Picture of Build an Atari Punk Circuit on a breadboard

If you're old enough to remember the Atari, then you probably remember all those "high tech" tones that it produced. Those beeps and whines were the very lifeblood of our favorite old school games. While a mint condition Atari may be hard to find these days you can easily recreate the sounds of an Atari using only a few parts stuck on a breadboard.

The Atari Punk circuit gets it's name because it produces similar sounds to the old Atari game systems. This design has been around since the 70s and often still goes by it's original name of a Stepped Tone Generator.

In this guide I'm going to run through how to make two different Atari Punk setups on a breadboard. One that uses variable resistors to control the sounds (turn style knobs) and one that uses light sensitive resistors (CDS Cells).

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Step 1: Parts

Picture of Parts

The parts you need for this setup are rather common and decently cheap to buy.

Required Parts

Jumpers (You can make your own)
9V Battery
9V Battery Clip
556 Timer Chip (You can also use two 555 timers as well)
8 Ohm Speaker
1K Ohm Resistor
(2) 500K Ohm Variable Resistor (Potentiometer)
5K Ohm Variable Resistor (Potentiometer)
(2) 0.01uf Capacitors

(2) Light Sensitive Resistors (CDS Cells
(2) 0.22uf Capacitors
Blue LED
470 ohm resistor

Total Time: 20-30 minutes
Total Cost: $10 (More if you need a breadboard)

The optional parts are used if you want to make the circuit light sensitive, or if you want to add an LED for fun filled lighting. You could also ditch the 5K Ohm Variable Resistor and use a set resistor, but then you'd have no volume control.

Alternately you could always have one Variable Resistor and one Light Sensitive Resistor in the circuit. The nice thing is you can easily swap both types in and out, which is the nice thing about a breadboard.

Most of these parts can be found at any electronics hobby store. If possible, avoid Radio Shack and you'll pay three times as much as you really need.

All Electronics and Electronic Goldmine have most everything you need. If you'd like to save yourself some trouble and get everything in one nice little kit, why not try my fun filled website We have a ready to go Atari Punk Kit that even comes with some fancy knobs to impress your friends and family. 72% of all sales go to all natural doggie chew toys.

malderman20 days ago

Nice job putting together this very clear Instructable. I too am working with a group of middle school students to build circuits using the 555-timer. How would you adjust this circuit to utilize two 555-timers instead of the 556?

S_Hutchinson made it!2 months ago

I was putting together a circuit bent toy, and, after 5 days of spray painting, I accidentally fried the board. So, I trashed the electronics, and I'm getting things set up to put this APC in instead. Here's everything on the breadboard (working), and I just soldered everything onto a perf board (also working), and I'm going to finish it all up tomorrow by attaching it to the buttons and battery pack of the toy.

Thanks for the clear instructions!

2015-01-06 15.13.53 HDR.jpg
cjw333 made it!4 months ago

Great instructions. I made this with a light and a few mods:

- added a 3rd 500K pot in place of the 1K Ohm resistor.

- added a stereo jack out in place of the speaker. It's really loud and I need to fix that.

- replaced one of the capacitors

Now I'm looking for ways to add some further mods.

Ugifer3 years ago
I must try this - looks a great project.

Only issues is it might be a little redundant - I still have my original Atari! It now plays through a 42" LCD TV, but it plays (& sounds) just as good as ever!

You should, It's very fun.

JoshuaZimmerman (author)  Ugifer3 years ago
I have an old Atari hooked up to a 40". Gotta love retro games on high tech TVs.
lagduf made it!5 months ago

Thanks for the concise instructions. Below is the Atari Punk Console I made. It's still on the breadboard. Will move to perf and an enclosure next.

I might make another one using photoresistors as I have two 555s.

I added a power switch to mine, and I will add a power LED next. I used Fritzing to make a diagram of the Punk Console.

atari punk.jpgatari_punk_console_bb.png
msaintotte made it!1 year ago

I added some leds and some push-buttoms instead of the volumen variator.

msaintotte1 year ago

Great proyect! thanks

Chelo20141 year ago
this is true a instructable, tanks
fthebunny11 year ago
hello are the value of condensator are right for the astable and monostable, because in others cheme they are always with a ratio 10:1 ?
maxxion2 years ago
Is it possible to replace the potentiometers with standard resistors? I'm working a project and I really only need one potentiometer for tone, the other two I would like to keep static.
lisamoss2 years ago
Thanks so much for the pics and step-by-step! I have built a few oscillator circuits, but I'm still having problems reading schematics. So when I tried to add the line output, the IC started getting hot. Am I somehow wiring the ground wrong?
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  lisamoss2 years ago
Hmmm... doubtful. Thats really really weird. I've never had that happen to me before.
fugyeh2 years ago
Hey, I only have an SYB-120 breadboard.
Im sure it has a ground but don't know where it is. If there is not one... what should I do? I bought a lot of 3 of these for cheap.
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  fugyeh2 years ago
It doesn't have a "ground." You just pick a rail that you want to be your "ground." It doesn't matter which one you pick.
pfred23 years ago
Here's a real blast from the past. The first time I made a similar circuit I had to use 2 555s because either the 556 didn't exist yet, or Radio Shack didn't stock them. That was all back when Atari was just getting in business. I'm pretty sure Atari just divided the video oscillator to make their noises back then though.

Having made an awful lot of circuits like the one here I'll add that I always thought it sounded best if I used polystyrene capacitors with it.

I should dig up the schematic for this if you like photocell noise makers:

It is fun to leave in a refrigerator, then when someone opens the door and the light comes on it howls at them. But it does vary in pitch depending on the intensity of the light that hits the photocell. A single cell battery went between the two copper plates to the left, then a speaker hooked up to the two wires in the middle.
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  pfred22 years ago
Ha! That is awesome! A true photo cell bomb!
alexwu22112 years ago
would it still work if I tried hooking up a MP3 instead of a 9V battery?
Thank you so much for giving us full info...
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  shaikhanwarali3 years ago
I do what I can.
Just used this to build my first APC and all it took was one exploded capacitor!! (don't ask, I really don't know) so thanks immensely!
TobaTobias3 years ago
Great project, if Im using the two 555 How would I connect the volume pot? Plus, I am not using a speaker.
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  TobaTobias3 years ago
Shoot, I honestly don't know off the top of my head.... luckily this link will give you a good diagram.
isaac5833 years ago
Thanks for the easy instruction and great photos. The pictures really made this project easy for a newbie !!
Great photos. :D
JoshuaZimmerman (author)  jessyratfink3 years ago
Its amazing what a few white pieces of paper can do. That and the auto "enhance" of iPhoto.