loading
Picture of Nixie Tube Music Visualizer
meterSmall.jpg
itunes.png
A hypnotizing music visualizer inspired by those little bars in the top of iTunes. Fourteen Russian IN-13 Nixie bargraph tubes are used as the display.

The length that each nixie tube lights up represents the volume of a certain frequency in the music, 7 different bands for both the left and right channels.



I designed and built this over a month my junior year in high school. This instructable will go over my design process and the construction, hopefully aiding anyone who wants to build one of their own.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Design Process

Picture of Design Process
hifi.png
The goal is to make an interesting display that would show the volume levels of various frequency bands in an audio signal, as in many music players and on the front of some hi-fi audio equipment. There are three major points the project would focus on:

  • Minimizing cost: In the process of designing the visualizer, I found this simple VU meter with a nixie display utilizing an exotic IC to convert an audio signal into a volume level. While convenient, it's manufactured by a small company, and each piece would cost over $5 (for me, nearly $80 in those alone!) For simplicity and for my wallet, this only uses simple, cheap, and mass-produced parts. Also because of cost, I decided that 10K ohm resistors would be used for just about everything, so I could buy a few hundred for around $3.
  • Analog only: Using a digital signal processor was a possibility, but programming a DSP is fairly difficult, and the cost of DACs for the input and ADCs to drive the output began to raise the price too far. So only analog parts such as op-amps and comparators would be used.
  • Adjustability: After Nixie IN-13 tubes were chosen as the display, I realized that the only documentation was in Russian (or poorly translated English) and not very informative. Not knowing anything at all about how much it took to light it up any specific length (aside from less than 4 milliamps), everything about this design would be adjustable.

Step 2: Design: Amplification

Picture of Design: Amplification
A standard dual op-amp (I used an LM358N from National Semiconductor) does the job nicely, amplifying both channels independently. Two potentiometers make each channel's gain adjustable.

Step 3: Design: Filter

Picture of Design: Filter
filterchart.png
Each audio channel splits out into 7 different bandpass filters. The filters are centered on 60Hz, 150Hz, 400Hz, 1kHz, 2.5kHz, 6kHz, and 15kHz. Each filter is a Fliege band-pass filter, which has a relatively low count of components, and works well from a single supply (0V and 12V, as opposed to +/-6V). Each Fliege filter uses two op-amps, so another cheap dual op-amp can be used.

The following chart gives the values of the resistors and capacitors for each bandwidth (R4 and R5 are both 10kohms). If you are calculating your own bandwidths, I used a Q value of approximately 5 (none of them are exactly 5 because of the limitations of standard resistor and capacitor values).

Step 4: Design: AC to DC

Picture of Design: AC to DC
Now that there are seven different audio signals for both channels, each containing a different frequency band, they are all converted to a DC volume signal. A 100uF polarized capacitor removes the 6V DC bias on the audio signal. A small signal diode rectifies the signal, discarding all of the negative values. Finally, the signal is smoothed out by a 4.7uF capacitor in parallel with a 10K ohm resistor. A DC voltage of the recent average volume of the signal is the result.

Step 5: Design: Logarithmic to Linear

Picture of Design: Logarithmic to Linear
refLog.png
twoChannels.jpg
This is the stage that would be way easier if I could afford the $80 in THAT Corporation's fancy true-RMS and log-calculating chips. The problem is that what we perceive as volume doesn't directly translate to the voltage of an audio signal. When you double the amplitude of a signal, it doesn't sound twice as loud, it sounds Log(2) times louder. Skipping this stage would make the display spend nearly all of the time at the very bottom, and spiking high when the sound gets particularly loud.
One way of solving this is by generating several reference voltages, one at the quietest level that the display should detect, one at +3dB, one at +6dB, and so on. The volume signal can then be compared to each of these references. For every reference voltage the volume signal is greater than, the display lights an additional unit of length.
An array of seven resistors and two potentiometers is arranged as a voltage divider to generate the necessary eight reference voltages. For each band, eight voltage comparators (in the form of two quad-comparator ICs, I used STMicroelectronics TS3704) compare the signal to these references to determine a linear volume level. The eight outputs of the comparators are then averaged with 10K ohm resistors, giving a range of values from 0V to 12V with each step of 1.5V equaling about 2.1dB.

