Digitrax or NCE?

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by CNWman, Nov 8, 2008.

  1. CNWman

    CNWman CNW Fan

    The time has come for the upgrade to DCC, but I can't decide between the Zephyr or the Power Cab sets, so I ask you gurus which ones you think fit my needs better.

    My needs:
    -expansion friendly (4X8 is only the beginning for the Riverside Railroad)
    -walkaround ability
    -compatability with DC controlers (specificaly a Railpower 1370, only one of my engines has a DCC chip in it, and it's my Spectrum 2-8-0. I'd like to run my other engines, but they're all DC and putting in DCC decoders will take a long time to cover them all, and I'm not sure I can even get my Hustler wired for DCC, the TYCO Chattanoga 2-8-0 is highly questionable even for running)
  2. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    I know that Digitrax will support at least one DC engine at a time using an address of 00 - That was a big one for me too. I don't think NCE has that ability.
  3. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    I believe TrainNut is correct. I've had a Digitrax system (NCE now) and have run a decoderless locomotive on it before - not a worthwhile function in my mind. Control isn't great, and the motor sounds terrible (as in tortured). Don't use this feature as a sales point.

    That comment aside, I think your question was whether you could maintain two separate control systems on the layout? DCC for the consolidation and future conversions, and an existing DC system for the locomotives in transition and in purgatory? Is that correct?

    As far as expansion is concerned, either will work - Digitrax by adding boosters to loconet, and an additional power supply for the Powercab.

    The only functional difference that would be pertinent to your decision (as far as I know) is how many functions either can address. The Powercab is a full-featured NCE cab - it can address 29 functions, and is limited only by it's booster for larger operations. The Zephyr can address 10 functions; to expand, you would need additional power plus a new command station if you found a need to access more than 10 functions.

    To be honest, 10 functions is plenty, unless you start delving into sound.

    If you don't do sound, the choice is strictly subjective - which do you like better? Which is easier to use? My choice was to move from Digitrax to NCE, and I advised my tech-tentative father to use the Powercab (there was also a pragmatic reason for this - he can plug into my NCE system and vice versa).

    It boils down to "try them both". Don't you hate that answer? :)

  4. TruckLover

    TruckLover Mack CH613 & 53' Trailer

    Im going to throw another one in here. Ive decided to go with the MRC Prodigy Wireless System. I felt this one was right for me, but it may not be what your looking for.

    here is a comparison page of the popular DCC Systems:


    The info about them is most of the page but at the bottom is a comparison chart.... Check it out
  5. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    I think the DC option is really over-rated. As noted, the locos sound horrible, and the control is really crude compared to what you get with even the cheapest DCC decoders.

    If you can get over that hurdle, I would strongly suggest the MRC system, for several reasons. First being the ease of programming. You want to change a loco's address? No problem - you can do it on the main, whether you're doing 2 or 4 digit addressing. NCE can do it, but I believe with Digitrax you need to select from the start whether your system is going to use 2 or 4 digit addresses. If you're set in one, and need to change to the other, you have to use a programming track.

    Want to quickly change your start voltage? Accelleration rate? Easy to do with MRC, slightly less easy, but still simple with NCE, not so much with Digitrax.

    The MRC has a nice, big, easy-to-read display, that gives you lots of important info - loco, speed, direction, functions selected, etc. The NCE tells you your loco and fastclock time, speed and functions, the Digitrax display is a bit more cryptic.

    One thing that isn't obvious with the Zephyr (and it's the only system I know of that this is the case) is that if you're running 2 locos at the same time, and want to switch back and forth between controlling them, you have to reset the throttle knob and direction to whatever the loco is doing before you select it! Otherwise it will do whatever the throttle is set at. Most systems just assume that you'll change the throttle and direction settings after you select the loco. The upshot is, if you have 2 locos going in 2 different directions at 2 different speeds, if you don't touch the throttle, and go from loco A to loco B, loco B will immediately change direction and speed to match loco A.

