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85 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2011
The Zephyr Xtra starter set from Digitrax is a great way to get started with DCC. This Zephyr Xtra set is an improved version of the original Zephyr starter set. It is a combined command station/booster/throttle all in one box. The Digitrax product name is DCS51 as opposed to DCS50 in the original Zephyr. The difference is that DCS51 can handle 20 addresses simultaneously and provides 3.0 amps of power as opposed to DCS50 handling only 10 addresses and providing 2.5 amps. So basically this improved version in Zephyr Xtra provides increased capacity for small home-based layouts and is the same price as the previous version.

Many people are vary of switching to DCC as the term Digital Command Control can sound too technical and discouraging. We learned a lot from fellow model railroaders and from online forums. The costs can also be overwhelming, although they don't have to be. Admittedly, there was a time when I thought my son and I would never move from the conventional DC layout with cab control with switches and wires. But once we saw and experienced DCC we were sold. The one major limitation for us was cost. All we'd been exposed to were expensive, radio DCC systems costing anywhere from 500 to 1,000 USD or more. Those are great, but you can get started with DCC for much less. Even the most basic starter sets from Digitrax, such as Super Chief Xtra Starter Set, 5A runs close to $500 depending on what discounts you can find.

But this Zephyr Xtra is an inexpensive way to get started with DCC. It does not have a remote throttle, but it's flexible enough that you can add a remote throttle if you want (once you get hooked on DCC and save your pennies :-). But it really ins't that expensive. Sure there are expensive throttles, but also cheaper alternatives like UT4 throttle from Digitrax. It costs around 70 USD and comes with a coiled RJ12 cord. It can be hooked directly to DCS51 or to a junction box such as UP5, which costs around 16 USD. The UT4 has infrared capabilities so you could get UR90 for about 40 USD and use your throttle without being tethered.

But there are other ways to add throttles for controlling more trains simultaneously. Zephyr Xtra also allows you to connect up to two DC power packs, which can be used as additional throttles. We turned our MRC Tech 4 280 Dual Power that we had around from the DC days into two additional throttles at no extra cost. Moreover, you can buy either Digitrax' PR3 interface or a USB LocoBuffer from RR CirKits and use your computer to control your trains through JMRI. The JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) is an open source program for programming and controlling your trains. JMRI can be downloaded for free and works pretty slick. It has virtual throttles -- basically you open a new JMRI throttle (as many as you want) on your computer and have additional digital/software throttles. So even though DCS51 comes with only one throttle out of the box, the system is very flexible to add additional throttles for very little additional costs. I will say however, that using JMRI and DCS51 isn't without challenges. It's not trivial, but JMRI is free and there are Internet forums you can search for help and troubleshooting. The older versions of JMRI prior to version 2.11.x have poor or no support for DCS51, but it's coming along since version 2.14.

The other thing that makes Zephyr's DCS51 very flexible and cool starter set is that you can actually run a DC train, i.e. a DC engine without a DCC decoder along the side of your decoder-equipped engines! This is pretty cool as it allows you to run some of your DC trains without having to spend money up front on DCC decoders for every single one of your DC engines. So it allows you to pace yourself financially -- if you buy two non -sound decoders for thirty dollars a piece you can run three trains (two decoder-equipped and one DC engine) right away.

One other thing is worth pointing out regarding future expansion. In case you get Zephyr Xtra and later in the future decide to upgrade to Super Chief Xtra Starter Set, 5A with DCS 100, remote throttle, etc. it will not turn Zephyr Xtra into a redundant piece of hardware around your layout. Zephyr has a programmable option/switch to function as a simple throttle instead of a throttle and a command station. So with Super Chief, you'd run DCS100 as your command station, change the switch in Zephyr and use it as an additional throttle. That's pretty flexible tool for a basic starter box.

The Zephyr Xtra has many other cool features such as the ability to program your decoders with custom values and many other great things for the price. If you are considering switching to DCC and are not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars for advanced DCC systems and equipment, you should give Zephyr Xtra a closer look. You won't regret it. With your existing DC throttle and DC engines you can hook up Zephyr Xtra to your existing layout and experience the fun of DCC in no time.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2012
After researching the different starter DCC control systems, I chose the Digitrax. Although my layout is small the Zephyr has many options, can program decoders, controsl multiple trains including one without a decoder at the same time and is expandable. It is very easy to hook up and operate. The instruction manual is concise and covers all options in detail. I would recommend this unit to anyone starting with DCC control.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2013
Very simple to use DCC controller, user guides are very clear and simple. Sturdy and smooth controls.
Feels like an old design, but not toyish. Im using it to run HO scale locos and this device is built with great expansion capability.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2013
Converted over to DCC from variable DC after 60 years of model railroading. Great way to get started into DCC
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2013
contrary to what some saying this controller is not as easy to use, I find it very intuitive.
It has lots of features and has many more functions than the dcs-50. The controls feel good
on the hands, they are solid. I have no complaints about this controller and think I will have no
reason to upgrade with the dcs-51's features. Maybe a booster later or a remote cab, but this
one supports both.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2013
I bought decoders from Cream City Hobbies via Amazon. One was dead with a short and the other had problems. I contacted Cream City Hobbies who told me to contact Digitrax as they were brand new, which I did. After sending both units to Digitrax I receved a phone call from them informing me that any item bought on Amazon is not covered under warentee. Had to buy two new units. You may save a couple of dollars by buying Digitrax on Amazon but remember...YOU HAVE NO WARENTEE!

So, if you are buying something major, like a Zypher you would be wise not to buy it from Amazon as you will have no Warentee support from Digitrax!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2013
I love this, an excellent way to get started. It will represent something of a constraint when you grow your layout.
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on February 8, 2015
Easy to use!
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2015
Had to return mine. I run an old MRC-2000 on my track and have 3 DCC trains and several older DC trains. I think my Zephyr was defective, but I found it couldn't run the DCC trains. I would only read one on a programming track and would say that it had written to them, but I couldn't verify that this worked.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2014
Digitrax is OK as a system. Too bad if you have a problem because the Tech Support guys are impatient, sarcastic and downright nasty. They always sound crabby, like they are having a bad day. I will be buying a non Digitrax system just so I don't have to deal with these smart azzes anymore.
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