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Education Media Hardware

Building A Museum Listening Station? 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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Building A Museum Listening Station?

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  • Go MP3? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by leetdan ( 776353 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:03PM (#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.
  • by MR_60 ( 729081 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:04PM (#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...
    • 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.
    • 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 t
    • How about something like a Delta 410 (by M-Audio) hooked up to a computer running some sort of sampler program (Kontact, Gigasampler, or one of a million others). 10 "Play" buttons each send a different MIDI note (easy to do, just hack apart a cheap keyboard), each note mapped to the presentation in the sampler program, but sent to the different outputs, each headset plugged into a different output.

      Pro's: easy to maintain, easy to update, minimal cost.

      Con's: If you don't know what you are doing it coul
      • I think getting a pro sampler program like Kontakt ($300-$400) might be a bit overkill. There's a nifty program called SoundPlant that lets you assign a sample to each key on the (computer) keyboard and tweak various settings. And it's free.

        It, (like Kontakt) can stream audio files directly from the hard drive, eliminating the need for a lot of RAM. You would need an audio card with 10 outputs, however, like the parent poster said. You could get multiple cards if you need to have more outputs. Maybe U
  • Mp3 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dward ( 24941 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:04PM (#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 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Goldfinger7400 ( 630228 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:07PM (#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 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Goldfinger7400 ( 630228 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:10PM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

          by davebarz ( 546161 ) * <> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:46PM (#9102271) Homepage

          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 (Score:3, Insightful)

            by netsharc ( 195805 )
            I somehow doubt the cd player can withstand playing non-stop for so long.. I think the motor would break after a short while..
            • Last summer I built an installation that stood unsupervised for 3 months, with a soundtrack running from a portable philips cd player on repeat, 24/7. Still using the player today as walkman. Insane, totally insane. I was sure it'd break down.
              • I purchased a Sony Walkman in 1986. The first one broke in less than a month, but I took it back and got a free replacement that works to this day. I used to listen to it at work, and often "paused" it (which kept spinning the disc) and forgot about it, leaving it running over night, over weekends, and even over vacations. Never had any problem with it. I used to be amazed at the reliability, but really isn't that how things should be?
            • Then, read the user reviews, run it to see how long it will last, and take into account the periodic replacement cost into your budget.
            • I once rigged up a really cheap portable CD player to a phone system to play a CD with announcements and music recorded on it when people were put on hold. The CD looped 24/7 for well over a year until I left the company and for all I know it's probably still working.

              Three months, no problem.
      • 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 (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:34PM (#9102810) Homepage
        you dont need any electronics tinkering...

        A simply big red button with a pastic rod that pushes the play button on the CD player will do the job. this is how MANY audio kiosks are done.

        have the headphones plug-in easy to replace with new headphones as they WILL get damaged.

        the general public likes to damage other people's things.

        and you can't get ANYTHING more reliable than a $20.00 CD player. those things are engineered well nowdays, and if the player is always sitting still and has a power wart running it. I'm betting it would outlast any custom job.
    • Re:Mp3 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:12PM (#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.
      • Put the headphones on one of those old telephone hooks, where when you lift the receiver you get the tone. That's like EE 101, I think. Right?
      • And on the drive home I solved (sort of) the short coming - have a long period of silence (a few hours should be sufficient) after the audio ends, and the big red button will say "Start / Restart Audio".

        A variable bitrate encoder will allow for a small increase in file size for the perios of silence.

      • Re:Mp3 (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Azure Khan ( 201396 )
        This will be dependent upon the MP3 Player. The MP3 player that I have can be set to repeat a single track over and over again, but the Next Track button DOES move it to the next track.

        SO, if you have one track of the audio, and one track of silence (only has to be a few seconds long, as it just repeats), set to single track repeat, then hitting the button would alternately play silence or the audio.
  • Radio-based solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:05PM (#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...
    • Presumably that won't start upon the request of the user though, one of his stated requirements.
    • I thought all you needed to do at stonehenge was hug the bits of rock and you'd recieve messages direct from the godhead.
    • those are NOT radios..
      they are solid state mp3 player type devices...
      you enter a track# and it plays it from internal memory... and they are not cheap devices at all...
    • Disclaimer: This is based on the rules put out by Industry Canada, not the FCC, so there may be some differences, but I don't think so. The rules for broadcasting radio signals basically boil down to whoever has primary and secondary rights to a band. For the FM broadcast band (93 MHz to 108MHz), which I believe you would be using, channel are sold to radio stations, and they have primary access to the channel. The general public is a secondary user. As a primary user, the radio stations have the right to
  • Directed sound (Score:5, Insightful)

    by deanj ( 519759 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:05PM (#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.
  • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:06PM (#9102070)
    "...less confusion for the elderly..."

