The Diaphragm is the Coil in These Flexible PCB Speakers

Speakers used to be largish electromechanical affairs, with magnets, moving coils, and paper cones all working together to move air around in a pleasing way. They’ve gotten much smaller, of course, small enough to screw directly into your ears or live inside the slimmest of smartphones and still delivery reasonable sound quality. The basic mechanism hasn’t changed much, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to make transduce electrical signals into acoustic waves.

Take these speakers made from flexible printed circuit boards, for instance. While working on his flexible PCB soft actuators, [Carl Bugeja] noticed that the PWM signals coursing through the coils on the thin PCB material while they were positioned over a magnet made an audible beeping. He decided to capitalize on that and try to make a decent speaker from the PCBs. An early prototype hooked to a simple amplifier showed promise, so he 3D-printed a ring to support the PCB like a diaphragm over a small neodymium magnet. The sound quality was decent, but the volume was low, so [Carl] experimented with a paper cone attached to the PCB to crank it up a bit. That didn’t help much, but common objects acting as resonators seemed to work fairly well. Check out the results in the video below.

This is very much a work in progress, but given [Carl]’s record with PCB creations from robotic fish to stepper motors built right into the PCB, we’d say he’ll make substantial improvements. Follow his and others’ progress in the Musical Instruments Challenge part of the 2018 Hackaday Prize.

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A Dozen Tubes Make An Educational Amplifier

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.

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Knock-Off AirPods Merged into Bluetooth Receiver

Whether or not you personally like the concept of the AirPod Bluetooth headphones is irrelevant, as an Apple product one thing is certain: all the cool kids want them. That also means that plenty of overseas manufacturers are pumping out janky clones for a fraction of the price for those who are more about the Apple look than the Apple price tag. Are they any good? No, of course not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something interesting with them.

[Igor Kromin] took apart a pair of fake AirPods and was predictably underwhelmed. So much so that he didn’t even bother putting the things back together. Instead, he took the two poor Bluetooth audio receivers and combined them into one slightly less poor Bluetooth audio receiver. It probably doesn’t meet the classical definition of a “good” use of time and/or money, but at least he got some entertainment out of a product that was otherwise destined for the trash.

As you might imagine, the left and right “AirPod” each has its own battery, Bluetooth receiver, and speaker. It has to, as they have no physical connection to each other. That also means that each receiver is only playing one channel, making them useless individually. What [Igor] realized was that he could put together a little PCB that combines the two audio channels back into a regular stereo 3.5 mm audio jack.

While he was at it, he also wired the individual buttons on each headphone to a center button on the PCB which would allow him to physically synchronize them. Even still, [Igor] mentions that occasionally they don’t come on at the same time. But what do you expect for something that’s nearly a 20th the price of the original?

The last time we saw a hack related to the Apple AirPod, it was when somebody threw them out the window, so one might presume most hackers prefer their iDevice tethered.

Listening To Mains Power

There’s a lot you can tell by looking at the waveform of your mains power. There are harmonics, transient changes, and periodic fluctuations that are correlated to the demand on the grid itself. Frequency shifts will tell you how fast or slow your clocks are running, and someone probably has a poorly isolated power line communication thing somewhere in your neighborhood. There’s a lot you can learn by looking at the waveform coming out of your outlets, but how do you tap into that? [David] is doing it with a PC sound card and some really interesting hardware.

The Grid 2 Audio module is [David]’s entry to this year’s Hackaday Prize, and it consists of three main parts. The first is the mechanical part of the design. This comes in the form of an IEC power socket with a built-in switch, fuse, and illumination. Of course, you could simply buy one of these, but [David] is teaching himself Autodesk Inventor, and you have to start somewhere. The second part of this build is the PCB power supply and mains input. This is basically a pair of transformers, a PCB, and a whole lot of isolation to make this a safe board. The third part is a signal conditioning board that sends the waveform to a 3.5mm jack, for easy processing with any audio capture hardware.

