Introduction: LM3915/LM3916 VU Meter

Picture of LM3915/LM3916 VU Meter

The LED VU Meter was the height of late 80s boombox technology. This instructable will build one out on the breadboard. Who doesn't like blinking lights...

I have a bigger project in mind and will post instructables of each piece and tie it all together at the end.

Here is the live action video:

Step 1: Parts

Picture of Parts

You will need either the National Semiconductor LM3916/LM3915/LM3914, 2 for stereo...

-2x 1.2k Ohm Resistor
-2x 10 LEDs or a 10 Segment LED Bar graph
-2x Breadboard, or just one big breadboard
-2x Stereo 1/8" jacks
-Optional 2.2uF capacitor
-Power supply anywhere between 3-25v

Step 2: Wire the LM3916 Circuit

Picture of Wire the LM3916 Circuit

You will wire up the circuit following the diagram attached. For a bigger version you can check out the page at N.S..

I skipped two things, I did not use the capacitor as it is only necessary if you have more than 6" of cable between the LEDs and the chip, and I also did not use the 7.5k resistor in the diagram going to pin 6/7. your mileage may vary.

Step 3: Pass Through for Sound

Picture of Pass Through for Sound

I wanted to be able to listen to the music while looking at the flashing lights, novel idea I know...

So I wired up two 1/8" stereo jacks wire the two together, and then hang 3 wires off of one, the negative will go to pin 4 on both chips, while the left signal will go to pin 5 on one chip, and pin5 on the other chip.

Step 4: WIre the LEDs

Picture of WIre the LEDs

Remember the LM3916 switches negative not positive. So hook the positive up on all of your LEDS to positive in your breadboard.

Then pin 1 should go to the first pin on the LED, followed by pins 18-10 so they will light up in order.

As you can see in the second pic, I got a little sloppier on the second set of LEDs and just used wires from a jumper kit so its a little messy.

Step 5: Radio Raheem

Picture of Radio Raheem

Now you can live large like Radio Raheem, this would fit nicely in the ipod nano box wouldn't it...

Except you can't fit 20D batteries in a nano box...


adithya.alla.56 (author)2015-04-14

Can you please give the applications of the Audio VU Meter

ianni (author)2014-02-06

I recently made one of these and I'm pleased with the result, but there is a problem. I did not see anywhere to be mentioned this circuit does not work if you connect it in parallel with an amplifier or even headphones...I supposed the signal is too weak to work with 2 devices so I added an amplifier...same result. If you guys have a solution to this I'm happy to hear it...else the audio source is compromised during vumeter use.

gtomkinson (author)2014-01-26

Trying to get this working but I'm having a problem getting the circuit to recognise and input. I did skip the capacitor as the LED's are directly on the board. When I apply power to the circuit, all 10 LED's light in bar mode or just the last one in dot mode.

I've connected a 1/8" jack stereo cable to the circuit. The red/white wires I've connected to pin 5 with the ground going to pin 4. Now what's interesting (to me anyways) is if I pinch the plug with my finders, the lights drop down so only LED 1 is lit. As I apply and release pressure, the LED's respond.

I'm a total newb with regards to this stuff and I'm not entirely sure I have an understanding of what the input signal should actually be. I've assumed an iPod would work but upon connection, all the LED's are extinguished and there's no response to the iPod at all, regardless of volume level.

Any help would really be appreciated!

uhclem (author)2011-09-16

For those looking to add a "power level" meter to a small amplifier (like a boombox) this circuit might be worth trying:

It uses the LM339 quad comparator. It needs more parts, but is overall much cheaper and easy to find.

ianni (author)uhclem2014-01-15

I have made one of those with LM339N with 16 leds and added a microphone to work without cables, more portable and also reacts to voices.

Works great on voltages between 5 and 12V. I've powered it on a scrap power supply found around the house that gives 6.2V. I don't have a video on it working on microphone but there is no difference between the functionality. I am planning to make 10 bands as this one (but I want to work with smaller, smd components) and then make some active filters to make a spectrum analyzer. If anyone knows a working schematic that I can modify the res and caps to change the frequencies properly I would really appreciate it.

