I’m a huge fan of Big Clive, and watch his videos regularly. Back in December he built a DIY LED bulb kit from China, and as soon as I finished the video I ordered a couple for myself! It’s a fairly simple kit with a lot of potential for customization. There’s a lot of solder joints but the overall assembly isn’t too complicated, and the theory behind how they work is fascinating and not too hard to comprehend. Best of all, with prices well below $2 shipped, they’re cheap fun! I recently assembled one of these kits so I can review it and share what I’ve learned so far.
This little LED test box couldn’t be simpler – pop an LED into the tester, push the button, and see it light up. The top header accommodates standard LEDs with two leads, and the bottom headers accommodate 4-pin “piranha” LEDs. I use it frequently when assembling LED lighting projects or to quickly test a new batch of LEDs. It’s a great value for the approximately $2.00 USD that I paid for it. With that said it has some issues, and there are a few things to be aware of when using these testers.
You can’t expect much for $2, but the quality is fine for the price. The biggest issue I have is the headers; they don’t always make good contact with the leads on the LEDs, especially the bottom rows for piranha LEDs. So sometimes I have to fiddle around with the LEDs to get solid contact. The other minor issue is the battery compartment, it’s fairly tight and I’ve had some trouble figuring out how to best orient the battery so it will fit with the case closed. With a little trial and error though, it’s possible.
These are minor quibbles, and acceptable given the price. But there are some more concerning issues with the circuit itself, which I’ll cover in the next couple sections.
MAKE recently featured a very cool project that I had to build: the Elektrosluch! What’s an Elektrosluch? It’s basically a microphone of sorts that allows you to listen to electromagnetic interference (EMI) which is found all around us in our personal electronics, homes, automobiles, and many other places. The Elektrosluch includes a built-in amp, so listening can be done with headphones, or it can be connected to a recording device for sampling. The tutorial was written by Jonas Gruska, who designed the circuit. It was a lot of fun to build, and overall not too hard. I took my time and checked everything several times and it worked the first time I tried it.
Earlier this year I purchased an Arachnid Labs Re:load Pro, which is an adjustable constant-current load. I’ve always wanted an electronic load for my lab, but didn’t want the spend the money. The Re:load Pro solved that problem as it’s just $125. Sure, it doesn’t sink as much current or have all the options of fancier units, but it does everything I need. For testing panel meters, batteries and LEDs, it’s quite capable. So far, I’m happy.
One of the features that caught my interest when I purchased it was the ability to interact with it via a virtual serial port on the USB interface. I immediately got the idea to develop an application that could control a Re:load Pro, but didn’t have time to work on it. Recently however, I started working on serial port projects at work again, and I finally completed my serial port class, called dsub. I needed to test it, and I thought of the Re:load Pro. It was a perfect device for testing. I set about developing an app, and correcting some bugs in dsub along the way. The result is an improved dsub class, and a small application called Reload Controller which I’m releasing here. (more…)
I love headphones. It’s the only way I can listen to music much of the time; without them I wouldn’t be able to. At work I listen on Grado SR-80’s, which allow external sound to come through so I can still hear my phone ring and be aware of what’s happening around me. At home, I wear closed phones like my Ultrasone HFI-580’s so I don’t have to hear what’s happening around me, allowing me to enjoy my music and movies in peace. With all of this headphone listening, it was inevitable that I would eventually take an interest in headphone amplifiers, and I did. Recently, I built the Objective2 headphone amplifier (actually, I built two – for home and work) and in this article I’ll cover what led me to the Objective2 amp and my experience building it.
Last week, I bought something I’ve wanted for quite some time: an oscilloscope. I’ve been doing more projects where a scope would be useful, such as audio amplifiers, PWM, and AC-DC rectification. And besides that, oscilloscopes are just plain cool. Of course, a scope by itself isn’t much fun, it needs something to measure. Something like an AC sine-wave, or an audio signal, or maybe… a person’s pulse rate? It’s possible, with the right sensor. Sean Michael Regan shows us how in the latest MAKE Weekend Project. I knew right away that it was perfect for trying out my scope. It was a bit of work, primarily because I modified the circuit, but the finished sensor is a lot of fun, and there is a lot of potential for doing more with it.
