Building A Solar-Powered, Supercapacitor-Based Speaker

Inspired by many months of hours-long load shedding in South Africa, [JGJMatt] decided to make a portable speaker that can play tunes for hours on a single charge and even charge off the integrated solar panel to top the charge off. None of this should sound too surprising, but what differentiates this speaker is the use of two beefy 400 F, 2.7 V supercapacitors in series rather than a lithium-ion battery on the custom PCB with the Ti TPA2013D1 Class-D mono amplifier.

Insides of the speaker prior to stuffing and closing.
Insides of the speaker prior to stuffing and closing.

The reason for supercapacitors is two-fold. The first is that their lifespan is much longer than that of Li-ion batteries, the second that they can charge much faster. The disadvantages of supercapacitors come in the form of their lower energy density and linear discharge voltage. For the latter issue the TPA2301D1 amplifier has a built-in boost converter for an input range from 1.8 – 5.5 V, and despite the lower energy density a solid 6 hours of playback are claimed.

Beyond the exquisitely finished 3D printed PETG shell and TPU-based passive bass radiator, the functionality consists out of a single full-range speaker and an analog audio input (TRS jack and USB-C). To add Bluetooth support [JGJMatt] created a module consisting out of a Bluetooth module that connects to the USB-C port for both power and analog audio input.

Charging the speaker can be done via the USB-C port, as well as via the solar panel. This means that you can plug its USB-C port into e.g. a laptop’s USB-C port and (hopefully) charge it and play back music at the same time.

For those feeling like replicating this feat, the Gerbers, bill of materials, enclosure STLs, and everything else needed can be be found in the tutorial.

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Is That A Record Player In Your Pocket Or…

If aliens visited the Earth, they might find our obsession with music hard to fathom. We have music in our homes, our cars, and our elevators. Musical performances draw huge crowds and create enormous fame for a select few musicians. These days, your music player of choice is probably the phone in your pocket. What our grandparents wouldn’t have done to have a pocket-sized music player. Wait…, it turns out they had them. [Rare Historical Photos] has pictures and other material related to the Mikiphone — a “pocket phonograph.” We don’t know how it sounded, but it is a fantastic piece of work visually. Actually, thanks to the [Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound], you can hear one of these rare machines playing in the video below. If only it were playing Toni Basil.

The device was made in the 1920s and had a decidedly strange tonearm. You wind it up with a gigantic key mechanism. There’s no electricity. A bakelite resonator became the speaker attached to the tone arm. The device was made in Switzerland by a company that started in music boxes. However, the design was the work of two brothers named Vadász.

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A Speaker With Dancing Ferrofluid

A speaker project isn’t usually very different, but we couldn’t help but notice [Electronoob’s] latest speaker not for its audio performance but because it features dancing ferrofluid and is an unusual work of art. The housing is 3D printed and includes some translucent portions for LEDs.You can see and hear the speaker at work in the video below.

Apparently, not all ferrofluid is created equal. You can get just the fluid, but then you have to work up some sort of carrier fluid. You can also get the material already in a glass with a carrier fluid, which is a better option. Apparently, you can also get cheap material that is little more than iron filings suspended in a liquid. That’s not really ferrofluid.

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A loudspeaker with a supercapacitor PCB next to it

Hackaday Prize 2023: Supercapacitors Let Solar Speaker Work In Darkness

Solar panels are a great way to generate clean electricity, but require some energy storage mechanism if you also want to use their power at night. This can be a bit tricky for large solar farms that feed into the grid, which require enormous battery banks or pumped storage systems to capture a reasonable amount of energy. It’s much easier for small, handheld solar gadgets, which work just fine with a small rechargeable battery or even a big capacitor. [Jamie Matthews], for instance, built a loudspeaker that runs on solar power but can also work in the dark thanks to two supercapacitors.

The speaker’s 3D-printed case has a 60 x 90 mm2 solar panel mounted at the front, which charges a pair of 400 Farad supercaps. Audio input is either through a classic 3.5 mm socket or through the analog audio feature of a USB-C socket. That same USB port can also be used to directly charge the supercaps when no sunlight is available, or to attach a Bluetooth audio receiver, which in that case will be powered by the speaker.

A speaker's passive radiator next to a solar panel
The solar panel sits right next to the passive radiator before both are covered with speaker fabric.

The speaker’s outer shell, the front bezel, and even the passive radiator are 3D-printed and spray-painted. The radiator is made of a center cap that is weighed down by a couple of M4 screws and suspended in a flexible membrane. [Jamie] used glue on all openings to ensure the box remains nearly airtight, which is required for the passive radiator to work properly. Speaker fabric is used to cover the front, including the solar panel – it’s apparently transparent enough to let a few watts of solar power through.

A salvaged three-inch Bose driver is the actual audio source. It’s driven by a TI TPA2013D1 chip, which is a 2.7 W class-D amplifier with an integrated boost converter. This enables the chip to keep a constant output power level across a wide supply voltage range – ideal for supercapacitor operation since supercaps don’t keep a constant voltage like lithium batteries do.

[Jamie] has used the speaker for more than nine months so far and has only had to charge it twice manually. It probably helps that he lives in sunny South Africa, but we’ve seen similar solar audio projects work just fine in places like Denmark. If you’re taking your boombox to the beach, a sunscreen reminder feature might also come in handy.

