Cigar Box iPod Speaker Dock (Mark I)

When I was a kid, I was very interested in science and engineering – especially robotics – and I wanted to be an inventor. I pursued this fantasy until my dad told me that there was a lot of math involved with science, and that I wasn’t good at math. So, I wound up going into digital production instead. But, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for mechanical projects, even though I’d never gotten around to actually making anything. It seemed as though anything cool would be too difficult or too expensive for me.

Then, a few years ago, I was on a documentary shoot in the Dominican Republic, and – although it had nothing to do with the project I was working on – I was very impressed to see how the Dominicans fixed or fabricated all kinds of machinery that our culture would consider broken beyond repair. They didn’t do it for fun, they did it because they had to. But it’s still pretty awesome.

A few days ago, I read an article about “Gambiologia,” which is a Brazilian word for cool-stuff-that-you-make-out-whatever-you-have-at-hand. I think it’s funny that, in America, people who do this get their own convention, while in other countries it’s actually the norm.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about getting an iPod speaker dock for a while, but they’re so overpriced. Steve Jobs has enough of my money already, I don’t see the need to pay $100+ dollars for an iPod accessory.

And then it hit me … I can build my own!

Online, I found that there’s a little subculture around the “Little Gem” amplifier circuit. It’s a very simple (less than 10 components), and is primarily used by hobbyists to build homemade guitar amps out of soup cans, cigar boxes and so on. The folks who run the website were kind enough to include a for-dummies diagram showing the layout of the components, which was very helpful because I have no idea how to read electronic schematics.

I liked the cigar box idea. I didn’t have any nice wooden ones, but I did have a couple of old cardboard ones.

I live near a TV repair shop that regularly throws away old, broken TVs. I snuck over and scavenged a couple of perfectly good speakers from a discarded big-screen TV lying by their trash cans.

I went to Radio Shack and got the electronic components I needed. They were less than $2 each, and most of them came in packs of 2 or more.

Then I put it all together. Instead of a 1/4″ guitar cable input, I put in a 1/8″ mini jack so that I can plug in an iPod (or anything else with a headphone jack). The original plans didn’t include an on/off switch for some reason, so I added that as well. I also left out the “gain” knob, because I’m trying to keep distortion to a minimum.

It was – I am embarrassed to admit – the first time I’d actually soldered a circuit together, so it’s ugly as sin, but you know what? It worked the very first time I plugged it in!

Cardboard definitely sucks as a fabrication medium, but I’m very proud of my little speaker dock. It’s not too pretty, but it works, and I had an insane amount of fun making it. In fact, the degree of fun I had building it was out of all proportion to the process involved. I guess that’s what happens when you finally get around to doing something you’ve been waiting your entire life to do. Now, on to the Mark II …

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