Know Audio: Amplifier Nuts And Bolts

As we’ve followed a trail through Hi-Fi and audio systems from the listener’s ear towards the music source, we’ve reached the amplifier. In our previous article we gave a first introduction to distortion and how some amplifier characteristics can influence it, and here we’ll continue along that path and look at the amplifier itself. What types of audio amplifier circuits will you encounter, and what are their relative merits and disadvantages?

A Few Amplifier Basics

Horowitz and Hill's Transistor Man
Horowitz and Hill’s Transistor Man

If you know anything about a transistor, it’s probably that it’s a three terminal device whose output pin forms part of a potential divider whose state is dependent on what is presented to its input pin. The Art of Electronics had it as a cartoon of a man standing inside a bipolar transistor and adjusting a variable resistor between collector and emitter while watching an ammeter on the base.

Properly biased in its conducting range, a transistor can behave as a linear device, in which the potential divider voltage moves in response to the input in a linear relationship, and thus the voltage on the output is an amplified version of the voltage on the output. This is the simplest of transistor amplifiers, and because different types of amplifier are referred to by lettered classes, it’s known as a class A amplifier. Continue reading “Know Audio: Amplifier Nuts And Bolts”

Stereo Recording Made Easy With A 3D-Printed Mount

When making a recording it can be surprisingly difficult to capture a good stereo image. A well-known technique is the ORTF microphone arrangement in which two cardoid microphones sit at 110 degrees to each other and 17cm apart, and thus pick up a readily reproducible stereo separation. It’s something that we’ve been known to do in our student days with a pair of Shure SM58s and a stack of Post Office elastic bands, but [marsairforce] has done a much nicer job with a very neat 3D-printed microphone clip.

Designed in OpenSCAD, the first iteration printed on a resin printer proved to be too brittle for the task, so a second version was printed on an FDM machine. This incorporated significant strengthening, as well as a screw mount for a microphone stand. The result is an extremely useful and cheap addition to any recording set-up, and anyone who has wrestled with achieving a good stereo image will appreciate it. You can see some of what went into it in the video below the break.

If this is your field of interest, you might also wish to look at a binaural microphone.

Continue reading “Stereo Recording Made Easy With A 3D-Printed Mount”

Know Audio: Amplifiers And Distortion

As we’ve traced our no-nonsense path through the world of Hi-Fi audio, we’ve started with the listener, understood the limitations of the human ear, and thence proceeded to the loudspeaker. We’ve learned a bit about speaker cabinets and their design, so it’s time to venture further down the chain to the amplifier that drives those speakers.

The sharp-eyed will be ready to point out that along this path also lies the  speaker cables, but since we’ll be looking at interconnects at a later date we’ll be making the dubious and simplistic assumption for now that the wires between speaker and amplifier are ideal conductors that don’t have a bearing on listening quality. We’ll be looking at amplifiers in enough detail to warrant more than one piece on the subject, so today we’ll start by considering in a slightly abstract way what an amplifier does and where it can fall short in its task. We’ll be introducing probably the most important thing to consider in any audio system, namely distortion.

The job of an audio amplifier is to take an audio signal at its input and present the same signal on its output at a greater amplitude. In the case of a preamplifier it will usually be designed to work with high impedances in the order of 50 kΩ at both input and output, while in a power amplifier designed to drive speakers or headphones it will drive a much lower impedance. Commonly this will be 4 Ω or 8 Ω for loudspeakers, and 32 Ω for headphones. Continue reading “Know Audio: Amplifiers And Distortion”

How To Modify Your Car Stereo For Bluetooth Or Aux-In

If you’re an automotive enthusiast of taste, you can’t stand the idea of fitting a janky aftermarket stereo into your nice, clean ride. Flashy, modern head units can spoil the look of a car’s interior, particularly if the car is a retro, classic, or vintage ride.

Thus, we’re going to look at how to modify your existing stock car stereo to accept an auxiliary cable input or even a Bluetooth module. This way, you can pump in the latest tunes from your smartphone without a fuss, while still maintaining an all-original look on the dash.

Fundamentals

A simple Bluetooth module designed for wiring into car audio systems. There are two wires for 12 V power from the vehicle, and the audio signal is sent out over the RCA plugs. The RCA plugs can be cut off and the module hard wired inside your stereo if you have room. Cutting off the plastic case can help too.

Depending on your choice of audio player, you may prefer a 3.5 mm aux jack, or you might want to go with Bluetooth audio if your smartphone no longer has a headphone port. Whichever way you go, the process of modifying the stereo is largely the same. To achieve your goal, you need to find a way of injecting the audio signal into the head unit’s amplifier stage, while making sure no other audio sources are getting sent there as well.

