All posts by dmcropley

Digital Producer | Artist | Animator

How to build a DIY 7″ vinyl record box

Now that I’d bought and cleaned a bunch of new vinyl 45s, I needed somewhere better to store them. So I thought I’d try my hand at making a nice box out of some spare plywood left over from my speaker builds and trying some new joinery techniques.

Once all glued together, after much umming and ahhing about trying different approaches I sanded and finished them in my favourite natural beeswax. I did try more coats and more sanding, which gave a smoother, glossier finish.

Nice. Could have made it a bit wider, but does the job and looks the part. Pretty happy with that.

Ace.

How to build a DIY Vinyl record footspa washer

There is an amazing record shop that has popped up in the home town that I grew up in called Uptown Vinyl Records.

It’s a proper old school dusty vinyl diggers paradise.

Dusty vinyl in the very real sense of the word.  I’d been researching ways of cleaning vinyl records and tried a few things, including PVA wood glue?! (which did actually work). Most professional cleaning solutions cost hundreds (thousands…) of pounds. But when it comes right down to it, you just need slightly soapy water and a microfibre cloth, unless you are dealing with vinyl worth hundreds of pounds… which I am not.

Then I noticed my dad, who I visit when I come to look at the record shop… (no, wait…?! ;) had an old footspa and the cogs started turning in my brain. Maybe bubbling off grit and grime from within the grooves of the records would work? Only one way to find out…

Meet the Vinyl Footspa Washertron 3000™©®. It actually bloody works! With the help of some small hands, I rocked through cleaning a bunch of choice disco, soul and funk 45’s I procured for a delightfully reasonable sum in the last visit to the record shop.

Proper.

New psychadelic pictures and a special present

I’ve made two new pieces of self indulgent psychedelia. These things usually start with a very basic premise, and take on their own life as they appear in front of my eyes.

In the first I wanted to do something with the page split loosely in to four. Yep. The premises are that vague.

The second I wanted to play with fractals so I built a Fibonacci spiral and swirled the swirly bits around it.

While I was making the second piece I commissioned the embarrassingly talented and all round lovely human Natasha Alexander ( go check out her work and workshops here: https://www.facebook.com/natashaalexanderart/ ) to create a mandala stone in the same vein as my psychedelic art.

She absolutely smashed it out of the park. I bloody LOVE this thing.

L.O.V.E. it.

How to build a DIY hydraulic robot arm

I saw a video pop up in my feed on youtube about making a DIY robot arm. I thought it would a nice thing to do with the kids, so I downloaded some basic templates someone posted online, bought some syringes, lollipop sticks, skewers and a hot melt glue gun… and gave it a go one Sunday.

It wasn’t the simplest thing in the world, but we followed a youtube video, and made up the rest.

It blimmin’ well worked! It was probably a bit too difficult for a kids project, but it was ace.

My favourite part about it was the smalls decorated it with chalk pens afterwards so it looks like it belongs in the hood…

“be grarsy and happy”

 

Cropmaster Flex vs Munkmaster Mick CD Artwork

Inspired by the last post about branding my mates (proper good…) band Polyhymns, it reminded me of the artwork I used to make for my old CDs.

I made a few mixes 20 years ago and cut together the CD artwork using photos I found from old issues of National Geographic that were kicking around the house.

The masters were lost in the great CD theft of 2002 but they still live on in digital format in my mixcloud along with a bunch of other live streams and mixes here: https://www.mixcloud.com/Cropmaster_Flex/

Frogball E.P.
Famously described as ‘a nice mix‘ by Dan Boland, when he’d play it in the pub he was working at.

You can listen to it here:

frogball-inlay

Croppenphlop, 2000
“The ink spots, really?” – Dan Boland, when he realised there was no turntablism in this mix.
No one really knew what to make of it. I think its some of my finest work. Proper out there eclectic mix of old an new.

You can listen to it here:

Slap Happy Gland
What was I thinking. Infamously described as ‘that crazy mix‘ by some girl I can’t remember the name of that nicked it off my mate Chris who I made it for.

Featuring the only original track I ever produced that made it on to a CD and ‘released’. Shame it was utter toss.

Also featuring the T-Power track played on 33rpm instead of 45rpm. FML. That was Napster for you… yep. Some of these tracks came from the OG unregulated Napster in 2000.

You can listen to it (but probably shouldn’t…) here

Branding Sheffield Band – Polyhymns

My mate Sam does music with his mates. In Sheffield. Check them out:

https://polyhymns.bandcamp.com/releases

(I’ll post links to more tunes and their social media once their new campaign goes live)

Sam sent me some early versions of tracks from his new band to see what I thought. I thought they were great, and volunteered to do some quick album art tests in case they ever got round to releasing an e.p. (I used to love making cover art for my own mixtapes back in the day).

