Improving OLED VU Meters With A Little Physics

Last month we featured a project that aimed to recreate the iconic mechanical VU meter with an Arduino and a common OLED display. It was cheap and easy to implement, and promised to bring a little retro style to your otherwise thoroughly modern project.

[sjm4306] liked the idea, but thought it was a tad too stiff. So he’s been experimenting with adding some physics to the meter’s virtual needle to better approximate the distinctive lag and overshoot that’s part and parcel of analog indicators. Obviously it’s something that can only be appreciated in motion, so check out the video below for an up-close look at his quasi-retro indicator.

Unfortunately there’s no code for you to play with right now, but [sjm4306] says he’ll release it on the project’s Hackaday.IO page once he’s cleaned things up a bit. We know it will take more than a few wiggling pixels to pry real analog indicators out of some hacker’s tool boxes, but anything that helps improve the digital approximation of this sort of vintage hardware is a win in our book. Continue reading “Improving OLED VU Meters With A Little Physics”

Analog Style VU Meter With Arduino And OLED Display

Looking for a digital recreation of the classic analog volume unit (VU) meter? If you’ve got an Arduino, a few passive components, and a SSD1306 OLED, then [mircemk] might have the answer for you. As you can see in the video below, his code turns a handful of cheap parts into an attractive and functional audio display.

The project’s Hackaday.IO page explains that the idea is based on the work of [stevenart], with code adapted for the SSD1306 display and some tweaks made to the circuit. While [mircemk] says the code could be modified for stereo as long as the two displays don’t have conflicting I2C addresses, he decided to simply duplicate the whole setup for each channel to keep things simple. With as cheap as some of these parts are nowadays, it’s hard to blame him.

[mircemk] has provided source code for a couple different styles of VU indicators, the colors of which can easily be inverted depending on your tastes. He also clarifies that the jerky motion of the virtual “needle” seen in the video is due to the camera; in real-life it sweeps smoothly like the genuine article.

Much like the project that aimed to recreate authentic “steam gauges” with e-paper displays, this as an excellent technique to file away for use in the future. Compared to authentic analog gauges, these digital recreations are quicker and faster to implement, plus going this route prevents any antique hardware from going on the chopping block.

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Don’t Guess, Listen To Your Plants’ Pleas For Water

Plants are great to have around, but they all have different watering needs. If only they could cry out when they’re thirsty, right? Well, now they can. All you need to hear them suffer is your very own Klausner Machine. [RoniBandini] based the Klausner machine on one of Roald Dahl’s short stories, which features an inventor who builds a machine that can make audible the sound of plants shrieking whenever they’re cut.

In [RoniBandini]’s version of the Klausner Machine, the point is to judge the plant’s feelings based on its soil moisture content. An Arduino Nano reads in from the soil moisture sensor, and if the soil is dry, the plant screams. If the soil is moist, the plant emits happy sounds from DF Player Mini and SD card.  We think the analog meters are a great touch, and the jumping needles really anthropomorphize the plant.

Go forth and gain a better appreciation for your plants’ feelings, because this project is wide open. Maybe it will help you water them more often. Some plants need to be cut back, so we think it would be cool if you could make it scream when you take a cutting. Check out the demo after the break.

This is isn’t the first time we’ve seen an analog meter used in conjunction with soil moisture. What is a VU meter, anyway? Our own [Dan Maloney] really moved the needle on the subject a while back.

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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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Ditch The Tapes, Put An Android In Your Deck

While we here at Hackaday never question why an individual took on a particular project, it surely doesn’t stop our beloved readers from grabbing their pitchforks and demanding such answers in the comments. Perhaps no posts generate more of this sort of furore than the ones which feature old audio gear infused with modern hardware. In almost every case the answer is the same: the person liked the look and feel of vintage hardware, but didn’t want to be limited to antiquated media.

That sentiment is perhaps perfectly personified by the TapeLess Deck Project, created by [Artur Młynarz]. His creations combine vintage cassette decks with an Android phone small enough to fit behind the tape door. An Android application which mimics the look of a playing tape, complete with “hand written” track info, completes the illusion.

The output from the phone is tied into the deck where the audio signal from the tape head would have been, so the volume controls and VU meters still work as expected. Watching the meters bounce around while the animated “tape” plays on the screen really does look incredibly slick, though the effect is somewhat hindered by the fact the physical playback controls don’t seem to be implemented. Incidentally, the whole experience works better if the plastic window on the tape door is removed; that way you can utilize the touch and swipe interface [Artur] has in the software.

We’ve seen previous attempts to modernize the audio cassette experience, but they’ve tended to be more of a novelty than anything. But these decks are nice enough that you can like them non-ironically. Though if we’re talking about portable tape players, there’s only room for one in our cold mechanical hearts.

[Thanks to Nikolai for the tip]

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Repurposing Moving Coil Meters To Monitor Server Performance

Snazzy analog meters can lend a retro flair to almost any project, but these days they often seem to be retasked as indicators for completely different purposes than originally intended. That’s true for these Vu meters repurposed as gauges for a Raspberry Pi server, and we think the build log is as informative as the finished product is good-looking.

As [MrWunderbar] admits, the dancing needles of moving-coil meters lend hipster cred to a project, but getting his Vu meters to cooperate and display network utilization and disk I/O on his Raspberry Pi NAS server was no mean feat. His build log is full of nice details on how to measure the internal resistance of the meter and determine a proper series resistor. He also has a lengthy discussion of the relative merits of driving the meters using a PWM signal or using a DAC; in the end, [MrWunderbar] chose to go the DAC route, and the video below shows the desired rapid but smooth swings as disk and network usage change. He also goes into great depth on pulling usage parameters from psutil and parsing the results for display on the meters.

Looking for more analog meter goodness? We saw a similar CPU load meter a few months back, and there was this mash-up of Nixies and old meters for a solar energy CEO’s desk.

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A Very Large VU Meter Indeed

It used to be a must-have on any hi-fi, a pair of moving coil meters or LED bar graphs, the VU meter. Your 1980s boombox would have had them, for example. VU, for “Volume Units”, is a measure of audio level, and the fashion for its visual measure in consumer audio equipment seems now to have largely passed.

The LED bar graph VU meters were invariably driven by the LM3915, a chip that contains a resistor ladder and a stack of comparators which can drive LEDs directly. [Juvar] has taken an LM3915, and used it to drive a set of opto-isolated triacs which in turn drive a stack of appropriately coloured mains LED bulbs concealed within an Ikea Vidja lamp. The result is a huge and very bright VU meter that is as much a lighting effect as it is a measure of sound level.

He’s posted a video of the lights in action, and we’ve placed it below the break. There is a cameo appearance from his cat, and one can’t escape the feeling that it is wasted on a small room and would be at its best before a dance floor. Still, it’s a neat lighting effect and a new use for a classic integrated circuit.

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