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Building A Museum Listening Station?

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the use-ogg-too-but-how dept.

Education 251

Anonymous Coward writes "I am building a museum exhibit which requires the use of 10 listening stations. These should be able to play back a few minutes of audio, should have an obvious Play button (and no other buttons: less confusion for the elderly and less to break for the kids), and should be able to work with an absolute minimum of supervision for three months of constant use. There are fancy ready-made solutions to this problem, but at $350, it would be too expensive to buy 10 of them. Similarly, there are cheap solutions ($20 CD player + $15 headphones), but this is probably not reliable or user friendly enough for this exhibit. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions for how to build a reasonably inexpensive museum listening station?"

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Who is driving? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102038)

Bear is driving!
How can that be (first post)?

Re:Who is driving? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102097)

Yes! I am the winner. Eat that GNAA crapflooding losers.
I would like to thank my Compaq Presario 700 laptop, my cable internet provider and wireless network, and all the girls that never gave me the time of day...

guess what... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102039)

1st post!

Re:guess what... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102067)

You failz0r!

Lazy you (-1, Flamebait)

kunudo (773239) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102044)

You wanna have slashdot do the work you're getting paid to do for you? How original.

Re:Lazy you - Uh... Screw you. (2, Insightful)

Chordonblue (585047) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102086)

Wow! Asking for help from a community of technically knowledgable users is now considered to be lazy. What? You never ask friends or collegues questions about your projects?

Oh right, you have ALL the answers...

How does a comment like this get modded as 'Insightful'? C'mon people - USE YOUR HEADS!

Re:Lazy you (5, Insightful)

Black_Logic (79637) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102138)

I guess you were probably just trolling, but don't you think that's a little bit ridiculous? Assuming that this guy is getting paid for this, which he could certainly not be (i.e. volunteering for some non-profit organization) regardless, he obviously followed the guidelines for asking a public, technical forum a question. Polite, showed that he'd done the required google research.

As an aside, why do people so often get pissed about the ask slashdot sections? Google does an excellent job for most things, but if you're considering building some project or doing something technically interesting google doesn't always have links to all the pitfalls or the interesting storys that go along with a project from someone with experience in that area. These often end up being the most interesting threads, IMHO.

Re:Lazy you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102245)

The parent is a smacktard.

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102046)

First Post!!!!

Go MP3? (4, Insightful)

leetdan (776353) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102050)

You should be able to pick up an older solid-state MP3 player for next to nothing. Wire it up with a DC adapter, connect the Play button, and either use headphones or amp it to a speaker.

Why not one that does 10 stations or more? (5, Insightful)

MR_60 (729081) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102052)

Instead of 10 seperate stations, why not have one system that runs all the booths. It could be a PC with ten seperate sets of USB headphones, and some specially configured software. I'm sure this wouldn't be too difficult for someone to develop...

Re:Why not one that does 10 stations or more? (-1)

gnuman99 (746007) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102131)

Yes, it is called Linux with 10 scripts running (eg. bash starts sox to output to device $i file blah.ogg)

Re:Why not one that does 10 stations or more? (2, Insightful)

packeteer (566398) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102293)

The author of the story doesn't give us any details about what kind of skills he has for this. Can he do simple scripting in linux or another os? Are the stations for listening going to be too far away to be centrally linked easily? What kind of a budget DOES he have?

I think a PC with some software might work great but unless someone is going to code the software for him i doubt it will work.

Re:Why not one that does 10 stations or more? (2, Funny)

Bud (1705) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102340)

Hell, yeah!

Let's find someone stupid enough to cheaply write a brand new program (but not too stupid of course, we don't want badly designed and buggy code now, do we?).

Then we take a not too expensive PC and stick a couple of USB expansion cards (not too expensive either) in it and hope it doesn't get unstable -- which isn't a problem really; seeing that we have a single point of failure here, if the system fails we know WHERE it failed, right?

Then we pull USB cables criss-cross over the whole room up to the maximum USB cable length of 5 meters. Then we solder ten push buttons and pull ten twisted-pair wires back to the central CeePeeYou, and plug them in somewhere -- determining the exact details are left as an exercise for the reader. (Hint: both the parallel port and the joystick port can detect electric potential.)

Now the only thing left to do is fire this system up and try to keep the supervision to a minimum for three months of constant use. QED.

Oh, by the way, I just applied for the patent, so that'll be $10k up front, thank you. Per listening station.