    Have you considered a Victrola?
  • Build a box. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ( 528791 ) <> on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:07PM (#9102075) Homepage
    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 (Score:2, Informative)

    by vinit79 ( 740464 )
    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
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:08PM (#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. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Chordonblue ( 585047 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:14PM (#9102114) Journal
      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. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        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 wou
      • Yeah, from a mono source i'd think an Audigy ZS2 would just output the same thing on all 8 channels.
  • $350 ? (Score:2, Funny)

    by challahc ( 745267 )
    I need to get into the museum sound business.
  • by danamania ( 540950 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:17PM (#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.
    • A couple of suggestions for this solution if you should decide to go this route: 1 - You could use the mouse button connections to operate your player(I think). 2 - You should need only one monitor and move it from machine to machine for setup purposes. An LC will start with no monitor connected. Put and item in the startup file to run your applescript on startup. That way if there is a crash a simple reboot should get you up and going again.
  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:17PM (#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

    • 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 ke
    • 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.
      • Couldn't the hook of the phone be used as an on/off switch? let's see, pick up the phone -- start playing, put down the phone -- stop playing. The player won't have to loop forever..

        I've also seen demo stands in CD stores, which has a metal contact for the headphones; picking up the headphones cuts the circuit and turns the machine on.

        • The play button is often also a pause button.

          If the phone is on the hook and the player is paused, the player is put in play mode when the phone is off the hook it will start play where it left off the last time someone hung up. So therefor you will also have to either hit the skip forward button or the stop button and then the play button.

          There are many different combinations you can do, but the only solution that I can think of where you have to hit only one button is if the player is playing continousl
  • by cluge ( 114877 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:19PM (#9102136) Homepage
    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.


    • 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.
    • It's funny how the most informative posts usually have the worst spelling.
  • 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.
  • by GhengisCohen ( 778368 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:27PM (#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.


  • by steve buttgereit ( 644315 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:32PM (#9102202) Homepage

    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.
    • I use to work for Virgin Entertainment Group, Inc. 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?

      Or, if you're a Virgin Megastore, just get the most painful, uncomfortable, and poorest sound quality headphones available, and then no-one will want to use them anyway ;-)
    • I worked at Circuit City. We used full-size Sony headphones that we also sold for about $100 each. I recall seeing two replaced across the three years I was there. Just buy good headphones and they'll last.
  • Cones of silence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:34PM (#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.
  • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:41PM (#9102242) Homepage Journal
    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.

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

        • Hmm....good points...I guess I never thought about it being more than a play button and some cheap speakers...
          • Hmm....good points...I guess I never thought about it being more than a play button and some cheap speakers...

            Most museums are loathe to use speakers as it interrupts the thoughts and conversations of patrons. It constributes to general noise pollution, which is something that they try to keep down. Imagine what happens when there is an exhibit with 20 stops, each of which has its own speakers. Kind of scary. A one-stop is a different matter, but speakers are still likely to be frowned on.
    • 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

    • The phone analogy is good, but backwards. This situation seems more akin to installing a new payphone in your living room, rather than using a cheap phone from Wal-Mart. The museum in question cannot afford to waste an extra few thousand dollars on features, reliability, and personnel that it doesn't need. They are asking Slashdotters for free help over the Internet, after all.

      • The phone analogy is good, but backwards. This situation seems more akin to installing a new payphone in your living room, rather than using a cheap phone from Wal-Mart.

        My analogy was dead-nuts on. It was putting cheap consumer-grade electronics (a Walmart phone) into a public place (outside of a convenience store). That's exactly what we're talking about here. Is your living room a public place? Is your living room frequented by strangers? Is your living room equipped with electronics that random s
    • 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 lea
      • That equipment sounds nice, but it's not very relevant to the OP's needs. He/she is building listening stations. The equipment is fixed in position so the complicated bits - the CD-players, computers of what have you - don't need to be rugged like the handsets in your museum. They can be put in cabinets to protect them from the proles.

        A listening station either has to have speakers (a very bad idea in most museum situations, where noise is an issue) or it has to have a personal listening device. If it's
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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
  • by Chuck Chunder ( 21021 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:04PM (#9102346) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by MajorK0ng ( 744917 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:06PM (#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.
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:19PM (#9102421) Homepage Journal
    (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!"

  • Assuming that you have some desire to bodge something together to save money, there's a couple of different routes.

    1 or more PCs with multiple sound cards would be doable, but you might have issues like storing them (large lockable locations, with adequate cooling, noise issues, etc), noise on long headphone runs, lots of software & wires to rig, etc.