The values of the resistors in the divider from ground to V+ are:
2k potentiometer, 470, 750, 1.1k, 2k, 2.7k, 4.7k, 7.5k, 25k potentiometer

Step 6: Design: Display

Picture of Design: Display
barSmall.jpg
A voltage divider cuts the signal down by 1/2 so it's range is between 0V and 6V. A low-pass RC filter smooths out the very sharp changes in the volume signal (when the level of the nixie tube is changed too quickly, the lit segment jumps out to the middle of the tube, rather than lighting from one end).

The nixie tube has 3 pins, an anode, a control cathode, and an auxiliary cathode. The anode is tied to the output of a high voltage power supply at around 125V. The auxiliary cathode is tied to ground through a 220k ohm resistor. As far as I can tell, the auxiliary cathode acts as a sort of pilot light, forcing the tube to begin to glow at one end first, rather than from the middle or the other end. The control cathode is the main tube, and the current through it determines the length of the tube that is lit. A high voltage NPN transistor modulates the current from the control cathode through a 470 ohm resistor and potentiometer (for tuning purposes). The base-emitter junction of the transistor has a forward bias voltage of about 0.65V that it needs to turn on, so an op-amp is used to adjust the signal for this.

Step 7: Design: Power

Picture of Design: Power
The majority of the visualizer runs off of a 12V DC power supply. The audio in, amplification and filter stages need 6V power (1/2 the supply). The 6V is created by a voltage divider of two 100K ohm resistors. This setup cannot actually source any real amount of current, so it is connected to to non-inverting input of an op-amp (TL3472), with its output connected to its inverting input. The output of the op-amp centers perfectly at 1/2 the supply voltage, and it can source current.

The display stage needs 125V to power the nixie tubes. Creating high voltages with a boost converter requires a very precise layout of the traces, so I purchased a prebuilt one from allspectrum.com

Step 8: Construction: Parts

15x 470 ohm resistor
1x 780 ohm resistor
14x 1k ohm resistor
1x 1.1k ohm resistor
4x 1.6k ohm resistor
1x 2.0k ohm resistor
9x 2.7k ohm resistor
4x 3.9k ohm resistor
1x 4.7k ohm resistor
4x 6.2k ohm resistor
1x 7.5k ohm resistor
2x 8.2k ohm resistor
170x 10k ohm resistor
8x 11k ohm resistor
4x 15k ohm resistor
2x 20k ohm resistor
2x 33k ohm resistor
4x 56k ohm resistor
2x 100k ohm resistor
14x 220k ohm resistor

2x 250k ohm potentiometer
1x 25k ohm potentiometer
15x 2k ohm potentiometer

14x 100uF electrolytic polarized capacitor
14x 4.7uF electrolytic polarized capacitor
18x 1uF capacitor
13x .1uF capacitor
8x .01uF capacitor
4x 1000pF capacitor

23x LM358N dual op-amp
1x TL3472CP dual op-amp (higher output current)
28x TS3704 quad voltage comparator
14x MJE340 NPN transistor
14x 1N4148 signal diode

24x 8-pin DIP socket
28x 14-pin DIP socket
1x stereo 3.5mm audio jack

14x IN-13 Nixie bargraph tube

3x Prototype PCB, 1-hole island, Eurocard size

1x 12V AC/DC adapter

All of the passive components were bought from Digikey, while the ICs and transistors were bought from Mouser, because they were considerably cheaper. Allspectrum.com sold me the prototype PCBs, the AC/DC adapter, and the high voltage power supply designed for nixie tubes. Sergey Bochkov at tubes-store.com sold me the actual nixie tubes. Even though Tubes-Store is run out of Chelyabinsk, an odd industrial city in Central Russia, and it appears that I was only the 5th person to ever buy from the site, they are cheap and shipping was reasonable.

Step 9: Construction: Layout

The entirety of the construction is done by soldering adjacent pads on the bottoms of the PCBs, using wire on the top if necessary.

Each board has a long trace along the top and bottom. The top is connected to the 12V power supply, while the bottom is connected to ground.

