Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ripple (Low) Tech: Steampunk For Your Listening Pleasure


 (Since we had a problem with the Links . .  and had multiple requests, we're republishing Old School's article on Ripple (Low) Tech:  Steampunk For Your Listening Pleasure.  Complete with intact links!)

If money was no object (say you hit the lottery or sold your business to Google for $500,000,000) enhancing your music listening experience could have no bounds.  If your favorite band wasn’t able to make your party in your custom designed concert hall, you could just turn on your Pivetta Opera One 20,000 watt amplifier and crank your made-to-order Transmission Audio Ultimate Speakers.  Going for a ride? You could listen to your Rogue Acoustics audio system in the Maybach.  Or, if you needed a little less distraction you could just grab your Sennheiser Orpheus headphones and tune it all out.

Most of us don’t have $2,000,000 to drop on speakers, $1,000,000 on an amplifier, $650,000 on a car audio system or $40,000 on a set of headphones.  As much as we would like to have these things we can’t justify a house payment on an audio system. We struggle to make ends meet and our disposable music income is in the iPod range, not the Clearaudio Statement Turntable range.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to enhance your music listening experience (other than by ingesting mind altering substances) on a low budget.  In this digital age there is a whole internet full of, for want of a better label, steampunk music listening enhancements at your fingertips. They cost no more than a few dollars - some even less - and just require a bit of reading and elbow grease.  Here are a few you might want to consider:

1.    Turn an Altoids Tin Into A ⅛” Stereo Mixer.        Got an mp3 player, cell phone, CD player, and computer that contain music and want to easily switch between inputs? The website instructables provides step by step directions on how to easily construct a stereo mixer in an Altoids tin.  All it requires is a little soldering, an Altoids Tin; five 1/8" (3.5mm) Stereo input Jacks (Radio Shack part 274-249 or equivalent); eight 1k ohm Resistors (Radio Shack part 271-004 (5-pack) or equivalent); and a foot of 22-30 gauge solid hookup wire, stripped bare.

2.    Make A Pocket Transistor Speaker Amplifer.      Altoids tins are also good containers for pocket transistor speaker amplifiers with sets of speakers so you can play your mp3 player without wearing headphones. This one is a little more complicated and requires the tin;  tin snips; pliers; a drill and a little soldering of a small audio transformer; a 0.1µf ceramic disk capacitor (104); a 2n3904 NPN transistor; two 8 ohm speakers; a battery case for one AAA battery; a 3.5 mm male audio jack; wire; a SPST switch; and a 10k potentiometer.  Assembly instructions are here.

3.    Make Isolation Headphones.        Most inexpensive over the ear headphones are crap.  They rely on noise canceling technology rather than actually isolating the listener from the noise.  Make your own closed, isolation headphones for about $20.  All it takes is Industrial ear-protection earmuffs from McMaster-Carr, etc.;  an airline or walkman headphone of the one-wire-per-ear variety; and a cutting tool. Here are the step by step instructions.

4.    Build A Wi-Fi Radio:         Wi-Fi Internet radios can be expensive propositions. Tinkernut.com comes to your aid for under $50 with a DIY that allows you to make and then control a wi-fi radio by way of your cell phone.  Here is the video with links to show you how to make it. All you will need is a cheap Asus WL-520GU wireless router and a USB sound card. 

5.    Build Your Own Stereo Tube Amplifier:     Audiophiles pay huge dollars for tube amplifiers.  If you take a little time to learn how to read a schematic, and get through the basics of electrical component tutorials in this How-to article, you should be able to build your own audiophile quality low wattage amplifier for about $100 in parts.

Of course, you could still buy that lottery ticket.

- Old School

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