pros and cons of each dcc manufacture system

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by wickman, Mar 21, 2006.

  1. wickman

    wickman Member

    OK this is a sort of poll\questionaire and is for those of use that have had or have now a DCC system. This is not for those who have heard something was good or bad but for those who have had direct hands on with different dcc manufactures systems.

    I would like to know what your honest opinions are about the dcc systems that you've used, you can actually list your experiences as pros and consof the systems and any add ons.
    For myself I'm looking for a system that will be able to control turnouts, support traffic direction lites, run no more than 12 units and all the other bells and whistles for sound and whatever is available and it needs to be upgradeable for future improvements.
  2. webmaster

    webmaster Member

    Good thread Wickman, I was thinking along the same lines myself. I have always been a hard core DC man, but with all the new technology & a new railroad pending, it seems a shame not to utilize what is out there.

    I am after the same (units 12->) but without the need for turnout controls, they will still be done with throw switches on my layout.
  3. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    My experience is with Digitrax. I use a Zephyr at home, and various other components (nearly all others) at the modular club. While I am just an operator at the club (not a "setter-upper") I can only comment on the operations aspect of the other Digitrax Systems.

    - easy to set up and to use
    - full featured programming (on the main and on a programming track)
    - has the ability to throw switches
    - "traditional" powerpack styling and operation is an easy transistion from your old MRC Tech II (or whatever)
    - operates sounds without any "shift key" required
    - plenty of power/capability for small to medium sized layouts
    - "jump throttle" is excellent - use your old powerpack as an additional throttle (add up to two of these).
    - expandable usin any other Digitrax components

    - no handheld throttle or walkaround capability out of the box
    - some complaints about programming "power" for BLI locomotives on programming track (I have not experienced this as I do not have any BLI locos)

    Other Digitrax
    UT4/UT4R throttle
    - very simple
    - large dial for speed control, switch for direction and braking
    - dial 4 digit addresses

    - operate only one loco at a time
    - takes longer to dispatch/acquire (or steal) loco than DT-throttles
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    DT300 (discontinued)

    - two loco operation possible
    - small, fits in hand
    - can throw switches

    - "shift key" required for some features, including sound

    DT400 Super Throttle

    - one button for each function
    - two loco operation
    - throw switches
    - program from the throttle (although I have never used this feature)

    - large size
    - many buttons can be confusing

    Other remarks on Digitrax

    - all components can work together
    - loconet is simple - plug and play most components
    - radio wireless is great

    - different method of acquiring and dispatching for each throttle (although this is diminished now several models are discontinued)
    - IR wireless relies on line of sight, so not as reliable as radio

    My only other experience is with Lenz, and I could not tell you what system it was. it had the pushbutton throttle though, and I did not like that at all. I much prefer a dial you can twist for speed.

    Hope that helps

  5. wickman

    wickman Member

    Thanks Andrew thats excellent input for the zephyr and it really helped now if I can get some input from others that have different manufacturer types or more input on the same :)
  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    I should add that the other factor you should consider when choosing a system is what kind of support you can get in your area. I chose the Digitrax Zephyr for its features, but also because many local railroaders use Digitrax, and the modular club I frequent uses one of the largest set ups of Digitrax components in Canada. There are several "gurus" available to help me if I get stuck. Also the Digitrax Yahoo group is helpful.

  7. wickman

    wickman Member

    Andrew how many trains do you run do you find the zephyr has adequete power or did you add a booster? Did you add on anything to the basic system?
    I was looking at the zephyr but then I started leaning toward the empire builder as it has higher output amps Looking at the zephyr if I need a power booster its another $179 which brings the next system up into play ( the empire ) the chief seems a bit of overkill.
    Have you heard any bad about the empire perhaps being overrated?
    I will be running no more than 10 trains 2 operators
    Andrew did you purchase yours here in Canada ? I'm in Sault Ste. Marie Ont. and there's no suppliers here although there is a club but there DC ?
    I wish we had a chat room
  8. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    To answer your questions...

    I only have run two or three trains at once. Despite the fact that you can set a train running, and then select another is often touted as a great advantage over DC, but I still find it easier to have one throttle per train (with the DT-series throttles you can control two trains with each throttle, as there are really two throttles built-in in each unit).

    You only need more amps if you are going to simultaneously run many locos. If you simply have lots of engines, it doesn't necessarily mean that you need a bigger booster. That being said, you certainly should take into consideration your future needs, and plan accordingly. One "guru" form our club advocates buying as much system as you can reasonably afford, even if it is overkill for your current situation.

    I have not heard anything bad about the Empire Builder system. It is now the "Super" Empire Builder, which include the DT-400 throttle, instead of the DT-300. I believe that the major difference between the Empire and Chief sets is the number of loco addresses, the power available, and the programming method. See for more info (although some information is a bit contradictory, like the F-functions that Empire can address is described as F0-F8 in the table, but F0-F12 in the text).

    If you are running 10 trains (simultaneously) with only 2 operators, you might find it a bit challenging! Most groups I operate with have a one or two man crew per train. Can your layout really handle that much traffic at once? One of the reasons I elected to get the Zephyr is because I will only be operating one or two locos at a time on my modules (maybe 30 feet of mainline when I finally get them all built ;) ).

