Making a Spectrum Analyzer the Wrong Way on an ATtiny85

Everyone’s a critic, but it’s hard to argue with success. And that’s exactly what [agp.cooper] has with his ATtiny85-based spectrum analyzer devices.

The “normal” way to build a spectrum analyzer is to collect a bunch of samples and run a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) on them all in one shot. As the name implies, the FFT is fast, and the result is the frequency components of the sampled data. [agp.cooper]’s “wrong” way to do it takes the Goertzel algorithm, which is used for detecting the intensity of a particular frequency, and scanning across the frequency range of interest. It’s a lot slower than a single FFT but, importantly for the ATtiny85 that he implements this on, it’s less demanding of the RAM.

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Cache Shortwave Signals for Later with this SDR Spectrum Grabber

Shortwave listening has always been a mainly nocturnal hobby. To get the real DX, one had to wait for favorable ionospheric conditions after sunset and spend hours twisting knobs while straining to pick voices from half a planet away out of the noise. But who has time for that in today’s world? And what of the poor city-dwelling SWL, with antenna limitations and often elevated noise floor in the urban jungle?
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Smartphone Bench Instrument Apps: Disappointment or Delight?

If you are interested in electronics or engineering, you’ll have noticed a host of useful-sounding apps to help you in your design and build work. There are calculators, design aids, and somewhat intriguingly, apps that claim to offer an entire instrument on your phone. A few of them are produced to support external third-party USB instrument peripherals, but most of them claim to offer the functionality using just the hardware within the phone. Why buy an expensive oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, or signal generator, when you can simply download one for free?

Those who celebrate Christmas somewhere with a British tradition are familiar with Christmas crackers and the oft-disappointing novelties they contain. Non-Brits are no doubt lost at this point… the crackers in question are a cardboard tube wrapped in shiny paper drawn tight over each end of it. The idea is that two people pull on the ends of the paper, and when it comes apart out drops a toy or novelty. It’s something like the prize in a Cracker Jack Box.

Engineering-oriented apps follow this cycle of hope and disappointment. But there are occasional exceptions. Let’s tour some of the good and the bad together, shall we?

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Spectrum Analyzer With 555 Fits In A Tin

[VK2ZAY] has a thing for 555 chips. Before the ready availability of microcontrollers, the 555 was the hardware hacker’s swiss army knife. After all, even though the chip is supposed to be a timer, it is really a bunch of simple pieces you can use to make a timer: a pair of comparators, a few transistors, and a flip-flop. You can use those parts in many different ways, and a timer is just one of them.

[VK2ZAY] used one as a key component in a simple spectrum analyzer. The 555 generates a ramp voltage which alters the frequency of an oscillator. The oscillator mixes with the input signal and a fixed-frequency superregenerative detector creates an output voltage proportional to the input signal strength. You can see a video of the whole setup, below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source FFT Spectrum Analyzer

Every machine has its own way of communicating with its operator. Some send status emails, some illuminate, but most of them vibrate and make noise. If it hums happily, that’s usually a good sign, but if it complains loudly, maintenance is overdue. [Ariel Quezada] wants to make sense of machine vibrations and draw conclusions about their overall mechanical condition from them. With his project, a 3-axis Open Source FFT Spectrum Analyzer he is not only entering the Hackaday Prize 2016 but also the highly contested field of acoustic defect recognition.

open_fft_machineFor the hardware side of the spectrum analyzer, [Ariel] equipped an Arduino Nano with an ADXL335 accelerometer, which is able to pick up vibrations within a frequency range of 0 to 1600 Hz on the X and Y axis. A film container, equipped with a strong magnet for easy installation, serves as an enclosure for the sensor. The firmware [Ariel] wrote is an efficient piece of code that samples the analog signals from the accelerometer in a free running loop at about 5000 Hz. It streams the digitized waveforms to a host computer over the serial port, where they are captured and stored by a Python script for further processing.

From there, another Python script filters the captured waveform, applies a window function, calculates the Fourier transform and plots the spectrum into a graph. With the analyzer up and running, [Ariel] went on testing the device on a large bearing of an arbitrary rotating machine he had access to. A series of tests that involved adding eccentric weights to the rotating shaft shows that the analyzer already makes it possible to discriminate between different grades of imbalance.

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Musical Shades

There are only so many blinking light patterns you can create with a microcontroller before you get bored. [Garrett] apparently felt that way and decided to build a music-driven LED display on some LED shades. The system has three main elements: a microphone, a preamp, and a 7-band spectrum analyzer chip. You can see the results in the video below.

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A Better Spectrum Analyzer for your Rigol Scope

The Rigol DS1000 series of oscilloscopes are popular with hobbyists for good reason: they provide decent specs at a low price. However, their spectrum analysis abilities are lacking. While these scopes do have a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) function, it’s limited and nearly useless for RF.

A FFT plotted by the PyDSA tool and a Rigol oscilloscope[Rich] wanted a spectrum analyzer for amateur radio purposes, but didn’t want to build his own sampling hardware for it. Instead, he wrote PyDSA, a software spectrum analyzer for Rigol DS1000 oscilloscopes. This tool uses the USB connection on the scope to fetch samples, and does the number crunching on a far more powerful PC. It’s able to plot a 16,000 point FFT at two sweeps per second when run on a decent computer.

PyDSA is a Python script that makes use of the Virtual Instrument Software Architecture (VISA) interface to control the scope and fetch the sample data. Fortunately there’s some Python libraries that take care of the protocol.

[Rich] is now able to use his scope to measure amateur radio signals, which makes a nice companion to his existing Teensy based SDR project. If you have a Rigol, you can grab the source on Github and try it out.