K.I.S.S (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102053)

keep it simple stupid

Mp3 (5, Interesting)

Dward (24941) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102054)

You can find 16Mb mp3 players for about $20.
Toss in a cheap pair of speakers and a power supply and mount the entire unit in a box with a single button.
Load the audio you want as the only track and it should work just fine.

Re:Mp3 (3, Insightful)

Goldfinger7400 (630228) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102079)

Yes, you could even use the CD players you mentioned, and just jury-rig a big red button to start it. Your problem is easily solved with a little electronics tinkering (RadioShack probably has everything you need.)

Re:Mp3 (3, Insightful)

Goldfinger7400 (630228) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102094)

Ammendment: You wouldn't want people to be able to pause the presentation, so you'd need to build some sort of delay circuit into the button. So, after it is pressed, you can't send another signal to the play/pause button till after you know it would be done.

Re:Mp3 (4, Interesting)

davebarz (546161) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102271)

But you wouldn't connec the button to the play/pause button, that would be silly. You'd connect it to the next track button, and just leave it on repeat with that as the only track.

Re:Mp3 (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102108)

I'd reccomend MP3 players over CDs simply because the price is similar and no moving parts is better than disk spinning at speed when we want unsupervised use.

Re:Mp3 (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102309)

RadioShack probably has everything you need.

Translaton: I'm clueless about electronics, disregard everything I said.

Radioshack does not sell electronics parts and tools, and they haven't in years. They used to be a good reliable supplier for hobby electronics. Now all they do is push cell phones and satellite dish and keep a few other token items for show (except they're all covered with dust).

As far as your stupid suggestion, the $20 CD player has 1 VLSI chip that does everything. There is no way to jury-rig it into a play button that automatically plays the track once and stops ready to be cued up again unless this is a native feature of the player.

Re:Mp3 (5, Insightful)

bobdotorg (598873) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102104)

Have the MP3 player repeating the single track, with the big red button attached to the 'skip forward' or 'skip ahead' track button.

The only shortcoming of this simple plan is that the audio is always playing.

Business Plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102058)

1. Build listening station for today's obnoxious kids.
2. ?
3. Profit!

Radio-based solution (3, Interesting)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102060)

You could do what they do at the Stonehenge site in the UK : they have a cheapo radio receiver thingy, and buttons to tune in to one of the several languages they offer. I assume they have a base station that broadcasts on several frequencies.

So essentially, what you could do if you want to do it on the cheap is to get several low-power FM transmitters (that won't emit outside the building, presumably, I don't know how the FCC would like that) and lend cheap FM radios with preset stations to receive your broadcasts, with a little "program" sheet, perhaps glued to the receivers.

Just an idea...

Re:Radio-based solution (2, Insightful)

DoorFrame (22108) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102068)

Presumably that won't start upon the request of the user though, one of his stated requirements.

Druids Man (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102270)

I thought all you needed to do at stonehenge was hug the bits of rock and you'd recieve messages direct from the godhead.

All about user interface (1)

Fiz Ocelot (642698) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102061)

The main problem here is just user interface. It needs to be very durable, and easy to use. Probably some kind of large durable play button, possibly something you'd find off of industrial machinery. That kind of stuff is made to last.

Re:All about user interface (4, Insightful)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102124)

Get arcade machine buttons - they are available for a few $ on eBay, usually sold to people building MAME cabinets. Since they're designed to withstand years of drink spills, cig burns and general abuse I'm sure they'd be fine in a museum for a few months. You should be able to find a bag of 10 for less than $50. Wire them into the play connections on cheap 16MB MP3 players as mentioned above, hook up some el-cheapo portable active speakers, seal it all into a box with a power lead coming out the back and you're good to go.

Re:All about user interface (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102331)

good point, but that price is hight, I regularly see them go for $1. That's not you trying to offload your extra 10 buttons I hope...

weak... (1)

ReluctantBadger (550830) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102062)

"from the use-ogg-too-but-how dept."

Urrrrgh. It's like a Kif Kroker sigh of despair.

Directed sound (4, Insightful)

deanj (519759) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102065)

Fork out the bucks to put a few of the directed sound systems in. You won't have stolen equipment, and you'll serve the same purpose. Getting something that patrons will handle will cost you a lot more long term.

1 CD player and multipule insockets (1)

Fullmetal Edward (720590) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102069)

put it on a loop, if it's only a few seconds it can loop fine. Record it in a loop for say 3 minutes, set the CD player to repeat. If one does get broke it's just ear phones and they can be replaced...

speak up sonny! (5, Funny)

Alien Being (18488) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102070)

"...less confusion for the elderly..."

Have you considered a Victrola?

