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NCE Power Cab - right choice+questions?


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Hi folks, I know part of this post is going to be subjective so I've tried to stick to finding out the more straight forward points from what I've looked at so far. As title I've been looking at getting a DCC system, from other posts, my own browsing, budget and usability the NCE seems to fit the bill.

By the time I finish the next small extension I'll have approx 7x5ft with a double circuit and some sidings/station etc, thus I don't think the higher power systems are warranted yet (and this is upgradable should the need arise, rather than starting from scratch). I read somewhere this would be suitable for approx 4 locos running at once which I think would be the limit of possible anyway. Am I right in that understanding?

Many recommended methods include computer control, which looks great but I'm not currently seeking. The layout is a project with my 6 year old and I think that would be beyond him for a few more years. Also part of the attraction of the hobby taking me beyond just supporting him is that it's an escape from screens. In terms of budget this compares with the Gaugemaster Prodigy Express and seems to win on features, the Prodigy Advance seems equal or better however at time of looking is at least £130 more expensive and less easily available at the moment.

As mentioned, use by a 6 year old is key, as I understand it I can buy an extra handset (CAB06) to plug in which seems simpler than the included handset, so the handset from the starter set I would use and presumably does the complicated programming functions, and he would use the addon one simultaneously, if I've researched correctly?

In time I want to have a smaller layout that I'll probably do on the side, either the scalescenes boxfile or one to fit a wrapping paper box. Presumably I can unplug one of the controllers from the main layout to use on this, but which components would I need two of? (it is kept in different rooms so I wouldn't be able to wire them together for example).

Are there any other options I should consider that don't go much beyond £250? For example I kept seeing Roco Multimaus recommended but it wasn't clear what else I needed to buy to go with it so couldn't get a total cost for comparison, that also looked more like the simpler NCE controller so I wasn't sure where the equivalent 'rest of the buttons' from the Power Cab would be covered.

Apart from the starter set (and decoders which is a can of worms I haven't yet opened), is there anything else I need to buy to get up and running?

 

Many thanks

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 I've used Powercabs for several years incl on the exhibition circuit and have had little problem with them. I like them. A couple of minor issues which I resolved myself with some advice from one of the specialist suppliers. They suit me and I have no plans to change,

As for switching between layouts I put the connection circuit board into a small plastic box, that way there is no element fixed to the layout, just a pair of cables from the box ending in banana plugs which plug into  the females on each layout. Just held on with velcro strips. So the only extra is a pair of sockets on each layout.

The auxiliary handset is useful I actually have an older version the Cab04, but have used the Cab06 and it is fine.

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2 hours ago, Tomathee said:

Apart from the starter set (and decoders which is a can of worms I haven't yet opened), is there anything else I need to buy to get up and running?

I went with the NCE PowerCab back in 2017 when I started my first layout, just after I retired. I too looked at all the affordable DCC controllers and came to the conclusion that the NCE was suitable for me, and I've not been disappointed. I've had it running 3-trains simultaneously (with 2 on gradients) and no issues.

 

One item I did add was the NCE to USB adapter (model 524-223). I downloaded the free JMRI software and, together with the USB adapter, this allows me to adjust the DCC decoder settings on the computer, which I find is much easier than using the NCE. You can also control locos from the software if you wish.

 

Ian 

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My first venture into DCC control was with the NCE powercab , and with the experience using several layouts I can vouch the NCE range is my preferred choice. The biggest let down is the instruction manual and when you start to use the range of accessories including block detectors mini panels you will find that documentation leaves a bit to be desired. Find someone who uses NCE and the powercab to show you all the features , much easier than trying to follow the manual. The downside of the powercab is that with locomotives fitted with sounds you will be hunting for power, up grade with something like the Dcc concepts power pack when your ready. Several times I have looked at some other brands but each time come back to the NCE range. In conclusion it’s all about preferences , the powercab is an ideal starter and not too much cash outlay if you decide later DCC is not for you. I now use My NCE with JMRi and control from a computer.

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Have you considered a Sprog and JMRI.

 

I was looking at NCE Powercab as my entry into DCC, but at the time there were none anywhere in stock and I was lurching towards Bachmann Dynamis until Sprog was mentioned.