He used them to help get his social media accounts online ( @polyhymns )

Then he asked the fateful question: “Do you fancy doing us a logo?”

Huh, I thought, as my previous life as a creative director flashed before my eyes. Sure, my brain thought, I’ll do you a full professional branding treatment including logos, logotypes, fonts and photography, with all assets rendered and optimised for web and print… and a photo-shoot on location in Sheffield and the Peak district – for the lulz.

So I did.

It was loads of fun to flex the old creative muscles again after all these years, and all the better doing it for a good cause. They’re a lovely bunch, and it was worth every ounce of graft.

How to build a flat DIY Subwoofer

I had a spare Visaton Ws-17e driver that arrived damaged, and the company replaced. I managed to fix it and kept it as a spare… but spare woofers = potential for more B.A.S.S.

Kinda. These drivers are not meant to be subwoofers – you need big Xmax (excursion) or/and cone size for B.A.S.S. But I played around in the transmission line software and came up with an enclosure design, that looked like it might work. I had a spare channel on one of my amps and could do with another sub to even out the wack acoustics in my attic, so I lashed out a build

The graph looked good. So I started planning out the transmission line enclosure design based on the measurements. Spoiler alert: The frequency range looked proper, but the output volume (amplitude in db) was really low. So, you could hear low bass, but as soon as you turn it up, the driver reaches past its excursion limits and distorts like crazy.

As soon as I worked out the measurements, I figured this was an experiment so I’d use MDF for the first time and try out the cutting service at the local B&Q. That was all good in the hood. It was cheap, and worked. But in the end, MDF is no way near as nice to work with as plywood

I smashed it out in no time. It was a nice little palette cleanser after the crazy, emotional slog that was the hifi transmission line build. It was always meant to be a quick and dirty, so I didn’t finish the box nicely like the other ones, just hooked it up and added it to the big system.

It doesn’t really add much unfortunately. but it helps get my head round what all these bonkers numbers that I don’t fully understand actually mean in real life.

I had planned to build more speakers after this, but I’ve run out of steam at the moment. Time will tell…

Mr Bum Poo

I’ve made lots of pictures for my daughter over the years, but not many for my son. My wife asked me to make something special for him.

Then we went for a letterpress jolly with work.

His favourite joke at the time was:

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Mr Bum Poo!

which, for the record should be the hilarious ditty:

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Big bump
Big bump who?
HAHHahahAHAHAHAHA! you said big bum poo!!!!

So I made it. At the work do. Yup.

How to build DIY transmission line speakers

Oof. Where to start with this one. What an anus of a project. It should have been an amazing build. Its should have been an absolute breeze, once I had it all figured out. It should have been a well planned, well executed joy of a thing. It wasn’t. Best laid plans and all that…

Right from the start of my speaker building odyssey I’d been fascinated by ‘transmission line’ or ‘t-line’ speakers. They seemed to be somewhat of a unicorn in the speaker design world. Too sensitive to room placement and tricky to tune the internal absorption and damping materials to make them a viable commercial proposition. But when done right, offering amazing performance – especially in the B.A.S.S.

The subs I built in my sound system build were rear loaded tapped horns – similar to a transmission line, but not the same. Horn speakers work on exactly the same principle as brass instruments, such as a trumpet, trombone or french horn. You have a specific ‘pipe’ length which resonates at a certain frequency – its pitch, or tuning. The tapped horn subs were tuned to 25hz. Very low B.A.S.S.

This gets very technical, very quickly. Go here and fist your mind with quarter wave theory. Fill your boots. The rabbit hole is deep. And full of science. To summarise: Sound waves – like any wave – have a wavelength. That length is measured in physical terms (cm, inches, feet, metres). The longer the wave, the lower the frequency. The shorter the wave, the higher the frequency. The greater the amplitude of the wave, the louder the sound. Crafting clever enclosures can enhance certain frequencies. Like B.A.S.S.

Stay with me… speaker drivers generate sound waves by turning electrical energy from an audio source in to physical motion. By rapidly oscillating the speaker cone, air molecules are moved in waves. Our ears register these pressure waves (relative changes in air density) as sound. All speaker drivers have a specific resonant frequency – a wavelength which the driver resonates at, which causes all sorts of problems (think opera singers shattering wine glasses with their voice). Transmission line speakers take the principle of matching a speaker driver to the correct amount of air pressure behind the cone (in this case the volumetric capacity of a shaped chamber or pipe), to help sort out resonance problems AND enhance certain frequencies. Phew. Enough of that. I made some plans…

Because my big system was too bloody loud to actually use, I figured I’d build some nice hifi speakers that I could actually listen to instead. I’d learnt from my builds to date that setting constraints was the way forward. So the mandate for this build was thus:

  • Tall
  • Thin
  • Good looking
  • Front ported
  • Serviceable
  • Full range

Taking those constraints – I searched for some appropriate drivers, and settled on these Pluvia 7 full range drivers.

