Jump to content
Kanpai Keith

Starter DCC Recommendations.

Recommended Posts

Kanpai Keith

Hi Guys

 

looking for recommendations for a DCC controller for a newbie.  Hopefully something that will see me through a few years of expansion and development.

 

Thank you.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Kiha66

Plenty of good options here, there's very few wrong answers but everyone has their favorite flavor of branding for DCC supplies.  

My first suggestion would be to check out what the local clubs and other modelers use in your area.  While sometimes they may not be as fancy or user friendly of a system, having local people you can ask for advice and who can help in person with setup are an invaluable resource.  Plus you'll be able to use your controllers if you visit and run on other layouts in the area.

 

My second suggestion is to make sure the company has a large following, so that plenty of help online is available and that you'll be able to look forward to more updates for the system as time improves.  Digitrax and NCE seem to be the most popular and best supported systems, at least in the US.

 

Assuming local modelers also use the digitrax system, I would suggest starting with something like the Digitrax Zephyr set.  It's based off the design of the kato DC throttle and allows everything you'd need for a for small and large layout, but all in one package that wont require a nest of wires to set up.  Unless you plan to run more than 20 trains at once it'll probably be all you ever need for a home layout.   https://www.digitrax.com/products/starter-sets/dcs52/

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Kanpai Keith

I don’t think Digitrax is that common or good value in the U.K. but I stand to be corrected.  I do like the look of the controls.

 

My best options could be limited to NCE or Gaugemaster.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
gavino200

I've had two systems. The first was a very simple system from MRC. I moved to Digitrax when I increased the size of my layout. It works fine but I've never really liked it. I've never had a Zephyr. They do look nice and simple. 

 

The controllers I have are this kind: https://www.digitrax.com/products/throttles/dt500dce/

They, look and feel horrible, and they're a nightmare to understand. I have no clue what many of the buttons do. Personally I find it extremely difficult and unintuitive to do any programming with these things. I personally think the manual is badly written and I always find I'm looking things up continually as the instruction are difficult for me to remember. 

 

Bear in mind that people have a weird emotional loyalty to DCC companies. I know that many people love this thing and will tell you it's the easiest thing in the world to master. I'm not going to argue with that. Just putting out there that not everyone feels that way about it. 

 

I'm sticking with Digitrax for now as I've no functional need to change. Probably I'll try out one of there more ergonomic controllers soon. https://www.digitrax.com/products/throttles/dt602d/

 

If I were to start again I'd choose something from ESU, a German company. http://www.esu.eu/en/start/  I like their products in general and they have a nice graphical interface. (I also don't like JMRI - another emotional issue for many people). 

 

Whatever you choose you'll have fun. Even at it's most frustrating DCC is super fun, and I haven't found any problem yet that I couldn't solve (with the help of the good folks here). 

Share this post


Link to post
Madsing

I am using a Roco Z21 (https://www.z21.eu/en) and it works very well. I purchased it a few years ago when traveling in Europe. At that time, only the command station was available but over the years their offering has grown to include boosters, detectors, throttles, ... I am using their app on a iPad to control trains (it is user friendly, and regularly updated with new features), as well the (free) Rocrail application (https://wiki.rocrail.net/doku.php).

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Ochanomizu
6 hours ago, Kanpai Keith said:

Hi Guys

 

looking for recommendations for a DCC controller for a newbie.  Hopefully something that will see me through a few years of expansion and development.

 

Thank you.

 

Hello,

 

I'm in Australia ... where all DCC is expensive and not as well supported as USA and Europe.  I went with Digitrax for the following reasons:

  1. Digitrax make the Kato DCC decoders and controller under license agreement;
  2. The Digitrax-made Kato decoders are equipped with "Transponding" ... a feature enabling the decoder to report back information to the command station.  Put simply, it enables a controller to know what consist occupies as specific piece of track and when;
  3. Price wasn't an issue ... everything is expensive down under;
  4. Support wasn't an issue ... I was going to be relying on this forum and others like it.

