Hands on: Building an MP3 player for an Apple II computer

We follow along as KansasFest workshop participant Andy Molloy assembles and demos Briel Computers' A2MP3 card.

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placing, soldering 8-pin male header

An additional 0.1uF capacitor has been inserted, as has a 1.8432 MHz crystal. Next comes an 8-pin male header, which is also soldered into place.

Top left: Here's the fully soldered board before anything has been inserted into the plugs and sockets.

Top right: Next, Andy attaches a cable to the 8-pin header.

Bottom left: He attaches the other end of the cable to the second board that houses the USB and audio interfaces.

Lower-right: A close-up of the second board.

Oops! Andy remembers he was supposed to insert the ACIA chip into the 28-pin socket first before attaching the cable to the boards. No harm done; he does it now.

The bottom right photo shows a side view of the card's audio and USB interfaces.

fastening the zip tie, the completed cards

The final step in assembling the card is to fasten the two boards together with a zip tie. An extra pair of hands (top right) is needed to secure the tie.

One workshop attendee, Tony Diaz (see his Apple II website), modified his card to connect the two boards directly, bypassing the need for a cable and zip tie. "I just remove the pins from the MP3 module, leaving holes in the PCB, add two pieces of double-stick padding to the bottom side of the MP3 card, and drop that down over the connector where the wire harness was connected," he explained.

The bottom photo shows the completed cards: Tony's on the left and Andy's on the right.

It's worth noting that the A2MP3 card that's now for sale at Briel Computers, unlike the one the workshop attendees built, has also been modified to eliminate the cable connection and have a direct plug-in to both units.

Now that the card's assembled, it's time to test it. The card can be inserted into any of seven expansion slots in this Apple IIe. Andy chooses slot 3.

Off-camera, Andy loads a floppy disk that contains the A2MP3 card's interface software. (The software comes on a CD that needs to be copied onto a ProDOS volume -- floppy disk, hard drive, CompactFlash card, etc. It can also be downloaded from the Internet.)

happy Andy, plus new interface

Andy is now the proud owner of a working A2MP3 card.

Postscript: Less than a week after getting his hands on his own A2MP3 card, workshop attendee and programmer Michael Kent took it upon himself to improve the rudimentary software interface for the A2MP3 card. His version, shown at the bottom, supports 80-column text and lowercase letters, and it lists the first 20 songs on the flash drive. The new and improved software is available as a free download from the Briel Computers site.

Note that both Kent's and Briel's software is designed for 8-bit computers (Apple IIe, IIc, etc.). The 16-bit Apple IIGS should have its own A2MP3 software later this year, courtesy of programmer Eric Shepherd, who plans to add the ability to transfer files on and off the card, probably integrated with the Finder.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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