Lenz Sets 90 and 100 Review
by George Sebastian-Coleman, 04/28/2004
In December 2002 Lenz renamed its base systems to reflect a significant upgrade to these products. The earlier “set 01” and “set 02” have been replaced by Set 100 and Set 90 respectively. (Lenz still sells Set-01/10, a 10-amp system with pushbutton handheld and separate LZ100 and LV200.)
Like most upgrades by DCC manufacturers, the changes are largely internal, and the pushbutton handheld of Set 100 and rotary-knob controller of set 90 are visually the same as their predecessors. However, the Set 90 is really a large leap ahead of the old 02. The 02 required the primary handheld to be plugged in at all times as it served as the command station. Set 90, though using a rotary knob handheld, shares the same combined command station/booster, the LZV100 as the Set 100. The LZV100 replaces the separate LZ100 and LV101. This combined unit is the most obvious physical change, the internal changes are far more extensive, and several are truly noteworthy.
The Lenz sets are defined by the whether they come with a single LH90 rotary knob controller (Set 90) or the full-functioned push-button style LH100 (Set 100). If you start with the “low-end” 90, all that’s needed to add top-of-the line functionality is an LH100 throttle, as the base units are identical. Because the LZV100 is common to both I’ll begin there.
The LZV is the same depth and width as the LZ100 and LV101 but at 2.25” tall it’s.75” shorter than the stacked LZ and LV. Besides this minor space saving, combining the units also eliminates the hassle (and potentially poor connections) of wiring the two units together. The LZV100 retains the DIN plug connector allowing you to plug either throttle directly into the unit. Lenz sells the XD-6 cable, a 6-foot cord with four wire leads on one end and a male DIN plug on the other for connecting the LZV100 to the first LA152 (fascia mount walkaround plug). The XD-6 plugs into the LZV100 and is wired into the LA152. Alternatively, you can use the screw terminal connectors on the LZV100 and plug a 6-pin phone-style cable into the LA-152. The latter method leaves the DIN on the LZV100 open as another plug-in point for a handheld controller.
Since Lenz’s introduction of Xpress Net as the basis for communication between peripheral devices (handheld throttles or other input devices) and the base station, the base station (LZV100 on the Set 90 and Set 100) serves as the home for all data relevant for control of the layout, while each peripheral provides the intelligence to operate its particular features, which is why the two handheld designs define the systems.
The LZV’s most obvious upgrade from previous Lenz models is the increase in rated output to 5 amps. Layouts requiring more amperage or those modelers simply desirous of more power districts on the layout can add additional LV101 boosters. The default voltage output of the LZV is 16.5V to the rails, but this is programmable to range from 11V to 22—assuming you have an input source that produces at least a couple volts higher than the intended output. However don’t over do this. An input voltage more than a couple volts higher than your desired track voltage produces excess heat and the LZV will control this by first lowering available amperage and perhaps even shutting down completely. Tony’s recommends its XFR4 transformer for operators wanting only 12-13 volts on the track and the DCC Specialties Magna Force for those wanting 15-16 volts on the track.
The upgrade with the biggest potential is that the installation LZV is designed to work with RailCom as soon as the NMRA standard is finalized. Once that happens and you install decoders and detectors that are RailCom equipped, the LZV will be able to handle full two-way communications. Even as is, the LZV, like earlier versions, has an Input/Output jack for a feedback bus that can communicate with Lenz accessories that have feedback provisions.
Even without the feedback channels, the LZV remembers the last setting of all accessory decoders, so that you can, for example, always see what route a turnout was last set for (but without the positive feedback that the turnout actually obeyed a command that RailCom will provide).
Similarly, the LZV maintains a database of locomotive information for up to 256 locomotives, this includes such information as momentary function assignations, mu consists, and the last settings of all functions for each locomotive.
The most important upgrade to my mind is what Lenz terms “dynamic locomotive queuing,” which means that as soon as you change a command for a locomotive (speed, sound, etc.) it is instantly sent rather than being sent in the next cycle. If you’re only operating one or two locomotives you would never have noticed any lag, but on a crowded layout with many operators sending inputs a brief delay could occur, and tended to be obvious for commands like blowing the whistle.
