Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Looking Back at our First Sound System, 20th Anniversary Commemorative Boxcar, and Dynamic Digital Exhaust

It is time for another edition of SoundBytes. In this edition, we will share another story from the early days of SoundTraxx, this time at Timonium. We will share our first limited edition Anniversary special as well. In our Tech Tip, we will take a look at the DDE, or Dynamic Digital Exhaust.

Our First Sound System

Every company has its early memories of success (and yes, failure!). There are those that teach, those that lift your spirits and those that make you wonder what the !**@? you are doing.

Back in 1990, we attended our very first Timonium Train Show. For those who are not familiar with these shows, they occur roughly four times a year at the fairgrounds in Timonium, Maryland. The ‘exhibit halls’ are large buildings with concrete floors that generally smell mildly of hay, since they are most often used for livestock shows of some kind.

D220-IR (a revision of the D200-IR), released in 1991
We had just finished our first sound system, the D200-IR, which was a diesel sound system intended primarily for under-layout use and controlled with an infrared wireless throttle. It was the first of its kind and we were excited to have an opportunity to display at this show, since its completion had been a little too late for our first show in Springfield, Massachusetts in February. We were told that due to our late inquiry, we could have a booth at the far end of the hall in the back corner; it was all that was available.

It was a beautiful October day and we found our booth as far back in the hall as you could get and began to set up for the show the next day. The back doors (big barn doors) were open since it was such nice weather and you could see the CSX tracks running right behind the building. We set up our track, made our connections to the sound system and hooked it up to a big under table speaker and a subwoofer for the really low frequencies. We turned it on to test it.

All of a sudden, we looked up to see about a dozen men coming toward us. Not just coming, but sprinting. They rushed past us, out the door and stood looking down the tracks. They all started clamoring that they could hear the train, but they couldn’t see it. Cameras poised and ready, waiting for the train -- one by one you could see them start to look over their shoulder at our booth and drift our way, mouths open, listening to the diesel rumble of a GP7 emanating from under our table. It was at that moment we knew we had a winner.

Our First 20th Anniversary Offering: Commemorative HOn3 Boxcar

To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are proud to offer a special-run boxcar painted to celebrate our 20 years. This limited edition HOn3 offering from SoundTraxx and produced by Blackstone Models was decorated to commemorate this special occasion. These cars are available for purchase through your favorite dealers to run on your own layout, or simply to collect. A limited number have been made, so if you are interested, be sure to get yours quickly. This car (P.N. B340127), has a retail price of $39.95.

Look for more special anniversary specials in the months to come!

Tech Tip: Dynamic Digital Exhaust

One of the coolest features of the Steam Tsunami (In George’s opinion anyway) is the Dynamic Digital Exhaust (DDE). This feature allows the decoder to read the load on the motor using B-EMF (Back Electro Motive Force) and adjusts the chuff to match the locomotive’s load. When starting up or beginning the grade, the chuff will get heavier and louder to match how hard the locomotive would be working.

When slowing to a stop or after cresting the hill, the chuff virtually disappears and the side rod clanking increases to represent drifting.

Let's take a look at how to set this up.

CV 177 through CV 188 controls all aspects of the DDE, although adjusting only a couple of CVs, CV 177 and 178, will result in satisfactory results. 

CV 177 sets up the sensitivity to changes in the throttle setting, 0-255. If you are turning the throttle to start a train, this will adjust how sensitive it would be to changes. If this is set too high, then any slight adjustment will cause a dramatic change to the sound. The default value for CV 177 is 10. Start with this CV set to about 150. 

CV 178 sets up the sensitivity to motor load, 0-255. This will use B-EMF to determine if the load is heavier or lighter, for example going up a grade. Set this too high and the changes become subtle as any change in track, a turnout or curve, could cause the loco to change the chuff. The default value of CV 178 is 10. Start by setting this CV to a value of 150.

Play with the values in CVs 177 and 178 to determine good sensitivity settings for your locomotives. These settings are subjective, so spend a little time and get it right to your ears. Once these settings are determined, look at the some of the other DDE CVs to fine-tune the exhaust sounds for each locomotive in your fleet.

To get the most from this Tsunami feature, momentum will need to be added, otherwise the throttle changes would be instant and not give the DDE time to react. Using a value of 25 for both CVs 3 and 4 should yield good results.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Find us on Facebook!

Hi Everyone!

