TIPS & TECHNIQUES

ADVENTURES IN SOUND
       (OR MIS-ADVENTURES)
This article should have run before the last one on converting the Bachmann 2-8-0 to battery power.  It does have some valid learning points, so I decided to print it for your collective information.  As you will recall, I have a Bachman Connie which I run on the Sundance Central's modular layout.  Everything we run is 1:20.3 scale narrow gauge, so the 2-8-0 fits right in with the other motive power that members own.  I had originally stated that I was going to put a Sierra Soundtraxx sound system in this loco, until I found out that there were no firm ship dates available on Soundtraxx systems from Sierra.  Since I wanted to be running with sound for the NMRA convention in Ocala, I "bit the bullet" and ordered a Phoenix 2K2 system.  This cost me an additional $100 over the price of a Soundtraxx unit.  I had previously installed their Big Sound systems in locomotives for several members, and figured that I would try their latest product offering.  It took two weeks for the system to ship due to a production backlog at Phoenix.  When I opened the box, I was very impressed with the packaging and the instructions.  Installation was quick, and not very different than the other brands of systems that I had worked with.  It came optioned to use a reed switch for the chuff trigger, and I installed the magnets on the tender axel per the instructions.  I put power to the system to do a bench test check out. Well, the bell rang, the whistle blew, coal was scooped, but no chuff sound.  I borrowed the computer interface system that Phoenix makes to check out the 2K2 board options.  Otherwise I would have been out another $70 to buy the software and interface cord.  I still had to shell out $40 for an adapter plug so that I could plug the Phoenix cord into a USB port in my laptop and then into their RS-232 plug.  Without a computer, you are really stuck when it comes to optioning or troubleshooting this new system.  All options checked out correctly on the computer, but I still had no chuff.  When I put a meter on the chuff pin and the ground pin, I found an "open" circuit, so I called Phoenix and made arrangements to return the board for repair or replacement.  The board was returned within a week, and the repair ticket said that the chuff pin had never been soldered to the PC board.  I now had a chuff, all the appropriate start and stop signals, along with the brake squeal. 
    My next task was how to control the bell and whistle remotely using track power.  I had an Aristo 55474 that had never been used.  This unit is a remote receiver that can be mounted in a locomotive to control functions such as smoke, lights, bell, and whistle using your basic TE handset and track power.  To make the functions work with a Phoenix board, you have to "invert" the Phoenix outputs for the bell and whistle.  Phoenix tells you how to do this, and of course the easiest way is to use their computer interface to do it.  If you don't invert the outputs, the bell and whistle will blow continuously.  This is also a problem when using the Aristo TE and the Loco-Linc systems.  I inverted my outputs, and powered the system up. When I pushed the appropriate buttons on the TE I got no response!!!  I put a meter on the 55474 sound system output pins, and found that they were not functioning at all.  I called Navin at Aristo, and made arrangements to send the unit back for repair or replacement.  The unit was returned to me supposedly repaired . When I tried it, again it still did not work. Another phone call to Navin, and one to Jim, who sounds like he just got off the boat from Bombay.  Finally convinced Jim that as an engineer, I new what the "heck" I was talking about, and to send me a new one.  Finally received the new 55474, installed it, and it now works.
    I had a very trying time with both systems, and as you can see, even experienced modelers can crash into walls.  Both products are very good, but I think overall quality control is slipping when it come to printed circuit board production.  This project should have been completed in one weekend.  It turned out that it stretched out for two weeks.  Fortunately, I was ready for the NMRA Convention, and the units ran flawlessly. I am now a self-trained expert on Phoenix 2K2 systems, and Aristo TE remote systems. Call or e-mail me if you have problems, I can help you in many cases, or at least know where to send you to get your problems resolved. Of course, according to my previous article, I am now running this loco on battery power with Airwire control, but I feel that the lessons learned here were valuable.