    Both Digitrax and NCE offer basic decoders that are about $16. I really think you shouldn't put too much stock in being able to run DC. Once you get a few locos converted, especially with the motor control (back EMF, kickstart, etc) that even the low-cost decoders have, you'll wonder why you ever thought you'd wanted to run DC.
  6. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    Squidbait, good stuff to know. On your side of the fence, I've always thought of my Zephyr as quirky and sometimes for the life of me, I can't figure out why it suddenly starts doing things it ought not be doing. This is a good thread for me because I've been toying with the idea of switching over to the NCE as well. BUT, a little feedback from the other side of the fence...
    I really like the DC option. Whenever I operate, I am almost always using the DC address whether it be one a good Kato engine or a cheap Bachman trolley. I will agree that the locos do make an annoying, whining sound when idling and if they are left to idle for a while, it will actually ruin them. As soon as you power them up, the whining greatly subsides. As far as performance, the DC performance is slightly crude but not critically noticeable in my opinion. Plus, I hate installing decoders and this function enables me to run any of my older DC engines (1 at a time).
    A most undesirable trait! Fortunately, and I'm not calling you a liar here, I'm simply saying that I've not experienced this with my Zephyr system. I frequently run more than two trains at a time and have no eratic operation problems when switching back and forth.

    Now, after all that defending I just went and did, keep in mind that if I were to do it again, I would probably not go with Digitrax because of it's quirkyness (maybe I got a lemon, maybe they have improved it since I bought mine several years ago, who knows) and I would DEFINITELY miss the DC function.
  7. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    You know, I think I'm going to have to admit I was wrong on this one but with an addendum. I do remember now operating with my Zephyr and having this problem, BUT, for the most part, I use my Zephyr as my power supply and I do all my operating with my wirelss handheld DTR400 which does not have that problem. It's been so long since I've used my Zephyr as a controller, I forgot about that annoying problem. Sorry.
  8. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Well, in point of fact, SteamHead tested this for me, since I couldn't believe in this day and age anyone would design a DCC system that way. Even the el-cheapo-steenko EZ Command from Bachmann remembered what direction and speed the loco was going when you switched back to it.

    Digitrax isn't a bad system, it's just dated. They're still running on patched 15-year-old technology. Things have come a long ways, and there are better options coming along. And besides, nowhere in the MRC manuals will you see any hexadecimal!

    *edit* For that matter, I'd almost recommend the EZ Command over the Zephyr. If you're not ready to take the 100% plunge to a fully-functional DCC system, why waste the money? Drop $135 on an EZ Command and a DCC loco, and you still get 1 DC channel. Then when you're really ready to go, get an Empire Builder or Prodigy or PowerCab.
  9. CNWman

    CNWman CNW Fan

    Hmmm, from what you guys seem to be telling me, I should go with MRC or NCE instead of Digitrax's Zephyr for starting my DCC system and for the most part don't factor in the DC running ability for the sake of the engines. Thing is, I'm not sure all ten of my current engine roster can ever make the jump to DCC at all. Here's the roster and my thoughts about DCC:

    1. P1K F3A-I think it already is DCC ready with an 8-plug pin
    2. Atlas Trainman RS-32-No 8-plug pin, but again not a problem
    3. Hustler- This one I have severe doubts about going DCC, there seems to be no room for even the smallest HO decoder in it's shell
    4. Bachman B23-7 -conversion shouldn't be an issue when I figure out how to get the freakin body shell off:curse:
    5. P2K BL2-Due to body frame, I might have some issues, but possible
    6. P2K FA2- Same as the Trainman
    7. Walthers Trainline GP9M- Probably DCC ready
    8. Spectrum 2-8-0 w/ tender -already DCC equiped, only one with a decoder right now, actually
    9. Bachman 2-6-2 w/ smoke generator: tender is really hollow, whole engine is prime for DCC modification. Will be converted if neccessary when it becomes Riverside #12
    10. TYCO 2-8-0 w/ smoke and tender drive (A.K.A. the Chattanooga Choo Choo #638): This thing can hardly run on DC it's so old. If I can pull a Jesus and make this thing a respectable 2-8-0 as Riverside #13 (note the number), I will also add DCC if neccessary. The Smoke unit has to go, I don't know if it is even safe to put liquid in it anymore, and I'm certainly not going to try and find out!

