Jump to content
Japanese Modelling & Japan Rail Enthusiasts Forum
E231-500

KATO Unitrack Soundbox

Recommended Posts

Hi all,

 

Just a few quick questions for anyone who has got one of the new Kato Soundboxes.

 

What is the sound quality like? Both on board speaker and hooked to a reasonable stereo system.

 

Is it easy to set up and use?

 

Will / Are the sound cartridges interchangeable with the US / JP models (If they are different of course)

 

Is it worth me getting one from Hobby Search while the Yen is low or try and get an English version from the US.

 

Are Japanese suburban / metro sound cards available or under development for later release?

 

I understand some or all of the questions may not have answers available as yet but any info would be appreciated.

 

Thanks in Advance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi all,

 

Just a few quick questions for anyone who has got one of the new Kato Soundboxes.

 

What is the sound quality like? Both on board speaker and hooked to a reasonable stereo system.

 

Is it easy to set up and use?

 

Will / Are the sound cartridges interchangeable with the US / JP models (If they are different of course)

 

Is it worth me getting one from Hobby Search while the Yen is low or try and get an English version from the US.

 

Are Japanese suburban / metro sound cards available or under development for later release?

 

I understand some or all of the questions may not have answers available as yet but any info would be appreciated.

 

Thanks in Advance.

In my opinion the sound quality is very good - Mike Fifer has a video which is worth watching and there's a Kato official demo video too.

 

The on board speaker provides a decent response and hooking up to a stereo system is very straight forward.

 

Set up is also straight forward but I would recommend using the Kato power pack for simplicity.

 

I'm sure the cartridges are inter changeable. As yet there are only 2 available.

 

As I understand it items shipped from Japan have ' Steam ' as default sound whereas European items have diesel - I can dig out the info if it helps.

 

I'm still in setting up process but it appears the Soundbox needs a dedicated controller - I'm setting up one track for exclusive DC use.

 

There's no doubt it adds a whole new dimension.

 

Hope this helps

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info. Greatly appreciated.

 

I have all Kato power packs so no problem there.

 

See if I can get funds cleared by the boss to get one :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

in time there most likely will be.  it is a new product, and this month we saw the first new sound chip.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm going to wait and see what the electric trains sound like. We saw five of the sound de-coders at our local hobby shop. I asked the owner to hide them all before my son saw them. :) Didn't quite make it. I'm sure one's on the list some time in the future.

Edited by tossedman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

will there be soundbox for shinkansen and modern trains like yamanote?  

This is the main rollingstock I have which is why I wasn't sure about purchasing one. But I can only imagine they will release sound cards for the shinkansen, and the Yamanote line may be a stock EMU sound.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've got one of these. It's a pretty slick device... The first generation EMD sounds like the real deal. Though, recently I bought from a Japanese supplier one of the Kato (22-202) sound card for the C12 - C56.

 

And the choo-choo sound only lasted for like 5 seconds then complete silence like somebody turned off the audio player while the sampler was recording. Thus, I contacted Kato in Chicago and I sent it to them and they sent it back. Noting "Not imported or supported by Kato USA". (Package slip 00011779), if Kato Japan is reading this.

 

So do I buy another product from Kato to replace this or just live with the EMD 1st generation.

 

I opened the Soundbox up and Soundtraxx is the mfg.

Edited by Kb4iuj

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

KatoUSA is pretty reluctant to deal with any kato japan stuff other than unitrak. Even some Japanese trains that katousa brought over for some U.S. dealers to sell they would not support them later which pissed a lot of folks off. They have gone on and off about ordering spare parts from kato japan for folks in the us, bust seem to have kept doing it the last couple of years when I've done some. Does take 1-3 months and full price and like $8 for a small part envelope shipping w.in the us!

 

Jeff

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And as expected, but not announced. An EMU sound:

 

 

JR East E233 firstly with three programmable horns, closing and opening doors, brake release, atc/ats bell, buzzer and of course running sound. A relatively boring sounding train IMO (I hope the E231 will also be released), but definitely a step in the right direction!

 

As you can see, this is still in development:

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the videos Toni. Glad to see they are developing EMU cards. But like you I'd prefer one based of the E231-500's. I am sure with this set up on a good sound system I could easily upset my neighbours!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry to bump an old thread, but given over a year has passed since the last post I figured I would ask if anyone has bought a sound box and if you like it? I've been watching a lot of relate videos and it sounds promising. Thoughts?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

probably already posted it somewhere else but here below some videos.

