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Model Railroading > New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W

Date: 05/17/06 05:57
New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W
Author: brfriedm

Hello all. I decided to post this review after thinking about it for a few days. There are allot of anti Digitrax people on this board and didn't feel like going through all the negative vibe but changed my mind. I originally wrote this review for the Digitrax Yahoo group which is very large. I now own 4 of these decoders and really like them. The sounds are excellent and some need some help but the fact that they are sound upgradeable gives me confidence that any poor sounds can be improved with a mouse click. I have since heard from AJ(owner and president of Digitrax) who read my review on the Yahoo board and stated that some of the poor sounds would be updated in the near future. After running these decoders for several days now, I feel that these are easily the best I have run including Loksound, QSI and Soundtraxx. They cost me $65.00@ and take about 25 minutes to install. I put a video in the video area so you could hear them. The movie is from my digital camera and is not the best quality but it gives you an idea. The coolest thing about these decoders is they draw very little power. At full load, 3 of these drew 1/3 of an amp total. That does not seem possible but the tools don't lie. Anyways, enjoy.


Video on TO

I picked up my new Digitrax sound decoder and installed it and
wanted to give you some feedback.

The decoder is very easy to install. Once you get the shell off the
Kato HO AC4400W, it takes about 25 minutes to install. It really is
very simple to do.

Once I was done, I went about programming it. I used the latest Beta
version of Decoder Pro software and programmed it on my programming
track. There is a selection in Decoder Pro for the new Digitrax
sound decoder. It was built for the Tower 55 offering and I used it
with no problems on the AC4400W version. I do want to add that the
Digitrax sound decoder reacts very well to Decoder Pro and I get NO
error messages like I get all the time when programming QSI sound
decoders. I do use a PowerPax on the programming track. I was able
to change a variety of settings with ease.

So how does it sound? That's what we all want to hear. No pun

So the new sound decoder exceeded my expectations. First off, I was
concerned ahead of time that the Kato speaker design with only 1
speaker facing downward would be poor quality. It is not, in fact
the sound is fairly robust and has fairly good bass. That's good.
Here's a ratings line up on the different sounds.

Idle sounds - Best I have ever heard. The GE idle chug is great. A

Start up - The start up from idle to moving is not that good. There
is no transition. It goes from idle chugging to fairly full motor
noise almost immediately. It needs more transition sound that
graduates. C-

Running with a load - Excellent and probably one of the best GE
running chugs out there. I like it. B +

Horn - Horn sounds good but is not as good as the QSI. It comes with
a UP style of horn but I thought it would have built in a few others
you could select. I had the unit in a CSX AC4400W. By the way, when
I programmed it for playable whistle, the horn sound goes to almost
non existent so I had to turn it off. Bug? B

Bell - Good but not as good as a QSI. Needs to be stronger. B

Brakes - Well on a QSI sound module, the brakes come on as you slow
down automatically which is a nice feature and they sound good. The
Digitrax brakes must be turned on manually using F9. The brake
sound is almost non existent. This sound byte needs major help. D

Air Blow off - I thought their air blow off was one of the best I
have heard. Nice work. A

Dynamic Brakes - This is also nice sounding and I thought it sounded
great too. B +

Coupler crash - This is also a sound byte that is fairly poor and
needs an update. D.

Running and lighting - The unit ran very well and the board comes
with the new style yellow LED's which look great. If you want
flashing ditch lights, you will need to cut the light bar and wire
in 2 bulbs to the accessory lighting board which looks very easy. I
plan to do that this weekend. Lastly, this decoder seems to draw
almost no power. I have several power districts on my layout and all
of them have Tony's RRampMeter's to measure track voltage and
amperage draw. The Digitrax Sound decoder at full load shows very
little draw. Nice.

So what do I give this decoder overall? B

The New Digitrax sound decoder is super easy to install, sounds
good, runs well and at $65.00@(combo), which is what my dealer
charged me, a great value. Lastly, since the decoder is upgradeable,
some of those sound bytes that aren't that good can eventually be
upgraded when better ones are made available!

Be well.

Bruce Friedman

Date: 05/17/06 07:23
Re: New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W
Author: fjc

I watched your video file Bruce, looks good indeed and I think the sound was good also. However I'm not sure if it was present in the video as I didn't listen too closely, was the sound of the brakes in conjunction with hearing air blowing at the same time, this is very common on other sound equipped engines. An co-worker (also engineer) listened to my RS27 once, he liked the sound, but commented on the engine brake sound and said it needs to be turned down. And, also you hear the air from inside the cab when you apply the train or engine brakes, but very little is heard from outside the cab. The good thing atleast with DCC and sound is you can adjust the levels to suit your needs.

I like Digitrax myself, I don't know what it is that folks get all worked up and bothered about, granted I haven't used my system as much. But my short testing phase, and set up phase was problem free and other equipment worked just fine too.


Date: 05/17/06 08:57
Re: New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W
Author: stivmac

"Sounds" like I'll wait a bit while they get it upgraded. Still, its good to see a lower price on sound. As they become more popular, that had to happen anyway. OUCH, there goes another blow to the bank account!

Date: 05/17/06 09:36
Re: New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W
Author: mcdeo

I didn't know these were available yet? I guess they are.

How about the F40PH sound units? Looked on their web site, looks like they too are available. Anyone confirm?

Date: 05/17/06 12:29
Re: New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W
Author: rdsexton

Sound aside, a decoder is a decoder is a decoder. They are all "supposed" to work right on any system. Now, publish a review of a D-brand control system and let us dissect you... ;-)

Date: 05/18/06 11:02
Re: New Digitrax sound decoder review - HO Kato AC4400W
Author: brfriedm

Just an update. I now have been running these for a few days. The Digitrax sound decoder comes with a huge capacitor attached which I assume is for "Keep alives" on dirty track so the sound doesn't cut out or reset. I have run these units over some pretty dirty track and the sound just keeps coming. MY QSI's reset from time to time or the sound drops. These decoders are well designed.


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