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How Tuneshine went from a wood block to the ultimate way to view album art

Key Takeaways

  • Tuneshine combines IoT technology with a carefully crafted design for visual music enhancement at home.
  • Creator, Tobias Butler, developed the product during the pandemic, focusing on smart LED album art displays.
  • Tuneshine stands out from traditional audio technology by providing a visual representation of music without playing audio.


Internet of Things (IoT) technology is everywhere now, from things like Wi-Fi-enabled light bulbs to smart fridges. But something you don’t see a lot is IoT furniture combining carefully thought out design with an appreciation for audio.

Tuneshine is exactly that. The Tuneshine is an LED album art display with a wooden case that connects to your phone, using data from Spotify, Apple Music, Sonos, or last.fm to show the album art of the songs you listen to while connected to it. You can use it at the same time as your favorite speakers or headphones, so you can add a visual component to your listening environment.

I spoke to Tobias Butler, the CEO, creator, and engineer behind Tuneshine, to find out more about the making of Tuneshine, the message behind it, and Butler’s plans for the future of the product.


“I think there’s a timelessness, something about it that really fits with your personal style, it’s not an anonymous glass rectangle.”

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Tuneshine

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A Tuneshine on a coffee table displaying LCD soundsystem album art, next to an iPhone with Spotify open.


The origins of Tuneshine

Tobias Butler came up with the idea of Tuneshine early in the pandemic when tinkering around with his at-home hardware. With a background in software engineering, he was able to build a mobile application for Tuneshine by learning new programming languages, venturing into the hardware side of things, as well as the business side, working to find vendors and people to partner with.


Started with the square LED screens that make the Tuneshine what it is today

“I got these square screens and was thinking, these are really cool, the colors are great, they’re super bright, and they’re square. What could I do with them that would work well with the square form factor?” said Butler. “I wasn’t the first person to ever experiment with showing album artwork on these screens, but I thought, ‘Okay, this has to be a product, there’s something really compelling here.'”

Its manufacturing and build is another quality that sets the Tuneshine apart. Currently, Butler assembles each Tuneshine by hand in his home in Oakland, using deliberately sourced components, from imported electronic parts to wooden cases made by another Oakland company, Joinery Structures. Assembling a Tuneshine takes him about five minutes once he has the parts in his apartment, making it, what he calls, a streamlined process.

A Tuneshine on a media console beside a TV and record player displaying The Smiths album art.


Tuneshine is making something different out of the familiar

Tuneshine isn’t like most audio-adjacent technology out there — particularly because it doesn’t play any audio, but represents the music you’re listening to in a compelling visual format. The 64×64 pixel square screen displays album art uniquely and adds to the physical space you put it in without being overbearing.

It lets you have this nice, passive experience with music where it adds a little enhancement to it, but it isn’t asking you to interact with it in a new way.

“I realized that the particular kind of screen and form factor seemed to work really well for the music listening use case, because it’s a different kind of screen than what you usually have on phones and computers, it doesn’t really demand your attention in the same way. It lets you have this nice, passive experience with music where it adds a little enhancement to it, but it isn’t asking you to interact with it in a new way,” said Butler.


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A Tuneshine on a coffee table displaying Olivia Rodrigo album art.

Making a statement with furniture and technology

With a product as unique as Tuneshine, and with such an intentional design, there’s a message that the product, and by extension, Butler, is making as a whole.

“I think that a lot of the tech we use, it’s very ephemeral, it comes and goes, it’s kind of anonymous.

“I would say there’s a bit of a synthesized statement I’m trying to make, both in the design of the product and how I’m running the business,” said Butler. “I think that a lot of the tech we use, it’s very ephemeral, it comes and goes, it’s kind of anonymous. [New] phones kind of converge to look the same.”


It’s clear that Tuneshine is a product more concerned with being an aesthetically pleasing product that brings personality to your surroundings, rather than being something manufactured on a mass scale with profit as its main concern.

“I’m not going to say that what I’m doing is necessarily revolutionary, but I’m trying to say okay, well, what if instead of raising a bunch of money and trying to flood the market with something that’s as cheap as you can possibly make it and try to get it into everybody’s house,” Bulter said, “What if you just said, ‘okay, this is a nice thing, and you can buy it, and I’m selling it for more money than it costs to make it so that this business can continue forward.'”

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A Tuneshine on a bed showing album art for Aphex Twin, next to an iPhone with Spotify open.


A product that stands on its own, but with the potential for evolution

One thing Butler is planning on doing with Tuneshine in the near future is having limited edition runs with different cases made by Joinery Structures.

​​​​​”I do want it to feel more like furniture than technology, which sounds a little funny, because out of those two words, furniture sounds like the more ‘boring’ thing. But I think there’s a timelessness, something about it that really fits with your personal style, it’s not an anonymous glass rectangle.”

Having a Tuneshine in my home currently, I can attest to the way it subtly adds to my environment without being overwhelming, and the way it adds something personal to my space.

Beyond that, while Tuneshine does have the potential to have different features, like adding a speaker or making it Bluetooth compatible, Butler wants to focus on making the current product stand on its own. “There’s a lot of potential in what I have in the first version, so I’m going to stick with that for a bit,” said Butler.


Ultimately, Butler’s instinct and vision for Tuneshine in both a business and design sense align with his goal to create something beyond another anonymous screen.

Regardless of if and when Butler adds more to Tuneshine or evolves features while adhering to the traditional design, it’s undeniable that it’s a distinctive piece of furniture and technology that can easily find a place in the homes of people who love music and deliberately crafted items. Tuneshine is for those who want to add some personality to their living space without an overbearing statement-piece. And having a Tuneshine in my home currently, I can attest to the way it subtly adds to my environment without being overwhelming, and the way it adds something personal to my space. With wonderfully crafted wood and well-thought-out design, I see Tuneshine as a great step forward in blending technology with art.

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