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Standardizing on a decoder

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  • Member since
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Standardizing on a decoder
Posted by carl425 on Thursday, May 04, 2017 9:41 AM

I curious what folks think about the value of standardizing on one decoder (or one manufacturer).  Intuitively it sounds like a good idea, but I'm wondering if it really pays off in practice.

Additional questions:

Would you pass up a good deal on a loco with the "wrong" decoder already installed?

Would you replace an installed decoder in order to conform to your standard?

Have you had any bad experiences that can be attributed to mixed decoder types?

Is standardizing so difficult (like a loco you just must have that your decoder choice won't fit) that's just not worth the effort?

I have the right to remain silent.  By posting here I have given up that right and accept that anything I say can and will be used as evidence to critique me.

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Posted by Old Fat Robert on Thursday, May 04, 2017 10:05 AM

Okay Carl, as I have my morning coffee, I will jump in here. In the first place I don't think that having a decoder standard is "intuitively" a good idea. Simply because they are always changing and those changes are not always better for every application. Furthermore, I don't see any difference in performance between my locomotives that have several different mfgs decoders. (I admit to a small sample size). If I want a locomotive I will get that locomotive. Decoder or not, mfg of decoder would be irrelevant. Now, what is your opinion?

Old Fat Robert

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Posted by Stevert on Thursday, May 04, 2017 10:26 AM

This is a Ford vs. Chevy question - Everyone will have their own preferences, and their own reasons for those preferences.

That said, I personally take the route of least resistance.  For me that means speed-matching unlike decoders instead of trying to adapt one brand or model of decoder to fit everything.  

My loco collection consists of 100+ locos of various makes, models, and vintages acquired over 15+ years.  Many of the decoders installed in the older locos aren't available any more, so standardizing would mean ripping out one working decoder simply to replace it with another.  And probably repeating the process in another few years when my "standard decoder" of today is no longer available.   I see no value in that.

Also, many (most?) of my newer locos have sound, and I've found it's usually easier/cheaper to buy sound-equipped than it is to install it myself later.  With even the manufacturers using different brands for different runs/models, well, there's another instance where speed matching wins out.

But like I said, other folks will have different opinions or circumstances that makes a different approach a better fit for them.

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Posted by RR_Mel on Thursday, May 04, 2017 11:04 AM

I would think the brand of a decoder could be by type of operation or specific needs while same type locomotives should be the same model number for ease of operation.
 
I have a little bit of everything but matched decoders in matched locomotives.  I tend to stick with the MRC 1700 series decoders for my E series diesels mainly because they have very good sound and they perform very well together.
 
I never run steam consists so the brand and model isn’t a factor, I go with the best sounding sound decoder for my steam locomotives.
 
 
Mel
 
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
 
My Model Railroad   
 
Bakersfield, California
 
I'm beginning to realize that aging is not for wimps.
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Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, May 04, 2017 11:43 AM

Hi Carl:

I would like to standardize my decoders for one simple reason. I want all the decoders to work the same way.

I currently have a mix of Loksound, QSI, Soundtraxx and MRC decoders. The different decoders function slightly differently, enough that I have to stop and think about which button does what. The biggest problem is the QSI decoders. They sound great but the start up sequences (there are three options) are hard to keep straight, at least for me.

My preference would be to have all Loksound decoders for a couple of reasons:

- First, they sound good (with a couple of minor exceptions).

- Second, they work properly right out of the box. You can play with the CV settings if you want to but the only CV that I routinely change is the overall sound volume. All my Loksound locomotives started very slowly on speed step 1 using the factory settings. There was one exception which took off like a scalded cat but that was not the fault of the decoder. It was a scratch built railcar and I mistakenly used a 6 volt motor Dunce. It took less than 5 minutes to adjust the speed settings and the motor now runs fine.

