New Unitrack Layout: Loads of Questions

Xrayvizhen Dec 2, 2020

  1. Xrayvizhen

    Xrayvizhen TrainBoard Member

    Here's another question that could be classified as a "dumb noobie query." But if I'm asking, and I'm not a moron (at least I don't think I am) then I'm fairly sure others in my situation, which is somebody just getting into this end of the hobby, would be wondering as well. It has to do with sound and since I'm now looking at DCC locomotives, I figured this is the place to ask.

    Coming from the 3-Rail O-Gauge world, sound is a given. Even with the most basic, basic locomotive you will get at least some kind of whistle or horn that you will hear when you press a button. It's been that way since the 1950's or maybe even earlier. If you buy something just a little more modern you will get the growl of some sort of generic engine (prime mover) or a synchronized chuffing sound for a steamer as well as a bell and even "Crew Talk". With the very advanced models, (IE: Lionel Legacy/LionChief or MTH DCS) you get everything, but better meaning more prototypical. For N-scale, I'm realizing this is not the case.

    So from what I'm seeing perusing adds and such, with N-scale in order to get at least a basic whistle or horn you need a DCC system with a DCC decoder on board the locomotive. But not all DCC decoders have sound, is that correct? So if it says "DCC Fixed" which is what I'm seeing on some websites how do you know what kind of sound you're getting or if you're getting it at all?

    Coming from 3ROG this is all very confusing. I hope someone can enlighten me.
  2. Massey

    Massey TrainBoard Member


    OK so lets see if this helps. Prolly going to be more clear than mud as this is a pretty complex topic but still mud.

    Not all DCC decoders have sound. But sound can be had without DCC in old school methods with devices such as Kato's Soundbox. This will allow you to head the sounds of a locomotive, not from the loco itself but from a speaker near the controller. Soundbox has different cartridges that are loaded with the sounds of different engines so things like the prime mover and horn are correct for that engine, including steam.

    N scale DCC has come leaps and bounds over the last 5 or 6 years since I have been in it and in the 20 years I have been modeling trains it is absolutely amazing how far DCC in N has come. So in HO scale there was some limited function sound decoders that would function in DC mode. As the track voltage would increase the prime mover would start, then as you got going the sounds would change to hear the engine load up. To activate the horn you would flip the direction switch back and forth really quick (think double clicking a mouse button) and the horn would sound. Now that was HO scale, about 10 or so years ago. I have not seen any sound decoders that play sound on DC rails in the N scale world. That doesn't mean they don't exist, but honestly I don't see this much in the MRR reviews of HO scale equipment any more.

    I don't know how prototypical or realistic you are going for here. By that I mean with the engine sounds. I agree that a horn would be nice every now and then, but in reality the sounds of scale locomotives are deafening at scale. You can hear an N scale loco from 20 feet away great! but that is 3/4 of a mile scale and I dont know about you but I cant hear the prime mover from that far away... Horn yes... prime mover no. And crew talk? Well no, not unless I have my scanner on.

    For me sounds on my layout are not so much the engines, frankly more than one engine producing any more sound than the clack of the wheels on rail joints is too much. Now the ambient sounds of the city, or dock would be great, and to me fill in the "what's missing" in 90% of the layouts out there. A small set of PC speakers under the layout with ambient sounds... yup that's going into my next layout.
    Onizukachan likes this.
  3. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

    Generally, for N scale decoders at least, if it does not say or mention sound, it does not have sound.

    It took a relatively long time to get sound into n scale DCC decoders, and they are seldom drop-in installs due to the speaker(s). Hogging space out of the frame for a speaker is usually required, which then takes weight off the wheels, and reduces the amount the loco can pull.

    I have not been impressed by the sound quality coming from such tiny speakers either. Yes, you can recognize the sounds alright, but they just sound toyish to me.

    So far, I am planning on using JMRI's Virtual Sound Decoder (VSD) subsystem, which uses the JMRI computer to generate the sound, using larger, higher fidelity speaker(s) and maybe even a subwoofer, above or below your layout. If you have blocks and occupancy detection on your layout, VSD can also use that, with a multi-channel sound system, to project the sound image from the block location, for any loco in that block (you can have up to 4 virtual sound locomotives running at a time, and it will simultaneously project their sounds to their respective blocks. For my HCD layout, I don't plan to do any sound projection, since it is a small enough layout anyway.

