Help me hack my Leap Frog
January 2, 2009 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Can you hack toddler toys to lower the speaker volume?

I was complaining to friends over New Years Eve dinner that seemingly every toy company that manufactures battery operated toddler toys seems to want to simultaneously damage my son's hearing and destroy my sanity. Some have low/high volume switches, but half the time "low" means "Ted Nugent concert" and high means "Ted Nugent concert in the midst of a large-scale deforestation."

One of my friends mentioned he had heard that it was possible to alter the toys' circuit boards to monkey with the volume, but he didn't have a link. Google's getting me nothing so far but links to studies that confirm my fears -- that these toys do put my son at risk for hearing loss. He likes them, so I don't want to take them away, but I'd like to turn them way down.

I have a multimeter but don't know how to use it beyond making sure an outlet isn't live. Are there resources for a guy like me? Is this kind of thing even possible?
posted by middleclasstool to Technology (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can take the toy apart and if the speaker is a tin disc you can bend the disk in half and it will usually still play albeit quieter. Might want a hammer.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:23 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: I've always found that judicious application of Play-doh to the speaker holes works wonders.
posted by flabdablet at 6:27 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Learned that technique from a three-year-old, by the way.
posted by flabdablet at 6:28 PM on January 2, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A 1k resistor soldered between the speaker terminals might do the trick? Since we are not talking hi-fi electronics here the circuit should not be too finicky, if it is still too loud try a different smaller resistor, if too quiet try a lager one, you can get a box with a metric butload of resistors of varied sizes for a few bucks.
posted by idiopath at 6:38 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whenever my grandparents would send us one of those obnoxious electronic toys, my parents would just not buy us batteries for it (or, in the case of some toys, take the batteries out), so eventually the problem solved itself. Just be discreet about it.

Is the speaker vital to the operation of the toy- that is, will your kid enjoy it the same without the noises? If so, you could just (again, discreetly) cut the leads to the speaker. Otherwise, you could install idiopath's 1k resistor pretty easily with some wire cutters and electrical tape- after all, it's not going to be the end of the world if it breaks.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:47 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: Seconding idiopath's solution. I've found different resistor values work for different toys, but I've done it. Tape works great too.
posted by asavage at 7:39 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer:
If you have a multimeter you're probably already a bit of a nerd. Google "circuit bending" and prepare to have a great deal of fun. There is an entire art movement / subculture based on various modifications of speaking toys, toys with audio, etc. You may even get schematics on that particular toy by including the name in your search (eg, "circuit bending" "speak and spell").
posted by ezekieldas at 8:03 PM on January 2, 2009

Best answer: Cut the speaker lead, solder in a potentiometer. Adjust volume to your liking. See here for how to wire it.
posted by SirStan at 8:04 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As to whether the noises are necessary, it's a mixed bag. Half are just fun sound effects that he really likes but could live without, half are educational things -- letters, colors, shapes -- that I'm extremely reluctant to take away while I can still count his vocabulary on my fingers.

I must admit my embarrassment at not thinking of blocking the speaker grille from the inside. I'd done some duct tape on the outside, but (a) he's not far from an age of figuring out that he can pull it off, and (b) we're hillbilly enough around here.

The nerd in me is intrigued at trying my hand at soldering a resistor or potentiometer in there, which I may do just for kicks on one of the non-essential noise toys. We've got one that we haven't even turned on, it's so annoying, so I may try that one first and see what happens. But I'm definitely stocking up on play-doh.

I swear to Christ that if somebody actually started manufacturing electronic toys for little ones that had meaningful volume control and non-irritating sounds, they'd make a goddamn fortune. I'd be a faithful customer, anyway. But sometimes it seems like their designers are rabid childfree-ers who have a personal beef with me.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:27 PM on January 2, 2009

I've put those self-adhesive foam sticker shape jobbies over the speaker holes on noisy toys before. The colour matches pretty well - but even better if you put them on the inside. Might block more than duct tape.
posted by slightlybewildered at 10:59 PM on January 2, 2009

Duct tape on the inside of the speaker holes would have the exact same effect, I believe, and would not appear super duper hillbilly.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:22 PM on January 2, 2009

Instead of using duct tape, use clear packaging tape. If you press down really evenly and burnish out any places it's sticking up, it will be nearly invisble and your kid is not likely to notice it.
posted by crapmatic at 6:58 AM on January 3, 2009

Holy hell, mct, I need to favorite this thread: We've got a baby boy on the way and my mother-in-law is convinced that EVERY toy needs to have batteries and a large speaker. I'm going to bookmark this sucker for later use!
posted by caution live frogs at 7:43 AM on January 3, 2009

Response by poster: frogs, as the last of my generation in my family to sire a child, I had previously (and totally innocently) inundated my nieces and nephews with noisemakers on birthdays and Christmases. All of our siblings are now on an adrenaline-fueled payback program where they seek the toy they think he'll adore and we'll loathe.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:55 AM on January 3, 2009

I have tried some of these. The best solution in my opinion is clear caulk. No disassembly required.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:49 AM on January 3, 2009

I second RikiTiki: Caulk is awesome! Squeeze a bit out, spread it with something thing and flexible like an old bank card, and then lightly wipe the speaker grill with a damp rag. The caulk is just silicone, entirely harmless (don't get the kind with fungicide! get the cheap non-bathroom kind) and there is no way short of using a needle you'll get it back out.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 10:25 AM on January 3, 2009

Those sounds don't really have any educational value anyway. Kids learn language from people, not things. Read to your kid. Talk to your kid. Listen. All of these will improve language skills far, far better than any toy ever could because language is a relational skill and for little kids to learn it, it requires people.

take it from my co-author, a leading child psychiatrist and neuroscientist.
posted by Maias at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2009

posted by ducktape at 11:41 AM on January 3, 2009

Response by poster: Read to your kid. Talk to your kid. Listen. All of these will improve language skills far, far better than any toy ever could because language is a relational skill and for little kids to learn it, it requires people.

I already do these things in spades, plus teach the boy some rudimentary sign language, but thanks for the unsolicited parenting advice. I figure if my mom could suffer through my brother and me having marathon sessions of Hungry Hungry Hippos and Munchman, I can let the boy have some noisemakers he enjoys.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:44 PM on January 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

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