 

 

 

Edited by nxcale

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry to bump an old thread, but given over a year has passed since the last post I figured I would ask if anyone has bought a sound box and if you like it? I've been watching a lot of relate videos and it sounds promising. Thoughts?

locidm,

 

After reading your post I had to pull out my box of junk to verify something. Based on a few things I have done in the past I always thought Digitrax DCC sound decoders were a option for sound. So after looking at the videos above I took it as a challenge to test my theory. 

 

I pulled out my Digitrax Zephry, PR3 Extra and a Digitrax Sound Decoders. After recording the 3rd video I parsed out all of the tones displayed. I was able to load a lot of them into the decoder. Now this process/project is in depth and

a bit challenging but it is possible to duplicate what the Sound Box does. The killer is you can continue to do much more.

 

The sound box with 3 cards will cost you about $278.00 you can get a Zephry, PR3 and 16 meg Digitrax Sound bug $280. With the same amount of money you will open other doors with the computer interface. I youtube a video of a platform in Hiroshima and recorded the lady announcing the trains departure. I then added it to JMRI and had it play back on a action from a block detector. That means you can add a block detector before the station and have arriving recording announced. This is utilizing the sound card on the PC. You can then get a free version of iphone, ipad or android throttle and use it to activate sounds if you want via JMRI also. 

 

I would spend my money on the DCC upgrade verses the sound unit. Although the sound unit is simple and plug and play it is limiting for the money.

 

There is one point I must make as the sound decoders are a monster when you want to do custom programming. Meaning taking a mobile decoder and making it do functional sound actions. Talking crowd, conductor voices or sound sequences. There is a program called SPJ Helper that aids in assembly language coding. I just got it today and started looking into it. It is the continuation of Digitraxs Sound Loader program. It is hard and tedious but the yield is worth it to me. 

 

So, my advice would be to get the Digitrax components and swing over to Dcc and used the computer sound card to do the simple tasks and link a decoder to your layout.

 

413Syv9PkwL._SX355_.jpg   teaser_zep.jpg

 

Look kinda the same but does so much more. The buttons are confusing on the Zephry in the beginning but gets understandable over time.

 

So, my advice go for the Zephry over the sound box. I bought a NCE Power Cab and MRC squared and I would still pick the Zephry over the other two. The NCE is the easiest

to use and has the best feel but it is limiting is its capabilities. I spend the last two weeks testing both so I'm speaking from first hand experience. 

 

Inobu  

Edited by inobu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The problem with the decoders is that if you add it into the models that will cost a lot quickly and require extensive modding. The result, thanks to the small spkeakers will be weak and slightly distorted. Trying to fit them into small steamers is hard to impossible.

 

Using a dcc sound decoder on the trackside is better, but changing sounds will require disassembly and reprogramming. The soundbox is plug and play when changing trains and cards together.

 

Computer sound without motor feedback is not usable as the load/speed of the model won't be calculated into the running sound. It's good for background sounds though.

 

Using an arduino and a dac+sdcard extension will result in a home made soundbox, that can be made computer independent. It can actually function as a throttle too with a motor driver extension (shield) and some potmeters and buttons for control.

 

PS: if you really want jmri, it's possible to hack a microcontroller (like an arduino) to act like a dcc central/sound decoder/throttle for the computer. They cost around 10 usd including shipping from china...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1 .The problem with the decoders is that if you add it into the models that will cost a lot quickly and require extensive modding. The result, thanks to the small speakers will be weak and slightly distorted. Trying to fit them into small steamers is hard to impossible.

 

2. Using a dcc sound decoder on the trackside is better, but changing sounds will require disassembly and reprogramming. The soundbox is plug and play when changing trains and cards together.

 

3 .Computer sound without motor feedback is not usable as the load/speed of the model won't be calculated into the running sound. It's good for background sounds though.

 

4. Using an arduino and a dac+sdcard extension will result in a home made soundbox, that can be made computer independent. It can actually function as a throttle too with a motor driver extension (shield) and some potmeters and buttons for control.

 

5 .PS: if you really want jmri, it's possible to hack a microcontroller (like an arduino) to act like a dcc central/sound decoder/throttle for the computer. They cost around 10 usd including shipping from china...

 

You always have to refute my post. lol.

 

1. The initial cost is the same. Each sound unit plug in is $25 which is the cost of an decoder. The new sound decoders can save 8 different schemes on them so buying one is like buying 8 plug ins. .

1a. Not sure why you are bringing up installing decoders on the trains. The sound box's speaker is attached to the unit beside the controller.

 

 

2. You missed the part where I stated that SPJHelper is the Assembly Language program that writes to the microchip. (I'm currently learning it myself). Also one can change the sound scheme by changing CV-60 to one of the 8 values. 0-7. Currently the sound card can change from a steam engine playback to a number of diesels by changing this CV on the fly. 

