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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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  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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.
  • Re:Mp3 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by davebarz ( 546161 ) * <.ten.yalezrab. .ta. .divad.> 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:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2004 @06:57PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:50PM (#9102572)
    has a display of speakers for "the people" to test. Find an employee, tell them your sob story, ask them if you can look inside to see how it's cobbled together.

    They're usually a powerstrip, a portable cd player, a spliter for the audio, in a heap of particle board with lamenate on top. If you have a shop, and need different kiosks, by all means, you can bust these kinds of things out. Ten will be a little bit of work if they're going to be nice at all. And your materials are going to be not exactly inexpensive ($10 powerstrip $20 CD player wood etc.) but they can get in under $350 per. But with labor, depending on what you figure your hourly rate to be, you might not be beating the price you were quoted.
  • by jeephistorian ( 746362 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @07:51PM (#9102575) Homepage

    I used a cheap solid state personal recorder that could record and replay ($75). I got one with USB transfer so that I could make a quality recording on my computer and load it on the player.

    I next popped open the case and soldered a lead to the play button so that I could run a large, solid button to the display case front. I then ran the speaker output to a simple little amp (look online for simple plans or buy one) and then onto a 10" speaker.

    The larger speaker gives a nice mellow sound which people tend to enjoy more than the tinnie sound of a smaller speaker.

    Good luck.

  • 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?

  • 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.
  • 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. []

  • Re:Mp3 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Azure Khan ( 201396 ) on Sunday May 09, 2004 @09:57PM (#9103187)
    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.
  • Re:Mp3 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Rizz ( 1319 ) on Monday May 10, 2004 @01:10PM (#9108159)
    I can easily make a mechanical means that a kid with a hammer cant break.
    the key is to simply limit the travel of the rod.
    if I slam the button with a sledge hammer but it will only let it move 1/16th of an inch, it does not matter how hard you hit it.

    Yes, it does matter how hard you hit it.
    By your logic, he should just weld the rod to the button ... after all, if shorter distance = less possible force, then 0 distance = no force at all, right?

    Travel distance before an object strikes another object is completely irrelevent to the damage it can do (mass * velocity). Now, putting some sort of padding in place that is firm enough to transfer the "button push", but soft enough to take the brunt of the shock from someone hitting the button with a sledgehammer would be a better idea.

    --The Rizz

    "The larger an object is, the less stable it is. Tokyo, being extremely large, explodes on a fairly regular basis." --anime law of physics

  • 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.


Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!