This Simple Media Player Will Inspire Beginners And Invite Experimentation

While it would have been considered science-fiction just a few decades ago, the ability to watch virtually any movie or TV show on a little slab that fits in your pocket is today no big deal. But for an electronics beginner, being able to put together a pocketable video player like this one would be quite exciting, and might even serve as a gateway into the larger world of electronics design.

For inspiration, [Alex] from Super Make Something on YouTube looked to the Rickrolling keychain media players we featured back in January. His player is quite a bit larger and more capable, with a PCB design that allows the player to be built in multiple configurations, from audio-only to full video and a LiPo battery. The guts of the player center around an ESP32 module, with an audio amp and speakers plus a 1.8″ LCD screen with SD card reader for storing media files. Add in a few controls and switches and a little code, and you’ll be playing back media files in a snap. Build info and demo in the video below.

It may be a simple design, but we feel like that’s the whole point. [Alex] has taken pains to make this as approachable a build as possible. All the parts are cheap and easily available, and the skills needed to put it together are minimal — with the possible exception of soldering down the ESP32 module, which lacks castellated edge terminals. For a beginner, getting a usable media player by mixing together just a few modules would be magical, and the fact that it’s still pretty hackable afterward is just icing on the cake.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: A Plasma Tweeter For Ultimate Clarity

In the world of audio there are a huge variety of esoteric technologies which are rarely seen. One such is the plasma tweeter, a type of loudspeaker which generates sound by modulating a small electrical discharge. The benefit of this design comes in its delivering the closest possible to a point audio source, in effect the theoretical ideal speaker for treble frequencies. They’re a little hazardous due to the voltage but aren’t too difficult to make, as demonstrated by [Mircemk] whose version uses a recycled power pentode tube — which is how it showed up in the Hack it Back round of the Hackaday Prize.

It can be thought of as a cousin of the Tesla coil, with the same resonant oscillator but no capacity hat. Instead the top of the coil ends in a point, from which in the perfect speaker a ball of plasma replaces the Tesla’s impressive sparks. In this case the pentode is joined by a high-voltage TV line output transistor as a bias supply, which is in turn modulated with the audio through a small amplifier. It sometimes needs the plasma teasing out of it through discharge to a screwdriver, but the result is a very effective and clear plasma tweeter.

If plasma tweeters interest you, we’ve featured them before.

Building A Tube-Based Stereo Amp, In Classic Style

It’s not every day we see the results of someone putting their own spin on a vintage tube amp, but that’s exactly what [lens42] did in creating the McIntosh 217, created as a “mini” version of the McIntosh MC275, a classic piece of audio equipment. Both are pictured next to each other, above.

When it comes to vintage hi-fi stereo amplifiers, two units had particular meaning for [lens42]: the McIntosh MC275 Power Amp, and the Dynaco ST35. The Dynaco was a more budget-friendly amplifier, but looked like a plain box. The McIntosh, however, proudly showed off its tubes and transformers in all their glory. The “McIntosh 217” is design-wise basically a smaller McIntosh MC275, with the innards of a Dynaco ST35.

With so much needing to be designed from the ground up, CAD was invaluable. Component layout, enclosure design, and even wiring and labeling all had to be nailed down as much as possible before so much as heating up the soldering iron. Even so, there were a few hiccups; a vendor had incorrect measurements for a tube socket which meant that the part would not fit. A workaround involved modifying the holes and as luck would have it, the change wasn’t an eyesore. Still, [lens42] reminds us all that whenever you can, have the required parts in-hand for confirmation of dimensions before sending CAD files off for cutting or fabrication.

Many of us can relate to the fact that the whole project was a labor of love and made no real financial sense, but the end result is fantastic, and creating such a thing is something all of us — not just chasers of that elusive “tube sound” — can appreciate.

Simple Universal Modem Helps Save And Load Data From Tape

Back in the early days of the home computer revolution, data was commonly saved on tape. Even better, those tapes would make an almighty racket if you played them on a stereo, because the data was stored in an audio format.  The Simple Universal Modem from [Anders Nielsen] is built to work in a similar way, turning data into audio and vice versa.

The project consists of a circuit for modulating data into audio, and demodulating audio back into data. It’s “universal” because [Anders] has designed it to be as format-agnostic as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you want to store data on a digital voice recorder, a cassette deck, or an old reel-to-reel. This build should work fairly well on all of them!

