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My DIY Brain Stimulation Headset


With nights drawing in, many people particularly in the northern parts of the world are being affected by seasonal affective disorder. A Finnish company called Valkee claims to cure the winter blues with its bright light headset. According to the company, shining a bright torch in your ears has been shown to have a therapeutic effect.

I won’t comment on the bogosity of Valkee’s claims. I did, however, decide to see how cheaply I could build something similar to their £185 device.

My headset isn’t the same as Valkee’s. Theirs seems to use fiber optic, presumably to keep the size and temperature down. Mine uses ultra-bright LEDs. Their’s has a fancy timer. Mine doesn’t. Theirs has a rechargeable battery. Mine draws its power from a USB socket.

On with the show!

The LED dimmer uses a headphone volume control (from Maplin, although cheaper elsewhere) as it provides a handy stereo dimmer in a neat case, and with a suitable 3.5mm socket already included! I replaced the 3.5mm jack with a USB A plug so the dimmer can draw power from any USB port.

The insides of the dimmer are simple. A couple of simple modifications will be needed to make them drive the LEDs.

This is the underside of the dimmer circuit. I had to cut a couple of traces to turn it from a headphone volume controller into a LED controller.

The LEDs run off 3 volts (I think). A couple of resistors in series with the dimmer limit the maximum current through the LEDs.

The 3.5mm jack is replaced by a USB A plug. This provides an easy 5V supply. If I’m not near a PC, I also have a selection of batteries and power supplies with a USB socket.

This is the dimmer put back together. Small and neat, no?

The earphones cost a couple of pounds on eBay. They’re made of metal and are surprisingly well put together. I tried to choose a model which looked like it could be taken apart easily. This took a bit of prying and twisting (which scratched the cases a bit) but eventually they came apart just fine. I’m sure the sound quality is pretty poor but we’re taking the speakers out so it doesn’t matter.

I ripped the speaker elements out and fitted ultrabright white LEDs in their place. The LEDs are glued into place with epoxy. Because the phones are made of metal, I insulated the LED leads with some heatshrink.

The earphone leads are soldered into the LEDs.

The earphones are glued back together with epoxy. The rubber tips are still out in this picture.

The phones fully assembled and working. The rubber tips fit around the LEDs, with the lights protruding a little. They are fairly comfortable in the ears. The dimmer gives a good range of brightnesses. In this picture they are quite dim. At their brightest, they really are quite bright.


  1. Cool. Do they work, would be interested in a full parts list including led specs as unsure which to buy. Thanks

  2. Nice build!
    Finally I found someone else with the same idea – £185 is a little too expensive for something that MIGHT work with simple led’s :)

    I made my own a couple of days ago, also with cheap phones and led’s. Mine is a little simpler though without a dimmer, a resistor and directly connected to a 12v adapter. Two bright 15000 mcd led’s serve as lightsources.
    I’m thinking about building another one with 1w power led’s because the intensity may not be enough to penetrate the inner parts of the ear and reach the photosensitive parts of the brain. But I will wait and see if the first build is causing any moodshifts. When I use the phones I feel “something”, can be placebo though.

    How’s it going with your phones? Noticed any difference in mood?

  3. Sorry to both of you for my abysmal reply times.

    First of all, I have tried to find the posters/papers about Valkee and I can’t say I’m convinced by the evidence. This paper describes a trial where they tested various power levels of Valkee, they found that ‘any’ light level tested was equally effective — yet they didn’t test light level zero. Surely the obvious conclusion is that if the light level doesn’t matter, then the effect can be explained by placebo? The rest of the trials seem to address small pieces of a puzzle without daring to make a big claim.

    For what it’s worth, the LED system is probably in the lower end of the scale, clocking in at around 1 lumen. But if we are to believe the research, there’s no advantage to boosting the light output by a factor of nine.

    Here is their “peer-reviewed methodology paper”. It states:

    Conflict of Interest Statement
    The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest

    Almost immediately below, they say:

    [an author of the paper] Markku Timonen is a minor shareholder in Valkee Ltd. [another author of the paper] Juuso Nissilä is a shareholder and CEO of Valkee Ltd. company (Oulu, Finland), which is a producer and developer of the bright light devices for SAD.

    I’m no expert on research methodology, but how do these two statements square up?

  4. A bit on LEDs:

    Craig, I used CREE C503C-WAN-CBADA151 LEDs from Farnell. They used to be available but seem to be discontinued now. Any similarly size and brightness LED should work (or not, as the case may be.)

    Dave, I would not stick 1W LEDs in my ears. I suspect Valkee use fibre optic for thermal reasons. A mobile phone (or any handheld device for that matter) can only dissipate about 6W over its whole surface area without getting too hot to handle. With that in mind, would you really want a 1-watt heater in your ear canal?

    Finally, I haven’t actually used this thing beyond testing it once or twice, so I can’t comment on how well it performs on me. Like I said, though, having looked at the evidence I’m not too hopeful.

