What DCC system should I buy?

Discussion in 'FAQ' started by klrwhizkid, Apr 6, 2009.

  1. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Frisco.org Supporter

    You obviously have internet access, or you wouldn't be here. Take some time to read all the information that is out there. Don't select just because a system's manual may look easy. There are plenty of people on this site that have experience and can help. Ask others what they like and dislike about the systems they use. Check this forum's category on DCC: http://www.frisco.org/vb/forumdisplay.php?f=311

    In general, you get what you pay for. If you just want to watch several trains go around in circles by yourself, then cheap may be okay. I would advise against this strategy because you are going to miss out on the fun of sharing the operation of a railroad with at least one other person. The cheapest system does not offer expansion or multiple controllers and several of the other toy train systems have limited expansion, e.g. maximum four controllers, and limited power output.
  2. pbender

    pbender Member Frisco.org Supporter

    The bottom line for choosing a DCC system is you need to try the throttles out if at all possible before you buy.

    If you don't like the way the throttles feel in your hands, you won't use all the bells and whistles no matter how much other people rave about the system.

  3. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    I agree with Paul on trying out various DCC systems and the best place to try them out is while operating on someone's layout. I am not discouraging the demos you might get in a hobby store but reminding you that those situations do not really test the system under the conditions you might have for your railroad.

    Throttles are important and they seem to be getting more similar over time. The most popular throttles include a toggle switch or a push type switch (to control direction), a potentiometer (pot) or rheostat (speed control) and a key pad (to assign engines and functions). Some throttles have a roller type pot or a keypad to control speed but these are very difficult to use for switching. The "fit" of the throttle in your hand is pretty important too. I have used some systems that use a throttle that is more complicated than my TV remote. Fortunately, those are relatively rare and most layout owners favor more simple throttles so operators can learn how to use them quicker.

    Another very important factor is expanability as Keith mentioned. Buying for today's needs sounds good and sensible but if you ever plan on operating with others, consider a system that is expandable. You should be able to get into a quality, expandable system for no more than $400-500. When I think about the minimum investment for my first system in 1989 ($1200) and the increase in functionality in today's systems, we are getting a BARGAIN by any measure. If you consider the time value of money, I probably spent something in the neighborhood of $3,000 in today's dollars. With expanable systems, you can add throttles and boosters as you increase the size and/or operation of your railroad. These will be purchases in the $100-150 range that fit into our budgets better.

    I also have to mention getting a system that is durable and reliable. Most systems operate well with 4-8 operators/wireless throttles but they seem to "wig out" when there are more than 8 wireless throttles putting a load on the system. These are typically medium to larger layouts. Nothing is worse for an operating session than poor throttle-engine response or having the darn syste, go down. Operating on other layouts will help you decide which systems can take the load and which ones can't. Of course, this all assumes that the owner wired the layout correctly. We can get into that later. Tethered throttle systems typically don't have this problem from my experience but they have their own unique issues which we can talk about in another thread.

    Ok I will get off my soapbox but will remind the All Aboard crew to let me know when you are in the KC area for a visit and possible operating session on my layout. I use the Digitrax wireless system and you are welcome to come and try it out.

    Ship IT on the Frisco!

  4. HWB

    HWB FRISCO.org Supporter

    I started my DCC experience with the Bachmann EZ Command. It is simple. Very simple. Too simple in fact. It only allows for nine decoder address's and its only expandable with the wired companion. If you aren't don't have more than nine decoder equiped loco's, never intend on having more than nine and dont mind stationery or wired throttles then it's not a bad starting place.
    For the money I would start off with one of the big three entry systems. Digitrax, MRC or NCE. I like the latter two because the throttles are somewhat mobile. With the Digitrax Zephyr you still get that standing at a transformer feeling because it's a console unit but it's fairly simple to use. Not alot of buttons and programing is a breeze.
    Another problem that I have encountered with the Zephyr is that it will not program any Bachmann decoders. I had to take a couple of loco's to the club and program them with the MRC. I don't know if it;s a problem with mine or all Zephry's
  5. John Markl

    John Markl Member

    I would agree, that if you're running a larger or more complex layout, the more expensive set ups are better.

