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LED Musicolour: Light Up Your Music, Pt.1

Now you can have a kaleidoscope of colour which continually changes in time to music. This consists of 16 strings of LEDs which are individually controlled by 16 frequency bands. Louder signals in each of those bands means that the respective LED string will be brighter. Use it for a Christmas light show, a disco or just for fun when playing music.

By Nicholas Vinen

Christmas is not far off so if you don’t have a light show up and running already you’d better get started! Our new LED Musicolour makes it easier than ever. It drives up to 16 sets of LEDs directly. These can be strips, strings, single LEDs or a set – whatever, as long as they run off 12-24V DC.

You can even build multiple LED Musicolours and run them in parallel, to control 32 or even 64 sets of LEDs.

You can drive the LED Musicolour using any line source such as CD or MP3 player, or you plug in an SD card which has been loaded with WAV files. In the latter case, it can be a self-contained sound and light controller with no need for any extra hardware apart from a power supply.

The unit supports high-capacity SDHC cards so you can load it up with lots of music (organised in folders) and use a universal infrared remote control to skip through them. If you build more than one, you can use one as the “master” to play the audio and feed it to the others for a synchronised light show, as well as to an amplifier so you can hear the music at the same time.

The LED Musicolour uses a 40MHz, 16-bit digital signal controller which is actually a specialised DSP (digital signal processor) microcontroller. It is powerful enough to do real-time frequency analysis using a Discrete Fourier Transform. The unit also incorporates a Wolfson WM8759 audio DAC for good-quality line level sound output. It all fits into a tiny plastic case which seems quite innocuous considering all the fancy processing it is performing.

Echoes of the past

This unit is intended as an easier-to-use version of the DSP Musicolour which was published in SILICON CHIP from June-August 2008. It was also somewhat inspired by the Digital Lighting Controller featured in the October-December 2010 issues.

The Digital Lighting Controller controls the brightness of up to 32 mains-powered lights or LED strips, in time to music. But its light sequences are pre-arranged, ie, you program a specific sequence to go along with each sound file. That is a somewhat laborious process but it gives you full control over the light show. It has no option to feed in external audio and its output sound quality is a bit so-so.

Also, the Digital Lighting Controller required you to build a master unit and between one and four slave units, with one slave controlling eight lights. The new LED Musicolour, on the other hand, is fully self-contained and can control 16 LED strips per unit. And as explained earlier, you can chain multiple LED Musicolour units together if you need to control more LEDs.
So to sum up, the LED Musicolour is more flexible (having an audio input) and is easier to build and set up but doesn’t give you quite as much control as the Digital Lighting Controller from 2010. Having said that, the LED Musicolour’s light shows are quite impressive and it is much simpler to build.

Specifications

• LED voltage: 12-24V DC

• LED current: up to 10A total (ie, 120-240W maximum)

• Number of LED strings: up to 16 per unit

• LED control method: PWM, 200Hz, 255 brightness steps

• LED connectors: 2-pin or 4-pin male headers, 2.54mm pitch

• Audio input: 0.5-2.2V RMS nominal, 180kΩ || 100pF input impedance

• Audio output: 1.1V RMS, THD+N 0.004%, signal-to-noise ratio 100dB

• Audio file support: 8-48kHz 16-bit mono or stereo WAV files

• Maximum directory depth: eight levels

• Maximum files per directory: 100

• Control method: universal infrared remote (optional)

• Dimensions: 140 x 110 x 35mm

• Supply voltage: 12-24V DC

• Current drain: ~110mA at 12V

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