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00-trackThis is 00 track.  It’s what 4mm scale RTR is designed to run on and its never going to go away.  It’s a shame as most people will know its wrong but many wont see it as a problem (thats fine as it’s all toy trains anyway). While the subject of ‘better 00’ crops up on an almost monthly basis on forums I strongly doubt it’s ever going to lead to anything.  I am all for better 00, not that I would ever be tempted to use it, as anything that gets modellers thinking about and looking at track is a good thing to my mind. Despite standards for better 00 being laid down years ago no one seems able to agree on what they want better 00 to be.  Ultimately it’s not going to be any ‘better’ anyway – just wrong in a different way but RTR P4 as a system you can walk into a model shop and buy is just never going to happen.  The problem is that 00 has legacy, it’s a standard and things have to be backwards compatible.  This is an insurmountable problem and the only way its ever going to happen is for someone to invent a time machine, go back to the early days and change it then, before it got its foothold.

Thing is history is actually repeating itself right now.  We are in this golden moment where we can change the future and not end up being discussed on whatever replaces forums 50 years from now as to why did we ever do it like that? It’s not track this time, its sound!

Dont get me wrong, sound got me too – back in the early days when South West Digital and figuring out how to fit it was your only option I was hooked.  We were one of the early exhibitors of DCC sound with Amlwch and I wrote about the subject for MRJ.  It was great – it was just like the real thing.  It slowed shunting down to something closer to reality and the play value was immense. Then after a year or 2 and 6 loco’s the bubble burst.  It wasnt enough, something was missing.  The problem, it’s too loco centric.  Yes locomotives make noise but so does everything else, sound kind of drew my attention to this and the reality was completely shattered. The investment in DCC sound has become my only real regret of my time in the hobby.

Imagine the scenario, you turn up to a show and I am there exhibiting New Street.  I am running all of the right services as per the timetable, I am doing all the right loco moves such as loco changes and reversals as per the station working book instructions.  Everything is completely as it should be except there’s no stock.  EMU’s only have the power cars running, passenger trains have no coaches, freight trains have no wagons.  It would be completely unacceptable from a visual point of view to do this but from and acoustic point of view that is exactly what we do with DCC sound.  On top of that fans of DCC sound will argue that a model is better for doing it.  They argue that as time goes on things will only get better.

Imagine another scenario – the evening parcels train arrives from Derby – It has a 47 on the front and is made up of 10 coaches. I would want the sound for the whole train to be accurate. The loco uncouples and shuffles of to Saltley, I would want the sound to be accurate for a light loco.  An 08 starts up from a dock and attaches itself to the rear of the train.  I need the sound of an 08 running light.  It removes 1 van and parks it in the dock.  I need the sound of an 08 and 1 van. A class 31 arrives from Saltley – Light loco sound required,  It attaches to the train and departs so I need the sound of th same train with a different loco and one less van than I started with.  The 31 is having to be worked harder now too.  Taken further the curves from New Streets Eastern end are tight – you get wheel squeal.  The train sounds different in the tunnels and going over the bridges.

When you think about something like the above a sound decoder in a loco which responds to movement and some additional functions is never going to be able to get anywhere near what I want.  It’s an evolutionary dead end.  But as sound takes hold and takes us in the direction it chooses right now we are repeating exactly what happened with 00 track.  There will become a point when DCC sound has legacy and it will become impossible to change.  We are not there yet!

28 Responses

  1. Clive Mortimore

    Hi Jim

    00 all the way with me, as you say OK for toy trains.

    Never have liked sound as it is only locos and with my poor ear one diesel sounds like another so seems point less. Just prior to DCC sound I was using a under-baseboard sound system with Hanging Hill. Number One Sun had edited quite a few engine idling sounds and locos moving off, with flange squeals and wheel clickerty click. Not matched with loco movements but had that background noise hub you got when visiting a depot. Best of all it had a deep base sound, big locos have a base sound not a tinny high pitch squeal one gets from loco mounted speakers. Stopped using it when loco sound decoders became common.

