Making Refinements to the Old Project

I put together the Color Organ Triple Deluxe over a year ago. It was a bare minimum version of color organ circuit using LEDs instead of incandescent lamps that traditional color organs use.

The circuit worked pretty well, considering the simplicity of the circuit. However I just kept feeling like this project deserves further refinements. So I went back to the drawing board (or breadboard) and took a hard look at the circuit...

The result? Please take a look at the video.

Step 1: The Problems & the Solutions

The Problems

There were a few problems. The transistors in the circuit was biased in the way that it was supply voltage dependent, as well as device dependent - in other words, if the voltage was too high or too low, or the transistors had a bit of different characteristics, the circuit did not perform well.
The filter performance was also a bit poor - the separation between the frequency bands were not so great.

The Solutions

First, I changed the initial gain stage from single transistor design to two transistor design. It's a basic class-A common emitter amplifier followed by an emitter follower. They are direct coupled for optimum performance, as well as reduced part count (always important for me to design circuits with the least number of parts). Adding the emitter follower stage allowed the low output impedance needed for the filters to perform well. The biasing circuit was also revised to be less device and voltage dependent.

Second, the filters were refined to have better separations. Input and output impedance to the filters are better matched to achieve better efficiency as well.

Third, the LED driver circuits were given another transistor. Actually, in the original design, the output buffer and the LED driver was done by the same transistors. Now the filter outputs are buffered by emitter followers, then the filtered audio waves are rectified before going into the LED drivers.

Those changes made a huge difference. And I tweaked the component values obsessively to get the best performance. Sensitivity adjustment control is also added.

There are many additional parts compared to the earlier version, but the result is totally worth it. The LEDs now respond to music very, very nicely.

Step 2: Circuit

Here are the circuit schematics, BOM, as well as the PCB layout. The filter response graph is also shown. Keep in mind that the graph is more of a perceptual one than actual.

The circuit is loosely based on the many vintage circuits before it, with a few improvements.

The input buffer/gain stage is designed to have low output impedance. This is important for the filter stages that follow. This stage is also designed to give high gain and maximum output signal level, since the filters are of passive type so will lose some signal.
(This amplifier stage took me the most time to design. I tried out many topologies and parameters. I think I found the best balance between simplicity, stability and performance. Unlike using op-amp, designing amplifier with transistors is an art of compromise.)

The use of emitter follower as rectifier is my original idea. (Q3, 5 and 7) Combined with the bias point set (by R8 and 9 and so on) right below the point the LED driver turns on makes this color organ very sensitive to the lower volume of audio input, while eliminating the diodes typically used here.


  • 3x 47 ohm - R4,17,20
  • 6x 150 ohm - R10,15,16,16b,21,21b
  • 2x 270 ohm - R11,11b
  • 1x 470 ohm - R6
  • 2x 1k ohm - R1,2
  • 2x 4.7k ohm - R7,12
  • 4x 10k ohm - R3,9,14,19
  • 3x 270k ohm - R8,13,18
  • 1x 1.2M ohm - R5
  • 1x 10k ohm potentiometer - VR1
  • 1x 4.7nF (0.0047uF) - C9
  • 2x 22nF (0.022uF) - C6,7
  • 1x 0.22uF EC - C3
  • 1x 1uF EC - C4
  • 3x 4.7uF EC - C5,8,10
  • 1x 10 uF EC 16V or higher - C2
  • 1x 47uF EC 16V or higher - C1
  • 8x MPS2222A or Equivalent - Q1-8
  • 6x Red LED (super bright type recommended) - D1-6
  • 6x Green LED (super bright type recommended) - D7-12
  • 6x Blue LED (super bright type recommended) - D13-18
  • 1x 3.5mm Stereo Jack - CN1
  • 1x DC Power Jack

All resistors are 1/8W (or higher) carbon film type, 5% precision. Small capacitors are film type, and 0.22uF and above are electrolytic type having voltage rating of 16V or higher.

Parts Substitutions

This type of analog circuits tend to be picky about the part values, so it's best not to change out resistor values, etc. unless you know what you are doing.

Resister and capacitor types are not very critical, so just use any type you might have. Using ceramic capacitors instead of film for example, is fine.

