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DCC Command Stations & Controllers

118646 Views 10 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  Jim S
ashleyh made a good suggestion of putting together a users review / guide of the different DCC systems around. In this day and age of word-of-mouth marketing, this could be good if it is honest and positive. I'll pin this and make an index on this first Post, linking it to the various systems that members are using.

Lets keep the information specific to the systems that we are using. Give info honestly and list features that you use. A resume with positive and negative points could round off the post. Give an overall rating too if you like. Use these images:

Problems that let the system down and limit usage
Does what it says on the box, but could be better
Good, with one or two small issues that could be addressed

DCC Command stations & Controllers

Lenz Set 100 by Doug
Arnold DCC Controllers by Doug
Digitrax Super Chief by Makemineadouble
ESU Ecos 50000 by neil_s_wood
Bachmann Dynamis by ashleyh
NCE Powercab by wiggy25
Hornby Elite by wiggy25
ESU Mobile Control for ECoS 50100 by neil_s_wood
Roco Multimaus Pro Review by Moonraker

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ESU Ecos 50000

Although I have been into DCC for about five years and while I have intend to upgrade it was only comparatively recently that I made a decision on what I was going to upgrade to. I had several specific requirements which needed to be addressed and I knew it was going to be a big purchase so I put a considerable amount of thought into it.

I wanted a degree of automation without having to hook up to a computer.
20 functions as I use a lot of digital sound locos and need some future proofing.
Easy use as I am often entertaining people when I am showing my trains and need to see what is going on at a glance.
At least two cabs.
Ability to accept downloads from computer.
Modern design and software as most systems are now a bit dated.
Ability to expand.

With all these factors in mind, and taking into consideration what is currently available, I spent hours rummaging through user manuals looking at specifications. What emerged was most existing higher end designs were quite old and were being challenged by newer bottom end systems which had similar specifications and capabilities. However there seemed to be a new generation of top end systems emerging which went beyond the older systems and offered new capabilities. There was Zimo who have a system which does incredible things at an incredible price, however this was too much cost wise. Fortunately there were two other systems which were soon to be released made by ESU and Veissmann. They were new and innovative, offering capabilities beyond that of the older top end systems. The Ecos had some excellent features and would be released before the Veissmann commander. It also looked a hell of a better! If I am paying more than 600 Euros for a system I don't want it looking like a "Fisher Price toy". Additionally as ESU are the major manufacturer of digital sound decoders and they are used in most of the locos I own they seemed the logical choice. So I ordered one.

It arrived a few days ago and I am impressed with what it does so far. It is like a mini computer. From the minute it is turned on the large screen is offering advice and is easy to use.

I had it up and running in no time. The model I bought came from Germany so it came with German instructions. I had already downloaded the English language instructions previously so I used these to assist me with setting the system up. They weren't really necessary though, most processes are self explanatory and easy to work through.

I had logged my first loco in the data bank within minutes. Rather than allocate just a number the loco is also given an alphanumeric name, for example PENN GG1.

This is the "enter new loco" screen as it comes up.

This is how it looks once filled in.

It can also be given an icon from a bank of, well too many to count.

This together with the alpha numeric name makes the argument between two digit and four digit addressing seem somewhat redundant, they are both a bit old. The ECoS Central Unit can manage up to 16384 Locos, so it will be a while before I reach capacity. My wife will kill me if I reach that!

Once it has been added to the list of locos you can run the loco. The loco then shows on your screen as an icon at the top with a speedo dial below showing the speed of the loco.

The actual address number appears in the centre slightly to the right, the black triangles indicate the direction and the functions show in negative (black) if they are activated.

The loco functions are shown around the dial. You can allocate a picture icon for each function if you wish to personalise it.

When you add a loco to the list you can specify the number of speed steps. These can be seen on the speedo dial. Note here the GG1 has 28 and the Class 31 has 128. You can see also on the top line that some of the menu buttons are the same on each side, these are for each individual cab.

Like most things on the Ecos this is set by means of a drop down box. This one lists which decoder types the loco has so you can input the information.

The large screen is an excellent feature and is something that really helps. I found a lot of DCC systems had very small display screens and tried to convey too much information in too small a space. This led to difficulty in deciphering symbols and having to memorize too many making these systems hard and confusing to use. The Ecos has a touch sensitive screen which makes for extremely easy use. The large screen means that words can be used rather than a tiny symbol making things clear to the user. It is essentially like using Windows in many ways. There are on screen help menus so that help is never far away and you do not have to leave the system and start leafing through a lengthy technical manual to figure out what an ambiguous symbol means and the resulting implications.

