Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Teensy Audio over USB

In my last post, where I sent my first analog audio through a Teensy, I also discovered that it has the ability to exchange digital audio over its USB link.  Whoa.  This means that, if I'm developing some snazzy new audio-processing algorithm, I can test it 100% digitally without adding any complications of converting back and forth through analog signals.  That is a really powerful capability that'll greatly simplify my audio development.  Let's see if it really works!

Discovering USB Audio:  I only discovered that the Teensy might be able to do USB Audio while using their web-based graphical tool.  This is a tool that the Teensy folks ahve created to help people work with their Audio Library.  While using that tool, I noticed that there were input/output blocks named "USB".  Does this mean that Teensy can exchange audio over USB?!?  Really?  That's a pretty advanced feature for an electronics board aimed at hobbyists!  Does it work?

A Simple USB Audio Chain:  To give it a try, I configured an audio chain as shown below: one stereo USB input connected to one stereo USB output.  The left channel is just connected straight across -- no processing.  For the right channel, though, I've inserted a Biquad filter block just so that I can confirm that the Teensy is indeed doing something to the audio.  It's a pretty simple setup.

It Didn't Work:  When I exported the audio chain above, loaded it onto the Teensy, and gave it a try, it didn't work.  I got silence.  I don't know why.  So I started messing around...

Making it Work:  To get the USB Audio to work, I found that I had to engage the audio board's hardware in some way.  One way to make it work is shown below: add a SGTL5000 block for the Audio Board, and add an I2S block to be the output of the Audio Board.  I connected the I2S output to be just like the USB output.  Now, whatever the Teensy is sending out via USB will also be present at the headphone jack.  Sure, it seems like an unnecessary complication if I just want to use USB for my audio, but it's kinda cool that it's so easy to output to multiple targets simultaneously.

Completing the Arduino Code:  The graphical web-based tool shown above doesn't produce a complete program to load onto the Teensy -- it just gets you started.  When I hit the "Export" button, it gave me all of the code to setup the hardware and make the connections, but I still needed to write the last bit of code to make it run.  As usual, I did my coding in the Arduino IDE because it's easiest.

My Code:  The screenshot below shows the Arduino sketch that I used for this demo (it's on my GitHub here).  At the top is the big block of code that was exported from the web-based tool.  Easy.  Then, at the bottom, I added the setup() and loop() functions.  As you can see, the setup() function configures the SGTL5000 audio board and it sets the biquad filter to be a low-pass filter at 500 Hz.  The loop() function does nothing.

Tell the Compiler about USB Audio!  The only trick to using the USB audio is that you need to tell the compiler that you want the Teensy to run in USB Audio mode.  So, prior to compiling and uploading this Arduino sketch, go under the "Tools" menu, click on "USB Type" and select "Audio".  Notice that there are many other choices, including "Serial", "Keyboard, "MIDI", "Audio" and "No USB".   Normally, one uses "Serial" so that Serial.println() is able to print messages to the Serial Monitor.  But, for this demo, I want "Audio".

Loading onto the Teensy:  Once you change the USB setting to Audio, you can compile and upload to the Teensy.  The first time you do it, it'll probably upload to the Teensy without any issue.  Great!  But, once it is in USB Audio mode, future programs won't appear to upload automatically.  Why?  Well, once the USB link set for Audio, the Teensy can't get reprogramming commands over that same USB link.  What's the solution?  After the Arduino IDE has finished compiling, simply press the Teensy's reset button (picture below).  After a reset, the Teensy knows to check in with the PC prior to switching over to Audio mode.  It will automatically get any new program waiting for it.  It's a small extra step, but I didn't find it to be a problem at all.

Testing Using Audacity:  Once the Teensy is in USB Audio mode, the Teensy appears to your PC as if it is a soundcard.  So, you can now send and receive audio data to it using any audio recording program.  For this demo, I used Audacity because it is free.

Configuring Audacity:  With the Teensy attached, my computer now has two soundcards: (1) its built-in soundcard and (2) the Teensy.  Once Audacity launches, I configured Audacity to use the Teensy as the soundcard instead of the built-in one.  The screenshot below shows the five settings that I changed in Audacity.  On my computer (Windows 7), the Teensy cryptically appeared as "Digital Audio Interface (2-Tee" [sic], which wasn't as quite helpful as informative as it could have been, but it was good enough for me to choose the right item.