Also if anyone is interested in my schematics or any other piece of info about this project I am happy to share and explain. (

aneamţu (author)2013-09-06

I built one with 10 levels of plexiglass with LEDs drilled into them. Each level has 2 LEDs in parallel and I get questioned a lot on how did I managed since the driver only outputs 30mA for each pin, and I have 2 20mA LEDs in parallel for each pin(so 40mA in total) and the only aswer I have is my LED aren't at full brightness. Right? I'm not an expert in electronics. Is it ok, or has an effect on long term.....

Here is my vu meter.

xzthanhzx (author)aneamţu2013-10-22

can you give me your schematic of VU led meter ? please .. my email:

nitin0836 (author)2013-10-06

hello aneamtu .... i need help for that plexi glass vu meter.... i need that circuit please....

faki (author)2009-05-11

Do I use the leds as they are on the schematic or I put a resistor for them ? I am using 10x1,8V LEDs

lasermaster3531 (author)faki2013-03-06

as long as the supply voltage is greater than the LED voltage by a volt or two, it'll work. so 10V and up is fine. This chip has internal current limits, so you don't need resistors.

reverser514 (author)faki2011-04-19

yeah little information here...
(:D one lesson a day)

because they are 8v LEDs, and the chip only outputs at the most 5 volts (because we can't output more than we are given. (well we can, but that is WAY more advance than what we are doing here...) and under-powering an LED will not do any harm. Except mental harm because if the LED doesn't turn on, then you get confused out your mind of why it isn't...
(UH OH im breaking my one a day rule...)


nak (author)faki2009-06-05

as they are works

tqnata_1 (author)2011-06-28

i want to know 2x 1.2k Ohm Resistor -W=?
-Optional 2.2uF capacitor =v=?

lasermaster3531 (author)tqnata_12013-03-06

when in doubt with resistors, use 1/4watt, that's the most common size. With capacitors, as long as the voltage rating on the cap is higher than the supply voltage, you're fine.

chainsawz (author)2009-05-20

im currently building a circuit like this; but the input isnt strong enough so im gonna use the LM386 to boost the input so more lights turn on... without it, only the first three lights turn on at maximum sound

the sensitivity is influenced by the resistor values, try using 10k liner sweep pots instead and play with them until you get good brightness and sensitivity.

happywatt (author)chainsawz2009-09-02

I have the same problem with an LM3914, but I didn't know what an LM286 is nor how it works, any advise?

static (author)happywatt2011-08-21

Respectfully, and to state the obvious, simply use google. Also do the same search on on you tube. The LM386 is a small audio amplifier.

burton2663 (author)2011-07-18

im looking for an actual schematic of lm3915 vu meter using 1w luxeon leds, im trying to use tip31c as a driver but the output of the 3915 is so little to drive the transistor. im using this cell charger than goes up to 8volts

for that kind of thing, you'll want to use a FET (field-effect transistor), not a BJT (bipolar junction transistor). BJTs require current to turn on, whereas FETs only require voltage, the gate pin acts like a capacitor, not a diode. High-power BJTs can require substantial amounts of current (too much for the 3915 as you found out) and would need cascading with small-signal transistors to work (complicated and spendy). With a P-channel FET, you can just hook the gate up to the output and then have a 500-ohm resistor as a drain to V+.

Mitsukai (author)burton26632012-06-07

go to to get the actual schematic for lm3915

chirag parmar (author)2013-01-17

i tried out the circuit but only one of my LED's is working. I used a 12v adapter the one led blinks with reapect to music but others do not

radiorahim (author)2010-04-08

 Radio Raheem!!!!!!
Living large. Man, he even walks in stereo.
Love it.

radiorahim (author)radiorahim2010-04-08

 What is the red thing in each of the photos?

reverser514 (author)radiorahim2011-04-19

well son, when a photon likes a diode A LOT, they make whats called an LED. haha the "red thing" in the photos is a bar graph, simply a bunch of LEDs in line with each other and packaged as one item instead of a bunch of LEDs.

radiorahim (author)reverser5142011-04-21

Well old man, I think what we have here is a failure to communicate. Step 1, bottom of the frame, a red plastic thing. Is it some sort of probe?

lol x 2 @ old man !!!

yaa i know this is a real-old post but just in case you were still scratching your head about this asked question, your right that little red thing is a probe for digital multimeters, here is an example of a set!

