Perhaps nothing added quite so much to the charm of vacuum tube circuits from back in the heyday of the vacuum tube as did the “Magic Eye” indicating tube. With the ghostly green glow of its circular face, magic eyes stood in for more expensive moving-coil meters for things like tuning indicators and VU meters. And while they may be getting hard to come by today, fear not — this solid-state replacement for the magic eye tube is ready to stand in for your restoration projects.
To pull off this clever build, [Gord Rabjohn] started with original 6E5 and 6U5 magic eye tubes, presumably ones that either no longer worked or had become too weak to see. The glass envelopes of the cathode-ray tubes were carefully cut from the sockets, and the guts of the tubes were discarded to make room for the replacement circuit, which lives on two PCBs. A rectangular control board holds an LM3915 bar graph LED driver chip, while a round display PCB holds 120 surface-mount green LEDs. The circular display board is mounted at the top of the control board and perpendicular to it, with a diffuser mounted above the LEDs. Everything is stuffed back into the original glass envelope and socket, making this a plug-in replacement for the tube.
The effect is quite convincing, as shown in the video below. True, you can see some evidence of the individual LEDs even with the diffuser, but honestly this just makes the display look more like the iris of an eye. We really like the look of this and we appreciate the work [Gord] put into it, especially the documentation. For a little more on how the tubes worked, check out [Al Williams]’ article.