- Third, Loksound decoders can be updated as new programs come out. For example, Loksound recently introduced a feature called 'Full Throttle' which allows the sound of the engine to be changed while the locomotive maintains a constant speed. You can rev the sound up to simulate a heavy load like going up a grade but the actual speed of the locomotive can be controlled separately. You can drop the engine sound to an idle when the train is coasting but the locomotive doesn't slow down unless you want it to. I can go back to my older Loksounds that don't have the Full Throttle feature and re-program them to operate with the Full Throttle function. You do need access to a LokProgrammer to do that.

 

Notice that I said "I would like to standardize....". I'm not going to trash my existing decoders, but I'm going to try to stick to Loksound in the future unless they don't have a specific sound file. I have been waiting patiently for well over a year for them to release their long ago promised version of the Galloping Goose.Grumpy If I win the lottery maybe I will go back and ditch the non-Loksound decoders but for now I have far more important things to spend my money on.

Dave

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Posted by jjdamnit on Thursday, May 04, 2017 5:52 PM

Hello all,

My fleet uses several different manufacturers of decoders from Bachmann, Digitrax and TCS.

I do not run sound so I cannot comment on sound decoders.

Some of these decoders are factory installed, some are plug-and-play while others have been hard-wired in custom applications. 

The decoders range from two- to four- and six-functions.

The Bachmann decoders are dirt-basic. They are two-function and support only a few CVs. These are either factory installed or plug-and-play where I don't need "higher function" CVs and only control two lights.

I have hard-wired these two-function decoders with LEDs and have been able to replicate the Rule 17 lighting function without using CVs.

The Digitrax decoders are four-function and support more CVs, such as Rule 17 and advance consisting along with speed curves.

I have installed these Digitrax decoders in plug-and-play applications and hard-wired applications. 

The TCS decoders I have used are six-function and "LED ready" which means that resistors are not needed when using LEDs; they are not designed to run incandescent bulbs.

I have used these in my snowplows to control, not the prime-mover (propusion) functions, but rather power the fan blade motors of the plow along with the headlights and warning (strobe) lights.

Some installations have been a tight fit under the shell while some have been an easy fit.

I have also swapped some plug-and-play decoders from one locomotive to another for various reasons; motor noise, advance consisting or CV functions.

My DCC system has accepted all of these decoders, from different manufacturers, seamlessly. 

I also use Decoder Pro JMRI from my Mac through a Digitrax PR3 to a stand alone programming track.

All of these decoders are supported through Decoder Pro and are easily programmed.

By using the Deoder Pro program it reads the decoders and lets me know which CVs are or are not supported.

I have had no problems with mixing and matching decoders, as long as I know what to expect out of each one.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by Mark R. on Thursday, May 04, 2017 6:41 PM

I prefer to standardize. Up to the last couple years, my entire fleet of 50+ engines were all equipped with TCS non-sound decoders. I could practically program them blind folded because they were all the same.

Over the last number of years, the sound bug bit and I've been converting the fleet to Loksound decoders. I find standardization with sound decoders even more important due to unique features each manufacturer utilizes in how they function, and many times, they won't play nice with other brands across the board. Brake features, dynamic functions and other features like Loksound's Full Throttle are configurations that are unique to each manufacturer that don't work like any other decoder. Hence when mixing different brands of sound decoders, some functions that work excellent with one particular brand will cause incompatability issues when trying to mu them with another brand.

Granted, these "problems" only rear their heads when attempting to mu different brands. Running as single units, not so much. Still, with so many unique features of each decoder brand, it can be hard enough to remember what buttons do what on a single brand decoder, let alone have to remember all the features of multiple brands and what engine has what in it ! .... especially for new operators that just want to run the damn train !

Mark.

¡ uʍop ǝpısdn sı ǝɹnʇɐuƃıs ʎɯ 'dlǝɥ

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Posted by tstage on Thursday, May 04, 2017 11:02 PM

carl425

I curious what folks think about the value of standardizing on one decoder (or one manufacturer).  Intuitively it sounds like a good idea, but I'm wondering if it really pays off in practice.

