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Custom retro car radio with vu meters
Custom retro car radio with vu meters
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Old 29th September 2008, 06:19 PM   #1
maurycy is offline maurycy  United States
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Default Custom retro car radio with vu meters

I just had a crazy idea. I am going to purchase older car that originally came only with AM/FM or AM/FM/Cassette radio. I can replace the radio with CD receiver but what about making one that has the retro look?

What I have in mind is to use housing from an old style shaft radio, stick mp3 player inside it. I would replace the AM/FM display with mp3 display, cassette slot (enlarged) with analog VU meters and add small slot for memory card. I know that that's a lot of work and I would have to come up with some good machine work for the front bezel but wouldn't that be just cool looking? Original radio is 1.5x DIN size so there is plenty of room for all the stuff.

I am noob when it comes to electronics but hacking cheap mp3 player is not that big of a deal for me. I think I can extract the memory slot, display, power and volume cables from the player and connect them to the shaft radio. Problem would be with converting the mp3's push volume buttons to pots and adding vu meters.

So anybody has any tips to get me started?

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Old 29th September 2008, 07:08 PM   #2
gtforme00 is offline gtforme00  United States
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The VU meters might bounce around a good bit from the vibrations of the car. It sounds like a cool idea though, and I hope it works for you!

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Old 29th September 2008, 07:21 PM   #3
N-Channel is offline N-Channel  United States
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How about LED VU Meters? The National LM3916 VU Meter driver chip would be ideal for this. It's really easy to use, and you can get LED arrays (in elements of 10, since the '3916 has 10 outputs) that will connect right up to it.

Or, try the NSM3916, which is the driver chip and LEDs all in one assembly. LEDs have been around long enough (since 1975) that certain applications could be considered "old school". Just a thought.

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Old 29th September 2008, 08:23 PM   #4
tsmith1315 is online now tsmith1315  United States
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Curious idea, with a definite cool factor for the DIY crowd. I see a large amount of cosmetic detail work in your future!

If your opening is 1.5x DIN, why not use a factory radio housing?

As far as analog volume goes, you could add your own preamp in there instead of using the MP3 player's control? You can also do balance/fade/tone, whatever you want in the analog world.

And I vote for real VU's. Bouncing would just give it more period-style fun.
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Old 29th September 2008, 08:51 PM   #5
maurycy is offline maurycy  United States
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Thanks to all who replied. VU has to be analog. LED would be too fancy for this car. I do not want to use the original radio in case I mess everything up. Trying to avoid being stuck with a hole in the dash

So to start, I would have to take mp3 player, plug the output (headphone) to compact amplifier (home built) with volume control and put that into a case. Am I on the right track?

Any car amplifier kits available that would make my work a lot easier? I am not interested in high volume and quality at this point. The first concept version just has to work and it does not need to look pretty. Final version will get upgraded components and custom aluminum front plate (or wood to match the dash trim).

Oh, and how to wire the VU meters? I have never worked with them before.

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Old 3rd October 2008, 10:18 AM   #6
an2ny888 is offline an2ny888  Philippines
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you could try looking for a panasonic tx-5500 radio, those already come with analog vu meters, plus they use a tube
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Old 3rd October 2008, 11:00 AM   #7
tvi is offline tvi  Australia
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panasonic tx-5500

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Old 4th October 2008, 05:18 AM   #8
dangus is offline dangus  Canada
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Custom retro car radio with vu meters
Wow. That's almost as cool as the giant ghetto blaster with built-in mirror ball and spotlights I saw once. I suspect if you can find one, it won't be at all cheap.

You can probably pick up a replacement stock radio at a wrecking yard for not much money, and gut that.

How about scrounging analog meters from an old cassette deck; those are pretty cheap at thrift stores these days. I expect you could drive them from the speaker outputs just using resistors, a rectifier (full or half-wave), and a capacitor.

As for the amp... keep your eyes open at yard sales, thrift stores, and pawn shops. There's some very decent used amps out there now for very little money. I picked up a classic 4 channel RF 4080DSM for $44, which must be about 1/15 the original selling price. It just doesn't make sense to build or buy new if you can get something as nice as that used.
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Old 4th October 2008, 07:39 AM   #9
Perry Babin is offline Perry Babin  United States
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For the meters to be useful from low to high power, I think you'll need to use a circuit like the one on the following page.

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Old 6th October 2008, 04:41 PM   #10
maurycy is offline maurycy  United States
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I like the Panasonic TX-5500 but I think I can't afford one. I have decided to go with TDA7560 as an amp, then add to it VU meters and provide source from mp3 player. If that works, I will add radio too.

Perry Babin: I have come across this buffer and you are right. I may need to use it.

Thanks to all who replied.
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