Introduction: LED Color Organ Triple Deluxe

Picture of LED Color Organ Triple Deluxe
*** Checkout the New & Improved version of this project: Color Organ Triple Deluxe II ***

I love lights, and I love music… Naturally a color organ is something that I always wanted to make. However the circuits are often pretty complicated, using many op amps, etc. I'm sure that many people feel the same way.

Now the wait is over. If you are a bit familiar with electronics, you can build a 3 way color organ with only 29 components. I've streamlined the circuit to the absolute minimum, using easy to obtain, inexpensive parts. In fact, if you are electronic hobbyist, you probably have all the parts sitting around already!

In case you've never heard of a color organ, it's a device that emits different colors of light based on sound. LED Color Organ Triple Deluxe divides sound into three frequency bands, and emits red, green and blue lights accordingly.

Watch the video and you'll see what it does.

Step 1: Overview

Picture of Overview

The photo is showing the stereo version of Color Organ Triple Deluxe, which is simply the same circuit twice next to each other.

Three groups of LEDs each responds to high, mid, and low frequencies of sound.

In order to simplify the circuit, I design the Organ to connect to a headphone output of audio equipment. The power source can be a 9V battery, or a regulated AC adapter that outputs 9 V. (Most wall wort type adapters output much higher voltage than they are rated, therefore not suited.)

I'd like to thank Collin Cunningham of MAKE: Magazine for publishing his LED Color Organ. His version is a lot more sophisticated and complex (read: expensive), which led me to design a super simple version.

Step 2: Parts

Picture of Parts
As you can see in the photo, all parts are very ordinary, easy to find types.

Here's the BOM (Bill Of Material):
  • 3x 100 ohm resistors
  • 1x 180 ohm resistors
  • 1x 270 ohm resistors
  • 2x 1k ohm resistors
  • 4x 2.2k ohm resistors
  • 2x 10k ohm resistors
  • 1x 0.047 uF capacitor
  • 1x 0.01 uF capacitor
  • 1x 0.47 uF capacitor
  • 1x 1 uF capacitor
  • 1x 10 uF capacitor
  • 1x 1N4148 diode
  • 1x 2N2222A, 2N3904 or equivalent NPN transistor
  • 3x 2N2907A, 2N3906 or equivalent PNP transistor
  • 6x LED (2x Red, 2x Green, 2x Blue recommended)
All resistors can be any type of at least 1/16 W. Carbon type 1/4 W resistors shown in the photo.

All capacitors can pretty much be of any type as well. Just make sure that the voltage is rated at least 16V. However it's safer to stick to film type for smaller value ones, and aluminum electrolytic type for larger value ones. Those are the most common types anyway.

The diode can also be most any silicon diode. I'm using a switching diode 1N4148, which is the most widely available and probably the cheapest.

The transistors can also be pretty much anything. The NPN one here is a bit picky, as it deals with the audio signal (hfe needs to be reasonably high). Compatible transistors include: 2N4400, 2N4401, PN3646, MPSA06 for NPN. For PNP: 2N5401, MPSA55, MPSA56.

The LEDs can be of any color, however the resistor values are adjusted for the colors used here. If you use different colors, use 270 ohm for red, because red LED have lower forward voltage, thus need larger resistor to limit the current. The current limiting resistors for the LEDs are adjusted to achieve brightness balance between them. So your mileage might vary.

Step 3: Construction & Circuit

Picture of Construction & Circuit

Color Organ Triple Deluxe can easily built on a breadboard. In fact that's how I built it. You can use the picture of the breadboard as a guide. There's schematic as well.

I designed the custom PCB for this, however it's not ready for a couple of weeks. The board dimension is 1.8 x 1 inch. Please let me know if you are interested in purchasing the PCBs.

For those who want to make their own PCBs, you can download the Gerber files. (Please note that this PCB design has not been tested yet.)

Connection to the audio equipment (aka iPod) is via a disassembled stereo headphone cord. You will usually find three conductors in those cords - two of them carry the audio signal, and the shield/braid is the ground connection. I soldered a 3 pin header to make the connection to the breadboard easier.