For me it would NOT be practical to standardize on one particular decoder because my roster is a mix of steam & diesel and in a variety of sizes: From an Alco HH600 to a 4-8-4 Niagara.  I think standarizing on one, or perhaps two decoder manufacturers is a good idea IF...the two decoders behave similarly.

Recently I have chosen TCS as my defacto motor-only decoder because it performs so well right out of the box.  I would, however, be equally happy with ESU Lokpilot or Lenz Silver/Gold decoders because they perform equally as well.  I really like the Rule 17 feature so TCS decoders is what I prefer.  I believe ESU offers that feature.  I don't remember if Lenz does or not.

Additional questions:

Would you pass up a good deal on a loco with the "wrong" decoder already installed?

That would depend 1) if it's a sound or non-sound decoder, and 2) whether I already had the locomotive or not.  I would be more likely to pass on a unit with a sound decoder (e.g. Soundtraxx) than a non-sound decoder.

Would you replace an installed decoder in order to conform to your standard?

I actually did that on a F3 A-B set I received recently.  Each unit came with motor-only decoders from two different manufactures so I put a TCS Wow decoder in the A-unit and a TCS A4X in the B-unit.  They play much more nicely together than with the previous decoders.

Have you had any bad experiences that can be attributed to mixed decoder types?

See previous comment above.  The decoders were from two different manufacturers and neither gave me the desirable low-speed motor-control that I was looking for.  If I'm consisting units then I prefer decoders from the same manufacturer.

Is standardizing so difficult (like a loco you just must have that your decoder choice won't fit) that's just not worth the effort?

I choose a decoder manufacturer that offers decoders in a variety of sizes.  With TCS & ESU I know pretty much what to expect from each of their offerings and they are consistent from one decoder to the next; hence why I like and prefer their brands.

Tom

http://www.newyorkcentralmodeling.com

Time...It marches on...without ever turning around to see if anyone is even keeping in step.

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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, May 05, 2017 12:00 AM

Carl:

A couple more reasons for why I prefer Loksound decoders:

- The sounds don't automatically start up when power to the layout is turned on. You have to press F8 to start the engine. With some decoders the sound starts as soon as the locomotive gets power. If you have a bunch of locomotives on the layout and you don't want them all making sound you have to select each locomotive that you don't want to hear and turn the sound off. PITA.

- They don't get hot.

- The Loksound Power Pack keep alive is very small so it is easier to fit into confined spaces. The Power Pack doesn't provide back up power for as long as the larger devices like TCS's do, but in my experience they work just fine.

- The Loksound Select decoders are reasonably priced. Loksound offers a more complex decoder, the V4.0, at a higher price but I have never found a need for the advanced programming options. However, if you want to make your own sound files for things like a different horn the V4.0 will allow you to do that. Again, you will need the LokProgrammer to change the sound files.

Dave

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Posted by carl425 on Friday, May 05, 2017 7:44 AM

hon30critter
if you want to make your own sound files for things like a different horn

I always wanted a N&W Class J whistle in a modern diesel. Smile

 

I have the right to remain silent.  By posting here I have given up that right and accept that anything I say can and will be used as evidence to critique me.

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Posted by peahrens on Friday, May 05, 2017 8:39 AM

I haven't standardized.  I have gone with LokSound Select as my "go to" decoder as I like the sounds, motor control and updatable feature. 

I have, however, switched out decoders for several reasons.  A Tsunami in a GP9 got replaced because I did not at all like the horn sound, particularly.  A Bachmann (Soundtraxx) Sound Value got replaced because I disliked the inability to keep the sound from starting on layout powering up.  A QSI in a LifeLike E6 got replaced because I disliked the way it hesitated (more than a momentum thing) on movement and was hard to consist with my others, plus the LokSound replacement allowed having the dual prime mover sound file feature.  A Tsunami in my Genesis FEF-3 will get replaced if/when the upcoming LokSound #844 sound file (to come in the next Genesis FEFs) is made available.  I'm undecided on some of my BLI decoders. 