 

So you do need a computer as your controller, though you can wifi onto a mobile device from there, but the Sprog is 80 pounds, JMRI is free and the money saved can be spent on chips.  I've got an N gauge set with sound locos running on it, about to add Cobalt IP point motors too.

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49 minutes ago, 4firstimes said:

The biggest let down is the instruction manual

Interesting because I thought the manual was pretty good, if read carefully & slowly, given that I found starting in DCC was a steep learning curve anyway. I like the way the Powercab breaks down programming CV29 into sections, rather than trying to calculate all the 'bits' values yourself, similar with programming a 'long' (i.e. 4-digit) running number.

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The Powercab is very upgradable & building the system up piece by piece is no more expensive than going for the Powerpro in the first place. Need more power - add a booster when you can afford/justify it. Need a computer interface - add a USB interface when you can afford/justify it. Want a separate programming track? Add one when you can afford/justify it. If you don't want any of these, you will never need to spend money on components you don't use.

Don't worry about how much current your layout draws. The Powercab has a built in ammeter so you will see if you are getting near its limits. If you do, you will know that buying a booster will not be a waste. You may find that the standard system can power more trains than you can manage to stay in control of.

It has no 'missing' features or functions. When programming you can read back CVs. It is easier to program if you know what values you have in the first place.

 

It is hard to find some things in the manual, but I find this difficult to criticise. It is a complex device so a simple manual would be inadequate. Some find this intimidating & I can understand why, which is why many ask questions on here!

The basic features are easy to use though.

 

If you want it on a second layout, you would just need the panel (or the similarly priced 3 socket DCC Concepts Alpha panel) then just move the power supply & handset across.

 

There are some tings it does not do which you can find on other systems:

Railcom

5 digit numbers/nicknames for locos (Powercab just uses the standard 4 digit addresses)

Other things of which I am not aware because I am a Powercab user.

 

Another consideration is that there are lots of Powercab users around, so you can get help either in person or on here.

It seems to be the most popular system within members at the local club & when we get back to meetings, we have discussed having a Powercab night to answer each other's questions about how to use it.

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1 hour ago, F-UnitMad said:

Interesting because I thought the manual was pretty good, if read carefully & slowly, given that I found starting in DCC was a steep learning curve anyway. I like the way the Powercab breaks down programming CV29 into sections, rather than trying to calculate all the 'bits' values yourself, similar with programming a 'long' (i.e. 4-digit) running number.

 

Pretty much every system does the "long address" calculations for you (I'm scratching head to think of anything on sale that doesn't).   The CV29 stuff is OK, but some of the rest of the PowerCab's "helpful" programming stuff frequently causes people to come un-stuck, because its largely assuming an NCE decoder s in use.     That's not to say the PowerCab is bad, but just don't get suckered into the "helpful" stuff misleading you (and potentially into a deep hole). 

 

The one negative is the "momentum" button, particularly if you have sound fitted locos.  Pressing that button re-programmes CV3 and CV4 in the loco.  But, those values are often set to fairly carefully chosen values in sound decoders to get everything to play out correctly.  There is no way the momentum button can put things back to where they were.     Just be aware of what that button does  (some people disable it with a bit of tape over the PCB under the button, so it cannot be accidentally pressed).  

 

There are other possible systems, but as the original question seemed to be "is there a reason why not", then not worth exploring. 

 

 

- Nigel

 

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Make sure you heed NCE's own warnings about the PowerCab's limited, basic overcurrent protection.

The PowerCab doesn't have a proper short circuit breaker that will trip, only the basic cut-out.

 

NCE users are generally very pleased with the system, even if it does lack various modern features, which you might not need or want anyway.

The company appears to be following the KISS principle, as apart from occasional software/firmware updates, the main PowerPro system is basically the same old DCC system that was released more than a quarter of a century ago, as the Wangrow System One. The PowerCab, which is a cut-down budget version of the original, came along about a decade later.

 

Moving between layouts.

Two good suggestions have been made so far.

1. Make the PCP and the power supply portable (e.g. fitted in a box ), so they move to the "other layout" with the handset. or....

2. Add a second PCP and power supply to the other layout.

The point to note is that the PowerCab is the complete DCC system (command station, booster and cab/throttle) contained in a handset, so you are moving the whole system to the other layout, whether using method 1. or 2.

