Choosing a DCC System

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Topherisme

Chris wants more hobby time!!!
Currently using Bachman’s EZ Command Dynamis system. While it does make the locos move and make noise, it seems that’s about the extent of it. Without buying a $500 additional piece of equipment that is not even produced until it is justified to do so by enough names on a waiting list I am limited to what I can do, can’t program CVs without it or other more apparently advanced options.
I am looking at MRC 1414 Prodigy Advanced Squared $270, and Digitrax EVOX Evolution Advanced $355.
Hate admitting my ignorance, but some of this DCC capability has me confused. Looking for a system that allows me to have at least 10 locos in motion on my layout simultaneously, will program CVs, easily follow the train with handheld controller. Those are my basic preferred needs anyway…
Guessing this will be a boring topic to those who have been involved with DCC for some time, but really need your input to make the most adequate choice for my train enjoyment future 😉
 

wvg_ca

nerdlinger
i have had good luck with my mrc system for whats it worth ..a prodigy advance ...
only fair with a command 2000, too limited for me .
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
Go cheap, be disappointed.
Or you can buy a system that nobody has heard of and wander the streets of the city the rest of your life tryin to find help.
There are systems out there that are found on most major layouts and have pleanty of users who can help ya. Then ya have systems that individuals swear are the easiest thing in the world to understand, but they don't mention that to really need to understand computer language thoroughly to use it. If not, you have no business in the hobby to begin with.
 

Topherisme

Chris wants more hobby time!!!
I have been trying to find other modelers around me, but new to the area and an introvert so not real fruitful on that venture…. Closest club is 2+ hours away, hard to find time for that drive…. Only real life opinions and experiences I can glean from are you guys so lay me down the good, bad, and the ugly.

How “cheap” is cheap?
 

bnsf971

Gomez Addams
Staff member
The four brands I'd suggest looking at, in random order:
Digitrax
NCE
ESU
MRC.
All of these are reasonably good systems, all with their own advantages and drawbacks.
I'd suggest asking around your "neighborhood", and see which ones are popular near you. If nobody around is a model railroader that uses these, and there are no clubs around to lean on, look on Youtube to see which has how-to videos that YOU can easily understand.
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
"Cheap" is when you can buy the never heard of it brand for $10 less than the common brand. You actually end up spending more per feature on the never heard of brand than the common one. Ya end up with an instruction manual that was authored by someone in China and you are presumed to understand hex language.
 

trailrider

Well-Known Member
I started using MRC Tech 6 6.0, about six years ago, but had problems with the rotary throttles on the handheld controllers. I bought the NCE Power Cab with a 5.0 amp booster (folded dogbone in a 14' x 14' room). No problems with it. Easy to use. You may not need the booster, depending on the size of your layout.
 

Alcomotive

Grandson of ALCO Bldr
This my opinion so take it or leave it....I am not a leading authority in DCC I am merely a user that has a little better knowledge than the average joe DCC guy. So here goes my 2 cents:

In choosing a DCC system and looking at your options and deciding your needs..... break it down:

How many trains will you ave on the layout?

How big is your layout going to be?

What do you foresee to do with the system just run trains or switches and or other components?


There are many good systems out there NCE, Digitrax, Prodigy (MRC), and Bachmann. So to help you determine a system these are questions I would ask........... these questions besides the one above mentioned.

Will the system grow as your layout grows?

Are upgrades easy to do?

Support: important issue here. Customer service is not all that great from any of the brands mentioned so you have to rely on your buddies or people you know or read a lot of the manuals how to etc.

What system does your local club use? Or your buddy?

When I started out many years ago...back in 1998. (Mind you DCC started in 94) I learned to gravitate to the more common system used in my area and what my buddy uses etc. That can be very resourceful.

Power is another thing to look at. Most basic systems run 3 amps but there are starter sets that provide even more and up to 8 amps. This is important as not only does it matter for large layouts or even small layouts but the number of locomotives that have sound in them as well.

JMRI..... I cannot stress this enough. It's a free shareware software designed and built by model railroaders! I don't care what system anyone gets and how easy some systems are to program with the throttle or whatever. It is a must have to use JMRI programming which does require a interface card to connect your program track or layout to your computer. Not all that expensive either.

https://www.jmri.org/

I started a long time ago with MRC Command 2000 and I still have it but I graduated to the one of the 1st Digitrax system called the Zephry DCS50. I later got the throttle DT402D. Then a few other accessories like the UR92 etc. Anyways I am actually still using Digitrax system and I am looking to upgrade to their new release now after 20 years. I am planning on getting the EVOXD Evolution Express Advanced 5A/8A Duplex Starter Set. I will probrably get it from Yankeedabbler.com OR at the upcoming train show I am going to if the price is cheaper.