    I got my Zephyr through a guy at the club who is an authorized Digitrax dealer. If you have to go mail-order, one good Canadian firm I have dealt with is Canadian Express Lines (Dave Cool is the guy's name). Google should turn up his coordinates. If not, let me know. Is there a shop across the river in Soo, Michigan?

    Our "unofficial" chat room can be found via this post:

  9. wickman

    wickman Member

    Andrew when I say trains running I mean more like having 3 units per train and maybe 2 going around the main line continuous loop 1 train having 2-3 units coming out of the hidden staging area and 1 playing in the industries .
    You think I could find Canadian Express Lines on google not a chance.
    Do you use a seperate sound system or would your engines have the sound ...this is something else I'm learning about.:)
  10. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Hmmm... I could not google him either... even after I realized it is "Line" not "Lines" in the name. Here's the info from a Feb 2006 email:

    Dave Cool [at]
    Canadian Express Line
    450 668 3021

    Well, to determine the power needed, add up all the powered locos that will be running at once. Sound equipped locos tend to need more power, but that is not always the case.

    I have one Soundtraxx equipped steam loco that I like very much. I have operated friends' sound equipped diesels and it does add a lot to the fun... :D I have not used a separate sound system, but I don't think I'd like it after my "onboard" sound experience.

  11. webmaster

    webmaster Member

    I'm thinking about buying the Gaugemaster Prodigy Advance. Are there any cons with this system?
  12. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    One comment about the Empire Builder, unlike both the Zephyr and Chief, it does not have the ability to read back cv's. For this reason alone I would avoid it, and go with a chief if the # of locos to be run exceed the capability of the Zephyr. Andrew, I didn't know the DT300 was discontinued. Bummer, I like them a lot.
  13. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    They are a nice little throttle, if a bit "fidgety". I like the size, and the fact that you can control two trains at once. They are discontinued as of last Fall, according to the Digitrax web site. There may still be some left at LHS's though...

    I agree that the CV read-back is quite important, but I hav recently been impressed with the programming track connected to computer set-up a friend uses to program. Since the software is free, all you need is an old laptop that you should be able to get for less than $50. I think he uses an old 486-based laptop with Windows 95. BTW this will also run XTrkCAD. Although I am a Mac user, I am considering a PC for my railroading computer... ;)

  14. ukon30fan

    ukon30fan 0n30 Rail Baron of Leeds

    Probably the biggest con is that it has no computer interface. secondly any firmware upgrades means sending it back.
    I've only just got mine - after initial teething problems ( me, not the system) I like it a lot especially the round knob throttle which I find easier to use.
  15. davidstrains

    davidstrains Active Member

    :wave: I use the Dtrax Chief (Radio)
    Like Andrew mentioned, my system is easy to use right out of the box by following the set up instructions in the manual AND ensuring that your track work is properly installed, cleaned, gapped for power districts, and that your feeders get your power all the way around the track.

    I have not done a whole lot of programming with the DT400 other than set loco numbers and start settings, but using it is a breeze once you have run a couple of locos around the track. I regularly run 6-8 single loco (diesel and steam) trains at a time on 3 mains. I have not set up my PM-42s yet so it is all one power district and I have no problems with the load so far. The challenge is speed matching all of the trains on each main. These are about 75'-80' loops.

    If there is a downside to any of the DCC systems I believe that it is in getting it to do what you EXPECT it to do. Meaning if you see someone running 4 individual locos with xxx brand and buy zzz brand which may not be capable of doing that, your expectations are not going to be met. You need to find out what you want the system to do then find the system that will do it.

    Visit with a friend or club that has DCC, talk with vendors at trade shows, see what they can and cannot do. See if a LHS owner will let you try one on an instore layout if they are so equipped.
  16. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Andrew, yes I suppose a computer interface would eliminate the non read back problem. So far, I'm just too computer illiterate to bother trying to deal with it. I program with my throttles and am ok with it. I too like the feel of the smaller throttles, the DT100 was the only full feature throttle when I bought my chief. It is a pain when selecting 4 digit addresses, but the DT300 solved that. Then, sound decoders got to the point when functions 9 thru 12 were desirable, so the DT400 was desirable. But I don't like the feel of it, just as I don't care for the NCE throttle, tho the system is fine. I like the smaller throttles and think the throttle options may be the best feature to use to determine which system is right for you. Of course, that presupposes the ability to hold and use the various throttles offered by all the manufacturers. Deciding sight unseen and buying on line (which I did!) should be a last resort.
  17. zedob

    zedob Member

    My layout is in limbo at the time, so I haven't been able to get my new Lenz system up and running, or the decoder installed into my Bach 2-8-0. I have a Tsunami sound decoder and have noticed it mentioned that an extra programming booster is required to make sure the siganls are read correctly by the reciever.

    Can anybody confirm this? I don't mind buying this booster if it will make programming "surpriseless" as long as it's really needed.
  18. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    I would check with Tony's Train Exchange. They seem to be the most up to date on all the systems, and also have abooster available if one is actually required. I know that Spitfire experienced this problem with her BLI (Hudson, I think) when trying to program on the programming track with a Digitrax Zephyr...

    Hope that helps.

  19. lester perry

    lester perry Active Member

    MRC Prodigy Advanced

    I am just starting in DCC and decided on MRC prodigy advanced because it looked easy to use. So far I love it. I only have 4 locos of 50 with decoders. So i will have to say the only disadvantage I see is MRC won't run non DCC loco and Digitrax will. But that is not a big deal if you keep dc hooked up.

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