Too $hort Cat
The following is adapted from an Instructable I wrote, with a few added photos here.
The Party Animal dancing speaker is a hilarious but awful product. For this project, I’m going to show you how to make it twice as funny and half as crappy by integrating a music player, connecting it to a real speaker and rewiring it for push-button play. I have mine dancing to Too $hort, but you can have yours dance to whatever you want.
Out of the box, the original product here is a battery powered speaker that you connect to an audio source with an included cable. Switch it on and hit play on your audio player, and music creaks out of the cheap speaker in its chest while an interior motor and cam system gyrates the cat’s head and arms and legs around in-time with the music.
In fairness, it is a hilarious novelty on its own, but the sound quality and the hassle of wiring up a sound source, makes it one of those things you laugh at once and then never use again. But I just couldn’t let that happen. Something about this cat’s salacious gyrations spoke to me and told me that it needed to be a part of my life. It just needed some upgrades.
Here’s what you’ll need to make your Party Animal into the self-contained club kitten it was meant to be.
These typically run around $20, new. If you know how to get them cheaper, leave a note in the comments. There are some fur variations, and I believe there are dog versions too. I noticed that the two that I ordered for this project had noticeably different quality in terms of how well the fur was fit and detailed on the frame, so don’t expect perfection, or consistency.
You can go a little cheaper and get the board with 2MB of memory, but you’d only get a song or two on there. Alternately, you could get the amplifier output board instead of this line-out board and try to pack in a better speaker into the kitty. I had the best results using the line out to an amp/speaker with some substance.
Smaller gauge is better for the wiring to the tiny pins in the kitty.
Not necessary if you already have a stereo to plug into or if you plan to just add an extra speaker to the cat instead of running out out of it.
This runs out from the Line Out version of the Adafruit Audio FX board and down the cat’s leg, providing an audio output from the cat. The low profile design of this cable was easier to fit inside the cat.
Goes from the cat to the amp.
Whatever you can scrounge up. Alternately, you could skip the amp and speaker can see if a $30 all-in-one portable speaker does the trick.
Just the usual soldering setup. Nothing special. Here’s what I used.
Love this thing. Heats quickly, gets hot, solder anywhere. I use rechargeables.
Great for trimming away those hacked on connections you’ll make to the original board.
Why Too $hort?
The first time I tried this speaker, I found that the more inappropriate the song was, the funnier it was. Something about the way this cat moves is just sorta nasty in the best possible way. Too $hort seemed perfect for this.
Also, on a more artistically justifiable level, this cat symbolizes to me everything that’s disappointing about the mass-market, lowest common denominator nature of consumer products. Everything that could have been awesome about this cat was stripped out either for profit (cheap speaker, no built-in audio player), or to make the product appeal as broad as possible at the expense allowing it to be unique (bring your own music).
To me, I couldn’t imagine a world where a store would sell a dancing cat that only played explicit Too $hort songs. The improbability of this product existing in our current marketplace is exactly what motivated me to create it. And because I’m sharing this, now anyone can have their own Too $hort cat, and hopefully that makes the world a weirder, slightly better place.
Step 1: Strip the Cat
I know it sounds wrong, but I figure it’s better than “Skin the Cat” which is more accurate but way grosser.
There’s a velcro flap on the back of the cat for accessing the battery compartment. Open it up and then slowly work the fur off from around the neck (there’s a slight glue around here that’s easy to pull off and replace when you’re done) and pull off from the arms. At this point you should be able to gather the fur around the ankles and access all the screws.
Later on, I used tacky glue to secure the fur back around the cat’s neck and ankles. Be careful though. Once the glue gets on the fur, it’s a mess.
Step 2: Open the Belly
Unscrew all the screws on Kitty’s belly and open it up. Inside the kitty you’ll find a weird world of gyrating cams and shafts. I recommend taking a picture of it with your phone just in case anything shifts out of place. There’s a shaft going through the cat’s neck that’s particularly prone to popping loose.
Tucked away back in the cat’s left armpit you’ll find the main board that contains all of kitty’s magic. The 9 pins running across one side of the board route power from the batteries, audio input from the cat’s foot, audio output to the speaker, and power to the motor.
Instead of desoldering this thing, for the most part we’re just going to piggyback on what’s here.
Step 3: Old Board, New Wires
For this section, keep your wire lengths around 3-4 inches — enough to give you some flexibility but not so much that you have to shove a rat’s nest of wires into kitty’s chest. There’s not a lot of room in here when you put kitty back together.
Let’s start by getting power to the Adafruit audio FX board. Instead of introducing a separate power source, let’s just steal power from the cat. Using a length of hookup wire, connect and solder the Vin on the Adafruit board to pin #3 on the cat’s armpit board. Then connect one of the Gnd pads on the Adafruit board to pin #4 on the cat board.
Next up audio input. To make full use of the cat’s existing tempo-detecting groovy dance technology, we have to make sure the Audio FX board sends at least some of its music into the cat’s original board. To do this, run a wire from the Line Level R or L pad on the Adafruit board to pin #5 on the cat board. Doing this will also route board audio to the crap speaker built into the kitty, which we’ll just leave in place.
Step 4: Paw Trigger
For reasons I can’t possibly understand, the Party Animal was designed with a button in its paw that turns off the deactivates the feature (the best part) while allowing the speaker (it’s worst part) to continue playing. Who really buys this thing for a speaker? If anything, it should deactivate the speaker and allow the cat to keep up its hypnotic gyrations with no soundtrack beyond the steady pulse of your own accelerating heartbeat. Right?!
