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DCC decoders -- something I do not understand

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DCC decoders -- something I do not understand
Posted by crossthedog on Sunday, March 21, 2021 8:14 PM

Still examining differnet options for the layout-to-be. I've just discovered that encoders are not prohibitively expensive, and that middling-smart humans can install them if they read instructions carefully. But it occurs to me to ask... if the decoders are not loco-specific, how can you expect it to give the steam sounds for an Atlantic 4-4-2, for instance, or the particular clank and chortle of an Alco 244 power plant? Do you assign the type of locomotive in the digital throttle so that the encoder knows what it's riding in? How does that work?

Thanks in advance. I'm sure the answer is going to be so simple I'll wish I had not asked this.

-Matt

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by rrebell on Sunday, March 21, 2021 8:33 PM

You can buy decoders that are pre loaded or there are other that allow you to downloads sounds, including your own.

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Posted by tbdanny on Sunday, March 21, 2021 8:48 PM

Some brands of decoders come pre-loaded with sound schemes, others you load your own.  I use Soundtraxx Tsunamis, which come pre-loaded.  When I program the locomotive, I can choose the steam, compressor, bell, whistle, etc. sounds individually to get the sound feel that I want.

For diesel locomotives, Soundtraxx makes them in different flavours - e.g. Alco, EMD, Baldwin, etc.  For these, you'll find they have the engine sounds of several powerplants made by that builder.  So again, you can pick what you need.

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Posted by peahrens on Sunday, March 21, 2021 9:20 PM

rrebell

You can buy decoders that are pre loaded or there are other that allow you to downloads sounds, including your own. 

As an example, if you buy a Soundtraxx Tsunami 2 decoder, you would order the one (part number) that included (among others) the prime mover (motor) sound you wanted.  If you open (lower right) the Product Documentation / Sound Selection References on this page, you will see that the "EMD" part has 8 prime movers to choose from, and EMD-2 has others, and there are Alco, GE, etc., part numbers.  With the correct part Tsunami 2, you change CV123 with your DCC throttle to choose the particular motor sound correct for your loco.   I do not have Tsunami2's but this is my interpretation.

Soundtraxx Tsunami2 Digital Sound Decoder TSU-21PNEM

With ESU LokSound decoders, such as the newer LokSound 5, as noted above you can ask your dealer to provide a LokSound 5 pre-loaded with your preferred prime mover sound file from their Lok 5 library (133 files), choosing the one closest to correct for your loco.  If you buy a LokProgrammer, you can buy the generic Lok 5 decoder and load the correct sound file, using your PC, after downloading the correct file from the ESU website.  Sometimes compromise is involved.  For instance, you will find a Lok 5 Alco 244 for an RS-2, but not likely a 4-4-2 Atlantic.  I tend to use LokSounds and make the best of their library choices.  Of course, I could check out other brands and go that route for something more "correct" as an option.

LokSound 5 North American and Australian Sound files - ESU

Other brands include TCS (WowSound) and DigiTrax.

If you buy a factory DCC loco with sound, it will contain the appropriate decoder and be set up to the degree attainable with the correct prime mover, horn, bell, etc. so that you do not need to adjust CVs for sound purposes, as you would if installing a multi-prime mover decoder in your own loco.

Paul

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Posted by TBat55 on Sunday, March 21, 2021 10:26 PM

Can a LokSound 5 decoder (ESU 58429) be programmed with JMRI Decoder Pro, or only with a Loc Programmer?

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Posted by Mark R. on Sunday, March 21, 2021 10:44 PM

TBat55

Can a LokSound 5 decoder (ESU 58429) be programmed with JMRI Decoder Pro, or only with a Loc Programmer?

 

You need the LokProgrammer to load the sound file into the decoder, but any adjustments there-after can be done through JMRI.  You can purchase the Loksound decoders with the soundfile already loaded to your specification from many retailers.

Mark.

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Posted by ndbprr on Monday, March 22, 2021 7:43 AM

If I understand your question this has gone off track. Pun intended. Basic dcc decoders are very cheap.  Want all the sound features? Much higher priced.  Kind of like auto accessories from the manufacturer. Generally the cheaper a full function decoder costs the less the quality of the outputs. It is probably a good idea to try a basic decoder install first unless the engine has a decoder socket to just plug in the decoder. Old engines will have no socket. Newer engines may have an 8 pin socket and new engines may have an 8 or 21 pin socket.  More pins = more functions.  Got an old engine with no socket? Much longer install time with thought needed to be given before starting where things will fit. Things like decoder and wires and where the speaker can be placed.