I used MPS2222A transistor, which can be substituted by number of general purpose transistors of similar specs. The ones I tested are 2N4400, 2N4401, and 2N3904.

Q1 is more critical than other transistors in this circuit. The biasing is adjusted for transistors having the hfe around 200. If you use different transistor, you might want to check the voltage at Q1 collector - the voltage here should be between 4.5 to 6V when 12V supply is applied. Adjust R5 or try different transistors for Q1 if it's too high or low.

PCB Layout
PCB layout is provided as PDF for home brew PCB makers. It's a single layer design, so it should be easy to make your own.

Kits and PCBs
Kits and PCBs of this project are available at my website.

Step 3: Assembly

There are 8 transistors, and many resistors, capacitors and LEDs, but the assembly is very straightforward as they are all familier through hole parts (and no ICs). In a way, Color Organ Triple Deluxe II is built like the circuits from the 70's. If you are like me, you will appreciate the modern-vintage feel of all discrete component design.

I recommend soldering the lower profile parts, first, then move on to taller and taller parts. I arranged the BOM in the order of soldering below:

Soldering Order

  • Resistors (bend the leads) (reference on color code)
    • 3x 47 ohm (yellow, violet, black, gold) - R4,17,20
    • 6x 150 ohm (brown, green, brown, gold) - R10,15,16,16b,21,21b
    • 2x 270 ohm (red, violet, brown, gold) - R11,11b
    • 1x 470 ohm (yellow, violet, brown, gold) - R6
    • 2x 1k ohm (brown, black, red, gold) - R1,2
    • 2x 4.7k ohm (yellow, violet, red, gold) - R7,12
    • 4x 10k ohm (brown, black, orange, gold) - R3,9,14,19
    • 3x 270k ohm (red, violet, yellow, gold) - R8,13,18
    • 1x 1.2M ohm (brown, red, green, gold) - R5
  • 1x 3.5mm Stereo Jack - CN1
  • Capacitors (watch the polarity of electrolytic capacitors - long leads go into the holes with "+" sign on the PCB)
    • 1x 4.7nF (0.0047uF) Film Capacitor - C9
    • 2x 22nF (0.022uF) Film Capacitor - C6,7
    • 1x 0.22uF Electrolytic Capacitor* - C3
    • 1x 1uF Electrolytic Capacitor* - C4
    • 3x 4.7uF Electrolytic Capacitor* - C5,8,10
    • 1x 10 uF Electrolytic Capacitor* - C2
    • 1x 47uF Electrolytic Capacitor* - C1
  • Transistors (polarity - make sure to orient them to the shape printed on the PCB)
    • 8x MPS2222A or Equivalent - Q1-8
  • LEDs (polarity - make sure to orient them to the shape printed on the PCB)
    • 6x Red LED - D1-6
    • 6x Green LED - D7-12
    • 6x Blue LED - D13-18
  • 1x DC Power Jack
  • 1x 10k (50k) ohm potentiometer - VR1

Notes on Solder Resin/Flux
Some solder resin/flux is electrically conductive. (resin or flux is inside solder wire to help solder to adhere to the joints) Some parts of Color Organ Triple Deluxe II are very sensitive to even a tiny amount of electrical leakage caused by soldering resin/flux. If the LEDs on Color Organ Triple Deluxe II stays lit without any sound signal coming in, you need to clean the PCB to remove the resin/flux.
"No Clean" type flux cause no problems (as the name implies), but more typical resin type flux can cause good amount of leakage, and cleaning might be required.
You can use an acid brush or an old toothbrush immersed in rubbing alcohol to scrub the back of the PCB. Rinse out the brush, wet with alcohol again and scrub another round or two until all the resin residue is gone. Make sure to dry the PCB completely before connecting to the power supply.

Step 4: Use

Color Organ Triple Deluxe II is designed to run by 12V DC power supply. The circuit works pretty ok with 9V power, though. However 9V battery is not recommended as a power source because of the relatively high current draw (about 25mA at idol).

It's best to connect to a regulated 12V DC power supply. Be careful if you want to use a typical wall wart - they can output much higher voltage than they are rated - sometimes as high as 18V from a 12V one. Color Organ Triple Deluxe II can operate safely from up to about 15V power. (If you want to use non-regulated AC adaptor, try a 9V rated one - they typically produce around 13V).

