Solar panels are a great way to generate clean electricity, but require some energy storage mechanism if you also want to use their power at night. This can be a bit tricky for large solar farms that feed into the grid, which require enormous battery banks or pumped storage systems to capture a reasonable amount of energy. It’s much easier for small, handheld solar gadgets, which work just fine with a small rechargeable battery or even a big capacitor. [Jamie Matthews], for instance, built a loudspeaker that runs on solar power but can also work in the dark thanks to two supercapacitors.
The speaker’s 3D-printed case has a 60 x 90 mm2 solar panel mounted at the front, which charges a pair of 400 Farad supercaps. Audio input is either through a classic 3.5 mm socket or through the analog audio feature of a USB-C socket. That same USB port can also be used to directly charge the supercaps when no sunlight is available, or to attach a Bluetooth audio receiver, which in that case will be powered by the speaker.
The speaker’s outer shell, the front bezel, and even the passive radiator are 3D-printed and spray-painted. The radiator is made of a center cap that is weighed down by a couple of M4 screws and suspended in a flexible membrane. [Jamie] used glue on all openings to ensure the box remains nearly airtight, which is required for the passive radiator to work properly. Speaker fabric is used to cover the front, including the solar panel – it’s apparently transparent enough to let a few watts of solar power through.
A salvaged three-inch Bose driver is the actual audio source. It’s driven by a TI TPA2013D1 chip, which is a 2.7 W class-D amplifier with an integrated boost converter. This enables the chip to keep a constant output power level across a wide supply voltage range – ideal for supercapacitor operation since supercaps don’t keep a constant voltage like lithium batteries do.
[Jamie] has used the speaker for more than nine months so far and has only had to charge it twice manually. It probably helps that he lives in sunny South Africa, but we’ve seen similar solar audio projects work just fine in places like Denmark. If you’re taking your boombox to the beach, a sunscreen reminder feature might also come in handy.
Radio amateurs often have a love-hate relationship with home-made inductors, sharing all kinds of tips and tricks as to how the most stable nanohenry inductor can be wound. But there’s another group in the world of electronics with an interest in high-quality inductors, namely the audio enthusiasts. They need good quality inductors with a values in the millihenries, to use in loudspeaker crossover networks. [Homemade Audio] takes us through their manufacturing process for these coils, and the result is a watchable video resulting in some very well-made components.
The adjustable former is a machined aluminium affair of which we’re treated to the full manufacture. It’s likely the same results could be achieved with a 3D printed reel. The free-as-in-beer Coil64 on Windows is used to calculate the dimensions and number of turns, and it’s set up on a jig with a cordless screwdriver doing the winding. The best technique for flat layers of turns is explained, and a coat of varnish is put on each completed layer. We’re guessing this is to stop the coil “singing” at audio frequencies.
With a set of cable ties holding it together the result is a very tidy component. It’s adjusted a few turns to get the right value with an LCR meter, however experience tells us that a tiny percentage either way won’t harm the resulting network too much. If you make your own speakers, the video below the break could be extremely useful.
As we’ve started out on our journey through the world of Hi-Fi audio from a strictly practical and engineering viewpoint without being misled by any audiophile woo, we’ve already taken a look at the most important component in any audio system: the listener’s ear. It’s time to move down the chain to the next link; the loudspeaker.
Sound is pressure waves in the air, and the purpose of a loudspeaker is to move the air to create those waves. There are a variety of “exotic” loudspeaker technologies including piezoelectric and electrostatic designs, here we’ll be considering the garden variety moving-coil speaker. It’s most usually used for the large bass or smaller mid-range drivers in a typical speaker system. Continue reading “Know Audio: A Loudspeaker Primer”→
Portable Bluetooth speakers have joined the club of ubiquitous personal electronics. What was once an expensive luxury is now widely accessible thanks to a prolific landscape of manufacturers mass producing speakers to fit every taste and budget. Some have even become branded promotional giveaway items. As a consequence, nowadays it’s not unusual to have a small collection of them, a fertile field for hacking.
