MBox: A Child’s MP3 Player


For young children, music is a wonderful and exciting thing — but do you really want them playing with your phone, or worse yet, an iPod? [Arons] decided to make the MBox, an Arduino powered MP3 player.

He was inspired by hörbert, a very similar wooden MP3 player for children. Apparently it’s a great product, but it also costs 239€. We don’t blame him for wanting to make his own.

The MBox follows the same exterior design as hörbert — though we must admit, he could have spiced it up a bit! It uses an Arduino Uno at its core with a Freaduino MP3 music shield, capable of playing all the typical formats like MP3, MIDI, WAV, and even Ogg Vorbis. To amplify the sound he’s using a Mono Audio Amp Breakout board from SparkFun which drives an 8Ω loudspeaker. A mini USB power brick provides the juice, and a 12-digit keypad provides the ability to select music — each number plays from a different directory on the SD card.

[Arons’] daughter loves it, and he probably only spent a fifth of what the real hörbert costs!

[Thanks for the tip Renzo!]

21 thoughts on “MBox: A Child’s MP3 Player

  1. +1 for saving 239 euro and keeping the smartphone put away, because once a kid has seen a smartphone its all over. A $40 Microcenter tablet will hardly satisfy an 18 month old, by then they have become resolution snobs and it just won’t do. Then you can’t even pull out the phone to use the camera anymore without them reaching and whining.

    1. Huh? I visit Microcenter fairly regularly and I’ve not seen a ” $40 Microcenter tablet” there. Although the builder gets a big heap of street cred for building that player.

      And yes I’ve seen small children but never an 18 month old with those dratted things.

      1. That looks like the Datawind 7Ci that is being sold for $38 US (UK, US
        and Canada) since Dec. It was originally developed for India. They
        probably using same A13 reference design and same parts just like
        everyone else in the same price range.

        The specs aren’t too great as a tablet, but I can see a lot of hardware
        hacking potential.

        1. There are some amazingly cheap tablets, my friend got one the other week for 45 pounds. And it was, largely, a piece of crap. Did it’s tabletting jobs but pretty shoddily made. For a few quid more you’d get something with a few corners left uncut on it. As ever, the very cheapest *anything* is probably worth giving a miss.

  2. I’m trying hard not to be a “that’s not a hack” snob, but if you get an Arduino, an Arduino shield and do with it exactly what the manufacturer intended… then that’s just “buying an Arduino shield”, isn’t it? I suppose it put it in a box.

    1. I think there’s a different threshold for everyone for what is or isn’t a hack. From a non-techie grandma POV, it’s hacks all the way down.

      I think ‘hacking’ is pushing the envelope with one’s own level of understanding of technology.

      That necessarily means that to some, a project will be a hack, but to others, that same project is reduced to “rearranging parts and changing functionality.”

      To someone much more skilled than you, wouldn’t your own hacks be seen that way, too?

      In short, I think the spirit of hacking has always been “extending knowledge” rather than “getting into something that wasn’t meant to be gotten into.”

      PS – I am glad to see this project. I’ve been dreaming up an uber busy box for my own child, and this becomes another point of inspiration.

    2. Partly. But it’s much better than “went to the shop and bought one for 239 Euro”. He’s gaining confidence and ability, and actually making useful things Saving 200 Euros through work and skill is an achievement in itself. And for something his daughter really wanted. I think it’s well worth the effort, and interesting enough.

      It’s also good that electronics has come so far in the last few years that you CAN make your own MP3 player, with an interface you design. At the very least he’s going in the right direction, and at a good speed. I don’t think you *need* to abuse technology to count as a hack, tho that is of course still included.

      Nobody got criticised in the 1960s for using store-bought transistors instead of making their own. Even though using it to control larger currents with smaller ones is exactly what the manufacturer intended!

      1. I’m not knocking what he’s done. He put some effort in and made something nice for his daughter. I’m sure she appreciates it.

        It’s just that buying a product and using it exactly as intended is about as far from a hack as you can get.

        1. Think of the modules like bricks, or perhaps something a bit more specific. Like a door lock, if you change the lock on your door, it’s still your own work, even if you didn’t make the thing or forge the iron. Or upgrading your car with factory-made parts.

          The modules aren’t just intended to be put together in this particular way. They’re versatile, anyone could do anything with them. He specified and picked the parts then put them together, just like anyone. He made a thing from pre-fabbed parts, but that still needed doing. It’s more than most ordinary people do, and he ended up with something that exactly fit his needs.