If you intend to use the Kato drop-in decoders AND you think you might get into some of the more advanced aspects of DCC, such as programming routes for specific trains, then you should consider Digitrax.  Otherwise, all of the big name brands offer excellent products.

Share this post


Link to post
chadbag
6 hours ago, Kanpai Keith said:

I don’t think Digitrax is that common or good value in the U.K. but I stand to be corrected.  I do like the look of the controls.

 

My best options could be limited to NCE or Gaugemaster.

 

Being in the UK you should have good access to the European stuff like the Z21 stuff or the Digikeijs stuff.  (Or the more expensive and esoteric stuff like ZIMO).   I believe the black box Z21 supports Loconet and I know the Digikeijs one does (in addition to other standards).   I think if you use the right detection devices (Digitrax standard) over Loconet you can use Digitrax transponding with them (but I am not sure -- anyone know?). I know they support Railcom (which is what everyone else uses for "transponding" that is not Digitrax).

 

Any of the command stations SHOULD work with any brand standard decoders.  I use the KATO, Digitrax, D&H, and ZIMO decoders on my DR5000-ADJ based system.

 

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
chadbag

The one thing I would avoid is NCE unless your local club is NCE based.  Not that NCE is bad by any means, but they don't support Loconet out of the box or through NCE and are basically in their own little world with regards to mixing and matching stuff.  Loconet compatible stuff can be mixed and matched across makes/brands pretty well, as can stuff that supports X.Net/Xpressnet.

 

I use the Digikeijs (from Holland) and will probably get a Z21 to play with one of these days (since I am developing some iOS/mac app stuff and I want to test across a variety of devices).  These work with a wide variety of brands of equipment.  This review of the DR5000-ADJ from Digikeijs outlines all the different throttles and stuff he tested with it.

 

https://mrr.trains.com/news-reviews/staff-reviews/2018/10/digikeijs-dr5000-digicentral-dcc-command-station

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Kanpai Keith

Windows based ☹️☹️☹️ I’m Windows free 😜
 

Any recommendations on a “starter kit”

  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

I have several systems myself, including Lenz Digital Plus, Marklin CU 6021, Selectrix and ESU.

 

Of these, I prefer the ESU ECoS for every day use. It's easy to use and with the large screen things are easy to set up without needing extensive manuals or a computer for some automation. It's not the cheapest command station, but it's worth it. I have the first colour version which is a little bit slow, but they released a slightly improved version not long ago I think.

 

The Selectix system is interesting as well, as it's mainly designed for N-scale, so the decoders are all very flat. Trix doesn't do selectrix themselves anymore, but several other companies have picked it up, the biggest one being Rautenhaus.

 

You'll also want to see what you want / expect from the decoders themselves. For example, the Kato drop-in decoders have very limited functionality, whereas the more well known digital brands add a lot of fine tuning control. Size of the decoder will also be important considering most loco's won't have a lot of space. For decoders, I've almost exclusively been getting ESU Lokpilot Micro, they're not cheap, but they have some of the best motor fine tuning controls I've seen in any decoder. They're also easy to program on the ECoS itself since it has a full interface for that. The ESU decoders are also the smallest I've seen, the new Lokpilot 5 Micro for example is only 8mm x 7mm, but it is fairly thick at 2.4mm overall, and at the capacitor 2.8mm. I actually like the Lokpilots so much, I'm going to replace all my non-Lokpilot decoders with them, eventually 🙂

 

 

As for 'starter kits', there are some cheaper sets / command stations available, but they often don't allow you to expand, so you might need to replace those completely once you do decide to upgrade. You'll also want to think about whether you eventually want things like a block system and / or computer control etc. Some of the base sets and cheaper command stations don't allow for that (but those are generally the really cheap ones)

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
nicolahu

I did go the Digitrax Zephyr route, mainly because i use the Drop-In decoder from Kato. It is a pretty good starter set and can be upgraded over time. For my part i use JMRI on the side, i can understand why gavino200 has problems with it, for me it works. Recently i bought the WiFi throttle from TCS, mostly because i don't like the Digitrax ones, the TCS has everything i need and better ergonomics. 