Every bandwidth occupies a vertical strip of PCB, with, from top to bottom, the filter, AC to DC, Log to Lin, and Display circuits. The nixie tubes are then attached to the bottom of the board, where they can be mounted.
Each band takes up about one-fifth of the space on the board, so the left and right boards each have 5 bands, while the middle board has two bands on the left, two on the right, and circuitry common to both the left and the right channel are shared in the middle fifth of the board.
The middle segment has the audio input jack, the amplification for the left and right channels, the 6V power, and the voltage divider for all of the log-to-lin circuits.

Step 10: More Info

If you want to build your own, I hope I included enough information to allow you to make it your own, customizing any part of it, changing the number of tubes, channels, or anything. Here are links to high resolution pictures and the eagle files I used for construction.

Visualizer

Left Board Reverse
Middle Board Reverse
Right Board Reverse

Part Layout
Side View

EagleCAD schematic and board files

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at admin -at- tchips -dot- com
1-40 of 59Next »

Looks good? Any way you could make it shoot out smoke to?

dzoni82711 month ago

Great instructable

mnedix8 months ago

Great instructable, I can't wait to build it. Do you have, by any chance, a workaround regarding the log-to-lin converter? 8 AOs per band seems a bit of an overkill.

ericps12 years ago
Hey, really awesome job on this, I've been working on figuring out how to build a Nixie graphic EQ myself and this has definitely given me some guidance. For the log to linear conversion I was looking at a slightly different approach though. I would be curious of your thoughts on using the anti-log converter discussed in this paper as opposed to your method. Only concern is it doesn't discuss a "fast anti-log converter," which would be needed since the normal one would be too slow. I'm hoping I'll be able to derive it based on the other circuits in the paper though. http://s.eeweb.com/articles/2010/12/16/Log-Converters-1292533187.pdf
mnedix ericps18 months ago

Hi Eric, did you succeed in creating a log converter out of that whitepaper? Could you please share the schematic?

Nighter3D1 year ago

Oh very nice. this project inspired me to make my own variation. Altough that one would be partly Digital.

Im working on a small scale version that uses a ATMega, a MSGEQ7 Spectrum analyzer IC and a simple 8-channel DAC IC(TLC series). The output voltage is converted to a controlled current by aid of a High-voltage Transistor. Right now im experimenting with a Fast-Hartley-Transform which suprisingly can work at a decent speed on a lowly ATMega if willing to work with less accurate reading(8-bit). Need to filter the signal a bit though.

Anyway thanks for the inspiration! ^^

fastcar1231 year ago

This is kool. I want to make it for my college project. I do have a question though. if I build the entire circuit in full but I only use lest say 10 tubes total, would the extra channels simply not be displayed, or would this be detrimental to the rest of the circuit. I only ask because I want to build the full circuit, but I don't have the money for so many tubes.

I haven't made this one myself yet, but I'm willing to bet you would need to expand the band-pass filters to cover the parts of the spectrum that you are missing. You wouldn't want to leave out the upper or lower bands, but you could "stretch" all of the bands so that 5 tubes per channel would cover the same 20 - 20000 Hz range that 7 tubes cover in this guide. You might want to look into a lower Q factor for the filters.

Where can I get the shopping list?
Jakob28032 years ago
Very nice! Did you use EAGLE for drawing the schematic? :)
Aleator7772 years ago
This is really terrific. I love seeing nixie-based projects!
garage man3 years ago
Thank you for the great instructable, very detailed. I was especially excited to see the filter for different frequencies as I have been looking for a good low-cost design to build
agray93 years ago
Dude if u could hook that up in your car that would be tight!
Sandisk1duo6 years ago
great instructable, but a little too complex for my tastes and chance that you're going to sell pre-built circuit boards?
Senator Penguin (author)  Sandisk1duo5 years ago
I'm working on a smaller, modular, and cheaper version, which I might sell in a kit form or just make public on batchpcb.com so that anyone can get their own PCBs made.
Please do, I'm sure you could sell quite a few!
dquinnell3 years ago
I am very interested in building a project like this, the parts list says 170 (One Hundred and seventy) 10k resistors are used, is that a typo or are there really that many 10k resistors used? If i were to build a one channel visualizer, would i take this parts list and divide it by half (other than the parts where only 1 is used of course)?
djjoec3 years ago
I would like to make one of these for my  Melbourne DJ hire company. What would the total cost be?
basses should be on the left side but you have it reversed on the left EQ is it on purpose?
Yep, symmetry is pretty
Is there any way to add a couple more frequency bands? I have a 10 Band Stereo EQ that this would go nice with in a custom box. Does this use converted AC voltage or just a battery?
Kryptonite3 years ago
This is incredible, what was the total cost of this project for you?
ben_xman4 years ago
Wow! That's really impressive, especially for someone so close to my age! You should really consider going to MIT or CalTech. So anyhow, what made you want to use nixie tubes?