Re:speak up sonny! (1, Funny)

Simonetta (207550) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102246)

Have you considered a Victrola?

A Victrola would not be an effective solution to this problem. They are antiques; which makes them quite expensive on a unit by unit basis. They can't be serviced and replacement parts are no longer being made.

Their media is fragile and easily warped, distorted, and/or broken.

They have no electronic amplification and would not be of any utility for hearing-impaired seniors (what we call old people in the USA).

They require manual cranking for power to turn the sound-generating cylinder and few if any have been retrofitted with motors since that mod would significantly reduce the value of the unit as an antique. Plus the operation of the Victorola requires exact placement of a needle into a wax or foil groove in the media. This may prove difficult for seniors with palsy or any other common hand-movement disorder.

The possiblity that the Victorola may have utility in this application because seniors would be the only people who may have prior experience with their operation is misguided because the Victorla was already obsolete as a sound reproduction device when most of today's seniors were children. Vacuum tube amplifiers (invented in the 1914 in Palo Alto, CA) were in common use by the mid-1920's onward, when most of today's seniors were born.

In this application an advanced late 1990's technology would probably be best.

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102071)

Use a regular cd player/headphones, then put a board over it, put a big plastic play button in a hole in the center of the board. Then you extend the button so that it will hit play on the cd player. If there's only one track on the cd, then no problems right?
Of course you paint the board and all to make it look pretty and avoid letting people know how ghetto the setup is.

Build a box. (3, Interesting) (528791) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102075)

I'd get some nice headphones but not to nice (people break them.) and the CD player BUT put a box around the CD player and rig it so that it has a big red button on the front that users press. Time the audio and make the red button stay red for that amount of time.

Alternatively you could get a boom box (more stable) or a flash stick mp3 player (no moving parts and smaller).

You'd want to make it so that if you press the button a second time it resets the timer on the light and rewinds and plays again.

Use a computer (2, Informative)

vinit79 (740464) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102078)

Use your old PC's. Add sound cards to it and one PC should be able to support 3-4 users. And just interface a couple of push buttons to the parallel port (Be careful and use optoisolators to protect the PC). If you have 3-4 old PC's it shouldnt cost more than 100 bucks ( more around 50 largely for the soundcards).

Hope this helps

Re:Use a computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102207)

Yeah thats a good idea. Should probably use mixd player [] with the system. The cost of the system would be around 40 dollars, I guess(excluding the old computers).

CD player is the way to go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102080)

Crack open the case, find a mate with a soldering iron and wire up the play button terminals to a bigger button. The more technology you add into the equation, the more hassle.

In Soviet Russia... (1)

I'm not a script, da (638454) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102081) station listens to you!

Just don't use Linux (1)

Cold Winter Days (772398) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102082)

Linux isn't user friendly.

Listening posts. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102084)

Get a PC.
Get a Delta 1010 10 output sound card.
Install Linux.
Write a patch in Pure-Data modular that plays a wave back on a keypress.
Buy a load of switches.
Wire them to the PC's keyboard num-pad.
Breadboard a load of those little IC 2 Watt power amp chips to drive the headphons.

Cost... around $1000.

That started as a cheap and simple solution and got kinda more complicated as I typed. Sorry.

Re:Listening posts. (3, Interesting)

Chordonblue (585047) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102114)

Couldn't a multiple output sound card like an Audigy be used? God knows there's a lot of outputs on there - even more were you to use mono sound and split left/right.

Re:Listening posts. (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102222)

Yea. That would work.

Thinking about it, if you had a PC with 5 PCI slots you could put 5 Soundblaster Lives in it. They are about $20 each.
That would give ten mono headphone feeds off the sound card's lil heaphone amps.
I don't think anyone has tried this under ALSA yet... but in theory it should work.

One interesting thing about using Pure-Data and a
PC for this is that you could collect statistics. You could also do real time effects, or announcements that would go to to all the headphones at once.

It would bring the cost down to around $300. (A delta 1010 is overkill for this job.)

Mixplayd (1)

codewritinfool (546655) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102090)

If you have lots of time, you could get mixplayd [] , an old pc or two, several old sound cards each, and craft a little perl to tie it all together. Probably cheaper time-wise to just buy something.

$350 ? (2, Funny)

challahc (745267) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102113)

I need to get into the museum sound business.

Build one yourself from old computers. (4, Interesting)

danamania (540950) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102126)

Go to goodwill, and grab some mac LCs. $5 for the LC, $5 for the monitor, and set them up behind a box. something simple, anything. Then have one huge "play" button that when pressed, hits Any Key on the keyboard.