    It was Simon who said at DEMU Showcase, “The problem with todays layouts they all sound the same.”

    25/10/2013 at 1:39 pm

  2. Graham

    An interesting and thought provoking topic… there are a couple of 7mm layouts which have “sound” for some cameos outside of the railway fence, for example Bucks Hill – I know of no model where there is that un-mistakeable sound of BRUTES weaving and wobbling along a platform! Neither do I know of any layout which has appropriate station announcements. Who can forget the lady at Reading circa 1970-1975 who would announce the next Bristol service with the ending “Weston- SUPA-Mere?

    How do you think we shall proceed to broaden and thereby enhance our “sound experience”?

    25/10/2013 at 2:14 pm

  3. For me DCC sound is pointless. It does more to make a model less realistic, than the other way ’round. Realistic sound has to be all inclusive;- ambient sounds, background noises along with good sound reproduction. Most DCC speakers are tinny, the resultant sound is nothing like the real thing. I can’t understand why you’d put a speaker in a plastic shell anyway? When setting up the hi-fi you wouldn’t hook up the speakers and leave them in the box?

    The best layout sound is in your head I think, a good model railway will make you imagine sounds in your mind’s ear.


    25/10/2013 at 5:22 pm

  4. TomGTFC

    I think one day it will be possible but the demand has to be there. If you have the inclination/ will to feed extra info into the sound module then I’m sure it it could be done.

    How to handle peripheral vehicles is also an interesting point. On layouts where freight trains with wagons are likely to be seen how one would get that sound of the sets of buffers clanging together when a train stops would be a consideration.

    25/10/2013 at 5:53 pm

  5. Roly Thresher

    I’m inclined to agree with Carl (above comment). The imagination is a wonderful thing, unfortunately not everyone possesses one.
    For the older generation who were lucky (yes lucky) to be born pre-television, pre-computer, a piece of firewood could be a bus,train,racing car, or the local bobby on his bike, if you were lucky your dad nailed another piece of wood crossways and you had an aeroplane. These were all conjured up in your imagination. Sadly today we have to have DCC sound to help convince us, or some of us that is.

    25/10/2013 at 7:12 pm

  6. John Woodall

    Some interesting viewpoints, but also a wee bit of bias. I think that DCC sound can be likened to lighting and people in passenger stock. Yes you can have a passenger car that looks good. add a person or 20 with out lighting and it looks better. Add some lighting with out people and it looks good. Add people and lighting and it looks magnificent.

    Its the same with sound. Loco sound, stock sounds, ambient sound all added together make it whole. Real life isn’t like that at times. Imagine either going to an international sports game at the stadium or going to a pub to watch it on TV with a whole lot of people, or watching it at home. Which is better? They all have different aspects. The stadium has the crowd atmosphere but no commentary the pub has a bit of crowd atmosphere and some commentary that you can hear clearly (depends on how many people are there) and home has great commentary but no crowd atmosphere. So is sound there to add to the realism or enhance the viewing pleasure?

    It is easy to focus on the small speaker in the locomotive, while not addressing the speakers in the layout. Base is as much about feeling as hearing. Model trains do not have huge amounts of weight so you need to simulate that base sound by adding a base speeker under the layout.

    Why stop at locomotive and train sounds. What about station announcements, brutes banging together, traffic sounds, general populace sounds, even bird sounds.

    Currently the misconception is that DCC sound = sound in locomotive, so by its nature it is very one dimensional. When ambient sound is added it is then that it starts to sound more realistic.

    But and there is always a but, in an exhibition environment, OO sound is generally drowned out by the crowd noise, it is not until you get to O scale and above that there is sufficient volume available to override the crowd noise, so a difficult problem becomes even worse.

    For me effective sound is like movement on a layout, it is there to draw my attention, to make me pause and look and admire what has been done.

