IoT Cassette Scroller Never Needs A Pencil

The see-through electronics craze of the ’80s and ’90s clearly had an effect on [MisterM], and we can totally relate. Those candy-colored components inside undoubtedly launched a few thousand kids in the direction of electronics, as we can attest.

Though the odds seemed very much against him, [MisterM] was able to fit all the necessary components for a scrolling IoT notifier inside a standard cassette tape. It took a bit of surgery on both the Raspberry Pi Zero W and the donor cassette in the name of getting all the components to fit in such a tight space. We’re glad he kept at it, because it looks amazing.

The Raspi uses Adafruit.IO and IFTTT to get all kinds of notifications — tweets, weather, soil moisture, you name it — and scrolls them across an 11×7 LED matrix. A vibrating disc motor gives a buzzing heads up first, so [MisterM] doesn’t miss anything. Hit the break button and flip this thing over, because the build video is all queued up on the B-side.

If you’d rather play around with cassette decks, add in some playback speed potentiometers to mess with the sound, or go all out and make a Mellotron.

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DIY Cassette Tape Guitar Delay

Digital delay pedals are pretty good nowadays and even the cheaper ones do a pretty good job at emulating the sound of old analog delay effects. And that’s good, because the original delay effects can run you a pretty penny. If you’re in to DIY electronics, though, analog delay effects can still be built without breaking the bank, and, as an example, [Matsound] has made a tape delay using an old tape deck and regular cassette tapes.

The core of the build is a portable 3-head cassette recorder, in this case a Marantz PMD430. The circuit has been around for a while – it was originally found in an issue of Stompboxology in the 90’s. The basic idea is that with a three-head recorder (erase, record, play) the distance between the record and play heads creates a delay and you increase this delay by slowing down the recorder’s motor. You combine the output from the recorder with the dry signal from your input and, viola, tape delay.

[Matsound] added a cool feature where you can control the speed of the motor with a control voltage, so if you connect it to a keyboard and produce different voltages from different keys, you get weird, spacey effects. The video gives an overview of the features and some details of the build process are in the video’s description.

A nice build built into a nice case and a great effect! Maybe you wouldn’t take it out gigging with you, but it sure sounds pretty good!  Other delay pedals have been mentioned on the site before, like this digital delay pedal and here’s another take on the cassette tape delay.

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Hacked Tape Player Makes For A Unique Instrument

[Gijs Gieskes] is certainly no stranger to hacked cassette players, but his latest triumph may well be the most approachable project for anyone looking to explore the world of unorthodox tape unspooling. By attaching a fairly simple add-on PCB to a modern portable cassette player, the user is able to modify the playback speed of the tape at will. The skillful application of such temporal distortions leads to wonderfully abstract results.

The board that [Gijs] has come up with uses four potentiometers and matching push buttons to allow the user to set different playback speeds that they can engage with the push of the button. There’s also a fifth potentiometer to augment the “global” speed as well as an override switch. During playback, these controls can be used to arbitrarily tweak and augment the sound of samples contained on a the looping cassette.

If that’s a little hard to conceptualize, don’t worry. [Gijs] has provided some examples of how the the rapid adjustment of playback speed offered by this “Zachtkind” can add a fascinating level of complexity to sounds and melodies. The assembled player is available for purchase ready to go, but he also provides kits and a detailed installation guide for those who’d rather build it themselves.

Going all the way back to 2005, [Gijs] and his incredible creations have been a staple of Hackaday. From the Arduino video sampler to the array of oddly musical analog clocks, we never cease to be in awe of this exceptionally prolific hacker.

The Hard Way Of Cassette Tape Auto-Reverse

The audio cassette is an audio format that presented a variety of engineering challenges during its tenure. One of the biggest at the time was that listeners had to physically remove the cassette and flip it over to listen to the full recording. Over the years, manufacturers developed a variety of “auto-reverse” systems that allowed a cassette deck to play a full tape without user intervention. This video covers how Akai did it – the hard way.

Towards the end of the cassette era, most manufacturers had decided on a relatively simple system of having the head assembly rotate while reversing the motor direction. Many years prior to this, however, Akai’s system involved a shuttle which carried the tape up to a rotating arm that flipped the cassette, before shuttling it back down and reinserting it into the deck.

Even a regular cassette player has an astounding level of complexity using simple electromechanical components — the humble cassette precedes the widespread introduction of integrated circuits, so things were done with motors, cams, levers, and switches instead. This device takes it to another level, and [Techmoan] does a great job of showing it in close-up detail. This is certainly a formidable design from an era that’s beginning to fade into history.

