WΛLLTΞCH PHΛNTOM: Bone-Conduction BT Audio

A BT/NFC bone-conduction audio device that transmits sound directly to the auditory nerve through the skull. Music for the deaf & disabled.

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"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." - Plato

Sound and music is everywhere, and inherent to the human experience. From our first memories of our mother's voice, to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 or the bubbling flow of a forest stream, sound can move, captivate, and inspire greatness in those who witness its power. Unfortunately, whether it be through disabilities, illnesses, or accidents, some are closed off to a sense of sound, and kept from enjoying the experience of music and the world around them.
With the PHΛNTOM, I'm hoping to change that.

The WΛLLTΞCH PHΛNTOM is a wireless audio device that makes use of the biomechanical concept of bone-conduction to transfer the vibrations of sound waves to the listener's inner ear, enabling those with certain kinds of deafness, as well as those with full hearing capabilities, to hear 360º, clear stereo with unobstructed ears.

What is Bone Conduction?

"Bone conduction is the conduction of sound to the inner ear through the bones of the skull. Bone conduction transmission can be used with individuals with normal or impaired hearing...In use, the speaker is strapped against one of the dome-shaped bone protrusions behind the ear and the sound, which can be surprisingly clear and crisp, seems to come from inside the user's head." - Wikipedia

Essentially, bone conduction differs from conventional air conduction in that it completely bypasses the outer and middle ear including the eardrum and associated transmission bones and transmits the vibrations of sound straight to the cochlea for sensing by the auditory nerve. Anyone with an abnormality of the pinna, ear canal, ear drum, or the intricate bones of the inner ear, as is the case in many instances of impaired hearing or deafness, is able to hear the sound transmitted through bone conduction incredibly clearly with no distortion. Users with fully functional auditory systems are able to hear the bone conducted sound just as easily, and the effect is incredibly eerie as the sound or music playing seems to come from inside your own head, you are able to hear your surroundings normally in addition, and no one else can hear what you're listening to even though it sounds as if there is music playing in the room. It appears to be ghostly phantom music, hence the name.

The First Prototype

My first prototype to test the phenomenon uses a cheap bluetooth audio module from china to wirelessly receive sound from a connected device which is then passed through an Adafruit amplifier breakout before going to the bone conduction transducers. After initial tests, the volume was too quiet unamplified, so I added the amplifier behind the circuit board (which barely squeezed in) at max gain to boost the signal to drive the 1W transducers

The case I designed in Autodesk 123D and is 3D printed in strong, flexible plastic by Shapeways. It has screws on each end for me to attach prototype arms that hold the transducers in different places on the skull and the PHΛNTOM logo on the front.

After some initial tweaks, it works eerily well. When it turns on, it plays some welcome tones, and then waits for a bluetooth connection. Once connected to my phone, I can control music playback with the on board play/pause, skip, and volume up and down buttons, and when I place the transducers on my ear ridges on the back of my skull, undistorted and surprisingly powerful music surrounds me in stereo, seeming to emanate from within my own head. No one else can hear a thing, and my own ears are open to listen to people talking to me and I would be aware of my surroundings on a bike for example. I named the project PHΛNTOM as the effect is ghostly and strange, as if the music was played by a phantom orchestra or a trick of the mind.

The Final PHΛNTOM 2.0 EE47 Project

From the response I've received from my first prototype, this device has incredible desirability for child and speech therapy, the deaf and hard of hearing, and certain conditions of the ear canal, auditory bones, or eardrum. So many people I have talked to are very excited about what this open-source device could do for their child/father/mother/spouse, and I am incredibly happy to use my knowledge of electronics and design to create something that started out as an experiment with sound transmission and has evolved into a life-changing device to unlock the experience of music and sound for those in desperate need of its power.

Because of this, I have decided to enter the PHΛNTOM into this year's Hackaday Prize competition with the goal of creating something that matters and a grand prize of a comercial spaceflight, and I think this project really does matter. I entered my smart watch last year and was a quarter finalist (top 50 of 800), you can see that project here: (

This new version of the bluetooth...

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  • 4 × Tactile Switches
  • 1 × SMD SPST Slide Switch
  • 1 × Through-Hole SPDT Slide Switch
  • 1 × 500mAh LiPo Battery
  • 2 × Bone Conduction Transducers

View all 15 components

  • Final Assembly and Working Device!

    WΛLLTΞCH08/17/2015 at 20:49 0 comments

    It works! This project has been a dream in its conception and realization at Stanford. My PCB worked first try, the case did too, so did the BT config, it was magic. The great people of EE47, Professor David Sirkin and the TAs, Akshay Trikha and Joe Aubuchon, best lab lads ever, Room 36 (The Stanford Product Realization Lab makerspace), Adafruit for being awesome, Microchip for making the best BT audio module ever, Bay Area Circuits for the invitation to tour their facility and donating 8 fabulous PCBs from their latest production tech, and all those who's floored jaws in wonder from a little box on the back of their head kept me so passionate about this project, I thank you. Here it is in all its glory (not all of it because the case needs to be printed with shapeways in gloss white, I need a strap for it, and the transducers need mounts, but it works ;) )

  • PHΛNTOM Case & Electronics Testing

    WΛLLTΞCH08/17/2015 at 20:14 0 comments

    After the electronics were tested and outputting audio to a Stanford PRL oscilloscope I could start 3D printing the case for the device.