    I am not brash enough to have all the answers just maybe a viewpoint that is left or right of centre

    25/10/2013 at 7:59 pm

  7. rob dagg

    interesting angle but quite right !
    for me the most memorable railway sound was a class 50 speeding through maidenhead at 100 mph with 10 on…
    this cannot be simulated in a plastic model at all, nor would I want to as it would need speakers iron maiden would be proud of and I’m sure the neighbours wouldn’t be happy.

    maybe on the basis that it’s ” better than nothing” , and as a lot if modellers are ” loco centric ” they wouldn’t mind.

    the issues I mainly have are the RTR versions I’ve heard just are not that great, and even with bachmann discounted price we are looking at £200 per loco which I cannot justify really . The tech doesn’t seem to have come down in price at all yet.

    I’ll just keep making chuff chuff noises in my head..

    25/10/2013 at 9:07 pm

  8. jim s-w

    Thanks all. It’s not sound that I have a problem with, it’s that the current route can’t get to where I think it needs to be. Some sort of home cinema style, layout based surround sound system has to ultimately be more flexible/ realistic.

    The comment on coach lights is good but better doesn’t always mean realistic. Modelling new street I have looked at an awful lot of trains under the roof in next to pitch black conditions. I know most of them are in service and I know they have their lights on. However I can’t actually see that they are on in the vast majority of cases.

    25/10/2013 at 11:29 pm

  9. John Woodall

    Hi Jim,

    By better I did not necessarily mean more realistic!!!!

    I was once talking to a commercial model builder who for a great number of years did not put people in his passenger cars because to his mind having a passenger car sitting unused in a yard with people in it would look wrong. Then one day he decided to put some people in a passenger car and see if they were noticeable. He received a lot of feedback about how good the car looked with people in it when it was sitting in the station or moving in a train. But no one noticed that the coach had people in it when it was sitting in a yard. Admittedly the coach was not filled to busting with people, just sufficient to show that it was being used.

    Lighting is similar. to bright and it looks wrong, to dull and what’s the point. Also the ability to be able to turn them on and off is probably just as important nowadays, maybe greater than in the past.

    But your right just adding lighting or people to bog standard coaches is not going to improve there appearance at all.

    26/10/2013 at 2:52 am

  10. Eric Steele

    I would point anyone who thinks that the present manifestation of DCC sound is good in the direction of the magnificent recording made by Peter Handford in the 1950s and 60s. Peter was a master of the art of sound recording and honed his skills in the Army Film Unit during WW2 then worked with David Lean on many films.

    With Peter you get a sound picture, not just a loco noise. A curlew calls on the fells as a train struggles op the bank, a car passes, an express train rushes down hill with hardly a sound from the loco but a roar from the stock, a loose coupled freight struggles down against the squeal of pinned down brakes. A block bell sounds in the signal box.

    As you say something akin to a surround-sound cinema system would be needed to get this.

    26/10/2013 at 8:00 pm

  11. jim s-w

    That’s a very good point Eric and its important to remember that people who are heavily interested in things are usually highly focussed. This is not always a good thing as they can be so wrapped up in what they are doing that they loose sight of the wider picture and I really believe in this instance this is what is happening. With each new development there is an improvement but without looking outside of the box* it’s easy to convince yourself that you know what ‘good’ is.
    Even if you restrict yourself to model railways in the uk and the current online forums most of the truly highly regarded modellers (people like Gordon and Maggie Gravett, Ian Rice, Chris Pendlenton, John Brighton etc) don’t post anything. It’s almost like there’s a premier league which is hidden from the masses.

    *a subject for a future mini article.

