The Challenger II is an optical theremin, originally built in 2008. It is similar to a traditional theremin in that it is played without physical contact.

The Challenger IIThe Challenger II

The Challenger II uses a 555 IC as an oscillator and a photocell as a resistor to generate a square wave. As the amount of light that hits the photocell increases, the frequency of the square wave increases. The circuit is based off of the schematic designed by Beavis Audio Research, with some modifications to make use of the photocell.

Schematic originally designed by Beavis Audio Research Schematic originally designed by Beavis Audio Research

 

The circuit board The circuit board

There is only one physical control on the Challenger II, a power switch located on the front panel. There are no controls for manipulation of tone, volume, or any other effects. There is no audio output on this instrument.

The power switchThe power switch

The 2″ speaker provides the audio output, and is attached to the unit. This creates an entirely self-contained musical instrument. The power source, oscillator, amplifier, and speaker are all onboard. The circuit board is held up with an Express for Men 1MX dress shirt collar stay punch-out.

The speaker and 9V batteryThe speaker and 9V battery

The Challenger II showcases the flexibility of the 555 IC oscillator circuit, and demonstrates just one of the multitude of forms this style of synthesizer has taken since its creation.