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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Looking for some recommendations for a DCC controller, as so far I struggle to find the type of thing I would like with my own research. I am new to the hobby so basically going straight to DCC. I prefer to look for something I can grow into rather than having to re-buy a better controller maybe a year down the line, that said I think my requirements of a controller are relatively basic, but as I said I am relatively new so I don’t know what I don’t know (I am probably not fully aware of all DCC capabilities).

I plan one large 00 loop track with handful of points and likely will only have 4 trains setup on it, but most of the time I would probably only run two of them at a time.

Below summarises my wish list;

Form: I really like the old style control panel controllers something like the Gaugemaster GMC-Q (but this is DC). I am not such a big fan of the TV remote looking handheld controllers like NCE, Lenz etc. I want something that has multiple control knobs (2-4) to control multiple locos at the same time, and something I can share the experience with my young kids. Not too concerned about it being portable, fine for it to stay in one place.

Computer/Phone: Whilst I am usually interested in the latest tech, something about controlling a train with my computer or phone really does not interest me, I want to have a physical control to use. It would be excellent to have this option maybe for programming, but the physical controller is the most important thing for actually controlling the trains.

Functions: I think I only want the controller to really control the train and any additional functions the train may have like sound. All other accessories like points and building lights etc, I would probably setup separately with some basic toggle switches.

I would like the option to be able to introduce some more intelligent elements like Automatic Brake Control, not sure if this has any bearing on the the controller as I would probably purchase separate circuitry from somewhere like MegaPoints.

Is anyone aware of any such controller? The closest thing I have found by myself is the Hornby R8214 Elite Controller, couple of things turn me off this particular controller though;
  1. I believe it was launched circa 15 years ago, I would prefer something more modern as I imagine much has changed since then
  2. The short time I have been interested in the hobby, I have really gone off Hornby as a brand so prefer to avoid their controllers if possible.
  3. I also don’t really like the look of it, looks a bit cheap and plasticky, prefer the more substantial look of again the Gaugmaster metal box.
Any recommendations/feedback gratefully received.
 

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Hi, I have used a number of different systems over the years, and before that I was DC using good old H&M controllers. Although I currently mainly use Z21 for driving trains and changing points (because you can use any old tablets or phones as controllers), I have always said that the easiest system to just pick up and use without any previous DCC experience is the Prodigy.
It is the most intuitive and simple to use and can be expanded easily either by adding extra handsets or by getting the WiFi adapter and using a phone or tablet. I still use it for all my chip programming because it is the simplest and quickest to program with compared to any other system I have used (Z21, Lenz, Digitrax, NCE, Bachmann Dynamis, Hornby Elite, ESU etc).
I know you said you don't much like a remote style unit, I used to think that way at first, but if you have a handset for each main track or circuit you can put them in holders so they are in a fixed position. These handsets feature speed control knobs like old style controllers. The beauty of it of course is that by just inputting the loco number and pressing enter on the controller, you are now controlling another loco anywhere on the layout. In the past I have handed the control of my exhibition layout to complete DCC newbies and within moments they have picked up the basics of acquiring a train and running it. It even tells you how to do it on the back of the handset!
Hope this is useful
Regards
Tim
 

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Consider it list:

Roco Z21 (the black one, capital Z), because it works with lots of handsets, from a lot of vendors. Lots of flexibility in how sound locos are controlled.

ESU ECoS. Expensive, but very nice to use. May be overkill. Lots of flexibility in how sound locos are controlled.


Digitrax Zephyr DCS52. Long lived design, with regular updates. Nearest to the "knob" control you say you like. BUT its not as flexible with sound locos as the European designed systems.



Slightly long shot today, but may be the up-coming new entry system:
TCS's new entry level system. Looks like it may be everything the PowerCab was 20 years ago, but updated for modern abilities. And looks like it has European style flexibility in how functions are controlled (for sound locos). But, a little too soon to be sure as it only came out a month or so ago.


