Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Building a Digital Music Player with I2S?! What is I2S! EB#45

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Lets imagine you got a microcontroller board like this ESP32 and you just recorded

an awesome sound clip which sounds like this: “Stay Creative!”

Now of course you want to playback this sound with the help of the ESP32, so what do you


Well, the input side is pretty straightforward by simply adding a micro SD card breakout

board to the ESP32 through its SPI interface.

Due to this fast data line, all the bits of the original audio file can be read by the

ESP32 without losing any audio quality.

That means we still got the original resolution of 16 bits which describes in how many steps

our original analog audio signal was digitally converted.

As a rule of thumb, the more bits we got, the closer we are to the original analog signal.

Also the sampling rate of 44.1 kHz is kept intact which describes how often the voltage

of the analog signal got sampled; in this case around every 22.7uS.

And once again the higher the sampling rate, the closer we got to the real analog signal

but let me tell you that 16 bits and 44.1 kHz sounds pretty good.

So the input side is done and for the output side we could use the internal DAC aka Digital

to Analog Converter of the ESP32 to create the analog audio signal.

But sadly it only comes with a resolution of 8 bits which would act as a bottleneck

for our audio quality.

Instead I wanted to use this MAX98357A amplifier breakout board which uses I2S to communicate.

So in this video we will find out what I2S is and why it is pretty handy to use and along

the way we will not only learn working with the I2S amplifier board but also with an I2S

microphone board.

Lets get started!

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First off, I want to say that we are not forced to use an I2S DAC Amplifier board on the output.

We could also build up a 16 bit R-2R DAC but that would require 16 pins of the ESP32 and

thus is not practically useable.

Or we could simply get a 16 bit DAC IC which we could hook up to the ESP32 through for

example I2C.

But then again if we already use a communication protocol, why not use I2S which was specifically

designed for audio applications.

I2S stands for Inter-IC Sound and it is an electrical serial bus interface used for obviously

connecting digital audio devices.

It communicates PCM audio data which stands for Pulse-Code Modulation and that is a method

to digitally represent sampled analog signals which is for example used by our .wav sound


It basically stores the binary values of all the sampled analog voltage values in it and

that is basically what we want to send around with I2S.

For a first practical example however lets not start off with the amplifier board but

instead with this INMP441 Microphone breakout board.

With it the I2S concept will be easier to understand since we only have to read in data

with the microphone while we would have to read in data and send out data with the micro

sd card and the amplifier board.

But anyway the microphone features 6 pins of which 2 are for power, 3 are for the I2S

interface and one is kind of a bonus to select whether the microphone outputs its data on

the left or right channel.

The three pins required for the I2S are called word select, serial clock and serial data.

In the case of the amplifier board later on they feature slightly different names but

still mean the same thing.

So as a first test I soldered wires to the 5 important pins and continued by having a

look at the ESP32 pinout diagram in order to find out where to connect the I2S pins

and to my surprise there were no specific pins mentioned.

As it turns out the ESP32 comes with two I2S peripherals but you can select the pins for

them by yourself.

So I decided on pins 15, 2 and 4 according to this wiring diagram and after connecting

a micro USB cable, I had a quick look at the I2S programming guide page for the ESP32.

I simply copied a bit of the shown code in order to not only set the resolution to 16

bits and the sampling rate to 44.1kHz but also to initialize and start the I2S communication.

All I had to add were a couple of lines to output the received data through the serial


And after uploading the code and opening the serial monitor we can see that by whistling

into the microphone or tapping it, the serial monitor or even better the serial plotter

seems to react accordingly, awesome.

That means everything works fine and it was time to have a look at the three I2S pins

on the oscilloscope.

First off we can see that the word select lines constantly alter between high and low.

The reason is that this bus transmits stereo audio and so the low state of the word select

line indicates the left channel and the high state stands for the right channel.

By the way in this example we only got data on the left channel because the unconnected

L/R pins defines that.

Then we got the Serial Clock generated by the ESP32 at whose rising edge the data of

the Serial Data gets sampled.

This way the audio data bits send out by the microphone can be read by the ESP32 which

is pretty standard communication interface knowledge you should know from my SPI, I2C

or for example CAN video.

But what is special about this communication is the frequency of the clock signal.

It is actually adjustable and depends on the sampling rate, bit resolution and whether

you want to transmit mono or stereo.

In our microphone example we selected 44.1kHz with 16 bits and stereo which means we have

to multiply 44.1kHz 16 by 2 which equals 1.411MHz which is also the frequency we are measuring.

Now of course at this point we could alter the received microphone data to for example

create a voice changer or even a pretty scientific sound level meter but that was not the goal

of this video.

Instead I soldered wires to my I2S amplifier board as well as the micro SD card board and

hooked it all up to the ESP32 according to this wiring diagram.

This time though the coding was not only about the I2S write part but also about SPI which

is why instead of writing all of the code by me which could have taken months, I decided

to use the available ESP8266 audio library and some code bits from Spark fun.

But in the code we can still see that the I2S part is pretty straightforward to implement.

And after uploading the code, connecting a speaker and inserting the micro SD card with

the sound file, we can hear this: “Stay Creative!”


And just like that you are now familiar with the I2S basics and all in all I can say that

it is a pretty easy to implement and handy to use communication interface when it comes

to receiving and sending digital audio.

And if you are interested in a more advanced video about the topic then I would highly

recommend checking out bitlunis video about creating a sound driver for the ULP of the


But anyway I hope you enjoyed this video and learned something new.

If so dont forget to like, share, subscribe and hit the notification bell.

Stay creative and I will see you next time

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