When it comes to DCC, model railroaders have quite a few options to choose from. For beginners, it might be intimidating to break into the world of DCC, as there are many different brands, features, and price points to consider. So, when it comes to starter sets, what is the best DCC starter set?
The best DCC starter set is the MRC Prodigy Express system. It is easy to use, affordable, and one I’ve personally used for over a decade.
Although, in my opinion, the Prodigy Express is the best DCC starter set, there are a few other ones to consider as well. The inexpensive options are great for the beginner modeler, while the more advanced options are geared towards the experienced modeler. We will review both affordable options for the beginner, and more advanced options for the experienced model railroader below. Let’s learn more about DCC and go over a few starter sets that could be worth your consideration.
What Is DCC?
Contents to Read
- 1 What Is DCC?
- 2 Best Affordable DCC Starter Sets
- 3 More Advanced DCC Starter Sets
- 4 Final Thoughts
DCC stands for “digital command control”, and it has revolutionized model railroading operations. DCC allows model railroaders to have a constant voltage on the track instead of analog DC, where you rely more on voltage itself to propel the train forward. DCC-equipped locomotives are equipped with a decoder; signals are sent to the receiver when you throttle up.
If the decoder detects any commands that are not meant for that particular decoder, it ignores the command. This allows you to run more than one train at a time, as each locomotive is programmed into the receiver.
Beginning in 1994, the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) put forth a standard for command control systems, providing a roadmap to the many manufacturers throughout the industry.
There are a few downsides to operating a DCC layout. The first would be the cost. Some DCC system can cost nearly $1000; however, these are not recommended for the beginner modeler. It is best to find a train club, local hobby shop, or a train show in your area so you can test out the system you are planning to purchase. This will give you a hands-on experience with the equipment to see if it is the right match for your skillset.
Furthermore, DCC requires that each locomotive is equipped with a decoder. Although decoders can be bought on the cheap, it can become costly if you have a large roster of locomotives. Furthermore, installing the decoder can be difficult for the beginner, and could pose a number of different challenges.
So, now that we know the basic history and operations of DCC systems, let’s check out some of the best DCC starter sets that won’t break the bank.
Best Affordable DCC Starter Sets
The MRC Prodigy Express is one of the most commonly used DCC starter sets and for good reason. The MRC Prodigy Express is one of the most affordable systems on the market and has most of the bells and whistles that other, more expensive systems have. The Prodigy Express is extremely affordable and can be found for less than $200 at many model train retailers.
The MRC Prodigy Express has been my go-to DCC system for the last decade, and I have had no issues at all with the system. It has performed flawlessly and has many of the features model railroaders want. With this system, you can change CVs, program locomotives, and enjoy all the features that DCC systems have to offer.
The NCE 5240025 Power Cab DCC Starter System is a popular DCC system that is easy to use; however, it is a bit more advanced than the Prodigy Express. The NCE Power Cab is the system of choice for experienced and novice model railroaders alike, and is highly regarded throughout the industry.
The NCE 5240025 Power Cab DCC Starter System provides you with similar features of the more advanced NCE Powerhouse PH-PRO, however, at a more affordable price point. With this impressive system, you can control up to six trains at once, including extra cabs. With this system, the possibilities truly are endless. Visit your favorite online retailer or Amazon to pick this one up today.
Another popular name in the model railroad industry is Digitrax. Digitrax has become one of the standards in model railroading, with their wide offering of high-quality products geared towards both the beginner and the novice. The Digitrax Zephyr retails for about the same as the other systems on our list, and can be found under $200.
The Digitrax Zephyr is a little different than the other DCC starter sets, as instead of a handheld remote, it resembles more of a standard DC transformer, with its larger size and throttle like nob. The Digitrax Zephyr Express starter set is extremely easy to use, and is great for the beginner looking to try their hand at DCC operations.
More Advanced DCC Starter Sets
If you have been in model railroading for a while and have delved into the world of DCC before, you likely have a little experience with DCC. Furthermore, if you have a larger layout with an extensive fleet of locomotives, one of these might be your best option. Let’s check out some of the more advanced DCC starter sets below.
The NCE 5240002, PH-Pro-R Wireless DCC Starter System is one of the most advanced on the market, however, it comes at an expensive pricepoint of over $800. This is not recommended for the beginner, rather, it is geared more towards the experienced model railroader.
This is a 5 amp starter set that includes almost everything you need to get trains running on your layout. This radio-equipped system provides you with more versatility to move about your layout. However, it is important to note that with this system, you would need the power transformer, which can be purchased separately. If you are a more experienced model railroader or have a large fleet of locomotives, then this DCC starter set might be the one for you.
If you’re a more experienced model railroader but are looking for something a little more affordable, the MRC Prodigy Advance Squared Wireless DCC System could be the best option for you. With this system, you can move freely throughout the layout without the need to keep plugging in your system to keep control of your train.
This impressive system has up to 60 feet of range and allows you to have over 30 different handheld throttles at once, which is perfect for an operating session at the club!
Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced model railroader, DCC is the way of the future in the industry. As you can see, there are plenty of options; therefore, it is critical to research and decide which system best meets your needs.
If you have a small layout with a few locomotives, perhaps one of the more affordable options are best for you. However, if you have a large layout with a sizeable fleet of locomotives, maybe one of the more advanced models would suit you better. It’s really totally up to you, your budget, and your needs as a model railroader.