On the modulation side of things, it’s designed to be as analog-friendly as possible. Rather than just spitting out rough square waves, it modulates them into nice smooth sine waves with fewer harmonics. On the demodulation side, it’s got an LM393 comparator which can read data on tape and spit out a clean square wave for easy decoding by digital circuitry.

If you find yourself trying to recover old data off tapes, or writing to them for a retrocomputing project, this build might be just what you need. [Anders] even goes as far as demonstrating its use with an old reel-to-reel deck in a helpful YouTube video.

There really were some weird ways of storing data way back when. Just ask IBM. Video after the break.

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Carver M-400 Amplifier Repair Keeps The 1980’s Alive

Carver is a famous name in audio equipment although they have been known to use odd names for things. For example, the 1980’s vintage M-400 magnetic field power amplifier that [JohnAudioTech] is repairing (see the two videos below). That sounds like something off a bad Star Trek remake, but, apparently, we weren’t alone in thinking that, judging by this 1982 review of the unit from a UK magazine.

Still, it is an interesting high-power amplifier and we love seeing gear of this age torn apart. The beast is rated at 201 watts — you have to wonder if the extra watt is another marketing ploy.

There were actually two units and they looked pretty good for four-decade-old boxes. One sounded pretty good outside of some noticeable buzzing. The other had something shorted inside. If you enjoy watching repair videos, you’ll appreciate this two-parter.

We have to admit — and it may be a personal bias — there is something more pleasing about seeing a PCB populated with a bunch of interesting-looking through-hole components. Modern boards with a sea of surface mount parts tend to look a little bland, aesthetically speaking. Of course, when it comes time to make our own boards, we are happy to use SMD and forego all that hole drilling!

We like watching computer repair videos, in particular. Or sometimes, something really exotic.

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Pocket Radio Powered By Tiny Microcontroller

Before the days of MP3 players and smartphones, and even before portable CD players, those of us of a certain age remember that our cassette players were about the only way to take music on-the-go. If we were lucky, they also had a built-in radio for when the single tape exhausted both of its sides. Compared to then, it’s much easier to build a portable radio even though cassettes are largely forgotten, as [wagiminator] shows us with this radio design based on an ATtiny.

The build is about as compact as possible, with the aforementioned ATtiny 402/412 as its core, it also makes use of an integrated circuit FM tuner,  an integrated audio amplifier with its own single speaker, and a small OLED display. The unit also boasts its own lithium-polymer battery charger and its user interface consists of only three buttons, plenty for browsing radio stations and controlling volume.

The entire build fits easily in the palm of a hand and is quite capable for a mobile radio, plus all of the schematics and code is available on the project page. While it doesn’t include AM capability, just the fact that FM is this accessible nowadays when a few decades ago it was cutting-edge technology is quite remarkable. If you’re looking for an even smaller FM receiver without some of the bells and whistles of this one, take a look at this project too.

GGWave Sings The Songs Of Your Data

We’re suckers for alternative data transmission methods, and [Georgi Gerganov]’s ggwave made us smile. At its core, it’s doing what the phone modems of old used to do – sending data encoded as different audio tones. But GGwave does this with sophistication!

It splits the data into four-bit chunks, and uses 16 different frequency offsets to represent each possible value. But for each chunk, these offsets are added to one of six different base frequencies, which allows the receiving computer to tell which chunk it’s in. It’s like a simple framing concept, and it makes the resulting data sound charmingly like R2-D2. (It also uses begin and end markers to be double-sure of the framing.) The data is also sent with error correction, so small hiccups can get repaired automatically.

What really makes ggwave shine is that it’s ported to every platform you care about: ESP32, Arduino, Linux, Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and anything that’ll run Python or JavaScript. So it’ll run in a browser. There’s even a GUI for playing around with alternative modulation schemes. Pshwew! This makes it easy for a minimalist microcontroller-based beeper button to control your desktop, or vice-versa. An ESP32 makes for an IoT-style WiFi-to-audio bridge. Write code on your cell phone, and you can broadcast it to any listening microcontroller. Whatever your use case, it’s probably covered.

Now the downside. The data rate is slow, around 64-160 bits per second, and the transmission is necessarily beepy-booopy, unless you pitch it up in to the ultrasound or use the radio-frequency HackRF demo. But maybe you want to hear when your devices are talking to each other? Or maybe you just think it’s cute? We do, but we wouldn’t want to have to transmit megabytes this way. But for a simple notification, a few bytes of data, a URL, or some configuration parameters, we can see this being a great software addition to any device that has a speaker and/or microphone.

Oh my god, check out this link from pre-history: a bootloader for the Arduino that runs on the line-in.

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