Review published: 17 July 2015
Prices: MSRP 2015
I decided to switch from analogue to DCC digital two months ago. My requirements were quite simple: an affordable system that allows me to run multiple trains at once with various sound and lighting functions. I thought the digital system from PIKO would be a good choice, as it’s reasonably affordable.
The first thing you should know, is that the PIKO system was developed in cooperation with Massoth. In essence, this system is a smaller and less powerful version of the well-known Massoth 1200z/1210z system. Besides being less powerful (5 Amps compared to 12 Amps), there are some other differences which I’ll bring up in this review as well.
This review is from a point of view of a relative newbie to DCC, therefore this review will be more about telling you my experiences with it, rather than going into detail on the technical aspects. Once I gain more experience with the system, this review will be updated accordingly.
Manufacturer: PIKO / Massoth
Product description: G Scale Digital System
Year of introduction: 2010
Products in this review:
- 35000* Power Supply – € 127,99
- 35010 Digital Central Station 5A – € 219,99
- 35011** ‘Navigator’ Handheld Controller – € 249,99
- 35012*** Wireless Receiver – € 109,99
Article Numbers in the US: *35020 / **35021 / *** 35022
The four major components of the PIKO digital system are the digital central station unit, a power supply, a radio receiver and the ‘Navigator’ handheld controller.
The central station is the core of the PIKO digital system, and provides a constant 20 Volts output with a maximum output current of 5 Amps. 5 Amps should be enough power for simultaneous operation of multiple trains. If your power requirements exceed the central station’s capacity, a digital booster (e.g. PIKO 35015) can be added for additional power.
PIKO’s digital central station conforms to the NMRA DCC standard, which means you are not limited to PIKO products for expansion of your digital setup. For instance, you can use a Massoth switch decoder to operate your switches, while your locomotives have a decoder installed from for instance ZIMO or ESU.
For a full list of specifications, take a look in the Navigator manual (linked at the end of this review).
Unboxing & Setup:
Enough of the theoretic stuff for now, let’s get unboxing.
Let’s take a look at the central station first.
The central station unit is wrapped in plastic, and held in place by two pieces of foam.
The central station’s design is very much similar to the analogue throttle from PIKO.
The top panel features a red button (Stop), two status LEDs and a green button (Reset), protected by a hinged plastic cover.
On the other side, another plastic cover protects the connection terminals and ports.
The red and blue push terminals provide power to the track, the white and black terminals receive power from a power supply. The port in the center is used to connect the Navigator either wired or wireless.
Unlike the Massoth system, this system does not feature a PC interface port which means you will not be able to connect the PIKO digital system to a PC for (automatic) control. Also, you can’t perform firmware updates yourself.
I purchased a power supply from PIKO, but other power supplies can also be used as long as they meet the requirements. For instance an LGB 50110 unit should work well, and they are quite cheap to pick up secondhand so that could save you some money.
The power supply is packaged well.
And it’s big.
The Navigator is next.
The box could have been a lot smaller…
The Navigator is very similar to the Massoth one, however the PIKO Navigator does not feature back-lit keys like the Massoth controller does.
The Navigator has a nice shape, and feels good in your hand.
Three AA batteries go in here. If you use rechargeables, the batteries can be charged during cable operation.
The manual is a whopping 40 pages for English and German each, but everything is explained well.
A cable is included if you wish to connect the Navigator directly to the central station without using a radio receiver.
The cable plugs into the bottom of the Navigator.
I prefer using the Navigator wirelessly (as it allows to you walk around in the garden without worrying about cable length), so a radio receiver unit is required.
Two cables are included, as the radio receiver can also be used with the #35002 analogue throttle from PIKO as shown here.
Open up the radio receiver unit, and plug the cable into the correct socket (‘Digital’ in this case). The red DIP switches can be used to switch radio frequency channels, in case you suffer from interference from other devices.
Reattach the plastic cover, and plug the included antenna into the socket through the small hole in the receiver’s top cover.
Connect the track (red/blue), the wireless receiver (flat cable, center), and the power supply (white/black). Finally, plug the power supply into a wall outlet.
Ready for action.
I think the manual provides enough information to get started. The first things you want to try are to simply run a locomotive, and experiment a bit by changing the name, address, speed steps etcetera just to get a feeling of how the interface works.
If you don’t read the manual properly, the Navigator interface is rather confusing at first. Since I am a ’90s kid from the smartphone generation, I can’t help but feel the interface could be a bit more intuitive though. In the end, it’s just a matter of getting used to it I guess.
The picture below shows the info on the display while running a locomotive. In this case, a Harz narrow gauge BR 199 diesel engine is running forwards. The display shows which sound functions are activated (5 and 6 in this case), if the lights are on, the power consumption etcetera.
There’s a ton of other options to explore in the menu. You can throw switches easily, configure automated routes, configure a double headed train (up to 4 locomotives per consist) , and much more…
My First Impressions After 2 Months:
I think PIKO made a good decision to team up with Massoth for a digital system, as Massoth has been in the business for many many years and they have also provided the famous MTS systems from LGB.
The PIKO system is derived from the Massoth digital system, therefore both systems share a lot of similarities. To achieve its lower price point, some things have to be different of course… The Navigator does not feature back-lit keys. The central station is less powerful (5 Amps compared to 12), and a PC interface port is missing.
PIKO’s digital system is great for those looking to switch from analogue to DCC, with a small to mid sized railway. If needed, the maximum output power can easily be expanded by adding a booster. Even a future upgrade of your central station to the bigger Massoth 1210z system is possible, as you can still use the PIKO Navigator and radio receiver with it.
Once I gain more experience with the system (and DCC in general), this review will be updated accordingly… 🙂