I think that you will find everyone has their opinions and expiriences. My advice to you is take your time in the selection. Go to a club or show and ask to try it or see a buddies layout etc. Or if your brave enough pick one and dive in but it can be expensive so take your time to choose.

I wish you luck....we are all here and can help with whatever system you get we can help. SO theres that :)
 
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wvg_ca

nerdlinger
my layout was fifteen feet by sixteen feet, fyi
the prodigy has all the commands on the back of the handheld, no idea where the paper manual is ..
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
I got into DCC shortly after Zero One was introduced. I was skeptical of a one box does all system and decided go with the more commonly heard of Digitrax DB150. Never gave it a thought of having to do one more step to select a locomotive over some other systems, but for some reason people swear by it as much simpler. Really, one step?. Picked up on DCC pretty fast and was building my own decoders from a handfull of resistors, caps, diodes and a chip then programming it in hex. Getting the ditchlights to blink alternately and in opposing phases was a feat.
Eventually expanding to boosters then occupancy detection, signal control and Railroad Co software to drive the signal system was the capping accomplishment. Yeah, I had to reach out for help but that was in the planning stages of how to support each facet of my hobby without having to rely on someone else doing all the work so I only had to turn a knob to run trains.
It's a hobby. Ya do with it what ya enjoy. If ya just want a plywood world and simplistic DC control, then that's your interest. It doesn't do me or anybody else any good for you to participate in something ya don't enjoy. First chance ya get you'll leave.
 

Topherisme

Chris wants more hobby time!!!
Well, for what it’s worth I really enjoy the whole aspect of model railroading, so in it for the long haul. That’s why this decision is so important, too expensive to change my mind later, what system I get now is what I use for a long while…. I do like Digitrax giving us the update option on their usb equipped models, would think that at least helps keep the unit useable for some time to come….
 

Rico

BN Modeller
I use Digitrax simply because that's what the club ran and help was right there. I've had issues but still running.
I'm impressed with the easiness of NCE over Digitrax however after running on friends layouts.
Now if I were to start again I'd skip DCC all together and go with Ring Engineering Railpro (radio).
It's very easy to learn, set up, and operate and support is great. Maybe worth your time to look into?

I should add that I do have a Railpro controller and a couple modules in locos and that it operates independently on DC or DCC layouts.
 

Topherisme

Chris wants more hobby time!!!
Hmmm, not sure I want the hassle of having to add the module to every loco..,
I use Digitrax simply because that's what the club ran and help was right there. I've had issues but still running.
I'm impressed with the easiness of NCE over Digitrax however after running on friends layouts.
Now if I were to start again I'd skip DCC all together and go with Ring Engineering Railpro (radio).
It's very easy to learn, set up, and operate and support is great. Maybe worth your time to look into?

I should add that I do have a Railpro controller and a couple modules in locos and that it operates independently on DC or DCC layouts.
Hmmm, not sure I want the hassle of connecting an extra module to every loco… Will look into it a little more though…
 

Smudge617

Well-Known Member
Alcomotive and D&J Railroad both make extremely good points, but I look at it in a different way. I got back into MRR quite recently, start of the pandemic, so I am still very much a newbie in DCC, and these guy's have helped me in way's you would not imagine, but try looking at it this way.

How do you intend to use the controller,
Standing in one place ?
Wandering around the layout ?
Handheld or static throttle ?
Ability to use smartphone or tablet as a throttle ?
Ability to add extra throttles ?
Ability to upgrade/add to existing system
Reliability and support
Reputable and known manufacturer
Budget.

Some of these you've already stated at the beginning, I know, but once you know how your going to use it then you can pick what best suits your needs, and your pocket.