Have an applescript running and make it play the audio you need with quicktime whenever any key is pressed. Simple, cheap, and besides old macs you could use ANY old computer. I mention the macs only because I know those particular ones are common, cheap, MacOS 7.5.3 is a Free(beer) download, and you have the audio recording and playback hardware all there.

Old telephone handsets (4, Interesting)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102128)

For the listening end, why not try to find 10 of teh old heavy duty Ma bell telephone handsets? You could run 2 wires to the speaker inside of it (coiled if you want to be fancy) and have a rugged earpiece. alternatively, you might be able to hack some of the cheaper wall plug phones sold in stores today.

As for players, look for closeout MP3 players - you could wire a switch across the play button. Another thing to look for, if teh duration of teh sound is short enough, are these "voice on a chip" thingies used in greetin cards - you might find one with enough memory for your needs at a specialty electronics parts house.

Good luck

Have it start as you pick up the phone! (1)

3770 (560838) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102266)

Oooh, the old heavy duty Ma bell telephone handsets, as mentioned in the parent post would be brilliant.

Then start the recording with a few signals as if you are waiting for someone to pick up. Then start your presentation.

Or skip the signals, maybe that's cheezy. In any event. Everyone will understand how do handle that equipment.

The "interface" can't get any simpler than that and it has a nice feel to it too.

Maybe you can hook it up to one of those really cheap solid state mp3 players that everyone keeps talking about in this thread. Or maybe it would be possible to "short circuit" an answering machine somehow.

Oh, also, follow the advice of bobdotorg's post (1)

3770 (560838) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102287)

Have the loop run continuously with only one track, and when the user picks up the phone it activates the skip forward button.

That works great with this interface because it doesn't matter if the recording is running continously as will be restarted when someone picks up the phone.

It is not like a button and a headset where they will put on the headset first and be confused by the recording before they hit the button.

wireless handhelds... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102133)

Some years ago, I've seen a museum in Venice (Italy) doing it with wireless handhelds (sort of colourscreen palmtop with earplugs; an off-the-shelf commercial version) and wifi or bluetooth. The handhelds were locked down, but users could read/hear/see everything in the database in different languages, and it autmatically switched to the right context if you got near another object or into another room. Very nice setup and intuitive to use...

CD player works great (5, Informative)

cluge (114877) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102136)

Portable CD players can be picked up for 13-19 dollars in some stores. Burn a CD for each one that contains a single track. You can get video game style buttons on ebay or around the internet ( These heavy duty switches are pretty simple to use, and wiring them into the portable CD's shouldn't be a challenge (works on my old radio shack player). 2 buttons, play, and stop/station.

I'd invest in a large sheath that will cover and protect the headphone cables and invest in heavy duty headphones. Probably total cost would be about

10 x 15.00 150 for the CD players
20 x .40 8 to buy and burn 20 CD's (spares just in case)
10 x 20.00 200 for good sturdy headphones that can stand the abuse
20 x 6.00 120 for heavy duty switches to wire into said CD players
75 miscellaneous parts, wires, drill bits wood etc for you stations.

Total cost 553 or their abouts. Remember, don't skimp on bad switches that can't take a pounding. Also get your museum's tax ID for your purchases so most places you don't have to pay sales tax for a non-profit.

Problems - most CD players the play is also a "pause" button. My old CD player here isn't - so if you can find them with play and pause as seperate buttons, your golden. Also soldering the switches on the landing pads requires some patience - but if I can do it - any one can.


Re:CD player works great (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102179)

I've said this further up, but I'll say it again - the fundamental idea you give is right but why risk messing with spinning bits of plastic for 3 months? Old MP3 players cost no more and don't have anything to wear out.

As for heavy duty buttons (and I'm repeating myself again) get arcade machine ones - I've used them myself and they really are indestructible.

Re:CD player works great (1)

GhengisCohen (778368) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102201)

Ahhh, I see you've never tried to solder into one of these plastic controls. I have. This is not really a practical solution. It's not like it has a real circuit board in there. It has a plastic sheet. All Mp3 players I've found have digital volume controls. In a power down situation, the volume one these tends to get set to the lowest setting. How do you suggest we get around this? -GReg

Re:CD player works great (1)

Scozza (707247) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102228)

You could always use something like a simple proximity switch [] instead of a button, at least then they would not be able to hammer it to death (-: Scozza

Re:CD player works great (2, Insightful)

Trejkaz (615352) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102413)

It's funny how the most informative posts usually have the worst spelling.

the best approach... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102144)

is simply to offshore the problem to India.