This set comes with the LZV100, an LH100 handheld throttle, and (in North America) with a discount coupon for two decoders. Set 100 provides for automatic two or four-digit addressing. Or, for that matter three digits. That’s the beauty, you don’t have to think about which you’re entering, just enter an address, and the system will correctly program the decoder.
The LH100 offers full programming capability and access to functions 0-12. Though functions 9-12 require hitting a “shift” key as the numeric keypad is a standard 10-digit design. Although potentially cumbersome, given that only a few sound decoders make use of functions 1-8, this is a minor liability at worst.
One of the best features of Lenz is that the LH100 can program any function key to operate as a momentary switch or as an on-off switch. This programming is specific to the decoder being programmed and is stored in the LZV, so that any other throttle, including the LH90 (or the XPA) will also operate that key as momentary.
Lenz’s upgrades include a key advance for multiple-unit operators. When using smart consisting, you can operate the consist from the address of any unit in the consist. Thus if you enter the address of a specific unit in order to activate a function on it, you can continue to control the consist from that unit.
The LH100 uses pushbuttons for speed controls. While some operators really disdain pushbuttons, I’ve found that once I began using them they were quite convenient. Moreover, if you are programming your decoders with momentum effects, the pushbuttons can actually give you a more prototypical control as you “notch” your way up.
There’s really not much Set 90 can’t do that the 100 can, including full decoder programming. However, functions are limited to 0-8 and only 0-4 are directly available, 5-8 require hitting the “shift” key and then the number button. Since I know of no decoder that currently uses more than 0-8 this is more of a theoretical than practical limitation. Even for sound decoders that do use all functions, the extra step for options such as turning the dynamo on or off isn’t much of a hindrance.
The biggest limitation for sound users is that there is no default momentary key on the Lenz throttle. The great news is that any key can be made momentary through programming, BUT only an LH100 can do that programming (or via a computer and the LI101interface). Once programmed, the LH90 or any other throttle hooked to the LZV100 will “know” which key is momentary for the decoder.
The LH90 is just slightly narrower than the LH100 and I find it a significantly more comfortable fit in my hand. In addition the rotary knob’s positive “off” and “full” as you reach the limit of its rotation combined with a toggle switch for direction control make for easy operations without ever looking at the throttle in your hand.
Since their first incarnations, I have found the Lenz systems to be easy to use and simply oozing the feel of quality you expect from German engineering. Set 100 and Set 90 continue that tradition. Not sure which to buy? Like virtually all other DCC systems, Lenz’s basic sets come with a base unit and a single throttle and if you’re operating your railroad solely by yourself this may be all you need. However, once you discover the joys of block-free operation that DCC provides, you’ll probably want another throttle pretty soon. If you bought the Set 90 to start, it’s comforting to know that purchasing the LH100 is the only thing between your system and the top of the line. However, if you can afford it at the start, I’d buy the set 100, because it plus an LH90 is a significant cost savings over a Set 90 plus an LH100. –
Note : Lenz has upgraded Set 01 as of 8/6/00. See Lenz.com.
LENZ SET-01 v3 upgrade: the “Legend is Alive.”
In 1997 I bought my first DCC system, the legendary Lenz SET-01 V2. It was reliable, precise, easy to connect and to operate, the state of the art at that time.
Time has passed and DCC technology has improved. Four digit addressing, 128 speeds and on-the-main-line-programming (OPS) have become the de-facto standard. During Fall 2000 Lenz Elektronik announced an upgrade for the V2 set. The upgrade, which became available after few months, gave all the new features to the legendary set. Due to the proactive design of the system, the upgrade is inexpensive, (free for systems purchases after 7/98), but has to be done by the Lenz Service Center.
The upgrade V3 not only brings SET-01 to the current market expectations (4 digits 1-9999, 128 speeds and OPS programming), but it adds some new interesting features, not found in other systems. The philosophy of the product remains the same; the upgrade is so transparent, that a normal end user would not notice the changes without looking at the extra options of the menus.