Personally I have a Digitrax Zephyr, it's a starter set, I can afford a more expensive system if I wanted, but I'm disabled so wandering around my layout isn't needed, I have difficulty holding things, so no need for a handset, I'm not very good with electronic gizmo's, so no need for one of those, do I want a bigger layout at some point, then I need something that I can add to. After eliminating all the things I didn't need in a system I was down to Digitrax and Gaugemaster, Digitrax was prettier:)
 

Selector

Well-Known Member
You're being fed water from a fire hose, and I hate to contribute so little, but here goes:

All currently available DCC systems work....as they're designed to. They're all very reliable, and easy to learn if you're willing to make a few booboos and pick up the manual when you're stumped. Or call the manufacturer. I called them exactly once, maybe ten days into my first stab at DCC. Got the help I needed, and the manual provided the rest. I still resort to my Digitrax manual when I have to close the Ops Switch to rid the stack of addresses and start fresh. Takes three minutes. I think I did that 18 months ago or more, so it's not like I need to do it once a week.

All responses bear a second reading. They all have experience behind them.

You're a self-admitted introvert. I was for a long time, seem to have dropped all sorts of millstones from around my neck as I got older. Once I found I was adept at what helped people to admit me to their groups more readily, the rest was natural. Maybe it will go that way for you as well. Meanwhile, no clubs, no organizations for you...am I right? You hate talking on the phone...HATE IT! But it's better than dealing with people.

I tried the EZ-Command and realized my mistake very shortly. The volume on my BLI Hudson was so intense, and the quality of the resulting sound so bad, that I wanted immediately to alter the master volume. Nope, sorry. We don't do that with the EZ-Command.

Wut?

It went back and the nice fella at the LHS ordered me a Digitrax Super Empire Builder, a DT400 throttle, and I had to find a power supply (I hope that's changed). I have never looked back.

Fact is that not all decoders and not all drives work the same way. Even among the same make and model of locomotive there's differences in the way they work when they're assembled and leave the factory. So you have to be able to manipulate CVs so that the driving characteristics improve. That means anything but an EZ-Command....pretty much. It means figuring out what the decoder manual says you must do if you want better performance, and then having the patience to actually perform all the CV changes. Think the first version of the Soundtraxx Tsunami. It often has poor slow acceleration, as an example, but if you're willing to spend some time, you'll soon have any drive performing much more like a good toy locomotive should. Happened to me with a BLI DC version Class J 4-8-4 bought off eBay. It had a hitch in its giddap, but I fiddled with the higher numbered CVs dealing with motor control and darned if I didn't have that thing working like a caterpillar in about two minutes.

Spend between $250-400 and you'll have lots of power for all those locos you want to run, lots of currently active slots and addresses, and if you have a couple of throttles, each with two encoders on them, you'll have lots of control. But, I don't recommend running more than two locomotives at once unless you have them mu'd and they run as one unit.

You'll need about 4-6 amps if you're running any lights in cars, a signal or five, sensors/detectors, and several locomotives pulling 15-30 cars. It gets worse up grades. Keep that in mind.

Remember one thing: you can learn to love anyone. You don't 'find your soulmate' and end up marrying them. It just happens because you want to do it, and gosh...so do they! Works. It's the same with anything. If you're motivated, you'll learn to use and like any system from NCE, MRC, Roco, Lenz, CVP, EZ-DCC, Digitrax...the list must go on a bit. Just think a bit about what you need it to do, build in some future extra capacity (you must do this), and then pull the plug with your plastic when you have selected one or two good suitable sytems.

Read the $&*@ manual when you get it !!!

Good luck.
 

D&J RailRoad

Professor of HO
I think one of the primary questions you need to answer is: is this model railroad for the kiddies or for model rail hobby desires?
If it's for the kiddies, stick with the basic no frilles beginner system. They will never get beyond running the trains for a few minutes then turn to demolition activity.
If it's for your hobby interest, go with an advanced package you can add other advanced components to. Without the hobbiest features you'll be limited in your abilities to design your locomotive decoder as you learn DCC and you'll stagnate in the hobby.
 

flyboy2610

Loveably weird
Then ya have systems that individuals swear are the easiest thing in the world to understand, but they don't mention that to really need to understand computer language thoroughly to use it. If not, you have no business in the hobby to begin with.
I don't believe he's interested in the ESU system. I remember your posts regarding the trials and travails you went through with that!
FWIW, I have the NCE PowerCab system. I find it easy to use, and it's expandable. I would concentrate my search on the three major brands: NCE, Digitrax, and MRC. Normally, I suggest going with whatever your local club has, but you said that the nearest club is 2 hours away, so that's pretty much a moot point.
Make a list of what features you want, then pick a system that has those features.
Eventually, as Dolly Parton said in the movie "Straight Talk": You gotta tinkle or get off the potty.
 




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