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Hornby BR Duchess Class ‘City of Sheffield’ with DCC Sound

R2782XS

Review by Robert Best

Hornby and DCC
When Hornby entered the DCC world a few years back their products were greeted with a mixed response. Unlike Bachmann, Hornby chose to develop their own controllers and locomotive decoders. However with the sound locomotives, Hornby have chosen a safer path and used the well established Loksound 3.5 decoder. It is unclear who compiled the sound project for Hornby (Bachmann use SWD) although it appears that this may have been done in house. All I have been able to confirm is that Hornby arranged the recording of 6233 ‘Duchess of Sutherland’ themselves and then used a “Sound Expert” to compile the sound files onto the decoder.

The prototype
The LMS Princess Coronation Class (or Duchess Class) are widely believed to be the most powerful passenger locomotives ever built. They were designed by Sir William Stanier and all 38 locomotives were built by the LMS at their Crewe Works between 1937 and 1948. On the inaugural run of the "Coronation Scot” by 6220 a top speed of 113 mph was recorded. However, largely due to the onset of WW2, the class was never allowed to fulfil its potential. Thankfully, three have survived into preservation.

The Model
‘City of Sheffield’ is not a new model. However, as well as the modification to the tender to facilitate the sound decoder and speaker, there have been some other incremental changes to the Hornby Duchess over the last few years. To illustrate this, the sound fitted duchess is pictured beside the 2003 model of the ‘Duchess of Sutherland’.

It can be seen that the locomotive and tender bodies have not been updated. However, the chassis has received considerable attention. The rear truck has been fixed in place which removes the unsightly and unprototypical gaps that surrounded the earlier model. To allow for the tight curves often found on trainset layouts, flangeless wheel come fitted to the rear truck however a flanged wheelset is included in the box. Another noticeable difference is that the tender can now be coupled 3-4mm closer to the locomotive than before as shown below. To facilitate the housing of the sound decoder in the tender, a simple plug and socket wiring connection has been used.

A simple plug and socket connector has been added to the tender to transfer current to and from the decoder. As you can see below the tender has an additional close coupling option added to this version.

Sound Installation
It has been well documented that the speaker fitted to the tender has no baffle box (Otherwise known as speaker enclosure or cabinet). There is no getting around the fact that this is a very basic error that should not have made it into production. The purpose of the enclosure is to prevent sound waves emitted from the front and rear of a drive unit meeting and thereby cancelling each other out. In basic terms, fitting a baffle box is a very simple way of increasing the sound quality and clarity as it reaches your ears. For a few extra pence it would have made a big difference. The picture below shows the modifications made to the tender to facilitate the speaker and decoder:

The loudspeaker is installed, facing downwards, in the tender as shown above. The Loksound 3,5 decoder sits above the speaker and is held in place by a 4 pin plug and socket.

Sound Description
For the purposes of this review the locomotive has been tested as supplied, then with a replacement base reflex speaker and enclosure, and then with the volume reduced from 100 to 70%. First impressions where not great. There was notable distortion of both high and low frequencies that I had not heard before in DCC sound. At first I thought a poor quality speaker had been fitted. Rather than abandon the chip and reprogram it, I decided to change the speaker to a DCC Supplies base reflex and enclosure. This lead to an improvement but the sound was still distorting. I then checked the volume level and discovered it had been set to 100%. I reduced it to 70% and noticed an instant improvement. I then refitted the supplied speaker for the purposes of this review. The following video shows the locomotive on my rolling road as supplied, but with the volume reduced:

Once the volume had been reduced, the locomotive was tested on a rolling road. The low and high speed sounds were impressive. The synchronization between the sounds and the position of the valve gear was, as expected, not good. This can be altered easily via careful CV manipulation. The following video illustrates the point that at low and high speeds, the Duchess is as good as any other currently available DCC steam sound. It also shows that during the mid speed range, the sound is lifeless and a tad uninteresting. However, as you increased the throttle above 90 speed steps the sound became more believable again. When compared to my SWD and Howes steam sound locos, the Duchess compares very favourably as I am yet to hear a steam sound locomotive that is totally convincing at high speeds. The following video shows the duchess at mid to full speed:

For both the videos, the acceleration and deceleration times were increased to a more operable 12 seconds. This allowed the locomotive to coast when decelerating. This is crucial as nothing will destroy the illusion of driving a steam locomotive more than the sound of steam chuffing through the cylinders while the locomotive is coasting steadily to a stop (Would you accelerate and brake at the same time when driving your car?). Hornby have done a good job with this. Once the modeller learns how to “drive” the locomotive they should be more than happy with the results. The low speed sounds achieved are as god as I’ve heard from a steam locomotive, and above 100 speed steps its almost as if you are driving a real engine. It’s a shame that the mid range is less than perfect. However it is still more than adequate. Compared to other Loksound basic files and the very poor Digitrax sound chips the Duchess sounds more than acceptable and proves very good value for money when you consider the current price for a steam sound decoder is more than £100.

Functions
The Duchess comes with the normal range of functions. All sound well recorded and clear. The only slight gripe is that the short whistle finish isn’t quite right. Normally the most difficult sound to get spot on it the long whistle. On the Duchess, Hornby have done a very good job replicating the real locomotive whistle sound. The only other point worth making about the function is that the air pump currently fitted to the Duchess of Sutherland was apparently not fitted to City of Sheffield. If this annoys you, simply don’t use F4! Here is a complete list of the functions:

F1 Sound on/off
F2 Long Whistle
F3 Coupler
F4 Air pump
F5 Injector
F6 Shunting Mode
F7 Coal shovelling
F8 Blower
F9 Short Whistle

Conclusion
As I opened the box, I was hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. I knew that Hornby had taking the sensible decision to use a Loksound decoder but little mention had been made as to who had compiled the sound files. This, coupled with other Hornby DCC issues had many people worried, including myself. This worry was initially confirmed when the installed speaker was not enclosed.

However, I was wrong to worry. The sounds recorded from the Duchess of Sutherland are clearly of high quality, and sound files have been well compiled. To my ear, changing the speaker to one with an enclosure did improve the sound quality. However, simply reducing the volume by 30% which took about 30 seconds to adjust CV 63 had a much larger impact on sound quality. As supplied, the Loksound 3.5 chip had its volume level set to 100% which caused the sound to distort quite badly in places. I would advise everyone reading this review to reduce the volume as soon as you get the loco!

Finally, as a first entry to the UK ready to run steam sound market, Hornby have done a very good job. I would gladly recommend this locomotive to anyone.


- January 2009

 

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