Hi all! Nikki here, I’ve spent a bit of time recently setting up some of our LEDs to be able to react to sound. Mostly for fun and some possible socials posts and marketing things in future and I thought I’d write up a little blog post about it as it’s been some interesting stuff.

So firstly, how am I getting the lights to react to sound? Well there’s a wonderful tutorial on the WLED website which shows you how to do this with a software called LEDfx. Following that I managed to get everything set up to react to sound. There is another way we could do it by modifying the hardware of one of our My Baby’s Got LED boards, which we might try at a later date, but this is for now a slightly easier way to go about it (mostly as I don’t know how to solder things just yet) Which is also sort of what this blog post is for, if people like the dancing lights idea then it’ll be worth us hardwiring the capability into the My Baby’s got LED boards themselves in future.

So on to the experiments! Once we got the lights reacting to sound it meant I could test how well it did. So starting with just the internal microphone of my laptop, which was running the software, it was very reactive to voices in the room speaking but when trying to play music(which was a whole situation in itself as the internal speakers of my computer appear to be broken and we cannot figure out what the problem is) it was inconsistent with picking up beats. For example it would react to a drum beat at one point but the next loop of the riff it wouldn’t react to that beat.

This made me think it was potentially a problem with the internal microphone just not picking up certain parts and so I went and dug out my own external microphone (a Tonor TC-777 if you’re interested) and hooked that up to the laptop in order to try it out. Now here’s where things got a bit strange and interesting. The Tonor mic is a lot more sensitive than the laptops internal one, and so started picking up small sounds from everywhere, including people moving around in other parts of the maker space and the fans from the server which was housed in the same room I was experimenting in (as it was the quietest space with no other people)

In order to try counter this I ended up doing the tried and tested method of all amateur voice actors everywhere and made myself a sheet fort in order to dampen the external sound. This did work, though it was rather awkward. Then came the most confusing problem, the microphone does not pick up sound being played from a phone. No matter what it is, no matter the volume setting, no matter how close to the microphone it was, it would not work. We did then try a different phone and found that the direction the speaker was pointing, at a distance to the mic, did allow it to pick up some of the sound, though it was extremely patchy and had to be constantly adjusted to get it back. Now the best guess we have here is that because phone speakers are more directed that somehow alters how the microphone can pick it up. Especially as when it was picked up the speaker was usually pointing away from the mic and at a wall instead. Which leads me to believe it was picking the sound up from it bouncing off the wall, rather than from the speaker itself. Ultimately not a huge issue, but one to note that if you do use this particular system for your lights it won’t work with your phone, unless said phone is hooked up to a bluetooth speaker perhaps.

Overall the whole thing has been a success and I’m looking forward to applying this to more of the LEDs we have around DoES Liverpool. The next step is making the LEDs currently decorating the events space do the same, probably making a lot of noise through the PA system that’s in there. I should probably make sure to bring cake and apologise to everyone when I do that.