Feeling the Heat of High-Frequency Trading

It’s high summer here in North America, and for a lot of us, this one has been a scorcher. Media reports have been filled with coverage of heat wave after heat wave, with temperature records falling like dominoes.

But as they say, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, and that was painfully true in the first week of July as a slug of tropical air settled into the northeast United States. With dewpoints well into the 70s (25°C plus) and air temperatures pushing the century-mark (38°C), people suffered and systems from transportation to the electrical grid strained under the load. But as punishing as such soupy conditions are for people, there are other effects that are less well known but of critical importance to financial markets, where increased humidity can lead to billion-dollar losses for markets. Welcome to the weird world of high-frequency trading.

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The PT2399 Delay/Echo Chip Data Sheet You Never Had

If you are fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to play with an analogue-reel-to-reel tape recorder in a well-equipped studio, you probably looped the tape around to create an echo, or a delay in the audio. It was a desirable effect to have, but not a practical one for a guitar pedal or similar portable accessory. Silicon alternatives for creating delays have been in production since the 1960s, first the so-called bucket brigade delay lines that used a switched chain of on-chip capacitors, and more recently all-digital chips that process the delay by storing samples in RAM. One of the more popular of those is the Princeton Technology PT2399, but it comes with something of a snag for the experimenter in the form of a sparse data sheet. Thankfully the folks at [Electrosmash] have come to the rescue on that front with a thorough technical examination of the chip that should fill in any gaps in the official documentation.

After a brief examination of the range of chips of which the 2399 is a part, they dive right into the chip’s internals by rearranging the internal circuit diagram from the data sheet to the point at which it makes more sense. At which point the difference between the chip’s delay and echo functions becomes obvious, through the inclusion of a feedback path.

We then are taken through the pins, examining what lies behind the power supply and analog inputs and outputs. We are somewhere between a data sheet and an app note here, as some of this is information rarely present even in really good data sheets. Finally, we are taken through the chip’s performance, with real-world distortion and noise measurements. Armed with this page, the would-be PT2399 designer really can say they know what they are working with.

Surprisingly few PT2399s have appeared on these pages, however one did pop up in the Synthbike.

Glitch Delays And Teensy Audio

With the release of the Teensy 3.6 and the associated audio processing libraries, it’s never been a better time to get into DIY synth and effects projects. [Scott] is a musician and maker of electronic musical instruments, so he decided to leverage the power of the Teensy and make a delay module that really can’t be done any other way.

The function of this delay module is somewhat similar to a multi-head tape-based delay, only it’s completely impossible outside of the digital domain. There are four ‘read heads’ on a circular buffer. The first three heads play small loops within the buffer at different speeds, one at the original speed, one at half speed (and an octave below) and one at double speed (and an octave above). The fourth head doesn’t loop, instead, it plays the delay buffer in reverse. There are, of course, handy knobs for setting the level of each ‘read head’.

This project is built around [Scott]’s port of the JUCE framework, a very powerful audio API that’s now well suited for laptop and embedded development. The files for this project are all available on the GitHub, and [Scott] plans to build an expansion module for CV control of all the parameters.

So, how does this glitch delay sound? Pretty good. The video below is just a tele into a looper pedal, and into the glitch delay. There are surely some ambient post-rock stars wetting their skinny jeans over this one, and it’s a great application of the Teensy’s audio processing power, to boot.

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Better Car Audio With Guitar Effects

Automotive sound is a huge deal; for many people, it’s the place to listen to music. Back in the 80s, you were lucky to get anything more than two door speakers in the front of the car. Fast forward to today, and you can expect a 10-speaker system in an up-spec’d family sedan.

[Josh] has a car, and wanted to improve the sound. In particular, the aim was to improve the sense of space felt when listening. A car is a relatively small space, and the driver sits in close proximity to the front speakers, so it’s difficult to get a good soundstage.

