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Hi all,

Having taken the plunge recently and bought a Digitrax Zephyr, I've set about installing decoders in my locos. The collection of stock is motley and goes back over many years, the diesels in particular being, shall we say, venerable so the less said the better.

I bought the small Digitrax DZ143 decoders for my steam locos. Actually the first embarassment was my "DCC-ready" Bachmann Hall class (32-003) which had a socket for the decoder but almost zero space. However, when I'd decided to remove redundant suppression circuit (a couple of capacitors and inductors) there was space (but only just enough!) The moral is: just because it says it's DCC-ready doesn't mean it's going to be easy to fit the decoder.

My older 93xx mogul (Bachmann 31-801) definitely wasn't DCC ready and was the hardest to fit I suppose, although it didn't really feel like it. This being a split-chassis design, I had to isolate the motor from the chassis, filing off a small amount of metal around the motor and fitting insulating tape where necessary. I stripped the chassis to all its bits and filed off enough space from the two steel halves under the loco's dome for the decoder. I brazed soldering tags onto each of the two chassis halves for the decoder's read/black wheel connections. The rest was quite easy; it all worked first time so the advice I'd read on the Web was obviously pretty good.

My Hornby 27xx pannier tank should have been easier but actually was harder than I expected. It has a single chassis so the modifications were simpler in principle. However, isolating the motor from the chassis proved to be tricky. And space is in very short supply. But in the end it went together and works well.

The Diesels were generally easier because there's much more space for the decoder. For all of them, I bought DH163 decoders, which are high-spec and yet not very expensive. The Heljan DCC-ready Class 47 was as easy as it's supposed to be - plug and play in its most literal sense! (Well done, Heljan!) The others were trickier, mostly coz of being old and having inadequate power pickups on the wheels, so I modded them with extra phosphor bronze springy strips to improve things.

Only one of the locos has lights, these being incandescent. Digitrax correctly advise adding a small-value resistor in series with such bulbs. I didn't do this at first and the decoder immediately shut down due to the current surge. Adding the recommended resistors fixed it quite satisfactorily.

Lastly, we have a new-ish Class 170 DMU (Bachmann 32-452). Although there's plenty of space inside for the decoder, it was quite tricky to alter because of the need to wire the headlights, of which there are three (at each end). A circuit board is fitted to this model which has a pair of diodes for directional lighting on a DC system. With DCC, this is obsolete but hard to remove because the plastic structure was glued in place. To mitigate the risk, I simply snipped the wires and left it there, soldering the decoder to the snipped ends instead. This involved quite fiddly soldering inside the plastic model. The remaining problem is what to do with the trailer unit, which also has lights controlled by diodes and therefore has lights that don't work correctly on a DCC layout. The two obvious alternatives are to put umbilical wires between the two units - which I'm really not keen on - or buying another decoder (anything cheap with two function outputs will do). I think I'll get a DH123, Digitrax's cheapest, via airmail from the US (like the rest) - unless someone has a better suggestion. The US prices are very good for Brits at the moment: if anyone wants to share postage, let me know.

All the decoders have the high-frequency drive technology (Digitrax call this SuperSonic). Therefore I removed the RFI suppression capacitors from all the locos, because these would otherwise waste some of the energy from the decoder.

To summarise, the experience was enjoyable - if you like making and mending things (which I do and I guess you do otherwise you wouldn't be reading this!), mostly because the outcome was most satisfying. I really think that switching to DCC was a good idea.

Regards,
Rick
 

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An excellent Post - Another satisfied Digitrax user three cheers


QUOTE Having taken the plunge recently and bought a Digitrax Zephyr

A very sensible choice as it's a fully functional DCC system with a reduced amp capacity. It has a place within the Digitrax system when you want to expand. I like the DZ143 but I prefer the TCS M1 MC2 MC4 a lot more and they have the goof proof warranty. If you are planning on a lot of installations then think about decoder pro for your PC, it makes it very simple and you can recall all you settings. Stay away from cheap decoders unless your giving a present to someone you hate !

