Mark's Trains Ltd, Workspace House, 28-29 Maxwell Road, Peterborough, PE2 7JE    01733 609 414

DCC Sound Conversions

Introduction to DCC Sound conversions

DCC is the acronym for Digital Command Control. It’s a system that allows for more advanced control of model trains compared to traditional DC (Direct Current) layouts, and is explained in more detail here. A DCC sound conversion service specifically upgrades a locomotive to run on DCC and adds sound effects.

DCC Sound provides an ultimate level of realism to the control of trains on a layout, including better low speed running and realistic operation with real sounds. Sounds are independently controlled and callable via mapped function keys on a DCC controller. Sounds generally include engine start & shutdown, engine running sounds (integrated with train speed), various horns/whistles, train announcements, brake sounds, track and flange squeal, and coupling sounds among many others. As with standard DCC, many trains can share the same section of track and each train can be controlled separately in any direction and speed. Lights stay illuminated at a constant brightness even when the train is sat idle, and can be controlled individually.

DCC Sound brings an astounding element of realism and joy to a layout, from diesel locomotives idling on shed to a steam locomotive flying past a station with a full head of steam. Sound fitted locomotives are quite popular within the hobby, with modellers upgrading their existing DCC-fitted models or entering straight into DCC Sound. With the high level of realism available, it comes as no surprise!

What is the difference between DCC and DCC Sound?

DCC sound offers a significant leap in realism compared to standard DCC, and here’s why:

Standard DCC conversion:

  • Focuses on functionality.
  • Allows independent control of multiple locomotives on the same track.
  • Offers smoother running at lower speeds.
  • May include features like directional lighting control.

DCC Sound conversion (benefits over DCC):

  • Enhanced realism: Adds lifelike sounds like engine idling, horns, whistles, brakes, and even announcements, plus many more loco related sounds.
  • Immersive experience: The sounds make your model train layout come alive, creating a more engaging atmosphere.
  • Increased enjoyment: Many train enthusiasts find the added sounds significantly enhance the enjoyment of operating their models.

Essentially, DCC sound builds upon the benefits of DCC by adding another layer of realism that appeals to model train enthusiasts who value replicating the sights and sounds of real-world trains.

Here’s an analogy: Upgrading from a black and white TV to a color TV offers a significant improvement in visual experience. Similarly, DCC sound adds a whole new dimension (sound) to your model train hobby, making it more immersive and enjoyable.

What is a DCC Sound conversion?

Here’s a breakdown of what the service typically entails:

  • DCC Conversion: The core functionality is converting your locomotive to run on DCC. This involves installing a special DCC decoder with sound capability into the locomotive. Some locomotives are DCC-ready, meaning they have an interface for a decoder to plug into. However, not all DCC-ready locomotives can accept a sound decoder, this is typically the case for small OO-scale locomotives and the majority of N-scale locomotives. So essentially even though a model may be DCC-ready, with sound decoders being bigger in size it isn’t always possible to use the supplied interface. In cases like this the sound decoder will need to be hard-wired and the chassis PCB removed along with complex rewiring of the locomotive. Other non-DCC-ready locomotives will also require more complex wiring.
  • The Sound Decoder: The DCC decoder used for sound conversions is special. It has features to generate and control various locomotive sounds in addition to full DCC control. It is also likely to have more function outputs compared to a standard DCC (motor) decoder. A DCC (motor) decoder and a DCC Sound decoder are two different types of decoder and both types can’t be fitted to the same locomotive. A DCC Sound decoder supersedes a DCC (motor) decoder and will need to be exchanged if you are upgrading from DCC to DCC Sound.
  • Sound Customization: The decoder plays pre-recorded sounds associated with real-life trains. These include engine startup/shutdown, running sounds, horns, whistles, brakes, and even announcements.
  • Installation and Testing: Our team installs the decoder and speaker (if not already included on the chassis) into your locomotive. They then test everything to ensure the locomotive runs smoothly and the sounds work correctly. The motor feedback settings are adjusted for optimum performance and steam chuff rates are calibrated for steam locomotives.

Overall, a DCC sound conversion service brings your model trains to life with realistic sound effects, making your layout experience much more immersive.

How is a DCC Sound conversion undertaken?

Before installation of the decoder it is advised to give the locomotive a good run-in on DC (30 – 60 minutes) so that the drive gears are free moving and motor brushes are bedded in sufficiently. This is also a good time to see if there are any running issues such as poor power pickup which must be resolved before the conversion takes place. This is because digital control relies on a modulated signal being carried by the track voltage, and any noise caused by poor and intermittant power supply corrupts the signal to the decoder preventing correct commands being received by the decoder. As an example, a locomotive stutters a little on DC control and this effect would be amplified on DCC, meaning the locomotive stops and starts quite often or struggles to get going.

DCC-ready trains can be converted by directly plugging a DCC Sound decoder in to an NEM decoder interface, and non-DCC trains will need to have the decoder hard wired along with some other modifications such as removal of the chassis PCB and rewiring the lights and pickups. A speaker is then installed to complete the conversion unless a speaker is already provided on the locomotive chassis, at Mark’s Trains we tend to install the largest speaker possible given the available space inside the model to produce the best sound quality possible.

However, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds to install sound decoders and speakers in some models. The smaller scales especially have very little space for a decoder, let alone a speaker too. And the larger scales (typically O gauge) have a complex mass of wires which can be difficult to identify, unless you know your way around electronics. Quite a lot of work is involved in converting a model to sound in N scale, for example, and this will involve removal of the chassis PCB, milling of the chassis and filing the speaker housing to get everything to fit including the body shell.

Once the decoder is installed, you will need to program it. This process involves setting the decoder’s parameters, such as the locomotive’s speed, acceleration, braking, and motor settings. Once the decoder is programmed, your locomotive is ready to be used with a digital controller. Simply place the locomotive onto the track and connect the DCC controller to the track. You should now be able to control the locomotive using the controller, in most cases, the locomotive’s decoder address will be set to the factory default of 3 unless this has been programmed with your desired address.

Mark’s Trains provides a bespoke DCC sound conversion service, installing a decoder of your own choice, or a high quality sound decoder recommended by ourselves appropriate to your application and from your requirements. All conversions include testing on a test track and programming the decoder to obtain optimal smooth slow speed operation.

Other considerations

To further enhance the performance of your DCC-converted models, you could consider installing a stay-alive circuit to your decoder. This eliminates the frustration of your model stopping at certain points or rail joints due to poor power pick-up in these areas. This issue is most common with sound-fitted short wheel-based models, where the sound stops and resets (engine restarts). Mark’s Trains provides a retrofit service to install a stay-alive circuit to your existing decoder or offer it as an additional option during the conversion process. This service’s feasibility depends on your decoder’s compatibility, and an inspection may be necessary before commencing the work.

In addition to DCC conversions, Mark’s Trains offers a range of other services such as cab or interior detailing, directional and prototypical lighting, weathering, and servicing (recommended for used models) to keep your models in good working order and to ensure a reliable digital conversion. Mark’s Trains also offers a motor rewind and re-magnetisation service.

Struggling to convert your models?

If the thought of converting your locomotives to digital control sounds too complex, why not let our team of experts undertake this work for you. You’ll be safe in the knowledge that the conversion will be completed to a professional standard.

If you are interested in booking a conversion or to discuss your requirements click on the ‘Book now’ button below.