MiniDisc Player Supports Full Data Transfer

Between the era of the CD and the eventual rise and domination of streaming music platforms, there was a limbo period of random MP3 players mixed in with the ubiquitous (and now officially discontinued) iPod. In certain areas, though, the digital music player of choice was the MiniDisc, a miniature re-writable CD player with some extra digital features. Among them was the ability to transfer music to the discs over USB, but they did not feature the ability to transfer the songs back to a computer. At least until now, thanks to this impressive hack from [asivery].

Although it sounds straightforward, this trick has a lot of moving parts that needed to come together just right. The MiniDisc player uses a proprietary encoding format called ATRAC, so a codec is needed for that. The MiniDisc player stores data from the disc in a 40-second buffer when playing, so the code reads the data directly from DRAM in 40-second chunks, moves the read head, repeats the process as needed, then stitches the 40-second parts back together. It can work on any Sony NetMD portable, if you are lucky enough to still have one around.

The project is a tremendous asset to the MiniDisc community, especially since the only way to recover data from a MiniDisc player prior to this was to use a specific version known as the RH-1. As [asivery] reports, used RH-1 players are going for incredibly high prices partially because of this feature. Since this new method demonstrates that it’s possible to do with other devices, perhaps its reign in the MiniDisc world will come to a close. For those still outside the loop on this esoteric piece of technology, take a look at this MiniDisc teardown.

Thanks to [Maarten] for the tip!

Mini MIDI Synth Uses Minimum Number Of Parts

The 80s were the golden age of synthesizers in pop music. Hugely complicated setups that spared no expense were the norm, with synths capable of recreating anything from pianos and guitars to percussion, strings, and brass. These types of setups aren’t strictly necessary if you’re looking to make music, though, especially in the modern age of accessible microcontrollers. This synthesizer from [Folkert] with MIDI capabilities, for example, creates catchy tunes with only a handful of parts.

This tiny synth is built around an ESP32 and works by generating PWM signals normally meant for LEDs. In this case, the PWM signals are sent through a rudimentary amplifier and then on to an audio output device.  That could be a small speaker, an audio jack to another amplifier, or a capture device.

The synth’s eight channels use up most of the ESP32’s I/O and provide a sound that’s reminiscent of the eight-bit video game era. The total parts count for this build is shockingly small with only a handful of resistors, the ESP, an optocoupler, and a few jacks.

For those wishing to experiment with synthesizers, a build like this is attractive because it’s likely that all the parts needed are already sitting around in a drawer somewhere with possibly the exception of the 5 pin DIN jacks needed for MIDI capabilities. Either way, [Folkert] has made all of the schematics available on the project page along with some sample mp3 files. For those looking to use parts from old video game systems sitting in their parts drawer, though, take a look at this synthesizer built out of a Sega Genesis.

Making Windshield Wipers Rock To The Beat

When you’re driving around, you might occasionally notice your indicators or windscreen wipers sync up fortuitously with the music. [Cranktown City] wanted to ensure his wipers would always match the beat, however, and set about making it so. 

After disassembling the wiper motor, The original controller PCB is ripped up, used solely for its home position contacts that help determine the position of the wipers. The battered board is then drilled out to fit a rotary encoder to track the wipers throughout their full motion.

An Arduino is used to read the signal coming from the wiper stalk in order to know what mode the wipers should be in, and uses a motor controller to drive the wipers thusly. It also reads the encoder and home position contacts to track the wiper movement, and uses a proportional controller to control the wiper position. An MSGEQ7 spectrum analyzer is used to track the bass of the music to determine the beat to sync up to.

The final build does work, though in a different way to other designs we’ve seen. Rather than measuring BPM and syncing on a four-to-the-floor pulse, it simply tracks the lower band output and thus is more reactive to funky drum beats.

It’s a fun way to modify your car, even if it did require cutting a chunk out of the hood. If you’re cooking up your own cheeky automotive hacks, be sure to drop us a line. Video after the break. Continue reading “Making Windshield Wipers Rock To The Beat”

Raspberry Pi Creates Melody

For those who are not into prog rock in the 70s or old radio shows from the 40s, the Theremin may be an unfamiliar musical instrument. As a purely electronic device, it’s well outside the realm of conventional musical instruments. Two radio antennas detect the position of the musician’s hands to make a unique sound traditionally associated with eeriness or science fiction.

Normally a set of filters and amplifiers are used to build this instrument but this build instead replaces almost everything with a Raspberry Pi Zero 2, and instead of radio antennas to detect the position of the musician’s hands a set of two HC-SR04 distance sensors are used instead. With the processing power available from the Pi, the modernized instrument is able to output MIDI as well which makes this instrument easily able to interface with programs like GarageBand or any other MIDI-capable software.