When you find the plug occupies the space you need for the decoder just remove it and hard wire the decoder into it's place. Plugs are for sissies. Just be wary of plugs, use a meter and check
too much solder and whoops blown decoder, the Heljan 47 was famous for shorting under the plug, I had a similar experience with a Hornby Q1. Plugs of course have a place within DCC and can save hours of work on complex installations.
Essential tools are a good micro shear for cutting and stripping wire, a range of shrink tubing, a good quality soldering iron with a fine chisel tip, mine has a huge range of selectable temperatures, collet tip fitment. A continuity meter is a good idea, when I'm on my work bench I use my decoder tester a lot, I pre program all my decoders saves a lot of frustration. Get some double sided tape, and some blue tack so you can mount your decoders securely. Buy a book the Digitax Big Book of DCC is excellent and is suitable for all users.
 

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The reason I asked was I found it interesting that you selected Digitrax rather than following the path of least resistence. How much suppot do you get locally or do you pretty much handle things yourself? I have always thought that because everything is in English and that it is a very robust and straight forward system without the over-engineering you often find in German systems that it would be perfect for the UK.

The Big Book of DCC is still out of print but they keep promising a new edition.
 

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Given that the Digitrax Zephyr is £100 cheaper than the Lenz Set 100, and in many ways suited to small layouts , it's odd that it has never even registered on the radar in Britain.

Yes it has now been significantly undercut on price by the NCE Powercab and Roco/Lenz Multimaus and needs a price cut to get it back on even terms , but before they came along you'd have thought the Zephyr would have been on everyone's lips. Instead nobody (including me) had ever heard of it, and you were told emphatically that Lenz Set100 was the only DCC system anyone could consider buying

I don't believe there's anything wrong with the system - Digitrax are too big around the world for there to be any question that their products work properly. But something seems to have gone horribly wrong with their presence on the ground in the UK . Odd
 

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I'm surprised myself that Digitrax has not made more inroads in the UK - I have met a lot of people who use Digitrax & have no problems with it at all.

The only thing I can think of (apart from the fact there are not many retailers who stock it) is the reason I did not "short list" it myself when originally looking at DCC, and that is it's looks - I'm sorry but IMHO it looks like something made from bits bought from Maplins.
 

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QUOTE (dbclass50 @ 8 Jan 2007, 10:38) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>I'm surprised myself that Digitrax has not made more inroads in the UK - I have met a lot of people who use Digitrax & have no problems with it at all.

The only thing I can think of (apart from the fact there are not many retailers who stock it) is the reason I did not "short list" it myself when originally looking at DCC, and that is it's looks - I'm sorry but IMHO it looks like something made from bits bought from Maplins.
Digitrax are the only dealer supported DCC system in Ozz. When you go to the rail shows it is the system most people use. It is the only system I have seen in shops here. The reason I chose the Ecos in preference is that it only has 13 functions instead of 20 and that it doesn't have features such as the shuttle. I realize that these can be added on but when you do add them on you find the cost then exceeds the Ecos. The Ecos looks a lot more snazzy too.
Having said that the walkabout controllers are very good and it's a proven reliable system
 

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QUOTE (rickb @ 6 Jan 2007, 23:36) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>I think I'll get a DH123, Digitrax's cheapest, via airmail from the US (like the rest) - unless someone has a better suggestion. The US prices are very good for Brits at the moment: if anyone wants to share postage, let me know.

I am getting the DZ123 decoders from a supplier in the US
Typically the delivery charge is $7.25

5 decoders was $86.20
7 decoders was $117.78
 

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personally I think you sell your self short when you buy cheap decoders. Why bother what you want is performance not penny pinching. The DZ143 is the decoder of choice, it offers good performance, B-emf,
plenty of functions if you need ancillaries like lights, and an exellent amps rating. So with the money you save by importing from the states rather upgrade the decoder for the same price. Me I'm sticking with TCS.
 
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