    I printed the case on an Ultimaker 2 in grey PLA to test the inner dimensions and screw holes, and everything aligned and tapped beautifully first time. That's always a good feeling :).

  • PCBs and PHΛNTOM Assembly

    WΛLLTΞCH08/17/2015 at 16:34 0 comments

    To pick up my PCBs that were perfectly crafted by Bay Area Circuits in Fremont, CA, about an hour away from Stanford, I toured the facility (cheers Brian) and got to see the whole production process as well as the incredible machines that make it happen. It was an amazing tour, and I'll release photos as they are approved by PR for the public.

    Finished PCBs: (JUST DO IT!)

    I assembled the first prototype in the Stanford Product Realization Lab (the campus makerspace) and every function of the device worked first time! Here it is! On to the case and final testing!

  • PHΛNTOM 2.0 Design

    WΛLLTΞCH08/10/2015 at 07:27 0 comments

    I've finally found a way to work on the latest prototype of my bluetooth bone-conduction headset/hearing aid: by submitting the project as my EE47 final project at Stanford! My professor loves the project and as the class is an open engineering/design course, it satisfies the course's requirements. I'm free work on it in my EE lab and the Stanford makerspace, the Product Realization Lab, and parts should come in tomorrow for me to assemble the first prototype. I designed the PCB with Fritzing even though I wanted to upgrade my software this summer as it's quick, easy, familiar, and more than capable for this project. This new version of the bluetooth bone-conduction headset concept adds higher-quality components, better aesthetic design, a bigger battery, and more features. v2.0 has stereo microphones to receive bluetooth phone calls and add adaptive-volume hearing-aid functionality to the device. The four push buttons control volume up, play/pause, skip, and volume down functions in order from top to bottom. An internal amplifier boosts the volume to the transducers, an issue with the last prototype. The internal bluetooth audio module is a Microchip RN52, a VERY nice improvement over the $5 generic module from china in v1.0. Range should be increased as well as audio quality and the addition of microphone capability and status led feedback. Several people have asked for a 3.5mm audio jack to be included as an optional input, and at the scale of the internals of this device and the nature of its mounting, a wired connection would be impractical and against its intended use. If people really want one, I'll think about adding it into a future revision.

    (yes, that's Shia Labeouf motivating on the back of the pcb, he's the Stanford EE47/ dorm mascot :) )

    Once the PCB was complete, I used Autodesk 123D Design to 3D model a case to enclose the circuit board and components. The case will slide onto an adjustable or elastic band that will secure the device and transducers to the back of the user's head. The new shape is much more appealing than the last design, and the mounting style is simpler, more adjustable, and more user-friendly. I will eventually have this case printed in high-quality glossy white from Shapeways, but I might try the industrial 3D printers in the Stanford makerspace if they turn out to be cost effective. The main body of the case is 40x70x20mm.

    My parts from Mouser and Adafruit should arrive tomorrow, then I can assemble and test all the cool features of this latest PHΛNTOM design! I can't wait to experience the eerie phenomenon of bone-conduction audio and show my friends and EE professor at Stanford!

  • BLK-MD-SPK-B Reference

    WΛLLTΞCH08/01/2015 at 20:45 0 comments

    If you would like to create a simple bluetooth audio project of your own, the BLK-MD-SPK-B is a good place to start! It's ~$6 and easy to find, but pinouts and example circuits are tough to find. Here is what I used to help me design the first prototype of the PHΛNTOM:

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Enjoy this project?



onix.ka21 wrote 07/29/2017 at 17:12 point

Hey mate, I'm working on a similar project, I was wondering if you could share the RN52 Fritzing part because I can't find it anywhere and I want to design my PCB. I'm a rookie in engineering but doing my best because I need to finish this for my graduation thesis. Thank you!!

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tyspa wrote 08/21/2015 at 01:31 point

Love the silkscreen, too bad you had to cover it up :)

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 08/21/2015 at 02:16 point

It's a hidden easter egg ;) Apparently one of the factory floor workers at Bay Area Circuits pulled them off the line and ran in to show management in the front office when he saw them :)

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Danie Conradie wrote 07/14/2015 at 11:27 point

Very cool project. I have been looking for something like this for a long time, for when I want to listen to music without losing situational awareness. In South Africa cycling or running with headphones is a good way to lose your belongings and/or life. Maybe a case can be designed to clip onto a helmet or a cap. Definitely agree that the addition of a 3.5mm jack would be a good idea. Following with interest.