    I have not yet started on getting VSD running, so time will tell... Also if you are a stickler for accurate sound for each prototype/road locomotive you have, VSD probably won't have the specific sounds in its stock library. But multiple diesel, steam and bell/horn/whistle sounds are in there, and you can add your own too. I wouldn't know the difference in sound between two different diesels or two different steam engines anyway. I could probably tell the difference between some horns, but I wouldn't know which horn goes with which loco (or road).

    Another option would be to purchase a few larger scale sound decoders and mount them under the layout, connected to larger speakers. (Think G scale decoders, and the volume they have to pump out for an outdoor layout.) You could consist those sound decoders in with your locomotives. They have quality prototype sounds for lots of locomotives. That is more expensive, so it will be my backup solution if I'm not happy with VSD.
  4. bigGG1fan

    bigGG1fan TrainBoard Member

    If you are wondering how to tell if the engine you're buying has sound, if the description doesn't explicitly say sound, it's good to assume that it does not have sound. If it says sound, then odds are it has DCC control and sound. There is generally a price premium for locos with sound, and if you're in doubt, ASK before you buy.

    If you are wondering if you need to buy locos with sound, the answer is no. There are many external sound systems for model railroading. Some prefer it for N scale because any internal speaker is going to be tiny and that's going to reduce the sound quality. Whether that reduced sound quality is going to be an issue is for you to decide. Also, depending on how many engines you want to have sound it may be less expensive to have an external system.

    I have chosen internal sound, and I will honestly say at default settings, the results are mixed. I think I will be able to get better sound once the Sprog 2 arrives and I can tweak things. I am getting my FEF-3 and GS-4 converted for sound, but I have another 10 DC diesels which will just get DCC. I have 3 or 4 more engines that will remain DC only. I'll be keeping the ability to switch between DC and DCC.

    Sent from my SM-N950U1 using Tapatalk
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2020
    Onizukachan likes this.
  5. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

    Not exactly old school. Have you used a Kato Sound Box?? Like most Kato products, they are very impressive and in some ways far superior to DCC sound boards. I can hook up a Kato Sound Box to a sub woofer and generate base that will rattle the windows. Isn't that what a locomotive should do? Did I mention (I did) that base sound is totally non-directional and no human can tell which direction it is coming from?
  6. Xrayvizhen

    Xrayvizhen TrainBoard Member

    I was looking at the Sound Box when I was thinking about sticking with DC but then I got convinced by some, both here and on the DCC forum, based on how I wanted to run my layout to go with DCC! So, does the Sound Box work with DC? I think I remember reading on their specs that it's analog only which I guess means no DCC. Aaggh!
  7. NorsemanJack

    NorsemanJack TrainBoard Member

    Yep, it's strictly DC. Since I'm layout space inhibited now, any layouts will necessarily be temporary set ups using strictly DC. That's not all bad. I call it Japan-style, since that's how modelers in Kato's mother land are often forced to play with their trains.
  8. Xrayvizhen

    Xrayvizhen TrainBoard Member

    Hi folks. Another question and a quick update.

    At some time throughout this process I realized that my 20+ year old MRC Tech 2 power pack wouldn't cut it with the Kato turnouts since it only had DC variable for track and AC fixed outputs for accessories. I was made to understand that the Kato switches need fixed DC. So I've been rumaging through an old box of wall-worts and transformers and am wondering if any of them will be suitable. I have:
    1. 12 VDC, 800 Ma
    2. 12 V ? (it doesn't say) 600 Ma
    3. 15 VDC, 3A (this was for an old laptop)
    4. 12 VDC, 1A
    Are any of these ok for Kato turnouts and double cross-over or do I actually need to go and buy something specific? The first two can plug directly into and hang from a power strip which would be convenient. The second two are "bricks" and I'd have to fashion some kind of shelf for them to sit on.