Even longer shot:
yamorc.de. The designer of the Digikeijs system starts again with a new range.
Digikeijs system is good, arguably almost a Z21 for half the price. Slightly techy mindset needed to set it up, but its very capable, and takes a huge variety of handsets


With any of the above, you can either have multiple handsets (one per active loco), or have several locos under a single handset's control and swap between them. Which works depends on how your layout is arranged and what is being controlled.




Maybe list, but I'd leave it on the shelf:
NCE PowerCab. I'm probably unpopular saying this, but its long in the tooth, and its limitations are becoming seriously apparent with more recent sound locos, their use of active brakes, and the need to have different function key behaviours.


Avoid list:
Hornby,
Gaugemaster (their DCC Prodigy is rebadge MRC system from the US which is a long way from the best, its expensive, underfeatured, and expansion options extremely limited, years since it was last updated),
Bachmann...

Lenz. Extremely well made, but very expensive for what it is, and becoming dated. But the big worry is support in the UK becoming a bit questionable with their importer being unsure about sending things back to Germany for repair.




- Nigel
 

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I use the Z21 (black) unit, with Roco multiMAUS hand controllers (throttles), although mine are the Fleischmann versions as I've had them a while. You can control several locos at a time from one handset by switching back and forth between them, if you only intend to run 2 locos, that's not a issue as you would probably have them registered next to each other, but you can plug 2 handsets directly into the Z21 to give individual control or have 2 people controlling different locos. You can also switch points etc with the handsets too. I know you said you're not bothered with PC control but that may be something you get into in the future, the Z21 can be connected to a PC for use with automatic train control software. It can also be linked to iPad's and iPhone's via the Z21 app and you can control everything with them too. Overall a very versatile and futureproof system.
Regards
Alan
 

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I use the original mono ESU system on my loft layout. I think I got it in 2007 and it's still going. The current model is colour - nice to have but no essential and 6A though my 4A model doesn't seem to run out of power except for servos at start up but that's a different story... The ESU remote control has been a big disappointment.

On my shelf layout in the study - my COVID lock down project - I got the Roco Black 'Z21' rather than haul the ECoS up and down the loft ladder. I haven't gone beyond using my phone (Samsung Galaxy) as the controller as it works well enough. I plan to get the basic Apple iPad for point and signal control. I was hoping for a domestic 'cast off' but the only way available is 32 bit which is too old to run the software. The current iPad Pro just keeps going... There is a wide range of accessories available for the Z21. I am thinking of getting the WiFi handheld controller with knob as a 'safer' controller for small hands.

I haven't tried programming anything with the Z21 as the ECoS is so easy to use for that.

It's hard to beat the Z21 in my view.

David
 
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· In depth idiot
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...the physical controller is the most important thing for actually controlling the trains...
You want some 'hands on' to assess this. As with any control layout, what 'falls under your hand' most naturally is the item you want. There are specialist dealers dotted around the UK that can offer this: if you happen to be in East Anglia I would recommend Coastal DCC in Ipswich without reservation.

And a question. Do you want to drive, or do you want to let the system do the driving by setting a speed step and allowing the decoder to smoothly change the speed in response to pre-set inertia values? Simple fact: the system drives far better than human beings in replicating the inertia of heavy vehicles with low rolling friction. I expect to once again be disappointed when exhibitions resume, by the clunky humans driving on layouts with DCC control, where the system could do a far superior job.
 

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Consider it list:

Roco Z21 (the black one, capital Z), because it works with lots of handsets, from a lot of vendors. Lots of flexibility in how sound locos are controlled.

ESU ECoS. Expensive, but very nice to use. May be overkill. Lots of flexibility in how sound locos are controlled.


Digitrax Zephyr DCS52. Long lived design, with regular updates. Nearest to the "knob" control you say you like. BUT its not as flexible with sound locos as the European designed systems.