First USB Audio:  For this test, I'm want to send audio out over USB (to the Teensy) and record audio coming from USB (from the Teensy).  So, I need to start by creating a test signal to send out over USB.  Under the "Generate" menu, I chose "Chirp" and made a linear frequency sweep from 100 Hz to 4000 Hz.  This appeared as a single mono track in Audacity.  That's all the preparation that I needed to do.  Now, I simply hit the red record button.  Audacity started playing out the chirp audio to the Teensy while recording the audio coming back from the Teensy.  The result is shown in the screenshot below.

Success!  The screen shot shows two audio files.  Both files are shown in "spectrogram" view (60 dB dynamic range).  The top file contains the original (mono) frequency sweep generated by Audacity.  This is what was sent to the Teensy over the USB Audio link.  The bottom file shows the stereo audio recorded from the Teensy.  The left channel had no processing being performed by the Teensy and it does indeed appear to be a copy of the original signal.  The right channel, though, was being processed by the Teensy by its 500 Hz low-pass biquad filter.  As can be seen, the high frequencies are attenuated -- the gentle roll-off is as expected from a biquad filter.  This was amazingly easy!

Future Use:  While I'm very impressed that this capability exists at all, it's not perfect.  In additional testing, I occasionally found hiccups or other artifacts in the audio stream coming back from the Teensy.  But, most of the time, this USB Audio link worked really well.  It'll be great for debugging my audio projects.  Anytime I have any question about the negative effects of my analog components, I can simply switch over to USB Audio to avoid the whole problem.  It'll be a great tool to have in my audio hacking toolbox.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Teensy Audio Board - First Audio

After having good success with the speed of the Teensy products for doing audio-relevant operations, I've decided that it's now time to start playing with actual audio signals.  To do this, I need some sort of interface for getting analog audio signals into and out of the Teensy.  Luckily, Teensy makes an audio board just for this purpose.  Today, I'm going to give the Teensy Audio Board a try.

Buying The Parts:  The first step of a new project is always fun: buying the parts.  I go to Adafruit or Sparkfun, I see what they have in stock, and I order all the stuff that I need.  This is the part of the project where the vision and dream fills one with excitement, without being tempered by any of the actual hardware and frustration that comes with building and trouble-shooting.  And if that wasn't good enough, in a few days, you get a box full of shiny things!

For this project, I used a Teensy 3.2, a Teensy Audio Board, some 14-pin female headers for the Audio Board, a 10K pot to fit into the "volume knob" spot on the Audio Board, and a 3.5 mm stereo audio jack.

Assembling the Audio Board:  This part of the project was pretty straight-forward.  Simply solder on the female headers, solder on the 10K pot, and solder some wires between the "Line-In" holes on the Audio Board and the 3.mm audio jack..  As you can see in the photo below, I could have done a better job with the audio jack, but it's good enough for this project.  (And thanks to Ray for giving it a nice sturdy plastic base!)

Assemble with the Teensy:  After finishing the assembly of the Audio Board, I turned to the Teensy itself.  All that is needed is to solder on some male pin headers.  Then, the Teensy can be connected to the Audio Board.

Audio Software:  To use the Teensy with the Audio Board, you some software that tells the Teensy how to interact with the Audio Board.  Because audio programming can be tricky, PJRC (the Teensy folks) have written a pretty extensive audio library.  It's pretty impressive.  I chose to use this library for my initial trials.  You can get the library from their GitHub repo (as described here) or, even easier, it was probably already installed on your computer when you first installed the drivers for the Teensy itself (via the "Teensyduino" installer).

Audio System Design Tool:  The hardest part of doing something new is getting started.  Where do I begin?  Well, PJRC knows that this is a hurdle, so they help you get started by providing a web-based GUI for configuring your audio processing.  The idea with this GUI is that it will help you build your software for the Teensy.  The Teensy doesn't know about the Audio Board -- you have to tell it everything.  So, as you can see in the screenshot below, I started by dragging in a module called "sgtl5000".  The SGTL5000 is the audio codec at the heart of the Teensy Audio Board, so by using the module, the Teensy will now know about the Teensy Audio Board.