The hardest part of this board is, by far, the PCB design, and for that [David] went all out. There are some big, meaty traces on this thing and real separation between the high voltage and low voltage portions of the board. The end result is something that sends the mains waveform to an audio card for easy processing with MATLAB, and all the goodies that come from that.

Cross-Correlation Makes Quick Work Of Ads

Once relegated to the proverbial Linux loving Firefox user, ad blocking has moved into public view among increased awareness of privacy and the mechanisms of advertising on the internet. At the annual family gathering, when That Relative asks how to setup their new laptop, we struggle through a dissertation on the value of ad blockers and convince them to install one. But what about mediums besides the internet? Decades ago Tivo gave us one button to jump through recorded TV. How about the radio? If available, satellite radio may be free of The Hated Advertisement. But terrestrial radio and online streams? [tomek] wasn’t satisfied with an otherwise sublime experience listening streaming Polish Radio Three and decided to build a desktop tool to detect and elide ads from the live audio stream.

[tomek] was aware of this hip knowledge domain called Digital Signal Processing but hadn’t done any of it themselves. Like many algorithmic problems the first step was to figure out the fastest way to bolt together a prototype to prove a given technique worked. We were as surprised as [tomek] by how simple this turned out to be. Fundamentally it required a single function – cross-correlation – to measure the similarity of two data samples (audio files in this case). And it turns out that Octave provides it in the box. After snipping the start-of-ad jingle out of a sample file and comparing it to a radio program [tomek] got the graph at the left. The conspicuous spike is the location of the jingle in the audio file.

At this point all that was left was packaging it all into a one click tool to listen to the radio without loading an entire analysis package. Conveniently Octave is open source software, so [tomek] was able to dig through its sources until they found the bones of the critical xcorr() function. [tomek] adapted their code to pour the audio into a circular buffer in order to use an existing Java FFT library, and the magic was done. Piping the stream out of ffmpeg and into the ad detector yielded events when the given ad jingle samples were detected.

[tomek] packaged that tool into a standalone executable, but the gem here is the followup post. After removing ads in the online stream they adapted a RaspberryPi to listen to an FM receiver and remote control their Yamaha tuner over the network. So when the tuner is playing Radio Three the Pi notices and ducks the audio appropriately to avoid those pesky ads. Video of this after the break.

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The VU Meter and How It Got That Way

Given its appearance in one form or another in all but the cheapest audio gear produced in the last 70 years or so, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ubiquitous VU meter is just one of those electronic add-ons that’s more a result of marketing than engineering. After all, the seemingly arbitrary scale and the vague “volume units” label makes it seem like something a manufacturer would slap on a device just to make it look good. And while that no doubt happens, it turns out that the concept of a VU meter and its execution has some serious engineering behind that belies the really simple question it seeks to answer: How loud is this audio signal?

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Finding The Linear In A Laser

If your path has taken you through any work with hi-fi audio, you will be aware of the effects of distortion on sound quality. The tiniest non-linearity in a component can ruin the result, and people who work at the extreme end of the hi-fi spectrum will go to impossible lengths to chase the tiniest percentages of distortion that no human could possibly hear.

[Monta Elkins] has a Boldport kit, the Lite2Sound, which as its name suggests translates a light level to an audio signal. Given a laser diode and a source of country music from his Amazon Echo then, perhaps he could transmit the sound across a beam of laser light. And given that the Lite2Sound is an all-analogue device so unless it incorporates a low-pass filter it might struggle with PWM, to achieve that feat he would have to modulate the country music directly onto the laser light.

In the video below he shows us how he characterised his laser diode by plotting its VI curve on an oscilloscope, and identified its most linear region. He was then able to supply a voltage in the middle of that region, and simply overlay the line level audio from the Echo through an RC network. The result is a successful transmission of music via laser that sounds OK, though we’d find it interesting to see what an audio analyser would make of it. We’d also be interested to know whether the VI curve also maps to the same profile in the light intensity, we suspect the answer would be “close enough”.

So laser wireless audio can be done, and anyone who points out that the same feat could have been achieved with Bluetooth is spoiling the fun. After all, what’s a hi-fi without Frickin’ lasers!

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