Revenge of the clones

Photo by Ben Szymanski on Unsplash

While working in Geremia, the talking skull, I needed to find a simple MP3 player that I could drive from the Arduino Leonardo board. An MP3 player was the simplest solution. A device that is easy to operate via a virtual serial port and not expensive.

After some research, I ordered a couple of DFPlayer Mini for 3.07 US dollars each.

Truth said I destroyed both of them in the first two iterations of the Arduino Proto Shield. No big deal, they are not expensive. Since I wanted to progress in the project, I needed a few more devices as soon as possible. I looked on Amazon and found an offer to buy five for 8.4 US dollars. That price would make 1.68 US dollars for each unit. 

The courier delivered the package; I installed the unit on my proto shield and started playing with the software. You can use many libraries for this MP3 player with Arduino, and the logic is straightforward.

The device is very cheap, and it has limitations. You will have to name the files on the microSD card carefully, ensure there will be no other files apart from MP3 files, and (!!!!) load the files on the card in the same order of their naming.

After half an hour of tinkering, I could play MP3 files on the microSD card.

From a software standpoint, I needed to ensure that the finite-state machine on Arduino was keeping the state BUSY until the specific MP3 file had finished playing. I wrote another proto-thread to monitor the state of the BUSY pin on the DFPlayer Mini. The pin will be low if the player is busy doing something and high if the player is idle.

No way, it was not working at all. Erratic behavior every single time. I checked the wiring, the soldering, and the power levels, but I had yet to find a way to get through. I also connected the device to a logic analyzer to look at the behavior of that pin. I could not find a solution. I searched the net to see if someone else had the same problems and found a solution.

Someone wrote that there are DFPlayer Mini clones with many issues, some of which were similar to those I was experiencing on my device.

Now, wait! A clone for a five-dollar device?

Yes, that’s the case.

After downloading and installing a DFPlayer mini analyzer sketch for Arduino, I had confirmation that the device I was using was a clone. Many of the functionalities that an original device should have were not working on my device.

I had bought cheap clones of a cheap device.

Lesson learned: there will always be a clone hunting you.

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