Slightly long shot today, but may be the up-coming new entry system:
TCS's new entry level system. Looks like it may be everything the PowerCab was 20 years ago, but updated for modern abilities. And looks like it has European style flexibility in how functions are controlled (for sound locos). But, a little too soon to be sure as it only came out a month or so ago.


Even longer shot:
yamorc.de. The designer of the Digikeijs system starts again with a new range.
Digikeijs system is good, arguably almost a Z21 for half the price. Slightly techy mindset needed to set it up, but its very capable, and takes a huge variety of handsets


With any of the above, you can either have multiple handsets (one per active loco), or have several locos under a single handset's control and swap between them. Which works depends on how your layout is arranged and what is being controlled.




Maybe list, but I'd leave it on the shelf:
NCE PowerCab. I'm probably unpopular saying this, but its long in the tooth, and its limitations are becoming seriously apparent with more recent sound locos, their use of active brakes, and the need to have different function key behaviours.


Avoid list:
Hornby,
Gaugemaster (their DCC Prodigy is rebadge MRC system from the US which is a long way from the best, its expensive, underfeatured, and expansion options extremely limited, years since it was last updated),
Bachmann...

Lenz. Extremely well made, but very expensive for what it is, and becoming dated. But the big worry is support in the UK becoming a bit questionable with their importer being unsure about sending things back to Germany for repair.
The Z21 is great for operation but more difficult to program point control and set up loco cv's
than with the Prodigy.
Regards
Tim




- Nigel
Hi, the Prodigy MRC system is robust and easiest to use, works with every make of sound chip whether European or American, and can be used with mobile phones and tablets with the free engine driver app. It does most of what any top end system does.
 

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Thanks Tim, I'll take a closer look at the Prodigy, I assume you could have two handsets controlling two loco's (1 each) on the same track?
Yes, certainly. Each controller/handset can have a stack of locos in the memory as well so you can flick from one to another in a moment regardless of where they are on track.
 

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Consider it list:

Roco Z21 (the black one, capital Z), because it works with lots of handsets, from a lot of vendors. Lots of flexibility in how sound locos are controlled.

ESU ECoS. Expensive, but very nice to use. May be overkill. Lots of flexibility in how sound locos are controlled.


Digitrax Zephyr DCS52. Long lived design, with regular updates. Nearest to the "knob" control you say you like. BUT its not as flexible with sound locos as the European designed systems.



Slightly long shot today, but may be the up-coming new entry system:
TCS's new entry level system. Looks like it may be everything the PowerCab was 20 years ago, but updated for modern abilities. And looks like it has European style flexibility in how functions are controlled (for sound locos). But, a little too soon to be sure as it only came out a month or so ago.


Even longer shot:
yamorc.de. The designer of the Digikeijs system starts again with a new range.
Digikeijs system is good, arguably almost a Z21 for half the price. Slightly techy mindset needed to set it up, but its very capable, and takes a huge variety of handsets


With any of the above, you can either have multiple handsets (one per active loco), or have several locos under a single handset's control and swap between them. Which works depends on how your layout is arranged and what is being controlled.




Maybe list, but I'd leave it on the shelf:
NCE PowerCab. I'm probably unpopular saying this, but its long in the tooth, and its limitations are becoming seriously apparent with more recent sound locos, their use of active brakes, and the need to have different function key behaviours.


Avoid list:
Hornby,
Gaugemaster (their DCC Prodigy is rebadge MRC system from the US which is a long way from the best, its expensive, underfeatured, and expansion options extremely limited, years since it was last updated),
Bachmann...

Lenz. Extremely well made, but very expensive for what it is, and becoming dated. But the big worry is support in the UK becoming a bit questionable with their importer being unsure about sending things back to Germany for repair.