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Monday, March 22, 2021 9:49 AM

In between the NMRA basic 8 pin socket and the 21 pin adapter socket there are also 9 pin sockets. 

Adapters are available for 9 pin to 8 pin.  

Adapter boards are available for 21 pin to either 8 pin or 9 pin.

So, your question is important for those of us who don't know. I recall opening a Bachmann Spectrum  2-8-0 which was originally "DCC ready" only to find the light board with the DCC ready 8 pin socket removed and a 9 pin wired in.

Weirdly, the genius who did this (I not so fondly refer to this unknown person as the "Bachmann Butcher") seemed unable to figure all this out. Instead of simply buying the adapter cable to allow a 9 pin to be plugged in to the 8 pin socket he (could not have been a woman) simply clipped out all the wiring except the power to the motor and the power pickups from the locomotive. AND I do mean clipped, as in clipped right off at the backs of the plugs. Chucked out the light board, the light bulbs  AND the lighting wiring. Chucked out the power pickup wires from the tender axles AND the tender axle wipers. AND clipped off ALL the "extra" wiring in the tender and off the 9 pin decoder end which makes reversing this basically impractical. AND the dual mode digitrax decoders he bought won't drive the locomotive properly in DC mode so I spent a few bucks buying and installing dummy plugs just to get the locomotives to run properly. They run fine in DCC mode but are hopeless running DC through the decoders. Yes, I bought two of these before I discovered the same "workmanship" was used on the both. I  know better now. Open up the locomotive and see what's there already.

Really, some people.  The really annoying thing is he made his job so much harder than it needed to be and devalued the locomotive to boot. Just to install a DCC motor controller. 

It's as well to open up your locomotive and check out what's there before deciding what decoder to buy. 

Alyth Yard

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, March 22, 2021 10:25 AM

 The OP basically wants to know how do you get a sound decoder in s steam loco to sound like a steam loco, and the same sound decoder in a diesel locomotive to sound like a diesel.

 Your premise is correct - decoders are not loco specific. There are exceptions, more common in N scale, where the decoder repalces a factory lighting board, and different loco manufactures use different boards, thus different decoders are needed based on the brand and sometimes specific model of the loco. But in HO or larger, you can generally use anything that will fit physically in the loco. Sometimes there are options that are easier than others, but I am one of those who tends to remove any factory circuit board and directly wire my decoders. SO bascially you are correct - you do not need different decoders for an Atlas loco vs an Athearn loco vs a Bowser loco etc.

 The sound is a different story. As has been mentioned, some sound decoders come with a fixed set of sounds and that's what you get. Manufacturers of such offer different decoders. One may have Alco sounds, another EMD first generation sounds, another medium size steam engine sounds, etc. All the decoders may look alike, but each has specific sound files loaded into the internal memory. 

 Others allow the loading of sounds by the end user. Every one of these uses a proprietary method of loading the sound files, because the NMRA DCC programming specification is far too slow to transfer the amount of data required. These decoders typically come blank, or with some sample sounds installed to allow testing. Any of the major resellers will generally install your choice of sound files to the decoder when you buy it, so you don't need to have the proprietary hardware. If you want to change the sounds though, you need the specific programming ahrdware - say you ordered the decoder with Alco sounds, and you decided instead you want to install it in an EMD F7 you have sitting around. The decoder physically and electrically will work, but it will sound wrong. You would need the programming hardware, or else know someone who has it, to change the Alco sounds to EMD sounds. The upside to this is that you can get a handful of deocders and then install them and load the sounds you need at the time.

 The big difference between fixed sound and user programmable ones is that the fixed sound vendor makes say 100 decoders, they make 10 each of 10 different sounds. The programmable decoder manufacturer just makes 100 decoders because the buyer can load whatever sounds they want. Though what really happens is that the fixed decoder manufacturer makes 100 decoders and then loads sounds in using a method they have not made available to the general public. End result though is the same, if your retailer is out of stock of the Alco version and you wanted to install a decoder in your Alco model, you're out of luck and have to wait until they replenish stock. 

