Characterising A Potentiometer With A Stepper Motor

Potentiometers, or variable resistors, are a standard component that we take for granted. If it says “10k log” on a volume pot, than we fit and forget. But if like [Ben Holmes] you are modelling electronic music circuitry, some greater knowledge is required. To that end he’s created a rig for characterising a potentiometer to produce a look-up table of its values.

It’s a simple enough set-up in which a voltage controlled current source feeds the pot while an Arduino with a motor controller turns it through a stepper motor, and takes a voltage reading from its wiper via an analogue pin. Probably most readers could assemble it in a fairly short time. Where it becomes interesting though is in what it reveals about potentiometer construction.

Audio potentiometers are usually logarithmic. Which is to say that the rate of change of resistance is logarithmic over the length of the track, in an effort to mimic the logarithmic volume response of the human ear in for example a volume control. If you are taught about logarithmic pots the chances are you’re shown a nice smooth logarithmic curve, but as he finds out in the video below that isn’t the case. Instead they appear as a set of linear sections that approximate to a logarithmic curve, something that is probably easier to manufacture. It’s certainly useful to know that for [Ben]’s simulation work, but for the rest of us it’s a fascinating insight into potentiometer manufacture, and shows that we should never quite take everything for granted.

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The VU Meter And How It Got That Way

Given its appearance in one form or another in all but the cheapest audio gear produced in the last 70 years or so, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ubiquitous VU meter is just one of those electronic add-ons that’s more a result of marketing than engineering. After all, the seemingly arbitrary scale and the vague “volume units” label makes it seem like something a manufacturer would slap on a device just to make it look good. And while that no doubt happens, it turns out that the concept of a VU meter and its execution has some serious engineering behind that belies the really simple question it seeks to answer: How loud is this audio signal?

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