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Photos: DIY Speak-er Spell

There are times when a bland, off-the-shelf portable speaker system just won't suffice. We wanted a mini boombox that would turn some heads and announce to the world our love of retro gadgets--so we gutted an old, broken Speak & Spell toy, ripped apart a small portable speaker system, and mashed them together. We call it the Speak-er Spell.

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Donald Bell
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1 of 6 Donald Bell/CNET Networks
To make the mod as seamless as possible, we had to relocate the power switch from the speaker system to the side of the Speak & Spell. To do this, we drilled a nice fat hole into the side of the Speak & Spell and wired a basic on/off switch between the battery compartment and the speaker's amplifier. Don't worry, because this entire project is powered off a few AAA batteries, there's no risk of a deadly electric shock.
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2 of 6 Donald Bell/CNET Networks
The speaker system we used had a male minijack cable wired to it so that it could be plugged into anything from an MP3 player to a vintage Walkman. To keep with the Speak & Spell's aesthetic, we had to change the male cable into a female jack and mount it in the space left from the toy's old headphone output. We used a mono jack we had lying around from an old project and wired both speakers to the mono lead. It's a little quick and dirty, but it works.
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3 of 6 Donald Bell/CNET Networks
The 1978 Speak & Spell children's language game is a toy that is incredibly sentimental to me. Apparently I'm not alone, however, considering that a mint condition Speak & Spell (or its lesser cousins, the Speak & Math or Speak & Read) still fetch upward of $40 on eBay. Broken Speak & Spells like this one are pretty common, especially considering the generations of abuse they've had to endure. With any luck you can scoop one up for around $10. One you have your case, you're going to need to find a powered portable speaker system to place inside of it. We tried using the existing speaker and amp circuit on the Speak & Spell, but it just didn't deliver the kind of audio quality we wanted. Instead, we went with a battery-powered portable speaker called the iMainGo that was hanging around from last year's Macworld convention. We had to break out the ol' box cutter to carve some space into the Speak & Spell for the speakers to fit, but otherwise this entire project was pretty quick and painless and required only a basic familiarity with soldering.
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4 of 6 Donald Bell/CNET Networks
Here's the end result. The Speak & Spell handle not only makes this thing easy to carry around, but it can double as a kickstand for your MP3 player as well. Now just load up E.T. on your iPod and bask in the nostalgia.
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5 of 6 Donald Bell/CNET Networks
The Speak & Spell just didn't look right without its old-school alphanumeric display. So we modified the speaker system's LED light to extend up into the Speak & Spell's text window. To achieve an eerie glow, we went with a low-tech folded plastic grocery bag to diffuse the light. The effect looks much cooler once the tinted faceplate is put back on.
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6 of 6 Donald Bell/CNET Networks
We only made two changes to the iMainGo's little amp board. First, we wired the kill switch to the power supply (the white cable on the right). Next we snipped the little green LED light off the board (the red and green cables next to the switch) and extended it so that it could lend its glow to the Speak & Spell's old text readout window.

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