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When I was a kid, my grandmother had a charming wind up music box that plucked the tune “Edelweiss” when you opened the lid. I was so fascinated by the mechanics inside the little box that I had spent a lot of time watching the movement turn.

I decided I wanted to do a modern-day maker’s riff on the old mechanical music box. I asked around for some advice on how to do it and got a lot of great suggestions such as using an Arduino Wave Shield, an MP3 trigger board, or my favorite idea, one of those electronic musical greeting cards. But I happened upon a $6 knockoff MP3 player that started playing songs when you flipped a switch on the side. When I opened it up, I was delighted to see that I could easily stop and start the music by opening and closing the circuit between the battery and the MP3 player’s circuit board.

Using a snap action switch inside a cigar box, I was able to control the music by opening and closing the lid, just like with a mechanical music box. The main difference being that my MP3 player would start the song over again after closing and reopening the box, which didn’t bother me. I found a pair of cheap speakers that had a headphone jack so that I could easily plug them into the MP3 player.

MP3 Music Box

I wanted to be able to access the MP3 player as a data drive and charge it up without awkwardly plugging a cable into the MP3 player directly, so I added a panel mount female USB B jack to the back of the box and plugged it into the MP3 player inside the box. Loading songs into the music box becomes a cinch when you just plug the USB cable from your computer into the back of the box and then drag the files to the drive.

The MP3 Music Box makes a great, customized gift for anyone. You can see in the video that I turned mine into a Wii Remote box and added 8-bit video game style music to it. You could add romantic music if you make the box for your partner for Valentines Day, or lullabies if you make it for a child’s nightstand. Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that this whimsical electronic music box will surprise and delight the recipient.

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Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson is a Brooklyn-based creative technologist, Contributing Editor at MAKE, and Resident Research Fellow at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.


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Comments

  1. I like the concept, but honestly I winced when I saw the Dremel come out. A sharp 1/4″ bench chisel and a small mallet would have made quick work of the switch mortise and USB hole, and it would have been much easier to get an accurate result.

    I don’t claim to be much more than a novice at woodworking myself, but I cut all the hinge mortises on my IC box this way, and I’m quite pleased with the results: http://caladan.nanosoft.ca/c4/wood/icbox.php

    A good result for those shapes requires only a very modest skill level and inexpensive tools.

    1. Believe me, I winced too when it didn’t turn out as well as I hoped it would. It’s something I never tried before, and I’m chalking it up as a learning experience. I’m definitely going to try a chisel and mallet in a future—more polished—version of the same thing. Thanks for the suggestion.

    2. Believe me, I winced too when it didn’t turn out as well as I hoped it would. It’s something I never tried before, and I’m chalking it up as a learning experience. I’m definitely going to try a chisel and mallet in a future—more polished—version of the same thing. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I like the concept, but honestly I winced when I saw the Dremel come out. A sharp 1/4″ bench chisel and a small mallet would have made quick work of the switch mortise and USB hole, and it would have been much easier to get an accurate result.

    I don’t claim to be much more than a novice at woodworking myself, but I cut all the hinge mortises on my IC box this way, and I’m quite pleased with the results: http://caladan.nanosoft.ca/c4/wood/icbox.php

    A good result for those shapes requires only a very modest skill level and inexpensive tools.

  3. Where did you get the $6 MP3 player?

    1. eBay. It was the cheapest MP3 player available and ended up being very “hackable,” even the pause/play, next/previous track and volume controls could be easily broken out. I ordered a few of them for possible future projects.

      1. Anonymous says:

        I wanted to do the same thing, I had gotten a mattel “juicebox” to use as an mp3 player. I got it cheap enough, but it wasn’t as easy to modify. Could you please provide a link to the particular player you used?

        1. Here’s the link from the exact seller I bought it from: http://goo.gl/1Jrp1

          1. I really like the cleverness of this solution. While many would just “use an Arduino”, the cheap MP3 player fits the bill perfectly at probably 1/10th the cost. These would be great for haunted house sound effects…anywhere a sound should be generated as the result of some external triggering event.