- Nigel
As a PowerCab and then upgraded to ProCab user, I THINK that I agree with Nigel re. the NCE system. The caveat is that I have no experience with other systems.
When I resumed this hobby 10+ years ago, I scoffed at sounds in locos. thinking it to be very gimmicky yet I increasingly find myself buying/fitting sound. I also never dreamed that I would buy a single diesel loco yet they are joining the stable because of the quality of sound (probably better than generally in steam locos?)
The NCE system is very clunky for Functions above F10 where the better sound chips have many effects.
You may have no interest in some of the possible uses of the controller at present but my experience shows that our wants and needs may change as we move on: my suggestion would be to keep all your options open.
My other observation as the owner of a large layout (8x4.5M): stay mobile with your throttle(s). One of my throttles is a wireless and an absolute godsend when sorting out issues away from the central location, or even for just hovering over coupling/uncoupling. I would happily live with my clunky F shifting if the alternative was going to tie me down to a central location.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thank you all for the comments, you have given me a lot to think about as a few mentioned the Z21 I already took a brief look at this and this looks like a nice system with plenty of options of how to control (app, handset etc.). The app on this actually looks quite nice, not like some others I have seen. I agree that my needs will probably change overtime so something like this would give me options for the future.
 

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If you are working to a budget then have a look at the Signatrack Ace-3.

If you mean what you say about future proofing then definitely the Roco Z21 (black) with maybe a couple of Multimaus wireless controllers. Using the Z21 with a tablet will make cv programming simple and will provide you with a great schematic mimic screen for controlling points and accessories. If you initially don't like controlling trains from the touch screen then the Multimaus will give you a knob to drive the train and don't underestimate how useful it is to be wireless.
 

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As another NCE user, the above, about the F 10+ functions / sound functions, doesn't make for particularly comforting reading... :unsure:

That said, pressing 2 buttons for 10+ values {ie. Holding Shift + 0 > 4, isn't that much different than 1 > 4}. At least the NCE can be used for much by touch, whilst watching whatever is happening, like acceleration, slowing, stopping, cover accessory buttons until wanted, then press at the right moment, shunting, points, turntable etc... I'm not sure I would feel quite the same, personally, about a throttle / buttons on a flat screen... umm. That's much about my own hands on preferences, not the systems behind it. I'm assuming that those recommending Z21s etc don't have that reservation / experience, or it would have been mentioned.

J
PS. I did make the mistake of getting a Hornby Elite to upgrade on the Select - which came with a starter set. I should have listened to those who knew much more than I and gone for something better, rather than inserting an expensive additional step up the ladder.
 

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...... I'm not sure I would feel quite the same, personally, about a throttle / buttons on a flat screen... umm. That's much about my own hands on preferences, not the systems behind it. I'm assuming that those recommending Z21s etc don't have that reservation / experience, or it would have been mentioned.
It's not mentioned because throttle choice is (almost) anything you like with the Z21.

The Z21 works with (incomplete list): Roco Multimaus handset (multiple versions), every Lenz handset, every Digitrax handset (including Zephyr systems as a "handset"), most Uhlenbrock handsets, old ZTC systems/throttles. It also works with an iPhone or Android phone/tablet, and/or a computer control system.

There's a reasonable chance it will work with an NCE system via the "sniffer" port.


All of the above, all at the same time if you've friends each bringing their own preferred option.



- Nigel
 

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I too use the black Z21 because all the graphics are handled by an ipad, I found this better than an android type and have over 200 locos on the ipad but I could do with a bigger hard drive to hold a few more so I would need about 20GHz instead of 13 I have now, that said not many have over 200 locos, I can and do run up to 10 on the system concurrently. I started using this to control points and its great when you have 5 or 6 but I have 28 in the main fiddle yard alone and over 100 so it gets expensive for the hardware it is also a bit slow to constantly switch screens so I went to Peco touch studs for point control and am happy with that and just use Z21 for loco control and the 2 Dapol track cleaners. Again really I could do with 4 of them to control 8 at a time!

