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Jessica (final project)

Page history last edited by Jessica 7 years ago

music with HEART <3



For my final project, I wanted to create a minimalist, standalone music box for myself. My main motivation was simple and elegant and personal. I loved the idea of juxtaposing something so technical like the circuits we built along with the simple, natural texture of wood. Thus, I originally wanted it to be a cute wooden necklace, a mere gesture to a music box, but as I further developed my idea and consulted the teaching staff, I realised it was too difficult to create an Arduino-powered mp3 player that was small enough to be a necklace. Instead, I expanded my necklace into a full-blown music box, retaining the classic feel of a music box. I wanted to abstract out all the circuitry and keep it as simple as possible for the user, so I hid all the circuitry away from the user. I refused the idea of installing speakers in my music box, because I wanted to keep the music box very personal. The final result is a quaint little music box that I would listen to while at my desk -- a device that can bring me into my little personal bubble when I need it to.



Main components:

Arduino Micro

VS1053 Audio Decoder

3.5mm Audio Jack

4050 Voltage Shifter

1GB microSD card

SD adapter

6mm Pushbutton

10k-ohm resistor




wood glue

hot blue



Initial planning:

1. What I wanted: something minimalist, something made out of wood, something heart-shaped. I didn't want anything flashy, so no blinking LEDs. I didn't want a lot of buttons. I didn't want a display of any type. I wanted it to be something that would be plug and play, something that the user (me!) wouldn't have to think about at all before using.


2. The necklace: I wanted an mp3 player that was personal, but not so easily identifiable (there aren't a lot of wooden mp3 players out there).


3. The music box: Upon realising the flaws of my first design, I expanded the scale of my project into a more music box-like device.


4. Case design: the case was the hardest part. I didn't know how to cut wood in the shape of a box. While I knew I could sculpt out a heart-shaped box from an entire wooden block, I also wanted to experiment with other ways to create my box. I finally decided on laser cutting many layers of hollow flat hearts and then stacking them up to form the walls.


Case design file: Heart box.pdf


Circuit planning:

1. The foundation: I knew my circuit itself wasn't the hardest part of the design. I mainly piggybacked off what we accomplished in lab 6, while adding prev/next buttons and volume control. The hardest part of this step was deciding on what to keep and what to discard. I decided to discard the volume control, while keeping the prev/next and pause/play buttons.



1. The case: the size of the case was the main issue I encountered. I wanted to keep the box as small as possible, but I knew that I should leave enough room for error. Thus, I only built the bottom half of the box, knowing that I could later add more layers if I chose to do so.


2. The circuit: this was the most difficult task of the project, I think. I built my circuit in a stack design on perf boards so it would fit elegantly into my case. The hardest thing about a stack design was connecting all the components -- the wiring was really complicated in that a lot of wires looped over and a lot looped under. I also had problems with the Arduino mount, in that it would only create a strong enough connection with the Arduino if I held down the Arduino a certain way.


3. Design decisions: Although I initially wanted three control flow buttons (previous song, next song, and play/pause), and although I'd already written the code and tested the components, I ultimately decided to let go of the previous song and next song buttons. It was a tough decision to make, but I felt that the previous song/next song buttons took away from the simplicity of the design. As this device is designed for me and me only, I realised that I didn't want to be bothered by choosing songs while I was listening/working/meditating.

Code files (a modification of the Simple_MP3_V2 files): Simple_MP3_Jessica.zip


4. Arduino mount problems: I tried many things to ameliorate this problem -- I tried taping the Arduino down to the mount and I tried zip-tying the Arduino to the board. At one point, I tried soldering on my Arduino to the mount, and when that didn't work, I had to begin the long, arduous process of desoldering everything. Ultimately, I decided to solder the Arduino directly onto a perf board, and then resolder all my wiring onto that perf board. That was a stressful night.


Work in progress!



1. The case: as my circuit board finished up, I had to finish up the case as well. I realised that I needed to add three more layers to my existing box to make it tall enough for my stacked circuitboard. I cut out holes for the audio jack and the Arduino's micro-usb port using a handsaw, and then glued the remaining heart layers over. Then I cut out a hole for the play/pause button, and glued another layer to hide all the circuitry. And then I was done, yay! :D



Closed lid:


Open lid:





Working on this final project was both a very stressful and very fun experience. It was my first time making something like this, so I definitely had a lot of trouble both in labs and in working on the final project. The most rewarding feeling is knowing that although you put in many many hours into the project, you made something that you really like and am proud of. 


I would say the most challenging aspect of this project was the balance between the case and the circuit design. Without building the case, I couldn't accurate anticipate what type of circuit design I would need to build. Without building the circuit, I was unsure of how big the case would have to be. It was also difficult gluing the layers together, because it was my first time working with wood and the shop in general. I learned how to use things like the bandsaw and the handsaw. It was also very frustrating near the end because after I glued together my box completely, I found out that some of my wires hadn't been soldered in properly, and I had to pry open my box again. Thus, in the end, I feel like the glue job of my case could be improved (there are lots of traces of glue).


In terms of time management, I think I allocated only just enough time and didn't leave a margin for error. However, my design often didn't work the first time. The first time I soldered the audio decoder onto the perf boards, I accidentally connected ground to power and didn't notice until a member of the teaching staff pointed it out. When I closed up my box for the first time, I didn't know that two of the wires had loosened, and I had to reopen and reglue everything. Also, near the end, when I had to use the laser cutter again, I didn't realise how full the shop would be, which slowed down my project. Most of my mistakes were simple and careless errors, so I would advise future students to be very careful when they do permanent things like soldering or gluing components together. There's also no harm in asking the shop TA's or the teaching staff a lot of questions if you're unsure -- better safe than sorry! But even if I made a lot of mistakes in the process (and got really frustrated sometimes), I just had to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that everything I was doing right now was new to me, and that I was learning a lot in the process.


And so, after this tough learning experience, I was really pleased with the end result -- it fit my vision of what I wanted. Coupled with the calming, mellow music I put into the SD card, I can definitely seeing myself using this music box while I'm working or just relaxing. And seeing as I made this box for myself, I would say that it was a success!

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