Tag Archives: Sound

Review: Insten Portable Docking Speakers

Full disclosure – I didn’t buy a high-end iPod speaker dock. As a matter of fact, calling what I bought an iPod speaker dock is a stretch: it has a standard headphone jack connector that fits in a wide variety of devices, my iPhone included. It won’t charge your phone, even though it is battery-powered and has a 6V (either from USB or another source) connector as an optional power source. I’m not even sure if you can use both at the same time because I’m afraid to try. However, the speakers do have a nifty little clip that will hold your device in place and even end up looking kind of like an iHome without any fancy features.

Insten Speaker Dock

The word “swag” almost pops into my head when I see this.

Oh, I forgot to mention that you can buy a pair of these headphones here for the too-low-not-to-try price of $7.49. With free shipping. Considering that and the five-egg reviews, I decided that these would probably do everything I needed them to, so I pulled the trigger. A week or so later, they arrived after being mailed in a bag. I was a little surprised, since these are plastic and don’t even have speaker covers and thus are probably somewhat fragile.

In your hand, these speakers do feel a little bit cheap, but I wouldn’t say they feel $7.49 cheap. Both the volume control and power switch feel solid enough, but the audio cord is pretty short and feels flimsy. It won’t last. The battery cover doesn’t snap into place very convincingly and that magic phone holder feels like it would snap pretty easily. The glaring lack of speaker covers also adds to how cheap these look. Still, the blue power LED is very bright and I’ve still seen much more poorly made products sell for much more money.

Folded Speakers

Yes, they will fit in your pocket for convenient carrying, albeit a little awkwardly.

$7.49 becomes an even better deal for these speakers when you take the sound they are able to produce into account. I didn’t know what to think when I saw that these speakers have a response range of 150 Hz to 18 kHz. I’m more experienced as a headphone buyer, but for the sake of comparison, my Sennheiser HD 448s have a response range of 16 Hz to 24 kHz, meaning that they are able to produce a far better range of sounds, particularly in the bass neighborhood. You don’t really hear any noises above 16 kHz so that’s irrelevant here.

That being said, you won’t mistake these speakers for the auditory masterpieces that are the Shure SE 215s and the Sennheiser HD 448s anytime soon. These speakers don’t sound overwhelmingly tinny but they are definitely treble-heavy. The underlying bass components from dubstep songs are more or less absent. Zomboy’s “Bass Cannon” remix is just some weird noises. Still, for most other genres (including a lot of electronica), these speakers are surprisingly punchy and hold their own. These speakers make your music way louder than your iPhone’s built-in speaker. My iPhone said they managed to produce 93ish dB at about a foot away before they started to clip a lot. Not too shabby.

To summarize:

  • Pros: Value – the sound quality, construction, convenience and volume for the money. Free shipping is a big plus, too.
  • Cons: Still not very well made, lack of bass, lack of AC adapter, does not include rechargeable batteries, will not charge iPhone.

I give the Insten Portable Docking Speakers 4/5 stars.

Cloning ThinkGeek’s Annoy-a-tron with a BASIC Stamp Homework Board

I’m working on a course at work right now that aims to get people (high school students in particular) interested in electronics. The project uses a BASIC Stamp homework board for projects, and one of the ideas I had for a project was a copy of ThinkGeek’s Annoy-a-tron. The kit I bought came with a piezo buzzer and PBASIC (the language used to program the Stamp) just so happens to have a FREQOUT command that you can use with it. I quickly got to work, coming up with this schematic:

Pin 11 is connected to the anode of the piezo buzzer. The cathode (which should cross the center of your homework board’s breadboard) is connected to Vss (the ground). Here’s what it actually looks like once it’s wired up:

With the (extremely simple) wiring complete, we can change our attention to the (almost equally simple) code. The Annoy-a-tron beeps once every 2-8 minutes at a frequency of either 2kHz or 12kHz. The speaker that came with the kit seems to perform best at around 4.5kHz so we’ll use that. As for the time, we have a problem. Why not just randomize a variable with time in it, pause for that long, then loop back again?

The trouble is that the largest data type that the Stamp I have supports is a 16-bit word, which has a maximum unsigned value of 65,535. The PAUSE command accepts an argument in milliseconds. Now what? Loop.

The solution I devised is able to replicate the Annoy-a-tron’s 2-8 minute random interval quite well. Here’s how it works:

  • The RANDOM command is used to obtain a random 16-bit value.
  • We then convert it to a value between 10,000 and 40,000 (in intervals of 10,000). How? The modulo (mod) operator, which is // in PBASIC. The modulo operation finds the remainder when one number is divided by another. A // N can have any value from 0 to N-1, so (A // N) + 1 can have any value from 1 to N. If that gets multiplied by 10,000, the result is any number from 10,000 to N(10,000).
  • Therefore, to get a random number from 10,000 to 40,000 in intervals of 10,000, we use the modulo operator on the random with an “N” value of 4, add 1 to it, and multiply by 10,000.
  • This number is used in a PAUSE command.
  • This pause command is looped 12 times.
  • The result can be 2, 4, 6, or 8 minutes.
After the delay, a beep is played for a enough time to be annoying but not long enough to be discovered. I decided on 1.5 seconds (1500ms). The code was easy to write once I figured out how the loop would work:
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' {$STAMP BS2}
' {$PBASIC 2.5}
DEBUG "Running." ' Avoid error on some PCs' debuggers.
time VAR Word ' Used to store time interval.
i VAR Nib ' Used for the FOR...NEXT loop.
FREQOUT 11, 1500, 4500 ' I like having a startup beep.
DO
  RANDOM time ' Store a random 16-bit value in time
  time = ((time // 4) + 1) * 10000 ' Get the random interval. Will be between 10 and 40s
  FOR i = 1 TO 12 ' We start at 1 because 12 is included; this will be executed 12x.
    PAUSE time ' We pause for the same 10-40 second interval 12 times to yield 2-8 min.
  NEXT
  FREQOUT 11, 1500, 4500 ' Play the annoying tone.
LOOP ' Start the whole thing over.
END

There you have it! Run this code on your BASIC Stamp, hide your enormous board, and hope nobody smashes it! I have not used this long enough to know how long a 9v battery can power it, but I am sure it is a more-than-adequate amount of time to get your point across. The biggest issue I have seen with this code is that the Stamp’s pseudo-random number generator isn’t very good. In fact, it generates numbers in the same exact order every time. You’ll never be surprised. Still, for being so simple, this circuit is a heck of a lot of fun. Happy annoying!