Cassette players and tapes are fertile hacking ground. One reason is that their electromechanical and analog nature provides easy ways to fiddle with their operation. For example, slow down the motor and the playback speed changes accordingly. As long as the head is moving across the tape, sound will be produced. The hacking opportunities are nicely demonstrated by [Lara Grant]’s cassette player mod project.
The device piggybacks onto a battery-powered audio cassette player and provides a variety of ways to fiddle with the output, including adjustable echo and delay, and speed control. At the heart of the delay and echo functionality is the PT2399, a part from the late 90s capable of some pretty impressive audio effects (as long as a supporting network of resistors and capacitors are in place, anyway.)
[Lara] provides a schematic for the PT2399’s interface to the cassette player’s output, which is handy should anyone want to try a similar modification. Speed of playback is controlled by adjusting the cassette player’s motor with PWM. Volume control swaps a photocell in place of a rotary volume potentiometer, and additional audio jacks provide flexibility for mixing and matching input and output with other equipment.
You can see it in action in the video embedded below. Intrigued, and want a few more examples of modified tape players? How about a strange sort of cassette synth, or this unique take on a mellotron that uses a whopping 14 modified tape players under the hood? And really out there is the Magnetotron, which consists of a large rotating cylinder with tape loops stuck to it — the magnetic read head is mounted on a wand which the user manually moves across the tapes to create sounds.
Tape players are accessible, hackable things, so remember to drop us a line if you make something neat!
The host of the show is the ESP32 module, which generates audio frequency square waves, which are fed into a MCP4251 digital potentiometer. From there, it is fed into a AS3320 Voltage controlled filter (VCF), from Latvia-based ALFA (which is new to us, despite them being manufacturing electronics for sixty years!) This is an interesting device that has a four independently configurable filter elements with voltage controlled inputs for frequency control and resonance. The output from the VCF is then fed into a 6n2p (Soviet equivalent to the 12ax7) twin-triode vacuum tube, which is specifically aimed at audio applications.
The suitably distorted filtered square waves then pass into a Princeton Tech Corp PT2399 echo processor chip, which being digitally constructed, uses the expected ADC/RAM/DAC signal chain to implement an audio echo effect. As with the VCF, the echo depth can be modulated via the digipot, under the ESP32’s command. For a bit of added bling, the vacuum tube output feeds back into the ESP32, to be consumed by the internal ADC and turned into a light show via some PWM controlled LEDs. Lovely.
The final audio output from the echo chip is then fed into a speaker via a pair of LM380 amplifiers giving a power of about 5 W. It sounds pretty good if you ask us, and software configurable via Wi-Fi, giving this sculpture plenty of tweakabilty.
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.