An RTL-SDR Spectrum Analyzer

With the combination of small, powerful, and pocketable computers and cheap, off-the-shelf software defined radio receivers, it was only a matter of time before someone built a homebrew spectrum analyzer with these ingredients. This great build is the project of [Stephen Ong] and he’s even released all the softwares for you to build this on your own.

The two main components of this build are a BeagleBone Black and its 7″ Touchscreen cape. The BeagleBone is running Angstrom Linux, a blazingly fast Linux distro for small embedded devices. The radio hardware consists of only a USB TV tuner supported by RTL-SDR. In his demo video, [Stephen] shows off his project and by all accounts it is remarkable, with a UI better than most desktop-oriented SDR software suites.

You can grab the BeagleBone image [Stephen] is using over on his blog, but for more enterprising reader, he’s also put up the source of his ViewRF software up on GitHub.

Rigol WFM viewer ported for non-Windows users

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[Matthias Blaicher] may think this isn’t a big deal when it comes to the amount of work he put into the hack. But for us, anything that extends the functionality of the versatile yet affordable Rigol DS1052E is a win. In this case he’s taken a previous hack and made it work for more people by extending the functionality of the WFM file format viewer.

[Dexter2048] pulled off the original hack which allows this oscilloscope to be used as a spectrum analyzer. [Matthias] didn’t want the tool to be limited to running only on Windows systems so he got to work. This isn’t quite as easy as sounds because the only part of the original code that was released is the parser itself. [Matthias] had to build everything up from that starting point. His software uses standard Python to parse the WFM file and reformat the data. The features included in the current version allow you to export data as a CSV file and even plot the waveform and FFT as seen above.

Stellaris Launchpad and booster packs used as frequency analyzer

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[Jordan Wills] got tired of being limited to eight pixels of resolution and having jumper wires littering his work space. He set out to upgrade his Stellaris Launchpad frequency analyzer project using booster packs. You may remember the initial iteration of the project which used an 8×8 LED matrix to map audio spectrum. With this upgrade he’s really putting the power of that ARM chip to use.

His first improvement with this project was to spin his own audio input board. It has a standard headphone jack for input and a few passive components to shift the signals to rest nicely within the ADC measurement range. The shield has two double pin headers and a group of four stand offs to serve as legs. This way it plugs into the female headers on the bottom of the Launchpad and provides a stable base for the assembly.

The second portion of the setup is an LCD booster pack for the hardware. Kentec manufactures this 3.5″ 320×240 LCD (EB-LM4F120-L35) complete with a resistive overlay making it touch sensitive. The increase in resolution, and availability of different colors gave [Jordan] plenty to work on. Since this add-on is designed for the Launchpad and has a driver library already available he was able to focus on adapting the FFT output for display and adding in new features. Don’t miss seeing what he’s accomplished in the clip after the break.

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Building a spectrum analyzer with parallel processing

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It’s the end of the semester for [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller design class at Cornell, and the projects coming off the workbench this semester look as awesome as any before. For their final project, [Alexander Wang] and [Bill Jo] designed an audio frequency spectrum analyzer using two microcontrollers in a parallel setup.

This spectrum analyzer takes an audio signal from an iPod, phone, or CD player through a 3.5 mm jack and displays the level for dozens of frequency bands much like an audio visualizer in iTunes or a nice car stereo display. To display these frequency bands, the spectrum analyzer first needs to perform a Fast Fourier Transform on the incoming audio signal. While FFT is extremely fast, the calculations are rather hardware intensive; calculating the frequencies and displaying them on a TV would be a bit much even for the ATMega1284 used in the project.

To graph the audio signal on their small display, [Alexander] and [Bill] broke the build up into two parts – one to do the math on the audio, and another to generate the NTSC video signal for the display.

As seen in the video after the break, the spectrum analyzer works wonderfully, and even though it only functions up to 4kHz, it’s more than enough to see what’s going on in most music.

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Giving the Rigol DS1052E ‘scope a spectrum analyzer

Like a lot of hardware tinkerers, [dexter2048] has a Rigol DS1052E oscilloscope sitting on his bench. One day when trying to coax some information out of the FFT setting, [dexter] threw his hands up in frustration and decided to write a file viewer with FFT spectrum analysis. The resulting viewer gives this very capable and inexpensive oscilloscope a spectrum analyzer.

[dexter2048]’s app is able to capture signals from 0 Hz to 500 MHz and demonstrated this fact by sticking a piece of wire into one of the Rigol’s inputs. The resulting waveform is then sent to a computer where [dexter] got a nice picture of the radio spectrum between 82MHz and 114MHz. In his graph, you can clearly see the FM radio stations that can be picked up in [dexter]’s lab.

This small modification to the Rigol DS1052E oscilloscope it the latest in a long line of hacks that give this wonderful, inexpensive scope double the bandwidth, data collection via Python, and even a homebrew version of Pong. Anything that provides new functionality for old gear is great news to us, and we look forward to many, many more 1052E hacks in the future.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Murlidhar] for sending this in.

Making an audio spectrum analyzer with a microcontroller

While [Vinod] says he’s not an expert in this sort of thing, we really like his audio spectrum analyzer build from a simple microcontroller and LCD display.

It is a well-studied fact that every audio waveform – a recording of your voice, for instance – is just the sum of many, many sine waves. These sine waves can be plucked out using Fourier analysis, using a Discrete Fourier transform. This is the principle that spectrum analyzers operate under; [Vinod] wrote a bit of code using DFT to take apart audio captured from a microphone and output their frequency on an LCD display.

To output the spectrum on his LCD, [Vinod] stacked horizontal bars up into 8 custom characters in his display. Like [Vinod]’s previous audio on an ATMega32 experiment, an LM324 amplifier is connected to the ATMega through an analog pin. [Vinod] has a very clever build on his hands with his spectrum analyzer, and a great answer to the perennial ‘how do I build a guitar tuner’ questions we’re constantly asked.

After the break, you can see [Vinod]’s spectrum analyzer in action. Be forewarned; you may want to turn down the volume.

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Adding visuals to chiptune performances

If you’ve never been to a chiptune show – yes, they exist – you’ve noticed the awesome visuals behind the performers that are usually displayed with a glitching NES. If it’s a really good show, that 8-bit visualization will be in sync with the music and may actually serve as a lo-fi spectrum analyzer. [Andy] came up with his own visualization system for a Sega Genesis or Megadrive. With 16 bits behind his build, we’ll say if far surpasses the lowly NES.

For his visualization, [Andy] feeds audio into an ATMega328 and the ever-popular MSGEQ7 seven-band graphic equalizer IC. The output from the EQ goes straight to the second controller input of a Sega Nomad [Andy] had lying around that is running a custom ROM for his show. The ROM is programmed in tandem with the microcontroller project to serve as a spectrum analyzer for his shows.

You can check out [Andy]’s visualization with the chiptunes of Danimal Cannon after the break. We would prefer a demo featuring An0vA and the code for the microcontroller, but it’s still a very nice demo indeed.

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