    As you mentioned, multiple $20 CD players would be doable, but the mechanics inside might be iffy. More expensive players would probably be required. L
  • by Crusty Oldman ( 249835 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:10PM (#9102675)
    Gee, I'd like to help, but I'm old and confused and they don't let me do things here in the home that they used to. Why just the other day I was helping this young guy fix his doorbell. He said he was an engineer, but he sure wasn't as smart as the engineers that made my hearing aid, nosiree! Now, that was back in the time when you had to really know a thing or two about electricity, AC and DC it was back then. Back before those longhairs stole the name and made it into a rock and roll band. Why, what's the matter with Elvis anyway? Not loud enough for you? Back then we had amplifiers with real tubes in them. The kind that would burn your fingers when they got hot, and would send out purple sparks when you dropped your reading glasses into the chassis. Big purple and green sparks they were.....

  • Pick up the handset of the POTS phone, wired through to a Linux system running Asterisk [] with, say a Dialogic D/120JCT-L 12-port analog + voice interface, and play "voice mail" to the caller. Nothing is more intuitive or indestructable than an old-style telephone.
  • by dcigary ( 221160 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:27PM (#9102774) Homepage
    ...but a little different. I want to create a audio/video presentation on something like a DVD or a video file to play on a small screen inside a cabinet when someone pushes a button on the outside. Anyone done anything like this?

  • We did exactly the same thing at a small-town local museum. Here's our recipe for each station:

    1.) Set of powered speakers. We're using the Edirol MA-10's because everything is self contained. There's no AC brick, and they come with all the necessary cables. Very good audio quality.

    2.) CD Drive in an external case. The simpler the case, the better. It's only job is to supply power to the drive. If you can get one that has its own power socket, so much the better. You can just plug the speakers int

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @08:51PM (#9102900) Homepage
    I don't think you should have moving parts. A cheap MP3 player that uses flash memory should be good.

    If you can find one that "boots up" quickly from power-off, you could wire up your "play" button to do two things: briefly interrupt the supply of power to the player, and press the "play" button on the player. Interrupting the power would ensure that the player is not playing when the "play" button is pressed; therefore the player would not pause if the button were hit again, but would rather start playing over again from the beginning. (I think this is more elegant than the proposal to make it loop forever and wire your pushbutton to the next track button.)

    As for a way to listen, someone already suggested an old telephone handset, and I don't think you can beat that idea. There are plenty of sturdy newer telephone handsets, but you might want to put a security cable on them so people don't just disconnect them from the phone cord and walk away. (That's assuming you use the phone cord to hook them up to the listening station; you could open them up to wire something directly, but if you bought the phone, you also bought the cord that connects the handset so why not use it?) If you can get 10 handsets from pay phones, that would of course be perfect; those are designed to be tough.

    I thought about proposing you put a speaker inside some kind of protective enclosure, basically making your own "sound stick", but I think a telephone handset is a much better solution.

    If you could do the "parabolic speaker" suggestion, that is also a good idea. I've been to music stores where you stand under a parabolic speaker, and you can clearly hear the audio; and someone a few feet away can't hear it. Here's a web page by someone who built one of these. []

    • Actually, on further thought, forget about cutting the power to reboot the thing. Just wire up your "play" button to first hit the "Stop" button on the player, then its "play" button.

      You will need to put in a small delay between hitting "stop" and "play". You would have needed a delay between cycling power and hitting "play" anyhow.

  • by MsWillow ( 17812 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:17PM (#9102993) Homepage Journal
    A few years ago, Vikki was tagged to create the animatronics control for our gem club's display case. Besides running the various pieces of equipment, it had to run in synch with the audio track. To minimize the possibility of breakage, she used a pair of inexpensive amplified speakers, driven by a PIC-based microcontroller, with the audio being handled by one of the solid-state programmable "tape recorder" chips.

    It was fairly simple. The only moving parts, aside from the displays, was the "start" switch. Nothing to break, no motors to worry over, no lenses to fret about. Radio Shack has these chips, too, so you can get them fairly cheaply, and they work quite well (years ago, I used one of these to "hack" into a "closed" 440mhz repeater near McHenry, by digitally recording the "activation" sequence on the input side, and wiring the playback through the microphone of the "pirate" radio. Pretty slick, if I must say so myself ;) ).
    • Wait a second, you say they are cheap from radio shack? Since when are electronic components ever cheap at radioshack? I've seen components cost over 10 times as much at radioshack as compared to a local electronics store.
  • ...I'd say that this person is looking for a PORTABLE solution that can walk with the user. The problem with portable MP3 players is that they have more value to someone who would want to steal them. I'd say that a centralized system with wireless audio would be more appropriate and would lose the attractiveness as well. Just a few super cheap FM stereo walkman type devices each tuned to a specific frequency and an X10 control device to trigger playback for that unit should be inexpensive enough. Have a
  • hmpf. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by corian ( 34925 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:29PM (#9103054)
    less confusion for the elderly