[Josh]’s approach was to create a “surround” effect for the car stereo, by feeding a left/right difference signal to the rear speakers. This was achieved by the use of a series of op-amps that buffer and then generate a mono signal that represents the difference between the left and right channel. For optimum results, [Josh] wanted to delay the signal being sent to the rear speakers, with a longer delay making the soundstage feel bigger, as if reflections are coming from farther away in a bigger room. To do this, [Josh] simply hooked up the signal to a Boss DD-3 Digital Delay guitar pedal – an off-the-shelf solution to an otherwise sticky problem. The DD-3 gives [Josh] a variable delay time with reasonably high fidelity, so it’s a perfect way to get the project done quickly.

The final piece of the puzzle is a filter. The difference signal doesn’t actually sound all that pleasant to the ears by itself, especially when it comes to transient high-pitched sounds like cymbals, so a lowpass filter is implemented to cut these higher frequencies down.

[Josh] made everything adjustable, from the filter to the delay, so it’s simple to dial things in until they’re just right, rather than relying on calculation or guesswork. The general idea is to feed the difference signal into the rear speakers at a low enough volume and with a subtle delay so that it adds to a general feeling of being in a larger room with the sound coming from all around, as opposed to listening to very loud point sources of audio.

It’s a cool project that we imagine would be very satisfying to dial in and enjoy on the road. What’s more, it’s a fairly straightforward build if you want to experiment with it yourself on your own car. Perhaps your problem is that you need an auxiliary input to your head unit, though – in that case, check out this Subaru project.

Microcassette Recorders Become A Tape Delay

Long before audio engineers had fancy digital delays, or even crappy analog delays, there were tape delays. Running a tape around in a loop with a record and play head is the basis of the Echoplex and Space Echo, and both of these machines are incredible pieces of engineering.

Microcassette recorders are not, in general, incredible pieces of engineering. They do, however, have a strip of magnetic tape, a record head, and a play head. Put two of them together, and you can build your own tape delay.

The basic principle of a tape delay is simple enough – just run a loop of tape round in a circle, through a record and playback head, record some audio, and send the output to an amplifier. In practice, it’s not that simple. [dogenigt] had to manufacture his own tape loop from microcassettes, a process that took far too long and was far too finicky.

For a control circuit, [dogenigt] is using four audio pots and one linear pot for speed control. The audio pots are responsible for input gain, feedback, the amplitude of the clean signal, and the output of the signal after it’s been run through the delay.

Apart from being one of those builds that’s very dependent on the mechanical skill of the builder, it’s a pretty simple delay unit, with all the electronics already designed for a stripboard layout. You can hear an example of what it sounds like below.

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Making a digital delay from a simple microcontroller

If you’d like to start experimenting in DSP, or just want to build a guitar pedal, here’s the project for you. It’s an audio echo using just a microcontroller from the fruitful workshop of [Vinod].

For his circuit, [Vinod] fed the output of a small electret microphone into a small amplifier, and then into the ADC of an ATMega32. Inside the microcontroller, [Vinod] set up a circular array which writes the voltage from the microphone and sends it out to a speaker. Because the array is circular (i.e. it loops around when it gets to the end), [Vinod] has a digital version of a loop of magnetic tape, perfect for recording sounds and playing back echos.

Because [Vinod] is using an ATMega32, he only has a limited amount of RAM to record audio samples. The delay time could be lengthened with a more capable microcontroller, or even the addition of a large RAM chip. With his setup, [Vinod] can do some really interesting experiments with audio and DSP, so we wouldn’t be surprised if an enterprising musician used this project as the basis for a digital delay stomp box.

You can check out [Vinod]’s demo of his echo machine after the break.

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Flash trigger with programmable delay

Here’s a flash trigger with a programmable delay. These triggers are often used to capture quick events like a balloon popping. The technique takes place in a dark room with the shutter open. When the event is triggered the flash illuminates the scene and an image is captured. Because these require precise timing it has typically been a chore to synchronize the event, hence solutions like using a pressure plate.

This build, which centers around a PICAXE 08M, allows the photographer to use any trigger they desire, but adds a delay. The box above shows the apparatus set up for a 42 millisecond delay. So if you’re using the sound of the balloon pop as a trigger, you can hold the flash off until the event really gets going.

[Thanks Two Part Epoxy]