So, for me, it's a case by case issue.  I like to do DC to DCC conversions so I most often get to choose my favorite decoder. 

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, May 05, 2017 11:29 AM

carl425
I always wanted a N&W Class J whistle in a modern diesel.

Go for it! It's your railroad!

Dave

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Friday, May 05, 2017 2:01 PM

I have a hodge-podge of decoders in my locomotives.  I'm not going to remove an installed decoder and replace it just to "standardize."  As my layout is over 10 years old now, decoders have evolved and many of my earlier installations are old but still serviceable.  The cost and effort to convert doesn't strike me as worth it.

I do wish my sound decoders would at least standardize more of their sounds.  Things like flange squeel and coupler clank are common to almost all locomotives, just like bells and whistles, but different brands use different buttons.  I can re-map them, but Soundtraxx in particular does not give full freedom to re-map buttons to sounds, so I have to compromise there.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by Geared Steam on Friday, May 05, 2017 7:26 PM

MisterBeasley
I can re-map them, but Soundtraxx in particular does not give full freedom to re-map buttons to sounds, so I have to compromise there.

Mr B

Tsunami 2 gives you that choice (JMRI Screenshot) Choose the pull down and select the function you want the sound mapped to.

To the OP's question, I prefer to standardardize for several reasons.

1) speed matching

2) Once I have a decoder tweaked to my liking I can copy those settings to all my     locomotives.

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."-Albert Einstein

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Posted by rrinker on Saturday, May 06, 2017 10:47 AM

 I have standardized, all my sound decoders are Loksound, and all my non-sound is TCS. I will probably start using Lokpilot for non sound when my supply of TCS is used up. I don't think it's worth it to go back and change all teh locos you already did, but standardization makes setup easy. Given that I also generally remove factory lighting boards and hardwire decoders, I usually only use one type, in my case just the TCA T1. My prototype doesn't have ditch lights or beacons, just front and rear headlights, so a basic 2 function decoder is all I need. Since I standardized, and programming is pretty much memorized - all I really do to them is give them an address and then after the loco runs in a bit I will set CV2-6-5 while running. No need even really for JMRI to do that simple setup. Once in a while there will be a special case where I need to use a different form factory decoder, like my 44-tonner which uses an MC2 instead of T1. Hard wring these does not mean I am hosed if the decoder fails - both the T1 and MC2 have plugs on the decoder so they can be pulled off and another one substituted without breaking out the soldering iron.

 Loksound is my sound standard because I like the way the run and the way they sound, Plus I aquire decoders ahead of using them. I have a Lokprogrammer, so if I decide to use an on-hand decoder for an Alco or an EMD, it doesn't matter, I can just load whatever sound set I want. Plus they are updatable - all the ones I currently have are from before the Full Throttle option - but I can add that to all of them without even taking the loco apart. I've also played with swapping sound files around in the V4. I'm not interested in going out and making my own recordings (well, if I could have that kind of access to a working locomotive, I'd love to), but for example the one Alco RS-3 file I used didn't have the proper horn for my prototype. However, in the Loksound sound library that goes with the Lokprogrammer, they DID have the correct horn. It was very easy to change the one in the factory sound file with one from the library and save it as an new file. Now I can load that new file when I want an RS-3 sound with the correct horn. No sound editing or any of that stuff needed. 

 The nice hing about TCS and Lok are that regardless of the form factor, the programming is all the same. Others do the same. So by standardizing, I don;t have to keep track of specific decoders in specific locos. If it has sound, it has a Loksound and can be programmed as a Loksound. if no sound, it's TCS and can be programmed like a TCS. The only place I've kept track at all is in my database, which is Dave Husman's CarCards program. In the loco roster there are fields for various information and I've included what decoder it has. 

             --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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