Line-In Pass-Through:  The next step is to configure the audio path that I'd like.  For this demo, I simply want to pass audio from the Line-In input to the headphone output.  From the Teensy's perspective, the Audio Board will provide these signals to the Teensy over the Teeny's I2S bus.  So, in the GUI, I  dragged in an I2S input module and I dragged in an I2S output module.  Finally, I drew lines connecting the inputs to the outputs (the two lines represent the left and right audio channels).  And that's it!

Exporting to the Arudino IDE:  This GUI is merely a tool to help you get started with configuring your audio processing chain.  It doesn't compose all of the software for me.  Instead, I need to export this audio configuration and get it into the Arduino IDE, where I can complete the programming and put it on the Teensy.  So, I clicked on the GUI's "Export" button, at which point it pops up a window with a bunch of Arduino code ready to be copied-and-pasted into a new Arduino sketch.

The GUI-Provided Arduino Code:  The figure below shows a screen-shot of my completed sketch in the Arduino IDE.  The first part of the sketch is the code provided by the web-based GUI tool.  This code imports the required libraries, instantiates the required audio-related objects, and connects them together per the drawing that I made in the GUI.

Completing the Software:  The second half of the program is the code that I had to write myself.  I had to write the "setup()" and "loop()" functions that are the core of every Arduino sketch.  As you can see in my "setup()" function above, I do a couple of things: (1) I allocate some memory for the audio library to use and (2) I issue a few commands to configure the settings within Audio Board.  I stole all of this code from example programs in the Audio library.  After the "setup()" function, I wrote the "loop()" function.  Based on the example code, I don't need anything here.  Once properly configured, the Audio Library handles everything in the background.  My code is on my GitHub here.

First Audio Testing:  For my first audio test, I simply want to inject an audio signal into the Teensy and record the audio signal that it produces in response.  Since the Teensy was programmed to pass the audio through without any manipulations, the output should be the same as the input.  Let's see!

Setup:  I compiled the code and loaded onto the Teensy.  To generate a test signal, I used my computer.  I used Audacity to make a linear frequency sweep (a "chirp") and played it out of the computer's headphone jack.  I connected the headphone output of my computer to the Line-In jack on the Teensy Audio Board.  I recorded the audio output of the Teensy Audio Board by connecting its headphone output to a Roland R-05 handheld audio recorder that I happen to have.  I hit record on the Roland and I hit play in Audacity and, like MAGIC!, I found that I had audio passing through the Teensy.   Yay!

First Data:  After recording the audio chirp with the Roland, I transferred the audio file over to the PC and opened it in Audacity (available here).  As can be seen in the screen shot below, it does indeed look like a chirp, which is good.  I also see, however, that it is not a pure chirp signal -- I see some unexpected lines in the spectrogram.  To me, these spurious lines look like harmonic distortion and some sort of aliasing.  These undesirable signals are not very loud compared to the primary signal, but they are clearly present.  So, while I'm pleased with my initial success with getting this Teensy-based audio system to work, I also see that there is some work ahead to optimize the audio quality.

Next Steps:  My next steps are to investigate other features of the Audio library (the audio library provides for USB-based audio transfer!?!  That's pretty advanced!) and to try the Audio Board with the Teensy 3.6 instead of the Teensy 3.2.  There's fun times ahead with audio hacking!

Follow-Up:  I made my own Teensy Hearing Aid using a Teensy and a Teensy Audio Board.  It's fun!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Benchmarking - Teensy 3.6 is Fast!

Fast but easy to program --  that's what I need for my audio processing projects.  In my previous post, I loved the speed of the NXP K66 processor, but was frustrated with the NXP development environment.   Well, thanks to PJRC and Kickstarter, the solution has arrived...via US Mail.  Welcome to the new Teensies!  Based on my tests, it looks like audio hacking just got a whole lot more fun.

Teensy?  Teensy is a line of microcontroller boards that are much more capable than the standard Arduino boards, but that can still be programmed using the friendly Arduino development environment (the "Arduino IDE").  I've used one of the existing Teensy boards (Teensy 3.2) on a number of projects and it definitely achieves its goal: it's a powerful, fast little board that is really easy to program.

