While on campus at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester, I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive at Syracuse University. James Meade, the Audio Preservation Engineer gave me a great tour of the lab and recording studio. I had such a wonderful conversation with Jim. Being able to see and touch some of the pieces was a delight for me.
As the Engineering and Computer Science Librarian at SU, it is always a joy to talk about cool stuff like this with someone. The best part is learning something new. Jim shared so much interesting information, that I found myself saying, “Wow, that is amazing” and “I did not know that” over and over again.
So later when I got my new 3D printer, I started looking for a neat project to print on thingiverse.com. Thingiverse is a great site for finding 3D models to print. You can find everything from custom hooks to a stand for cotton swabs. Or weird stuff like a snow alien and whatever the heck this thing is supposed to be. I came across this gramophone title Gramazon – The Acoustic Echo Amplifier.
I decided this print because it served a purpose and reminded me of the conversation about audio with Jim at SU. I also had an Amazon Echo Dot, 2nd generation lying around. It was given to me as a gift from my former students at Binghamton University. It was packed in a box and not being used. I have recently added two Amazon Echo Show 5 at my home, which I really enjoy. So I don’t have much use for the Echo Dot. It turns out that this print would make the Echo Dot useful again and look nice in my living room.
The print was done throughout a few weeks. The reason was that I wanted to take my time. Plus I had to order a different color filament when I realized the print would be all black. If I were to add up all the time it took to print the parts. I would say it was well over 20 hours. The nice thing about 3D printing is that you don’t have to sit and watch or do anything else when it prints. The largest part, which was the base took about eight hours. I am not sure how much filament I used. I am sure that I can calculate it by weighing the whole thing without the Echo Dot. It is all plastics with the small exception of the epoxy used to bond the horn parts.
After I printed the horn parts, I realized that I should have printed it in one piece. That is because I was going to have to glue them together. This would not only make it harder and messier, but it would require some sanding and paint to hide the seams. Printing it in one piece would have taken longer on the printer which would have required more supports and the possibility of a print failing. There is nothing worse than printing something and halfway through it fails to finish. It is not like sending it to a paper printer.
Now that I had the horn parts printed, I needed to figure out a way to put them together. Such a way that would look nice. I went back to Thingiverse to look for more gramophone prints. I came across this version of the gramophone Amazon Echo 2nd Gen. Dot Gramophone. It had rings that connected the horn pieces. It not only made it easier to bond, but it looked nicer in my opinion. What is really great about Thingiverse is that you can take a design and modify it. That is what this user did. They added the rings to the original design. Which worked out great because I only had to print the rings. The horn pieces fit perfectly.
What is so great about this project is how easy it was to print and put together. Often you will see a project that not only looks amazing but took a lot of work. This project basically was print, bond, plugin, and enjoy.
If you look at the print up close. You will notice some imperfections. The body is not smooth. I didn’t cut out all of the supports in the horn opening. That is because I wanted to show this idea of something that can be made with little to no effort. All of the work goes towards the designer of the 3D print. That I am sure took much more work and talent.
So here is the part where I got to thinking more about this project, technology, and life. Talking to Jim in the audio lab, I learned how much work and effort was taken to reproduce music. I never really thought of it. Sure, I know that making a recording and a playback device was not like making a birdhouse. It also never occurred to me how easy recorded audio is accessible to us.
In our discussion, Jim said that before recordings people only heard the music live. If you were not there to hear it, you missed out. Then we talked about growing up with records, tapes, and CDs. Now music is so easy to access. All you have to do is ask for it, literally. You don’t even have to know the name of a song, just part of it. Really, you can say “Alexa, play that song that goes “Annie are you ok?” by Michael Jackson. Alexa will play Smooth Criminal by Michael Jackson.
Getting back to the gramophones. It was amazing the detail involved and craftsmanship back then. Not only the affordability. Not everyone had access or owned one. Master carpenters and apprentices built these devices. Here we are in 2020. We have the technology to build or rather print one in our homes. The cost is almost nothing compared to what it was 100+ years ago.
Sure the print took 20+ hours to print. That is only because the technology to print 3D objects is fairly new. Imagine how fast it will be in 20 years. Or to quote one of my favorite lines from the cult-classic movie Johnny Dangerously, “In a hurry, Sally? Pop it into this time-saving micro-flame oven. Cook a whole turkey in just under a day!”
Here is a short video of the Gramazon in action.