The Modder Putting Everything from Alexa to the SNES in Boomboxes

Colin Elwell is a salesman by trade, but when you wander into his lab in Lawrence, Kan., you’ll find more than 50 boomboxes inside, each of them unique.

He restores the rarest boomboxes, hoping to sell them to fund new projects. For other radios, Elwell would rather see the speakers go to use than go into the recycle bin. To help decelerate the trash bin fate that the radios have, he modernizes them by adding Bluetooth and rechargeable batteries so they can keep up with modern music machines.

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But sometimes Elwell fuses old and new technologies to create new, heavily modded, devices. His most famous work is a Super Nintendo Classic merged into a boombox—it looks like the next best thing to a Nintendo Switch. Another favorite of his is a boombox with Amazon Alexa built in, which can be a hit at parties but has broader functionality, too.

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For a lot of people, music isn’t just about the sound, it’s also about the look. Elwell is fueled by memories of what music’s style was like when he was young, which is why he crafts boomboxes with ‘80s flair and 2020 tech.

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Nice work! I just did my first mod on an older Altec Lansing iPod speaker dock. The 30 pin connector wasn’t much use to me and the amplifier had died in it, but it still looks relatively modern and I didn’t want to let it go to waste. Unlike most speakers of this nature, it actually has separate woofers and tweeters with decent 2nd order crossovers and sounded pretty good for its time.

Now it has a Raspberry Pi 3A+ with a DAC/Amp HAT inside, running a linux distro called Moode Audio. Now, it’ll stream internet radio, play music files from my file share over WiFi or you can use it as a Bluetooth or AirPlay speaker. Plus, it’ll play files from the onboard SD card or an attached USB drive!

It has it’s own web based UI that you can connect to with any web browser, so you can control it from practically anything with a screen. I even added a rotary encoder to control the volume/mute so I don’t need to pull out my phone.

I use it as my workshop radio, now.

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