These DIY Super Headphones Take Sound Seriously

[Pete Lewis] from SparkFun takes audio and comfort seriously, and recently shared details on making a customized set of Super Headphones, granting quality sound and stereo ambient passthrough, while providing hearing protection at the same time by isolating the wearer from the environment.

Such products can be purchased off the shelf (usually called some variant of “electronic hearing protection”), but every hacker knows nothing beats some DIY to get exactly the features one wants. After all, off-the-shelf solutions are focused on hearing protection, not sound quality. [Pete] also wanted features like the ability to freely adjust how much ambient sound was mixed in, as well as the ability to integrate a line-level audio source or Bluetooth input.

Early prototype of Super Headphones (click to enlarge)

On the surface the required components are straightforward, but as usual, the devil is in the details. Microphone selection, for example, required a lot of testing. A good microphone needed to be able to deal with extremely loud ambient sounds without distortion, yet still be sensitive enough to be useful. [Pete] found a good solution, but also muses that two sets of microphones (one for loud environments, and one for quieter) might be worth a try.

After several prototypes, the result is headphones that allow safe and loud band practice in a basement as easily as they provide high-quality music and situational awareness while mowing the lawn. Even so, [Pete]’s not done yet. He’s working on improving comfort by using photogrammetry to help design and 3D print custom-fitted components.

That Ultra-White Paint That Helps Cool Surfaces? Make Your Own!

It started with [KB9ENS] looking into paints or coatings for passive or radiative cooling, and in the process he decided to DIY his own. Not only is it perfectly accessible to a home experimenter, his initial results look like they have some promise, as well.

[KB9ENS] read about a type of ultra-white paint formulation that not only reflects heat, but is able to radiate it into space, cooling the painted surface to below ambient temperature. This is intriguing because while commercial paints can insulate and reflect heat, they cannot make a surface cooler than its surroundings.

Anecdotally speaking, this painted battery section of a solar recharger gets too hot to touch in full sunlight. But when painted over, it was merely warm.

What really got [KB9ENS] thinking was that at its core, the passively-cooling paint in the research is essentially a whole lot of different particle sizes of barium sulfate (BaSO₄) mixed into an acrylic binder. These two ingredients are remarkably accessible. A half-pound of BaSO₄ from a pottery supply shop was only a few dollars, and a plain acrylic base is easily obtained from almost any paint or art supplier.

[KB9ENS] decided to mix up a crude batch of BaSO₄ paint, apply it to some things, and see how well it compared to other paints and coatings. He wetted the BaSO₄ with some isopropyl alcohol to help it mix into the base, and made a few different concentrations. A 60% concentration by volume seemed to give the best overall results.

There’s no indication of whether any lower-than-ambient cooling is happening, but according to a non-contact thermometer even this homemade mixture does a better job of keeping sunlight from heating things up compared to similarly-applied commercial paints (although it fared only slightly better than titanium dioxide-based white paint in the initial test.)

[KB9ENS] also painted the battery section of a solar recharger with his homemade paint and noted that while under normal circumstances — that is to say, in full sunlight — that section becomes too hot to touch, with the paint coating it was merely warm.

Actual passive cooling can do more than just keep something less warm than it would be otherwise. We’ve seen it recently used to passively and continuously generate power thanks to its ability to create a constant temperature differential, day and night.

Directing Ambient Light For Some Extra Glow

[Yuichiro Morimoto] wanted to create a decorative lamp, one that wasn’t burdened with batteries or wires, but used just the ambient light in the room to create a directed glow effect. Using a coloured circular acrylic sheet, with a special coating (not specified) ambient light impinging on the surface is diffused toward the edge. This centre sheet is embedded in an opalescent sheet, which scatters the light from the center sheet, giving a pleasant glow, kind of akin to a solar corona. An additional diffuser cover sheet on the front covers over the edge to hide it, and further enhance the glow effect.

Details of the ‘special coating’ are scarce, with the coloured sheet described as a condenser plate. This clearly isn’t the same as diffuser plastic, as that cannot be seen through as clearly as some of the photographs show. So we’re a little stumped on this one! Please answer in the comments if you can, ahem, shed some light on this one!

When talking about ambient light, many people will think more along the lines of active lighting, for example, adaptive ambient light around a TV like this hack.

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Templateize Your Timetable With EPaper Templates

To date, e-paper technology has been great for two things, displaying static black and white text and luring hackers with the promise of a display that is easy on the eyes and runs forever. But poor availability of bare panels has made the second (we would say more important) goal slow to materialize. One of the first projects that comes to mind is using such a display to show ambient information like a daily summary weather, train schedules, and calendar appointments. Usually this means rolling your own software stack, but [Christopher Mullins] has put together a shockingly complete toolset for designing and updating such parameterized displays called epaper_templates.