A bit about the circuit

The basic idea behind the Color Organ Triple Deluxe is the same as many other circuits before it. Most color organ circuits divide audio signal into three frequency bands, and drive light sources acoording to the signal levels. My circuit combines the filter stage with the light drivers, saving a lot of parts. I won't claim that it does the same thing as more sophisticated circuits do, however it works pretty well.

Step 4: Triple Deluxe and Beyond

Picture of Triple Deluxe and Beyond

Obviously a breadboard construction is not very practical. I will build a real one when the custom PCB is ready. You can also easily build this circuit on a proto-board or make your own PCB.

Once you put this color organ in a nice little case, you can take this mini light show with you anywhere. Great for outdoor activities!

It's so simple & cheap to make, you've got to try it!

What's next?

You can add a few more parts and your ingenuity to take this project further.

You can use a bit higher voltage and drive 3 LEDs in series (9 total). Or use opto-isolators to control room lighting. I think this circuit can also be used as a pre-processor to feed audio signal into Arduino or other microcontrollers to create sound activated gadgets. (Use 5V power supply if you want to interface with Arduino. You can replace the LEDs with 1k ohm resistors and take the signals from the collectors of Q2 - Q4. The voltage level is low when there's no sound.)

Have fun!


ShengQuanX (author)2017-06-04

Can anybody tell me what does 0.01uf and 1uf capacitors do?

ShengQuanX (author)ShengQuanX2017-06-04

and smaller the capacitance then it will discharge faster right? that is why 0.047uf for High-frequency filter and 0.47uf for medium frequency filter? At high frequency there much less time to charge up so small capacitors are more sentitive?

kyosuke82 (author)2017-03-06

Hi! this is a very nice project! I've tried the attiny13a version first, but after seeing your project (and the LED response) this made me want to replicate it. I have all the parts lying around... how can I modify this to run on just 5v. hope you can accommodate my silly request..... (^_^)v

ledartist (author)kyosuke822017-03-06

It's not impossible but not that simple. Analog circuit like this work better with higher voltage than digital ones, and 5V is a bit on the low side for analog circuit. Maybe some day I might try the 5V version but not too soon...

kyosuke82 (author)ledartist2017-03-07

thanks for indulging my request... will try it though as is.. temporarily with a DC-DC converter (5v to 9v) ... or a good old reliable PP3/006P

sirhc0428 (author)2016-12-13

can someone please explain how this works through the schematic like what does each component do

ShadowArcher (author)2016-09-22

Would this work with mosfets instead of BJTs?

vyas.autodesk.shivam (author)2015-10-28

what is direction of current flowing?

vyas.autodesk.shivam (author)2015-10-28

what is direction of current flow?

rizaa (author)2014-10-21

Hi..can i ask if what is the maximum no.of LED to be used in each frequencies???..pls kindly reply...i would really like to make this on our project on circuits because it is really interesting..

lsanjaysha (author)rizaa2015-03-06

its a rgb led strip organ tak a look

lsanjaysha (author)rizaa2015-03-06

its a rgb led strip organ tak a look

lsanjaysha (author)rizaa2015-03-06

its a rgb led strip organ tak a look

lsanjaysha (author)rizaa2015-03-06

its a rgb led strip organ tak a look

lsanjaysha (author)rizaa2015-03-06

its a rgb led strip organ tak a look

zhang.tian.756 (author)2014-10-17


Nice work! I am also working on this kind of project. May I ask you some questions regarding this project?

1. May I know the range of the three different frequencies? From your test results, is it below 20-1k is low frequency? 1k-10k is medium? and 10k-17k is high?

