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Getting into Dcc: beginner help?

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  • Member since
    June 2019
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Getting into Dcc: beginner help?
Posted by pugdogg55 on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 9:08 PM

Hi, I have recently got into Ho scale trains as a hobby. I have 2 engines, just having got myself the second one (the first is one that came in a starter set). My newest one I got is a SD50 diesel ready-to-run from Athearn. It says it is dcc + sound ready (I believe it has soundtraxx econami). According to the illustration page, it has a dcc jumper board and dcc adapter board and it says "to convert to dcc, unplug the dcc jumper board and plug in a decoder with either a 9-pin or 8-pin plug."

 

I have been trying to do research into dcc systems and it all seems somewhat complicated but I think I'm making headway. What confuses me is what type/kind of decoder to get. Does it have to be brand specific to any degree? Are there better ones or worse ones? Do I need one for sound seperate from movement? Is it as simple as just plugging it in and then just assigning it a callsign with the dcc transformer?

 

I understand to run dcc (I only have the tranformer that came with my starter set which is dc) I need a whole slew of things like power supply and cab and tranformer and all that good stuff. Just looking into the decoder itself has confused me some. Any help here would be great!

Tags: DCC , HO
  • Member since
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  • From: Reading, PA
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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, June 6, 2019 1:22 PM

 Welcome, and please tell me your handle means a Pug - I have 2 and they are the best, little clowns.

 The DCC standard means you can use anyone's decoder with anyone else's DCC system. So you don't have to worry about matching the decoder brand to the system.

 One thing I did early on was standardize on one brand of decoder - and now as an experienced DCC user I am glad I did. Especially sound decoders, which because of having a lot more features than a plain old motor decoder are naturally much more complex. Only some of the more basic settings are part of the DCC standards, once you get into sound configuration that all goes away and each manufacturer has their own way of defining things. Each one has its own quirks - and if you are just starting out, figuring out how one brand works is enough of a learning curve, let alone having 3 locos with 3 different decoders. I can work with any of them, but still appreciate the fact that my loco fleet has all the same decoders (2 different brands, actually, not all of my locos have sound, so there are the ones I used before sound became affordable, and then the soudn decoders I use in all the ones I add sound to). 

 The loco you have I don't think has a decoder. Athearn keeps changing things up and that's not a model I'd have because I model an earlier era, but if it has the short wire harness with the small board plugged into it, which goes to a larger board, that's not a decoder.

 DCC Ready usually means, you can put a decoder in it. It's mostly a marketing term - some, like your loco, are very easy, you just plug in the decoder of your choice, no real wiring needed. Others that say DCC ready need more work - in the end, basically ANY loco is "DCC Ready" in that you can pretty much put a decoder in anything, including some really tiny locos - HO critters that are smaller than N scale locos. The only thing that varies is how much work is involved to do it.

 As far as what DCC system to get, that is a discussion akin to talking religion or politics. With the unfortunate pretty much demise of the local hobby shop, it's hard to get any sort of hands on with multiple systems so you cna make up your own mind. Any local modeler or club will have whatever system they liek th most, and since you for the most part can't use multiple vendor's systems together, you will only see whatever one they use. A train show that has multiple layouts on display in addition to vendor tables is likely the best way to get exposure to multiple systems, as it is highly unlikely that a show with a half dozen or more layouts set up will ALL use the same brand DCC system. A buyer's guide liek the one in the latest issue of MR can help, at least with specs, but pictures of the systems don't always tell the whole story, and numbers in the specificatiosn are just that, especially if you aren't familiar with what they mean. 

 Kind of like going to the car dealer and being told a certain model has 300HP, 300 lb-ft of torgue, a 6 speed fully synchronized transmission and limited slip differential. If you're not a car person, it's so much gibberish. Funny story, years ago, my ex and i were both looking at new cars. She went to the dealer near her work, I went to the one near mine (same brand). Salesman I talked to and went on a test drive with was talking all about the performance and handling characteristics. Salesman she went with opened with how many cupholders the car had (and ironically in a brand not known for putting a lot of cupholders in their cars, nor ones that can hold monster 44 oz drinks - because they are driving machines, not lunchrooms). Thing is, she's as much a car person as I am, in fact she's driving in track events MORE than I have.

                                    --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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

  • Member since
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Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, June 6, 2019 6:40 PM

pugdogg55
it has a dcc jumper board and dcc adapter board and it says "to convert to dcc, unplug the dcc jumper board and plug in a decoder with either a 9-pin or 8-pin plug."

If it says that, it doesn't have an econami decoder. 

Randy gave you a good answer.  In the old days DCC ready was the equivalent of fake news.  It could have required soldering and isolation of the motor brushes.  On an older engine, most people rip out the cirucuit board and solder in a DCC decoder.  

