Needless to say, 2020 has not been the year for wild parties and festivals. I personally haven’t been out for any sort of nightlife since March and even those who have ventured out to bars have definitely not experienced the wild human energy that comes from dancing with hundreds of other people at a big show. I miss the bumping bass, the sweat, and the flashing lights.
Especially at EDM shows, the fit is everything, which definitely includes accessories. One of the coolest accessories out there is Macetech’s RGB Shades. While there are several options out there for glasses that light up, Macetech really gets the DIY hacker cred for giving you a pair of glasses that are literally made of circuit boards. And that’s just where the features start.
On the front circuit board of the shades are the stars of the show: 68 super-bright RGB LEDs. Each individual pixel can reproduce millions of colors by mixing levels of red, green and blue, just like your phone or computer screen. To give you a starting point, they come programmed with an array of designs, patterns and scrolling text.
After you get past the super bright LEDs and the stunning pre-programmed animations, these glasses get even better. They are completely open source (both hardware and software) and actively encouraged by the creators to be hacked, expanded and improved. In fact, they come with an entire extra arm that is built to be extended with extra i/o components, such as their own audio sensor. If you ask, “Can it do bluetooth?” or “Can you mod it to have an onboard battery?,” the answers are “Yes” and “Yes” because you can source any arduino-compatible components and hack them on (provided you are skilled enough at that sort of thing, which I am not without crystal clear instructions from the internet).
Our friends at Macetech sent me over a pair to try out, which I was excited about. Then, they told me that I would get one of the unassembled kits (you can get them pre-assembled for a modest added price), which made me a little anxiousI have to admit that I am not the handiest with tools. Assembling electronics is something that I try not to do myself if I can avoid it. In a previous life, I ran operations for a hardware startup, but I leaned hard on the brilliant engineers I worked with to avoid having to put any of the finer bits together. Garrett Mace, Macetech’s namesake, assured me that the shades were simple to assemble and there was a great guide video, so it would be a breeze. When an electrical engineer tells me that an electronics project is a breeze, I take that with a massive grain of salt but being a good sport, I played along.
The RGB Shades arrived packed safely in a USPS box, with a smaller printed box inside. Inside the box are the following:
LED front panel PCB
Frame PCB/Arm (No Components)
Hacker PCB/Arm (Use this instead of the frame if you want to connect more goodies to your shades)
Hinge PCBs (Yes, even the hinges are made of PCB)
Heat Shrink (For making the arms more comfy on your ears)
M3 Hardware (i.e. tiny little components that are easily lost, make sure you build this in a large clear area where it won’t take much to search for a tiny screw or two)
Thin USB Cable (for connecting to a power source such as a battery pack in your pocket)
Soft carry case
These components are all really well packaged in anti-static wraps and bags.
I would have included the video of my stoned ass building these, but it took me about 3.5x longer to build mine and I filled most of the air with pretty poor narration of me dropping small parts on my marble countertop, which made it almost impossible to find the screws if I lost them.
Putting these together, you begin to marvel at the genius behind the design. Everything fits together intuitively. You just set the pieces in their slots and then screw a few small screws. The instructions are easy to follow, but do be aware that you will need a small (jeweler’s size) Phillips screwdriver. I didn’t already have one, but I picked one up at Home Depot for less than $5. Garrett recommends you use threadlocker as well as some tweezers that came in clutch in some of the harder assembly steps that involve multiple small parts. When the hinges on the frame come together you experience the same “aha” moment that you feel from finally seeing LEGO bricks start to resemble the model you’re building.
Turning them on:
The glasses do not come with onboard batteries, so in order to turn these on, they will need to be connected via the usb cable included to some sort of power source. Your laptop or wall phone charger will do the trick, but they were really designed for you to discreetly run the cable to your pocket or backpack to a portable battery pack. There is a very simple and obvious on/off switch on the arm, as well as a couple of buttons: one toggles brightness while the other cycles through the animations.
The animations that come programmed on the glasses are all pretty neat and do a wide range of showing off the kind of thing that RGB LED matrices can do. Some are (subjectively) cooler than others, but it cycles at a pretty quick pace so that it creates a pretty cool effect while sitting around.
The nose pads are the most comfortable part of the glasses and I found that spending a minute to perfect the nose fit really affected the total comfort of wearing the shades. I haven’t worn these for more than 20 minutes at once yet (mostly as a way to spice up my least favorite weekly Zoom calls at work), so I haven’t yet added the shrink wrap to the arms, but I do think they’ll be perfectly comfortable for an extended night out with that installed. (Well as comfortable as novelty glasses can get, at least.
The RGB LEDs on these glasses are extremely bright when at the full brightness setting, which is pretty cool depending on the use-case. All of them are pointed away from your eyes, so while they don’t affect your eyes they will reflect back intensely off of things close to you. It’s best to do some fine-tuning in the mirror before you go out. There’s a fine line between the life of the party and that guy with the annoyingly bright novelty glasses.
I think the biggest caveat on the shades is that you need to be ready for the inconvenience of having a cord running down the back of your neck. We are a bit spoiled by the finished electronic wearables on the market these days so cords can feel pretty stifling. If you want to go nuts, here is a great little write up about one of Macetech’s customers building an onboard battery onto the shades. I think it is clear that these are supposed to be wearable art more than they are supposed to be totally streamlined consumer electronic devices, so they definitely get a pass.
The fact that the arms are exposed PCBs with electronic components on them really just does it on the wow factor, as long as you’re in the right setting. Even with the lights off, they are going to look pretty dorky and out of place if you aren’t in an environment where people enjoy the distraction.I’d just plan to break these out when you want to get some attention, probably not at a stodgy board meeting or an upscale wine tasting. There’s a reason performers like 50 Cent and Muse have rocked these on stage.
Overall, I am a big fan of the Macetech RGB Shades.
As a party accessory: the shades are certain to be an attention grabber, so as long as you’re bringing these to a high-energy party environment, the reception will be positive. Not recommended for christenings, weddings or funerals.
As a DIY Project: These are truly perfect for those that are interested in hardware hacking, whether you barely know how to insert gameboy cartridges or are familiar with creating custom Arduino devices with open source I/O. Out of the box, you only need to be handy with tiny tools and there is no limit to how far you can go reprogramming and kitting out with other components. Pick up an audio sensor from Macetech when you order for your first upgrade project.