Retrofitting A Vintage Intercom To Run Amazon Alexa

The Amazon Echo is a pretty cool piece of tech: it lets you ask questions, queue up music, find out the weather, and more, without having to do anything but talk. But, the device itself is a bit pricey, and looks a little boring. What if you could have all the features of the Echo, but in a cool retro case and at a cheaper price?

Well, you can, and that’s exactly what [nick.r.brewer] did, using a ’50s intercom and a Raspberry Pi. He picked the vintage intercom up at an antique store for $20, and the Raspberry Pi Zero is less than $10. So, for about $30 (and some parts most of us have lying around) he was able to build a cool looking device with all of the capabilities of the Amazon Echo.

The hardware portion of the build was pretty straightforward, with the Raspberry Pi, a sound card, WiFi dongle, USB hub, and microphone all fitting nicely inside the case of the intercom. The software side of things is a little more tricky, but with a device like this it runs well with Amazon’s Alexa SDK. Of course, if you want to add more hardware features, that’s possible too.

17 thoughts on “Retrofitting A Vintage Intercom To Run Amazon Alexa

  1. It does not have “all the features of the Echo” because it lacks the primary one–this thing is not voice activated. It’s more like the Amazon Tap (a piece of shit, but that’s another story) which, you will note, does not include the word “Echo” in its name.

      1. Actually, it’s the “Echo Dot” ( It is also not “exactly” the Echo because it also has an audio output jack (????????????????????????!!) which the original Echo, and Tap, do not (????????????!!).

        Speaking of the Echo Dot, my fondest dream (I’m a simple guy :-) is that Amazon will put it back into production. I bought two, the maximum allowed, and could happily use another 5-10 because of the aforementioned audio out. It’s the best of the existing Alexa devices if you want to put one in your vehicle (tethered to an internet connection, of course).

        1. BTW, has anyone around here hacked an original Echo to add line-level audio out? I’ve been planning to open up one of mine to see if I could find the appropriate point in the circuit to tap a signal, but haven’t yet been brave enough. It’s ???????????????????????????????? that it only exists somewhere inaccessible (inside a big chip), in which case you’d have to be satisfied with clipping onto the speaker connections (and recombining the bass & treble, since they go to separate drivers).

          Remember the good ol’ days when you could add a fixed-level audio output (from, say, a TV) by just connecting to the “top” of the volume potentiometer? Sigh…

    1. I have an Echo, and while I enjoy some of things it can do (yes, even with third party skills) It is frustrating as hell for all the things it cannot or will not do. It’s main thing it is reallllly good at is being a shill for amazon purchases, which while cute at first, quickly becomes annoying.

      1. I now have a dozen Echoes in all the flavors (including one Tap), and (except for the Tap) it’s one of my very favorite devices. It’s only an Amazon shill if you ask it to be. Do you have yours connected to a home control system? I use mine with a SmartThings hub, and that’s what really pushed it over the line into being essential. The ???????????????? downside I see is that it will only play music from either Prime or your (paid) Amazon Music account. Since I happily have both, that’s not an issue for me.

        1. My echo is linked to iheartradio, tunein, and Pandora, I mostly use pandora and prime music. My only gripes are that I cannot shuffle my pandora, I cannot access my “thumbprint” pandora channel, and there is no audio out. I regret not getting the Dot

        2. Yeah, I use it with smarthings,too and a wifi thermostat. But I can only control lights with it, I can’t lock doors or activate the alarm system, and yeah, that’s for security so a burglar can’t just yell “Alexa!, unlock the door”, but they could easily make that more secure by using “safe words” or a set of randomized questions that only you would know the answer to. say like 5 rotating questions along with a password. Not all of us live in an apartment with paper thin walls anyway… The thermostat only lets me set the temperature, no hold times, no switching modes etc.
          I mean yeah, its voice activated home automation and this are all first world problems, but it could be soooo much more refined than what it is.

    2. That is what I do not understand. Why aren’t these Echo like devices voice activated?
      Use to listen for a keyword and Light an LED like the echo and start doing the cloud based speech recognition. Sphinx is pretty good with a limited vocabulary and you would not need much to listen for a single key word. You have Sphinx replace the button.

      1. The Echoes have a pretty sophisticated setup using a “far field” array of seven microphones. But, yeah, it shouldn’t be too difficult to build your own wake word recognizer that would work tolerably well and activate Alexa’s listen function. A big advantage would be that you could set the wake word to anything you wanted, instead of just “Alexa”, “Amazon”, or “Echo”.

        So, lwatcdr, when you’ve created the hack please post it here for all of us to enjoy!

      2. BTW, it’s conceivable that the Echo subtracts its own output (e.g., music) from what it hears to improve reliability when listening for the wake word. It would be nifty to have the DIY Echo’s output connected to the DIY recognizer to accomplish that. Please include that in your version, lwatcdr.

        1. It is on my todo list Right now I am working building a workshop in my garage and then working on my home office. Yea I did mean for it to sound as snarky as it did. The echo lacks a lot of features I would love to see like the ability to use it as an intercom.The sound canceling idea is also on my list.

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