Audio source can be any "line level" output from audio equipment, or headphone output from computer sound cards and iPod/MP3 players. If you want to listen to the music while using Color Organ Triple Deluxe II, you might need a splitter cable.

Connect Color Organ Triple Deluxe II to your audio source of choice, and give it a play. I found music with good amount of beats to give best results. Adjust the potentiometer (sensitivity level) according to the sound level.

The LEDs react to the sound volume in a pretty linear manner that it feels like the Color Organ is translating sound into light.

The light out of the LEDs are blinding bright. You can use Color Organ Triple Deluxe II as a wall wash - project the light towards walls or ceiling and dim the lights in the room.

You will discover a new joy of listing to music.

<p>Thank you ledartist for this great instructable! I have learned so much about soldering, schematics, and PCB design by reading through this. In an attempt to improve upon your project I designed a different case that made use of the bright LEDs, highly responsive filters, and its mesmerizing effects. Please take a look at the pics and videos! <br>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izse5VndWWE&amp;t=8s</p>
<p>Thanks for the great Instructable! I have made it myself on a breadboard, and I have a problem. Once I power the circuit, the red LEDs turn on immediately, while the green and blue LEDs remain off. Any suggestions on how to fix this? I assume that the problem in my circuit is the filter for the RED LEDs. Thank You.</p>
<p>Thank you very much for posting, and taking the time to document a great project. </p><p>I am building at the moment and am having an issue similar to that mentioned below. I have changed all transistors to 3904 and when I switch it on all the LEDs blink without any audio.</p><p>I have been troubleshooting and I believe the High pass filter is oscillating, if I ground the input to R17, the blue LEDs go out and the Green and Red respond as expected :) </p><p>If I reconnect R17 on the high pass filter and add a 0.22uF cap from the junction of R17/C9 to GND, all seems to be well. But I suspect that alters the pass frequency of the filter. Can you suggest a better fix?</p><p>Thanks.</p>
I made it man. Thanks
<p>This is so awesome I actually built this on my own board(s). Twice. The first time I was using the leftover wires from the components as bridges to other components. This way if you make a mistake, it's a real pain to get it out. So I threw it out and started building the second one. This time, I used thick solder drops on the PCB to bridge nearby components, and bridge wire to join components that are further apart. After fixing some minor mistakes all three color finally started to flash. What a relief!</p><p>Because I had an RGB LED strip laying around, and after some modifications to the circuit using TIP31 transistors I managed to light the strip and the little leds at the same time. I mounted the heatsink to the red channel because for whatever reason it gets the hottest. Basically if you look to the supplied circuit, I connected the Q4, Q6 and Q8 emitters to TIP31's base. My strip is common cathode(1 positive and 3 negative connections for independent colors), cathodes connect to TIP31's collectors. TIP31's emitters connect to ground. That's it. Really simple. There are some photos below.</p>
That is great!<br>I think this is something that many people are interested in (connecting more LEDs). I would be really nice if you can share the schematic.<br>
<p>Sure! Here's the schematic.</p>
<p>Hi there! This build looks amazing and super-compact! I am wondering, do you think it would be possible to connect (or power) three 12V 5050 or 3528 LED strips in place of the LED clusters?</p><p>Much thanks!</p>
<p>any clue?</p>
<p>Same here!</p><p>What changes we need to do to run it with a RGB 5050 LED strip?</p><p>Some people are asking the same, would be so much appreciated</p><p>Thanks</p>
<p>Awesome Project!! but, how i calc the Freq Filters? I need to cut the frequencies, the way it is shown in the picture, these frequencies are of a string instrument. could you tell me how to calculate? or what type of filters are these? because I have not found how to design these filters. thanks! =)</p>
<p>Hi- this looks like a great kit, and I'd love to buy one. However, the only delivery options you offer to Australia are both Fedex and it comes out super-expensive. Any chance you could just put one through the mail for me?</p>
<p>hi ,i am trying to construct the same but with 6 band system can u please explain me that calculation of resistor and capacitor value ..</p>