 

.

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The Cab06 comes (or did when I bought one) in two forms. The digital and the analogue versions. One has a centre off position on the knob the other just goes round and round so it is difficult to know when you're at zero. Unfortunately I can't recall which is which. the young modeller may find the centre off position better.

 

The Power Supply Unit (PSU) that comes with some/most UK PowerCabs is often a 13.8 volt supply whereas the PowerCab will operate with a 15 volt supply and deliver a higher track voltage. Some dealers will supply the higher voltage supply.

 

You don't say what gauge your layout is. We have a largish O gauge club layout that, when we first experimented with dcc via a PowerCab, ran four Heljan diesels, each with sound on a circular layout. I wouldn't necessarily recommend trying it too often but it does demonstrate what can be done with just a basic PowerCab.

 

Track Power is taken from the NCE PCP panel via a plug-in connector. You could get a second one of these plugs so that you have one on each layout. The PCP Panel, PSU and PowerCab can then be transferred between layouts as a "group" simply by connecting the "group" to whichever layout you want to use.

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On 29/04/2021 at 18:40, johnb said:

 I've used Powercabs for several years incl on the exhibition circuit and have had little problem with them. I like them. A couple of minor issues which I resolved myself with some advice from one of the specialist suppliers. They suit me and I have no plans to change,

As for switching between layouts I put the connection circuit board into a small plastic box, that way there is no element fixed to the layout, just a pair of cables from the box ending in banana plugs which plug into  the females on each layout. Just held on with velcro strips. So the only extra is a pair of sockets on each layout.

The auxiliary handset is useful I actually have an older version the Cab04, but have used the Cab06 and it is fine.

 

Thanks for the suggestion, that sounds like a good idea for what I had in mind

 

On 29/04/2021 at 19:17, ISW said:

I went with the NCE PowerCab back in 2017 when I started my first layout, just after I retired. I too looked at all the affordable DCC controllers and came to the conclusion that the NCE was suitable for me, and I've not been disappointed. I've had it running 3-trains simultaneously (with 2 on gradients) and no issues.

 

One item I did add was the NCE to USB adapter (model 524-223). I downloaded the free JMRI software and, together with the USB adapter, this allows me to adjust the DCC decoder settings on the computer, which I find is much easier than using the NCE. You can also control locos from the software if you wish.

 

Ian 

 

Thanks for this, didn't know about adjusting settings on the computer. That might be a nice middle ground for adjusting settings and to have the option for controlling locos at a later stage

 

On 29/04/2021 at 20:42, woodenhead said:

Have you considered a Sprog and JMRI.

 

I was looking at NCE Powercab as my entry into DCC, but at the time there were none anywhere in stock and I was lurching towards Bachmann Dynamis until Sprog was mentioned.

 

So you do need a computer as your controller, though you can wifi onto a mobile device from there, but the Sprog is 80 pounds, JMRI is free and the money saved can be spent on chips.  I've got an N gauge set with sound locos running on it, about to add Cobalt IP point motors too.

 

Thanks, I saw Sprog mentioned but must admit I didn't look into it as there seemed a bit more legwork, some solutions mentioned the Raspberry Pi and so on. I'll have another look into it though

 

23 hours ago, Nigelcliffe said:

 

Pretty much every system does the "long address" calculations for you (I'm scratching head to think of anything on sale that doesn't).   The CV29 stuff is OK, but some of the rest of the PowerCab's "helpful" programming stuff frequently causes people to come un-stuck, because its largely assuming an NCE decoder s in use.     That's not to say the PowerCab is bad, but just don't get suckered into the "helpful" stuff misleading you (and potentially into a deep hole). 

 

The one negative is the "momentum" button, particularly if you have sound fitted locos.  Pressing that button re-programmes CV3 and CV4 in the loco.  But, those values are often set to fairly carefully chosen values in sound decoders to get everything to play out correctly.  There is no way the momentum button can put things back to where they were.     Just be aware of what that button does  (some people disable it with a bit of tape over the PCB under the button, so it cannot be accidentally pressed).  

 

There are other possible systems, but as the original question seemed to be "is there a reason why not", then not worth exploring. 