Generally Z21 is a decent price as the graphics are elsewhere, with your size layout any old ipad/android pad would do just fine and as above in effect it is future proofed but truthfully what you have planned anything would do, question is - is this a starter layout or the beginnings of something big, if the later go Z21 because it will cope, I have a tutorial on here somewhere anyway you pays your money and takes your choice!

My Z21 station, do not be put off they are yellow and brown for DC tramway layout
You have basically 3 plugs one for Z21, one for the router and one for the ipad as you see here.

 

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and don't underestimate how useful it is to be wireless.
Yeah, I have several plug in multiMAUS handsets, but I wouldn't be without my wireless version. Great for when I need to go round the back of the loft to deal with an issue like a de-rail (thankfully not that often), but means I can get the loco up and running from wherever the problem may be (y)
Alan
 

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I'm also another NCE (Power Pro) user. Previously used a Lenz 100 system and this now runs the workbench test track layout. Also have a Hornby Elite.

Technically, the Lenz system is a solid and reliable system but it is now very dated, particularly with its throttles. The LH90 is equivalent to a TV remote of the 1980's where the cost of buttons was a premium so each button had multiple 'modes'. Completely unusable user-interface and obviously designed by an electronics engineer on the premise that if it works, it is good enough. The LH101 throttle was a lot better but it still suffered the 'multimode button' issue. It would have been a lot better if it had a rotary throttle of some type - I believe it now does, but that is some 15 years too late for me!
I wanted to go wireless. Before they started making their own DCC systems, ESU used to make wireless throttles and I was proposing to use them with my Lenz but alas, they were already no longer available. Lenz themselves had some rediculous system where you could use a DECT phone as a model railway throttle! Who in their right mind even thought this was viable ??
It was the lack of wireless that led me to look elsewhere.

The NCE system is a whole lot better. Again, solid and reliable. Much more of a 'designed' system (with much less technical debt) with multiple components that just plug together and work, unlike the 'bitty' nature of Lenz.
The throttles captured me in two ways: firstly, the user interface was by far the best at the time and secondly, they could be wireless via proper radio and not some concocted infra-red nonsense like other manufacturers were using. I don't believe the NCE radio throttles are legally compliant in the UK (someone correct me) as I've never heard of people using them there, but here in Australia, they are legal. I have three and they are well worth the money. If you want to use them 'tethered' all you have to do is plug a cable in and they automatically switch over from being battery/radio to tethered wire linked. So if you run out of battery, they can be used as ordinary tethered throttles.

If you are even thinking of walking around with a throttle, go for a system which supports a proper radio system, not a 'DC-console' type system.

Since I was in the market for a DCC system, several other systems have become available which offer variations on user interfaces (screen for ESU Ecos) and mobile phone/bluetooth connectivity.
Under the hood, most of them don't seem to have progressed much: they are still based around a DCC signal generator and booster (NMRA standards), just providing different options for how a user interfaces with it.
Advice already given here about trying different systems, including tactility is worth taking.
 

· LongHairedDavid
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I currently use an ECoS with the hand controller and am very happy with both. It is an expensive option but worth it in my view.

When I had my model shop, I specialised in DCC and sold ZTC (shows my age), Bachman Dynamic, Gaugemaster Prodigy. Since then I have had two Digitrax systems and NCE. Looking back at them all, the ones that I was happiest with were the ZTC and Digitrax Zephyr. The Prodigy/Digitrax/NCE hand sets to me are too complicated.

My advice would be if budget stressed then a Digitrax Zephyr or if budget no constraint go with ECoS.

I would suggest ZTC still but I have no knowledge of the latest iteration from Taunton Controls. It has great look and feel though.
 

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I was new to DCC last year and didn't have a clue.
I wanted something with rotary controls, so I opted for a Digitrax Evox Evolution Express set as it has 2 control knobs.
I've become fairly used to it and have even used it to set the quartering chuffs on a couple of my new steam loco's.
 
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