DCC Newbie - First install

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Learned Ones

I am about to embark on a life changing adventure - My first DCC decoder install.
Apprehension is abundant but enthusiasm is high!!

Ok - My victim sorry first loco to recieve my skills is my Bachmann Spectrum 4-8-4 J Class N&W loco (N Scale)

1. What recommendations for sound decoder would be best for a first timer.
2. If sound is not recommended what std decoder?
3. Is there comprehensive step by step instructions available?
4. What ever else I would need to know

As always I await your valued advice




I am confident my skills in fitting a decoder, next would be the programing of the decoder-
Question - Do decoders come pre programmed with default operation settings or are they blank slates which we have to set all conditions????????



Burlington Bob

Well-Known Member
Decoders come ready to run. Usually set to run on address 3. All of the "enhancements" such as momentum, Rule 17 lighting, 2 or 4 digit address, consisting, etc. are what you program as you like. Each company has their own name for some things that are basically the same. Marketing, you know. Some do things a little differently, such as doing a reset. They use the same CV but use a different number to do the reset. One uses CV 8 with input 2, another uses CV 8 with input 8.

They'll be ready to run and you get to decide what you change. It's a little reading and a lot of playing. And most of the time, it's all fun.
Bob's correct and gave good advice.

I'd add this: When experimenting with decoder programming, make only one change at a time, inspect the result, and be meticulous about recording which changes were made. Unless you already know what to expect, changing more than one value at a time can create unintended/unwanted behaviors that are difficult to diagnose and/or back out of.

When I was starting out, sometimes in my impatient haste, I'd make multiple changes - absolutely sure that they were correct and should result in expected behavior. More often than not though, the changes would get things so twisted up that the only fix would be to reset the decoder and start from scratch.

Good luck and have fun!


Well-Known Member
Things I do:

Address the decoder. Use the cab number on the locomotive's shell

If the address is a figure higher than 127, it is a long address, or what is called an extended address. You'll also need to set CV29 at a value of either 38 or 34. The former is to keep the decoder sensing and adapting automatically to the two forms of track current, DC or DCC. Unfortunately, some systems and decoders don't do well consistently on a setting of 38. Between inadvertent throttle settings for speed left on the throttle during shutdown to spikes in the rail current that make the decoder think it is getting DC, many have reported runaway locos crashing at top speed from the moment of powerup. A setting of 34 removes that problem by making the decoder accept only information in DCC form.

Access the Master Volume CV for sound decoders and set it to about 60% of its maximum permissible value. From there, configure the sounds individually to suit your taste. Most have the bell or the whistle/horm far too loud for the scale distance that the loco is typically from the observer. Same for chuffs on steamers....much too loud.

Some never use the inertia and momentum CV's to simulate long slow start-ups of a long heavy train or the slow braking to a halt of one moving. I won't use my locos without a hefty setting of each set in CV's 3 and 4 respectively. For stop distance misjudgements, you have two options on QSI decoders at least, the red button emergency or the braking function at F7. Emergency cuts track power immediately and your train stops right quick...in inches typically. F7 takes your CV4 setting for momentum and cuts it in at least half. If you are running at a scale 50 mph, and your train in its current CV4 setting would take 8 feet to come to a full stop when you slam the throttle to zero, it would stop in something less than 4 feet when you press F7 with a QSI. Handy. Sometimes very gratefully handy.

Most decoders have advanced settings for motion control. You have to dig into the manual and find them. They are worth it because a sticky drive that takes a lot of juice initially, or that has gears needing a lot of break-in and that snag or hesitate and then jerk forward, will benefit from the attention in the higher CV's dealing with momentum. I cured a BLI "Stealth" (DC only, no decoder) N&W J Class 4-8-4 from movement problems at slow speeds by tweeking the CV's near 112-118 on evening. It became glassy smooth, just like a real steamer getting under way.


N gauge fan
The linked TCS decoder would be a great choice, provided your soldering skills are good enough to handle all those tiny connections. It's not sound, but if this is your first foray into DCC then you might be better off leaving sound til later anyway.

<TCS salesman mode>
I cannot speak highly enough of TCS. As you see they have installation guides for (nearly) all their decoders, a 1yr "goof-proof" warranty where they'll fix or replace a busted decoder regardless of how you did it, and their amazing BEMF or Back EMF functionality. To lay a bit of (simplified) science on you, a spinning electrical motor produces electromotive force that counters the input voltage. This feedback can be used to infer the relative speed of the motor, and the decoder can then dynamically alter the supplied power based on the inferred motor speed relative to the desired motor speed. The main use for this is flawless low speed performance, far better than using dither/kick rate/torque compensation as these are open-loop systems. Here's an example I've used before to demonstrate how great TCS' BEMF is-


This feature isn't unique to TCS decoders, but with other brands you need to configure it yourself for desired operation. TCS' BEMF is auto-adjusting so it gives amazing results straight out of the box. I've installed them in multiple locos from Atlas, Kato, Athearn & Intermountain and every single one of them will perform like the engines in that video immediately.
</TCS salesman mode> :p

EDIT: Oh, and the most important thing of all with DCC installations is...