But many surplus speakers are put on a shelf for “do something with it later” only to collect dust. Our main obstacle is a side effect of market diversity: with so many different speakers, a hack posted for one speaker wouldn’t apply to another. Some speakers are amenable to custom firmware, but only a small minority have attracted a software development community. It doesn’t help that most Bluetooth audio modules are opaque, their development toolchains difficult to obtain.
So what if we just take advantage of the best parts of these speakers: great audio fidelity, portability, and the polished look of a consumer good, to serves as the host for our own audio-based hacks. Let’s throw the Bluetooth overboard but embrace all those other things. Now hacking these boxes just requires a change of mindset and a little detective work. I’ll show you how to drop an Arduino into a cheap speaker as the blueprint for your own audio adventures.
There are few limits to the extent audiophiles will go in their quest for the perfect sound. This applies in particular to the loudspeaker, and with that aim [Heine Nielsen] has created an eye-catching set of 3D-printed egg-shaped enclosures.
The theory of a loudspeaker enclosure is that it should simulate an infinite space behind an infinite plane in which the speaker driver is mounted, and the reasoning behind spherical or egg-shaped enclosures goes that they better achieve that aim through presenting a uniform inner surface without the corners of a more conventional rectangular enclosure. [Heine]’s enclosures 3D-printed ported enclosures achieve this more easily than traditional methods of building this shape.
A loudspeaker enclosure is more than just a box though, whatever material it is made from must adequately dampen any resonances and absorb as much energy as possible. Conventional speakers try to achieve this by using high-mass and particulate materials, but 3D-printing does not lend itself to this. Instead, he created a significant air gap between two layers which he hopes will create the same effect.
This is an interesting design and approach to speaker cabinet construction, but we think from an audio perspective its one that will be well served by more development. What would be the effect of filling that air gap with something of higher mass, for example, and should the parameters of the egg shape and the port be derived for a particular driver by calculation from its Thiele-Small parameters. We look forward to more on this theme.
MEMS, or Micro ElectroMechanical Systems, are the enabling technology that brings us smartphones, quadcopters, tire pressure monitors, and a million other devices we take for granted today. At its most basic level, MEMS is simply machining away silicon wafers to make not electronic parts, but electromechanical parts. The microphone in your cell phone isn’t an electret mic you would find in an old brick phone from the 80s — it’s a carefully crafted bit of silicon, packed in epoxy, and hanging off a serial bus.
Despite the incredible success of MEMS technology, there is still something in your smartphone that’s built on 19th-century technology. Loudspeakers haven’t changed ever, and the speaker in your newest iThing is still a coil of wire and some sort of cone.
Now there’s finally a MEMS loudspeaker A company called USound has developed the first loudspeaker that isn’t just a bunch of wire and a magnet. This is a speaker built from a silicon wafer that can be as small as 3 mm square, and as thin as 1 mm. Since these speakers are built on silicon, you can also add an amp right onto the package. This is quite literally a speaker on a chip, and we’d bet that there are already engineers at Samsung looking at stuffing this into a flagship phone.
If you have an interest in audio there are plenty of opportunities for home construction of hi-fi equipment. You can make yourself an amplifier which will be as good as any available commercially, and plenty of the sources you might plug into it can also come into being on your bench.
There will always be some pieces of hi-fi equipment which while not impossible to make will be very difficult for you to replicate yourself. Either their complexity will render construction too difficult as might be the case with for example a CD player, or as with a moving-coil loudspeaker the quality you could reasonably achieve would struggle match that of the commercial equivalent. It never ceases to astound us what our community of hackers and makers can achieve, but the resources, economies of scale, and engineering expertise available to a large hi-fi manufacturer load the dice in their favour in those cases.
The subject of this article is a piece of extreme high-end esoteric hi-fi that you can replicate yourself, indeed you start on a level playing field with the manufacturers because the engineering challenges involved are the same for them as they are for you. Electrostatic loudspeakers work by the attraction and repulsion of a thin conductive film in an electric field rather than the magnetic attraction and repulsion you’ll find in a moving-coil loudspeaker, and the resulting very low mass driver should be free of undesirable resonances and capable of a significantly lower distortion and flatter frequency response than its magnetic sibling. Continue reading “Electrostatic Loudspeakers: High End HiFi You Can Build Yourself”→