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Pretty little things. I thought if I’m going to do this right, I should properly embrace the nerd life and plan the enclosures using some nifty free software I found online. Unfortunately I cannot link to it as it is no longer available, as the author took it down for whatever reasons.

Transmission-line-pluvia7

It basically helps you make the trade off between enclosure size and what frequencies you want to enhance. After much trial and error I ended up with the above frequency curve from a decently small, thin enclosure. I thought I had compensated enough to give decent bass response without needing a subwoofer – because t-lines are meant to produce phat, low bass. Turns out I hadn’t compensated anywhere near close enough. Its plain as day to me now looking at that graph… but I suppose that’s why learning curves are a thing.

Anyways, as I was embracing the nerd life, I thought I’d model the enclosures in some free 3D software (Sketchup) and really geek out. It was a great idea. If I hadn’t done this I would have messed up a crucial measurement that would have rendered the entire build completely hatstand (oh the irony..). Only problem was I had no idea how to use the software, so I had to learn it as I went. Hello learning curve…

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Unfortunately I have a mostly hate/hate relationship with 3D software, so the process wasn’t much fun. But it was VERY satisfying when I finally got there.

Because I wanted this to be a super accurate, ideally replicable build I’d decided from the start I was going to get the wood CNC cut from a local supplier. There was no way I was going to get the design accurate enough with a jigsaw, a wing and a prayer.

The main reason this thing ended up so complicated and frustrating was that I was trying to be too clever. I knew that t-lines needed to be really solid to help with negating unwanted frequencies, so I’d designed everything to be double thickness. Because I thought I was smarter than I was, I made everything join together like a jigsaw puzzle to help gluing. Then I got wood (Gnurgle).

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O frabjous day! callooh! callay! He chortled in his joy. What a wondrous sight it was to behold. I’d designed my very own millimetrically perfect speaker kit. And there it was, all ready to build myself. Marvel at its wonder! Bask in its glory! I’ll test out fitting it all together…

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Clever me! You lucky sausage – being so smart. S.M.A.R.T. Well bloody done lad!

Hold on a minute… When I put them all together properly, everything seems ever so slightly… off. A bit… rattly. A bit… gappy. Wait a minute, there are tiny gaps, just less than a millimetre on all the joins. That’s not good. What gives?

It turns out that 12mm birch ply is not exactly 12mm birch ply. It’s 12.5mm. And someone hadn’t realised this. That someone was me. Everything was off by around 1mm. Because I’d been so ‘clever’ making all these super strong, super sturdy stepped joins it was all ever so slightly on the piss. All speakers need to be 100% sealed to prevent air leakage ruining the enclosure effects. This was 0% sealed. I’d royally banjaxed the whole thing. Kill me.

But I don’t give up easily. I knew it would be an absolute nightmare, and even with all the good intentions in the world I might not be able to save it, but I went ahead and got jiggy with my little dremel and some sanding bits. I had to shave 0.6mm off every single joining piece. What. An. Anus. HUGE one. Massive. But I puckered up and sorted it.

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All those dreams of a perfectly finished, exquisite build – done for. But I still reckoned I could do it. So I ploughed on. Even if I couldn’t make it look super pretty, I could still make something that sounded great. Or so I thought. Initial tests were positive. They sounded crisp, clear and lovely… but very little B.A.S.S.

Its alright I thought. Once they’re all damped and sealed properly, they’ll come in to their own. Plough on Davey, lad, plough on…

So, 4 months after getting the wood eventually they were finished. Halle-bleedin-lujah

Now to be fair, its not all doom and gloom. They look fab – so much so my wife let me put them downstairs. Unheard of. They also sound amazing – apart from the fact there is very little low end. Which after everything I went through on this build was a massive let down. You can get bass out of them, but it overwhelms the little drivers at low to medium volumes, so its just not worth it. I ended up pairing them with a cheapy old active sub that I had kicking around and they sound peachy.

As they are downstairs, they also have to deal with two barely contained monkeys messing with them. So I had to build speaker covers to protect the drivers – which kind of kills the point of having pretty exposed drivers. But it doesn’t seem to be to the detriment of the sound

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So, what have I learnt from this build?

Keep it super simple (K.I.S.S)

I can scarcely believe I’ve had to learn that lesson uh-gain… but there you have it. At least I’ve learnt a stack of things and ended up with some properly decent sounding speakers. It’s just about killed my desire to continue building speakers though, which is… well, it is what it is. That’s designing and building speakers for you ¯\_(ツ)_/¯