N Scale and Sound...

mtntrainman Aug 25, 2021

  1. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    A discussion on another thread got me thinking (yes...I know that's dangerous). We are dealing in 1:160 scale models. If a person is standing 3 feet back from an N scale locomotive would that not translate to 480 feet or 160 yards scaled up to 1:1 ? If so...a 1:1 locomotives 'sound' at 160 yards away would be nowhere near as 'throaty' sounding as say standing a few feet from railroad tracks as a train goes by.

    I've watched videos of n scale trains that had sound in the locomotive and most all sounded pretty good from a viewing distance of about 3 feet (160 yards).

    So sound in n scale doesnt need to have 'deep' bass tones as we watch them.

    Your thoughts?
  2. tehachapifan

    tehachapifan TrainBoard Member

    Yes!!!! You're on the exact same page as I am with regards to this and I have made these points before when discussing N scale sound. Still, this is a very subjective subject and there are those that firmly believe it should sound like there's a 1:1 loco in the train room with them. I'm extremely pleased with the sound quality from my N scale locos (custom installed ESU) and think it sounds just right for the reasons you mentioned (being hundreds of feet away).
  3. Shortround

    Shortround TrainBoard Member

    The only steamer I've heard was farm tractors and you had to be fairly close to hear them huffing and whirring. But having lived close to the modern diesels pulling freight mostly what is heard is the rumble of the loaded or unloaded cars. With the switchers it's the banging of hitches and rattle of turnouts.
    I must ask, are the sound levels adjustable as with a stereo? So far my HO 4-6-0 steamer only quietly hisses and doesn't move on a test track. I have to be concerned about neighbors in the building.
    BNSF FAN and Carl Sowell like this.
  4. badlandnp

    badlandnp TrainBoard Member

    Sounds are adjustable and in some decoders there is an equalizer. However, "scale sound" is the key. Having a bunch of loco's hissing quietly away while those that are working chuffing along at appropriate volumes is satisfying. Being all steam, when I hear the sounds on old video's or new, it gives an idea what needs to be set at what volume. Too much sound becomes a chaotic cacophony, especially if it is too loud. It is extremely satisfying to hear the loco pull away from me, and when it is 20 feet away, barely be able to hear it, or not at all!

    Research your cv settings, and play with the volumes....
  5. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    THIS ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
  6. Grey One

    Grey One TrainBoard Supporter

    Downside: You have to go DCC which I will not.
    I will be using Kato sound boxes and cell phones with blue tooth speakers.
    The sound box is not as good at DCC on the loco but the speaker system will allow for local sounds such as farm, forest or towns. It is a 'kludge' but works for me., Um, I mean I hope it worlks for me. ☻
    BNSF FAN, Carl Sowell and badlandnp like this.
  7. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter


    As lomg as the volume is down low enough not to sound like a carnival....(y)(y)
    BNSF FAN, Carl Sowell and Shortround like this.
  8. Rich_S

    Rich_S TrainBoard Member

    I agree 100%, the digital sounds produced by modern Sound decoders is very good and a lot of though goes into programming the decoder and speaker to match the box it will be enclosed in, i.e. diesel body shell or steam tender shell. All but one of my steam locomotives has sound and they do sound good. I also like the fact you can program various whistles, and independently adjust the volumes of just about every sound the Sound Decoder can produce. This is another advantage of using JMRI decoder pro software, at least for me. JMRI makes adjusting sound levels easy. Having said that, my next statement is very personal to me, I have Tinnitus in both ears and there are times I just want quite, well as much quite as possible, so I'm also thankful F8 will mute the noise, sorry I mean sound :D

    In closing, take it from an older guy going deaf, if you have to raise your voice to talk over your sound equipped sound decoder you need to turn the volume down, before you end up like me and get to spend your model railroad money on hearing aids. ;)
  9. Calzephyr

    Calzephyr TrainBoard Supporter

    Some really good points made on this matter. I guess it would be a problem if there are too many sound equipped locos blaring away chaotically and simultaneously. I am not into having more than a couple of sound equipped locos running or idling at one time. One of my fears about DCC is having too many sets of 'instruction packets' being sent through DCC and having some ensuing runnaways with all sorts of sounds screaming around a layout.
  10. Carl Sowell

    Carl Sowell TrainBoard Supporter


    Great topic you started here, it can generate a lot of "discussion. I pretty much agree with all of the comments above this post. I think the sounds produced today are good and will most likely get better as time goes by. As we all know one of the real keys to N scale sound is the speaker and how it is installed.

    Now, I have several diesels that I have installed sound as well as silent decoders into and have placed sound in all of my large steamers. However, I am entering a new era in my modeling and will only install ESU LokPIlot5 and Zimo 621's into any locos that I might acquire. I just plain ole can not afford the sound decoders and all the required goodies to make the install. I am a real fan of ESU products and my last 3 new diesels were factory installed with ESU sound units ( 2-KATO + 1-Atlas) and I really am happy with them. If I was younger, 81 as of 8/15, I would be tearing up the decoder installs, but alas.