          2. Thanks! I ordered a lot of these MP3 players for future projects!

          3. Hi Matt, thanks for the great idea, I’m planning to build one myself.

            I got hold of one of those mp3 players and I’m trying to identify the battery of this thing. It looks like folded aluminium foil, held together with some adhesive tape. Do you think there’s a way to replace this with a sensible alternative?

            Thanks! Wolf

          4. Sorry, just seeing your comment now. Disqus hasn’t been e-mailing me about replies like it used to. The foil thing is indeed the battery. You could use a multimeter to read the voltage to match it. Just be careful because the circuit expects to be able to charge the battery that’s attached when it’s connected via USB.

          5. Michael says:

            Can you tell me where you got your mini b USB panel mount

      2. Mathias says:

        Hi Matt! Could you please tell me the model of the mp3 player you used to?

    2. eBay. It was the cheapest MP3 player available and ended up being very “hackable,” even the pause/play, next/previous track and volume controls could be easily broken out. I ordered a few of them for possible future projects.

    3. eBay. It was the cheapest MP3 player available and ended up being very “hackable,” even the pause/play, next/previous track and volume controls could be easily broken out. I ordered a few of them for possible future projects.

  4. Where did you get the $6 MP3 player?

  5. Anna Blanck says:

    Matt

    I am a student studying art in college, and I need to know how to do this for an upcoming project. I have eight days to complete it, but I also have to account for the time it will take to make my audio track. This is the most suitable project I can find, but I am inexperienced and have a few questions.

    I had difficulty following your instructions because I am unfamiliar with many of the electronic devices and processes used. I was hoping you could email me a supply list, so I would know where to find everything I need. I’ll be building my own box.

    Also, if you could go into more specificity about the wiring and rewiring you do. I didn’t understand that either.

    If you don’t have time, I understand. It would just be an unbelievable help.

    Thanks for your time

    Anna
    acblanck@aol.com, ablanck@kcai.edu

    1. Sorry I’m only seeing this now. I hope you were able to figure it out in time!

  6. Paco says:

    im trying to make one of these for my frined for her birthday the mp3 i got is a little diffrent but basiclly the same. im a little confused about the wiring to the switch so please any help would be awesome

    1. The switch opens and closes the connection between the battery and the MP3 player. Depending on the player you have, you may need to solder the play switch closed.

  7. Tate Haga says:

    Do you know where you got the speakers from? I think this is a great idea and I would like to build one.

    1. The speakers are from Radio Shack.

  8. What kind of switch is it? specificly.

    1. It’s a snap action switch that has a single pole double throw (SPDT) momentary plunger.

  9. Anoh -Y says:

    itis coool things to do ^()^
    I like it..I’ll try to do it
    thank u

  10. Max Wheeler says:

    This might be a little too late to ask, but I just received the same mp3 player from the same seller, but mine doesn’t autostart.  When I connect it to my computer I don’t see a folder for the files on the player.  Is there some way to adjust that property on the actual device?

    1. Is your memory card properly seated in the micro SD slot? That would be my first guess.

      1. Max Wheeler says:

        It was seated correctly, and after opening it to examine the guts everything fell apart, literally.  I’m going to try one more time with your source and if that doesn’t work I’ll go a different route.

  11. David Ruiz says:

    I was curious on how you made the volume work.  The on I made is super quite.  Is there a way to keep the volume turned all the way up??  Thanks for you time.

  12. David Ruiz says:

    I was curious on how you made the volume work.  The on I made is super quite.  Is there a way to keep the volume turned all the way up??  Thanks for you time.

  13. David Ruiz says:

    I was curious on how you made the volume work.  The on I made is super quite.  Is there a way to keep the volume turned all the way up??  Thanks for you time.

  14. David Ruiz says:

    I was curious on how you made the volume work.  The on I made is super quite.  Is there a way to keep the volume turned all the way up??  Thanks for you time.

    1. One way is to make the volume of the MP3 itself louder, which is not ideal. On one of the ones I made, I soldered a jumper on the contacts for the volume up button. That actually worked really well. It adds this nice “fade up” to the music.

      1. Ryan says:

        How exactly do you run a jumper wire for the volume? Thanks for the help!