Here what I consider to be the most important new features:
In the programming menu, the Direct Programming mode has been added. Do you remember how long you used to wait to read a CV in Page Mode which had a high value, close to 255 ?? With Direct Programming, you do not need to wait anymore ! It’s immediate, you press the button, you get the answer ! No more pain for long addresses, the system does all the settings for you. You just specify 4 digits 100-9999 and the system programs the correct values for CV17,18,29. What I really like (actually need) is the capability to program each BIT independently. While I run trains I can change a choice of bits of each CV indipendently. In this way I monitor the effects of parameters on lights or motor control.
Complete F0-F1-F12 functions control has been added: engines with many functions can finally be controlled. For the subset F1-F8, the modelers can even program a non-latching behaviour, useful for sound decoders (whistles/horns).
Multi-unit consisting has been added providing more capability than the old style double header control. The MU`s address must be two digits but you can control speed and direction of the consist from any loco`s address that is within the consist ! That`s cool since I always forget the 2 digit consist number, while I can easily read the number of one of the engines. Tha manual says “If a locomotive that is assembled into the MU has switchable funtion (light, smoke generator), you can continue to control these functions via the locomotive`s normal address”. The Command Station has been upgraded to provide full support of XpressNET and Xbus protocols. These protocols let the station speak with other devices, like cabs, for istance. Users with large layouts and multiple cabs usually experience nasty delays between the trottle adjustments and the train responses. I have not seen any significant delay. During normal use, my wife and I were quickly pushing buttons of 4 cabs, turning on/off lights and whistles in sound decoders. We did not notice anything that would interfere with the normal modeler’s use. Of course this is not very rigorous, but in my opinion there is no need for a scientific test, since model railroading is not a science, but an ART (of fun!).
Have fun with the new V3 software and the new LH090 knob-throttle !
As you can see from the photograph, the Lenz LZ100, LV100 and LH100 haven’t changed externally since last year, but there is something new inside. Lenz put a lot of work into upgrading their software in preparation for NMRA conformance testing: Conformance Warrant 96-8 was granted to Lenz for the Digital Plus system in November. Lenz has chosen the route of upgrading their standard system by periodically releasing replacement chips to implement new standards and RPs or changes in the software.
In addition to changes to the internal code that improved operations, Lenz added faster direct-mode programming, 27 and 28 speed-step mode, and MU’ing of two locomotives even if they have decoders with different steps. The programming improvements are impressive, allowing direct configuration variable (CV), register mode and paging mode. Conveniently, the system will automatically convert CV to register-mode programming for you.
The 27 speed-step mode offers a significant improvement in speed control for older 14 speed-step decoders. Basically the command station interpolates between each of the 14 speed steps giving 13 more, for a total of 27. Current owners should check with a dealer to acquire the software upgrade. Lenz has also introduced back EMF functions in their LE130 and LE230 decoders. Back EMF is essentially “cruise control” for model locomotives. Once you set the throttle for a given speed, the decoder will make constant adjustments to how much power it provides by monitoring how fast the motor is turning. It’s able to do this because even as the motor turns it generates a small back voltage which the decoder can monitor. Several other manufacturers are busily adding this capability to their decoders.
Lenz offers the best warranty I’ve seen yet. A full replacement is provided in the first year, even if you accidentally fry a part. For the following two years a small service charge is applied for damage caused by the user but not for equipment defects. If something fails or is damaged during the next seven years only a small service fee is charged. Yep, that’s a 10-year limited warranty!
One recent development that should be of interest to Lenz owners is the establishment of an office in North America: the Lenz Agency of North America. Debbie Ames of Tried and True Trains is the proprietor. The address is PO Box 143, Chelmsford, MA 01824, phone/FAX (508) 250-1494. This office will take care of warranty support, problems, English-version manuals, press releases, advertising and dealer support. PacRail and Tried and True Trains remain the current US Lenz distributors.