Even if it's your tenth install of the day and you're 110% positive you did everything right, still test it. There are many very easy ways to botch a decoder install, some that don't even have anything to do with the decoder. For example, motor leads touching the metal split frame on a DC loco = :), motor leads touching the metal split frame on a DCC loco = :(, or "I don't remember this decoder having a smoke generator...".
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Advice gratefully accepted

The advice in the previous posts has reinforced what I thought and when my new decoders arrive, I will take my time (yeh sure)and read these posts again before embarking on the first install.

After looking at some install with sound into the J class I have spluged and purchased a LOKSOUND MICRO SELECT SOUND DECODER.

So not long now - should recieve it by the end of the week - maybe even put it in on weekend.

I have also picked up an TCS Z2 and a Digitrac DZ125 to fit in some of my other array of DC locos

Again thanks guys and when I do the install I will take some photoes and post the results - good or bad




If you have not been aware from my posts I am doing a lot of my new layout and the installation of DCC blindly except for the experiences of all you guys who have posted on this and many other forums.

I would join a club to try and pick up some more ideas but there is not one close to home - so you guys are the brains behind my development in MRR




Well my decoders turned up, some TCS Z2 and a locsound micro select

I will start with the Z2 but before I begin I am off the find some kapton tape

I will post progression



Well I tracked down some kapton tape, got home and proceeded to look at the loco (bachmann 0-4-0) and the Z2.
Aprehension abounded, went and had a coffee, went back and stripped the loco down, checked how it needed to be isolated - bottom pickup very tight for room, decided to just tin the decoder cable and slip it under the little clip (the clip is under tension from the power pickup when motor in place - insolated with kapton). the top clip usually under the other power pickup I bent it up and out from the power pickup - I soldered the orange cable to it and slipped a piece of heat shrink over it to isolate it from the power pickup.
The power pickups were both tinned prior to soldering the red and black cables on.
As there is no lights that was it - Now the ultimate test - to the track!!!

Went and had another coffee (I love my coffee) came back plugged in the PowerCab, put the little beast(0-4-0) on the track - nothing ?????????
Pulled it all down again found a cable had jammed the motor - re directed it - put all back together - and hey presto- it moved - pats on back all round - a few more runs - no smoke - no funny smells - all good

Synopsis -
Probably wont do another 0-4-0 just to small for my fingers
Take time to run cables clear of moving parts
Plenty of room in the cabin roof for the decoder - may want to black out the windows
It really wasnt as hard as I imagined
Yes I will do more installs -
The 0-4-0 does run more smoothly - need to adjust settings for better start

I have not made a silk purse out of a sows ear but it now can sit proudly with the other DCC locos on the layout



N gauge fan
Nicely done. :) When you say you put it on the track you were using the programming track of the PowerCab, right? You hit the PROG/ESC key 4 times for "PROGRAM TRK" or something similar, then everything will go off and your entire layout is now a programming track. You should see something like "1-STD 2-CV 3-PAG" on the PowerCab. Place your new DCC loco on the track and take all other trains off/put in an isolated siding, then press 1. If there's a problem like a short or the decoder isn't responding, you'll see "SHORT DETECTED" or "CANNOT READ CV" respectively. The 2nd one usually means either the decoder isn't getting power from the track, or it is getting power but the motor isn't connected properly and so it can't "talk" to your PowerCab (it does this by supplying a brief voltage to the motor, the PowerCab detects the power draw and takes this as acknowledgement of receiving the command). If everything is ok, you will see the manufacturer ID read from the decoder (153 for TCS if I recall) followed by the decoder version number once you press enter.

Doing it this way you'll never fry a decoder no matter how badly it's installed, as the programming track mode doesn't supply enough voltage to do so.



Were you watching me do it?

Yes that is 99% what happened.

Whilst it will never be a good runner, its good to see the little thing running - They are the ugly duckling of the train world - looks so awkward waddling down the track.

With that under my belt, I will at least take the J Class 4-8-4 apart to see what I have to do with that one - 2 options another Z2 or a Loksound micro select?????.



N scale bachmann J class TCS Z2 decoder install

Bouyed by my success with the 0-4-0, I gathered my nerve and pulled the j class tender down to look and compare against instructions for installing an TCS M1.

Photoes in instructions could have been mine - good so far

Do I or Dont I ?????


Start by removing the little clips on the side on the onboard card

Next I slipped some heat shrink over the decoder cables (I didnt want to cut them as I will eventually fit a sound decoder).
Tipped all the cables with solder
Soldered all the cables - as per the TCS instructions

As per instructions removed the C1 and C3 resistors (see picture above)

Tidied up cables

Put the tender back together

Drum Roll

Plug in the Powercab



Set address to "611"
Speed to 1 and it moved ever so slow - exactly what I wanted - as default

Give it a quick run - All Ok

Bring it on!!!

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