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DCC Command Stations & Controllers

118650 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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Review NCE Powercab

Before we start, I would like to point out that I started with the Bachmann EZ command and for what it is it works very well, but it is VERY limited!
I then went to Digitrains luckily for me they are only 10mins away, they have a full demo layout set up with all of the major DCC systems connected so you can go and have a play and try all the systems with sound chipped locos, it really is the only way to get the best system, you can ask on forums but what I like you may hate!!!
After trying the systems and looking at my budget the NCE PowerCab really was the only choice.

Ok here we go:-

In the box you get the hand control or should I say, Power Cab
Seven feet flat cable
2 pin power supply, I bought mine from Digitrains who supplied a 2pin adapter plug.
Power Panel (marked PCAB-PP)
Coil Cord (4 wire) to use as Pro Cab
Power Cab user manual

The 7 foot flat cable has 6 wires connected in the RJ12 connectors at each end this is plugged into the LEFT HAND socket on the PCAB-PP.
6 cores as 2 cores provide power to the track.

The coil cable has only 4 cores connected in the RJ12 connectors this is ONLY used when you want to connect another cab to the RIGHT HAND connector on the PCAB-PP.

It can also be used to connect the Power Cab to a Powerhouse pro box(the track power in this system is fed directly from the powerhouse pro box)

The power supply is a maximum 2amps, but I have run 2 OO gauge loco's 1 with sound and 2 N-gauge locos all at the same time, with another decoder running a OO turntable!
I still had some power left!!

Just as a bit of information, the PowerCab doesn't have a separate output for a programming track, you can however buy an automatic switch from NCE that when you enter program track mode will automatically switch between main line and program track.
The two wires from the PCAB-PP go straight into the auto switch, this then has two outputs one to the mainline and one to the program track.
The reason for program track...there is reduced power, not enough to run the loco but enough to program it, this should prevent damage to the decoder if you've wired it up wrong!
I haven't done this, I have used a DPDT(double pole double throw switch) the two wires come from the PCAB PP and into the switch, in one position the layout is all mainline, in the other position one section of track is completely isolated and this becomes the program track.

It seems to work very well, but also means I can drive my locos onto the program track flick the switch then program them.

It would be useful to download the manual from NCE at this point as it will help to reference the buttons.

PowerCab Manual

The PowerCab is only a starter system and as such can only hold 2 locos in its recall memory, it would be nice to have more but too many and it would take forever to scroll through a big list!!

The recall stack just means that when you run two locos, by pressing the RECALL button will swap between the two running locos, the speed and direction are remembered and stored so if you speed it up it will speed up from its current speed, to add a 3rd loco you will need to press SELECT LOCO then the loco address then enter.
When you do this one of the other locos will be forgotten by the cab, it may still be running but the speed and direction will not be saved you will need to re enter its address to control it again, but as its not in recall memory as soon as you change something it will default to a stop and start from a stopped position.

Hard to explain that!

For a starter system it does have a lot of features, you can operate functions and accessories such as sound chipped locos and points but not only that you can also program macros or routes.

To operate loco functions such as sounds or lights, you just select the loco then by pressing the number keys will turn on that function, pressing the number again will turn that function simple is that!!
It also has some short cut keys so if you press lights the lights will turn on, press BELL the bell will ring etc.
When you press these buttons the number will show in the display to tell you which function is still active.

To operate points you just press SELECT ACCESSORY then the address of the accessory, on screen you will get a 1 or 2 pressing either one will switch the point.
The Power Cab will allow you to set up 16 macros, each macro can contain 8 points, but you can link each macro!!

So press the MACRO button then the macro number and all of the points you have set up will all move in the direction you have set, fantastic and very easy!

There are all the different set ups you can use to, setting up the cab control, consists, function mapping, motor control and lighting effects (when the loco has a NCE decoder fitted!)
You can also set up the cab in two modes, one for mainline operations so that no matter how many times you turn the thumb wheel it just speeds up to max or slows down to a stop.
Or you can put it into shunting mode so that when you turn the speed down it will stop the loco then make it go in reverse without having to press the direction button.