JohnBailey (author)radiorahim2011-07-25

Yes. It's a hook probe. Same use as a crocodile clip, but much smaller.
Press the button (big end) and a little hook slides out to clip on a component lead or wire. Release it, and it pulls back gripping the wire.

Mathieu5555 (author)2011-11-22

Since co'callaghan1 have not been answered, I still do not know what is the Vref, so I put a 10K potentiometer in place of 2 7.5K and 1.3K resistor.
Now I Can ajust the VuMeter. If the sound is not very loud I can raise the level. So its work perfect.
Pot 10K, first pin go to #7
Second to #8 on chip
and third on ground.

co'callaghan1 (author)2011-07-08

Sorry about those last three posts. I've only got one question. Can you please explain what Vref is and what I'm supposed to do about it? Do I connect it the way it describes or what? It's just confusing because it does not appear to be connecting them. Do I have to do that?

Werewolve (author)2009-07-22

I have 12V car battery. Where can i get the 3V for the Led's? or can i use 12V with a 620Ohm Resistor? Led: 2,25V 20mA

reverser514 (author)Werewolve2011-04-19


I had a couple of tweeters left over from a sub box I scrapped awhile ago. I took some good old wood, cut a circle out of it for the speaker, and left room for LEDs. My only problem is I don't feel like running a wire from the front of the car to the trunk.. maybe I'll just splice it in with my trunk light... :D then it will only turn on when the trunk is open!!! and the crowd goes wild on the thought!!!

likeastone9999 (author)Werewolve2009-08-09

you can use 12 volt... but use a 330ohm 1/2 watt 5% tolerance... they work great for led's

charlieb000 (author)Werewolve2009-07-28

get a 3v (or so) regulator..

microOhms (author)2011-02-02

i love to invent or to make a device w/o planning like of those people who make an electric devices!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

yashfau (author)2011-01-27

can u please show how you have connected the audio to this device ?

bror89 (author)2010-11-01

hey what's the difference with these two chips?
LM3915 IC chip LM3916 IC chips

the_don125 (author)bror892010-12-08

Both are logarithmic display drivers, the LM3916 is just better tuned for audio.

zcrank (author)2010-11-18

N o Way. You Rocked the Siouxsie in the Video! Way Kool!!!

Raiden19 (author)2010-11-09

I was thinking, could you get this to run off a usb port 5 volts? If so you could use it on your pc. House the electronics in a seperate box and just have the visulisers showing, either side of your monitor for both channels.

wootwootman (author)2010-10-15

is it possible to add a potentiometer in there somewhere to vary the sensitivity of the input?

devicemodder (author)2010-10-04

this same chip ie 3914 can be used along with a 555 and 4017 to make an led oscilloscope see schematic

chance313 (author)2010-08-10

I am interested in building something like this to put on my guitar, so when i play it on a dark stage it will light up. does anyone know a way to do this where i can wire it to the audio output. If it helps, i have active pickups.

spinynormann (author)2010-06-15

how large is your input signal?

alex7street47 (author)2010-03-23

can u cascade the ic to 5(50 led) with 1 single input.... how the schematic?

Zem (author)2010-03-02

 Is your parts list for two of them (stereo), or just a single one?

fkuk (author)2009-12-11


i want to know if this schmatic is correct and also i want to know the calculations behind this because i am doing this at college for a project

i want to know is there a way of working out at what step each led will light up at i have done the praticle result which is on the side but as part of my project i need to show some working and not of completed my project by trial and error

j03tv (author)2009-10-24

Hey, Ive built 2 of these each with a LM3915 and LM3916 and they work just great, but my only concern is; If you look closely to the LED's when they light up, they flicker a lot!
I know they are supposed to more towards the top of the bar but the starting LED's should be solid. They are in Bar-graph mode also(Jumper pin 9 to pin 3).

Do you have a solution to reduce the flicker, like on commercial mixers and stuff? Those meters dont flicker.

agis68 (author)2009-10-16

where u get the bargraph leds??? any cheap place????

seligtobiason (author)2009-09-17

Sure you can, you can buy a ton of things that people make on that's not the point, the point is using your own creativity and fun building and learning.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to tinker with just about anything, sometimes it works out in the end. Have fun looking at the projects, try tearing something open ... More »
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