<p>I've used both this and the original Color Organ Triple Deluxe with students. They work great... especially combined with the MonoBox amplifier on MAKE magazine's website. Thanks!</p>
<p>thanks, get it . I change a little places . lm386+ your ciruit. 9V. Very nice!</p>
<p>I'm in the process of making this as a stereo set, but I want it to use the same power source. What rating would you recommend?</p>
<p>hi, im currently doing your project. i changed the transistor to 4401 and a mono jack instead of stereo. my problem is most of the leds is turned on (reds and blues but dim) with no audio input and it does not respond to the audio</p>
<p>I bought a board and made a few myself but I have been having the same issue with all of them. R20 (47ohm) always blows up! Any hints? I've been using 3904 NPN transistors instead of the 2222 </p>
what is the effect on the LEDs if I turn the variable resistor?<br>
<p>Also, where would the &quot;power&quot; tab be soldered in the stereo jack? thanks :)</p>
<p>Hi, this looks absolutley fantastic, but I was wondering if there was a way to increase the number of leds? I want to build different panels that would house each color. Thank You!</p>
<p>Nice! I've been looking for a project like this. </p><p>A few questions: </p><p>Does this have to run off of 12 volts? I was thinking of mounting one of these in a guitar. (like the old Rickenbacker lightshow guitars did) </p><p>Is the current draw too much for batteries? (I was thinking two 9-volts in series or a 15-volt laptop battery)</p><p>Would I be better off using Version 1 of the Color Organ Triple Deluxe for this purpose?</p><p>Can this circuit use super-bright LEDs?</p><p>Cheers, and thanks for sharing this!</p>
<p>Yes the circuit is designed to use 12V DC, but does work (kind of) ok with 9V. However the 9V battery typically used for guitar box doesn't provide enough juice to run it for practical length of time. 15V laptop battery might be a good option though. Make sure that the actual voltage won't exceed around 16V.</p><p>And yes I used super bright LEDs.</p>
<p>This is what I ended up doing with 2 of these kits. I dedicated each on to one channel (left &amp; Right), Then I used a single input jack and ran wired to each board from it. <br><br><br>I couldn't get my youtube link to load right and run the video so I hade to do it this way</p>
<p>Maybe this</p>
<p>hello everyone, i could use a little advice. I would like to modify this design to be a single channel version. The obvious part i get by simply removing the sections for the mid and highs but in my limited beginner electronics knowledge I'm not sure what needs to be left in between R6 and Q3. It appears to me that R7, C3 and C4 are making up the crossover portion and by removing the will give me the full range audio. Is that correct? Thanks in advance if anyone who wants to put their two cents in.</p>
<p>if you want full range audio, your better off just using a transitor and led and a battery and just having and audio cable go to the transitor and ground. example https://www.instructables.com/id/Blinking-LEDs-to-Music/</p>
<p>I used your color organ deluxe kit II from your website (p.s. that was quick shipping). added my own custom circuit and ended up with water speakers that go to the frequency of the music, the LED's still work too. VIDEO: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8dNpjotlJk" rel="nofollow">https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8dNpjotlJk</a></p>
<p>i need help with the circuit schematic i don't understand the part about 12 v power to </p>
<p>I wish you had a stereo kit. :/ So I just ordered two kits. To make each Kit a single channel (Left or Right) should I use (let's say) Audio 1 on one kit for left and not bother putting in R2 or should I instead hook up left output from my device to both Audio 1 and Audio 2? I am also intending on have the LEDs off the PCB and mounted differently. If I used a small gauge solid copper wire for a few inches, do you think the resistors (i.e. R11 &amp; R11b etc.) will need to be reduced?</p>
<p>I know stereo version would be cool, but I thought you can always use two. I use a splitter cable (found at Radioshack) to divide L/R channels. This cable has stereo jack on one end, and two mono plus on the other end. Mono plugs are connected L and R each. I can't find the model # though...</p><p>As for resistors for the LED, I don't think you need to change the value because even thin wires would only have an ohm or less of resistance at most (unless you run a very long distance, which I won't recommend because of inductance effect).</p><p>Aki</p>
<p>is it possible to add more LED's rather than having just 18?</p>
