MAKE:It – Proto-DAC shield for Arduino

MAKE:It – Proto-DAC shield for Arduino


I turned an Arduino Protoshield into a digital-to-analog converter with only a few extra parts. It’s proved a lot of fun for audio experimentation and a great way to learn about what DACs do and how they do it.

What’s DAC?
Digital to analog converters, or DACs, are used to create varying voltage levels from binary off/on signals. Used in a variety of circuit applications, DACs are most commonly known for the role they play in generating audio. There’s a lot of DAC chips out there capable of interfacing with Arduino via data protocols such as serial, i2C, etc. – but if want to learn more with a hands-on approach, consider the simple and affordable R/2R DAC circuit –

The “R/2R” stands for ‘Resitance / 2xResistance’ referring to the resistor values used in the circuit – 10K, and 20K. The R/2R DAC effectively gives each pin a different voltage output value, so using 8 pins we have 8 different levels we can combine to shape our output signal. Precise R/2R DACs use an output buffer stage but we’ll skip this for our simple version.

Hit the jump below for more info and pictorial –Build dat DAC!
First assemble your base protoshield from the thorough instructions over at – BUT, if you want to follow this how-to, don’t install the female headers on the top of the board (go ahead and install the 3-pin female header on the bottom). The R/2R DAC can be assembled on a protoshield with a breadboard, but I recommend the following method for enhanced sturdiness/reusability.

Materials needed

  • Resistors 10 x 10K & 8 x 20K
  • Trimpot 10K – labelled “103”
  • Jack 1/8″ stereo or mono, panel or board-mount can be used, phono or 1/4″ would work as well
  • Hook-up wire, 24 – 22AWG (I prefer solid core, 3 or 4 different colors is best)
  • Soldering iron & solder
  • Wire snips & wire stripper tools
  • Protoshield kit
  • Arduino

got all that? Ok – onto the making . . .

Extend those pins
Cut 8 pieces of solid core wire about 40mm long each and strip about 5mm from each end.

Wires Place
Place the wire pieces so they connect pins 0 – 7 to the top row of long solder pads on the board.

Solder and clip each wire lead on the reverse side of the board.

Climb the R/2R ladder
Resistorshorz Clearance
Next, place 20K resistors connecting each of the seven top long pads to the bottom row of pads, bending each lead to secure them before soldering. Try to keep them raised up above the 5V & GND rails below. On the other side of the board solder, and clip the leads.

Resistorsvert2 Crop
Now place 10K resistors between the bottom row of long pads. These need to mounted standing up (vertically) in order to fit. For the leftmost resistor, use the bottom hole of the last pad – leaving a spot for our output signal as pictured above.

Place the remaining 20K resistor connecting GND to the intersection of pin 0’s 10 and 20Ks as pictured above. Bend, solder, clip and rejoice in your new R/2R ladder!

Put in the output
Jack Place-1
Jack Groundsolder
I’m using a PCB-mount style 8″ stereo jack I used doesn’t fit into the standard hole size used on the protoshield :/ That’s ok, at least the ground conductor at the front of the jack fits. I snipped the right channel lead off (since I’m only interested in mono sound here) and bent the left channel soldering it to one hole on the board – and securing the jack in place by soldering the ground lead.

Jack Bothwires
Now cut and strip another piece of wire for the output signal, I chose to use red. While you’re at it, cut and strip 2 more for our signal ground and trimpot wiring.
Connect the signal and ground leads to the output jack from the sources across the board as pictured. Bend, solder, clip, repeat.

Trimpot placement
Pot Place
Place your trimpot on the board with the 2 outside leads connecting to 5V and GND and the middle lead to an isolated pad – turn the board over and solder into place.

Potwire Place
Lastly wire the middle lead of the trimpot to the analog 0 pad on the shield – solder and trim as per usual

Testing …

Now connect the board to your arduino and load up this sketch – R2R Synth Test

Hook up to a speaker/amplifier (as always, keep volume low at first). You’ll know everything works when you hear a rough tone controllable by the trimpot’s setting. Take a look at the code to see how it’s being generated – experiment with changing it to achieve different sounds.

Scanning the Arduino forums a bit I found Hotcarrier’s code for a 1kHz sine wave generator. After a bit of hacking I got it working as a variable tone generator.
You can check it out here – 1 kHz sine gen potpitch

Here’s a pic of the sketch’s output on the ol’ O-scope –


I’ll add a list of other compatible sketches here – Please stay tuned!

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