Nixie Spectrum Display Has Seven Bands

A spectrum visualizer is always a fun project, but we really liked [Yannick99]’s take on it since it uses seven IN-13 Nixie tubes for the display. The tubes, of course, need high voltage so part of the project is a high voltage power supply. The spectrum part is a little more ordinary using an op amp and an MSGEQ7 filter IC.

The chip feeds a microcontroller and the microcontroller, with a little help, drives the tubes. The results are great, as you can see in the video below. There are several other videos showing the testing and prototyping, too. The MSGEQ7 is a cute chip that offloads the usual FFT logic from the microcontroller. It does all the work and communicates in a very unusual way. You reset the device and then pulse the strobe input. This causes an analog voltage to appear on the output pin corresponding to the 63 Hz band level. Another strobe pulse selects the next band and you just repeat indefinitely, something the microcontroller is good at.

The only issue, of course, is locating IN-13 tubes. They are around if you look for them, but they may not be cheap. Expect to pay about $20 each for them, more or less. We wondered if you could make an LED look-alike replacement. If you are wondering about the lifespan of these tubes, someone’s already done the testing.

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A six digit Nixie clock on a desktop

Upcycled Nixie Clock Fit For A Friend

Building a clock from parts is a rite of passage for makers, and often represents a sensible introduction into the world of electronics. It’s also hard to beat the warm glow of Nixie tubes in a desktop clock, as [Joshua Coleman] discovered when building a Nixie tube clock for a friend.

The original decision to upcycle the chassis from an unrepairable Heathkit function generator came a little undone after some misaligned cutting, so the front panel ended up being redesigned and 3D printed. This ended up being serendipitous, as the redesigned front panel allowed the Nixie tubes to be inset within the metal chassis. This effect looks great, and it also better protects the tubes from impact damage.

Sourcing clones of the 74141 Nixie driver ICs ended up being easier than anticipated, and the rest of the electronics came together quickly. The decoders are driven by an Arduino, and the IN-4 Nixie tubes are powered by a bespoke 170 volt DC power supply.

Unfortunately four of the tubes were damaged during installation, however replacements were readily available online. The gorgeous IN-4 Nixie tube has a reputation for breaking easily, but is priced accordingly on auction sites and relatively easy to source.

The build video after the break should get any aspiring Nixie clock makers started, but the video description is also full of extra information and links for those needing help getting started.

We’re not short on clock hacks here at Hackaday, so why not check out a couple more? This retro-inspired LED clock looks like its right out of a parallel universe, or maybe this stunning Nixie clock driven by relays will strike your fancy.

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Closeup of the car dash with nixie tubes

Retro Future Nixie Corvair Instrument Panel

The future we know today looks very different than the one envisioned in the 60s and 70s. For starters, it has far too few Nixie tubes. An oversight [nixiebunny] wants to address with his Nixie tube instrument panel.

All the essential info is there: engine temperature, tachometer, speed, battery voltage, and even odometer. You might have noticed that there isn’t a clock. The justification that [nixiebunny] gives is that he’s always wearing his Nixie watch, so a clock in his car seems redundant. There is also a gap in the panel to allow an oil pressure display. Corvairs are known for throwing belts next to the oil sender, so any attached sensor needs to be designed well and thought through. A Teensy receives engine telemetry data (no OBDII port to hook into — GM didn’t come out with the first OBD port until the 80s) from the engine bay. The data is transformed into SPI data sent to the 74HC595 shift register chain via a CAT5 cable. Details are a little sparse, but we can see a custom PCB to fit the shape of the hole in the dash with the different Nixie tube footprints silkscreened on.

We love seeing Nixie tubes in unexpected places. Like this POV Nixie clock or this Nixie robot sculpture.

A black PCB with four numeric Nixie tubes on the top, showing 9:26. Under them, a group of black relays is located.

Relay-Driven Nixie Clock Gets You To Stop Scrolling

We don’t often get a Tips line submission where the “Subject” line auto-translates as “Yoshi Yoshi Yoshi”, linking to a short video by [Yasunari Industries] (embedded below). For many, it might be hard to tell what this is at a first glance – however, if the myriad of relays clacking won’t draw your attention, the four Nixie digits on the top definitely will! The gorgeous black PCB has two buttons on the bottom, incrementing hour and minute hours respectively, and observant readers will notice how the LEDs near the relays respond to binary-coded-decimal representation of the digits being shown. This appears to be a relay-based clock with Nixie tubes for digit outputs, and on a scale from “practical” to “eye candy”, it firmly points towards the latter!

The project’s description is quite laconic, but it’s fun to try to figure out what is what based off the few pictures available. The top part with the Nixies and the PIR sensor (presumably for conserving the Nixie tube resources) is V-scored, and a small jumper PCB on the back connects the Nixie module to the relay board – likely, we might see these boards reassembled in a different form-factor, or perhaps find their way into [Yasunari Industries]’ different projects altogether! We can see a Digispark board in the bottom right corner, and wonder if, with addition of that, this board is able to function as a standalone clock — hopefully it does, because that’s one gorgeous addition. And, of course, it all couldn’t happen without help of a bunch of red wires on the back of the board – the author says that some segments were reversed, and the high-voltage PSU section of the board was mis-wired.