No matter. Find the button and follow the two wires leading from it back to the armpit board and cut them near the board.
Then, use a wire stripper to expose a small bit of the end each wire. One of these wires will run to pad 1 on the left side of the Audio FX board. The other will run to GND on the left side of the same board. It doesn’t matter which wire goes to which pad. Once placed, solder them up.
Doing this will enable you to trigger music playback by pressing the cat’s paw. Yes, an actually useful feature! If you have more than one song on your board, you can append the filename with RAND or NEXT and have each paw press trigger a new song. You can read more about the board’s unique file naming conventions here (https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-audio-fx-sound-board/triggering-audio).
Step 5: Loading Audio
If all’s gone well, you can turn off your soldering iron at this point and consider the operation complete. The next step is to load up the Audio FX board with music.
This board only accepts two types of audio files. It will take uncompressed WAV, but there’s little chance you’ll fit a whole uncompressed song in 2-16MB. The better option is to convert your song(s) to a heavily OGG format to save space. Even better, convert your song to mono. Trust me, stereo fidelity is lost on this thing.
Now, how you get your audio and how you decide to edit it and convert it is all on you. That’s really a whole other Instructable on its own (really, I’m sure there is one).
For me, I used the amazing (and still 100% free) Audacity audio editor (https://sourceforge.net/projects/audacity/) to open my original files, convert them to mono, and export them as OGG files. I found that the lowest quality setting (highest compression) was fine for my needs.
Now, the #1 coolest thing about the Adafruit Audio FX board is that it’s plug and play. You plug it into your computer over USB, and it shows up as a mass storage drive that you can just copy things to and rename as you like. For most people, that ease of use alone is worth the extra money you’ll pay for the board over any alternative way to do this.
So load up your file(s) and name them using Adafruit’s convention (https://learn.adafruit.com/adafruit-audio-fx-sound-board/triggering-audio). Specifically, I named all my files using the “PlayRANDOMTrigger” naming convention, allowing the same pin (pin 1 in this case) to trigger any of the songs at random. So, my files are named T01RAND0.OGG, T01RAND1.OGG, T01RAND2.OGG, T01RAND3.OGG, etc.
To test it, I found the board wouldn’t work unless I ejected it and either ran it off the kitty’s power or connected the USB cable to a power-only charging adapter. So, do that, give it a test, and if it doesn’t work out connect it back to your computer and revisit the naming requirements.
Step 6: Testing and Reassembly
With your songs loaded and the board wired up, give the cat a few more tests running off its own power to make sure everything’s running right.
Also, if you’re using the Line Out version of the Audio FX board like I am, you’ll need to plug in a cable to extend from the output jack and down and out through the cat’s leg. I used this low-profile splitter cable to help the cable fit and to give me a second output I could run to another speaker (or another cat).
Now comes what might be the trickiest part — fitting everything back together. The Audio FX board is relatively small, but it needs to fit in an already crowded space. All I can say is, try your best and be patient. If you need to clip and extend a few wires to get the wiggle room necessary, don’t worry. No one’s going to see this mess.
Before screwing the cat’s chest back together, be sure to check that the metal pin hinge holding his neck is fitting the way it should, otherwise your cat will lose serious swagger.
Screw everything back together, pull the fur suit back on, and see how it looks. If you need to, use a little tacky/fabric glue to get the neck fur back in shape. I also used some on his ankle fur where the cable comes out, just to help conceal the plastic.
Step 7: Preparing Your Stereo
The line output coming from the cat’s leg is suitable to connect to any stereo with an AUX input. But because I was taking this particular project out to a show & tell, I wanted to have the cat connected to his own little self-contained speaker system.
As a side-benefit, the speaker provided a nice platform for the cat.
Step 8: Take It (Fur)ther
In full disclosure, this is actually the second Too $hort cat I’ve built. For my first attempt, I really just wanted to add a better internal speaker and see how much that improved the sound. This way it could still be portable.
To do this, I used the amplifier version of Adafruit’s Audio FX board and connected it to a sealed speaker I hot glued to the cat’s crotch. It worked, but didn’t provide as much impact as I was hoping. So for the version you see here I decided to rely on audio output to a nice amp/speaker combo. With some careful wiring, there’s no reason you couldn’t make a version that has both a better built-in speaker and audio output.
As an optional step, you can drill a hole somewhere on the kitty and use Adafruit’s panel mount extension cable as a way to get at the Audio FX board’s USB connection without having to reopen the cat later if you feel compelled to replace the songs or tweak things. This way you can mount the USB connection on the outside of the cat. Alternatively, you could keep a USB cable connected and run it down the kitty’s leg or something.
I didn’t find it necessary as I was pretty committed to the idea of my cat playing nothing but Too $hort tunes. But maybe if you’re giving this as a gift or something and you want the recipient to be able to swap out songs without the grizzly scene of tearing the cat apart, do the right thing and mount a USB port on the outside.
I haven’t even mentioned the beauty of using the audio splitter cable in the cat’s leg! With the unused output, you can easily chain in an unmodified Party Animal and get them both dancing together!
Also, I think it would be a nice idea to wire a power switch that can actually stick out from the cat’s fur, so you don’t have to access the old switch under its fur anymore.
I’m already thinking of version 2.0. Don’t get me wrong, this cat slays me every time and brightens my day. But the audio quality could be much better. I’m thinking maybe I turn him into an integrated accessory for bigger speaker. Or maybe put him under glass with a speaker in the pedestal, and a fan in the base that blows around little fake $100 bills. I’d be curious to see what you guys do with it.