Cheap MP3 Players and Arcade Game Parts (1)

mark0 (750639) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102151)

Find some MP3 players that look easy to hack, physically, and some arcade game buttons -- they're designed to stand up to kids whacking away at them. Periodic cleaning of the contacts with very fine sandpaper may be required, but otherwise, it should be cheap and virtually indestructable. Go to the local pizza place or arcade and find the name and number of the video game owner to get the buttons. They may even be able to help out with cabinets...

Re:Cheap MP3 Players and Arcade Game Parts (1)

mark0 (750639) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102156)

...forgot the listening device... how about telephone handsets? They certainly stand up to abuse and the wires are cheap and easily replaced if damaged...

easy (0, Flamebait)

kir (583) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102155)

Buy 10 children from a thrid-world nation. Teach each child the lines for one of the listening stations. Tape a big red button to each of their foreheads. Problem solved (except perhaps the language thing... however, one can buy English speaking children... they just cost more).

For kicks, teach them code words. This is especially useful at parties. For example, I have taught my purchased child to masturbate when he hears the words "clam chowder". It really is a great party trick.

Re:easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102226)

It seems you're already programmed to masturbate at the mention of the words 'oppression' and 'inequality'. Sick fuck, and totally off topic you are too. Shouldn't you be in Iraq helping out the US forces?

Re:easy (1, Funny)

Some Dumbass... (192298) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102229)

Buy 10 children from a thrid(sp)-world nation.
For example, I have taught my purchased child to masturbate when he hears the words "clam chowder". It really is a great party trick.

Note this guy's SlashDot ID.

This is what years of reading SlashDot will do to ya'. Consider yourselves warned, kiddos.

Re:easy (0, Troll)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102240)

A great idea but I am concerned that you appear to be suggesting he offers jobs, which could be performed perfectly well by Americans, to foreigners. OK they may work for a bit less but you'd save money on the retraining costs with the Americans.

There's a good chance if you did a deal with some local primary schools etc you wouldn't even need to pay them, their teachers may even be persuaded to pay you to take them off their hands for a few months.

Re:easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102354)

Stop it right now. You're not fooling anyone, President Bush.

Oh, you're not fooling?

Yes, I'll give you cash.

debsux (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102157)

All's I can say is. Don't use Debian for it. Though, Debian belongs in a museum, it belongs BEHIND the glass.

MP3 or CD (1)

pbjones (315127) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102166)

MP3 or CD in a box, just make the thing reuseable and you could sell it at the end of your exibit and make a profit from the next guy. CD in a box with an industrial strenght Play button would be my choice, build in a mechanical or electronic delay for those DH who press play twice, or have an LED to say that the message is coming. or
clock+counter+EEPROM+DAC+filter=solid state player.

Re:MP3 or CD (1)

pbjones (315127) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102184)

Now that I think about it there are chips used in short message recorders for a couple of bucks that would also do the job. You could possibly get a complete unit for 5-10 dollars from some Asian importer.

My 2 cents (1)

kajoob (62237) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102171)

I don't have a solution, but I do have something to add...

There was an exhibit near me not too long ago, and they gave out headphones. The thing was though, all the headphones were listening to the same feed. This was a problem because you'd have one massive croud listening to the same feed and going en masse to each exhibit, it was a bit of a clusterfuck. So you'll need several different feeds to prevent a logjam like that.

Re:My 2 cents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102208)

that's really funny actually... or maybe I'm just a sadist

Radio Broadcast solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102177)

Some museums use very short range radio transmitters, which let you use inexpensive and easily replaced FM radio receivers with a memory frequencies. Very low-powered FM transmitters are cheap. And since it's an ordinary FM radio, your theft problems would be virtually zilch.

If the exhibits are far enough apart, you might get by with all 10 stations broadcasting on the same frequency. With FM, the strongest signal will capture the receiver and the others will not be heard. If that does not work, you could have an ordinary FM radio with ten frequency presets. But that would require users to switch channels.

The real plus of such a system is that you are not locked into a proprietary system. Everything in it is an inexpensive commodity item.

Mike Perry, Inkling [] , Seattle

Funny, I just had to build something like this. (5, Informative)

GhengisCohen (778368) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102180)

For the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico California, I had to build a listening station that would let the user put on head phones, and be able to choose tracks for quite a lot of music More than a standard audio CD could handle (50+ tracks). I had a budget of $75.00. I purchased a portable CD player that could handle MP3 CD's. The issue was which one. Since I needed to know tracks, and I wanted the title displayed I was limited a little, and I needed buttons that could be isolated. I found a rio player of some sort (don't remember the exact model) and I built a box out of maple (to match the other displays), the cover was a thin ( We tested tons.