    Our club layout sets up at 12 x 20. It has a single track main line with many spurs and sidings. The Bachmann serves our purpose well. Each club member has an assigned address. We can all set trains or locos on the layout, and when it's our turn to run, it's easy.

    Also, my post on a different thread was in response to a group member who stated that they run a switching layout in N scale on a door.

    It all depends on what you're trying to do and how much you want to spend. :)
  6. HWB

    HWB FRISCO.org Supporter

    Another inconvenience I have found with the Digitrax DT400R (and probably with any of their wireless or infrared throttles) is batteries. You can't turn the throttle off so if the battery is left in the throttle it will run down. I fixed this by purchasing two rechargeable 9V batteries and charger off ebay. I would prefer to be able to turn the throttle off and save on battery life but as it is now I have to remember to take the battery out. Something to think about.
  7. bob_wintle

    bob_wintle Member Frisco.org Supporter

    The Digitrax Zephyr can be used just like any other Digitrax system. You can wire the loconet and use throttles anywhere on your layout or add a UR91 radio reciever and use radio control.
    On th esubject of not being able to program the Bachmann decoders, have you tried placing a 1000 or 10000 ohm resistor accross your programming track. I know that it sounds crazy but give that a try and see what happens.
    Bob Wintle
    Parsons, Ks.
  8. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    Howard raises a good point regarding the need for batteries for throttles. I know that Easy DCC and Digitrax wireless throttles (including the programming throttle DT400) require batteries. Not sure about the NCE, Lenz, MRC or other systems. I believe that all systems using battery powered throttles will drain the batteries if they are left in the units for an extended period of time.

    I have found that the 9v batteries required for my Digitrax wireless throttles will last from six to eight 3+ hour sessions. I simply remove the batteries after the session and all is well. Digitrax (and maybe others) allows you to power a throttle bus that you can plug wireless throttles into to save batteries but you have to power the bus so I am not sure what in the heck you are really saving. Maybe taking the batteries out of the throttle? Fortunately, I am able to handle taking the batteries out of 6 throttles at the end of a session.

    On another topic related to DCC, the number of locomotives a system will handle may be of interest. I believe we have heard several people say that the Bachman (Turner Overdrive) system will allow nine addresses or locomotives. I don't know about you, but I have more than 9 locomotives. I believe that the larger systems are capped at 999 locomotives. Now that is more like it! I will never have that many but I have a few more than nine. . . . . and I like to run more than one train at a time.

    Back to work . . .

    Ship IT on the Frisco!


    PS It's probably not a good idea to leave batteries in throttles for an extended period of time even if the throttle has an ON/OFF switch. I have had AAA batteries leak in my CVP CTC-80 throttles and the leakage is very corrosive, damaging other parts of the throttle and requiring a service charge.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 7, 2009
  9. pbender

    pbender Member Frisco.org Supporter

    No DCC system can have more than about 10,000* locomotives, due to size and other limitations placed on the addresses by the standards.

    Of course, that's just the addresses, the limit as to the number of simultaneous running locomotives is dependent on a number of choices the manufacturers make.

    For the 3 biggest players, it breaks down as follows:
    Digitrax (when using a DCS100/DCS200) can run a maximum of 120 independent locomotives addresses.
    Lenz (when using an LZ100/LZV100) can run 128 locomotives with long addresses and 100 short addresses (or CV19 consists).
    NCE (when using a PowerHouse Pro) can run 250 independent locomotives.

    Any of these systems have more than enough capacity for all but the largest home and club layouts, provided enough booster power is avaialble.

    *the actual limit is just over 11,000, but no current throttle can use an address with more than 4 decimal digits.
  10. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    Paul brings up a good point, the number independent locomotive addresses that can be run simultaneously. Going into the hundreds of loco addresses actually gives me a headache but it sounds pretty cool. Most large home based layouts I have operated on typically use 14-18 throttles simultaneously which should be well within the limits Paul outlined for us. I would not want to be a dispatcher on a railroad with dozens of operator/throttles working simultaneously.