Nixie tubes have a dedicated fan base over here, and we keep covering projects that find yet unexplored ways to use Nixies, such as a circular FFT display, or a high-speed camera calibration fixture. Sometimes, Nixie tubes feel like this special sauce you can add to your creation, which explains their popularity in all kinds of barely even counting-adjacent projects, like this TODO indicator. And when we run out of Nixies, we find ways to imitate them – whether it’s with tiny IPS displays, or with layered laser-cut acrylic!

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Nixie clock from a frequency counter

A Nixie Clock, The Hard Way

Notice: no vintage Hewlett Packard test equipment was harmed in the making of this overly complicated Nixie clock. In fact, if anything, the HP 5245L electronic counter came out better off than it went into the project.

HP 5245 hand-wired backplane
Beautiful hand-wired backplane in the HP 5245 counter.

We mention the fate of this instrument mainly because we’ve seen our fair share of cool-looking-old-thing-gutted-and-filled-with-Arduinos projects before, and while they can be interesting, there’s something deeply disturbing about losing another bit of our shared electronic heritage. To gut this device, which hails from the early 1960s and features some of the most beautiful point-to-point backplane wiring we’ve ever seen, would have been a tragedy, one that [Shahriar] wisely avoided.

After a bit of recapping and some power supply troubleshooting, the video below treats us to a tour of the Nixie-based beauty. It’s a wonderful piece, and still quite accurate after all these decades, although it did need a bit of calibration. Turning it into a clock non-destructively required adding a little bit of gear, though. Internally, [Shahriar] added a divide-by-ten card to allow the counter to use an external 10-MHz reference. Externally, an ERASynth++ programmable signal generator was used to send a signal to the counter from 0 Hz to 23,595.9 kHz, ramping up by 100 Hz every second.

The end result is the world’s most complicated 24-hour clock, which honestly wasn’t even the point of the build at all. It was to show off the glorious insides of the counter, introduce us to some cool new RF tools, and as always with [Shahriar]’s videos, to educate and inform. We’ve always enjoyed his wizardry, from his look into automotive radars to a million-dollar scope teardown, and this was another great project.

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A nixie tube next to a screenshot of a to-do list

Nixie Tube Indicator Tells You How Many Tasks You’ve Got Left To Do

For busy people, keeping track of all the tasks on your to-do list can be a daunting task in itself. Luckily there’s software to help you keep organized, but it’s always nice to have a physical artifact as well. Inspired by some beautiful nixie clock designs, [Bertrand Fan] decided to build a nixie indicator that tells him how many open items are on his to-do list, giving a shot of instant gratification as it counts down with each finished task.

The task-management part of this project is a on-line tool called Todoist. This program comes with a useful Web API that allows you to connect it your own software projects and exchange data. [Bert] wrote some code to extract the number of outstanding tasks from his to-do list and send it to an ESP8266 D1 Mini that drives the nixie tube. Mindful of the security implications of letting such a device connect directly to the internet, he set up a Mac Mini to act as a gateway, connecting to the ESP8266 through WiFi and to the Todoist servers through a VPN.

The little ESP board is sitting in a 3D-printed case, together with the nixie driver circuits and a socket to hold the tube. A ceramic tile glued to the front gives it a bit more of a sturdy, luxury feel to match the shiny glass and metal display device. The limitations of the nixie tube restrict the number of tasks indicated to nine, but we imagine this might actually be useful to help prevent [Bert] from overloading himself with too many tasks. After all, what’s the point of having this device if you can’t reach that satisfying “zero” at the end of the day?

Although nowadays nixie tubes are mostly associated with fancy clocks, we’ve seen them used in a variety of other uses, such as keeping track of 3D-printer filament, adding a display to a 1940s radio, or simply displaying nothing useful at all.

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Not Your Average Nixie Tube Clock

When it comes to Nixie clocks, we all pretty much know what to expect: a bunch of Nixies with some RGB LEDs underneath, a wooden case of some sort, and maybe some brass gears or fittings for that authentic steampunk look. It’s not that we don’t appreciate these builds, but the convergent designs can be a little much sometimes. Thankfully, this 60-tube Nixie clock bears that mold, and in a big way.

The key to [limpkin]’s design is the IN-9 Nixie, which is the long, skinny tube that used to show up as linear indicators; think bar graph displays on bench multimeters or the VU meters on mixing boards. [limpkin] realized that 60 on the tubes could be arranged radially to represent hours or minutes, and potentially so much more. The length of the segment that lights up in the IN-9 is controlled by the current through the tube, so [limpkin] designed a simple driver for each segment that takes a PWM signal as its input. The job of a 60-channel, 14-bit PWM controller fell to an FPGA. An ESP8266 — all the rage five years ago when he started the project — took care of timekeeping and control, as well as driving a more traditional clock display of four 7-segment LEDs in the center of the clock face.

The custom PCB lives in a CNC-machined MDF wood face; the IN-9s shine through slots in the face, while the seven-segment display shows through a thinned area. It looks pretty cool, and there are a lot of display options, like the audio spectrograph shown in the video below. We’re glad [limpkin] decided to share this one after all this time.

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