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MRC's Prodigy Advance Squared and Drop-in Sound Decoders

Reviewed in the July 2007 issue
MRC's Prodigy Advance Squared and Drop-in Sound Decoders
MRC's Prodigy Advance Squared and Drop-in Sound Decoder
Two waves of Digital Command Control's future are 28 functions and N scale sound, and Model Rectifier Corp.'s latest offerings feature both. The firm let us try its new upgraded DCC system, the Prodigy Advance Squared, and two of its new N scale sound decoders - all featuring 28 functions. It was amazing to see what one can do with those extra features to help simplify DCC for the modeler.
Advance upgrades. The Prodigy Advance Squared replaces the original Prodigy Advance DCC system but still possesses all the features that made the original system appealing, including easy-to-use handheld controllers and plug-and-play components. (The Prodigy Advance DCC system was reviewed in the March 2005 Model Railroader.) Prodigy Advance Squared's system output is rated for 15 volts at 3.5 amps, which is plenty of power for most small to midsize HO layouts running 5 to 8 sound-equipped locomotives.

Other than the nameplate, there is little to distinguish the original from the new system - the biggest changes are on the inside. The first is that the newest Prodigy has software for use with the impending release of MRC's wireless Prodigy cabs (coming later in 2007). These will be offered both as plug-and-play add-on components and complete wireless DCC systems. The wireless radio cabs will have built-in rechargeable batteries and can operate engines and pro-gram decoders.

The other exciting new feature is that Prodigy Advance Squared can operate functions 0 through 28. Until now, MRC's starter system, the Prodigy Express, offered just 16 functions while the original Prodigy Advance had 20. If you have existing Express or Advance throttles, you can still use them with the new system. (Be sure they're programmed with unique throttle addresses.) However, only the Prodigy Advance throttle can be sent back to MRC to be upgraded to 28 functions.

Functions 0 through 9 are operated by pressing the numbers on the keypad. Functions 10 through 28 are reached using the shift key and then entering the function value. The liquid crystal display (LCD) shows active functions F0 through F12. It also displays when the "shift" button has been activated. Functions 13 to 28 do not appear on the display.
Prodigy Advance Squared
Price: $349.99
Model Rectifier Corp.
P.O. Box 6312
Edison, NJ 08818-6312
Full-feature digital command
control system
Advanced and universal
locomotive consisting
Adjustable fast clock
Encoder knob and
pushbutton speed controls
Expandable to 99 throttles
15-volt, 3.5-amp power
Large LCD screen
Meets NMRA DCC standards
Plug-and-play design
28 DCC functions
Upcoming wireless radio
Walkaround throttles
These MRC drop-in DCC sound decoders for Kato deisel locomotives feature 28 functions and offer easy sound selection and volume control.
More control. What do you do with 28 functions? Plenty, as it would appear from the MRC decoders we tested. The firm sent us two of its new 28-function N scale sound decoders (models no. 1644 and 1645) to try with the new DCC system. These are drop-in style decoders for Kato diesel locomotives, and each includes a 16-ohm speaker. The 1644 decoder fits Kato's GE AC4400 and Electro-Motive Division SD70MAC engines, while the 1645 can be used in EMD E8s and E9s or a GE P42 Genesis (but without GE engine sound).

I tested the decoders using a Kato SD70MAC and a P42. The sound decoders include two different prime mover sound files - one has a modern diesel whine to it while the other has an older EMD chug. According to MRC these were recorded from a turbocharged SD45 and an MP15 respectively. Despite the tiny speakers needed to fit inside N scale locomotive shells, the sounds were reproduced effectively. With the volume at three-quarter level, the sound quality was clear and was scale-appropriate.

The function assignments for the two decoders are identical. Function 0 controls the headlights, and the next 11 functions are used for common operating sounds, such as the bell, horn, dynamic brakes, coupling noises, manual engine notching, and others. Higher-function slots are used for a variety of features, some of which are lesser-used incidental sounds like compressors, generators, and air releases.

Other functions, however, allow you to change horn, bell, and prime mover sound files, as well as adjust the volume (in four increments) of some of the individual sounds. The decoder uses the programming-on-the-main feature to automatically write the changes in the decoder once you've made them, so it remembers your preferences. If you decide you want to start over and reset everything as it comes from the factory, you can do this by programming configuration variable (CV) 125 to a value of 1.

While being able to select sound choices and volumes using function buttons may not seem all that profound on the surface, consider the time that these function-selected preference changes save in programming CVs, and you get the idea of how helpful they really are. Using the printed function chart included with the decoder, I was able to set up both decoders the way I wanted them in a matter of a minute or two. The only actual programming I needed to do was set the locomotive's address.
Things keep getting better. It seems that only yesterday drop-in sound decoders for N scale were just a dream. And, though you could conceivably have more than a handful of DCC functions, few people understood why you'd want them. Now, thanks to MRC, both items are readily available. The company appears to be committed to making DCC easier for the consumer to use - and that's a good thing for everyone.
N scale drop-in sound
Price: $84.98
Model Rectifier Corp.
P.O. Box 6312
Edison, NJ 08818-6312
Description: Sound decoders for Kato N scale diesels
1644 fits EMD SD70MAC and GE AC4400 locomotives
1645 fits GE P42 Genesis and EMD E8 and E9 locomotives
Advanced consisting
Drop-in installation
Function selection of sound
types and volumes
Manual or automatic engine
1-watt amplifier
7 bell types
16-ohm speaker
28 functions
12 horn selections
2 EMD diesel engine sounds

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