I built my first cMoy earlier this year, and it came out really great for my first attempt at building a headphone amp. The only problem was that it’s a poor match for the headphones I use. My headphones are all efficient low-impedance models (Grado, Ultrasone) that don’t require a lot of voltage. What they need is more current. The basic cMoy design doesn’t provide this, at least not with the OPA2132A OpAmp. I soon learned though that several DIYers have built similar “cMoy-esque” amps based on the circuit used in Grado’s RA1 headphone amplifier, which uses an NJM4556 (aka JRC4556) OpAmp, good for 70ma of current per channel. I decided to try building one, and I wanted it to be a little different. So I built it in a cigar box.
There was quite a bit of drilling and cutting involved, and I destroyed a couple boxes in the process. The volume knob is installed where the cigar maker’s medallion was previously located, which had their logo. For the circuit, I took some ideas from both the cMoy and the RA1 clones. I used some pretty high-end hardware, such as the Neutrik locking 1/4″ jack. It wasn’t because I thought it was necessary, but because it was easy to mount to the cigar box.
The result? Not very good. It’s unique, and looks interesting, but it doesn’t work very well. I ended up building two of them, and both are very noisy. Copper shielding on the second build helped, but not a lot. It might be all of the wiring needed to connect everything, or just the result of a poorly engineered DIY project based around a potentially “cranky” OpAmp, but it just isn’t a great amp. So I’ve kept the second one as a “show piece” while the first gets picked away at for spare parts. Even though it was ultimately a failed project, I’m glad I attempted it. For my next headphone amp, I’ll be using a professionally-engineered and designed circuit based around a PCB which should help ensure success.
I’m a big fan of the Playstation video game consoles, so when I learned about the PS2X library by Bill Porter, I had to try it out. PS2X makes it easy to interface Arduino microcontrollers with Playstation 2 controllers. After wiring everything up and testing it with the sample program, I set out to find something more interesting to do with it. The result is a stepper motor that is controlled by the Sony controller. Here’s a video of it in action:
This was a random find on Ebay, just something I came across while looking for something else. I really liked the look of it, and I needed something that could measure large currents anyways, so I bought it. I have a Sparkfun digital multimeter, which is a steal at $15 and serves most of my needs as a hobbyist, but it’s best used for low current measurements, under 200ma. It can do up to 10 amps, but only for 10 seconds. It’s a useful feature, but sometimes I want to watch a circuit’s current for an extended period of time. I don’t want to buy an expensive DMM when the Sparkfun unit serves 98% of my needs, so an analog ammeter seemed like a good compromise. It may not be as accurate as a DMM, but it’s good enough for my needs.
I don’t know much about the meter, other than it was made by a company called Stansi located in Chicago, and it has three ranges of measurement: 0-1.5 amps, 0-3 amps and 0-30 amps. After receiving the meter, I tried it out, and found that the measurements it was giving all seemed to be significantly off. I was disappointed; I liked the look of it, but I didn’t buy it to be an antique, I bought it to actually use! I noticed that the connections on the underside of the meter were all corroded quite a bit, so I took all of the connections apart, cleaned all of the posts, washers, nuts and other bits and pieces with steel wool, and put everything back together. After testing it some more, it seems that all it needed was a good cleaning, the measurements are all very close now when compared to the DMM. Success!
If you’re hobbyist like me, and need to measure large currents but don’t want to spend the money on an expensive DMM that you don’t really need, then an analog ammeter may be the solution. A digital display certainly has significant advantages in terms of speed an accuracy, but if you buy a large meter, it should be easy to get a “close enough” measurement. In the photo to the left you can see the Stansi meter connected to a BigClive.com RGB controller, and it’s clear that it’s pulling approximately 320ma of current. It may not be as quick or accurate as a DMM, but there’s something about watching that needle bounce around that an LCD display can’t replicate, and for $20 and an hour of my time, it’s a good value. I expect to get lots of use out of this meter.
At some point while researching microcontroller projects, I came across several people who had used Arduinos and PICs to drive analog panel meters so they would display computer stats such as CPU load, memory usage, etc. It immediately struck me as something I just had to do. Here it is. My PC meter uses an Arduino microcontroller and receives the stats from a .NET Framework application I wrote in C#.Net. It’s housed in a plastic enclosure and looks quite professional IMHO. It was a fun project, and something I think most any computer/electronics geek would enjoy. I love mine, and I look forward to building more.
Here it is in action:
Read on for details on the parts and tools I used, some info on the process of building the device (and the problems I ran into) and links to download the source code and meter templates.