Friday, August 28, 2009

2009 Railfest, New Decoder Selector, and Using Tsunami Motor Control Features

With dealer training behind us, we have been back to business as usual around here in Durango. We have started preparing for the 29th National Narrow Gauge Convention, which will be held in three weeks, and are soaking in the last of summer up here in the beautiful mountains of Southwest Colorado. In this latest installment of SoundBytes, we’ll talk a little bit about a fun week in town at Railfest on the D&SNGRR, and take a look at our new Decoder Selector on our website. For this week's Tech Tip, we will take a look at setting up advanced motor controls on the Tsunami.

Railfest and the Trains of August…

Every year in August, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad hosts a celebration of narrow gauge railroading known as True West Railfest. This year allowed some famous pieces of visiting equipment the opportunity to strut their stuff on railfan excursions up the Animas Canyon.

Visitors included the Eureka and Palisades No. 4, a Baldwin wood-burning 4-4-0 American that has the distinction of being the oldest operating narrow gauge locomotive in the country, the NARCOA club’s line up of historic speeder pop cars, and the RGS historical society's Galloping Goose #5.

With all of the fun and excitement just a few blocks away George ran down to the depot to make sure he got a chance to see the E&P No. 4 depart. This engine was especially exciting for him to see, as he personally loves locomotives in this wheel arrangement. It's weeks like this when we realize how lucky we are to work only a few blocks from all the action. This makes morning train-chasing trips easy to take in.

Another tradition at Railfest is the Presidential Special. This train consists of some of the red first-class cars on the D&S, as well as the General Palmer (the private car of Al Harper, D&S owner). This year's consist was the No. 473 painted with a green boiler (the same green found on our Blackstone Models K-27 No. 455), the newest first-class car called “The Prospector,”“The San Juan,”“The Cinco,” and of course “The Palmer." Two employees here at SoundTraxx were on board the train this year. Jeff played guitar (one many instruments he is skilled at playing) as the onboard entertainment while Jarrette was up in the engine as the fireman.

New SoundTraxx Decoder Selector!

As some of you may have noticed, we have launched our new Decoder Selector on the SoundTraxx website. It includes information for the correct prime mover sound, as well as the Tsunami decoder we recommend for a given model.

We have made it easy to use. First, simply select your scale. It will then pull up a list of popular manufacturers in your scale. After selecting the brand, it will pull up a list of their models that we have sounds available for. The locomotive model will have our suggested decoder and speaker, along with a speaker baffle if available.

Sometimes, there may be more than one option to fit into a model, so we selected one that may require the least amount of work involved. For example, for an HO Athearn Ready To Roll SD40-2, we recommend replacing their ‘DCC quick-plug’ board with our TSU-AT1000 for EMD 645 Turbo (2nd Generation). This board already has the circuitry to regulate the outputs for use with the 1.5V bulbs, which allows more room for the speaker and any wires needed to fit with ease. You could also install a TSU-1000, but we believe the TSU-AT1000 is a better option.

This is only Phase 1 of our Decoder Selector. For Phase 2, we plan on having additional information available in a step-by-step "application note" (as a PDF document) to help you install the decoders into your model. This may take more time to get done. This is where you may be able to help. If you have installed a Tsunami decoder and speaker in a model listed in our Decoder Selector, you can submit your photos along with a brief description of the installation. If you feel that you have an installation that would be beneficial to other SoundTraxx users, please send an e-mail to and give a brief description of any methods that you employed to make the installation. Don’t forget to attach the photos to the e-mail. Not all submissions will make it to the final application notes for the website. We would prefer an easy install, but we also want it to be well-planned with proven and reliable techniques that any modeler may be able to accomplish with common tools available to most modelers. For example, be sure the installation can be accomplished using normal hand tools in addition to those with access to a milling machine. We are looking forward to receiving your submissions.

Tech Tip: Getting the Most Out of Tsunami Motor Control Features

In many cases, so many people focus on the great 16-bit digital sound found in the different Tsunami decoders we currently offer that they may not pay as close attention to some of its other great features. On top of being a great-sounding decoder, Tsunami also has some of the best motor control currently found on the market to date.

While many decoders offer 14, 28, and 128 speed step modes (Tsunami being no exception), the Tsunami has 2048 speed steps internally that gives ultra fine speed control. Tsunami is also equipped with back-EMF, which measures the efficiency of the motor and compensates for efficiency losses that happen when under greater loads. This allows your locomotive to have its own "cruise control," meaning that as it starts up a hill or crests down a grade, the train’s speed will stay unchanged as the back-EMF corrects for any changes in the load on the motor. Although this feature is becoming more common in DCC decoders, the great thing about it in Tsunami is that it is completely adjustable.

