What to do when repairing or installing sound into your trains

Many customers are interested in retrofitting their engines with Sound (for Analog and DCC).  We also often receive requests for replacement sound board for our LGB, USA TrainsPIKO.... engines. Especially with LGB, which sold engines with sound for more than 20 years, we are asked to replace boards. Here are a few considerations:

LGB Sound boards

LGB offered sound early on with non-digital boards (for example the old Moguls with the double sandwich board in the tender). Compared to what modern sound boards can do we find the sound was horrible, but provided some excitement for the operators at the time because once it was state of the art.  Many of these boards have been out of production for more than 20 years, and even if we can find them, the price you pay and the quality you get doesn't justify replacing the old defective board, as you can buy a modern board for the same price.  Additionally, with old electronics you risk that they become defective in shortly after you install them. The same is true for the digital generations following the Analog generations. Past sound modules offered generic sounds (European Steam, American Steam, Electric, Diesel).  The ZIMO sound boards we offer have a library of over 200 sounds available, each expertly recorded with the correct prototype and masterfully studio mixed to give a museum-like experience. A mogul isn't a Big Boy, and an F7 is not a GP7.

Analog or Digital

While it doesn't matter in terms of technology, our team still likes to know if you are interested in Analog operation or DCC, because a few implementation choices must be made depending on the answer.  However, the recommended technology will be always the same. By default, our installations run under both Analog and DCC.  Here are the reasons why we need to know which operating environment you have:

  • In Analog we recommend a mechanical volume control (in DCC this can be done via the handheld),
  • Many Analog customers want to trigger bell and whistle via track magnets.  Soundboards with many individual functions can only be triggered by remote DCC handhelds, but magnetic triggers can trigger two sounds (typically a bell and a whistle).

Modern Sound Boards

The current generation of combo-boards (these are integrated control boards that run under DCC and Analog with sound) has many advantages: 

  • One of the main advantages of these solution is that the motor is controlled by the same board and it is synchronized with the sound. 
  • With conventional analog only boards, the engine starts moving before the sound kicks in.  Sound amplifiers need a minimum track voltage to operate, and if you don't have influence over the motor than the motor moves.  ZIMO (our recommended solution) delays engine operation until the soundboard is on (roughly around 5V).
  • Motor control gives you back-EMF feedback for better performance under loads and on inclines.

What about Smoke?

Modern boards can synchronize smoke to the load, taking advantage of the fan-driven smoke unit.  However, under analog conditions these effects are limited because the heater needs power for the engine to make lots of smoke, and of course with analog there is no track power when the engine is at standstill.

What about Speaker?

It is important to understand that the sound depth and quality requires a good speaker.  If you are replacing an existing installation, then you will find typically primitive (<$1) speakers utilized.  We instead recommend Visaton speakers, that are used also in HiFi equipment. A high-quality speaker makes a tremendous difference.  For example, think of the difference in sound quality between your smartphones built-in speaker and your stereo/sound system.

What ZIMO product to choose?

Call us for the proper recommendation of sound boards from ZIMO. But in general:

  • MX645 series: LGB Stainz and other small two axle engines can utilize this smaller decoder.  Typically, we recommend the MX645P22 with ADAPLU50 (we sell this as a combo).  But if you want to drive a smoke unit this decoder will be too small.
  • MX696 series: well suited for any LGB engine (LGB engines utilize about 1A per motor, this board can handle up to 4A). Board comes with flat ribbon cable and you splice your motor, light and speaker cables to the flat ribbon cable)
  • MX699 series: well suited for all heavy engines (6A running current, 10A max current). There is a L (punch down plug for your cables) and K (screw terminals) version
  • S or V all boards:  Typically, the S version of boards are sufficient for many applications. The main difference with V is that it has more function outputs and regulated voltage outputs.  Engines with pantograph control and Swiss lighting need V versions.  Also, if you want automatic de-coupler operation we recommend the V version. S and V versions have the same 30 function key support (ie sound and other functionality control).




Topic: Sound in engines

Scale: G-scale, O-scale, HO-scale

Manufacturers: LGB, USA Trains, Aristo, HLW, Accucraft, Kiss, Pullman