    Another thing that is driving me to silent decoders is the sound levels. I set new installs while on a program track in my computer room and even with levels set down they are quite loud enough. But, take them to the club layout located in an old Quonset hut and they are hard to hear. Turn up the levels to full bore, add some kids & adults talking during a show and you can't hear them at all. There are some brands that are so loud even in a show atmosphere that they are on nerves pretty quickly. So, for me, no more wasting money on sound.

    I will however install Zimo and ESU silent ones to get the beautiful motor control.

    Not complaining just expressing!

    Be well,
  11. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    Thanks Carl....

    In all fairness...I have never experienced n scale sound IRL. Hearing them on videos...yes. In the small chamber of train rooms (uaually spare bedrooms)...with naturally bad acoustics...it would seem multiple locomotives all with varying sounds bouncing off walls could get overwhelming rather quickly.

    Like Alan said in his post..."It is extremely satisfying to hear the loco pull away from me, and when it is 20 feet away, barely be able to hear it, or not at all!" That has it's appeal for sure and I could almost go for that.


    Me personally... I like hearing the 'clicky-clack' of wheels over Unitrack rail joints. ;)
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2021
  12. rpeck

    rpeck TrainBoard Member

    If I had a choice I would not go with sound. It is ok but what I remember from visits to my Grandmothers place that had the Southern RR going by. The sound is not what I remember but the feeling in my chest when the loco went by.
    Sorry no Nscale loco I have that has sound doesn't give me that feeling no matter how high the volume.
    To each there own I guess.
  13. Shortround

    Shortround TrainBoard Member

    Real trains have mufflers.
  14. Grey One

    Grey One TrainBoard Supporter

    My eastern facing windows are 40 feet from the Boston - Providence line including local MBTA and Amtrak.
    Bilevel cars hauled by an MP39 at 60mph with a long horn generate quite the conversation pause till it passes. I guess I'm glad they can't reproduce that. ☻
  15. JMaurer1

    JMaurer1 TrainBoard Member

    WAYYYYYY back I modeled HO scale and the system the club used (pre-DCC) had sound as well (it took an entire HO dummy locomotive to house the sound unit). What I quickly learned is that one locomotive with sound was kind of interesting and fun, two was less interesting, and three was just noise. If 5+ locos were running sound it just became WAY too much. I have stayed away from sound since then as too much of a good thing is usually not a better thing, but just noise.
    mtntrainman likes this.
  16. Sumner

    Sumner TrainBoard Member

    Maybe..... Never say never....

    I thought for sure I wouldn't want sound decoders on the layout. Then after installing a number of non-sound decoders I saw a post about the inexpensive XL sound decoders. Ok for $40 I'll give one a try. They have one larger one that you hard wire in which is pretty much a prerequisite for me with most of my locos being older and DC. I put it in a Kato U30C. It wasn't an easy install but I learned a lot and it would be quicker if I had to do it again. I have a YouTube of testing the decoder ...

    ... and have a video of the sound from the loco but don't have it up at this point.

    Do I like it. It has become more addictive than I thought it would. Enough so that I now have two ESU sound decoders that I'll install. I wouldn't go with another XL at this point. On reason I wouldn't install another is I'm having some erratic behavior when the loco is running and it will stop at times when I toggle one of the sound functions. Not sure yet if it is a decoder problem or track power problem.

    The second reason being that the sound files available with it are somewhat generic in nature. The one in the U30 isn't from a U30. With ESU they have a ton on actual sound files. I'm kind of addicted also to U.P.'s U50's which are a dual diesel loco. Since you can preview the ESU sound files on line I listened to one of the U50 sound files and got hooked by hearing one diesel start up and then the second start up. I haven't installed it yet or the other one (not sure what I'm going to put it in at this point). I'll see if I get tired of the whole thing or not but it has caught my attention which I never thought it would a couple years ago when I first became aware of sound in an N scale loco.

  17. freddy_fo

    freddy_fo TrainBoard Member

    I first got into sound updating a few of my locos with those digitrax drop in decoders. Most were a disappointment with very tinny sound and low volume. Price was king at that time though. Since then all but 1 have been replaced with ESU sound decoders of one type or other. Altogether I've upgraded around 50 analog locos using ESU sound decoders and not a single problem with bad components or flakey operations.

    Their huge library of sound files ensures there is something for just about any loco. Have had some issues finding correct sound for some of my steam but using their programmer and desktop software one can swap out individual sounds such as horns/whistles and bells.

    If one is ambitious enough the custom lighting options add another layer of realism/fun as well. Separately lit number boards, alternating ditch lights when sounding the horn, firebox flicker effect (when the coal shoveling sound is activated) and classification lights to list a few. Very much gilding the lily but still satisfying to see it all work.
  18. umtrr-author

    umtrr-author TrainBoard Member

    I won using a relatively low bid for an Atlas C-420 in Delaware-Lackawanna and when it arrived I found out it was the sound equipped unit, so bonus! I was surprised at how much better the sound is that what I have heard earlier in N Scale. I'm not planning to do a mass conversion but I am thinking it might be nice to have a sound equipped unit in the paint of my Wilmington & New York Railroad... eventually...
    BNSF FAN and badlandnp like this.

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