          He could’ve sourced the chips and made his own PCB, but why make work for yourself? He accomplished his task perfectly. The next time he might try something more ambitious. I make my own PCs, but I couldn’t write the BIOS for a 3D card, Or a PC come to think of it. The parts aren’t a PC til I get hold of them. Still counts, I get exactly what I want, using parts conveniently available. There’s little to be gained by making more work for myself.

          Maybe it’s more of a “project” than a “hack” but they’re not too strict about that as a criterion for covering here.

          1. Doesn’t that kind of prove the point of what he’s saying?
            When was the last time someone putting together a PC was featured on hackaday?
            Pretty much never? that is to say, buying a main board, processor and RAM and putting it all together in the right order as intended following instructions isn’t a hack.

            however, a PC build made it to hack-a-day the hackintosh trash can case, wherein it’s not that cutting up a bin is particularly clever, it’s not that managing to put a computer together is particularly clever, but all combined you end up with a nice project that’s worth sharing in the hope that it inspires someone else.

            and that’s exactly what this is, it’s not revolutionary, just a nice little mashing together of some parts in a little wooden box etc that should be keeping kids happy for a little while.

        2. >It’s just that buying a product and using it exactly as intended is about as far from a hack as you can get.

          Isn’t the whole point here that he didn’t use the part that was intended (the 239 euro part), but built his own equivalent box from other parts that previously were lifeless (bits of rope, even)?

          Greenaum’s point about engineers not building their own transistors was very apt. We use other people’s parts in our projects. So is the real conversation, “are new projects considered ‘hacks’ or not?”

          Your definition for “hack” seems to include the notion ‘to use in a way that wasn’t intended’. I know that’s the Hollywood perception of the word, but certainly not how the word originated, and not how many still use it (nor clearly how hackaday uses it).

          Hackers work hard to figure out how something works (and that’s the meaning of the word, right there). Each “hacker” is going to stop somewhere with his depth of knowledge. Software guys hack at software levels. EEs hack at hardware/part levels. Material Engineers hack at levels beyond that (they build us new parts!).

          I think it’s safer – for everyone – to use the word “hacking” in a broad sense, lest we paint the hacking culture in an all-bad light and we completely lose track that “hacking” really boils down to burning many hours in pursuit of specific knowledge. Modern society often flirts with likening knowledge to “bad guys”. I think hat portraying “hacking” as “black-hat” is as incorrect as is dangerous.

          I’m wondering if this isn’t rather analogous to how artwork at a museum sparks people to say, “I could do that… That’s not art.” Are they saying that because they can also do it, that it’s not art? In this way, the parallel is saying “this project is too straight forward to be considered a hack.” But… it really is artwork hanging in that museum. It’s artwork when someone declared it so.

          I’m not going to say this project is not more straightforward than other projects (where we stray is clearly at the definition of the word “hack”) because it is – but that never makes it not a hack to me. I suppose because I think projects involving previously lifeless parts is a form of hacking. Is “hacking” in the eye of the beholder?

  3. you (suggesting tablets / usb mp3 players) are all missing the point..
    it’s about simplicity (see hörbert) – not gigabytes
    we all want is to go back to “insert tape and press play” – it’s that simple
    now there are RFID-based players on hackaday, too but the price tag is too high
    I have been waiting for this! thank you!!!

  4. ” — though we must admit, he could have spiced it up a bit!”

    Maybe he couldn’t, maybe that is the best he can do working with wood…
    I’m not faulting him for that, sure, I could make a better looking enclosure in my
    well equipped woodshop, but I haven’t, so he gets my kudo for having DONE it!

    1. Kudos is one of them nouns, forget which one, where there is no singular. Nobody ever earned a kudo. “Kudos”, it’s Greek for something like “respect”, has an S at the end anyway. Like respect, there’s no specific amount, so it doesn’t need a plural.

      1. Also should be pronounced “queue-doss”, as in MS-DOS. Not as in “dose” or “doze”. The latter pronunciation somehow got into the mouths of Americans, and I can see why it makes them think it’s a plural. I can only imagine one actor somewhere got it wrong, nobody knew better, or dared, to correct him, and off it’s spread. People didn’t use to say it much, a few years ago.

    1. Billions of people round the world who enjoy listening to music would disagree. Ever since music was invented, some have played, while an audience enjoyed. Your argument also means there’s no point in playing before an audience, it’s as good as playing by yourself. Is that true?

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