This is one of a series of “classic posts
“. Resurrections of old posts that I enjoyed writing, and you might enjoy reading.
There is a company somewhere in Asia that manufactures small speakers. Small piezoelectric speakers that can put out a surprising amount of noise. I would one day like to visit this company, and spend a little bit of time pressing each button on all of my son’s noise-making toys that no doubt contain the spawn of this hellish company. Small demons no less, screaming nauseating 8-bit music at the top of their lungs.
More than once I have worried about my son’s hearing. One such toy is a cartoon-like telephone. Apparently designed to be held to the head in a similar manner to Dad’s cellphone. This would be fine if the little phone didn’t pump out something in the region of 70-80dB of noise (I’m not joking – louder than conversation, and approaching a food blender in volume).
Thankfully I am not afraid of hacking. In fact hacking electronic devices can easily be a life and sanity saver. Hacking these noisy little beasts generally falls into two categories, named in suitable serial-killer chic as Muffling and Exterminating.
The Muffling hack is useful when you have a toy that is designed around the sounds it makes (e.g. the toy cellphone in my case), and also has a bit of space inside it. The approach I take is to find some decent compressable material (e.g. lightweight foam or dacron), open the toy, find the baby demon speaker, and wrap the fucker in a couple of layers of your material. You can usually then stuff the speaker back in its original location, and close up the toy. I find this technique can knock an easy 20dB off a noisy toy, making it comfortable to listen to at an arm’s length.
The Extermination hack is a more robust hack for those toys that are just plain obnoxious, and have no place emitting the noises they do. My example is a cool little firetruck that drives along and pops up a water-cannon. Great, except it also screams “Matchbox to the rescue!” at 80dB, which would be supremely ironic for a firetruck if it weren’t manufactured by Matchbox. The hack is simple: open the toy, find the speaker, and detach one or both wires from the speaker. A hard yank will usually do the trick (and is very satisfying), but you could use wire cutters or a soldering iron if you are a poof want to do it right.
There is probably a third hack that involves reducing the volume of the speaker through passive electronics, possibly by soldering a resistor in-line with the speaker. I shall leave that as an exercise for the reader. If you have any other suggestions (not counting the impact-with-concrete hack), then feel free to comment.
Update: Dan Rutter has a good writeup (second question down the page) on how to use electronics to quieten these offensive toys.