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flymypg wrote 07/09/2015 at 01:17 point

Some recommendations (based on prior comments):

1. Add a 3.5mm stereo audio jack (for CD-level fidelity, which BT can't provide).

2. Permit transducers to also be used for audio input (to record own voice in noisy areas, such as inside a factory, where noise cancellation may not work so well).  Add connector for PTT button.

Taken together, the above changes would permit this to become a VERY useful headset for portable ham transceivers, especially in high-noise areas (such as for emergency response, where lots of sirens or aircraft may be present).

Some questions/thoughts:

1. What material will be used between the transducer and the skin?  Will it's frequency attenuation characteristics be accounted for in the headset?  (I assume it will be some sort of silicone, which attenuates high frequencies.)

2. Will the headset contain an equalizer?  This may be needed to account for not only the material covering the transducer, but also different skin thicknesses, different mastoid bone densities, and differing hearing sensitivities.

If an equalizer is added, then it may be possible to automatically adjust it by using one transducer as an emitter and the other as a receiver, then repeating with the roles reversed.

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Alan Wrench wrote 07/08/2015 at 09:10 point

awesome project! I've been interested in a bone conduction headset for a long time. It's perfect for noisy activities, like motorcycles... Did you ever consider adding a throat mic to the mix? 

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 07/08/2015 at 23:09 point

The plan is to use auto-gain electrets in stereo for taking calls and the hearing-aid functionality.

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Jehu wrote 07/08/2015 at 08:12 point

Love it. Bone conduction needs a bit of kick behind it otherwise you loose a lot of bass response. Where did you get the transducers from?

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 07/08/2015 at 23:11 point

The transducers are from adafruit: and they are very clear with an impressive frequency response. It isn't tinny or lossy, it's a pleasure to listen with.

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Brett wrote 07/08/2015 at 05:52 point

I'm curious about the transducers, and if you can really hear stereo. I'd like to see what you have in mind for the "bonephones".

Off topic: BT has it's place. It's great for listening to MP3's, OK when used for telephone conversations, but unusable for watching/editing videos. BT as implemented in Windows leaves a lot to be desired (or BT itself has built in disabilities). Plugging in headphones always works the first time.

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Chris wrote 07/08/2015 at 04:41 point

Would you mind sharing what cheap audio module you used? I have had a couple ideas involving Bluetooth audio but it has been a bit daunting to try to find one myself.

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 07/08/2015 at 23:17 point

Sure! The first prototype's module is the BLK-MD-SPK-B from China. I got mine from The pinout and example circuits were tricky to track down I'll post them.

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Chris wrote 07/10/2015 at 02:15 point

Wonderful thank you! Just bought one!

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Chris wrote 08/01/2015 at 03:40 point

Did you ever happen to post those example circuits?

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 08/01/2015 at 20:38 point

No, sorry! I'll post them right now

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 08/01/2015 at 22:17 point

Pinout and example circuit posted!

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AKA wrote 06/04/2015 at 20:06 point

This is a great project! Many years ago I went an uglier route and just added another amplifier stage onto a BT headset and drove an NXT exciter with that. Fidelity wasn't great (my gains were hardwired and a little too high), but worked well enough to hear spoken commands...

Psyched to see this project develop!

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 06/04/2015 at 23:52 point

Thanks! Even with the cheap module from china in this first prototype, it's surprisingly clear, and the volume is comfortably adjustable. In my polished final version (what I'm eveloping for the contest) It'll use much higher quality (and price) Microchip RN-52 and adding stereo mics for answering calls or acting as an all-in-one hearing aid. Stay tuned!

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AKA wrote 06/05/2015 at 00:05 point

Sounds awesome! I never was able to get good volume control out of mine. Excited to see this one develop!

Depending on where the exciter is worn, you might be able to get very good mic in put from the exciter - might be cool to not need an input mic. One of the (only) cool things about Google Glass was that because the mic was coupled to your skull, when you talked while recording a video on Glass, you would sound the way you sound in your head (and not that weird experience of hearing your voice on tape).
I quite like you enclosure as well - it is cast? SLS?

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 06/05/2015 at 00:08 point

Huh, didn't know that. If it's going to be used as a hearing aid too, I'll use amplified electrets so they pick up ambient sound with automatic gain adjustment and one could also pick up your voice for calls, but I'll look into maybe using an amplified piezo on the skull to pick up the voice, I'll experiment :)

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AKA wrote 06/05/2015 at 00:12 point

You have a fun summer coming up, for sure...

I'm curious what sort of coupling and/or damping is going on here as well:

Good luck!

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Rob Vincent wrote 05/11/2015 at 06:32 point

This looks very interesting!  I look forward to your sharing more project details.

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WΛLLTΞCH wrote 05/30/2015 at 20:57 point

Now that my summer break is here, you can look forward to more information, project updates, and open source documentation galore! I'm officially entered in the Hackaday Prize now, and you can expect many more updates, I'm very proud of this project!

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