Starting out in DCC

Discuss your experiences with systems, decoders, installations, wiring, control and any general hints & tips you have found.
ben mason
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Starting out in DCC

Postby ben mason » Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:25 pm

I have taken the decision to switch from EM to P4 and at the same time switch to DCC from analogue controls. I'm drawn towards 2 systems, either NCE Powercab or Gaugemaster Prodigy Advance 2. Can anyone recommend either of these or suggest a better starting set? I would also like to use Tower Pro SG90 micro servos for accessory control, but don't know if they can be operated by these systems. Any advice would be appreciated!

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jim s-w
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Re: Starting out in DCC

Postby jim s-w » Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:31 pm

I can't comment on the systems you mention but will either ultimately do what you need or are you going to use them to start and then either upgrade or replace later? It might be worth thinking about where you want to end up rather than where you want to start from.



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Re: Starting out in DCC

Postby nigelcliffe » Mon Apr 06, 2015 4:45 pm

I assume by "starter system" you mean "not too advanced and costs less than £250".
Either will be fine, as will several others from other makers, such as Digitrax Zephyr, Uhlenbrock Daisy II, Roco Z21, etc.. etc.

There is no substitute for actually trying several of them. The best way in my view is to cadge a driving session on people's layouts (try Sunday afternoon at shows!) and ask them about the pros and cons of their choice. Most people will defend the choice they made, but that's OK so long as you try a number of systems out and try to explore features which really matter to you. (For example, if you're heading towards sound, then I'd suggest that the ability to change the way function keys operate and attach labels to them is important - Daisy and Z21 score well on this - otherwise you're stuck with the way keys operate on the handsets).

As Jim said, think where you might want to go, rather than where you want to start. Its OK to say "I'll sell my starter set when I do an upgrade to my computer controlled model of Euston to Birmingham", but it helps to know that is your intention.

Think hard about DCC turnout control. Most systems require you to key in the turnout address (a number) then press another key to change a turnout (though a few are a bit better). For some people, this is OK. For most people, its a right pain in the backside. And, DCC control of turnouts adds to your costs as it requires accessory decoders (more money) to do things. So, for a modest layout, staying with analogue switch panels is much more economical, and for most people its easier to use. Or, look to alternatives to the DCC handset for turnout control, such as systems which allow button/switch panels at a modest cost (NCE with NCE parts, Digitrax and Uhlenbrock with third party components), or systems which have a computer interface and use a computer/tablet screen (most of them these days, though capabilities vary).

- Nigel

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Mark Tatlow
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Re: Starting out in DCC

Postby Mark Tatlow » Mon Apr 06, 2015 7:18 pm


I can't comment for the NCE controller, as I have only played with it for a few minutes. I can comment on the Gaugemaster Prodigy as I have been using it for several years and recently have purchased a duplicate as a back up.

It is more versatile than I am familiar with, is durable and reliable. I particularly like the "step up" and "step down" buttons (taking up or down a speed one notch at a time, rather than using a knob or slider.

I am more than happy with it but I do suggest that you go and have a play with some.
Mark Tatlow

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Re: Starting out in DCC

Postby Winander » Tue Apr 07, 2015 1:09 pm


I too am facing this decision and another factor for consideration is if you want a hand control with remote operation and whether this is tethered by a wire or wireless. No doubt such options add to the startup cost but are relevant to where you want to go. If you are feeling adventurous, you could consider MERG


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David Thorpe
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Re: Starting out in DCC

Postby David Thorpe » Wed Apr 08, 2015 9:01 am

I took this decision two or three years ago when I bought an NCE Powercab system at Scalefour north. Prior to buying I'd gone round some of the layouts that were using DCC (not all that many, as I recall!) and had got comments and seen or tried some of the controllers. I'd previously seen the NCE controller and had thought it looked a bit big and clumsy, but when I tried it out at the Digitrains stand it felt just right and I liked the scrolling speed control, although there are also incremental speed buttons. I liked the way you could read the CVs as well as setting them and while its power output limits its use to three of four locos at a time that was more than enough for me and there is an upgrade path. The price was also very attractive and I bought it. Setting up was no problem and I've been very pleased indeed with the excellent control it provides. I still operate points (and signals when i have them!) on my small layout by analogue switches, and have no intention of changing that, so I can't comment on DCC control of these ancillaries.

I've only ever had this system so I can't comment on others but I'm sure that most users are as pleased with their choice as I am with mine. As others have said it is important that you get a controller that suits you and that you feel comfortable with. I don't know where you live, Ben, but if it's feasible you might well find it advantageous to come along to Scalefour North this month where you'll be able to chat to people using DCC and also get some advice (and even make a purchase!) from the chap at Coastal DCC who is very helpful.


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Re: Starting out in DCC

Postby garethashenden » Wed Apr 08, 2015 10:07 am

The Gaugemaster system is a repackaging of the MRC (Model Rectifier Corp) system of the same name. It may be worth looking for reviews under that name.

I haven't used the Prodigy Advance myself, but I have used both the PowerCab and Digitrax's Zephyr. Of the two I prefer the PowerCab. It is very intuitive whereas I was constantly referring to the handbook for the Zephyr.

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