The video (found after the break) also does a great job of showing glimpses of other creative auto-reverse solutions — including one from Phillips that appears to rely on bouncing tapes through something vaguely resembling a playground slide. We’d love to see that one in action, too.

One thing you should never do with a cassette deck like this is use it with a cassette audio adapter like this one.

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Tape-Head Robot Listens To The Floor

We were just starting to wonder exactly what we’re going to do with our old collection of cassette tapes, and then along comes art robotics to the rescue!

Russian tech artist [::vtol::] came up with another unique device to make us smile. This time, it’s a small remote-controlled, two-wheeled robot. It could almost be a line follower, but instead of detecting the cassette tapes that criss-cross over the floor, it plays whatever it passes by, using two spring-mounted tape heads. Check it out in action in the video below.

Some of the tapes are audiobooks by sci-fi author [Stanislaw Lem] (whom we recommend!), while others are just found tapes. Want to find out what’s on them? Just drive.

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Peripherals Behind The Iron Curtain

The article Home Computers Behind the Iron Curtain sparked a lot of interest, which made me very happy. Therefore, I decided to introduce more computer curiosities from the Iron Curtain period, especially from the former Czechoslovakia (CSSR).

As I mentioned in the previous article, the lack of spare parts, literature and technology in Czechoslovakia forced geeks to solve it themselves: by improvisation and what we would today call “hacking.”  Hobbyist projects of one person or a small party was eventually taken over by a state-owned enterprise, which then began to manufacture and deliver to stores with some minor modifications. These projects most often involved a variety of peripherals that could only be found in the Czechoslovakia with great difficulty.

Much like the production of components, the production of peripherals was also distributed throughout the eastern block so that each country was specializing in certain types of peripherals. For example, East Germany produced matrix printers, and Bulgaria made floppy disks drives. This meant industrial enterprises had to wait for vital computer parts, because the production in another country was not sufficient to cover even the local requirements, let alone the home user.

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Putting New Into The Old – A Phonograph Upgrade.

[smellsofbikes] recently came into possession of a 1970’s “stereo radio phonograph” cabinet consisting of a vinyl record player, AM and FM radio, and eight track tape player. The radio worked, the turntable didn’t sound too nice, and the tape player didn’t work at all. A new needle fixed the turntable, but the eight-track was in bad shape. So he replaced the tape player with a BeagleBoneBlack which plays streaming internet radio.

Hopefully, this fix is temporary, since he has carefully disconnected the tape player connections in the hope of fixing it soon. The swap out involved a fair bit of engineering, so he’s split his build log into several bite sized chunks. The first step was to set up the BBB, upgrade it and add in all the network and audio related stuff. Audio on the BBB is available only via the HDMI port, but [smellsofbikes] had a USB soundcard handy, so the next step was setting that up. He installed mpg321 – the command line mp3 player and set it up to play music streaming from somafm. Next up was getting some scripts and programs to run automatically during system bootup. The final part of the setup was adding a WiFi router as a repeater connected to the BBB via an ethernet cable. He could have used a tiny WiFi USB dongle, but he already had the router lying around, and he wanted to dedicate USB to audio functions alone, and use the Ethernet port for Internet.

He then worked on identifying the wires that go from the tape player to the amplifier, spliced them, and hooked them up to the audio sound card on the BBB. With this done, the upgrade was more or less complete – the system played streaming music and stations could be switched remotely (via SSH to BBB). [smellsofbikes] reckoned it would be nice to use the existing controls in the phonograph cabinet to control the internet streaming music, instead of controlling it via a remote computer. The cabinet had 4 indicator lamps that indicated which track was being played and a button to switch between tracks. He removed the old indicator panel and put in a fresh PCB, designed in KiCad and cut on his LPKF circuit board plotter. An aluminum knob machined out of hex bar-stock works as the new track change button. At this point, he called it a wrap. The BBB and Asus router go inside the cabinet, and the old (non-functional) tape player is put in place. Quite an interesting build, and we look forward to when he actually gets the tape player working. [Alan Martin], aka “The Most Interesting Engineer In The World” has told him that “it is a moral imperative that you repair the eight-track and get it working”. [Alan] has promised to send [smellsofbikes] a suitcase full of brand new, still in their plastic wrappers, eight-track tapes when he gets it working.