 

 

- Nigel

 

 

Thanks, eventually I think we'll try out sound once it's settled in a bit, will be something to bear in mind.

 

22 hours ago, Ron Ron Ron said:

Make sure you heed NCE's own warnings about the PowerCab's limited, basic overcurrent protection.

The PowerCab doesn't have a proper short circuit breaker that will trip, only the basic cut-out.

 

NCE users are generally very pleased with the system, even if it does lack various modern features, which you might not need or want anyway.

The company appears to be following the KISS principle, as apart from occasional software/firmware updates, the main PowerPro system is basically the same old DCC system that was released more than a quarter of a century ago, as the Wangrow System One. The PowerCab, which is a cut-down budget version of the original, came along about a decade later.

 

Moving between layouts.

Two good suggestions have been made so far.

1. Make the PCP and the power supply portable (e.g. fitted in a box ), so they move to the "other layout" with the handset. or....

2. Add a second PCP and power supply to the other layout.

The point to note is that the PowerCab is the complete DCC system (command station, booster and cab/throttle) contained in a handset, so you are moving the whole system to the other layout, whether using method 1. or 2.

 

.

 

Thanks for the two suggestions, the second layout is a way off given how much there is to do with the first, but it's on my mind (i.e. as it's in his bedroom I can't do anything that isn't removable to the spare room once he goes to bed, likelihood small or large that he'll lose interest and the main layout will need dismantling and I think I'd like to continue solo after that). I guess I was considering if it would need two complete starter systems or not, and the solutions suggested seem cheaper and within my capabilities to do.

 

12 hours ago, Ray H said:

The Cab06 comes (or did when I bought one) in two forms. The digital and the analogue versions. One has a centre off position on the knob the other just goes round and round so it is difficult to know when you're at zero. Unfortunately I can't recall which is which. the young modeller may find the centre off position better.

 

The Power Supply Unit (PSU) that comes with some/most UK PowerCabs is often a 13.8 volt supply whereas the PowerCab will operate with a 15 volt supply and deliver a higher track voltage. Some dealers will supply the higher voltage supply.

 

You don't say what gauge your layout is. We have a largish O gauge club layout that, when we first experimented with dcc via a PowerCab, ran four Heljan diesels, each with sound on a circular layout. I wouldn't necessarily recommend trying it too often but it does demonstrate what can be done with just a basic PowerCab.

 

Track Power is taken from the NCE PCP panel via a plug-in connector. You could get a second one of these plugs so that you have one on each layout. The PCP Panel, PSU and PowerCab can then be transferred between layouts as a "group" simply by connecting the "group" to whichever layout you want to use.

 

Thanks for the tip, part of the appeal of that handset was the dial, as the standard cab has the thumbwheel, which I think would be less suitable for him (a plus point of the Gaugemaster options). I will have to look into it a bit more as there were a few options and product codes I came across, also a wireless option, the centre off sounds like a good idea to go for. For info it's 00 gauge. Not sure which option I'll go with for using the system across two layouts, will probably depend on how I put it together and the room to attach a panel etc, it's a way off being a problem though, plenty of other things to give me a headache in the nearer future.

 

Thanks again for all the replies, I'm fairly well set on going forward, think I'll find a suitable decoder for one of the locos so I have something to test it out when it arrives. I'm sure I'll be back with something else around that date. 

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20 minutes ago, Tomathee said:

 

...... I will have to look into it a bit more as there were a few options and product codes I came across, also a wireless option, the centre off sounds like a good idea to go for. .....

 

A small legal point.   The NCE wireless system isn't legal to use in the UK (wrong frequencies, so no amount of "they could get it tested" will get it approved).   That's not stopped at least one retailer selling them, but if your job might be on the line for an offence under wireless and telegraphy legislation, that might be a consideration.    Chances of being prosecuted are vanishingly low.  

 

It is far far cheaper to implement wireless using a smartphone; there being numerous ways of attaching a throttle app on a phone to most DCC systems, NCE included.  

 

- Nigel

 

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More thoughts/comments.

 

The PowerCab itself shows you which speed step you are on - which in turn depends on what speed range you've got it set up for i.e. 14, 28 or 126 speed steps. Neither Cab06 option has that feature so there's an element of guesswork required as to which step the Cab06 is set to - and it's an even bigger guess on the Cab06 model without the knob travel limitations.

