Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Me and VU Meters

I’ve been obsessed with VU meters since childhood since we had a portable cassette recorder with LED VUs..It was the bush 7070, this ghettoblaster/boombox is so freakin rare that google images only comes up with a single image of it, and here it is:
bush7070.jpeg
Just to slightly “zoom in” on the quirky V shaped VU Meters
bush7070-vu.jpeg
Anyway, somewhere along the line, my father sold it and I have to say that I really missed it once it was gone, by the way, it’s the reason why I bought señor smiley (My Marantz PM350 amplifier) For some reason it has the same V shaped LEDs which I just find unique and quirky.
marantzpm350.jpg

One of the things I was lacking throughout certain years of my childhood were VU meters, the other cassette recorders we got later, just simply didn’t have any at all. One of them was this Fergusson 3T32 dual cassette:

ferguson-3t32.jpg
This was our first ever dual cassette, my brother wanted that for, you know, borrowing spectrum games permanently onto cassettes from, other cassettes, Oh yes yes, backups, thats a better word.. Anyway, a little later another was a JVC DR-E51lbk Hi-fi system which my brother bought. Do excuse the images, I could only find these piddly ones when searching.

jvc-dr-e51lbk.jpg

It was a great hi-fi and I recorded my first Amiga tapes with it, but it had no VU. I think VU meters were fading in the 90s as the silvery hardy systems of the 80s were going out and the more “modern” plasticy stereos and boomboxes were coming in (Though this JVC of the early 90s was far form plastic, it was pretty hardy actually!)

Anyway, any excuse to show you hi-fi systems and boomboxes :o)
The point is, it all left me with a want, borderline Need for VU Meters. When tinkering with my electronics, I just had an idea to stick a 3v bulb onto the headphone output, on my personal stereo it didn’t do much at all. So I went for the most powerful system on the house and that was my brother’s JVC Hi-fi system. I put it onto max thinking, it’s not going to do much… Freakin bright flashing light to my surprise, sort of startled and excited me at the same time!

Next thing I do, freakin build a little device, all it is, a light bulb paralleled with a loudspeaker, the JVC on full blast, the crappy speaker just throwing out music into the air along with a light going dim and bright to the music. On retrospect it was ridiculous! But the excitement of seeing a light “dance to music” you won’t believe how many cassettes I listened to in one go while gazing at that freakin bulb, and completely in the dark too.

I look back almost in awe of the things I did with my electronics parts to try and get an LED vu meter working after that. My thinking was, the LEDs relate to one another, One goes on after the other, after the other etc.. So brainiac here decides to create an array of LEDs in parallel to the audio source, each with a resistor value higher than the one previous to it.

The result was…interesting nonetheless, but it was no VU meter. It was just a cascade of freakin LEDs pulsating, each dimmer than the one before it.

facepalm-picard.jpg

But I have to admit, I look back and it was kinda cute. A learning process which I can look back and chuckle at.
I asked my brother and his friend, how an LED VU is done, the answer I got was that there’s a capacitor in between the LEDs (“they think” ). So out came my bucket of components once again, I hated cleaning up after that, It was like a lego set or something (I loved playing with Legos btw, probably explains why I’m so much into Minecraft). Anyway let me just tell you that an array of LEDs with capacitors in between them, is very underwhelming.

I left the idea for a while and continued trying to get the LEDs/lights to be brighter so that I didn’t need to put the volume stupidly high. Bearing in mind I was in my final year at primary school and the only knowledge of electronics I had was tinkering around with components from that bucket of mine.
So I decided to put a 1.5v AA battery in series with an LED and the headphone output of a standard boombox (Yeah I know, I cringed too remembering it) But the funny thing is, the LED was pulsing brighter to the music with the battery in series. I’m glad I didn’t go any further with this, it must have been some miraculous inner knowledge that said to me if I stick 12v in series with a boombox, it really would freakin boom.

One problem I had was the sound, sure I made lights pulsate but I couldn’t hear anything, and with an LED in series with a speaker, yeah you can imagine what that sounds like, a semi rectified audio signal.

I asked my brother what I need and he said an amplifier. Thats when audio amplifiers became something I desperately wanted to build in my childhood but had no freakin idea how! They used those 3 legged spiders which I had no clue how to connect at the time. You’d know what I thought of them if you’ve read the ‘About Ms Mad Lemon’ section of my website already.

The thing is though, even though I wasn’t immediately successful in getting anything working how I wanted it, bear in mind I had never read any electronics book nor been taught at all. I still tried, I made mistakes and did things wrong but I believe that is one of the reasons why kids learn things faster, they’re not afraid of making mistakes, whether its electronics or language learning, or learning a musical instrument, it can apply to anything at all. Think we as adults need to drop the fear and pride as it does hinder learning.
Anyway enough pondering. Next I will write about my efforts with trying to build audio amplifiers, albeit much later in my life, but I did it eventually. And in quite a big way. I got some VU meters working very well also ;o)

Adios!

  1. Jefferoonie

    Wednesday, April 29, 2020 - 06:26:30

    Hey;

    Nice post. I would have never thought to make a blog posting about VU Meters. I’ve loved them since forever as a kid. In fact, my current twitter header is a photo of the meters on one of my amplifiers.

    My parent’s Mitsubishi DT-10 Tape Deck is what got me obsessed with them, as a child in the 80s.

    Jeff

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