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Commentaries on DCC Decoders

YouChoos Resouces

Introduction

This page is designed to offer some personal comments and experiences of various decoders that YouChoos has used. It is not supposed to be exhaustive and I certainly haven't pushed every one of these decoders to the limit by any means.

YouChoos' favourites at the present time are CT Elektronik's SL51-4 and SL75 sound decoders, which both provide a massive selection of features and programmability, as well as possibly being the smallest full-function sound decoders that exist today. Likewise, CT also produces some immensely small (I love that phrase!) decoders designed specifically for those ultra-tight-space installations. The DCX74zD is (I believe) the smallest motor+function decoder in the world, and its brother, the DCX75 is almost as small but thinner, being single-sided.

On occasions YouChoos has used ESU's LokSound 3.5 and 3.5 Micro too. They are much bigger than CT's equivalent SL51-4 and SL75 and pricier, but otherwise are excellent decoders, and well deserved of being the world's favourite sound decoders. Both Hornby and Bachmann use LokSound decoders in all their sound-fitted locos today from what I have seen. The LokSound V4/"Select" series are even better - with 8-channel play-back, 32Mb of storage for sounds and full 28-function re-mapping support, but are still physically bigger than CT's offerings.

If you have already invested in a standard decoder to give motor control but you want a cost-effective way to add DCC sound, a sound-only decoder might be the way to go. CT offer the GE75, which is a simplified version of the tiny SL75, but without the motor control and with the number of function outputs reduced to 2.

Judge for yourself the size and functions available. Some are more programmable than others, and some offer better Back EMF and motor control too. CT never disappoint from a technical point of view, and neither do Zimo and LokSound. As expected, the cheaper you go, the less well featured in terms of lighting effects, fine motor control, flexible function mapping etc... all the things that make a decoder truly useful (do I sound like Sodor's Fat Controller, just a little?!).

I won't rant on about the details too much here - I think that my opinions are fairly clear already, but if you'd like to find out a little more about any of these then I'd be more than happy to converse by e-mail on specifics!

Combi-Decoders (Motor, Functions and Sound)

Decoder
Features Summary (brief)

CT Elektronik

SL51-4

Motor - CT's usual excellent motor control features

Sound - 3 channel output; ~170seconds 16-bit; 16 aux sound effects; highly configurable lots of options to play with; 8ohm speaker max 3W; native 'stay-alive'

Function - 8 outputs (4 pre-wired, 4 solder pads); many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - YouChoos' favourite sound decoder, with plenty of power for any OO loco, lots of options for flexible programming and remarkably small - certainly the smallest combi-decoder of this spec and output.

Cost: £70-£80 (blank or with default CT sounds)

Zimo

MX645

Motor - Zimo's excellent motor control (possibly even better than CT)

Sound - 4 channel output; ~180seconds 8-bit; many aux sound effects; highly configurable lots of options to play with; 8/4ohm speaker; native 'stay-alive'

Function - 10 outputs (4 pre-wired, 6 solder pads); many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - Marginally bigger than CT's SL51-4, arguably better specced. Perhaps better for steam sounds, but not so good for diesel sounds (arguably). Zimo are not far off being offering the best sound decoders around. Very impressive.

Cost: £75-£85 (blank or with default Zimo sounds)

ESU

LokSound 3.5

Motor - excellent motor control features

Sound - 4 channel output; 16-bit; 16 aux sound effects; highly configurable lots of options to play with; 100ohm speaker max 3W

Function - 4 outputs; many effects; highly configurable; fully mappable

Comments - much larger than CT's SL51-4, but better specced. Only 4 function outputs is a bit limiting, but flexible programmability is the best. This is the industry leader, and most popular combi-decoder.

The V4 is a similar size, has 4 function outputs, 8-channel sound and a massive 32Mb memory to store sounds.