    My local LHS does decoder instalations, but because decoders may not be installed in all the engines for as long as maybe even a year due to money, having the ability to run them, even by themselves, is desired.
  10. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    Did you see post #7 of mine directly above yours? I conceded defeat and apologized. Like I said, oops, now I remember and sorry.
  11. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    Three options to get you over the hump:

    • Start installing decoders prior to buying the system. When you get to some critical mass of locomotives that are ready to run on DCC, buy the hardware. Just make sure you buy decoders that can recognize a DC signal. Most do (it is configurable on / off)
    • Get the system hardware now, and wire it in to your layout parallel to your DC system, with a switch to toggle from one system to another (you DON'T want to have both powering the same track at the same time).
    • Get the system hardware now, and wire it to an independent piece of track. Start installing decoders as time / budget allows as in the first point. This will give you the ability to test your installs on a working DCC system and experiment with decoder settings, all without interrupting running your DC layout. Again, use decoders that can be configured to recognize a DC signal.
    In your shoes, I'd do the last. I bought my first set (Digitrax) many years ago, and the ability to control locomotives individually is a revelation that you really can't prepare yourself for (unless you've had an opportunity to run DCC before). Very cool.

    I can't comment on the MRC - from the advertising, it looks like a nice system with a lot of the features that I like about NCE. I personally am happier with NCE than I was with Digitrax.

  12. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic


    Didn't mean to beat you over the head with it. Well, not too much, anyways. :p ;)

    In fact, I didn't see your post, I was writing mine and posted it before I saw that you had posted. :cry:
  13. diburning

    diburning Member

    Digitrax is NOT as bad as people have said them to be.

    the Zephyr is a very basic system. If you have the Super Chief and a DT400R throttle, you will get the ultimate experience. The DT400R is a radio equipped throttle which means you can walk around with it without having to plug it in.

    The programming track is there so that if there are multiple users of the same system and someone wants to make some changes to a particular loco and if that loco has the same programmed road number as another loco on the track, the programming track will make sure that you aren't changing the settings of the other loco on the layout.

    In my opinion, Digitrax and NCE are the best choices. MRC is a bit on the cheap side. Bachmann EZ-Command is junk.
  14. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    Don't get me wrong, Digitrax is not a bad system. It can be a complicated system, and their documentation doesn't help. It's solid, reliable and well priced.

    It's just that the bar has been raised a few times since they developed their product, and so there are, IMHO, better options for the first timer.
  15. tetters

    tetters Rail Spiking Fool!

    Not to show any personal bias, however, I'd go for the NCE Power Cab. No real reason, other then its what I have and it rocks!
  16. Leaning toward NCE Power Cab

    Not sure if this is what I need. Besides DCC advantages, I would like to put sound into my locos. Can Power Cab support this? Also, as I am getting a understanding of DCC, the Power Cab is all in one, and the Pro Cab has many componets but can handle more equipment and decoders. Also do all decoders have sound or do you need a special one, or a separate one for sound? I am thinking that speakers are also an additonal purchase. As I look at this, Power Cab is $150, Pro Cab is $475, some decoders look to be $35 to $112. Decoders work on all systems, but parts of systems are not interchangeable. What is a programing track? I know that I have lots of questions, but hope to get some better understanding in this forum before I purchase.
  17. diburning

    diburning Member

    I haven't used power cab before so I can't answer your questions about power cab.

    It all depends on the decoder. Regular decoders are address, lights, speed, and direction only. Most if not all sound decoders taht you can buy and install are sound only and interface with a regular decoder for other functions.

    If you buy a loco with sound equipped, some manufacturers include a little remote control for horn/bell sounds if you choose to run it on DC. Some sound decoders work on DC too but you won't be able to use the bell and horn and other button-press sounds.
  18. UP SD40-2

    UP SD40-2 Senior Member

    MRC, Loksound, Tsunami, and SOME Digitrax sound decoders ALL have sound WITH motor control also:winki: .
    To me, it just doesn't make sense to have to buy two separate decoders, one for sound, and one for motor control, when there are MANY good quality sound decoders out there that can do BOTH, just my two cents:winki: .
  19. KentBy

    KentBy GN, NP, SP&S

    Question: DC -> DCC

    I haven't change yet. I have bought a Bachmann which I know works on both DC and DCC. But if I wire my layout so that I can switch between DCC and DC what happens to a DCC loco that doesn't have a dual mode controller? Will it wait when it doesn't see the control signal and only a DC level on the track?

  20. UP SD40-2

    UP SD40-2 Senior Member

    Oh my, NO, thats not how it works:eeki: , the key to layouts that run DC and DCC is to block ALL your engine holding tracks:winki: . this way when running DCC, your DC engines wont burn up, and when running DC, your DCC engines that are not compatible with DC will also be unharmed.

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