 There is also an extreme you can take the user-loadable sound decoders - and that is to produce your own sounds. Most of us don't have access to a real railroad or the equipment required to get good sound recordings, let alone the skills to edit and mix the results to something usable in the decoder, so this isn't exactly a driving feature of these decoders, but it's there. I happen to have a couple of the PCM models of the Reading T1 4-8-4. These came with ESU Loksound decoders, which belong to the end user loadable set of sound decoders. A fellow model railroader happened to have good audio recordings he made in 1976 of American Freedom Train #1 - in the Northeast US this was former Reading T1 2101. He was able to filter out certain of the sounds to replace the ones supplied by PCM/ESU from the factory. I didn't use his whistle, as AFT #1 used a passenger whistle and my models represent in-service units which had a completely different whistle for freight service, but I did use his bell and the aux sounds (air pump, air leftoff, etc) so my models now sound a little more liek the real thing. I also loaded this for a couple of people at the club who had the same model.

                                --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by rrebell on Monday, March 22, 2021 10:36 AM

Lastspikemike

In between the NMRA basic 8 pin socket and the 21 pin adapter socket there are also 9 pin sockets. 

Adapters are available for 9 pin to 8 pin.  

Adapter boards are available for 21 pin to either 8 pin or 9 pin.

So, your question is important for those of us who don't know. I recall opening a Bachmann Spectrum  2-8-0 which was originally "DCC ready" only to find the light board with the DCC ready 8 pin socket removed and a 9 pin wired in.

Weirdly, the genius who did this (I not so fondly refer to this unknown person as the "Bachmann Butcher") seemed unable to figure all this out. Instead of simply buying the adapter cable to allow a 9 pin to be plugged in to the 8 pin socket he (could not have been a woman) simply clipped out all the wiring except the power to the motor and the power pickups from the locomotive. AND I do mean clipped, as in clipped right off at the backs of the plugs. Chucked out the light board, the light bulbs  AND the lighting wiring. Chucked out the power pickup wires from the tender axles AND the tender axle wipers. AND clipped off ALL the "extra" wiring in the tender and off the 9 pin decoder end which makes reversing this basically impractical. AND the dual mode digitrax decoders he bought won't drive the locomotive properly in DC mode so I spent a few bucks buying and installing dummy plugs just to get the locomotives to run properly. They run fine in DCC mode but are hopeless running DC through the decoders. Yes, I bought two of these before I discovered the same "workmanship" was used on the both. I  know better now. Open up the locomotive and see what's there already.

Really, some people.  The really annoying thing is he made his job so much harder than it needed to be and devalued the locomotive to boot. Just to install a DCC motor controller. 

It's as well to open up your locomotive and check out what's there before deciding what decoder to buy. 

 

Found that out. One had DCC label on the bottom but no chip, another that was should have been DC had been converted.

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Posted by crossthedog on Monday, March 22, 2021 12:35 PM

I'm glad I asked. Thanks everyone for all this info, even the "off-track" (branch?) discussions. And a good warning about looking inside the locos first (thanks LSMike).

I haven't opened it up, but I'm sure my '70s vintage Roundhouse Atlantic 4-4-2 has a motor attached to the metal chassis, so it's the least optimal situation for conversion. But am I right -- it's just tiny, fussy wiring? If I found the right part number, say from SoundTraxx, sn't this something my local train store could do for me for a wink and nod and a bit of a fee?

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, March 22, 2021 1:08 PM

 Not sure about your local train store, but there are places and people that do DCC installs for a fee. SO you could get this done by a 'professional' if you didn't feel like tackling it yourself. A loco of that vintage will indeed require a bit of work to isolate the motor fromt he frame - really what you need to isolate in a permanent magnet motor are the brushes, not necessarily  the motor itself.

 On some old open frame motirs where there is a spring on top spreading the brushes, this can actually be fairly easy to accomplish by putting heat shrink or some other insulating material over the spring for the brush that is linked to the motor frame. No pictures handy, but typically looking at one of these motors you will see one side has a piece of insulation slid over the spring, which will be on the side that has a wire soldered to it for the tender pickup, and the other side will just have the metal spring touching the metal clip that holds the spring in place. Insulating this effectively insulated the brushes from the chassis, and you can solder a wire on, similar to the wire on the opposite brush. 

                                           --Randy

 


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Posted by rrebell on Monday, March 22, 2021 1:13 PM

You would be surprised at the fees people charge just to do plug n play installs.

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, March 22, 2021 1:20 PM

 Indeed, but what do you value an hour of your time at? Even a simple PnP install is going to take close to an hour - what with carefully removing the shell and putting it back on. That's the hard pard of a PnP install. And then hopefully any reputable installer will at least test run it. And program it to the road number if you want.