2. Why you use transistor instead of op amp? Are there any difference?

Thank you so much

georgit (author)2014-09-04

I cannot find 0,047uF electrolytic capacitor but i have these
one film capacitor 0.022uF rated 400V
one electrolytic capacitor 0.22uF rated 50V
Can i use some of them?

akaberniuk (author)2012-04-07

Hello nice work, could you help me to adjust your circuit fro 5V supply I' am going to use this circuit as a part of another project which is supposed to be supplied with 5V. Thank you in advance.

hkerr (author)akaberniuk2014-08-31

can you send me the info on this so i can do that too

MintShard (author)akaberniuk2013-10-14

You still need this? I'm currently modifying this circuit to do exactly that.

adarshnarsaria (author)2013-10-19

hi there,
nice instructable
i would like the schematic of this project if i am using a 12volt power supply with 3 amperes and using 12volts 3 smd led strip of the three colours instead of the LEDs
Thanks in Advance......

hkerr (author)adarshnarsaria2014-08-31

can I have this too please

Modified this last night to work with common anode rgb led strip lights! I used ledartists idea with the 1Kohm resistors instead of leds and connected the collectors of Q2-4 to the bases of TIP31C power transistors (1for each color). Ground the emitter on each transistor and connect a collector from each one to the colors of your strip and provide power to the strip (12v in my case). According to the datasheet of the TIP31, it can handle 3A max so I would either put 2 TIP31's in parallel (6A) for each color or put a decent size heat sink on each one (they cant all be on the same heatsink because that would connect all 3 colors together, the top part of the TIP31 is electrically connected to the center pin or the collector in this case).

ledartist (author)ranger_steve2013-11-07

Sounds great!
If I were to change anything, I'd add a resistor between the Q2 - 4 collector and the base of each TIP31. The circuit now allows too much base current, and  Q2 - 4 might damage as the result.

Maybe 60 to 120 ohm would do.

Also not sure putting two power transistor in parallel is a good idea. Q2 - 4 won't be able to give enough base current for the power transistors. I'd use MOSFET instead. N-ch MOSFET would work the same way as your schematics.


DBoulanger (author)2014-05-08

Overall, this is a good project to play with sound and leds. However, the way the RC filters are positionned doesn't make much sense to me as I'm having a hard time even to evaluate the frequencies, based on the lowpass, highpass and bandpass filters documentation I found on the net. Globally, the ideal cutoff frequencies are evaluated using the 1/(2*PI*R*C) formula, but the resulting values aren't properly dispersed.

More on the subject could be found by doing researches on "rc filters". The ones used in this project are passive, because we use only passive components, resistors and capacitors.

If the circuit isn't working as planned, the odds are that component values are too far away from the expected values (5-10% for the resistors, 10-20% for the capacitors). Transistors need about 0.7V to switch on. If there are already .6v present, then the filter might be able to let that missing 0.1V get through before the desired frequency is reached, leading to a situation where the leds are ON for a much larger frequency range than planned.

Sincerely, the newer version is far better in regards to the design, however we have to realize that we still dealing with passive filters, therefore we can't expect to obtain results as sharp as with the active ones (using opamps), nevertheless with patience we can achieve very good results if the calibration is done properly.

The trials and errors approach can't always lead us to the answer, some researches are required to have a better understanding of what's going on and allow us to put in place adjustments that make more sense.

Finally, as far as the power adapters are concerned, do yourself a favor and simply add a regulator on your project, thus allowing you to use a variety of adapters without the risk of any "magic smoke" !

Have fun!!!

Techy18 (author)2014-02-24

heres a challenge : think u can integrate this into a stereo system

kd6mtw (author)Techy182014-04-22

on a home receiver, that is easy... just plug into the tape or vcr out L/R rca plugs. they are usally always on no matter what other input you are on.

jsanto1 (author)Techy182014-03-21

is it not possible to just use speaker wire as the input sound source instead of the jack?

kd6mtw (author)jsanto12014-04-22

not a good idea without stepping down the speaker signal to a line or headphone level.

floz-ano (author)2014-04-09

Hi I'd like to know which resistors to change if I want to use super bright LEDS and so it won't mess up the high mid and low frequency flames???

pm4x1 (author)2014-03-20

My problem is:
The LEDs are too dark and they only light up if I connect the board with an amplifier.
Do you have an idea how I could solve this?

