Sending Music Long Distance Using A Laser

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen DIYers sending music over a laser beam but the brothers [Armand] and [Victor] are certainly in contention for sending the music the longest distance, 452 meter/1480 feet from their building, over the tops of a few houses, through a treetop and into a friend’s apartment. The received sound quality is pretty amazing too.

In case you’ve never encountered this before, the light of the laser is modulated with a signal directly from the audio source, making it an analog transmission. The laser is a 250mW diode laser bought from eBay. It’s powered through a 5 volt 7805 voltage regulator fed by a 12V battery. The signal from the sound source enters the circuit through a step-up transformer, isolating it so that no DC from the source enters. The laser’s side of the transformer feeds the base of a transistor. They included a switch so that the current from the regulator can either go through the collector and emitter of the transistor that’s controlled by the sound source, giving a strong modulation, or the current can go directly to the laser while modulation is provided through just the transistor’s base and emitter. The schematic for the circuit is given at the end of their video, which you can see after the break.

They receive the beam in their friend’s apartment using solar cells, which then feed a fairly big amplifier and speakers. From the video you can hear the surprisingly high quality sounds that results. So check it out. It also includes a little Benny Hill humor.

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High Impedance Headphones? They’re In The Can!

[George Trimble] likes to build crystal radios. The original crystal radio builders used high impedance headphones. In modern builds, you are as likely to include a powered amplifier to drive a speaker or normal headphones (which are usually around 4 to 16 ohms).

[George] builds his own speakers using chile cans, some wire, a few magnets, part of a Pepsi can (we are pretty sure someone will leave a comment that Coke cans sound better), and the iron core out of an audio transformer. You can see a very detailed video of the process, below.

There is a little woodworking and hot gluing involved. The result is decidedly homemade looking, but if you want to say you built it yourself (or, if you are a prepper trying to get ready to  rebuild after the apocalypse and you can’t find a cache of headphones) this might be just the ticket.

Most of the headphone hacks we see start with a pair of headphones. That’s a bit tautological, but the goal is usually to add features, not make the whole thing. It does give you some hacker cred, though, to be able to look at the other guy’s radio and say, “Oh. I see you used commercial headphones.”

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Bone Conduction Skull Radio

There are many ways to take an electrical audio signal and turn it into something you can hear. Moving coil speakers, plasma domes, electrostatic speakers, piezo horns, the list goes on. Last week at the Electromagnetic Field festival in the UK, we encountered another we hadn’t experienced directly before. Bite on a brass rod (sheathed in a drinking straw for hygiene), hear music.

The TOG Skull Radio demo box
The TOG Skull Radio demo box

This was Skull Radio, a bone conduction speaker courtesy of [Tdr], one of our friends from TOG hackerspace in Dublin, and its simplicity hid a rather surprising performance. A small DC motor has its shaft connected to a piece of rod, and a small audio power amplifier drives the motor. Nothing is audible until you bite on the rod, and then you can hear the music. The bones of your skull are conducting it directly to your inner ear, without an airborne sound wave in sight.

The resulting experience is a sonic cathedral from lips of etherial sibilance, a wider soft palate soundstage broadened by a tongue of bass and masticated by a driving treble overlaid with a toothy resonance before spitting out a dynamic oral texture. You’ll go back to your hi-fi after listening to [Tdr]’s Skull Radio, but you’ll know you’ll never equal its unique sound.

(If you are not the kind of audiophile who spends $1000 on a USB cable, the last paragraph means you bite on it, you hear music, and it sounds not quite as bad as you might expect.)

This isn’t the first bone conduction project we’ve featured here, we’ve seen a Bluetooth speaker and at least one set of headphones, but our favorite is probably this covert radio.

Rotating Plasma Vortex Speaker

[Anthony Garofalo] has made a fancier plasma speaker. Not content with a simple spark, he uses a plasma vortex. To make the vortex, the spark gap is swapped out for an electrode placed in the centre of a ring magnet. The Lorentz force experienced by the arc causes it to rotate rapidly enough round the arc of the magnet’s centre to appear as a continuous sheet of plasma.

The speaker gets its power from an inverter using a flyback transformer driven through a MOSFET by a 555-based pulse width modulator. You can see the result in the video below the break, it’s very impressive to look at but probably not quite ready to sit in your hi-fi stack. The resulting sound isn’t quite as good as that from a stationary arc, but it looks a lot cooler.

