About this project
What is it?
The UFO is a self-contained strobe light and dot pattern that indicates when your turntable is spinning at the correct speed, whether 33.3 or 45 RPM. It sits on the center spindle and works with any turntable. The unique design not only looks superb, it also has crystal-controlled accuracy of 30ppm (that would be 45.000 +/-0.0015 RPM). The push-button on top steps through the various operating modes and also turns it off.
Who needs it?
Anyone with a turntable! If you want to know that your table is accurate or if it has a speed adjustment, the UFO is exactly what you need. And it doesn't cost any more than a traditional two-piece pattern disc and strobe light.
Why do you need it?
Maybe you just like the way it looks with the room lights off - glowing and hovering in space above your LP. Maybe you're a DJ working night clubs and want to set yourself apart. Or perhaps you just care a lot about sound and try to get the most out of your vinyl playback system, implementing every tweak possible to minimize distortions. If you have a heavy duty turntable with a massive platter, I suggest getting the weighted version, as the extra mass and damping can improve the noise floor of your system.
Who am I?
I have been designing electronic equipment for 31 years. My company (www.hagtech.com, www.haglabs.com) focuses on audio products, specifically related to vinyl playback. Our Bugle2 phonograph preamp was a huge success on Kickstarter earlier this year. It has received rave reviews and continues to sell as a hot commodity on my website. I fully expect to do the same with the UFO. Delivering unique, high performance audio equipment is something we've been doing for the past 15 years.
The major cost item for this project is the custom tooling required for injection molding the plastic parts. It's about $12,000 and there is no way around it. Add in the cost of other parts and I need to sell 300 kits just to break even. That's how I came up with the $22,500 goal. However, the minimum volume for a production run of plastic (tool can be re-used many times) is 1000 pieces, so my donation to the project is $7000, to pay for the leftover 700 sets. Yeah, that is out of my pocket! And I will do it, because I really want this project to succeed. Hopefully we can reach 150% of our goal, as that covers all up-front costs except for assembly and distribution. I make the profit on the back end, selling UFOs from my website for the next decade.
How was it designed?
I came up with the idea for the UFO back in 2004. In fact, I sold ten pieces of the original version, but the design was way too costly to take into production. Fast forward to 2012, and I developed version 2, which was mechanically hideous, and only a few prototypes were built. The circuit however, was completely re-designed around a micro-controller with added features, improved performance, and a switch to low cost AAA batteries. Cost has always been the main problem, and the only reasonable solution is to go with a plastic enclosure. So here we are in 2013. I hired Collin Kobayashi (www.3d-innovations.com), a local 3D designer and expert, to develop a completely new housing that would integrate perfectly with the electronics and be cost effective. Working together we came up with a fantastic result that achieved all of my goals and requirements. We've had two prototypes 3D printed and they are what you see in the video. The design is now complete, tested, and ready for production.
How will it be built?
Collin will work with the tooling / molding vendor to get the initial production run started. I will order circuit boards and parts and can start assembly of these items prior to receiving the enclosures. That should give me about two months' head start, minimizing the final assembly effort. I expect to start shipping kits as soon as the enclosures arrive. All units (including assembled ones) should be delivered within about four months.
Turntables are making a huge comeback these days and LP sales are booming. I'm not surprised, because vinyl playback can be fantastic, far surpassing the sound quality of MP3s and other digital music sources. Many of these new turntables, however, are missing one important feature - a speed strobe. And that is where I come in. Hi, I'm Jim Hagerman, and I design audiophile components. You may remember me from my other Kickstarter project earlier this year, the Bugle2 phonograph preamp. This project is even better.
It all started during a phone conversation with Thom Mackris, the designer at Galibier Turntables, back in 2004. We were talking about motor speed control, spot lighting, and other stuff when I misunderstood something he said, and "poof" the light bulb went on. The idea of combining the strobe and lamp into one piece was invented - the original UFO had been born. You no longer needed the traditional two-piece, hand-held strobe and disc pattern that other manufacturers are selling. And now, thanks to Kickstarter, for the same price, you can own something way cooler - a new, 3rd generation UFO.
My partner for this project, Collin Kobayashi, a local specialist in 3D design, used the the latest computer methods to come up with a plastic enclosure that was both practical and interesting. Three molded pieces come together surrounding my custom circuit board to form what looks like a flying saucer. We've built up two prototypes using 3D printing technology to make sure everything fits just right and to get the look we were after. The kit version is not that difficult to assemble, as long as you are skilled at soldering electronics. The hollow bottom can be filled with lead shot and resin to create an anti-resonant structure of about 1.5 pounds, providing extra damping if you have one of those heavy duty turntables.
In use, you can see the strobe pattern dots "freeze" in space when the speed is correct. The production version will be professionally molded ABS plastic - light grey on top and charcoal black on the bottom. With the room lights off, it really does look like a UFO floating in space. If you're a professional DJ, serious audiophile, or just a vinyl junkie, you need one of these.
Risks and challenges
Although we've obtained tooling and production quotes from the plastic vendor, some last minute design changes may need to be made. This should not affect the overall look and functionality, only minor details, such as how small or deep the dimples are that form the dot pattern.
Delivery dates are estimates and depend on the tooling vendor's schedule and lead time. And, as with my last Kickstarter project, if demand is higher than expected, the production time will also be correspondingly longer.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
In addition to ON and OFF, there are STROBE and FREEZE modes for both 33.33 and 45 RPM speeds. The FREEZE mode blinks the LEDs such that they themselves appear not to rotate in space. It is a great way to check for long term drift.
The strobe is accurate to roughly +/-0.002 RPM. That's nominal accuracy plus long term drift.
The standard UFO is about 5 ounces. That is perfect for any table, even those with suspensions. The weighted UFO is 1.5 pounds, which is actually quite heavy.
The UFO takes 3 standard AAA cells. Yes, you could use rechargable NiCd or NiMH if you want. Battery life is about 24 hours, if you leave the strobe ON. In the OFF mode, batteries should last about ten years (yes, it is actively waiting for you to turn it on).
There are 12 downward facing blue LEDs and 3 upward facing red LEDs. This gives a very uniform illumination of the strobe pattern dots.
Because I wanted to get the cost down to something reasonable! $100 is a very fair price for what you are getting (one of the more popular two-piece strobes sells for $109). Had I used a metal housing the price would have been at least $500. Yes, it would have looked a little bit nicer, but at five times the price I felt it was the wrong way to go.
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