Friday, April 29, 2011

Still Not Sold on Sound

It seems the latest fashion in Model Railroading, apart from the timeless vest covered with railroad patches and the tie tack with blinking crossbucks, is on-board sound.  Tiny speakers nested under coal bunkers or in fuel tanks emitting tinny noise are on the list of any beginner, and even many more experienced guys.  A speaker that's supposed to evoke standing trackside listening to the roar of an EMD 567, or the chuff of a steam locomotive have captured the hobbyist's imagination.

But not mine.

I've had the pleasure of installing a number of sound decoders into both N and HO scale locomotives.  I've also participated in a few operating sessions where sound has been in use by one or God forbid, more than one operator, and I have to say that after the first few moments of novelty, and the delight of pressing F2 and getting a faint "woot woot" from the kazoo-like speaker, the excitement plum evades me.

Maybe it's because when I'm running my trains, I've just gotten used to listening to old vinyl records.  (A fact which should say a lot about my affinity for technology of another age.)  Or maybe when I have three diesels on the point of a heavy N scale train, I like to hear them working... often sounding a lot more like a lashup of real diesels than those little micro chips can.

In either case, on-board sound just doesn't do it for me.  I don't like the way it adds significantly to the power drawn by the locomotive, I don't like the way it sounds so thin compared to the real thing, I don't like installing sound decoders and speakers and all those wires, and I don't like having more buttons on the throttle to fool around with while I'm trying to operate my train with one hand, and sip a beer with the other.

Nope.  Sound is not the savior of the hobby.  There are many who would argue otherwise, but rest assured, they are wrong.  Sound is a novelty, it will amuse the uninitiated briefly, and be a crutch to people who would rather not pursue a higher standard of model building. 

If I wish to enjoy the sound of some historic diesel, I shall spend a few moments scanning You Tube, and I'll find what I want in a matter of moments.  If I want to really enjoy the thrum of a big diesel, then I shall take my web lawn chair trackside.  And there I'll get the full Monty!  Squealing flanges, flattened wheels tapping by.  Maybe, just maybe, there will be some jointed rail and a healthy dose of clickety clack!