    I have found that most operating layouts use between 4-10 operators/throttles leaving plenty or room to spare in the loco address world. With more layouts featuring sound, we see a need for more power to run the sound systems, not adding more operators/throttles. Fortunately, extra power can be easily added to a layout with an expandable system and some block redesign.

    Nice job Paul. I never knew that info you provided.

    Ship IT on the Frisco!

  11. HWB

    HWB FRISCO.org Supporter

    So there is no way to turn the power off to a Digitrax throttle. I knew it! I have read the manual over and over and just thought I was missing something basic.
    and Rick I agree what good is a wireless throttle if it needs to be plugged into a power buss?
  12. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    Another decision layout owners will need to make is whether to have tethered or wireless throttles. Each has its pros and cons and I will outline a few of the biggies.


    * Operators don't tie each other up with cords when they work close to each other
    * Operators don't fight over input jacks slowing the operation down
    * No need for an elaborate throttle bus or, depending upon the system (like Easy DCC) no throttle bus at all
    * Faster approach to getting a layout up and running

    * Requires additional radio equipment/throttles increasing the cost of the system
    * Wireless throttles require batteries and more cost


    * Less expensive because there is no radio equipment/throttles needed
    * No batteries needed for the throttles

    * Operators compete for input jacks
    * Operators can tie each other up with cables when they work close to each other
    * Telephone input jacks like those on the Digitrax system are not durable and require replacement
    * A throttle bus and input jack are required
    * Throttle bus shorts occur and are time consuming to trouble shoot

    Hope this helps and please add anything I missed.

    Ship IT on the Frisco!

  13. bob_wintle

    bob_wintle Member Frisco.org Supporter

    This is how I store my UT4R throttles between sessions without having to remove batteries.
    From the Digitrax website:
    Turning the UT4 Off
    The UT4 has a ‘sleep’ mode. To turn the unit off, simply press and hold any
    function key down and turn any address selector to the next digit. The throttle
    will then go into deep sleep mode. The UT4 will deselect the address and the
    status light will briefly turn red. If the unit is plugged into a LocoNet port you
    can unplug the throttle and the throttle will then be in ‘sleep’ mode until
    plugged back in to LocoNet port.

    I also make sure that I leave the direction toggle switch in the middle or off position. The batteries last much longer doing this. I have left them for many weeks like this.
    Bob Wintle
  14. FriscoFriend (Bob Hoover RIP 4/12/2018)

    FriscoFriend (Bob Hoover RIP 4/12/2018) Passed Away April 12, 2018 Frisco.org Supporter

    I concur 100% with the assessment that Rick gave you on wireless vs. wired (plug-in) systems. As he points out, if you choose Digitrax, you are going to have to wire a throttle bus anyway, but that is an option on other systems. The one point that I might add is about reception quality with wireless and that somewhat depends upon the layout room or rooms that you have. I am just starting to build my layout, but since it is in one room, I perceive little or no reception difficulties using one receiver. Also, and I understand from a friend that this issue has been addressed or corrected, if you choose NCE and their radio system, they required the use of repeaters about every 11 feet or so. As I said, I think this is no longer an issue.
    In conclusion, if you can take the leap, go wireless to begin with and I don't think you will regret it.

    Bob Hoover
    FriscoFriend (and EasyDCC User)
  15. pbender

    pbender Member Frisco.org Supporter

    To add to the wireless discussion, for a home layout, I prefer a mixed system... for jobs that will be largely stationary, such as a yard job, use a tethered throttle (or a console type throttle, such as a Digitrax Zephyr) and let the road crews use the wireless throttles.

    This cuts down on the radio traffic which can help solve some interference problems.

    For modular layouts, an all wireless system is the way to go... that reduces the number of cables you have to run at show time.

