One necessary or important thing you need to have when building your own DCC model train layout would be a something that controls all the commands and functions of your locomotives, train parts, and other accessories and that would be a decoder. Looking for the best DCC decoder is not that hard but would rather be how well you can install the device to your DCC components.
It’s not that advised for newbies, starters or beginners. Entry level railroad modelers should get a DCC starter system or set that comes with a booster and command center wherein the command center would handle the commands and functions like that of a DCC decoder.
For those with a certain level of expertise and have experiences building their own control system, a DCC decoder is really something to look forward to. The decoder is responsible for receiving commands from locomotives, throttles, and other accessories or devices.
Below is some of the best DCC decoder you need to check out:
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Top 3 Best DCC Decoder Comparison Chart
Best DDC Decoder Reviews
This is a Digitrax DCC decoder for HO train models. It is a series-6 decoder capable of performing 6 functions simultaneously with 9 pins. It is made from strong and durable materials where pins can strongly withstand and sustain locomotive movement problem-free.
It is mostly used as a mobile decoder installed on chassis or parts of model trains and controls the movement and operation of the train but with some skills, it can possibly be used for stations but the pins and wiring's need to reattach longer than the default.
What's to like about the Digitrax DGTDH126D HO DCC Decoder Series 6
The decoder is easy-to-use, easy-to-install and easy-to-program. It can be used for all or most HO train models. There are 6 programmable functions provided you have some experience with setting up decoders. Most beginners would manage to control light and movement but it can do so much more if you have the skills and knowledge.
What's not to like about the Digitrax DGTDH126D HO DCC Decoder Series 6
The outer layer seems thin and fragile. It is a mobile decoder and used in moving locomotives most of the time. They should have made a stronger out shell or layer for the decoder but not really necessary, just an additional protection for the device.
Next is the Bachmann DCC decoder. Like all Bachmann products, they try their best to introduce the E-Z system they have like the E-Z snap fit tracks, the E-Z command center or DCC controller and this one which is the E-Z Command DCC decoder.
The idea is to make things easier for the user or the railroad modeler regardless of their skill and experience level with train models, locomotives and other necessary accessories needed in modeling.
It is a 1-Amp decoder capable of handling a sufficient load of electrical power as well as able to handle different commands and functions. It can be easily programmed on the main, lights and dimming.
The decoder is not specific to just one scale. It can be used for HO and any of the higher or lower scales. It is highly compatible and versatile but at an expense of lesser function capability.
What's to like about the Bachmann E-Z Command DCC Decoder
The decoder is fairly easy to use and install. It is a mobile DCC decoder that can be used for different train model scales and not just and limited to HO-scales. Install it in any chassis of your train models without a sweat.
What's not to like about the Bachmann E-Z Command DCC Decoder
The function or command it can store and save or accommodate is not that plenty compared to some which are about 6 or higher. It is possibly because of the cost of being a versatile type of decoder where the numbers of functions have been reduced.
Finally, this is the MRC HO Decoder. MRC also has DCC starter set which has a command center and booster to save you the trouble but if you want something more specific, versatile and exciting to work with, MRC decoder will really come in handy.
It has a built-in DCC plug connected through a 9-pin socket. It is a mobile decoder that requires to be installed in a locomotive chassis or anywhere near it which is comfortable for you. The DCC controller, like the others, is compact, small and efficient which can amazingly fit in most locomotives. It also features 1.5-Amp capacity, allowing more power for your locos.
What's to like about the MRC HO DCC Decoder
The decoder has about 28 NMRA functions that are far more capability as compared to other types of decoders. You’d have a lot of time enjoying programmable functions and attach so many devices to be controlled.
What's not to like about the MRC HO DCC Decoder
When it comes to functionality, you can’t really have something against the MRC HO Decoder. But for durability, externally, the decoder is just covered with a small case which may be not that hard and wirings are a bit thin and fragile.
It would just be easy to buy a DCC decoder but how sure are you that it would be something that you need? To save you the trouble, you can look for certain key features that can distinctively help you with what you need or you can use as a basis for determining a good decoder.
Key Feature 1: Type of decoder
There are 2 types of decoder you need to see through. There is a stationary and mobile decoder. However, as you’ve noticed, our list just includes a DCC mobile decoder and none for the stationary. It is because there are DCC starter systems or set that includes command centers for controlling your locomotives and other devices in a much easier and comfortable way.
Key Feature 2: Function capability
Each decoder is built with a limit of functions it can read and command. The number of functions you can program matters when you have a lot of devices that need to connect and get control. The highest among the three products in our list would have 28 NMRA functions.
Key Feature 3: Design
Being a portable or mobile decoder, it is important that it remains as small as possible. That is to fit it into running train locomotives, either within it or above it, depending on your choice. The larger the decoder becomes, the harder it is for you to make it fit. Most DCC decoders are made for HO scale but there are universal decoders that can be used for other sizes but at a cost of lower function capability.
Can this be used for other train model scales?
Make sure that the DCC decoder you’re buying can be used as a universal DCC decoder for different train model scales or size. You can check out Bachmann DCC decoder because they usually design their product to be very versatile and easy-to-use.
Where do you install DCC decoders?
Stationary DCC decoders are used for command centers or stations if you have one in your railroad model. Mobile or portable DCC decoders are installed inside your train locomotive or above it depending on your choice and how creative you are.
Why DCC decoders small and compact?
Most of them are used as mobile decoders and really requires them to be small to be able to fit the chassis of your train model. Large size DCC decoders are usually stationary decoders that are used for command centers or stations or for operating railways and other non-moving devices you have.
Depending on how many devices and functions you need to program and control, the DCC decoder you choose will vary. There are smaller, cheaper and versatile DCC decoders that can work efficiently but at a lower function capability.
But regardless, you’d seldom need so many decoders that can accommodate so many functions as it would mean that you’d have a very large railroad layout built.
To put it in a recommendation, we’d say that Bachmann E-Z Command DCC Decoder will be on top of the list because of its versatility and compatibility. It may only accommodate several functions and commands but the fact that it’s not just limited to HO scale train models allows it to work well with what most people need.