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DCC sound

Sounds like history repeating

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!