    That's rather rude. There are plenty of older people perfectly confortable with compuers, and at least as many young luddites.
  • by mmurphy000 ( 556983 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:35PM (#9103073)
    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.
    Various questions and food for thought:
    • Don't forget the money value of time. Unless all staff working on this project are volunteers, staff time costs money, and the time spent fussing creating some custom solution may blow all your apparent cost savings on the equipment.
    • You don't indicate what the exact scope of your between-$35-and-$350 problem is. For example, are you including a stand and mounting hardware in that budget? The more you gotta spend on those things, the less you have for the smarts.
    • Does "minimum of supervision" include staff time to turn things off? If not, are power draw or battery charging be included in that $35-350 budget?
    • Are you sure you need a Play button? If the audio is short enough, go with what other posters have suggested and do continuous-loop, with a sign indicating that the audio repeats every N minutes. I've been to museums that have taken that approach.
    • Are you better served by finding donors for the $3,500 for the commercial-grade stations than in finding a technical solution that avoids them? Heck, all you need is one sponsor per station, where you can attach a "audio content sponsored by" sign. $350 for a concrete promotional outcome should be relatively straightforward. You might even consider going with audio-related sponsors to increase your odds of getting the donation (radio stations, car audio stores, sound studios, etc.).
  • by absurdist ( 758409 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:59PM (#9103199)
    I work for the largest producer of traveling interactive exhibits for children's museums, science museums, etc... in the USA. Our traveling show on Africa just came back from a 5 year run. All of the audio was done with cheap Sony (DON'T use another brands, they don't hold up) CD players (bought refurbished, in bulk, from a Sony outlet store... check their online store as well). They were controlled by a Basic Stamp programmed so that when the play button was pressed, they pulsed a DIP reed relay which pulsed the start contacts, then timed out so that further presses wouldn't have a problem with the play/pause being on the same button. Cheap amplifiers from Radio Shack, push buttons from Happ Controls (Accept NO substitutes, no one else's are worth a damn), and either small speakers from Radio Shack or armored phone headsets from ID Tell in NYC round out the package. Burn a single audio track on each CD, assemble it in a compact box, and you're good to go. Don't try to use headphones; if you don't build your own out of armor jacketed cable and industrial ear protector headsets, they WILL NOT hold up. Total cost will be under $100 per station and the sound quality will be as good as any industrial DMR out there, while being RELIABLE and EASILY SERVICED (EXTREMELY important considerations in the museum environment). Anything involving a PC for something like this is technical overkill and simply won't hold up in the museum environment.
  • by dreamword ( 197858 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @12:16AM (#9103854) Homepage
    A suggestion. Whatever electronics you end up using, wire out the play button to a big pushbutton [] you buy from these guys:

    They sell video game / amusement parts, and we used to buy all of our controls from them. They just don't break, even with a hundred eight-year-olds slamming their fists into them for six hours each day.

    As for the electronics themselves, there's a right way and there's a cheap way. The right way is to use something like the Radio Design Labs FP-MR1 [], which is a bulletproof digital message repeater. It's exactly what you want, but it's $225 each. The cheap way is to try and find a CD player or MP3 player that can boot up right into behaving the way you want -- either repesting all the time with the big button wired to the "forward" button or playing then pausing, with the big button wired to the "play" button. Unfortunately, it's likely on the CD player side that the only players that will do what you want will be pro models, and will cost several hundred dollars each.

    Good luck!
  • Here's some ideas for using flash players (IMHO, the best way to go)

    - get one that can have one of those headphone cable remotes and you wouldn't even have to hack up the player to connect a play button

    - either get one with a DC input, your wire a supply to the batter compartment.

    - don't use headphones (if at all possible). You will definately have them breaking on you.

    - make sure everything is mounted securely. you'd be surprised at how easily things can get shaken loose. use loc-tight and lock wash
  • by JGski ( 537049 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @02:21PM (#9108920) Journal
    I have my doubts.

    I get the impression that this is sort of a "if your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail" situation, where the hammer is technology, to the exclusion of considering other options like simply getting the $3500 and getting a rugged, public-tested solution.

    This is a potentially high-traffic, high-abuse type of display (just visit a museum with that already uses that $3500 audio system (I've seen them before) and observe how school children (ab)use them! :-o. I'm sure the "total cost of ownership" of the $3500 solution will be lower than anything cobbled togethered - how soon will you need to make a repair? How much will the capital and labor costs (even donated) be to do repairs? Will the lower investment solution be a waste anyway if no one can used it when it breaks even other day/week?

    Any legitimate museum I've seen, even those running on a "shoe string" budget, has a donor's list that could be approached ("help us with this expense and we'll put up a plaque with your name as donor next to it"). If doing this is out of the comfort zone for those running the museum, the museum is already doomed anyway.


God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker