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Audio-Mation™ For Your Layout

by Don Fiehmann

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Available Sounds

Sound decoders add realism and enjoyment to your operating. Now there is a sound player unit and great pre-recorded sounds to add all kinds of sounds to your layout. If these don't satisfy you, record your own! We sent Don Fiehmann the new PRICOM Dream Player to review ... he liked the features, his review follows. Many Sound Scene files are available for free.

Expanding Sounds
It is hard to pick up a model railroad magazine and not read about the explosion in mobile sound decoders. In 2005 Digitrax, LokSound and MRC all came out with sound decoders. SoundTraxx finally came out with the new Tsunami that has improved 16 bit sound. This has expanded the number of sound choices we have to make. But, this is all in mobile sound decoders. What about stationary sound! Things other than locomotives make noise!

Our locomotives chug along pulling strings of cars into industries that should also be making some sort of noise. Say a Shay pulling a bunch of logs onto a saw mill. Shouldn’t you hear the sound of the big saws as they cut up the logs to make them into usable lumber. A load of ore gets to the stamp mill to be crushed to extract the metal. We should hear the sound of the stamps running in the background. The sound of a babbling brook next to a waterfall with birds singing. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all of these sounds on your layout! Sound like a dream? With today’s technology all of these sounds are possible.

Layout Sounds
Adding sound to a layout requires some planning. Sounds should be at a low level so they are only heard when you are near the item that is supposed to be making the sound. The sounds that can be used require more than just using a microphone and a recorder to capture. Sounds need to be adjusted in order to sound right at low levels. This requires the sounds to be “engineered” to sound right with small speakers. They need to be “scale sounds. Speakers should be hidden from the viewer. The speakers need to be placed so the sounds seem to come from the companion area and not right out of the speakers. The sound level should be low enough that it can only be heard when you are near the sound scene.

There is a company that has made layout sounds a specialty. They are Fantasonics™ Engineering. They produce a series of CDs that are designed and engineered to be layout sounds. These CDs cover a wide range of railroad sounds, industries and other common sounds. You can even sample most of the sounds on the FantaSonics website (www.fantasonics.com). They also have a “Scale Magic Sound” owners manual that can be downloaded. This has a lot of good hints on how to install speakers for the best sound effects.

Dream Player Circuit Board

CDs work out OK for continuous play. But when you have scene it would be nice to be able to control the sounds. Like have the sound come on when the train passes a location or have the sound start with a push button, or even have the sound under DCC control.

The Dream Player
FantaSonics Engineering in collaboration with Pricom Design has come up with the Dream Player. This is a very flexible unit that can easily be setup for all kinds of different sound situations. The Dream Player uses a standard plug-in SD flash memory card to store the sounds. Four different sounds ca be stored. A 64 meg card can play for 6 minutes. At the other end is a 2GB card that can store 188 minutes of sound. The sounds are WAV files. These can be any standard WAV file with the sounds you are going to use. You can also use the special “scale” sound files from Fantasonics Engineering.

There are no moving parts to wear out as you would have with tape or a CD drive. The sounds can be triggered with a block detector, switch or even a DCC decoder. When the one of the inputs are triggered you can use the outputs to drive Dream Player circuit board relays, LED or lamps. You could have a block detector trigger the Dream Player and the output turn the lights on in a building that is associated with the sounds. A DIP switch is used to set the mode of operation for the Dream Player. The unit can be setup to just play with power on or be triggered. The Dream Player is power by 7 to 24 volts AC or DC.

The audio output is designed to drive a set of “media speakers”. These are the type of speakers that you use to connect to the audio output of a computer. The price of these run from about $10 up. The recommendation is to use a cheap set of speakers as they sound as good as the high price speakers in this application.

The RS-232 connection is used to download updated firmware to the Dream Player. Updated firmware is available over the internet from Pricom (www.pricom.com).

Testing the Dream Player
To test out the Dream Player I bought a nice set of Creative speakers from Fry’s for $20. That included the wall-wart for power and connecting cables. The test unit had a few sample sounds on a 64 meg SD card to check out the system. For test I connected power to the Dream Player along with the set of speakers. The push-button is all that is needed start the sound. Two of the sounds were the sea shore, one during the day and one at night. The sea shore sounded so good that I thought about using it in the bed room to help lull me to sleep. You could hear the sea gulls and the surf. The other sounds were a from a barn yard and all the animals chiming in. You could even hear the farmer sawing off a piece of wood. These were only test files. At a low volume level they sounded very believable.

My future home of the speakers for the DreamPlayer.
It will be using stamp mill sounds from FantaSonics.

I ordered a couple of CDs from FantaSonics Engineering so they could load the memory with the sound of a stamp mill and a saw mill. I want to set the speakers up next to one of my two mining plants. The saw mill sounds are headed for an On3 layout saw mill. When I get these installed I’ll update this review.

My next move is to locate the speakers. The FantaSonics sound manual has a lot of suggestions on where to mount speakers. A lot of the suggestions have the speaker face the wall. This way the sound can be projected in back to the listener with a some what disguised source. For more information download the Scale Magic Sound owners manual from the FantaSonics website.

Conclusion
With the increases use of sound in locomotives it is a logical step to add sound to our layouts. Layout sounds can give another dimension to the layout viewer.

The list price of the Dream Player is $79.00 without the power supply, SD memory or speakers.

We welcome comments or suggestions from readers; please write or call.

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