 

I would make a list with what you want and what you might want in the future, so you can see which system covers the most and can be upgraded with what you want. If you are unsure about using JMRI give it a download and look how to set up some things.

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Waisneed

I also started with the Digitrax Zephyr. Lot's of my friends have an Ecos for their HO needs, but for me it was too much for some N trains with only limited lighting options.

 

The Zephyr are nice cheap way to start into DCC, as they are expandable with almost any DCC system. As thy can function as a booster and throttle for any LocoNet system.

Also they accept a analog throttle, if you have any, as a secondary or tertiary input for more simultaneous train action.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
chadbag
8 hours ago, Kanpai Keith said:

Windows based ☹️☹️☹️ I’m Windows free 😜
 

Any recommendations on a “starter kit”

 

Most of them, from any manufacturer, if they have a computer program for setup, it will be Windows based.   Many of them also work with JMRI, if you can get it working, which runs on all platforms.  I've not had the best luck with JMRI myself but lots of people use it without issue.

 

For normal computing I am Windows free, except a yearly tax program that only runs on Windows in a VMWare installation.  Normally I am Mac based.

 

I converted an old Mac Pro from 2008 to be native Windows to be able to run the set up apps for the command station and other add-ons.  I could probably have also used a VMWare based Windows installation to run and configure stuff but my main Mac is not that close to the train table so I put the old Mac Pro with Windows right next to it. I hardly ever boot it as once set up, I don't tend to need to change anything.  I finally did after a year, the other day, to update the firmware.  (Mostly I had taken a video card from the Mac Pro to give to my dad, who uses his 2008 Mac Pro as his main machine, and my video card is better than his and mine is not really being used, except every once in a while, so I booted to test after taking my card out for him and I noticed there was an update for my command station).

 

All the normal train driving I do with the Z21 WLANmaus as well as soft throttles on the phone.

 

I use mostly D&H decoders and their special decoder programming software is Windows only.  I won a really cheap HP laptop ($200 variety) at a raffle so I use that to hook up to the D&H programmer device to program decoders.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

ECoS doesn't have any setup programs at all, since the machine itself is essentially a computer running a custom version of Linux. Firmware updates (and backup / restore and such) are all done through a web interface. Considering it's from 1 of the more popular brands, pretty much all computer control programs support it.

 

Most of the time you have to install something, it's drivers for the USB to Serial converter (be it built in to the device, or as an external interface). Devices with a LAN connection, such as ECoS, Marklin Central Station, Z21 etc.

 

I have to say, I've been tempted getting a Z21 to play around with and maybe use for either the H0 or a T-Trak layout.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Kanpai Keith

Lots of terminology to Google 🤣🤣🤣 There was me thinking DDC was just a controller and some decoders.

  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

Well, that's the thing. It CAN be just a controller and some decoders. If you're not interested in automation, then you don't really need anything more than that. In that case it also doesn't really matter which controller you pick, and I'd just go for one that's easily available either in a nearby store, or from an online store in the UK.

 

If you (eventually) want to do more than that, you should look into how future proof you want things to be. For just running some trains, something like a Digitrax Zephyr set, or the Roco Z21 basic would be enough, and they're not priced that crazy either 🙂

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
chadbag

Some of the starter type command centers can be upgraded or used as a booster or that sort of thing if you want to start small and expand later (like Martijn alluded to).  In other words, if you get the right stuff, when you upgrade later the older stuff is still useful.  (Unlike with me: I bought an NCE PowerCab and when I switched to something else it just sits in the box)

 

(Though the Digikeijs is cheaper than the Zephyr and is more full featured but does not include the actual throttle, but can work with Z21 soft throttles on your phone for "free" 🙂 ).

Edited by chadbag
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Kanpai Keith

Now why is it that I know less now about DCC than I did when I wrote my original post 🥺🥺🥺

Edited by Kanpai Keith
  • Like 2
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
nicolahu

Give us some idea what you wanna do with DCC, what you might do in the future and what your budget is.