  5. Hi,
    I’m gonna try and make one of these but with a twist; joule thief to make use of old batteries.
    Thanks // https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joule_thief

  6. Hi all , I just make very similar product to Valkee , it took me less than 2 h and I spent about 10 USD.


    Before I made it I checked carefully what technical data are available to be sure that have good copy :
    1. Luminou flux for valkee is 6 lumens , it means they do not use any optical fibers but standard 5 mm White LED ( typical white LED has nominal currnet about 25 mA , at 3,2 v , this gives total power of 80mW , typical efficiency for this type od LED’s is about 90 lm/W so total optical flux of mine earphone is 0,08 *90 = 7,2lm (Valkee declare they have 6 lm , so it seems they run LED’s at current about 20 mA .

    2. I used the cheapest earphones , where I removed mini speaker , drilled it inside and I use 5mm led’s . So this LD was too big to fit in earphones so I cut external part of LED to reduce diameter to about 4mm.

    Then I glued LED to the earphones , copnnected both LED is series and I use simple 30mA LED driver with 2 AA ni-MH batteries .

    In my opinion it is very comfortable and do exactly the same jub as Valkee ,

    In anybody is wish to use it but don’t want to pay aor can not afford buing valkee will be glad to help with making it .

    I am from Poland where we have now very short day and right now I am testing me device .

    PS current consupmpion from 2 AA batteries in 80 mA , so I expect about 15 h of continuos working .

  7. Thanks for your comment and for the picture. It’s nice to see other people undercutting Valkee. :)

    In related news, Valkee has just won the annual award for bad science (“Huuhaa-palkinto”) from Skepsis ry, the Finnish Association of Skeptics, for the “accomplished marketing of a poorly researched health product.”:

    The research conducted has been rather narrow in scope and the randomisation and blinding of test subjects has been extremely lacking. Valkee Oy has marketed its product as an effective health device before its claims have been researched in a scientifically convincing manner. The product has also been marketed [for indications] beyond what has been registered with Valvira [the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health], among other things for mood swings, depression, sleep problems and jetlag.

    (translation mine.)

    This is in line with what I said before; I am yet to see any convincing evidence that the device has effects beyond placebo. But with a DIY job at least it’s cheap placebo!

  8. I’m thinking of a simpler, less expensive & direct approach to making a Valkee-like device. I have no experience in electronics, but would like someone to help me figure this thing out. Why not mount a LED to the end of a short length (maybe less than 1 inch or 2 cm) of plastic tubing that houses a few battery discs? The finished product would be a short little cylinder with the rounded tip of a LED sticking out one end and blunt on the other end. I don’t know how to add an on/off switch to something so small, but there’s got to be a way. ( I would need to make two, one for each ear.) I got the idea from this product: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA00Y0GH1991&nm_mc=KNC-GoogleMKP&cm_mmc=KNC-GoogleMKP-_-pla-_-NA-_-NA

    If I could only buy a few of these I’d try them used in reverse by sticking the lighted end into the ear, but these can only be purchased in lots of 48.


  9. I’m not techy and I’m confused by the electronic calculations necessary to supply proper voltage to run two LEDs in a single circuit, especially if the circuit is not designed to run LEDs. Could you please answer a few questions for me? To make something that works like the Valkee, it seems simpler to use two separate circuits (one for each ear) using two separate, established circuits that run LEDs (like dollar store pen lights, ear lights, clip on lights, etc.) rather than trying to make parallel circuits from one power source that is not already adapted to run two LEDs. For example: Wouldn’t it work to buy two small battery powered, single LED lights, remove the LEDs, attach lengths of wiring appropriately from the LEDs to the power source, then mount each LED inside an ear bud? This direct wiring method using two existing circuits would not require further electronic modifications to assure the LEDs run properly, correct?


  10. Now I have an ever easier idea. Why not make a pair of “LED throwies” with bright white light LEDS and stick them in the ears? http://www.instructables.com/id/LED-Throwies/

  11. The question is, would you offer them for sale?

  12. Selling these could expose one to patent infringement. If Valkee has patented their ear-brighteners, it doesn’t matter whether they work or not.

    But if you’d like the pair I made, let me know. Yours for the price of postage and packing. (If I can find it.)

  13. Hi MPJ I would love to try one of your headsets and would be glad to pay for packing and shipping. Let me know what information you need. Thanks, Robin

  14. Nice job. However since you will be using this everyday in your ear canal for sad, the led bulb will have to be not uv as Valkee claims to be.

  15. Is there a way to do this so the headphones can also play music as well as shine light into your brain?

  16. Well….. I’ve suffered with serious SAD for many years. I live in a very gray misty climate (the Pacific NW). The only way I’ve survived the winter season for years has been to stare at a therapudic light box for 45 minutes every morning. Last year, I made two LED “throwies” each with an 8 mm bright white LEDs and a coin battery and stuck them in my ears every morning for about a hour. THEY WORKED! I made it through the winter without serious depression.

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