Building my Christmas present.

A couple of months ago my wife asked me whether she could listen to her favourite internet radio station on the HiFi stereo system that we have in our living room, rather than having to have the speakers on the PC in the office turned up to maximum volume. This is a UK radio station that only streams on the internet in Real Audio format. Easy I said, leave it to me. However as with all engineering problems there were several solutions. These are the ones that I came up with;

  1. Drill a hole in the wall, run cables from the PC and provide an audio switch box to switch between the PC speakers and the stereo speakers. Pros: Cheap, good reception. Cons: Hole in the wall, house may collapse, only one stereo can be used.
  2. Apple Airport Express. There is the gadget that I thought would easily solve the problem. I can use my existing wireless network attached to the PC. Great solution. Pros: Plugs directly into the mains power, easy setup, small in size. Cons: Unfortunately the airport express has one HUGE problem. You can only use it with iTunes software installed on your PC and guess what - you can only listen to the pre-selected stations chosen by Apple. It is not possible to add or configure your own! There was no chance of them having my insignificant UK station in a sea of US Rap stations. 10/10 for vision. 1/10 for exection.
  3. I started getting hardcore. How about the SqueezeBox. Pros Great product, great reviews, like the blinking lights on the front. Cons: $279 seemed a lot of money just to get radio reception to a stereo15 feet away in another room and only on that one stereo. I could not imagine forking out $558 to listen upstairs also.
  4. I went downmarket a bit and found this from Linksys, the WMLS11B. Pros: Cheaper Cons: Did not seem to be able to stream Real Audio, which was what the station broadcast in. I already have a very decent Tivoli stereo which has beautiful sound. The last thing I wanted was some tinny, ugly stereo. 
  5. Knowing that I needed to stream Real Audio I finally started to set up a Shoutcast server/broadcaster. Then you can then relay any kind of audio output you like to a wireless device. My plan was to use an old laptop that I have at home with a wireless card, put this under the stereo and use it as a wireless receiver. Pros: Cheap, since I had all the hardware. Cons: To many bits. I had to run two PCs, set up the Shoutcast, get a copy of WindowsXP from the store etc. Seemed too painful. 

I was getting more and more frustrated. Surely it must be easier than this. Finally the most obvious and simple solution dawned on me and I kicked myself for not having thought of this earlier...

The stereo already has a built in receiver. Build an FM transmitter! So I did. I bought one of these beauties which was on offer at the time for $110, took out my trusty soldering iron, multimeter and pointed nose pliars and built this in a day when my wife was out. Needless to say I double checked the solder joints, configured the jumpers to be at the lower end of the FM frequency spectrum, plugged it in and it worked first time. I bought an audio switch box, wired this up to the back of my PC and now enjoy glorious synthesized FM stereo throughout my house on anything that I play on the PC, including mouse clicks. The quote that I love from the manual that comes with this FM transmitter is this.

"many Caribbean folks use a single FM25B to cover the whole island! "  

Now I have my wife's Christmas present done, the only problem being that, like software, it is not that tangible so I am going to have to supplement it with something else. Also like software it shows that we can create complex solutions to many problems that often have simpler solutions and without having to convert between numerous different data types and formats.

Disclaimer:  If you have not built many electronic things before consider a flashing LED first as a Christmas gift to your loved one and then work your way up.