 

I see nobody has mentioned that you can select a loco and set any functions on or off that you wish using the PowerCab and then transfer control of that loco to another cab i.e. the Cab06. Note: It isn't completely that straight forward as what actually happens is the loco the PowerCab was controlling moves to the Cab06, and control of the loco that the Cab06 was controlling passes to the PowerCab. This is a useful feature because if a second throttle/cab uses the "Select Loco" function to take control of a loco being controlled by a different throttle the loco's settings often stop the loco, reverts to speed step 0 and all functions off.

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22 hours ago, Tomathee said:

 

Thanks for this, didn't know about adjusting settings on the computer. That might be a nice middle ground for adjusting settings and to have the option for controlling locos at a later stage

 

 

This leads into the topic of JMRI, but it is important to know that the Powercab can cope with the addition of a module (USB adapter). You can then add JMRI if or when you feel ready.

JMRI adds a lot. It provides a wireless adapter so you can drive trains using a phone app (you will need a wireless network to which your computer is connected). Some prefer this as a throttle, I prefer the Powercab.

It can also be used a point control panel.

As suggested, it makes adjusting settings (CVs) much easier & provides a really easy way to back these up so you can easily restore them if you mess something up or have to do a decoder reset.

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12 hours ago, Pete the Elaner said:

. . . . .

As suggested, it makes adjusting settings (CVs) much easier & provides a really easy way to back these up so you can easily restore them if you mess something up or have to do a decoder reset.

 

I can vouch for that. A couple of weeks ago a colleague's class 40 diesel started seriously misbehaving. I was able to compare the loco's then CV settings/values with those we'd recorded some while ago and spot the differences. Six we knew about, the seventh we didn't. We reset that CV's value and the loco was back to its old and valued ways.

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2 hours ago, Ray H said:

 

I can vouch for that. A couple of weeks ago a colleague's class 40 diesel started seriously misbehaving. I was able to compare the loco's then CV settings/values with those we'd recorded some while ago and spot the differences. Six we knew about, the seventh we didn't. We reset that CV's value and the loco was back to its old and valued ways.

 

I had a different scenario a while back.

I took my sound-fitted 08 (intended for the club layout) to have a run on the club's test track. I am used to driving trains with acceleration & deceleration. This one also had separate braking, which is even better.

One of the other members was used to more direct control so his first action was to zero off CVs 3&4. Anyone who has sound-fitted locos will know the sound works much better with suitable acceleration & this is definitely not zero. My initial reaction was one of annoyance, but I realised that all I needed to do was get it back on my programming track, pull up the page containing these values & write the entire page to the decoder. This is harder to explain than perform.

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On 29/04/2021 at 16:19, Tomathee said:

Hi folks, I know part of this post is going to be subjective so I've tried to stick to finding out the more straight forward points from what I've looked at so far. As title I've been looking at getting a DCC system, from other posts, my own browsing, budget and usability the NCE seems to fit the bill.

By the time I finish the next small extension I'll have approx 7x5ft with a double circuit and some sidings/station etc, thus I don't think the higher power systems are warranted yet (and this is upgradable should the need arise, rather than starting from scratch). I read somewhere this would be suitable for approx 4 locos running at once which I think would be the limit of possible anyway. Am I right in that understanding?

Many recommended methods include computer control, which looks great but I'm not currently seeking. The layout is a project with my 6 year old and I think that would be beyond him for a few more years. Also part of the attraction of the hobby taking me beyond just supporting him is that it's an escape from screens. In terms of budget this compares with the Gaugemaster Prodigy Express and seems to win on features, the Prodigy Advance seems equal or better however at time of looking is at least £130 more expensive and less easily available at the moment.

As mentioned, use by a 6 year old is key, as I understand it I can buy an extra handset (CAB06) to plug in which seems simpler than the included handset, so the handset from the starter set I would use and presumably does the complicated programming functions, and he would use the addon one simultaneously, if I've researched correctly?