 And a 70's vintage Roundhouse steam loco is not going to be PnP. Nor are many sound installs even on newer locos - yes they may be "DCC Ready" but do they have a place for the speaker all ready to go? Some do, when offered as factory sound equipped, not a great many locos may have a socket for a PnP decoder install, but you still have to figure out where and sometimes open holes for a speaker install to add sound.

 I used to do some for people, but I have too many of my own locos to do to put time towards installs for money. If a local friend wants some help that's one thing. But otherwise, my hobby time is strictly outgoing money, once you try to turn it into a business, it ceases being a hobby.

                                --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by snjroy on Thursday, March 25, 2021 10:12 AM

I converted my MDC 4-4-2 a few years ago. I changed the motor, but kept the original gears. It's one of my best runners!  Unfortunately, mine did not have the valve gears linkages. As shown, it still has the brass wheels on it, but the loco is so heavy and the wheels are so large that I don't have any contact problems.

 4-4-2 by on Flickr

 

About your original question: Most of my engines are steam, yet I was not born in that "generation". I went on Youtube to listen to a few real engines, and I was shocked: there is a lot of variety in the sounds, and some were... disapointing. I also suspect, based on what I saw and heard, that the sounds changed depending on the task: uphill, downhill, slow, fast... Anyway, after a few years of trying to match the prototype, I gave up and went with what sounded best to my ears. Sound decoders usually give you a few options. Some options are easy to rule out, like the sound of a large engine, or an articulated sound. The rythm is probably what's most important. Same thing for the whistles - the ones for the smaller engines are pretty obvious. I keep my sound pretty low anyways.

Anyway, that's my suggestion: trust your ears!  Few people will be able to tell you that you're off base.  

Simon

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, March 25, 2021 10:21 AM

crossthedog
I haven't opened it up, but I'm sure my '70s vintage Roundhouse Atlantic 4-4-2 has a motor attached to the metal chassis, so it's the least optimal situation for conversion. But am I right -- it's just tiny, fussy wiring?

The big issue with older engines is you need to isolate the motor from the frame. It isn't all that hard. I haven't converted an MDC steam engine, but on Mantua ones from that era you unscrew the motor from the frame, put in a thin piece of plastic or rubber tape between the motor and the frame, and then screw the motor back in place using plastic screws instead of metal ones. Then you would solder wire connections to the motor, frame etc. After you've done one, the next 'hard wire' installation is a lot easier.

You may find with older engines that it's easier just to buy a new DCC-equipped or DCC-ready engine. Rather than convert my old (c.1989) Bachmann Spectrum GP-30 to sound, I bought a new one on sale and just swapped out the bodies. The new sound-equipped one cost about the same as a new sound decoder for the old one would have cost.

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Posted by rrebell on Thursday, March 25, 2021 10:52 AM

Thats what I found out.

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Posted by snjroy on Thursday, March 25, 2021 11:21 AM

wjstix

 

 
crossthedog
I haven't opened it up, but I'm sure my '70s vintage Roundhouse Atlantic 4-4-2 has a motor attached to the metal chassis, so it's the least optimal situation for conversion. But am I right -- it's just tiny, fussy wiring?

 

The big issue with older engines is you need to isolate the motor from the frame. It isn't all that hard. I haven't converted an MDC steam engine, but on Mantua ones from that era you unscrew the motor from the frame, put in a thin piece of plastic or rubber tape between the motor and the frame, and then screw the motor back in place using plastic screws instead of metal ones. Then you would solder wire connections to the motor, frame etc. After you've done one, the next 'hard wire' installation is a lot easier.

You may find with older engines that it's easier just to buy a new DCC-equipped or DCC-ready engine. Rather than convert my old (c.1989) Bachmann Spectrum GP-30 to sound, I bought a new one on sale and just swapped out the bodies. The new sound-equipped one cost about the same as a new sound decoder for the old one would have cost.

 

Yes, isolating the motor is simple enough. The old Sagami motors were quite good for their time. If it's an open-frame, it might be worth checking the amps - it could be very thirsty from that perspective. I now prefer to buy a high-quality can motor, the ones that have shafts that can go a bit back and forth to adapt to the gears. It's especially an issue for Mantuas and the MDCs, where the worm gears connect more or less directly to the bull gear.

