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Is Decoder Installation Difficult?

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Miscellaneous, Tips Decoders and Installations, Tony's Tips |

  • New HO and bigger engines do have NMRA plug for fast and easy installation.
  • Atlas engines come with Dual Mode Decoder for DC and DCC.
  • New N engines “might” be DCC ready or “easy”. Lenz has very small decoders.
  • Most importantly – READ INSTRUCTIONS!

Now that DCC has been around for a few years, locomotive manufacturers are beginning to build locomotives that are more “decoder friendly.” This makes installation much simpler than it used to be! Many new HO locomotives are equipped with the NMRA standard medium plug. DCC manufacturers also build decoders that replace the factory-installed circuit board for many HO locos. If you have one of those, it’s just a matter of plugging in your decoder and programming it. Most other HO locomotives allow relatively easy decoder installation. Do the easy ones like Atlas/Kato Diesels and Athearns first. Then as your skill increases, tackle the more difficult engines like Rivarossi Steam engines and small yard engines.

N-scale & narrow gauge installations are more difficult because of the limited space available for the decoders. N-scale locomotive manufacturers are working on making their future releases decoder friendly. Kato’s C44W-9 has a light board that can be removed and replaced by a clip in decoder made especially for that locomotive. There are decoders that replace the light boards in the Kato PA’s and E8’s. Still another N scale DCC decoder is made for the Atlas GP40-2 and U25B’s. If you are using other Atlas or Kato engines in N scale, it’s probably a good idea to start with locomotives that have replacement frames available. These make N-scale installations easy because you don’t have to make room for the decoder or the wires, you simply replace the frame and solder in the decoder. Other N-scale locomotives don’t require replacement frames but you will need to modify the weights to fit the decoders inside.

Since almost all narrow gauge installations are in steam locomotives, space is tight! You’ll want to consider installing the decoders in your tenders where there is usually more room. Sound is another issue that many narrow gaugers want to incorporate in their operation and this requires even more room inside the locomotive because of the need to install a speaker, too.

Sound Decoders

  • Speakers need a lot of space
  • The right engine-decoder-speaker match
  • Plastic cones sound better than paper cones
  • Speakers move air, therefore smaller speaker with longer cone displacement might be louder than bigger speaker.
  • Sound in N scale is possible!

In G-scale locomotives, there is almost always plenty of room inside to install DCC decoders and sound units, too. It is usually easy to see where the wires to and this makes large-scale installation easy. Beware that large scale locomotive manufacturers don’t follow any wire color conventions when they build the locomotives so, it will be important for you to closely examine your locomotive and determine “which wire does what” before you start your installation. Unfortunately, many large-scale locomotives were not made to be taken apart so, getting the locomotive disassembled is often the biggest challenge you will face in large-scale installations.

Adapted from “Digital Command Control: The Wave of the Future”, by Zana and A.J. Ireland, and “DCC for Novices” by Stefano Curtarolo.