Oh, and I was wondering a couple things. Could you use, say, five LEDs instead of the tubes and make it small enough to fit in a pair of headphones (I could always add a bit to the sides, bottoms, or even the chord itself)? I was thinking of making a headset mod with a circular visualizer on the side. Any ideas? Thanks in advance! And good luck in the future!
i would love to have this also! or maybe something with a microphone so you could take it anywhere and have it listen to anything!
Data6434 years ago
Great Instructable, especially for a Freshman. I wish I knew electronics that well.
garywpalmer4 years ago
Very nice indeed. When I was an Electronic Technician in the US Navy (early 1970's), one of my favorite pieces of equipment was a frequency analizer with a nixie tube read out. I'm glad to see nixie tubes making a comeback in a lot of projects.
Very nice! I'm jealous that I never made anything quite that impressive when I was at school in electronics! My final A2 project was a greenhouse climate control system. Never used that dot matrix board but it seems to be a nice compact solution. We had PCB manufacturing facilities at school so I was lucky enough to be able to make my PCBs there. If anyone is interested in the Design, Development and Manufacture of a PCB follow this link to a series of video that I made: http://bit.ly/iNr6Z4
postlife4 years ago
Would it be possible to make one with more tubes? I am looking into building a 4' visualizer to mount to the front of my keyboard stand. Thanks.
Senator Penguin (author)  postlife4 years ago
Of course, this is pretty scalable. A while back I was working on making this modular, having each tube attached to the side of a long, narrow PCB, and they could be stacked.
The only things you need to add more is more power, and redesign the filters to cover the audio range better. In other words, you need math.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0NJhbx9IYM
This guy did something similar, but he went digital with it (FFT) and has some crazy power boards.
i put it in my xbox hacking lol the audio from my xbox to go on the cover it looks so cool thanks :)
ohh post a pic
Ok i am building a bass guitar right now and was thinking 2 of those nixies would be perfect on either side of the 4 strings, so if anybody is interested in some 1 on 1 chatting about how this could be done i would really appreciate it
First of all, this is a very complex project for a junior in high school to accomplish. so bravo on that. (I barely had my soldering skills and basic circuits at that age) . Really a unique and amazing build. This would look really good with a more modern enclosure and of course with the right music.
Wow, man! This is gorgeous! This instructable got me into both Nixies and Honeycut!
Stormrage5 years ago
Its awesome... just im wondering where can i find those tubes, can it be bit simpler and  can it work with microphone?
luhe989225 years ago
Hi there! Could I use a more common LM339 voltage comparator instead of the ts3704 which is giving me a hard time to find?
Senator Penguin (author)  luhe989225 years ago
You would need to adjust the section in between the comparators and the display op amp.  The TS3704 has push-pull outputs, which considerably simplifies things.  The LM339 has pullup resistors on the outputs, which makes it impossible to just attach all of the outputs with resistors to average them.
bman225 years ago

I have been looking for exactly this for a different project i am working, my only problem is that i need a variable voltage between 0 and 5 volts instead of your 12v current system. Can anybody here help me in acheiving this. Its a bit over my head, so i would really appreciate some help.

satanklawz5 years ago
Great project! I've ordered most of the same parts. What are the voltage requirements for the capacitors? You wouldn't happen to still have the parts list from mouser and digikey?
Based on a comment you made before, is the information below correct?

14x    100uF electrolytic polarized capacitor 25v
14x    4.7uF electrolytic polarized capacitor 25v
18x    1uF capacitor 25v
Are the below capacitors multilayer ceramic, or mica? Would ceramic suffice (I didn't see polarity noted for any of them)?

13x    .1uF capacitor (should this be 14?)
8x    .01uF capacitor
4x    1000pF capacitor
1-40 of 59Next »