Sure, you can always buy a more recent DCC steamer. But what's the fun in that Smile. The Atlantic are also rather rare - I'm not aware of any recent runs. And many of the new steamers are rather poor pullers. You can always double-head I guess.

Simon 

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, March 25, 2021 2:02 PM

snjroy
I went on Youtube to listen to a few real engines, and I was shocked: there is a lot of variety in the sounds, and some were... disappointing. I also suspect, based on what I saw and heard, that the sounds changed depending on the task: uphill, downhill, slow, fast...

Be advised that a great many 'prototype' YouTube videos don't have representative audio that matches the visible context.  You'd want to stick with reasonably high-fidelity recorded sources -- or recorded samples made 'for sound-file purposes' (although many of these intended for 'model sound' were in the past made 'proprietary' for use only with a particular type of device).

As you might expect, the sound of a working steam engine changes both with load on it and with the position of the cutoff control (via the reverser on an engine with link gear, for example).  There are more subtle effects depending on engine rotational speed.  I believe some decoders have an approximation to this with different 'chuff' sounds for load, but it would likely be fairly primitive and involve simple switching between 'canned' sound clip files on the decoder.

One of my pet peeves is dynamic range.  The various sounds of exhaust can go from soft to loud, with the whistle being a certain amount louder and the bell quieter -- all this can likely be tuned with CVs on good modern decoders but I still find a lot of toy-trainish rendition that spoils the "willing suspension of disbelief" when you know how the real thing ought to sound...

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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, March 25, 2021 3:55 PM

 a LOT of older vidoes/movies of the prototype have sounds dubbed in aftwerwards, so the chances of them being the actual sound of the subject on the screen are slim to none. 

 On many fan trips, people would get to set upo with professional or semi-pro recording equipment in a baggage car couple behind the loco and record the sound, which was then often released on a record. Sound moivie equipment for the typical railfan was probably for the most part no affordable, and it certainly did not have the sound quality of proper sound recording equipment. A best you might get a movie with the sound recorded by sound people dubbed in.

 Still nothign at all like what goes down with recording sounds for modern sound decoders - mics by the exhaust stack, mics by the engine compartment doors, mics buy the radiator fans, mics by the dynamic brake fans, mics by the horn, etc.  Or on a steam loco, the stack, the air pump, the cylinders, the whistle, the bell, in the cab, etc. 

 There is a tendency for many sound locos being shipped with everything maxxed out, toy train style. A legacy of years of tpy train experience perhaps. Pretty much every sound decoder commonly used today allows adjustment of individual sounds to bring a proper balance to the prime mover, horn, bell, and other sounds. Plus an overall master volume - which is very handy for locos that might be used at home as well as at a club show in a large building - when set up in a large venue, even max volume isn;t too loud, but I bring that loco home and I;m blown out of the room unless I lower the volume. Running them too loud ruins the illusion of your layout representing many miles of the real world - if the other side of the room is supposed to be 20 miles away, I shouldn;t hear the loco over there. A proper sound level allows a visitor to hear nothing, then start to ehar the loco as it comes into sight and passes by, and then have the sound fade out as it disappears to another area of the layout.

                                       --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by hornblower on Monday, March 29, 2021 3:58 PM

The other side of the coin to consider is that, regardless of the quality of the recording equipment (and you could hardly label the sound recording equipment available during the black and white movie era "High Fidelity"), the one watt amplifier installed in your DCC decoder driving a tiny little speaker is not going to accurately reproduce the sound of the prototype no matter who programs it! Most steam sound decoders produce chuffing sounds more akin to pulses of pink noise than a real chuffing loco.  "Large Steam" decoders try to get more lower frequency content out of the pink noise but I certainly wouldn't call it bass.  Likewise, Small Steam decoders use less low frequency content and sound more like pulses of white noise.  As Simon previously stated, pick something that sounds good to your ears.  If the decoder sounds seem appropriate for the SIZE of the steam loco, you're probably going to be satisfied.  Fortunately, most steam decoders come with a selection of bell and whistle sounds so you can pick and choose these to better suit your loco model/class.

Hornblower

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Monday, March 29, 2021 5:55 PM

Sound does not scale.

Alyth Yard

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, March 29, 2021 7:46 PM

hornblower
The one watt amplifier installed in your DCC decoder driving a tiny little speaker is not going to accurately reproduce the sound of the prototype no matter who programs it!

This is exactly why I will not pay for onboard sound. It just does not add any good play value for me.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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