Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in February 1994 they published the “90 Second Digital Message Recorder” project. That was a long time ago, however you can still find the kit today at Altronics (and at the time of writing, on sale for AU$26), and thus the subject of our review.
The kit offers a simple method of recording and playing back 90 seconds of audio, captured with an electret microphone. When mounted in a suitable enclosure it will make a neat way of leaving messages or instructions for others at home.
The kit arrives in typical Altronics fashion:
… and includes everything required including IC sockets for the ISD2590 and the audio amplifier:
The PCB missed out on silk-screening – which is a pity:
however it is from an original design from twenty years ago. The solder mask is neat and helps prevent against lazy soldering mistakes:
Finally the detailed instructions including component layout and the handy Altronics reference guide are also included. After checking and ordering the resistors, they were installed first along with the links:
If you have your own kit, there is a small error in the instructions. The resistor between the 2k2 and the 10uF electrolytic at the top of the board is 10k0 not 2k2. Moving on, these followed by the capacitors and other low-profile components:
The rest of the components went in without any fuss, and frankly it’s a very easy kit to assemble:
The required power supply is 6V, and a power switch and 4 x AA cell holder is included however were omitted for the review.
How it works
Instead of some fancy microcontrollers, the kit uses an ISD2590P single chip voice recording and playback IC:
It’s a neat part that takes care of most of the required functions including microphone preamp, automatic gain control, and an EEPROM to store the analogue voltage levels that make up the voice sample. The ISD2590 samples audio at 5.3 kHz which isn’t CD quality, but enough for its intended purpose.
Apart from some passive components for power filtering, controls and a speaker amplifier there isn’t much else to say. Download the ISD2590 data sheet (pdf), which is incredibly detailed including some example circuits.
Once you apply power it’s a simple matter of setting the toggle switch on the PCB down for record, or up for playback. You can record in more than one session, and each session is recorded in order until the memory is full. Then the sounds can be played back without any fuss.
The kit is supplied with the generic 0.25W speaker which is perhaps a little weak for the amplifier circuit in the kit, however by turning down the volume a little the sound is adequate. In this video you can see (and hear) a quick recording and playback session.
This kit could be the base for convenient message system – and much more interesting than just scribbling notes for each other. Or you could built it into a toy and have it play various tunes or speech to amuse children. And for the price it’s great value to experiment with an ISD2590 – just use an IC socket. Or just have some fun – we did. Full-sized images are available on flickr.
And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.