    Meanwhile, for those who didn't participate in the discussion on the DCC forum, I bought a 3 year old NCE PowerCab! Also, tracklaying is nearly done but I have a couple of unforseen "engineering" issues to deal with which I hope to resolve this week.
  9. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

    You might look into Kato's Item 24842 DC Converter. The AC input is made at the wires and the DC output is what you see here, designed to plug into Kato's turnout controllers. If you stack your Kato controllers together, you'll likely need only one of these.

    BNSF FAN and MK like this.
  10. MK

    MK TrainBoard Member

    If you are handy and understand basic electronics, a $2 bridge rectifier will turn the AC from your MCR Tech 2 into DC. No supporting components needed.
    Hardcoaler likes this.
  11. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    Give it a try...whatcha got to lose...(y)

    What kinda electrical switches are you using to switch your turnout switches ???
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2020
  12. Xrayvizhen

    Xrayvizhen TrainBoard Member

    I wrote somewhere (maybe it was the other forum) I found in my parts bin 3 brand new DPDT momentary (ON) OFF (ON) toggles that I bought for some other purpose. I read through Mike Fifer's instructions and it seems like a pretty easy thing to do. The only thing he didn't specify was to what to use for power.
    Hardcoaler and mtntrainman like this.
  13. S t e f a n

    S t e f a n TrainBoard Member

    I think which ones of your supplies will work depends on what electrical switch you are using, and the type of Kato turnout. Each coil will draw 0.5A at 12V while the switch is closed. So any of your supplies should allow to throw a simple turnout, one at a time. If you had a double crossover, you'd need two amps, and only the third supply would do.
    For switches, you could use just a (momentary) switch, but if you close it for too long, you might melt some plastic near the coil, or burn the coil. Using a capacitor discharge circuit (either made from passive components only, or using Ken Stapleton's 751K FET bridge) avoids that danger, and allows you to use a smaller power supply also for multiple coils at a time.
    Hardcoaler likes this.
  14. NtheBasement

    NtheBasement TrainBoard Member

    Old laptop power supplies and power supplies for desktop computer speaker systems (remember those?) are all decent amperage. I plug everything in to a switched power strip so I can shut down the whole layout with one button before I leave the room.
  15. Maletrain

    Maletrain TrainBoard Member

    I use Kato switches, with the little snap on rectifier for a bunch of Kato controllers snapped together. That snap on rectifier has "17 V AC stamped on its input side, so I suspect you are OK with AV inputs up to that voltage going to a rectifier. I first tried a wall wart that was 12 V DC connected to that snap on. The result was that it threw some of my switches all of the time, some part of the time, and a few only part way, every time. I tried some other wall warts, and settled on one that is marked 14.4 VDC 800 mA. That one throws everything every time, including all 4 machines on a double cross over. But, I need to tell you that the actual voltmeter reading on that wall wart is 19 VDC, with a few volts of AC ripple thrown in. I had another wall wart that I tried that did not work completely, which said 12 VAC, but really was putting out 14 volts. So, my take away from this is that (1) actually measure the voltage coming out of the wall wart to see what it really is - don't count on the specs marked on it, and (2) you need something higher than 14 volts input to make the Kato switches throw reliably. One other point is that throwing a switch back and forth repeatedly in a short time will somehow make the throws less powerful, and they might start to not completely change position. So, check that you can throw every switch back and forth twice and get it to fully close on the last throw. Somebody might do that in an operation where they are having a hard time figuring out how to get a train through some process.
  16. Onizukachan

    Onizukachan TrainBoard Supporter

    If all you want is a horn and a bell, you could always do an adafruit sound module and amp, couple momentary buttons, and small speaker. You load the sound files directly to the memory via usb.
    I have one set up that way with bell, GS4 whistle, GS4 fog horn, etc. I’m using a bowser twin sugar cube speaker. If you google “new-stalgia Bachmann whistle warehouse” it should come up, I just transplanted it to under my TTRAK module.
    it’s plenty loud, lol.
    Also @Massey this 8mb might fit your desire for ambient noises, originally I was going to put in warehouse noises. I use the same module onboard my monorail for the arrival “spiel”.

    I just don’t see the appeal of diesel prime mover sounds, I can go start my diesel wagon and have all the diesel clatter and noise I want. I prefer to leave the diesels as dcc and reserve DCC+sound for steam.But that is personal preference and I respect those who like the noise.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2020
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