A Decoder that even a Luddite can love….
Each of us have things we love about model railroading—some like modeling, some like
operations, some admire a well-built engine, some love the history that comes with all of these. The opposite is also true—there are things we could do without, and in my case that involves anything dealing with electricity. Yes, I know we need it to run trains, however the hours spent trying to find a short or trying to determine why something won’t run are hours taken away from things we’d rather be doing, and at a certain point in life those hours start to become scare. Thus, I approach new innovations with a wary eye; is it going to be worth the time and effort needed to figure out the new technology, or is it better to stay with what you know? So when Andrew (a Great American) told me about the new decoder from Soundtraxx that combined their proven Tsunami sound system with Bluetooth technology, I was skeptical. The theory was simple—engine commands would be relayed directly from a control device (an Apple iPhone or
iPad) to the engine. No need to program the engine, no need for a CV, no need for DCC
commands to be sent through the tracks, with the possibility that they don’t go through for whatever reason. History has shown, too many times, that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Well it turned out to be true, with a couple of caveats that I’ll mention in a second. Once the decoder is installed (it’s a little larger than the standard Tsunami) all you have to do is get the Blunami app from the App Store. (Sorry android users, the version for your phone is not available yet, Open the App, and it will search for the decoder in the engine. Once it connects, you can operate from a preset menu that includes a responsive throttle, horn options, bell, and light control, with added pull-down options for things fueling and cab chatter. Even someone who is not electrically inclined can be fully functional in about two minutes. (Note, their material says the decoder will also work in DC and DCC—all it needs is track power.)
I said that there were a few caveats. The first is that this is so new, they’re still working to bring the needed support online. When I went to the Soundtraxx to access the “Quick Start” info that was supposed to be available, there was an error message; when I called the help line, I was told that the quick start document was still being written. Another question I had was about the range of the Bluetooth connection—the documentation that is available estimates about 50 feet—fine for most layouts, but I’m not sure how this will work at a large train show with multiple electrons flying about. The App says that you can control multiple trains at the same time, however, since I have only one engine with the Blunami installed, so far, this is yet to be tested.
Finally, the decoders are made for specific types of locomotion: one for steam, one for ALCO diesels, one for GE diesels, etc. The promotional video on the website promises more releases in the future, but for the time being, you may find yourself limited by what is actually available.
All that aside, this technology shows great promise, and I’ve become a believer. Anything that simplifies life and the ability to run trains, rather than having to troubleshoot, is fine by me.
(Contributed semi-anonymously by educator, published author, model railroader and MRRHQ client Dr. B)