In time I want to have a smaller layout that I'll probably do on the side, either the scalescenes boxfile or one to fit a wrapping paper box. Presumably I can unplug one of the controllers from the main layout to use on this, but which components would I need two of? (it is kept in different rooms so I wouldn't be able to wire them together for example).

Are there any other options I should consider that don't go much beyond £250? For example I kept seeing Roco Multimaus recommended but it wasn't clear what else I needed to buy to go with it so couldn't get a total cost for comparison, that also looked more like the simpler NCE controller so I wasn't sure where the equivalent 'rest of the buttons' from the Power Cab would be covered.

Apart from the starter set (and decoders which is a can of worms I haven't yet opened), is there anything else I need to buy to get up and running?

 

Many thanks


HI this may now be a bit late but I have just been through exactly the same thought processes as you at roughly the same time. My requirements were an experience as “similar to analogue feel” as possible; and something that my 5 year olds could operate. initially I went for the gaugemaster Prodigy as a result of the control knob, however I didn’t like the fact that it didn’t have a “0” position and I found it wasn’t the most refined level of control.
 

I therefore returned that and went for the NCE PowerCab system. Every review and model shop owner that I spoke to about this system couldn’t rate it highly enough. Suffice to say, I ordered and it arrived earlier this week and I can’t really fault it. So easy to use, the thumb wheel control is great. I also purchased it with the CAB006 in mind, as that seems like a great way to not only add an extra controller for one of my sons to use; but also a more simple interface with an even more “analogue like” experience should I still want that over the coming months. 
 

Hope this helps in some way!

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Is the Digitrax Zephyr worth looking at?

Great big direction and throttle handles for small hands?

I'm happy with my PowerCab and have extended it with a second ProCab, a Smart Booster and a USB adaptor so I can use JMRI for all my programming and WiFi throttles if desired.

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On 06/05/2021 at 14:15, Adrock said:


HI this may now be a bit late but I have just been through exactly the same thought processes as you at roughly the same time. My requirements were an experience as “similar to analogue feel” as possible; and something that my 5 year olds could operate. initially I went for the gaugemaster Prodigy as a result of the control knob, however I didn’t like the fact that it didn’t have a “0” position and I found it wasn’t the most refined level of control.
 

I therefore returned that and went for the NCE PowerCab system. Every review and model shop owner that I spoke to about this system couldn’t rate it highly enough. Suffice to say, I ordered and it arrived earlier this week and I can’t really fault it. So easy to use, the thumb wheel control is great. I also purchased it with the CAB006 in mind, as that seems like a great way to not only add an extra controller for one of my sons to use; but also a more simple interface with an even more “analogue like” experience should I still want that over the coming months. 
 

Hope this helps in some way!

 

Thanks for sharing your similar circumstances, glad to hear you took the same path. I ordered the NCE on Wednesday and it arrived Thursday, seemed to be £20 cheaper than most other places that had it in stock so winner all round. Have also ordered a decoder which I'm waiting for so I can have a play on a spare bit of track/plank of wood before I look at putting it onto the layout, will have to workout a gradual conversion program. The CAB006 I think I'll  definitely act on my original plan to include, seeing the powercab in the flesh that regular controller is a bit hefty.

 

5 hours ago, Luke Piewalker said:

Is the Digitrax Zephyr worth looking at?

Great big direction and throttle handles for small hands?

I'm happy with my PowerCab and have extended it with a second ProCab, a Smart Booster and a USB adaptor so I can use JMRI for all my programming and WiFi throttles if desired.

 

Thanks for the suggestion, I think I looked at this option, to be honest I can't remember why I didn't look further into it. Might have just been the weight of popular opinion for the NCE rather than something to put me off it.

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14 hours ago, Luke Piewalker said:

Is the Digitrax Zephyr worth looking at?

Great big direction and throttle handles for small hands?

I'm happy with my PowerCab and have extended it with a second ProCab, a Smart Booster and a USB adaptor .............


Not with your NCE system......they cannot be connected together.

As a stand alone DCC system, the latest version, the DCS52 Zephyr Express is much improved over previous versions.

It depends on whether you prefer to use a handheld throttle, or to operate from a fixed position ( a console based system).


It doesn’t suit my particular requirements, but the Zephyr has some nice chunky physical controls.

Some might regard those as giving a more tactile user experience.

 

 

.

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