A collage of three images. On top is the main PCB of the headphones, with a charger IC and the main MCU. On the bottom left, it shows ACOK and EN signals going to pullup resistors near the MCU. On bottom right, it shows the charger chip with its pinout overlaying it, highlighting the pads to be probed and later cut.

One Hacker’s Battle To Slightly Improve A Sadistic Sony Headset

One thing you won’t read in reviews of pricey Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones – if you choose them, you’re going to find yourself in a one-sided abusive relationship. A button press or low-battery notification makes the headphones scream at you, ignoring the actual sound volume of what you’re currently listening to. Once they’re discharged, they suddenly emit loud noises, lecture you about how the battery is low, then shut down. Oh, and you can’t use them as they’re charging – if your voicecall lasts longer than expected, you might find yourself being shouted at and forced to fumble around with wires, silently pleading for call participants to wait while you change over to a different headset.

On-PCB footprint for the IC, with two pads carefully cut in half as mentioned in the article[MisterHW] decided to dig in and figure out how to work around at least some of the shortcomings. Naturally, the “no charge while using” limit looked like low-hanging fruit, and a hefty usability improvement too – plus, he suspected the charge cutoff to be masking noise issues already abundant on these headphones. Some painful disassembly later, he was inspecting the charger IC , the MP2625, responsible for power management. Its signals were connected to the MCU using via-in-pad – and some pads had to be cut in half to disconnect the vias.

However, the laborious pad cutting and subsequent careful soldering didn’t turn out to be fruitful. Even with external control of the output inhibition pins, the shutoff still continued – something affected the circuit, whether it was VBUS detection, some other unnoticed via-connected pins on the charger, or sensing on D+/D-. About to run out of life force for this mod, [MisterHW] added a Qi charging circuit, powering a TP4056 wired in parallel with the MP2625. The mod, dubbed HW-1000XM3, made these headphones all that more reliable and less annoying – charger and MCU none the wiser.

Now, all that’s needed to charge these headphones is to slap a magnetic charger coil onto them, and it doesn’t interfere with voicecalls as much as the screaming and forced shutoffs do. Hopefully, Sony eventually learns to test their headphones by having humans use them – it’s far from the only gripes with this lineup, after all. We also hope that the voice notifications will be conquered eventually – this summer, we’ve seen a hacker firmware mod a Bluetooth speaker to make the sounds more pleasant. If your headphones are based on a relatively popular module, repurposing them might be even easier than that!

The speaker PCB inside of the speaker, with a flash chip ZIF holder soldered to the SPI flash pads on the PCB

Bluetooth Speaker Domesticated Through Firmware Mod

This might sound like a familiar problem – you get a Bluetooth speaker, and it sounds nice, but it also emits all kinds of weird sounds every now and then. [Oleg Kutkov] got himself a Sven PS460 speaker with FM radio functionality, but didn’t like that the “power on” sound was persistently loud with no respect for the volume setting, and the low battery notification sounds were bothersome. So, he disassembled the speaker, located a flash chip next to the processor, and started hacking.

Using a TL866 and minipro software, he dumped the firmware, and started probing it with binwalk. The default set of options didn’t show anything interesting, but he decided to look for sound file signatures specifically, and successfully found a collection of MP3 files! Proper extraction of these was a bit tricky, but he figured out how to get them out, and loaded the entire assortment into Audacity.

From there, he decided to merely make the annoying sounds quieter – negating the “no respect for the volume setting” aspect somewhat. After he exported the sound pack out of Audacity, the file became noticeably smaller, so he zero-padded it, and finally inserted it back into the firmware. Testing revealed that it worked just as intended! As a bonus, he replaced the “battery low” indicator sound with something that most of us would appreciate. Check out the demo video at the end of his write-up.

Domesticating your Bluetooth speakers tends to be called for. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, you can rebuild them into an audio receiver – or perhaps, build your own Bluetooth speakers, with aesthetics included and annoyance omitted from the start.

Adding An Audio Jack To Classic Headphones Is A Nifty Upgrade

One of the most common ways to junk a pair of headphones is to damage the cord. Obviously, the lead can be repaired, but it involves busting out the soldering iron and can be tedious when dealing with the tiny little coated wires.

It does involve soldering, but ideally, you only have to do it once.

[] has a way of dealing with the problem in a once-and-done fashion, by installing a female audio jack into his vintage headphones. The benefit is that if the cable is damaged, it can simply be unplugged and replaced with a new one, and is commonly seen on headphones from companies like KRK. 

The hack is simple when applied to a classic pair of AKG K141 headphones. The little plastic casing on one earpiece is popped off, and replaced with a 3D-printed version that stoutly holds a female TRS jack in place. This can then be soldered up to the wiring inside the headphones.

With everything assembled, the headphones can now use an easily-replaceable cable, and one needn’t worry about having to bust out the soldering iron if the lead is damaged in future. It’s a particularly useful hack for those who use their headphones on the road, always throwing them into backpacks between gigs.

If that’s not hardcore enough, consider attaching a headphone jack to an old 8-track player for the most ridiculous Walkman you can imagine. If you’ve been working on your own portable audio hacks, be sure to drop us a line!