      2. which to contacts did you apply the jumper to. I think I’m using the exact same mp3 player.
        From looking at it with the earphone jack pointing away from you, I see two contacts below the red capacitor directly left of the earphone jack.
        Directly to the left of that red capacitor I see two contacts with a “C3″ label next to them.

        Is it either of these contacts that the jumper should be soldered to?

  15. when I hit the lever, the music stops, but it doesn’t start upon release.  I have to start the music with the play button on the mp3 player.  any idei how to fix this issue?

  16. Hello Matt, I was wondering if a ipod shuffle would work in the place of the cheap knock off mp3 player? It doesnt have a slot for the SD card. Love the idea of this though. Would make a great Christmas gift. Thanks!

  17. Anonymous says:

    I just finished soldering all the electronics. It all worked the first time! This was super-easy and it’s going to be a fantastic gift. Thank you so much for giving me the confidence to try this out!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic project I did with my 12 year old for his mother. Came out great except for one thing that I wonder if anyone else confronted — the sound out of the two 1 inch 8 ohm 0.1 watt speakers I used was very, very low. We tried pumping the volume all the way up on the mps player, but that was as loud as it got. Has anyone had the same problem? Is there a speaker specification or specific speaker that people have found that works better? I’d hate to have to separately power the speakers.
    By the way, my son covered up this problem when he gave the birthday gift box to my wife by presenting it on top of a pretty piece of cloth covering his IHome radio, into which we plugged the headphone output from the mp3 player (the wire fit through the box back hinge) so that she got the  sound from the player amplified and played through the IHome. He told her this was “proof of concept” before he ruined her favorite jewelry box by drilling a hole into it!

  19. Andrew says:

    Is this, or anything like this, sold pre-made? I’m looking for something exactly like this to include as a wedding gift (although, perhaps more feminine choice of box), and I really don’t think I’m up to the work myself. I’m fairly desperate for something of this nature too, as it would really be a special present.

  20. Bruno says:

    hi , im frm brazil ,
    you think I’ll have success with a similar model of mini MP3 following its teachings, or just with this model you used?

    very thank you, help me too!

  21. L says:

    I was wondering if you could help me. It turns out the mp3 player I bought is slightly different from the one you have (here’s mine: http://goo.gl/qIIsg). Mine has internal memory, no sd card slot, but they’re very similar. I’ve been having a problem with mine. I set it up the same way you did. However, when I complete the circuit for the first time, it works, but when I break the circuit, completing the circuit again does not turn it back on. I actually have to toggle the power switch off then on again for it to work, breaking and completing the circuit does not work. Do you know what the problem may be?

    Also, could you explain in detail what you meant by soldering a jumper on the contacts of the volume up button? What is a jumper? And where are these contacts, all I see is the volume up button. I appreciate any help!

  22. J.L says:

    This may be a little too late, but what size leads did you use? I am a complete novice when it comes to electrical wiring and I already bought the wrong size and pretty sure I bought the wrong type of wire. Please help and thank you!

  23. Vivien says:

    I really love this idea and I would like to build it for my sister, but I suck at it. Is there any way that you could sell me one that you made?

  24. Michael says:

    I am in the process of making box but can not find anywhere to get the USB mini b panel mount can someone help and tell me where to get them thanks

  25. Kyrstin says:

    Could you list down the materials you used? Much appreciated.

  26. I’m having a difficult time with the speakers as well. I just don’t think speakers that aren’t powered by some type of battery are any good. I’m considering getting a speaker from radio shack that can be charged via usb but this presents the problem of having two usb ports sticking out of the box instead of just the one. Is it possible to kind of ‘daisy chain’ a single usb to charge both the mp3 player and the speaker? (Just spit balling)

    I’ve tried several mp3 players but they all seem to require the user to hit the play button before any music is played. I read somewhere in the comments about soldering the play button to an always on position, but I’m not sure if that’s even possible. I will follow your link to ebay and try to find the exact mp3 player you used.

    Question: Does the mp3 player you used required an sd card or is that just for expanded storage?

  27. Diane says:

    A complete list of materials would be extremely helpful to novices like me. I really want to make this box but I have no idea how to go about doing that without a clue as to what to buy.

  28. Jeremy says:

    Where did everyone buy the switch to use for this? I’m having trouble finding one.

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