To get it out of the way first, there is no hardware component to epaper_templates. It presupposes you have an ESP32 and a display chosen from a certain list of supported models. A quick search on our favorite import site turned up a wide variety of options for bare panels and prebuilt devices (ESP32 and display, plus other goodies) starting at around $40 USD, so this should be a low threshold to cross.

Once you have the device, epaper_templates provides the magic. [Christopher]’s key insight is that an ambient display is typically composed of groups of semi-static data displayed in a layout that never changes. The only variation is updates to the data which is fully parameterized: temperature is always integer Fahrenheit, train schedules are lists of minutes and hours, etc. Layouts like this aren’t difficult to make, but require the developer to reimplement lots of boilerplate. To make them easy to generate, epaper_templates provides a fully featured web UI to let the user freely customize a layout, then exports it as JSON which the device consumes.

The sample layout configured in the video below

The web UI is shockingly capable, especially for by the standards of the embedded web. (Remember it’s hosted on the ESP32 itself!) The user can place text and configure fonts and styles. Once placed, the text can be set to static strings or tied to variables, and if the string is a timestamp it can be formatted with a standard strftime format string.

To round out the feature set, the user can place images and lines to divide the display. Once the display is described, everything becomes simple to programmatically update. The ESP can be configured to subscribe to certain MQTT topics from which it will receive updates, or if that is too much infrastructure there is a handy REST API which accepts JSON objects containing variables or bitmaps to update on device.

We’re totally blown away by the level of functionality in epaper_templates! Check out the repo for more detail about its capabilities. For a full demo which walks through configuration of a UI with train arrival times, weather, both instant temperature and forecast with icons, and date/time check out the video after the break. Source for the example is here, but be sure to check out examples/ in the repo for more examples.

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Cracking Weather Station Checksum

[BaronVonSchnowzer] is spinning up some home automation and settled on an inexpensive ambient temperature sensor which is sold to augment the data a home weather station collects. He found that the RF protocol had been reverse engineered and will use this information to harvest data from a sensor in each room. In true hacker fashion, he rolled his own advances out to the Internet so that others may benefit. Specifically, he reverse engineered the checksum used by the Ambient F007TH.

He got onto this track after trying out the Arduino sketch written to receive the sensor’s RF communications. One peculiar part of the code turned out to be a filter for corrupt messages as the protocol’s checksum hadn’t yet been worked out. Figuring out how the checksum byte owrks wasn’t an easy process. The adventure led him to dump 13k samples into a spreadsheet to see if sorting similar sets of 5-byte message and 1-byte checksum would shed some light on the situation. The rest of the story is some impressive pattern matching that led to the final algorithm. Now [BaronVonSchnowzer] and anyone else using these modules can filter out corrupt data in the most efficient way possible.

Arduino Based PC Ambient Lighting

[royboy] from the Arduino forum has recently made a post showing off his Arduino / PC ambient light system. The system is simple to wire up and easy to use, as long as your video is being sent from a PC, which for many of us that use “home theater pc” systems is very convenient. Using a sparkfun red/green/blue (non addressable) led strip, an ULN2003A, an Arduino, and a short sketch written for processing the project is easy to toss together and very effective too.

The processing sketch continuously takes screen captures and then takes the resulting pictures and averages all the colors together. That average color is fed down to the Arduino over its stock serial connection, where it is output to 3 of the pwm capable outputs. Those outputs are connected to the 2003 Darlington transistor array to switch the 12 volt led strip.

It may seem like it would be slow, as processing is an interpreted Java based language, plus serial communication, plus Arduino overhead, but its actually very responsive and completes its task with little or no lag. Join us after the break for a quick video to see for yourself.

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Aurora Open Source Hardware Mixer

We’ve seen some fairly impressive mixer projects this year, and the Aurora mixer is no exception. It is a dual channel USB-powered mixer with two linear faders, one crossfader, eight backlit buttons and 24 potentiometers, all built around a PIC 18LF4525 microcontroller. That’s all pretty typical for a mixer, but this one is very visually attractive, featuring a clean and stylish form factor and controllable lighting both under the board and in the LEDs backlighting the buttons and knobs.

Whether you want to buy one now or build one yourself, the Aurora team has made both possible. You can contact them for pricing if you are ready to buy. If you prefer to build, this is an open source project with full assembly instructions, schematics, drivers, patches and all other source code and information you should need available here. See more photos of the Aurora mixer here, or see it in action after the break.

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