The Ten Dollar Red Box

by Toxic Avenger

I bought the guts to a "talking" Hallmark card at 3 pm yesterday.  Before 5, I had a working box.  Here are the instructions for the complete idiot (or those just having trouble).


  • 1 - Hallmark digital recording card (~$8, card store)
  • 1 - 1/8-inch mono phono plug (~$1 or in a junk bin)
  • 1 - SPST switch, or momentary contact / normally closed (~$1 or junk bin)
  • The sound of magical quarter tones (you can get these from payphones, computer sound files (QUARTER.VOC is one), other Red Boxes, tape recorders, etc.)
  • A case of some sort (I used a case from a DAT, but anything you can put the stuff in will work.  Perhaps the case from a data tape or an 8 mm videotape, or just a cassette.)
  • A tube of silicone sealant (epoxy will probably do, I just happened to have silicone on hand.)

What To Do

1.)  Remove all components from the plastic thing inside the card.  This includes sliding the battery pack out of its drawer.

2.)  Cut the following wires:

2a.)  (Optional)  It is a wise idea (if you are fairly experienced at soldering/desoldering on small PC boards) to desolder all the wires and replace them with ones of a thicker gauge.  The ones the Hallmark supplies are just too damn thin and have a real tendency to break at connections.  Remember, the wires in this card are supposed to be protected in the little plastic grooves that you removed them from.

3.)  Discard the switch mechanism.

4.)  Wrap the battery pack in electrical tape (I used red tape just to be cheesy, since the box is clear).

5.)  Solder the SPST switch to the black and green wires that used to go to the original switch (polarity is not important).

6.)  Solder the phono plug to the two green wires.  Polarity shouldn't really be important, but to be on the safe side, the wire that ran to the center of the microphone (I told you to mark it) should go to the TIP of the plug.

7.)  Connect the battery.  (This battery pack puts out 6.25 VDC.  I suppose you could replace it with another battery, but why bother?)  Polarity is extremely important!  The red wire goes to the positive terminal, and the white wire goes to the negative.  On my box, if the pack is laying flat, with the exposed part of the batteries pointing up, the positive terminal is the one on the left (if you are facing the terminals).  I'd use a multimeter just to be sure.

8.)  Glue the PC board to the top of the battery (this saves space and hassle later, but is not necessary for operation).

9.)  Program the thing...  I used the QUARTER.VOC file and I looped it 10 times, with a random delay of between 0.5 and 1.0 seconds between each quarter (who puts them in at regular intervals anyway?).  If you have this file, plug the phono plug into your soundcard, turn the volume way down (trial and error will give you the proper volume) and play the .VOC file (after setting the switch on the PC board to the record position, and flipping the SPST at the beginning of the .VOC file).

10.)  Test it...  The best way to test is to call long distance Directory Assistance (I'm partial to 808-555-1212 which is Hawai'i).  If it doesn't work, go back to Step 9.  The ideal volume is one that can be heard clearly, but does not cause the speaker to break up.

11.)  Once you have the thing programmed, there is no need to keep the phono plug attached.  If you want to save room, cut it off.

12.)  Put the thing in the case.  Drill several holes in the case where the speaker will mount.  I mounted the speaker with silicone very carefully applied to the edges of the speaker.  Same was true of the battery pack.  The switch obviously mounts in a hole on the side of the case.

Why the SPST Switch?

First off, I thought the switch that came with the thing looked really cheaply made, and would probably break.  Secondly, by putting in a switch instead of a momentary switch, it allows me to record $2.50 on the box, and play the whole thing back just by flipping the switch, rather than having to hold it down.

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