<p>I tried this project on a breadboard and it works perfectly. Thanks for sharing this idea sir. :)</p><p>But I would like to change the output into a single color LED Strip (12V &ndash; 3A). What would I change or add into the circuit? Thanks.</p>
Hey there I just put this together and I cant manage to get a splitter AUX cable to work with anything to play the music while using the lights... I even tried to connect to a bluetooth speaker and use AUX at the same time and that didn't work... HELP!
Hello :) <br> <br>May I have a question? What kind of transistors should I use to work it with, for example lamps/bigger leds (more powerfull)?
You can try experimenting with larger transistors such as TIP31, but you might have to modify the circuit somewhat. So it might not be that simple. <br> <br>Aki
Hi Ledartist <br>Thanks for posting your circuit. I have built this circuit, but the leds stay on with no audio input. <br>I have checked and rechecked my layout and all is as it should be. I have also cleaned the veroboard of flux. <br>I used KSP2222A transistors and added in a 4th channel, an additional midrange channel. <br>I used 4 Red leds on the low channel, 4 Green leds on the midrange 1 channel, 6 Blue leds on the midrange 2 channel, and 8 White leds on the high channel. <br>Also, I had no line level input, so I inserted a line level attenuator (a 10K and 1K voltage divider). <br>What can be the problem?
Sorry, but it's impossible to tell what's wrong with your circuit.<br>I can be the circuit itself, error in assembly (most likely), or bad parts (like dead transistor).<br>I'd triple check the polarity of transistors, component values, and solder joints.<br>Providing schematics and photos of your board always helps.<br>
Hi. I placed this kit on top of a MonoBox powered speaker as described in Make:Projects and am very pleased with the results. Please take a look at my short video. <br>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OboROUJ39DM <br>Great Kit.
Wow that looks nice! <br>Thanks for sharing!
Hi Ledartist <br>This seems like brilliant design and it works well on the video. <br>I would like to have 2 midrange sections by having a &quot;lower&quot; midrange and an &quot;upper&quot; midrange. <br>Could you please tell me the values of R and C for these 2 sections? <br>Thank you <br>Max
Well, through trial and error I figured it out. The 12v connections are labeled on the PCB, no problem. To connect the source, The signal is connected to both holes on the side of the jack drawing on the PCB, while the gnd is connected to the hole in the center of the drawing. This seems to be working fine.
I think you got it right. Sorry I could not answer earlier.<br><br>Aki
Hello. I just finished this kit and it works perfectly. Great separation and brilliance. If I wanted to hard-wire the DC power and the signal source, which holes on the PCB would I use? I'm a good kit builder but I lack in electronic experience. I want to hard-wire this color organ to a mono powered speaker box I'm building for my grandson. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks again for this wonderful kit.
really nice
Hi I've been wanting to buy this kit for a long time now and finally did and it got here yesterday so i soldered it all up making sure to test each led and check the resistors twice and finally after a hour it was done but when i plugged the 12v wall wart[after i made sure it was 12 volts] just the green leds were on and the blue were on but extremely dim. any help would be greatly appreciated and i hope we can get this thing working p.s. i love all of your work
What happens when you connect audio source - Does it react to audio in any way?<br> <br> If LEDs are not reacting, the problem could be so many things... I'd check soldering for bridges/shorts, and polarity of all transistors.&nbsp;<br> <br> Aki<br> <br>
it only changes the green leds very little not a extremely noticeable amount though and the transistors are facing the right way according to the board and there are no solder joints connected thank you though
Im working on an art project to create a wearable visor with an LED array lighting to the sound of music. <br> <br>I have purchased this kit to control the LED's <br>http://www.makershed.com/Color_Organ_Tr ... /mkla3.htm <br> <br>What i want to do is ad more LED's to each channel. At least 15 per column. Im new to resistors and LED wiring and need help figuring out if i need a resistor for each LED (im thinking no) or one large resistor to support the 15 LED's. <br> <br>Will I need to change anything else in this kit to support what i want to do? <br> <br>Thanks! :D

About This Instructable




Bio: I am an electronic artist living in Brooklyn, NY. I work with LEDs and microcontrollers to create beautiful objects.
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