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DIY: Two Funnels + Earbuds + Old Tech = Rock On

"Don't trash it--transform it." That's the mantra behind 62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer, a new book that, as its title suggests, contains instructions for repurposing old, obsolete, or broken electronics into something useful (or at least interesting). Instead of just telling you about the book, though, I decided to actually build something from it: A set of speakers made from a pair of earbuds.

For these speakers, you'll need two dead MP3 players to serve as the speaker base (since we are PCWorld, we decided to use a couple old Creative Zen players), two plastic funnels (with tabs on them), a pair of earbuds, a hot glue gun, and some nuts and bolts. You'll also need a tool to open up and gut the MP3 players.

If you have iPods, you'll probably need a thin knife to pry it open. In my case, I used a screwdriver to disassemble the Zen players.

The instructions specify that you need to remove the MP3 players' headphone jacks and batteries; you'll insert a bolt where the headphone jack resides, and you'll want to remove the battery to prevent any possible acid leakage down the road.

Oh, I'm going to void the warranty, all right!

Opening up old electronics can feel like an archeological dig. While taking apart the two Zen players, I gained a newfound respect for Creative's early-2000's industrial designers; these things were built like tanks. I discovered that these early players used 2.5-inch notebook drives, rather than the 1.8-inch hard drives that newer players used. I was also surprised to find the battery soldered to the Zen's main circuitboard.

Removing the battery involved a couple snips of wire to detach it from the circuitboard. Removing the headphone jack took a little more effort, though. I had to pry out the jack and circuit board attached to it.

Once I brute-forced the headphone jack out, I was able to slip a bolt through the headphone jack opening and secure the funnel to the MP3 player. It was a little tricky to get the bolt to stay in place, as it kept wanting to slide back into the player.

The bolt inserted through the headphone jack.
The bolt inserted through the headphone jack.

The last step it to attach the earbuds to the small end of the funnel using a hot glue gun. I used a pair of standard issue iPod earbuds, courtesy of Jason Snell's in-office iPod museum (i.e. a desk drawer containing every iPod model ever made). If you have a better pair of earbuds, you can use them, but I decided against wasting a perfectly good pair of $60 earbuds.

Use a hot glue gun to attach the earbuds to the funnel.

That's pretty much all there is to it. The audio quality won't match a set of real computer speakers, but they'll work in a pinch. Also, the speakers aren't particularly loud, but it's adequate if you're in a fairly quiet setting (though you'll have to crank up your volume quite a bit). In either case, at least you'll be able to shore up your geek credentials.

The finished product.

It took me about an hour to complete this project. I spent most of the time trying to remove the MP3 player components and getting over my own ineptitude when it comes to arts and crafts (I'm surprised I didn't glue my fingers together or something).

If you're at all interested in DIY projects, consider buying the book; it's a worthy addition to your library.

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