Cost: £85-£115

CT Elektronik

SL75

Same features as CT SL51-4, but lower power output and 4 functions instead of 8

Comments - the best solution for N scale sound, and just about powerful enough for some OO. This decoder is identical to the SL51-4 except for max motor power and number of function outputs.

Cost: £70-£80

Zimo

MX646

Same features as Zimo MX645 but 4 function outputs instead of 10 and lower power output capability. No native 'Stay-Alive'.

Comments - Marginally bigger than CT's SL75. Same comments as for MX645. Great for N.

Cost: £75-£85 (blank or with default Zimo sounds)

Zimo

MX648

Smaller version of Zimo MX646 but 6 function outputs instead of 4.

Comments - Very exciting for N - seriously small and top-spec too - much shorter than MX646 making it the smallest sound/motor decoder around!

Cost: £75-£85 (blank or with default Zimo sounds)

sorry, no pictures available

ESU

LokSound 3.5 Micro

Same features as LokSound 3.5, but lower power output

Comments - baby brother to LokSound 3.5. Quite small, but not nearly as small as CT's SL75, with the expected max power reduction.

The V4 Micro is a little smaller than then 3.5, still with only 4 function outputs, but sports 8-channel sound and a massive 32Mb memory to store sounds.

Cost: £85-£115

CT Elektronik

GE75

A sound-only version of the SL75, CT's GE75 is a great way to add DCC sound without it needing to cost a fortune. Identical in dimension and functionality to the SL75 except without the motor control, and just 2 function outputs.

Cost: £45-£65

Standard Sized Decoders (Motor and Functions)

Decoder
Features Summary (brief)

Bachmann

36-553

Motor - basic features including Back-EMF on/off

Function - basic 3 outputs; no effects; no mapping; output high enough to power a Seuthe smoke unit from a single function

Comments - provides good basic functionality for the price, but don't expect to be able to do too much with it. A good choice if you are converting a large number of locos to DCC. Quite large dimensions.

Cost: £8-£12

Hornby

Standard 4-func

Motor - basic features

Function - basic 4 outputs; no effects; no mapping; output NOT high enough to power a Seuthe smoke unit

Comments - very small, but otherwise only a basic spec. Not enough power for a smoke unit from a single function output. Good cheap price though. A good choice is you are limited for space or have lots of locos to fit DCC to. It's 'ok'.

Cost: £7-£12

CT Elektronik

DCX70-2

Motor - CT's usual excellent motor control features

Function - 7 outputs (4 pre-wired, 3 solder pads); many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - arguably the best motor/function decoder available. It has everything going for it - very small, lots of functions, and hugely configurable. Actually not that expensive either.

Cost: £25-£30

Zimo

MX631

Motor - probably the best there is

Function - 6 outputs (4 pre-wired, 2 solder pads); many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - better specced than CT's DCX70-2, but a bit bigger. Includes native 'stay-alive' capability - works incredibly well.

Cost: £25-£30

Micro Sized Decoders (Motor and Functions)

Decoder
Features Summary (brief)

CT Elektronik

DCX74z

Motor - CT's usual excellent motor control features

Function - 2 outputs; many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - the smaller decoder available in terms of width/length, although it is double-sided so not as thin as CT's sibling DCX75. Stunning motor control. Perfect for the tightest of installs.

CT also produce a slightly larger version, the DCX74zV, which has 4 function outputs - also superb, and competes directly with Zimo's MX621.

Cost: £30-£40

CT Elektronik

DCX75

Motor - CT's usual excellent motor control features

Function - 2 outputs; many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - similar to CT's DCX74z, perhaps slightly better motor output, but the same great configurability. Although a tiny bit longer, this is incredibly thin being single-sided.

Cost: £30-£40

Zimo

MX621

Motor - perhaps the best in this size

Function - 4 outputs (2 wired, 2 solder pads); many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping

Comments - equivalent of CT's DCX74zV, better performing for motor control, but only just. Bigger, but suitable for most installs in N anyway.

