One of the best ways to liven up a layout is to create scale-appropriate sound effects.
Sound Effects go beyond the obvious sounds of locomotives and railcars, whistles, horns and braking, and include ambient sounds such as birds, water rushing in a creek, city traffic, or even a sawmill in the distance.
Sounds can basically originate form:
- On Board Sound
- Surround Sound
- Trackside & Backround Sounds
You may also find the following related articles of interest:
Scale sound is a phrase referring to the differences in the sounds you should hear when associated with different scales.
For example, the sounds associated with an N scale layout should be significantly softer than those used for an O scale layout.
If your sound is too loud for N scale then the sound is “out of scale”, the same as an O scale building would be out of scale on an N scale layout.
The difference in scale sound is mostly a matter of volume; however, it is important to remember that when the volume is low, the human ear picks up only midrange sounds. The low frequency bass and the higher frequency sounds may be lost. There are certain ways to enhance these frequencies even when the volume is low. For example the “bass boost” controls on many small stereo systems are just for that purpose.
There are various kinds of sound systems available for you to consider when thinking about adding sound effects to your train layout
On board train sounds
Most DC model trains are supplied without sound units, and fitting of sound mostly entailed modification in order to fit a sound system.
Manufacturers of DCC model trains are increasingly pre-fitting decoders that have sound capabilities, or at least provide the connectivity so that sound can be fitted as an optional after-sales enhancement.
It is also becoming increasingly desirable to have a single DCC decoder with sound capability, especially on the smaller scales like N-Scale where space is always an issue.
Sound decoders typically produce exhaust sounds, chuff, whistles, horns, etc, with some decoders being able to be re-programmed with custom sounds.
Another type of system is to have a sound unit located at the control panel and use the track rails as “wires” to send the filtered audio impulse to a speaker on board the loco.
You could also use an FM broadcast from a unit on the control panel, use the rails as antennae to get the signal to the rails under the loco. The signal then jumps to the receiver and speaker mounted in the loco.
When DCC entered the picture, we suddenly had a new way to get sound effects into the loco, using decoders and remote stationary units or walkaround throttles to control the sounds. This is a little more expensive, but probably offers the best quality and most versatility of all the on board systems mentioned.
Trackside sound systems
Trackside sound systems range from stand alone electronic sound circuits to advanced 4D systems using spacial technologies to produce realistic sound effects.
Stationary sound systems are great for background sounds and can be programmed with industrial sounds, waterfalls, animals and other nature sounds, and grade-crossing bells.
use a series of stationary speakers placed around the layout to re-create the sound of trains traveling along the track and does not require installation of onboard sound decoders into each particular locomotive.
Some of the advanced trackside systems utilises train tracking features to determine the location of each train, then blends the train sounds among the stationary speakers, allowing the sound to follow the train’s movement. The advantage of such a system is the ability to use larger and better speakers under the layout, providing better bass response and much more realistic sound than onboard speakers alone can produce.
Creating your own sound system
If you don’t really want to invest the money in any of the systems described above, or if you just want the satisfaction of doing it yourself, you can make your own sound effect system inexpensively by using several portable CD players, each containing CD’s with looping prerecorded sounds, which can be controlled remotely to play at different times. Small speakers can be attached to the headphone jacks and strategically placed in locations that are appropriate for the sound produced. The location and direction of the speakers are critical to create the right effect, so it pays to spend some time placing them properly, sometimes bouncing off walls, sometimes facing to the back sometimes to the front, etc. Use your scenery to hide the speakers or mount one or more of them under the layout with the speaker opening to the surface, just so at least 2/3 of the speaker is not covered. Don’t allow any loose items like ground turf to get into the cone, and make sure you don’t get any glue spay into the cone either. The sound is better if the speaker is mounted in a small airtight enclosure made of wood or hard plastic with no rattling parts.
You can add a small 2-5 watt amplifier for your speakers like those made by Ramsey.
The soundtracks for your system can be found at various locations on the Internet including www.TrainSoundEffects.com, www.fantasonics.com and others
There are many CD’s available containing environmental or nature recordings that you could use as ambient sounds in combination with train and trackside sounds.
You can use one or more of the above systems in combination, along with your own creativity, to make your railroad environment an interesting and exciting experience. It will certainly add to the realism and atmosphere of your train room, making it a pleasant place to work on your trains as well as a delight for your visitors.