The Vector Amp


I actually built this box some time ago for another piece and never used it. It’s perfect for this project though. The wood is 3/4″ white oak that I scavanged from an old bookshelf I got back when I was in High School (That’s old). The lens on the front is an old Bell and Howell camera lens from some sort of arcane camera. If I had to guess I’d say it was from an old aerial photography camera. My Friend Jeff League was kind enough to hand it it off to me one day because he thought I could do something cool with it. Let’s see about that!

The front optic is 4″, and the rear is 2″ which is perfect because I plan on placing a small LCD screen inside (3.5″). The LCD screen will overlap the back optic just enough to give me a full circle of view from the front. I dug around on the internet quite a bit looking for small LCD displays. I would have thought that they’d be abundantly available these days, but it seems the trend of bigger-better-faster-more is overtaking LCD tech and it’s difficult finding them below 7″. I was however able to find a back-up camera kit for an automobile that had a small camera and a 3.5″ screen that runs about 100 bucks that will work out perfect. The camera I won’t need for this project, but the next piece I have planned will make good use of it!

For the video and audio playback I turned to the wonderful world of digital signage. I needed a solid-state device that would play a digital video file (.avi) on a loop when powered on, and stay playing without needing any button-pressing. There are quite a few very fancy units out there that will do just that and much more. Unfortunately most of them ranged in the 400 dollar and up category. Far too much for my meager budget. I finally, after about a month of fruitless search, was able to find a unit for 150 bucks that was just perfect. No HDMI, no multiple outputs, no ethernet linking, etc, etc, ad-nauseum. It seems these days that since something CAN be done, we feel it must be done.. in my search to find small, simple, inexpensive devices I realized that it’s getting harder and harder to find things like that. Everything must be all things to all people. I’m not sure I like this trend! Anyways, I digress. Back to the story. Alternately I suppose I could use any number of the digital picture frames out there that play video and audio. I’ll probably do some research into that and make that decision before jumping off in any one direction.

For the Audio amp side I was originally going to use a bona-fide tube amplifier kit from Tube-Depot. However, after a month of reading books on tube-amp design and electronics theory (my head hurts), I came to the conclusion that any tubes I could use in an inexpensive tube-amp would be far too small and more to the point, uncool looking for the top of this box. Tube amps are all about the marriage of a electron tubes to suitable transformers, and as most things go.. the bigger and more cool-looking your tubes are, the bigger (and more expensive) your transformers have to be. Now, while tubes are somewhat inexpensive (15 to 100 bucks on avg.), transformers for big, cool-looking tubes run in the multiple hundreds of dollars range.

It seemed silly to drop 600 dollars on a tube amp that was just going to be used to play some ambient audio from 3″ speakers on a loop. So I stepped back from the kool-aid.. I would buy the big, cool tubes, and just wire them up to glow. This way I can chose tubes based solely on their aesthetics. This of course means now I needed to have some other small, solid-state amp to power the speakers with. Enter Parts Express! For 30 bucks they have a small kit that runs off a simple transformer, and will power those 3″ speakers without any problem at all. Have I ever extolled the virtues of Parts Express? Man I love that place. The catalog is like Playboy to me.. I read it endlessly.

The speakers will just be some 3″ full range jobbies from parts express. The don’t need to be anything fancy or cool looking since they will be hidden in the 4″ copper tubes, they just need to work.

The copper elbows I found online. 4″ copper elbows are NOT cheap (Remind me again why I decided to work in copper?) they run about 60.00 each. I’ll need 4 of them for this project, as well as a foot or so of 4″ copper pipe which runs 65.00/foot. All in all the copper pipe will be the most expensive aspect of this piece. But I think it’s absolutely the most important as well. PVC pipe painted to look like copper would be.. well.. unsuitable at best.

So anyways, I have all my ducks lined up. The plan is set, and some of the parts are already on their way to me, so I’m off and running! I’ll post back soon when I have something interesting to look at!


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