Bart: Don’t we get to roast marshmallows?
Dolph: Shuddup and eat your pine cone.
– The Simpsons
We have a fireplace.
We love it. But it’s fake! The surround is a reproduction and the fire itself is electric. There’s a much longer post about how we made this decision and built the mantel, but in short:
- It’s surprisingly realistic — when I reached into it in front of dinner guests, one gasped “AAAAAGH!” in anticipation of my being burned.
- It’s a very effective little space heater, which allows us to keep the central heat down a little bit while we keep the main room warm.
After we installed the fireplace, I wanted to add even more fake elements to make it more realistic. Primarily, I wanted it to sound like a fire. This idea was not unique — several companies make sound components for electric and gas fireplaces.
- Kracklebox (self-contained unit with sounds and speakers; Dimplex includes the unit with some of their fires).
- FireSong Fireplace Sound System (expensive, but designed to work in “cool” area of gas fireplace).
- Fire Crackler Sound System (comparatively affordable, and I might have bought it if I’d found it before making my own).
These options range from $39 (on sale from $59) to $199, but you can do much the same thing for less than $20.
First, pick up a cheap MP3 player (or you might have one sitting around from the pre-smartphone era). Ours is a lipstick-sized player that also works as a thumb drive, similar to these:
A cheaper option is to buy an MP3 player without memory (this one is under $3), then use an SD card.
Second, buy some small portable speakers that run on batteries.
There are many small portable speaker options for not a lot of money, or again, you might just have some in storage.
You probably see where this is going — third, go download yourself some fire sounds! Here’s a list of downloadable fireplace MP3s for less than a dollar apiece. I picked out one that was an hour long, and then I saved it to the MP3 four times with different titles (you could also hit “repeat” on the player, but it’s easier to just hit “play”).
When browsing fire sounds, be aware that some of them have piano music or thunderstorms or “nature sounds” in the background. That’s fine if you want that, but I only wanted fire noises. Audiophiles note that some of the sound files loop in a noticeable way. If you are sensitive to that, you may want to look for a continuous recording (or make your own). It doesn’t bother us because it’s just background noise.
Plug the loaded player into the speakers, and voila: $16 fireplace sound system! Good for fireplace-adjacent snuggling when it’s cold outside.
If you have an electric fireplace, you’re done. I just put the player/speakers inside the surround.
IF YOU HAVE A GAS FIREPLACE, it’s too hot in there for MP3 components. In that case, drop the whole kit and kaboodle into a decorative basket and set it on the mantel. That’s an extra $3 or so at Goodwill, so you could still come in under $20.
For extra verisimilitude, you might want to add fireplace scents. I usually can’t be bothered, but I did buy this incense set:
These are a little tricky to light, but they do last a long time and add considerable atmosphere! There are also “woodsmoke” candles and other options to customize your fake fire experience.
Once you have the player and speakers, this takes less time to do than it does to explain. Hope this tutorial helps you add a little extra synthetic charm to your artificial hearth, leading to genuine good times!
(Also see our update about our use of the system over the last year.)
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