Portable Bluetooth speakers have joined the club of ubiquitous personal electronics. What was once an expensive luxury is now widely accessible thanks to a prolific landscape of manufacturers mass producing speakers to fit every taste and budget. Some have even become branded promotional giveaway items. As a consequence, nowadays it’s not unusual to have a small collection of them, a fertile field for hacking.
But many surplus speakers are put on a shelf for “do something with it later” only to collect dust. Our main obstacle is a side effect of market diversity: with so many different speakers, a hack posted for one speaker wouldn’t apply to another. Some speakers are amenable to custom firmware, but only a small minority have attracted a software development community. It doesn’t help that most Bluetooth audio modules are opaque, their development toolchains difficult to obtain.
So what if we just take advantage of the best parts of these speakers: great audio fidelity, portability, and the polished look of a consumer good, to serves as the host for our own audio-based hacks. Let’s throw the Bluetooth overboard but embrace all those other things. Now hacking these boxes just requires a change of mindset and a little detective work. I’ll show you how to drop an Arduino into a cheap speaker as the blueprint for your own audio adventures.
Have you ever looked at modern LED lighting and noticed, perhaps on the very edge of your perception, that they seemed to be flickering? Well, that’s because they probably are. As are the LEDs in your computer monitor, or your phone’s screen. Pulse width modulation (PWM) is used extensively with LEDs to provide brightness control, and if it’s not done well, it can lead to headaches and eyestrain.
Looking to quantify just how much flashing light we’re being exposed to, [Faransky] has created a simple little gadget that essentially converts flashing light into an audio tone the human ear can pick up. Those LEDs might be blinking on and off fast enough to fool our eyes, but your ears can hear frequencies much higher than those used in common PWM solutions. In the video after the break, you can see what various LED light sources sound like when using the device.
The electronics here are exceptionally simple. Just connect a small solar panel to an audio amplifier, in this case the PAM8403, and listen to the output. To make it a bit more convenient to use, there’s an internal battery, charger circuit and USB-C port; but you could just as easily run the thing off of a 9 V alkaline if you wanted to build one from what’s already in the parts bin.
This stocking stuffer-sized amp is based around the LM386 and the bare minimum components necessary to make it rock. Everything is dead-bug soldered and sandwiched between two pieces of card stock. The first version with a single 386 sounded okay, but [Fran] wanted it louder, so she added another stage with a second 386. [Fran] glued the rim of the speaker directly to the card so it can act like a cone and give a better sound than the speaker does by itself.
All Santa needs to rock out is his axe and a small interface made of a 1/4″ jack and a 9 V wired to a 3-pin header that plugs into the card. He can take a break from Christmas music and let some of those cookies digest while he jams. Be sure to check out the build video after the break if you want to stay off the ‘naughty’ list.
If you asked [Hans_Daniel] what he learned by building a tube audio amplifier with a dozen tubes that he found, the answer might just be, “don’t wind your own transformers.” We were impressed, though, that he went from not knowing much about tubes to a good looking amplifier build. We also like the name — NASS II-12 which apparently stands for “not a single semiconductor.”
Even the chassis looked really good. We didn’t know textolite was still a thing, but apparently, the retro laminate is still around somewhere. It looks like a high-end audio component and with the tubes proudly on display on the top, it should be a lot of fun to use.
[Blackcorvo] wrote in to tell us how he took a cheap “retro” guitar amplifier and rebuilt it with sub-miniature vacuum tubes. The end result is a tiny portable amplifier that not only looks the part, but sounds it to. He’s helpfully provided wiring schematics, build images, and even a video of the amplifier doing it’s thing.
The original Honeytone amplifier goes for about $26, and while it certainly looks old-school, the internals are anything but. [Blackcorvo] is too much of a gentleman to provide “before” pictures of the internals, but we looked it up and let’s just say it doesn’t exactly scream high quality audio. Reviews online seem to indicate it works about as well as could be expected for an amplifier that costs less than $30, but this is definitely no audiophile gear.
Powering up the miniature vacuum tubes takes a bit of modern support electronics, including a buck converter to provide the high voltage for the tubes as well as a 6V regulator. The plus side is that the new circuit can power the tubes from an input voltage between 12 and 30 volts, meaning the amplifier can still be powered by batteries if you want to take it on the go.
[curcuz]’s BoomBeastic mini is a Raspberry Pi based smart connected speaker. But don’t dis it as just another media center kind of project. His blog post is more of a How-To guide on setting up container software, enabling OTA updates and such, and can be a good learning project for some. Besides, the design is quite elegant and nice.
The hardware is simple. There’s the Raspberry-Pi — he’s got instructions on making it work with the Pi2, Pi2+, Pi3 or the Pi0. Since the Pi’s have limited audio capabilities, he’s using a DAC, the Adafruit I2S 3W Class D Amplifier Breakout for the MAX98357A, to drive the Speaker. The I2S used by that part is Inter-IC Sound — a 3 wire peer to peer audio bus — and not to be confused with I2C. For some basic visual feedback, he’s added an 8×8 LED matrix with I2C interface. A Speaker rounds out the BoM. The enclosure is inspired by the Pimoroni PiBow which is a stack of laser cut MDF sheets. The case design went through four iterations, but the final result looks very polished.
On the software side, the project uses Mopidy — a Python application that runs in a terminal or in the background on devices that have network connectivity and audio output. Out of the box, it is an MPD and HTTP server. Additional front-ends for controlling Mopidy can be installed from extensions, enabling Spotify, Soundcloud and Google Music support, for example. To allow over-the-air programming, [curcuz] is using resin.io which helps streamline management of devices that are hard to reach physically. The whole thing is containerized using Docker. Additional instructions on setting up all of the software and libraries are posted on his blog post, and the code is hosted on GitHub.
There’s a couple of “To-Do’s” on his list which would make this even more interesting. Synced audio being one: in a multi-device environment, have the possibility to sync them and reproduce the same audio. The other would be to add an Emoji and Equalizer display mode for the LED matrix. Let [curcuz] know if you have any suggestions.
Though there is nothing wrong with the raw functionality of a plain rectangular PCB, boards that work an edge of aesthetic flare into their layout leave a lasting impression on those who see them. This is the philosophy of circuit artist [Saar Drimer] of Boldport, and the reason why he was commissioned by Calrec Audio to create the look for their anniversary edition amplifier kit. We’ve seen project’s by [Saar] before and this ‘Nutclough18’ amplifier is another great example of his artistic handy work.
For the special occasion of their 50th anniversary, Calrec Audio contacted [Saar] requesting he create something a bit more enticing than their standard rectangular design from previous years. With their schematic as a starting point, [Saar] used cardboard to mock-up a few of his ideas in order to get a feel for the placement of the components. Several renditions later, [Saar] decided to implement the exact proportions of the company’s iconic Apollo desk into the heart of the design as an added nod back to the company itself. In the negative space between the lines of the Apollo desk there is a small perforated piece depicting the mill where the Calrec offices are located. The image of the mill makes use of different combinations of copper, silk and solder mask either absent or present to create shading and depth as the light passes through the board. This small piece that would have otherwise been removed as scrap can be snapped off from the body of the PCB and used as a commemorative keychain.
With the battery and speaker mounted behind the completed circuit board, [Saar’s] design succeeds in being a unique memento with a stylish appeal. There is a complete case study with detailed documentation on the Nutclough from cardboard to product on the Boldport website. Here you can also see some other examples of their gorgeous circuit art, or checkout their opensource software to help in designing your own alternative PCBs.