I think then will it be easier to point to a system

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Kanpai Keith

TBH I need to understand the full power of DCC.

 

My thoughts were some cheap decoders and a control module so I can have a number of trains on a layout and run a couple on loops and do some shunting in the yard.

 

But now I’m seeing that there is more, much much more to DCC than I thought.  My previous experiences were with Hornby set controllers from the 70’s & 80’s 🤣

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
nicolahu

No problem 😉

But if that is the case, go read on https://dccwiki.com/ 

There is chapter on the front page called "Getting started", it should answer your questions about DCC. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
inobu

Being in the UK and watching the budget get the DR5000-ADJ DCC Digikeijs. It supports Loconet and Railcom. 

 

Not on a budget and want to go get it going fast and easy ESU ECoS. Its on the high end but worth it.

I have switched from Digitrax to ESU because of the sound decoders and its ease of use. I install decoders myself

and their decoders and programmers makes it easy to do everything. 

 

Make a list of what features you want your layout to do and post it. 

 

 

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Kanpai Keith

DR5000 does look like a decent kit to get me going, the video was useful. I do have an old windows desktop, a netbook, and an Acer Revo I could use along with my iPad.


 

Combining Locomotive control and switching is probably what I need now for semi temporary layouts.

Edited by Kanpai Keith

Share this post


Link to post
Martijn Meerts

There are many steps in DCC, but it's quite easy to get started really.

 

The first step would be what you already mentioned, just getting a command station, some decoders, and then just run trains. That requires almost no set up at all, depending a bit on which command station you go for. For example, the ECoS, Zephyr or Lenz Digital Plus starter sets some with physical controllers, so in that case it's really just connect power, and off you go. For the Zephyr and Digital Plus you just select the address of the loco, for the ECoS you do have to add the loco to the local database (takes about 10 seconds). If you have a Z21 or the Digikeijs system for example, you'll need to do some installing since the base kit doesn't come with a physical controller it seems.

 

The next step from there, would be controlling the turnouts digitally as well. That requires turnout / accessory decoders. There are lots of them ranging from being able to drive 1 turnout to anywhere up to 16 or more turnouts. Since you have Tomix track, not all turnout decoders will be compatible. You'll need to look for one that supports Kato or LGB turnouts. Tomix, Kato and LGB all have 2 wire turnout motors, while most European brand track has 3 wire turnout motors.

 

From there it's usually computer control. You can start with just drawing the track plan so you can more easily control the turnouts. With a computer, you can just click the turnout in the track plan rather than having to try and remember which addresses the turnouts have. You can also control the trains using a computer, but obviously the computer has no idea where on the layout the trains are.

 

Which leads to the next step, computer control. This requires a block system with occupancy detectors in every block. This is where all the extra wires on a DCC layout come in compared to a non-DCC one. Each block has at least 1 occupancy detector, these get triggered when a train (or any power consuming bit of rolling stock) enters the block. Now, this doesn't really help with computer control, since the computer will now only know there's a train there, but not which train. To do that, you basically assign a train to a certain block on the computer (making sure it's physically also in that block), you specify which direction it'll run in, and going by which blocks become occupied, the computer will know (with some amount of certainty) in which block the train is.

 

That's a really simple explanation of course. With full computer control / automation, there's a lot more things to keep in mind, such as routes, direction of travel, train lengths, even train types if you want some trains to stop at a station, while others should continue, etc.

 

 

Personally, I can't really imagine a layout anymore that's not computer controlled in some way. Running trains is fun, but it's hard to keep track of multiple trains. With computer control I can run a lot of trains automatically (including stopping at stations, picking passing tracks when needed, and, if you really want, simulate coal / water / diesel refuelling and even adjust driving characteristics based on which cars, and how many are being pulled), and still also do some manual running with the computer keeping track of where my manually operated train is, and making sure the automated trains won't crash into it. It's a bit of a learning curve working everything out, but it's quite fun to do, and you can do things step by step, so you can start simple, and work up from there, often without having to rebuild the layout completely.

 

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...