    27/10/2013 at 12:20 pm

  12. Simon Glidewell

    Very true Jim; very true…

    27/10/2013 at 3:22 pm

  13. Kevin Prince

    I’m with you, the same goes for DCC lights that are the power of searchlights in 70’s diesels. In an urban environment it was often a struggle to see loco lights and they were off during daylight hours as I recall (87’s excepted – you could always recognise the lights of an 87 from a long way off)

    I know I was only wee, and I know it was crude by today’s standards but John Allison’s O Gauge porth-y-Waen with generic birdsong, catle, tractors and type 2 burble was a new high and that was in the mid-70s. Nothing synchonised at all but it did give the impression of leaning on a fence in the country and that’s where I feel sound needs to go. Surround sound and couple the decoders to proper speakers under the baseboard – no reason whay you can’t consist them with the running loco and that way you only need as many sound decoders as you will be running locos concurrently – saving straight off. Add in other sound decoders with squeal and customised sounds per train and you might be getting there. Actually, why use decoders, just run it straight from a PC with a link to the running stuff.

    29/10/2013 at 9:19 pm

  14. jim s-w

    That’s ultimately where I think it needs to be Kevin

    30/10/2013 at 2:26 pm

  15. The one thing models will never do is recreate the whole ‘feeling’ of a train passing. I watch class 6 freights trains, loaded coal ones mostly, where the noise builds as the appear and you ‘feel’ their passing as the hammer passed at line speed, the signal box shakes. The best thing to recreate this is our imagination as we watch a model and add the missing bits in our heads.

    06/11/2013 at 6:33 pm

  16. Simon Glidewell

    So true James! In our heads we are viewing “real trains” on our layouts using our endless imagination to fill in the missing pieces. The tiny scaled down sound in model locomotives is precisely that, scaled down, which doesn’t fit the mental image of the train passing.


    06/11/2013 at 8:33 pm

  17. Simon Glidewell

    I forgot to say; when I look at my tiny layout (compared to Jim’s) I am instantly placed in north Kent by the Thames, hearing sea birds and wind rustling through tall grasses and reeds… not trains (well, very few). This is partly why I built the model; it was a way of having a little chunk of the UK in France.

    06/11/2013 at 8:36 pm

  18. Lucy Pitch

    I could not agree more with your thoughts on ambient sound for layouts. I have been working on something for a few weeks now that allows me to introduce sounds such as road noise, station announcements, seagulls, flange squeal, etc. Infact anything that could be recorded to your laptop can be played at the touch of a button. I am able to overlap the sounds (as many as I like). If you’re interested perhaps you can have a look at the next WMAG meet.

    Coach and wagon noise could be easily added.

    07/11/2013 at 8:26 am

  19. jim s-w

    Sounds interesting. I won’t be at the next WMAG meeting (got to work) but I would like a look at some point.

    09/11/2013 at 11:23 am

  20. James Craig

    Have you thought about having something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oiys4oL-eCA playing on loop through some speakers under the station? It could add a lot of atmosphere and it doesn’t need to be all that clear I don’t think?

    Great build, just been catching up with it on here rather than RMWeb!


    16/04/2014 at 12:27 pm

  21. jim s-w

    Hi James

    One of the announcers for New Street kindly offered to re-record the announcements for me. I haven’t been on RMweb for well over a year. I drop in now and again as a guest but it seems to be all wish listing and arguments when I do.



    17/04/2014 at 8:24 am

  22. Hi Jim…
    I’m not fond of sound decoders myself…for many reasons.
    I resolved to find myself a cheaper and better way for my 7mm fleet.
    I then found this for my iPad ….Cost? £1.99
    Similar versions are available for PC and Android devices although this is by far the best I’ve found.
    I stream via Bluetooth to onboard speakers for 7mm or to speakers beneath my layout for the 4mm layout.


    Hopefully these will translate as links….


    07/07/2014 at 6:14 pm

  23. Hi Jim…
    Seems as if there is width truncation of the youtube display.
    Both should be fully visible…
    Maybe these will be better?