Our solution cost about $60.00 with the wood for the case, the CD player was bought at best buy, and has been running flawlessly for 6 months now.


With a little soldering... (1)

cdavies (769941) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102193)

How cheap you can get it would depend on exactly how much of the system you are willing/able to build yourself.

Being a pseudo-skilled electronics tinkerer myself, the immediate solution that sprang to mind was two PCs stocked with as many PCI sound boards as would fit (probably 5 apeice) with a row of switches hooked up to the parallel port on each.

I don't know how Linux handles more than one sound board, but I'm sure the majority of the drivers do it well, so Linux would be the obvious choice due the vast array of command line music players available. The PCs wouldn't need to be more than say P133s at the very most. Total cost? Perhaps 400 GBP if you brought the sound cards new.

You would of course need to write software that polled the paralell port for button presses at, say, 1KHz. Or if you were feeling really enthusiastic you might write a kernel driver and make use of the interupt line.

In addition to the software, you'd need to build some cabinets to keep the play button and headphones securely anchored in place. A few square metres of MDF costs next to nothing, and with application of glue and nails, might even look moderately attractive.

Of course, as I say, this really relies on you being able to learn (or already know) the skills involved, namely some C coding, a little trivial electronics and crude DIY show style joinery. There may also be issues I'm not considering, e.g. local health and safety laws. With this in mind, your mileage may vary.

Been there, done that (5, Insightful)

steve buttgereit (644315) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102202)


I use to work for Virgin Entertainment Group, Inc. (the Virgin Megastores in the US) and other retailers where listening stations were involved.

Really you have to consider how many people will comoe through the exhibit, average age, how long the exhibit will run etc. to understand what solution is best or to really cost it out.

So if you go with $15 dollar headphones, will they stand up to being put on, taken off, people tugging on them, etc. or will you be replacing one set a day due to breakage? This naturally means each set doesn't cost $15, but each station costs somewhat higher than that. You really need to think along these lines to compare costs. Especially given your condition of minimal oversight; that means people will be more inclined to abuse them (or rather less inhibited to, and yes even the queit museum crowd will abuse equipment as we saw in our classical departments.)

You could source the sound from a single computer, but you would need multiple output channels (probably multiple sound cards) and software to support it. Other than the pre-packaged solutions, I'm not so familiar with what's available in this category.

If you want to go cheaper could you not use actual speakers, with partitions and volume settings such that there isn't too much bleed over from one sound space to another? Disney actually puts this same kind of concept to effective use on many of their themepark rides. This would eliminate the 'touch' element which usually cause headphones to die in these situations. Of course, not seeing the exhibit, it might not be practical.

Ghetto-Cheap Solid State Player (1)

Helamonster (778370) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102203)

What about those talking picture frames you can get at Radio Shack? Those should be pretty cheap. You could easily wire them up to an AC outlet (with a DC adapter) for constant power, a nice big play button and some cheap mono headphones. It should be easy enough to record from a CD player or computer on to one of those. The only problems would be the length of recording time and you might need to amplify the signal. This might be better suited for small sound clips rather than a few minutes of playback, but still a pretty cheap way to go about the problem.

Bluetooth ? (0)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102211)

Initially I thought of some kind of complicated bluetooth system where everyone has bluetooth headsets and the listening posts notice when new headsets come within range and start to stream the commentary to the headset but then I thought the problem with that is the same as with any wireless solution relying on giving the visitors headsets. If there a lot of visitors then they will need a lot of headsets which would be very expensive so I think you're just better rigging up an mp3 player or cd player to a big button attached to one set of headphones.

Cones of silence (4, Interesting)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102215)

I've been to a museum (Los Alamos) and a library (Dallas public library) that use parabolic reflectors, mounted above and pointed downwards, to generate very well-defined sound patterns. They're pretty amazing: You hear nothing if you are standing just outside the "pattern." The other plus side is that you can use a low-output speaker, since the reflector will "amplify" the sound by focusing it to a small footprint.

No, it can't be done on the cheap. (3, Insightful)

fmaxwell (249001) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102242)

I've worked on audio for museum exhibits and am currently doing work for an audio tour that will be presented at a prestigious museum in Washington, D.C. There are a few firms involved in this kind of work and the equipment is expensive because it is made in small quantities and is extremely rugged. For the portable audio tour devices, there are industrial-grade, sophisticated charging racks and the individual audio devices have buttons and features so that visitors can see the exhibits in any order and learn more about individual stops (think "hyperlink").