Techy18 (author)2014-02-24

i did this and it worked perfectly

finkeyow (author)2014-02-12


i am using 3 1watt high power leds instead of the regular ones. i also replaced the resistors for the leds with 5w 43ohm resistors. as power supply i am using a 16v 2.6a psu. but now, the leds are constantly on, also if i don't plug in the audio jack. could it be, that i need to change the resistors before the base of the transistor?

jabelone (author)2013-10-08

Am I able to use a (small) 12v LED strip in place of the LEDs? I have tested that it lights up on 9v. It also uses less current than the LEDs. Would I just remove the resistors for the LEDs? Thanks!

loko42 (author)2013-10-05

I did thic color organ accroding your scheme, but when I put power on, then I get all leds lighting ... and they do not react on music.
What could be a problem?

sagigi (author)2013-09-20

can I connect instead of the leds led strip?
i want to connect a RGB led strip. will it look nice or you recommend to leave the project?

shahim (author)2013-08-29

Instead of the 0.047 mF capacitor can we use something else?
Like 1 or 0.1 mF? Or anything in series / parallel combination?

Also do I need a stereo audio jack for the input signal to connect to breadboard?

shahim (author)2013-08-19

I have a question about how to connect the signal (music) to the circuit.
What do I need to have? Like on your picture you have that black  device that sits on the breadboard., what is that? Some sort of adapter or the end of a regular headphone?

And also, does any spliter  work ?

Thank you.

divemasterbill (author)2013-08-06

Where can I get the code

tedomi_pro (author)2013-03-06

Can you tell me how to draw Filter Responces? The value 120Hz and 2,5kHz?? How to calculate that value???

schumi23 (author)tedomi_pro2013-04-13

You could try using LT Spice too. (Circuit design program)

ledartist (author)tedomi_pro2013-03-07

I drew the graph using Adobe Illustrator. It's not scientific, I simply drew it using my impression of the response.
The R/C values are figured out by experiment. (Too lazy to figure out the math ;)

lhazwani (author)2013-01-25

ok i understand. :) but can i use variable resistor then?

plus, will the printed circuit affected when i change the component? (by any means.. just changing without changing inside the software.)

i have this problem that when i do it on breadboard, it lights up like demo video. but on pcb, red leds are the only one light up and voltage at transistors drops drastically.

did i make error in somewhere? ;/ i'll post images later for u to check. thank you. :)

lhazwani (author)2013-01-25

Hi. I've followed your circuit and somehow my red leds are the only one light up (even before start) and there is voltage drop at capacitor 0.47microF. And i've change the values of both resistor at r3 and r4 to 20k.

Do you have any advise about this problem?
And can i know the voltage rating for each capacitor that have polarised? thank you. :)
p/s: does the voltage written at capacitor will effect the circuit if each capacitor has different voltage rating? sorry, i'm newbie about capacitor stuff. hope you can reply.

ledartist (author)lhazwani2013-01-25

Try using larger value resistor for R3 and R4 til the red LEDs stop lighting. These resistor values change depending on the transistor used. You might have to use something like 100k ohm.

Capacitors should be rated at least 12V. Doesn't matter if the voltage doesn't match. Voltage rating only means that the capacitor can withstand up to that voltage.


williebikes (author)2013-01-09

Wondering if the PCB design was tested and working?

ledartist (author)williebikes2013-01-09

Well I made the PCBs, but never actually used them. So no the PCB design is not tested.
However I've been working on the new, improved version, and it's almost ready. I will do another instructables very soon.

sjez (author)2013-01-03

Thanks for your quick reply. I still have one question though. I don't understand the function of the two 10k resistors and the 1k transistor connecting to Q1. Oh and the two 100ohm resistors, why are they there? I hope you can help me out.


ledartist (author)sjez2013-01-03

Q1, 10k ohms and the 1k ohm form a modified class A amplifier. I used diode in the biasing network to hold the bias at the bere minimum, so the operation is more like class B. The aim is to only amplify the positive half of the audio signal.
100 ohms at the input is to "mix" stereo signal into one without stressing the audio device connected. (Those should ideally be larger like 10k ohms but I could not afford the signal loss.)

sjez (author)2013-01-02

Hey quick question, could please explain me how the frequency filters work? I have been looking for the anwser for a while now, but I can't seem to find it.


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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