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This TARDIS Is An Infrasonic Subwoofer

If you’re a fan of action movies or dance music, you’ll probably be familiar with sub-bass. The moment in those James Bond explosions that thuds through your chest in the movie theatre? That’s the product of a large subwoofer, a tuned pipe housing a speaker working somewhere just above the lower limit of human hearing, in the tens of Hz.

[Mike's] TARDIS final build
[Mike’s] TARDIS final build
But what about sound below the range of human hearing, below 20Hz? You can’t directly hear infrasound, but its presence can have a significant effect on the experience of the listener. [Mike Michaud] was interested in this phenomenon for his home movie setup so built himself an infrasonic subwoofer tuned to 17Hz. Since the resulting cabinet was rather large he disguised it as a vintage UK police telephone box that you’d hardly notice in his basement theater. 

A resonant 17Hz speaker horn is a rather inconvenient size for a home theatre, at about 25 feet long. Fortunately there is no need for the horm to be straight, it can be folded into a more convenient enclosure, and that is what [Mike] has done. He used a design published by [lilmike], which folds the horn three times into a more manageable size.

Speaker cabinet construction requires attention to the choice of materials as well as to the driver unit itself, so [Mike] goes into detail on the materials he rejected and his selection of a particular brand of subfloor ply.

He rates the resulting speaker as incredible. His driver is rated for 500 watts but he only has an amplifier capable of serving 100, even with that power he fears for his basement windows. He describes the noise made by the feet of the robots in War Of The Worlds as “little earthquakes” and the general effect as very menacing.

We’ve featured quite a few subwoofers on Hackaday over the years, though with the exception of this rotary device they have mostly been for more conventional sub-bass applications. Here for example is another folded horn. So if sub has become rather run-of-the-mill for you all, how about using it to be entertained by this vortex cannon?

Wifi Enabled Center Speaker

[Ronald] has been improving his audio set-up for a while now, his latest revision culminating in this WiFi enabled center channel speaker. It all started with feature creep as you can see in this direct quote, “Being an engineer, I couldn’t stop here, not now that I had a way of adding more features…”

He had purchased a new amplifier for his system, but was irritated that the loudness setting would re-enable itself every time he switched inputs. First he thought he might just have a little board that intercepted the signals from his remote and tacked on the loudness off signal. It occurred to him that it would be even cooler if he could control it from his computer or phone. So he opened the case on his new amp and discovered an i2c break-out. We can guess how it went after that.

In version 2.0 he kept most of his work from 1.0, but wanted to simplify the set-up and build it all into a center speaker unit since an amplifier and two speaker cabinets takes up too much room. He fit a similar set-up as before in the center speaker casing, but added a touch screen and a few other improvements.  Though, strangely, he ran into some problems upgrading to the Raspberry Pi 2.0 and had to revert.

The final result is very nice, though obviously not done. As the engineer’s mantra goes, “If it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features yet.”

Lady Ada Turns NeXT Equipment Into Something Useful

From the late 80s to the early 90s, [Steve Jobs] wasn’t at Apple. He built another company in the meantime, NeXT Computer, a company that introduced jet black workstations to universities and institutions, developed an incredible emphasis on object-oriented programming, and laid the groundwork for the Unix-ey flavor of Apple’s OS X. Coincidently, there is a lot of old NeXT gear at the Adafruit clubhouse – not that there’s anything wrong with that, we all have our own strange affectations and proclivities. Recently, [Lady Ada] turned one of the strangest components of the NeXT computer ecosystem into something useful: a computer speaker.

The item in question for this build is the NeXT ‘sound box’. When not using the very special NeXT monitor, the NeXT computer connects the monitor, keyboard, and speakers through this odd little box. There are two versions of the NeXT sound box, and peripherals from either version are incompatible with each other. ([Jobs] was known for his sense of design and a desire for a simplified user experience, you know.)

In [Lady Ada]’s initial teardown of the sound box, she discovers a few interesting things about this peripheral. There’s an I2S DAC inside there, connected to an unobtanium DB19 connector. Theoretically, that I2S device could be used to drive the speaker with digital audio. The only problem is the DB19 connector – they’re rare, and [Steve] from Big Mess o’ Wires bought the world’s supply.

Without these connectors, and since it’s only an hour-long show, [Lady Ada] went with the most effective hack. She grabbed a USB audio dongle/card, added a small amplifier, and soldered a few wires onto the power and ground pins of an IC. It’s simple, effective, fast, and turns an awesome looking 30-year-old peripheral into a useful device.