One feature that is very useful is the ammeter! (current draw of locos)
Instead of using the clock you can enter the cab set up and just select track current, amazed that a starter system has this feature, you would be surprised at how little current modern locomotives draw.

The system can easily be added to by using the Smart Booster or the other standard boosters, each type needing its own 3amp power supply.
The Smart booster does allow a further 3 cabs to be attached it also allows the cabs to be disconnected and moved around the layout as a true walkabout type system.

You can add one more cab to the basic Power cab system, there are 3 cabs to choose from including another Power cab!

You can also buy the Powerhouse pro box and 5 amp power supply and plug you Power cab into that and have a full Powerhouse pro set up.

Support is excellent, I have had quick replies to any of my questions from NCE and the upgrades are easily done, as NCE send out a little Eprom chip that gets plugged into the Power Cab.
BromsMods played a blinder here and acted on behalf of us owners and arranged shipping of the new Eproms, Like I say excellent support from NCE and UK suppliers!

Over all a VERY easy user friendly system, the manual is very good and easy to follow, the on screen instructions make it simple to follow things through.

The features on this system are quite amazing, I really couldn't class this as a starter system, there are just too many features on it.
I have no hesitation in recommending this, the features and price make it very hard to beat.


Amazing value for money
Excellent support
Easy upgrade path
Very easy to use
Easy loco programming
Function operations simple
Ability to program routes
Feature Rich


USA 2 pin power supply
Only 2 locos in recall stack
Still waiting for PC interface


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Review Hornby Elite

I did this review when the Elite first came out, since then there has been another firmware update it is now at V1.2

So some things will have been changed from my initial review I will try and highlight these as I go along....I don't have the Elite anymore so can't confirm what has or hasn't been fixed.

To start with, I have been using the NCE PowerCab for quite sometime and it is a fully featured system and very easy to use but, I wanted to try a console type system and until the Hornby Elite became available there was nothing in this price range.
It really does pay to try as many systems as you can before you buy.
Yes the ECoS was out there, along with it's price, and I just can't afford that sort of system, and most of what that can do would be wasted on my layout.

When you get the Elite it only has 1 pair of wires to connect to the track, bit of let down really as you will need 2 pairs of wires, one pair for the main track and one pair for the program track.
You have to put the loco on the program track to program the address, so you can't do a lot without wires to connect it to a program track.

The instruction manual I found very clear and easy to follow, there are menues and by selecting the menu you will be presented with sub-menues.
These are all selected by pressing down on the control Knob 1 or 2 doesn't matter when in general programming.
The following menu chart makes things easier to find.

So to program a loco?
Very easy, it's just a matter of pressing the Menu button down the side of the screen to access the menu, by pressing control knob 1 or 2 will confirm your selections.
When running the loco, the top left hand of the display will highlight with TRAIN, when you enter a program mode this will stay lit but next to it another highlight will appear SETUP.
When you program an accessory then the TRAIN highlight will go out and ACC will light on the top right hand of the display.
The Control knobs turn very easily, but you can feel notches as they turn, all buttons and the control knobs do give a satisfying click when pressed not like some, when you have to wonder if you've pressed it or not!

The two pics show control 1 and control 2 identified by the number top right hand of the screen.
To switch between the two control knobs you just turn the one you want to control, which ever you turn becomes the active one, very simple.
I programmed controller 1 with a loco and set that off on it's way, did the same with controller 2.
I then just pressed loco entered another address and controlled that 3rd loco in a siding all very easy.

From the manual.

"The Elite can hold 254 locomotives in memory. At any one time the Elite can in theory have running(providing power is available) or on standby 64 locomotives, if you call up a 65th loco, one of the previous 64 will be removed."

