So I decided to build my own dream machine. And at first, my plan was to simply make a replica of Trish’s, but loading music rather than a hypnotherapy recording on to the SD card. Then, as ever, mission creep and a desire to do something new took over.
Rather than use a Teensy microcontroller board with sound card, as I did with Trish’s device, I figured I might use a Raspberry Pi with a DAC. That would give me lots of options in terms of expanding the functionality of the device. I have a feeling that blinkenlights might be involved, too.
Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to build all this into a small box that can be tucked under a pillow. I resigned myself to having a larger box that would sit on the bedside table. At first my gaze fell on some old external hard drives that had stopped working and whose enclosures I reckoned would make good project boxes. But then ambition got the better of me.
Trish holds a regular bourse – an evening in which she invites all her women friends around to shout and drink wine. (Or so I’m deducing from the little evidence I can gather from my hidey-hole in the office. I daren’t go downstairs and actually check what they’re doing.) They also swap stuff – everyone brings a sack of clothes, DVDs, books and knick-knacks that they no longer want and anyone can take anything that takes their fancy. All the stuff that’s left over goes to a charity shop.
And so I came by the retro-styled radio. Trish squirrelled it away for me, knowing that I’d like it. And indeed I do.
As a radio, it sucks. It is, frankly, a cheap piece of tat. Made by Steepletone, you can buy these things on Amazon for £40. Why you would is beyond me.
It had another original function – when I took a proper look I was astonished to find a strange slot on the side panel. For one heart-stopping moment I thought it might actually be an 8-track player. But no. It’s a common or garden cassette player.
So, you wouldn’t want to use this as a radio/cassette. But as a project enclosure – well, that’s a different story. I’m going to call it the DreamBox.
In a way, it’s doubly retro. Although brand new, it boasts technology (the cassette deck) from a bygone era. And its styling harks back to something almost beyond living memory – the bezel for the glass display proudly carries the lie ‘1934’. It seems to be channelling the 1930s Zenith 6S229.
I’ve just spend a happy half-hour taking the thing apart. All that’s required is some unscrewing of screws and snipping of wires. There’s a transformer that has gone into the bits box. The cassette mechanism has gone into the bin, save for its DC motor and a rather nice little microswitch which have also been bit-boxed.
The circuit board appears to be something from an earlier and more innocent age. You could almost convince yourself it’s genuinely vintage – if, by ‘vintage’, you mean the 1980s. It wasn’t in an altogether happy state – for instance, there’s a coil on the board that contained something that appears to be auditioning for a horror movie. I might desolder and salvage a few bits (such as a potentiometer), but on the whole I think this is going into recycling.
There was one detail that spoke volumes about the quality of manufacture. Someone had gouged away one corner of a block of MDF to which they’d mounted the cassette mechanism.
This was to make room for a component on the PCB. No neat sawing or routing here – it looked like it had been hacked with a blunt flat-head screwdriver.
So that’s as far as this project has got. I’m awaiting the arrival of a new Raspberry Pi and the DAC. I also need to order a panel-mount 3.5mm stereo audio jack. And I need to work out what the hell I’m doing. More posts to come.
By the way, I said I couldn’t understand why anyone would pay £40 for one of these, but I take it back. As a project enclosure it actually makes some sense. ABS enclosures can be stupidly expensive. Yet here you get a capacious box (outside dimensions 280 x 200 x 150mm) with a built-in speaker, pre-drilled holes for three potentiometers, a nice glass window for lights and a free transformer. Being made of MDF it’s easy to work with. And it’s not boring and grey. Makes you think…