  16. HWB

    HWB FRISCO.org Supporter

    I tried the DT4 infrared and didn't like it. You had to aim the throttle at the receiver and I do mean aim. It was worse than a TV remote.
    I got rid of that and went to the DT400R. Radio is the only way to go if you want true wireless. I can be anywhere around my layout and have no problems. I can be out of sight of the receiver and still no problems. I can even be on the other side of the conrete block wall (outside) and still no problems.
  17. Rick McClellan

    Rick McClellan 2009 Engineer of the Year

    I have seen several layouts go with a mix of tethered and wireless throttles per Paul's comments. This works especially well when the stationary crew has a limited work area and/or when the stationary crew is in an isolated aisle that the road/transfer crews never use.

    Ultimately, these decisions are up to the layout owner. I will add that I have been to some layouts where the owner made a bad choice and not made a change to improve the situation. Those are pretty frustrating situations.

    Regarding infrared, the line-of-sight requirement doesn't work for most layouts. I have operated on infrared based systems and the delays are pretty bad.

    Ship IT on the Frisco!

  18. John Markl

    John Markl Member

    The Thursday night operating session I attend weekly here, uses the Aristocraft Train Engineer wireless.

    Though not DCC, it works pretty well, and is antenna based, not infared.

    One place that wireless DCC does become a headache, is at train shows where there are multiple layouts using wireless DCC. While we don't use wireless DCC, we have observed some interesting "issues" from time to time.
  19. FriscoFriend (Bob Hoover RIP 4/12/2018)

    FriscoFriend (Bob Hoover RIP 4/12/2018) Passed Away April 12, 2018 Frisco.org Supporter

    I have given this information (opinion) to others before when they asked which system to buy, so you asked and here goes. It's like buying a car, a washing machine, or anything else, all of the good systems perform the same basic things that running trains on DCC require. I am still new at this, but have learned that the differences in the systems lie in some of the advanced programming features written into the software or hardware of the given system. Some people will never get to the point of even knowing some of differences, let alone caring.
    Let me give you a "Frisco Specific" example of what I am talking about and tell you that I don't yet know the answer because I haven't tried to find out. One of the ways the systems differ in the way they handle programming consists (or multiple lash-ups of diesels). I plan to run two unit sets of either GP38's, B30-7's, or combinations thereof. All of my locos are, or will be, equipped with both nose gyra-lights and rooftop beacons. Here lies the possible glitch in the system that I chose (EasyDCC). It may not be possible in the advanced consisting mode to turn the mars lights off and on independently when the locomotives change directions and/or when the consists are broken. I became aware of this on another forum when a prominant EasyDCC user switched to NCE partially because of consisting issues he was having. Again, I don't know for sure whether or not this will be an issue or not.
    Now, in conclusion, why did I go to the effort of boring you with this detail. Simply to point out that you and I and everyone else are entering a fascinating new area of realistic modeling that we never thought possible even a few years ago. Seeing those GP38's of mine crawl down the track with all of those lights working is incredible and now I want sound to go with it.

    Here are my thoughts on choosing:

    (1) If possible test drive several different systems and ask questions of the owners.
    (2) Join the Yahoo User Groups of several of the systems that you are considering. Be careful here as there are some really technical people on these Frisco Library that will be helpful, but in ways you might not understand.
    (3) Find out if there is a preferred system of modelers and operators in your area as these people can give you immediate hands-on help and encouragement if you get frustrated.
    (4) Make sure the system that you choose is easily upgradable. Most of the high end ones are.
    (5) Last, but not least, don't skimp on the price! All of the major systems with the exception of EasyDCC are sold through dealers that offer a discount. When you compare the features, you will see that they all stack up about the same price wise including EasyDCC.

    Have fun!

    Bob Hoover
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2009
  20. HWB

    HWB FRISCO.org Supporter

    what do you intend to use for the beacons? I'm guessing the models you are talking about are Atlas? I have several of those, all DCC and would like to have beacons. I love those beacons!
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 9, 2009

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