By going into a menu you can also not only use an address but also name the loco as well as shown in the photo, TREMATON, which is Trematon Castle (will only fit Trematon.)
To enter the letters it's a little like text messaging just press the number keys until the letter you want is displayed. If you rotate control knob 2 though you do get some other symbols appear and lower case.

There are loads of features that are available and all are easily accessed using the function buttons and confirming with the control knobs.
The Elite has been designed with the newcomer in mind, but will also enable experienced users to make the most of the CV settings.
Take for instance the start up voltage, in the menu you can select START V and enter a value upto 255, (this depends on the decoder used and if it can be adjusted)
This will then program CV2 with the value you have selected.
CV2 is the start voltage, which you can also change in the direct programming mode.

Programming an accessory decoder is much the same as programming a train, it will also allow you to name the accessory, such as POINT1, POINT 2 etc, very useful!

This shows the accessory address, top right hand corner shows ACC so you know it's an accessory address.Once an address is selected, to change the point you just press the control knob. Press it will go one way and the direction arrow will change, pess it again it will go the other way and the direction arrow will change back.

The functions are one area that could be improved, you have to press function then select the function number which turns the function on.
To select another function you have to press funtion and select the new function number which turns that new function on.
So you select function 1 then select function 2, both are now on.
You can quickly switch off the last function, in this case 2 by using the on/off button.
To switch off function 1 however you have to press function , then number 1 to make it the last programmed function.
Also I have found that when you switch on a function for controller 2 it automatically switches it on for controller 1.

This bug has been fixed so that each controller turns on it's own functions, you still need all the buttion presses to operate function though

A little bit of firmware tweaking needed there, yes it works but it's a bit long winded, it would be nice as well to select if a function is a quick on off pulse or permanently on, for using bells and whistles.

Control 1 and 2 showing at the bottom are functions 1 and 2 which have been switched on for each controller.

A nice feature is the control knobs, turn them slow and the segments in the centre, where the RED ARC is take forever to black out, turn the contol knob quick and they black out quicker!

The start up direction has been changed along with the way the segements fill in on the new firmware

So it's for beginners?

Well no, not really it's also aimed at the more experienced user as well, all the CV values can be read and written to depending on the decoder used of course.
You also have DIRECT, PAGED, REGISTER and OPERATE(on the main) programming modes.
I did have an issue programming CV29 using a ESU Loksound decoder in DIRECT mode, it wouldn't read back the correct value I had entered.
I then used PAGED mode all ok, it does actually say that in the decoder manual though.

The Digitrax DZ123 was fine in direct mode, for both reading and writing values.

CV 29 read showing a value of 35.

I believe this has been sorted in the V1.2 firmware

I have also programmed my two SMD82 accessory decoders, which are programmed by CV's
I use these as they can be programmed to give routes, something the Elite can't do, to be fair a few systems can't program routes either.
It's nice to know though that by using the Elite with the SMD82 routes are possible.

I have had some strange things happen such as changing direction on the main or on the program track.
Lost complete control of the loco, it was like it wasn't there.
I found that in the CONFIG menu there is a setting for EXTENDED address, as I use 4 digit addressing I thought I had set this but have found when you turn the power off it resets to SHORT, which confuses the system.
This may have been fixed in the latest firmware update(V1.2)
Another firmware tweak! which I have to say is a very easy process.
Download the new firmware from Hornby connect up the Elite to the PC with a standard USB cable and follow instructions. New firmware installed.
Yep that easy I've already done it. The Elites come with version 1, I have updated mine to V1.1

I would recommend this system, for a good console type controller.


Two control knobs makes it easy to control two locos
3 amps to the track 1 amp for accessories.
Very easy to update firmware, at present they are also free!
Alpha Numeric display use name and address your locos.
Naming points, nice if you need to double check which one your going to operate.
Seperate output for program track.
Built in PC interface, works with RR&CO and Rocrail


Function control very long winded with too many button presses.
Looks a little bit plasticky.
Not as intuitive as some of the other systems.
Too expensive, compared to the competition.


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