One of the features I wanted was some limited automation. This is provided in two ways. There is automated switching triggered by occupancy detectors which I will set up at some point in the future and there is the shuttle feature.

The shuttle feature uses occupancy detectors to enable terminus to terminus running. The loco or train will leave a given station or terminus and upon reaching the occupancy detector at the opposite end will slow down at a rate you determine and stop at the station at the other terminus. It will sit there for a pre-determined time and then depart to the other station. This is an ideal feature for terminus to terminus layouts. I intend to install a few of these in my layout. I have a Veissmann occupancy detector which I will install in coming weeks to start some shuttle routes. This allows trains to run while you chat to people without you constantly having to pay attention to your locos. It also removes the necessity of having to have a loop layout so trains can run constantly. You can do up to eight shuttle lines.

As the automated switching can trigger magnetic accessories too you can have boom gates etc activated as well as points. The routes can be named too so that they can be called after the destination or any other name you wish. The Ecos can manage up to 1024 routes with up to 256 magnetic accessories each. You can also put points in the depot area, and each magnetic accessory can be assigned its function, so you can differentiate between regular, double or 3-way turnouts from de-coupler tracks or streetlights, etc.

Decoder programming is easy. There is programming on the main or in a designated programming track. You can call up, and check, all the features of a decoder while it's operating on your layout. All the parameters are shown in plain text for easy comprehension.

You can also use your old or starter system with the Ecos through the Ecosniffer port. So at some point I will connect my old system to use the handheld. There is a remote control made by ESU which can go with this system or alternatively the new entry level system which ESU has made for Bachmann will also be fully compatible and has a remote control of sorts which can be used with this.

All in all I think this is an ideal system which is very easy to use. The software makes complicated functions very easy to do. The system is self explanatory and employs a help feature similar to Windows which you can use when unsure. I actually found it very similar to Windows to use. I believe it is the best system for the money as it fulfils all of my requirements but, obviously, other people may have different requirements so look at the features, see what you will use and what you will not. There are many features which I have not used yet and as this system has huge capabilities I will cover some of it's capabilities in detail such as the shuttle feature as I discover them in my blog. A review of it's entire capablities would be too extensive to do in a column like this. I don't really see how you can improve on this unless you spend a lot more money on something like Zimo but Zimo do have their shortcomings. Look at the size of the screen and the format of the information. We also don't fully know what new features will be provided for the Ecos. I'm more than happy with this and would thoroughly recommend it to any potential buyer.

Link to official site: ESU Ecos


Easy operability.
Easy loco programming.
Touch screen.
20 Functions.
One of the most recent designs.
Made by Europe's most popular manufacturer of sound decoders.
Basis of a currently expanding range of DCC equipment.
Good compatibility with other systems through Ecosniffer.
Can be used with AC and DC digital.
Shuttle feature.
Automated switching and magnetic accessories.

Relatively expensive although you certainly do get your moneys worth.
Support is mainly German language although there is an online forum if you do speak German. If you buy in the UK there is your dealer.

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ESU Mobile Control for Ecos 50100

The ECoS was designed to be a central command station around which other features could be attached. One of the more significant of these is the Mobile control for ECoS which enables wireless control of switches and locos. This product was only recently released and will broaden the ability to control large layouts.

The mobile control comes with an instruction manual and an alternative cover for the compartment into which you plug the reciever module. The insutruction manual is a photocopy and the downloadable copy from ESU's website is larger, clearer and in colour. This is better as there are diagrams showing clearly how to instal the receiver module correctly. This is something you don't want to stuff up as if you break the receiver module, the rest is worthless.

There is also an alternative cover for the compartment where the reciever model isinstalled. This differs from the existing one in that it has had one of the catches which holds it in place removed. I had to significantly modify this second panel as I could not get it to fit. Once the receiver module was installed there was a gap of only 0.5mm between the receiver module and the side of the compartment. The width of the plastic cover is around 1-1.5mm and also has another 1mm where the catch protrudes, in short it would not fit. I had to cut out a large chunk of plastic to get it to go in place as I did not wish to leave the receiver module unprotected. This expensive modern piece of technology is now held in place by a comparatively cheap piece of sticky tape! It is unlikely that many other people will have this issue as I have not heard anyone else report this, it is merely a result of the positioning of the pins on the circuit board. I did not wish to force the plastic cover in as breaking the pins is not a desirable conclusion to setting this up.