New Teensies!  Through just-completed Kickstarter, Teensy has expanded its line of boards by adding the Teensy 3.5 and Teensy 3.6.  As can be seen in the table below, the Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 have a faster clock speed and have more RAM.  The specs on the Teensy 3.6 match by my loved-and-hated FRDM-K66F board from NXP.  The increased capabilities of the Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 relative to the older Teensy (and relative to Arduino) should really help in computationally-heavy tasks, such as processing audio.

Floating-Point Prowess.  For me, the best feature of the new Teensies is the inclusion of a floating-point unit (FPU), which will accelerate calculations with floating-point numbers.  This will makes it much easier to hack together audio processing algorithms.  I loved the performance of the NXP FRDM-K66 board because its FPU made it stunningly fast on floating-point FIR and FFT operations.  I'm hoping that the Teensy 3.6 is able to match the speed of the FRDM-K66.  If it can, I can leave behind the FRDM-K66 board and never again have to struggle with NXP's development environment.

Programming the New Teensies.  To evaluate the new Teensy boards, I'm going to re-run my FFT benchmark tests (on GitHub here).  First, I had to get the latest "Teensyduino" software from PJRC (to get support for the new boards into the Arduino IDE).  Then, I simply opened up my FFT benchmarking sketch and recompiled.  It was previously written for the Teensy 3.2 and now, without any changes, it compiled successfully for the Teensy 3.5/3.6.  This is the ease-of-use that I was hoping for!

Speed Results.  I ran my bechmarking tests on the new boards and complied the results in the table below.  It shows how many FFTs each board could complete per second.  It's my raw data.  It is hard to see the interesting trends in this table, so let's jump over the table and look at something simpler...

Which Board is Fastest?  Below is a bar chart comparing the speed of each board for a 128-point FFT.  I shows the speed when using Int32 data types and when using Float32 data types (the two most likely used in audio processing).  Two results stand out:
  • The Teensy 3.6 is the overall winner, even beating the FRDM-K66F.  While that is a bit inexplicable, it's great!
  • The Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 are great for floating point calculations.  Look at how big those red bars are!  Clearly, the FPU in these newer boards makes a huge difference.

How Fast do I Need?  So the bars in the graph above are big.  How do I know what bars are big enough?  How do I know which are fast enough for audio processing?  Well, like in my previous post, I want to know which boards can keep up with calculations that need to be done at audio rates.  In this case, I want to know which boards can do FFT operations at audio rates.  What does that mean?

FFTs for Audio Processing.  FFTs are interesting for audio because it means one can process audio in the frequency domain, which can be very convenient.  To do frequency-domain processing, you need to do an FFT to get into the frequency domain and you need to do an IFFT (which is basically the same computational load as an FFT) to get back out of the frequency domain.  Then, because of windowing and other blah-blah-blah, you generally overlap your audio data blocks by 50%, which means that each audio block needs four FFT-like operations.  Can this get done in real time?

Keeping up with Audio.  Because I measured how many FFTs each board can do per second, I can estimate the maximum audio sample rate (samples per second) that each board can support while still doing four FFTs per data block.  A typical sample rate used for audio is 44 kHz.  My results below show which boards can sustain at least 44 kHz (shown in green) versus those that cannot (shown in red).

Integer vs Floating-Point Results.  As can be seen in the table, the Teensy 3.2 is fast enough for audio if I'm using integer data types (Int16 or Int32).  It is not fast enough to use Floats.  The new Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 are faster than the Teensy 3.2, especially on Floats.  The Teensy 3.6 just screams on Floats -- it has enough processing power to sustain a sample rate over 300 kHz for frequency-domain processing.  Wow.  This is exactly the result that I was hoping to see.

Conclusion.  For my audio processing projects, it looks like the Teensy 3.6 is the best choice.  It's really fast, yet it can be easily programmed through the comfortable and friendly Arduino IDE.  I'm very pleased.

Next Step:  My next step is to join the Teensy 3.6 to an audio interface (such as the Teensy Audio Board) so that I can leave these synthetic benchmarks behind and start playing with actual audio.  It's gonna be fun!

Extra Credit:  How much faster are the new Teensies vs the Teensy 3.2?  The Teensy 3.6 is 16x faster than the Teensy 3.2 on Floats.  Dang, that's fast.  Again, this must be due to the FPU in the new units.

Follow-Up:  I made my own Teensy Hearing Aid using a Teensy 3.6 and a Teensy Audio Board.  It's fun!