Today it means you plug in a decoder and you may have to add a speaker.

Current decoders are dual mode, meaning they run either on DC or DCC.  You can have sound with DC, but you have much more control in DCC. 

The other thing you need to know is some DCC starter systems (I'm talking power supply and throttle) will run a DC engine or DCC engines and some will only run DCC. 

Loksound (pronounced lowek not lock) TCS and Soundtrax are probably the big 3 in the US.  I agree with Randy on standardization, rather than diversity.  I went with loksound, based on what I read on this forum, but I don't get quite so worked up about brand as others.

 

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    June 2019
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Posted by pugdogg55 on Thursday, June 6, 2019 9:33 PM

thanks for the replies guys. I expected a little critisism becuase I'm a little lacking in knowledge here and some of my original post may have contradicted itself, as it seems to with the econami thing (that I was never completely sure on). Today I took the shell off (with some difficulty) and  looked at the components which seem to match the illistration pretty well. 

 

So if I understand everything right, I would need an Ho scale decoder with a 9 or 8 pin plug to run dcc (along with the dcc system of course), and for sound I would have to get a seperate sound decoder plus a speaker (as it seems there is no speaker in my engine) or would a sound decoder also run engine/lights and whatnot? Again, sorry for any lack of knowledge and thanks for all your time

  • Member since
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Posted by BigDaddy on Friday, June 7, 2019 5:22 PM

I didn't meant to be critical and I don't think Randy was either.

I think nearly all sound decoders are also motor decoders.  I looked for a video of sound installation in the SD50 and couldn't find one but there may be some that are close enough using a SD45 or SD40.

The easiest way to do it is to use the plug and find a place for the speaker.  You need need to solder a couple speaker wires and will need some 30 ga wire and a speaker enclosure.

A lot of people in the forum, believe you are better off getting rid of the original circuit board and hard wiring the decoder into the engine.  That is significantly more daunting especially if you have never soldered.  The reason to do that is the running characteristics are better.

This is a replacement board  https://www.soundtraxx.com/choose/pdf/Athearn/RTR%20SD50.pdf

Loksound makes a similar board.

TCS does it differently with a replacement circuit board and a decoder

https://tcsdcc.com/installation/ho-scale/1106

If you poke around their site, you can find installation pictures for various locos.

I would suggest buying an introductory book from Kalmbach.  DCC is not necessarily intuitive and reading the directions rather than assuming you can guess how it works, is essential.

 

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    June 2019
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Posted by pugdogg55 on Friday, June 7, 2019 6:27 PM

I should have clarified that I expected criticism but you and randy were both very nice and helpful, so thanks so much for that. 

 

Replacing the whole board does sound a bit daunting as I've never soldered but I have a friend that has and I want to do all this right the first time to help save time and money down the road.

I was looking into getting a beginner dcc book to help me along the way. I will definitely look into the one you suggeste , thanks so much! 

  • Member since
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  • From: Bradford, Ontario
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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, June 7, 2019 10:33 PM

Hi pugdogg55!

Welcome to the forums and to the hobby!!   Welcome

The advice so far has been spot on so I needn't repeat all of it, but I will second Randy's suggestion to choose a standard decoder. I use Loksound. I have some experience with other older decoder brands that I bought in my early days, but eventually my fleet will all be Loksound. They work beautifully, they are updateable, and some of their newer features are amazing!

I would caution against buying older decoders on eBay. The prices might be attractive but the quality and performance can be dubious. For the most part, all newer decoders seem to be pretty decent.

As far as DCC systems are concerned, there are a couple of routes to choose from. If you are considering joining a club then buying the same brand system that the club is using for yourself only makes sense. If you are going to be a 'lone wolf' operator, then I suggest seriously looking at NCE. I use an NCE Power Cab at home but my club uses Digitrax. I love my NCE! I hate Digitrax!! NCE is so much more intuitive, especially for someone like me who is all thumbs. The learning curve is easy. Digitrax works great, and it has some advanced features that some modellers find useful, but I have found learning how to use it to be a pain in the butt. But, that's just me.

Cheers!!

Dave

  • Member since
    December 2015
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Posted by BigDaddy on Saturday, June 8, 2019 9:30 AM

I didn't know anything about DCC when I joined the forum and made it a point of reading every electrical thread and asked some dumb questions, myself.

A drive by poster, started the DC verses(sic) DCC thread and disappeared.  There is some good information in there up until they start discussing what they like and dislike about their cell phones. 

The wiring quality for DCC is more demanding than DC.  If you are planning an around the room empire, you should research that before you get to far.   You will need larger gauge wire and more feeders than a 4x8 DC layout with a piece of terminal track and bell wire.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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