Choosing the Right Sound System

If you are new to SoundTraxx and are unfamiliar with our products, knowing which product is most suited to your needs may seem to be a difficult choice. We can simplify this decision in a variety of ways with the following steps:

Step 1. Understand the Basics

  • All SoundTraxx products are DCC-Compatible

  • All SoundTraxx products have sounds available for both steam and diesel models.

  • Some SoundTraxx products will also work on DC or ‘analog’ layouts

  • No SoundTraxx products are compatible with 3-rail (AC) layouts such as Lionel or Williams

Step 2. Understand the Key Differences between Products

Your next step in deciding which of SoundTraxx products is right for you is to have a basic understanding of the differences in our product line. Briefly then:

  • Digital Sound Decoders are designed to be installed onboard your model with a speaker to provide sound that comes from the locomotive itself. They are most effective in HO, S, O and Large Scale Models.

  • Tsunami Digital Sound Decoders are compatible with both DC and DCC layouts.

  • LC Series Digital Sound Decoders are only compatible with DCC layouts.

  • SurroundTraxx is currently designed to work with DCC layouts using Digitrax Command Control and Block Detection and provides under the layout surround-sound. It is especially effective with small scales such as N-Scale where good onboard sound can be more difficult to achieve due to space constraints and the need for too-small-to-be-effective speakers.

Step 3. Determine What is Important to you

At this point, you need to apply the above and ask the following questions:

  • Do I have a DCC-controlled layout?

  • Do I desire to have onboard or under-layout sound?

  • How many sound features do I want?

Example 1:

You are modeling in HO Scale and would like to have onboard sound. Your layout is small and you are running a DCC layout using NCE as your command station. You have the ability to control up to 12 functions and realistic sound contributes greatly to your enjoyment of your layout. You also belong to a club that is currently operating in DC.

We suggest: Tsunami Digital Sound decoders have the highest quality of sound available on the market today. They have more sound features, as well as the best motor control and lighting features. Tsunami allows you the option of running in analog, so you can easily take your engines from home to your layout and run in both places.

Example 2:

You are modeling in HO Scale and would like to have onboard sound. Your layout is average size and you are running a DCC layout using Digitrax as your command station. Your layout is mostly diesel and you are already using Digitrax block detection on your layout. You have the ability to control up to 12 functions and realistic sound contributes greatly to your enjoyment of your layout.

We suggest: You have the option of using Tsunami Digital Sound decoders or SurroundTraxx or a combination of both. If you want that diesel ‘rumble’, then SurroundTraxx will provide both the sound and the ‘feel’ by way of a subwoofer feature. Optionally, most HO diesels have the room for a decoder and a speaker, though small switchers can be a challenge. A third option, using SurroundTraxx for the low frequency sounds and an onboard decoder for high frequency sounds, such as the bell and airhorn can be very effective – the best of both worlds.

Example 3:

You are modeling in N Scale and would like to have onboard sound. Your layout is small and you are running a DCC layout using NCE as your command station. You have the ability to control up to 12 functions and realistic sound contributes greatly to your enjoyment of your layout.

We suggest: Since at present you must have Digitrax Block Detection on your layout to use SurroundTraxx, we recommend using Tsunami Digital Sound decoders. Our TSU-750 Micro-Tsunami should fit in many N-Scale steam engines – diesels are more difficult and creating a trailing ‘sound car’ may be the best option.

Example 4:

You are modeling in HO Scale and would like to have onboard sound. Your layout is very small and you are running a DCC layout using Lenz as your command station. You like sound, but are most interested in bells, whistles and exhaust and aren’t planning to use the sound for operations.

We suggest: Our DSD-101LC Digital Sound decoder are low cost, quality decoders that provide a bell, exhaust and some horn and whistle choices. They are easy to install and compatible with all NMRA-compatible command stations.

Example 5:

You are modeling in N Scale and would like to have onboard sound. Your layout is average size and you are running a DCC layout using Digitrax as your command station. You operate both steam and diesel models. Realistic sound contributes greatly to your enjoyment of your layout.

We suggest: SurroundTraxx is ideal for your situation. SurroundTraxx will provide both the sound and the ‘feel’ by way of a subwoofer feature. Since sounds are built in for both steam and diesel engines, all you will need to do is add the block detection from Digitrax.


Now that you’ve decided which SoundTraxx product suits your needs best, you can go directly to the sections that further explain the features of these products. If you need additional help with choosing the correct sounds for your models, visit our Sound Primer. Here you will find information on how sound works, correctly choosing the sound for a prototype or road and how to get the best sound from your selected product.

Step 4. Choose the Product or Model

If, after answering the above questions, you are interested in particular product, visit the page that describes its features in more detail. In some cases, it will be obvious which product is the right one Ė it is designed to be installed in a particular engine for example. Our Decoder Selector (This is new) lists many, though certainly not all locomotives and likely candidates for a good installation.

If you are trying to select the right sound for your Steam locomotive, Choosing the Right Steam Sound Will be helpful.

If you donít know which engine, or prime mover, was built into your modelís prototype, visit Choosing the Right Sound for Your Diesel Locomotive. If you donít know which airhorn is appropriate, donít worry Ė all of our decoders have multiple horns and whistles available in each model. Once youíve made your purchase, however, if you want to be prototypically correct, visit the Diesel Locomotive Airhorn History, which is full of fun information. You can also cut to the chase and go directly to the Locomotive Airhorn Usage (bookmark) chart.

Step 5. Listen to the Sound Samples

If you already know the model but donít know what sound to choose, our sound samples will give you a chance to audition them first. Keep in mind that in many cases (such as Tsunami Digital Sound Decoders) there are so many horn and whistle options, that it is not necessary to have this decided in order to choose your purchase.

In other cases, donít worry too much about what sound is correct, rather choose a sound you like. Most people really donít know exactly what many of these engines sounded like anyway (really!), especially older steam engines.

Once youíve made your decision, visit our Sound Primer for tips on how to get the most out of your installation.

And, remember, this is supposed to be FUN!