The project build is split into two videos, the second of which is linked below. The project code is also available on the project’s GitHub page, so anyone with the Pi and other equipment available can easily start experimenting with this esoteric and often overlooked musical instrument. It’s been around for over 100 years now, and its offshoots (including this build) are as varied as the sounds they can produce.

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Impedance Mismatch

There are a few classic physics problems that it can really help to have a mental map of. One is, of course, wave propagation. From big-wave surfing, through loudspeaker positioning, to quantum mechanics, having an intuition for the basic dynamics of constructive and destructive interference is key. Total energy of a system, and how it splits and trades between kinetic and potential, is another.

We were talking about using a bike generator to recharge batteries on the Podcast last night, and we stumbled on a classic impedance mismatch situation. A pedaling person can put out 100 W, and a cell phone battery wants around 5 W to charge. You could pedal extremely lightly for nearly three hours, but I’d bet you’d rather hammer the bike for 10 minutes and get on with your life. The phone wants to be charged lightly — it’s high impedance — and you want to put out all your power at once — you’re a low impedance source.

The same phenomenon explains why you have to downshift your internal combustion automobile as you slow down. In high gear, it presents too high an impedance, and the motor can only turn so slowly before stalling. This is also why all vibrating string acoustic instruments have bridges that press down on big flat flexible surfaces, and why horns are horn shaped. Air is easy to vibrate, but to be audible you want to move a lot of it, so you spread out the power. Lifting a heavy rock with human muscle power is another classic impedance mismatch.

If these are fundamentally all the same problem, then they should all have similar solutions. The gear on the bike or the car, the bridge on a cello, the flared horn on the trumpet, and the lever under the boulder all serve to convert a large force over a short distance or time or area into a lower force over more distance, time, or area.

Pop quiz! What are the common impedance converters in the world of volts and amps? The two that come to my mind are the genafsbezre and the obbfg/ohpx pbairegre (rot13!). What am I missing?

Learn To Play Guitar, Digitally

Learning to play a musical instrument takes a major time commitment. If you happened to be stuck inside your home at any point in the last two years, though, you may have had the opportunity that [Dmitriy] had to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Rather than stick with a traditional guitar, though, [Dmitriy] opted to build his own digital guitar which is packed with all kinds of features you won’t find in any Fender or Gibson.

The physical body of this unique instrument is entirely designed by [Dmitriy] out of 3D printed parts, and uses capacitive touch sensors for each of the notes on what would have been the guitar’s fretboard. The strings are also replaced with a set of six switches that can be strummed like a regular guitar, and are used to register when to play a note. After a few prototypes, everything was wired onto a custom PCB. The software side of this project is impressive as well; it involved creating custom firmware to register all of the button presses and transmit the information to a MIDI controller so that the guitar can communicate digitally with anything that supports MIDI.

To finish off the project, [Dmitriy] also added a wireless device as well as some other bonus features like an accelerometer, which can be used to augment the sound of the guitar in any way he can think of to program them. It’s one of the most innovative guitars we’ve seen since the prototype Noli smart guitar was unveiled last year, and this one is also on its way from prototype to market right now.

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Custom Piano Tickles The Ivories

The core ethos of “hacking” is usually interpreted as modifying something for a use that it wasn’t originally built for. Plenty of builds are modifications or improvements on existing technology, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. Sometimes we have to go all the way down and build something completely from scratch, and [Balthasar]’s recent piano-like musical instrument fits squarely into this category.

This electronic keyboard is completely designed and built from scratch, including the structure of the instrument and the keys themselves. [Balthasar] made each one by hand out of wood and then built an action mechanism for them to register presses. While they don’t detect velocity or pressure, the instrument is capable of defining the waveform and envelope for any note, is able to play multiple notes per key, and is able to change individual octaves. This is thanks to a custom 6×12 matrix connected to a STM32 microcontroller. Part of the reason [Balthasar] chose this microcontroller is that it can do some of the calculations needed to produce music in a single clock cycle, which is an impressive and under-reported feature for the platform.

With everything built and wired together, the keyboard is shockingly versatile. With the custom matrix it is easy to switch individual octaves on the piano to any range programmable, making the 61-key piano capable of sounding like a full 88-key piano. Any sound can be programmed in as well, further increasing its versatility, which is all the more impressive for being built from the ground up. While this build focuses more on the electronics of a keyboard, we have seen other builds which replicate the physical action of a traditional acoustic piano as well.

Continue reading “Custom Piano Tickles The Ivories”