Using consumer-grade CD players, MP3 players, and headphones for a museum exhibit is like replacing a pay phone outside of a convenience store with a $10 phone from Walmart. If it was possible to put on an exhibit with $50 worth of equipment per person, then the big companies like Acoustiguide, Antenna Audio, and Tour-Mate would be driven out of business by cheap competitors.

Why do people assume that anything expensive must be overpriced? Sometimes things are expensive to buy because they are expensive to make. And often they are still as cheap as they can be for their intended use. Police departments and rescue squads pay a lot of money for Motorola and Icom walkie-talkies and in-vehicle radios, but it doesn't mean that equipping police cars and ambulances with $40 Cobra CB radios and giving cops $50/pair Uniden FRS/GMRS walkie talkies would be a clever move.

Re:No, it can't be done on the cheap. (1)

Tokerat (150341) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102273)

I think this is supposed to be more along the lines of a listening booth.

Re:No, it can't be done on the cheap. (1)

fmaxwell (249001) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102445)

I think this is supposed to be more along the lines of a listening booth.

I was aware of that, but the same concerns exist: equipment theft, vandalism, rough handling, extremely heavy usage, compatability with hearing aids, usability by untrained users, etc. The link provided in the article takes people to the SoundStik Systems web page. The audio devices that they make have rugged ABS housings, available armored cables, and come with Lexan hangers. You could probably pound nails with them and not destroy them. You just don't find that in consumer-grade products.

Re:No, it can't be done on the cheap. (2, Insightful)

Anml4ixoye (264762) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102415)

Police departments and rescue squads pay a lot of money for Motorola and Icom walkie-talkies and in-vehicle radios, but it doesn't mean that equipping police cars and ambulances with $40 Cobra CB radios and giving cops $50/pair Uniden FRS/GMRS walkie talkies would be a clever move.

Before moving to NC, I spent 7 1/2 years with a large fire/rescue department in Florida. The radios we had - Motorola's - were worse then the old analog systems we used when I first started. As in you couldn't key up, the radios would not receive inside patient's houses, etc. For a 15 million dollar or so system, I think I would rather take a CB and some repeaters then the junk Motorola sold us.

Use Woody Norris's HyperSonic Sound Speakers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102252)

Use Woody Norris's Hyper Sonic Sound Speakers these are directional speakers with no spill... Just point them down from the ceiling. Anyone standing within a few feet area would hear it.


Other info about it: ions/ 2003-05-19-hss_x.htm
h ttp://
ht tp://

Expensive... (1)

Doomrat (615771) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102275)

$350 each, and you need 10?! That's almost... $1000!

Re:Expensive... (0)

veddermatic (143964) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102306)

Either you don't know how to type, or you don't know how to do math. Either way, please sit in the corner and practice some STFU for a bit.

single chip voice record/playback chips (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102283)

single chip voice record/playback chips are realy cheep and simple,

if i had to bulid these things thats what i'd use.

how hard is it to stick them on a breadboard in a little box with a power supply a speaker and a big red button?

certainly not much more than 20 each

and if i was a museum curator wanting this done for next to nothing, i'd go and find a high school technical studies teacher and appeal to his/her better nature. this project would be so simple that even a tech teach could do it.

Re:single chip voice record/playback chips (1)

Trejkaz (615352) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102426)

single chip voice record/playback chips are realy cheep and simple,

Yeah, but what if he wants to play sounds other than bird noises?

It depends on your definition of "build" (2, Informative)

inxil (729105) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102286)

If you're interested in putting some time into building your own mp3 players, you might want to look into [] . By building your own player from scratch you could take steps to ensure durability and ease of use. Hook a nice, big, red pushbutton switch the the player and install it into whatever kind of case will jive with your exhibit.

Brute force option: 10 used PCs + Linux (1)

tmoertel (38456) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102313)

There's always the brute-force option. Buy 10 used computers with built-in sound, install Linux on them, and use the resulting boxes as your stations. For example, on you can get Dell GXa desktops [] for less than $40 each. Should be more than enough for your needs -- at less than 1/8th the cost of the proprietary solution. And, you can reconfigure the boxes to do other things in other shows.

Of course, you'll probably want to hide the boxes because they'll look ugly.

Analog Solution -- Radio Station Carts (1)

Ilan Volow (539597) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102341)

This sort of task is perfect for those 8 track carts machines that radio stations used to use for commercials. The tapes run in a loop, they automatically cue themselves back to the beginning, and when they're done cuing, the brightly colored play button flashes. You could put one under a cabinet completely all covered up (save for the play button) and it should work marvelously.