There is no stand provided for the mobile control to sit on however this is not a big issue as it can stand where ever you like it.

I had concerns about how this instalation would go as there have been reports on the ESU ECoS forum of the mobile control not coming up on the set up menu. To explain this I need to tell you that in order to use the Mobile Control for ECoS as opposed to the regular Mobile Control you must at least have software version 1.1.0. Once this is installed, when the receiver module is inserted and the ECoS restarted, in the set up menu beside the Ecosniffer and S-88s in the menu should be mobile control.. Some people have had problems getting this to happen and have had to re install the previous software updates to get it to work. In my case it did not show on the first attempt. I shut down the ECoS and fiddled with it a bit and there it was second time. This was a bit of a relief as I now have a multitude of wires emanating from the back of the ECoS and it gets to be a pain to unplug them all to take it indoors to the computer to update it.

Set up screen where Mobile Control must be shown

I sould also point out that the manual specifically says to remove the batteries from the battery compartment while doing this. Although I didi read this I did forget while doing this and had no problems. Once the receiver is installed you then allocate your locos and points to the Mobile control. You do this by going into the screen shown on the set up menu. Each receiver module can handle four Mibile Controls.

Once this is done you can switch your mobile control on. It takes a while for the information to transmit from the ECoS to the controller so you can go off and do something else in the meantime.

Once it has loaded there are two menus you can choose from. One for locos and one for switches. It is all in German to start with. You cannotchange the language until you have uploaded the information from the ECoS to the Mobile Control.

You scroll through the locos and as the highlit names arise the scroll sideways across the screen with the full name in a ticker tape fashion. To select a loco or a point you click on the central rotary control. It is similar to using a mouse on a computer. The first thing I have noticed here is thatthere is far greater slow motion control than on the ECoS. While ou get exactly the same speed steps and can choose the same settings it is easier to get fine control as each forward movement of the rotary control is half a speed step. The mobile control allows you to operate 20 functions on your locos.

The functions are shown on the left hand side as a series of squares. To access functions from 11- 20 you press the shift button. The squares increase in size when they are activated. The above loco has functions one, five and seven activated. Direction is changed by clicking the central rotary speed controller. Speed is incresed by rotating away from you and lessened by rotating towards you.

If a loco is under control on the ECoS the speed step flashes and it will not allow you to control the train. Icons for locos are more limited than the ECoS but are adequate.

Points are activated in a similar manner and operated through another menu. You can allocate and control a total of 64 magnetic articles or points from the Mobile Control.

One issue I have noted is that the stop button is located at the bottom right of the keyboard. This maens that you need two hand to activate it as your thumb cannot readily reach it. This is the only thing I could find that could be improved.

In some ways it is similar to operating a mobile phone. The two top buttons give choices for yes and no or select and exit. It is very easy to use and ergonomic. Once you have found your way around you find yourself looking at the trains while controlling them rather than the controller. It works fine even when the control is not in line whith the ECoS. In fact I went out side the garage to test whether it would trun things on and off and it all worked perfectly. I only had this delivered a couple of days ago and I am very impressed with it. It is likely to be my main method of controlling the layout as it enables me to stand at the scenic side of things and admire the view rather than hiding round the back. I do like the fact that it is a good size and only contains what is neccessary. Many hand controllers are very bulky as they try to include too much. This is one of the benefits of being the extension of a central command station rather than the central command staion itself.

I would certainly recommend this to anyone who has the ECoS as an essential piece of kit. Several of these mobile controls can be used from one ECoS so if you have friends round you can all stroll around operating with the mobile controls. It is important to mention it is only a controller and not a programmer. It will only control what you have already set up on the ECoS, but it does it well.

It is interesting to note that ESU have releasing a radio control version of the Dynamis this year. It remains to be seen whether this is intended to replace or compliment the Mobile Control for ECoS, although I do note that this controller eviewed here does not appear on their new website but is only mentioned. The specifications are almost identical and it may be possible to use both forms of radio control together. I do prefer the single handed format of this controller though.

Good ergonomic hand held
easy and intuitive to use
excellent fine speed step control
greater freedom when controlling your layout

location of stop button
slight delay of a second in activation of functions
Support mainly German language

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