It's Allison here. I just wanted to let you all know that we have created a Facebook page. Please become our fan and pass on the word to your friends! Thanks so much!


Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Look Back at the Hyperlight, Blackstone Models Updates, and Using the Tsunami Sound Mixer

In this edition, we will take a look at the early beginnings of SoundTraxx in Massachusetts. Then, for our Tech Tip, lets look at setting and adjusting volume levels for our decoders.

As It Was in the Beginning. . .

In the early days before SoundTraxx, Steve and Nancy worked for a marine electronics company. Nancy was in the marketing department while Steve was in the engineering department. Steve was a model railroader who loved narrow gauge. One day, Steve approached Nancy with an idea to start a model railroad electronics company. He wanted to have prototypical sound and lighting in his brass Fujiama K-36 in HOn3. Nancy, not being at all familiar with model railroading, was not sure what he wanted. He returned the next day with his prized possession to show and Nancy thought it was the coolest thing she had ever seen. They then began to work together and formed the Throttle Up! Corporation in Pocasset, Massachusetts. Their first product was shown to the public in Springfield, MA at the Big Railroad Show in January 1990.
Our first product, the Hyperlight, released in 1990

This new innovation was the Hyperlight. This product was the first lighting module on the market that used a processor to control the lighting effect. One module was able to create many different lighting effects, including a Mars light and Gyralight. No longer would modelers need to purchase separate circuits for different lighting effects. The heritage of this product is still evident today in our line of Tsunami decoders. 

This was just the beginning…

Blacktone Models Update: Drop Bottom Gondolas

As of this week, our Drop Bottom Gondolas are sold out. These cars are currently in production and are expected to arrive here in early May. If you want some of these cars and have not yet put in your reservations, check with your dealers to see what may they have available. 

On the plus side, we have a few High Side Gondolas from the second run still available for order through your dealers.

Tech Tip: Tsunami Sound Mixer

When using Tsunami decoders, each sound effect has its own volume setting, as well as an overall volume setting. This allows the modeler to customize the sounds to desired levels. Volume setting CVs are considered percentage CVs, meaning that a value of 0 (0%) turns the sound effect off, while a value of 255 (100%) is maximum volume. These CVs will accept any value from 0 to 255.

CV 128 is used for the overall volume control for steam and diesel Tsunami decoders. The Tsunami decoders leave our factory with CV 128 set at 192, which translates to 75% volume. CV 129 controls the whistle or horn volume. CV 130 is for the bell, and CV 131 controls the exhaust, diesel or steam chuff. CVs from there become model-specific. You can reference the lists of specific sounds in the respective Steam and Diesel User’s Guides.

After learning the array of sound effects available in each decoder, it is time to adjust the sound volumes. By setting CV 128, or overall volume, to maximum level immediately, it diminishes the effectiveness of volume adjustments for the different sound effects using the other CVs. To begin to adjust the sound levels, we recommend starting by turning down the overall volume to about 50%, or set CV 128 to 128. When the overall volume level is lower, the changes made in each sound effect are more audible. Once the adjustments have been made to customize the sound, the overall volume can then be raised to desired levels, and all volume adjustments will be raised equally.

Customizing sound volumes can be used to match prototype locomotives. Late in the heyday of steam, many locomotives were much too large for one crewmember to shovel coal. For example, a Union Pacific Big Boy was equipped with a coal stoker, so set CV 148, volume control for sound of coal shoveling, to a value of 0 to eliminate that sound effect. This way, Fireman Fred will not be worn out by the time the train leaves the yard!

Another example of using volume levels is to customize a locomotive to match the prototype can be found on George’s Mopac layout. Adjusting an EMD SD40-2 non-dynamic brake equipped loco is easy. When these locomotives were in a consist with dynamic brake equipped locos and the dynamic brakes were applied, the prime mover on the loco in question still followed the railroad’s practices by ramping down to idle. By setting CV 133, volume control for dynamic brakes, to a value of 0, this will turn the dynamic brake fan sound off, eliminating that sound effect. To control the prime mover, set CV 116 to 103. (7, auto-notching at 7 speed steps, +32, auto start enabled, +64, EMD dynamics runs prime mover to idle =103). This will allow the locomotive to drop to idle, as was the practice, but it will not play the dynamic brake sound when activated. This is effective when consisting locomotives using advanced consisting.

Using sound mixer CVs, you too can customize your locos to act more like their prototypes and get great reactions from your friends and operating crews!