As a lot (if not all) of radio stations have phased out their cart systems in favor of digital stuff, I'd think there'd be a lot of these machines lying around. Where you'd find them, though, it beyond me.

Big red button? (4, Funny)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102346)

What is it with you people? The button should be a nice, friendly, "push me and good things will happen" green.
Save the red button for emergencies, launching weapons and (if you are a super villain) initiating self destruct sequences.

Aren't CDs too slow? (1)

r.jimenezz (737542) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102348)

I admit it's been ages I listened to an audio CD on any equipment other than my laptop, so I may be biased. But I think if no-one has played a CD in a while it could take some time to spin up and the elderly are not going to like it...

I like the ideas revolving around industrial/arcade buttons with old-school telephone handsets. I myself have seen this at a couple of British museums. Dunno what provides the sound though... I guess old PCs or MP3 players are the way to go.

This is good. It would be interesting if you reported back to us how well did you fare whichever the final solution is!

Over 20 Years in the Museum Exhibit field (5, Informative)

MajorK0ng (744917) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102363)

I was a curator and builder for over 20 years, 11 1/2 years in a childern's museum (yes some people don't ever wise up.) Now I'm in IT not much of an improvement. Just pays a liitle better. Anyway I only have one suggestion. Spend the money and buy the equipment. Hell yes it is expensive, but by the time you locate the armored cable, the heavy duty controllors, the heavy duty buttons, so on and so forth you won't have saved that much money. The right manufacturers have been making theses items over 40 years they know what they are doing. unless you can produce the boards yourself and program the digital chips which what I have done in the past it isn't worth the effort to do it in house trust me I have been there.

Sound Recorder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102386)

How about something like this? 90 Second Sound Recorder [] It's sole purpose is to play the same sound over and over again. This one will set you back about $30. You can spend more or less depending on what you need.


googlebear (625615) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102400)

Get a bunch of old CD-ROMS , the kind that has the play button on the face plate. Get them all powered off of a computer power supply and use the 1/8in phono output on the front display as output. It is fairly easy (as in big solder points) to add your own big red button to the already existing infrastructure. You don't need a computer or sound cards. Cost is nominal. best of luck

What about using an X-Box? (1)

mhoward736 (193180) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102414)

A Simple interface, lockup the box ad just have the controller available - These are cheap, capable and reliable.

Did anyone else think? (5, Funny)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102421)

(The scene, the inside of a large, barbed wire surrounded, complex of giant white "golfballs", somewhere near the coast. A man is inside one of the balls, looking at a radar screen, listening intently to his headphones.)

Man: General! I think I hear something!

(The man's superior arrives)

"What is it Jenkins?"

"It's... well, it's hard to hear, but I can just make out footsteps, on a squeaky floor. And every few seconds, there's a cough with a slight echo."

"My ghod, it sounds like..."

"That's what I was thinking, General, the tale-tale audio signature of a museum! Exactly what this Museum Listening Station was designed to find."

"I'm going to have to call NORAD at once. Can you tell me anything else? Do we know what kind of museum?"

"Negative Sir. It's a large one though. We could be looking at a Natural History Museum, or possibly one of the larger art and antiquities collections"

"Large? Jenkins, this could mean they're preparing for a first strike! Hell, if this thing hits us, the school trips alone will decimate the entire nation! Wait right there! I'm going to get the President on the line!"

Spend the $3500 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9102427)

Otherwise, you'll spend 10 times that amount in labor keeping it fixed and customer aggravation.

$3,500 isn't a lot of money these days. Do the right thing.

rewire existing hardware (1)

chizor (108276) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102466)

i would go for the el cheapo CD players. open them up and wire the play and stop buttons, say, with just one button on front. you'll have to build that anyway. then distributing the content to them will be a little tedious but very easy: burn the 3-minute CDs and leave them in there. if one dies the parts are trivially cheap.

audio recording (1)

w9wi (162482) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102517)

We use the Chipcorder [] at work for our music-on-hold. It runs for months without attention. Jameco [] is one of many distributors of these chips.

They'll directly drive a speaker, though not very loud. (it'll work in a quiet place; you'll need an external amplifier if there's noise) There's very few parts needed besides the chip.

buy the $350 unit (1)

spir0 (319821) | more than 10 years ago | (#9102540)

if you go along with everyone else's well thought out MP3 player/CD player, then you'll have a couple of staff running around on busy days replacing batteries, overworked units, etc. why don't you guys have a bake sale to raise the damn money to buy equipment that was made for the task?
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