Sound on a Digitrax DCC Decoder

Posted on June - 16 - 2015

I have mentioned that the hobby of HO train modeling has had a renaissance thanks to the dawn of the digital age. That means, of course, that you have to invest in DCC control equipment (primarily a controller and a decoder). Decoders can be either sound capable or not. In order to have sound you need both a sound capable decoder and a speaker (in the locomotive). This post will address my experience with a sound capable Digitrax decoder. At this point in time, I do not have experience with any decoder other than Digitrax, but the Digitrax decoders have performed well. (In other posts / pages I have addressed decoder installation, so this post is limited to speaker installation and sound programming.)

Before proceeding with a sound installation, ensure that your locomotive has sufficient space inside the shell to accommodate all the wiring and speaker enclosure required for sound. I know about the size issues based on my experience with my RS-3 conversion…like trying to put 10 lbs. of stuff into a 5 lb. bag! One way to accomplish the size check is to cut a piece of soft wood (balsa, pine, etc.) to the size of your desired speaker enclosure. Add some wire and see if it will all fit into the locomotive shell without interfering with installed lights, motor, shaft or drive gear operation. If all works well, you’re good to proceed with the installation. If all is not well, figure out if you can get a smaller enclosure, build your own to fit or make adjustments to the locomotive shell / frame. Making adjustments to the locomotive shell / frame is likely the more difficult route, but don’t be discouraged as there are loads of tips available on the internet. (I used the following Google search term “how to modify ho scale locomotive shells” and got this.)

In my shop I currently have an older Bachmann F-40PH into which I have placed a Digitrax SDH164K1C decoder. (If you would like to see a schematic of the locomotive click here.) Some fitting and soldering is required to make this decoder work for the Bachmann. (If I recall correctly, the decoder is designed to be placed in a Kato F-40PH, not the Bachmann.) [As I progress with this project I will place photos in this post.] The good things about this decoder is that (1) the size is “close” for a replacement of the “light board” or PCB Assembly that is already installed in the locomotive (but will be removed for the project), (2) the F-40PH sound is already programmed into the decoder (programming of this decoder will not be necessary), and (3) it is relatively inexpensive for a decoder with sound!

(In a future post I will talk about my experience with programming sound on Digitrax decoders. The tips in that post will really help you get the BEST sounds into and out of your sound enabled decoder!)

The photos at this link, showing a decoder installation into a Bachmann Spectrum Dash 8-40CW, are similar to the steps necessary to install a decoder into the project F-40PH.

Due to summer travels, I’ve had to take a short break from this project and will post the completion information and photographs as soon as possible.


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