you need is [Christian Zeitnitz's] Soundcard Oscilloscope program and you are good to go. One of the major downsides that is often overlooked when using an audio based oscilloscope, is that it is “AC coupled”. This means you cannot measure low-frequencies (including DC signals) using a sound card. Be sure to heed [Jan_Henrik's] advice and do not use your built in audio card as an oscilloscope. With no protection circuitry, it is a sure fire way to fry your computer.

What analog projects have you built around an audio interface? We have seen such an interface used for many different applications, including a few fun medical related hacks (be sure to keep safety your first priority). Write in and let us know!

Repairing a junked signal generator

We must be walking past the wrong dumpsters because we certainly haven’t encountered equipment like this just waiting to be salvaged. [Shahriar] found an HP 8648C Synthesized Signal Generator while he was ‘dumpster diving’ and set out to fix the malfunctioning lab equipment. He posted a 1-hour video on the project, which you can find embedded after the break. The actual fix happens in the first half, the rest of the video is spent testing the resurrected device.

The back corner of the case has been dented, which may be the reason this has been thrown out. When it is first powered it emits an unpleasant screeching noise and the user interface doesn’t do anything. [Shahriar] says he recognizes the sound as a malfunctioning switch-mode power supply. Sure enough, when disconnected from the main board it still makes the noise. It turns out there’s a huge electrolytic capacitor the size of a stack of poker chips which has come loose from the PSU board. When it’s resoldered the device fires up as expected.

Now how are we going to find a digital capture oscilloscope that just needs to have its PSU reassembled?

[Read more...]

DIY signal generator probe

A signal generator is a handy bit of kit and with the right components, it’s pretty easy to build one. Fabricating a proper signal generator probe is another matter entirely. [Frank]‘s DIY signal generator probe does exactly what it claims to, and is very cheap to boot.

After [Frank] made a simple signal generator with a few parts he had lying around, he needed a probe. Not wanting to deal with poking loose wires around his circuits, he decided to modify a scope probe. Six dollars and two weeks later, [Frank] had a suitable scope probe on his doorstop shipped from halfway around the world.

The strain relief on the probe was removed, and the resistors and trim cap on the PCB was desoldered. All that was left to do was solder a piece of wire from the BNC jack to the probe lead. The strain relief was put back on and clearly labeled for use as a signal generator probe. Not bad for 10 minutes of work.

Turn a logic analyzer into a signal generator using only software

One thing we learned by watching [Alton Brown] on all of those Good Eats episodes is that a multitasker is way better than a unitasker. [Joost] is thinking along the same lines by taking a fantastic tool and adding a useful function to it. His software project turns a USB Saleae Logic Analyzer into a signal generator.

There are already a multitude of reasons to own one of these fantastic tools. But the ability to use it to generate up to 8 channels of PWM signals is a welcome addition. It is capable of producing frequencies from 1Hz up to 1MHz at a sample rate of 4 MHz. It uses the original SDK and doesn’t require any changes to the hardware (we would’ve thought new firmware was necessary, but happily that’s not the case). The one caveat is that right now this only works with Windows machines running the .NET version 3.5 or higher. It looks like an MSI installer package is all that’s available for download so the thoughts of easily porting this to other operating systems have been dashed unless [Joost] decides to share his source code.

Using your PC as a simple signal generator


[Debraj] needed a simple signal generator for a project he was working on, but didn’t have one handy. He found that the easiest and cheapest way to get clean, reliable signaling was by using something that was already sitting on his desk – his PC.

He found that the tone generator built into Audacity was quite useful, at least for generating waveforms at less than 20 KHz or so. Upon plugging his scope into his sound card’s audio jack, he observed that the PC had good frequency fidelity, though it required an additional DC offset as most cards are built to remove that offset from the waveform.

Using a LM358 as a non-inverting summing amplifier, he was able to apply a steady DC offset and generate usable signals for his micro controller projects. A schematic for his offset circuit is available on his site, should you wish to build one of your own.

[Debraj] also notes that though Audacity is a cheap free way to generate simple signals, any number of complex signals can be generated using MATLAB if you happen to own a copy.

AVR DDS signal generator improvements

[Vassilis Papanikolaou] took a good thing and made it better with some design upgrades to this AVR based signal generator. We looked at version 1.0 of this tool back in 2006 and since then it saw an upgrade to 2.0. But [Vassilis] wanted to take things one step further, with a compact single-sided PCB. What you see above is the beautiful result of his work; a professionally made board that is compact, uses through-hole components, and has zero wire jumpers.

If you want to build one for yourself there’s a great parts list as well as board artwork and schematic. The system uses an ATmega16 so you’ll need a way to program one. There’s also just a bit of firmware tweaking to remap the control buttons to match the updated hardware layout.