When adjusting the motor control and back-EMF, there are several different CVs to adjust, however, the first thing to take into account is what type of locomotive you have. Steam engines by nature are a lot less free-rolling than diesel locomotives currently offered. This is due to the fact that diesel models have large flywheels that spin freely. In this example, let's set up an Athearn Genesis SD60M equipped with a TSU-GN1000 to ideal motor control settings. We personally like to slow the locomotive down out of the box, but not to the point that it isn’t realistic. In this example: set CV 209 to a value of 29, CV 210 to a value of 18, and CV 212 to a value of 80 (although the lower you go in this CV, the slower the locomotive will run). CV 209 is known as the Kp Coefficient and is used for adjusting the gain factor for the PID motor control equation. CV 210 adjusts the gain factor of the Ki coefficient for the PID motor control equation. CV 212 adjusts the motor intensity. If you set these values too high, the motor will run very rough. Also, if you set the values to 0, then the motor will stop. When adjusting these CVs, start with 209 and 210 at very low values and increase them each by 1-2 until the model runs smoother. If it begins to run rough, lower the value back down. Once you find the motor running smooth, decrease the value in CV 212 by 10s until it gets you to the slow speed you desire in speed step 1. Also, when using a back-EMF decoder with advanced motor control, make sure to leave CV 2 at a value of 0. Add in a bit of momentum, and your train will start up smooth as silk.

Taking time to adjust the speed control CVs of the Tsunami decoder will produce an excellent running model. Following this procedure, you can have an entire fleet of great-running locomotives and be the envy of all your modeling friends!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dealer Training, Blackstone Models Product Updates, and Using Speaker Enclosures

This past month has been a busy one for us here at SoundTraxx. After we got back from the National Train Show, we started preparing for Dealer Training, which took place the first week in August. Therefore, this time we will take a look at our Dealer Training Program, and this past week's adventures here in Durango. We will then mention the latest announcement from Blackstone Models. In our Tech Tip, we will discuss speakers and enclosures and how vital they are to having good sound.

On an important, unrelated note, we have seen more decoders being sent back because the installer is using Tix flux for their installations. We mentioned this a few posts ago, but it continues to be an issue. The acidic nature of the Tix flux attacks the components on the board and damages the decoders. Be sure to get flux specifically for electrical work, or you too could be having an expensive problem.

Dealer Training

Every year here at SoundTraxx we offer a 4-day dealer training program for hobby stores to get a chance to learn all about our products directly from us. This year’s Dealer Training Seminar was held August 5-8 at the Durango Recreation Center.

Although it is always a lot of work we always seem to have a great time. During the 3 days in the classroom we discussed many subjects including: History of SoundTraxx, DCC, proper installation techniques, product overview, programming CVs, and, of course, a few hands on installations.

Dealer training however isn’t all work and no play so each day we offer everyone in attendance some highlights of Durango. On the first night we all attended the Bar D Chuck Wagon Western show and supper.

The second night after a long day of intense discussion and hands on installation we treated everyone to a behind the scenes tour of the historic Durango yards. We were lucky enough to have Paul Schrank, General Manager of the World Famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad as a tour guide. During the tour we saw the inside of the roundhouse and car shop, as well as seeing K-36, No. 486 being moved on the turntable.

On Friday after a couple of long days in the classroom we had a field trip to Silverton on board the D&SNGRR. We had a very special guest with us, Al Harper who is the owner of American Heritage Railways and the D&SNGRR. Everyone enjoyed a beautiful Colorado summer day along the Animas River. Also onboard was the entire SoundTraxx staff, which turns into our annual narrow gauge field trip!

On the final day, we had our small group classes that allow a little something for everyone. We offered classes on future product discussions, Tsunami advanced programming, and creative tips for installing decoders in non-sound ready models. Overall we all had a very good time and always enjoy hosting so many great people from as far away as the U.K.

To learn more about our dealer training program for your store, email

Tanks, Blackstone!

In case you missed the announcement, Blackstone Models will be doing tank cars in HOn3. This is a preliminary announcement, with the specific road name and road number details to follow at a later date. We will be producing both narrow frame and
frameless tank cars in several versions found on the D&RGW. Stay tuned to the Blackstone Models website for more details featuring road names and numbers.

Tech Tip: Speaker Enclosures

Sound installations can be affected by many factors. Perhaps the most important factor is the quality of the speaker and baffle. We have taken the time to test many speakers for the best sound quality, widest frequency range and cone durability so you don’t have to. However, these tests are only part of the equation. The use of a quality baffle or enclosure is essential to good sound.

Let's look a little into the science of sound. The speaker makes sound by creating air pressure in the form of waves when it moves forward and back. We’ve all seen a speaker vibrate, right? Well, the front of the speaker creates a positive pressure (when moving forward), while the back creates a negative pressure. Without a solid sealed enclosure, the pressures created by the two sides, now cancel each other out, affecting the volume and clarity of the sound. By building a sealed enclosure or baffle, this will keep the front and back air pressures isolated, and therefore give a better sound wave and as a result, a better sound. More often than not, an inadequate baffle, or lack of a baffle, is the cause for lack of volume or poor sound quality.

When fitting the speaker and baffle into a locomotive, we need to be creative with the installation. Based on what we just discussed in the prior paragraph, we want to install the largest speaker we can in our locomotive. You do want to try to have the baffled area be a 1x1x1 volume. This is where creative baffling comes into play. You might think that the speaker has to be flat or square inside the model, but as long as one side, front or back, is isolated, it can be in some of the tightest spaces needed. For example, you can fit a larger speaker or a mega bass speaker diagonally in a diesel locomotive shell, to clear the drive train.

On a steam locomotive, the tender shell can be used as part of the baffle to help utilize a larger speaker. Using scribed styrene will help you cut straight lines easier, allowing you to create virtually any baffle shape needed to ensure the front of the speaker is isolated from the rear.

For more information about the science of sound, check out our Sound Primer Web page.