Adding Sound To Your Layout

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If your goal is similar to those of most model train hobbyist your objective is to create a layout that replicates an era, railroad, or location.  As with any creative pursuit, stimulating the observers or operators senses will result in a realistic and enjoyable user experience.  Of the five senses sound plays one of the more important roles in model railroading.  The miniature world you’ve created offers an extra layer of reality when the objects you’re looking at produce the sounds which you would expect them to make.  

It wouldn’t be unusual for a modeler to think that adding sound may present a challenge, but this actually isn’t the case.  Many of us, in fact, already enjoy the benefits of sound which is produced by our locomotives.  However, background sounds add one more realistic dimension to your layout, and are well worth the time and effort required for their installation.

Having options with anything you do is beneficial and adding sound to your layout is not an exception.  There are four options that the model train enthusiast can choose when modeling model railroad sounds.  Each of the options that are available involve the installation of self powered media satellite speakers which are placed under the benchwork.  Pricing for these speakers can be relatively inexpensive, but you should consider that the higher the quality of sound the more you’ll probably have too spend on these type of speakers.  Also, higher quality speakers create the illusion of sound displacement, or in other words, the sound will seem as if it is coming from everywhere.

Here are a few tips for what not to do when adding sound to your layout:

1.  Make sure the sound you add makes sense.  It should be relevant….which is to say it should match the area which is modeled.

2.  Not to be confused with the term scale, which we all know relates to the scale of the trains you run on a layout,  this term also applies to sound as well.  Make sure you keep the volume in scale with the models.  You’ll discover that with a little experimentation the volume level will end up being a little lower than what you may have chosen initially to prevent the volume level from being overwhelming.  A good example would be clock tower chimes, which sound quite loud when you’re right next to them, but at a distance they are just that….a distant sound.

3.  The duration of the sound loops you select should be of an appropriate length.  If the loop repeats itself to frequently it will be an irritant rather than an accent to your layout.

Typical places where you may want to include background sound could be for cities, roundhouses, waterfalls, and possibly storefronts or shops.  As previously mentioned there are four different choices for adding sound and they are as follows:

1.  Self-Contained Sound Systems-Purchasing ready-to-use layout sound modules is one of the more expedient ways to add sound to your railroad.  Several manufacturers  as well as Noch and Rectifier Corporation are good options for purchasing these type of sound modules.  These units typically come with a sound station system, two speakers, and a hand held control unit.  The sounds which are included may be the sounds of a city, country scenes, and railroad versions.

2.  Sound Effects CDs-Another way to add sound to your layout is by installing an inexpensive compact disk player, and a pair of media satellite speakers under your layout.  This will allow you to add continuous sound to your layout and almost as quickly as you can with ready-to-use sound modules.  

3.  Integrating Interactive Sound Modules-If you’ve already decided to use the second option you’ve probably discovered that it isn’t without its shortcomings.  Every time you turn on your model railroad you have to reprogram the play selections.  Plus, a CD doesn’t offer interactive options… just plays the track which is recorded.

The solution to this issue is to use interactive sound modules.  There are systems like this which are specifically made for model railroads, and you can use them in more than one way.  You can add as much or as little sound as you choose.

4.  Under Layout Sound Decoders-After you have all of the background sounds in place, the first thing you’ll notice is that your locomotives should also present sound to add that final realistic sound touch to your railroad.  Where it is true that sound decoders are available for both N and Ho scale locomotives, the sound quality in many instances is somewhat disappointing.  A solution to this problem is to install a sound decoder, and bigger speakers for a single locomotive under your layout.  You may think that sound for one locomotive will be somewhat lacking but when added to all of the other various sounds you’ve incorporated into your layout it should be more than adequate.
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