Cost: £30-£40

DigiTrax

DZ125

Motor - reasonable motor control, with some configuration for Back-EMF

Function - 2 outputs; excellent effects; configurable

Comments - good entry-level micro decoder. Reasonable features including some great lighting effects. Pretty small, but not in the same league as the CT micro-decoders, and nowhere near as many programming options. Great price though.

Cost: £15-£20

Lenz

Silver Mini+

Motor - good motor control, with some configuration for Back-EMF

Function - 2 outputs; good effects; configurable

Comments - thinner but longer than DigiTrax's DZ125, and comes with the good feeling that always comes with using Lenz equipment - they are after all the masters of DCC! The Silver Mini+ is pretty small, suitably thin and has average spec. For this money though it is not as well featured as the small CT decoders.

Cost: £30-£35

Function-Only Decoders

Decoder
Features Summary (brief)

TCS

FL4

Basic 4 outputs; good choice of lighting effects; NMRA function mapping; output high enough to power a Seuthe smoke unit; outputs NOT dimmable

Comments - fabulous entry-level function-only decoder. Plenty of power to each output, full NMRA function mapping, and some great lighting effects. It is also very small, so for the price makes for a very sensible choice for kitting out wagons and coaches. The only thing missing is the ability to dim the outputs.

Cost: £12-£15 (often available in a 5-pack which helps reduce the cost further)

CT Elektronik

DCX33

8 outputs (4 pre-wired, 4 solder pads); many effects; highly configurable; excellent support for coupling devices; extended function mapping; high power; native 'stay-alive'

Comments - this has got to be the best of the bunch, with a tiny footprint as well as being single-sided, it is the smallest. Lots of outputs, and the usual excellent CT programmability. Not as cheap as the TCS FL4, but then again it is much better specced.

Cost: £20-£30

Digirails

DR80010

5 outputs; very basic effects; not mappable; high power (1 output at a huge 500mA)

Comments - Good power output, and the extra output compared to some others is very useful. However, it is not very programmable - no function mapping, and very basic lighting effects, make it unsuitable for all but the most simple uses. It is also quite thick. However, this is now an old model, so it may well be worthwhile taking a look at the later versions which sport much better programming potential.

Cost: £15-£20

Zimo

MX68L

4 outputs; basic effects; basic mapping

Comments - now an old model, this is rather on the large side, with very little in the way of programming options. Still, good and reliable and the new versions look really very excellent.

Cost: £12-£20

YouChoos Products

Build your own sounds for CT decoders

YouChoos no longer supplies CT products, but if you are interested in obtaining a license for the YouChoos/CT SoundProg software, this is still available, costing £25 for a single PC license. Note that no further maintenance is planned.

The software was developed by YouChoos and runs on a PC enabling you to build, manage and load your own sound projects into CT sound decoders!

Build your own sounds for CT decoders Costs only £125

Required parts:

  • CT SoundProg device (not supplied)
  • UK power supply (not supplied)
  • Serial-to-USB cable (can be supplied by YouChoos on request)
  • YouChoos' own software for creating, managing and loading sound projects to CT decoders (included in &25 license)
  • Full documentation (supplied digitally)

Download Software

Download Software

Anyone can try out this software for free by downloading the latest version from here. A license key is required to save projects, or to load them into a decoder.

User Guide

Download User Guide (PDF)

Download the User Guide for the YouChoos CT SoundProg application here.

Version History

Enhancements and Fixes

View Version History here, for a list of enhancements and bug fixes.

The YouChoos CT SoundProg application provides an easy-to-understand interface for configuration of CT Elektronik sound decoders, including an intuitive design for almost all aspects of the decoder's features - not just sound. Take a look at the screen shots below to get an idea of how powerful and simple this is...

Project details Edit individual CVs DCC loco address
Motor tuning and speed settings Function Outputs Steam sound schedule
Diesel/Electric sound schedule Callable sound effects Sound configuration
Function Key mapping Update decoder Firmware or load sound project