Whether that audio source is a 3.5 mm jack or a Bluetooth module doesn’t matter. The only difference is, in the latter case, you’ll want to buy a Bluetooth module and hardwire it in to the auxiliary input you create, while also splicing the module into the stereo’s power supply. In the case of a simple headphone jack input, you simply need to wire up an aux cord or 3.5 mm jack somewhere you can get to it, and call it done.

This guide won’t cover every stereo under the sun, of course. Edge cases exist and depending on the minute specifics of how your original car radio works, these exact methods may or may not work for you. However, this guide is intended to get you thinking conceptually about how such mods are done, so that you can investigate the hardware in front of you and make your own decisions about how to integrate an external audio input that suits your usage case. Continue reading “How To Modify Your Car Stereo For Bluetooth Or Aux-In”

The Hidden Sounds Of The Past

If you stop to think, the number of pre-recorded voices and sounds you might hear on an average day might number in the hundreds. Everything from subway announcements, alerts on your phone, to sound effects at Disneyland is a sound that triggers in response to an event. [Techmoan] came across a device that many of us have interacted with, but likely never seen: a humble Sontranic 9A Announcer.

In their heyday, these sorts of devices formed the backbone of audio feedback. Messages from Father Christmas were recorded and could be reached when calling a number. Sound effects in theme parks that were activated when a ride activated some hidden switch. Anything where the sound effect needed to play on some sort of trigger.

An interesting thing to note is that this is not a reel-to-reel system. The tape is of the standard 1/4″ magnetic variety, perhaps a little thicker for extra durability. It instead sits in the top of the machine; coiling and uncoiling like a two-dimensional lava lamp. Additionally, there’s nothing clever about detecting the beginning or end of the audio loop (as there were four copies of the same recording on this particular tape). In fact, everything about this machine speaks of reliability as the most important design consideration. A reel-to-reel system would just add more points of failure.

After a little bit of diagnosing, [Techmoan] managed to get the device running again and found the message on the tape to be from the phone system, informing the listener that the line is no longer in service. This banal message is perhaps the best testament to the ubiquity of devices like these.

Perhaps in the future, we’ll see an instrument like this magnetic tape-based one created from a similar machine to the one [Techmoan] found.

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Digital Audio For Microcontrollers Doesn’t Come Much Simpler Than A WART

Adding an audio channel to your microcontroller project can mean a pile of extra components and a ton of processing power, as a compressed stream must be retrieved and sent to a dedicated DAC. Or if you are [rdpoor], it can mean hooking up a low-pass filter to the UART that’s present on even the simplest of devices, and constructing a serial data stream that mimics PWM audio.

Sound on your microcontroller, it’s this simple!

WART is a Python script that converts a WAV file into a C formatted byte array that can be baked into your microcontroller code, and for which playback is as simple as streaming it to the UART. The example uses a Teensy and a transistor to drive a small speaker, we’re guessing that better quality might come with using a dedicated low-pass filter rather than relying on the speaker itself, but at least audio doesn’t come any simpler.

The code can be found in a GitHub repository and there’s a few recordings of the output in the files section Hackaday.io page, one is embedded below. It’s better than we might have expected given that the quality won’t be the best at the PWM data rate of even the fastest UART. But even if you won’t be incorporating it into your music system any time soon we can see it being a useful addition for such things as small warning sounds. Meanwhile if persuading serially driven speakers to talk is of interest, there’s always the venerable PC speaker.

Continue reading “Digital Audio For Microcontrollers Doesn’t Come Much Simpler Than A WART”

Your PC Sound Card As A Sensor Input

The commoditised PC is the most versatile tool many of us will own, and since it has been around for a very long time it is also something that can be found for free or very cheaply if the latest components aren’t a concern. It’s not without limitations though, while it’s designed for expansion it no longer has any ports that can easily be repurposed as GPIOs for reading sensors. A solution for some sensors comes courtesy of [Ruslan Nagimov], who shows us how the PC sound card can become a measurement interface.

The idea is that simple resistive or capacitive sensors can be read through their AC characteristics by sending out a sine wave on one channel of the card and reading the result on the other from a divider circuit. He goes extensively into the code, both for the resistive example and for reactive components, and we can see that it forms a handy extension to the PC capabilities.

We’re sure this technique will find applications for some readers, but it interests us for another platform. Measurement using a mobile phone’s audio jack doesn’t have an inspiring history, but perhaps this could be used as well for mobile sensors.