Q: Upgrade Zehpyr or get the Empire Builder?

Discussion in 'DCC & Electronics' started by spitfire, Sep 18, 2007.


Replace, upgrade or ?

  1. Go for it! Get the Super Empire Builder

    9 vote(s)
  2. Save your money. Get the Zephyr upgrade

    6 vote(s)
  3. Digitrax?? You should switch to ....

    1 vote(s)
  1. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    I have the Digitrax Zephyr and a lot of Quantum Sound equipped locos. Problem is, the Zephyr does not put out enough power to program them.

    I have heard that there is a booster available for about $50 that corrects this problem, but I'm thinking of just doing a total upgrade and getting the Super Empire Builder, which puts out more power, and comes with an additional hand-held throttle.

    With the Canadian dollar up, I can get the Empire Builder for about the same as I originally paid for the Zephyr.

    What do you folks think?
  2. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Val, from back when I researched the Digitrax command stations (a long time ago) I was surprised that the Empire Builder was the only one which did not allow reading back cv's. The Zehpyr does, as does the Chief, Why the mid level unit does not baffles me, unless they have changed this. However, you would be keeping the Zephyr, correct? If so, you could use it to read back cv's ( a feature I use often and would not want to bw without) and program with the EB. Not terribly convient tho. I have the Chief and was able to program the early BLI locos which got plenty of comments on various DCC forums as being hard to program, even with the Chief. But one day, I did run across a loco I couldn't program, forget which it was. So, I bought Tony's unit, I forget what he calls it. It worked great. I guess my point is that even with the Chief, I would up buying a booster. So perhaps you will need to someday too.

    Just food for thought!
  3. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Interesting Gary - I have just checked and it seems the mid-range Digitrax doesn't have read-back ability. Strange. However, it makes me think that for now at least, the programming booster may be just what I need.

    Thanks for the advice! :)

  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    I would upgrade, not replace, the Zephyr, mostly for the reason that the EB (as stated) does not read back the CV's. Why this is I do not know.

    The beauty of the Digitrax components is that they can all work with eacj other. Adding the booster to the Zephyr will give you two power districts as well. This is something that you might want to do anyway, but with the EB would require a PM42 or other "block creation" device.

    So for the cost of the EB, you could get the booster (and another district), and perhaps add a wireless receiver and throttle, which I think might benefit you more.

  5. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Andrew, thanks for the advice. The booster that I was thinking about is the one from Soundtraxx, which simply boosts the power to the programming track, since the Zephyr is unable to program any of the QSI decoders as is.

    It would be nice to have a power unit that can read/write CVs, but the Super Chief seems like overkill to me, on a layout that at most would ever have 4 engines running at the same time.

    I'm leaning more and more towards the upgrade. What booster were you talking about? Maybe I could pick that up too.

  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Tony's has a "PowerPax" programming booster - PowerPax DCC Programming Booster | Tech News at Tony's Train Exchange. for US$50

    Boosters (to get more power to the layout) are simply the power component of a DCC system without throttle(s) or (sometimes) without command station capability. For example, Digitrax offers the "DB150" which is the booster/command station from the Super Empire Builder. In addition to providing more power, it can also handle autoreverse situations. Digitrax.com: DB150 Command Station/Booster

    If I understand it correctly from the Digitrax/DCC gurus at HOTrak, adding the EB/booster will give you two districts, one run by the Zephyr (3 amps) and one by the booster (5-8 amps depending on what you choose). I am unsure if you can piggyback them (i.e. run them in series to get 8-11 amps total on one district).

    However, with only 4 locos on the layout at any one time, you are not likely to exceed the 3 amps that the Zephyr supplies...

    The PM42 is not a booster - it is a way to create two blocks from one power source. So if you wanted to keep the Zephyr, not add a power booster, but still have power districts for block detection, ease of trouble shooting, or whatever, you can.

    I hope that helps - you've almost exhausted my knowledge of DCC...! You might try the Digitrax yahoo group with some specific questions about your situation and proposed solution. Or try Dean-O directly in our own DCC forum? However, I can't recall what system he uses...


  7. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    I believe Deano uses the MRC system...I would (will) also upgrade the Zephyr. Although I'm not running any sound locos as yet, I can foresee the day I will. The size of my layout lends itself nicely to a souped-up Zephyr.
  8. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Val, when I was in the market for the programming track booster (to differentiate from a booster for track power) I asked for opinions of the Soundtrax booster versus Tony's booster. The feedback that I got was that they were equivalents. As I mentioned above, I bought Tony's, its done the job, no complaints. You connect it to the programming track outputs of your control station, and plug it into a wall socket. I leave mine in the programming track circuit permanently, it only boosts signal when required, I had at first been concerned about leaving it on line when programming non sound decoders, thinking I may damage them. No such problem. I do unplug it from the wall when not in use.

    I'd advise against the EB, you have no need for additional power on your layout. Providing multiple blocks for troubleshooting isn't a bad idea, but I still haven't done so, and have never run into a real time consuming search for a short. And thats on a 19x25' layout. I did buy 5 of Tony's power guards, which, after gapping the track and buss wires appropriatly, will shut down only the block containing a short, leaving the rest of the layout in operation. This of course makes it easier to track down that short. And if the layout is large enough, keeping other trains running is a plus. However, my power guards are still in their packaging, waiting for the day I feel like crawling under the layout and severing buss wires. It will likely take a short I can't find to provide that impedus!
  9. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    Thanks for all the info Andrew and Gary.

    Andrew, I'm not really looking to upgrade my track power as yet. The Zephyr seems to be up to the task of running my trains. The programming booster is the thing I need, as the Zephyr cannot program my locos, not on the prog track or on the main.

    Gary, thanks for the comparison info. I think my LHS has the Soundtraxx booster in stock, so availability might make the final decision easier. I think they both cost about $US 50.

    I appreciate everyone's help on the subject. I have decided to get the programming booster and save myself a lot of money in the process!!

  10. Kanawha

    Kanawha Member

    Everything I've heard and read suggests that the MRC Prodigy systems are user friendly, versatile, reliable, and a great value. :thumb: Whereas Digitrax systems seem to be needlessly complex and overpriced. wall1

    Just an observation. :wave:
  11. gcodori

    gcodori Member


    Build a booster yourself and save some cash.

    Here is a loconet booster based on a pic microchip (sorry, German)
    SpaXbooster / SHMDBoost Version 4
    Older versions (also in english)

    Another loconet booster by HDL
    offers many different designs, from "smart" boosters to plain style.

    My favorite, the HABA booster (signal and current protection - very simple)
    haba: Homegrown booster

    Page with many different booster designs...
    Paco's Official Web Site
    The minibooster (which goes along with the minidcc system) is only 5 caps, 3 resistors, 2 LEDs and 2 IC's. You could wire this up by hand!

    Some of the microchip based smart boosters require a programmed chip, but programmers are easy (wire a few resistors to your serial port). The HABA is able to provide signal and current loss protection without needing a chip. If you want a loconet solution, the pic 508 based Spax booster is cheaper to build than the 628 based version.

    You could build one of these cheap boosters and use it only to power your programming track if you wish. When building a booster you can choose the voltage of the power supply as you wish.

    Another solution is to build a seperate loconet programmer -
    Decoder Programmer (DECPROG)
    While it doesn't work with JMRI, it will work with software for stand-alone programmers, like ProLok
    Thomas Borrmann: Meine kleine Eisenbahn - TT 1:120

    As you can tell, there are some easy projects for dcc users to try out. Not everything needs to be from a big company - and you can have a little learning experience in electronics at the same time.


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