    07/07/2014 at 10:02 pm

  24. You might want to look at this:

    16/11/2014 at 9:47 pm

  25. Iain Rice

    Sound – can be wonderful, but not as we know it! IMHO on-board sound is a complete dead end technically and accoustically but will go on being promoted heavily because it’s easy to market and needs lots of profitable bits. In the US, you can now buy sound-equipped cars that reproduce ‘train’ sounds or ‘spot’ sounds like the refrigeration packs on mechanical reefers: more speakers, extra decoders and add-on electronics, higher on-track power requirement, so bigger booster packs – and so on, and so on.

    Ambient sound has to be the way forward: a matrix of mid range/top-end ‘tweeters’ distributed about the layout plus a sub-woofer or two for the bass, all fed with appropriate audio signals (which can incorporate loco sound, train sounds, non-railway and background sounds, station announcements and just about any other noise you care to name). In other words, using a programmable version of well-established ‘surround sound’ audio technology to ‘locate’ sounds within the required sound stage and ‘track’ moving sound sources (e.g., trains). A lot of cinemas already use similar systems in conjunction with computer-enhanced or 3-D imagery.

    The other half of such a system is some means of ‘tracking’ moving sound sources within the ‘sound stage’ (i.e., on the layout ). Which calls for some simple means of detecting where the train is at any given moment. Your favourite train-detection gizmo (optical sensors, magnetic sensors, electronic proximity detectors, mechanical or electrical wiping contacts) can do this.

    The key to the whole thing is a bit of software that can ‘learn’ the track layout and locate the train on same, then use this info to ‘move’ a pre-programmed ‘bundle’ of sounds (i.e., the acoustic ‘signature’ of that particular train, with link to speed/load characteristics as with programmable DCC sound chips) around the sound-stage by means of the top-end speaker matrix. (Bass in this context would effectively be non-directional, so you’d only need a very basic sub-woofer set up, depending on layout size.)

    The other thing you would need would be a simple mixing desk to input samples/specific audio packets to mix your ‘train sound bundles’ , with a DCC-style function keypad to superimpose occasional sounds (horns, brakes, air pumps, expletives and so on). All of which would be within the scope of an app for normal home computing devices or, if DCC was retained for the train driving function, as an integral function of a DCC command unit. On the output side, car audio components (some of which, these days, are pretty darn’ good) would do the job, no problem.

    In case you think Rice is rambling in his dotage, I visited a US layout with just such an ambient sound set-up as long ago as 2003, using exactly these principles. It wasn’t even DCC! I believe at least one of the mainstream US DCC outfits (NCE? Or maybe even Soundtrax) has an ‘ambient’ system under development using the telemetry capabilities of the latest DCC chips for train location. That way, they still get to sell lots of expensive new chips!

    But a simple ambient system? I’d be first in the queue. My sort of tiddly layout would only need a pair of tweeters, a small woofer and a progammablel cross-fader. Choo-choo!

    15/01/2017 at 1:18 pm

  26. jim s-w

    This is spot on Iain.

    Welcome to the site too


    15/01/2017 at 3:20 pm

  27. Jim Tinnion

    What Iain is describing is just what I’m looking for. I’m working on 2mm FS now where the stock is always going to be too small for a speaker to generate a meaningful depth of sound.

    I’ve seen a couple of videos where guys are using hi-find quality amplification with sub baseboard speakers, but the sound source is a DCC sound decoder for each type of loco which is switched in and out, consisted with the loco’s onboard decoder. This seems very clunky, and there’s no attempt to stage the sound directionally (occasionally manually via a mixing board maybe?)

    Surely most of this can be achieved in software now?

    The Sountraxx system (SurroundTraxx?) could be attractive for a US prototype and works like this, but I need whistlers, duffs, and some selected preserved steam locos. And lapwings, wind in the bracken, the sound of running water, and the occasional vehicle…


    08/02/2017 at 10:39 pm

  28. jim s-w

    I saw a good quote the other day that could sum up onboard sound being a dead end.

    No matter how much you try to improve a candle, you will never end up with a light bulb!

    09/02/2017 at 9:28 am

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