 

med_gallery_153_24_96483.jpg

 

3. Not true. On DCC the CV132 and 155 controls Diesel Notching which increases with throttle setting. In this case the electrical sound wav file replaces the diesel motor wav file which does the same thing the sound box does.  

 

 

4. Ardunio can be used but its use is nullified by the already developed DCC system why re-invent the wheel when you don't need to.

 

5. Why hack into a micro chip when the capabilities are achieved within the cost of the expenditure. The PR3 does it already.  

 

As usual I did it myself before posting and all is achievable with a little effort. The hardest part is the assembly language part which there is a tool for it. 

 

INITIATE_SOUND TRIG_SND_ACTV11,NORMAL+NO_PREEMPT_TRIG

   LOAD_MODIFIER MTYPE_BLEND, BLEND_CURRENT_CHNL, 0,0

   LOAD_MODIFIER MTYPE_GAIN,IMMED_GAIN_MODIFY,SCV_140,SCALE_F  ;Set Volume

   PLAY HNDL_MUTE,no_loop,loop_STD

   PLAY Diesel_turnon,no_loop,loop_STD

   PLAY Diesel_idle,no_loop,loop_STD

   END_SOUND

 

 

Not sure if you realize it but most of these sound boxes are DCC in nature. The only difference is the plastic box they put it in. 

 

It is funny that you keep dis-counting the sound decoders uses here and each time I'm getting closer to getting a platform to perform announcements linked to the layout using a sound decoder instead of a Ardiuno. With the sound decoder you can attach platform lights even use the DC output control a motor. It is pretty much done you just have to put the pieces together

 

Oh well.

 

Inobu

 

 

I'm glad to have found people that's done it. Here is the example called city sounds. Look what the sound decoder is playing.

 

   cblock   0   ; Start assigning location of  Sound Clips 0, 1, 2, etc.

HNDL_MUTE   ; Internal SILENCE value = 0

Children

Puppy_barking

Crowds

Crows

StreetSounds

Truck_Horn

New_Car

Old_Car

Crossing_Bells

ChurchBell

Clock_Strike

Telephone

   ENDC

 

.

Edited by inobu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

All three methods (off the shelf soundbox, trackside dcc sound decoder and arduino) works. From the price point, the soundbox is very similar to the dcc decoder solution, except you don't need a computer, programming, wiring and any other stuff for it, just use it out of the box. If someone is not really good with electronics, getting something that works is much easier. The arduino variant is much cheaper (around the price of the decoder itself) and it needs some programming too, so it's just a cheaper alternative. The dcc variant and the arduino could be made smarter than the soundbox as both are user programmable.

 

I would say if someone wants an off the shelf solution (plug and play), then using the soundbox is much easier. If someone wants the cheapest solution, then the arduino is the best. If someone happens to own most of the stuff required for the dcc solution, then it will work fine. If you like jmri and computer control, using a trackside decoder is a good solution. (as long as you only operate one decoder and train on the layout or use cab control wiring as connecting the outputs of two decoders is not really supported or safe, while two soundboxes or a soundbox and a normal controller should work fine when crossing from one block to the other)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Kvp you should really read your responses as they are situation responses.

 

"If some happens to own most of the stuff required for the Dcc solution then it will work fine" that's a real head scratcher other then the fact you are using my situation as the basis for your argument.

 

The point here is someone is contemplation spending $275 for a sound box. The suggestion is to purchase the components for a Dcc system that can yield much more for the modeling dollars. With the limited sound options with the sound box over the course of a few weeks so much more can be achieved with a Dcc system.

 

We have bantered back and forth concerning this option for months and you are still only talking on what can be done with the Ardinuo as I have the sound bites loaded in the decoder, now I'm in the process of reprogramming the F1 keys to playback those sound bites. As of right now I've got the all of the pieces in place. For the most part it is tedious but it is being done not talked about.

 

My intensions are to promote progression in the forum and hobby. Many time people are reluctant to try things until they see it done by someone else. Now that YouTube/internet is here the only thing that is stopping people from achieving these tasks is laziness.

 

In closing the options are....

 

1. Buy the sound box and use the two or three chips and enjoy.

2. Get the zephyr and pr3 and start putting the pieces together.

3. Get the cheaper ardunio and start coding,designing and building your pieces yourself.

 

it does not matter which one just pick one and do something.

 

Inobu

Edited by inobu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info. It's quite a ways over my head but glad to know there are other options. DCC is too complicated for me both in terms of knowledge needed and time constrains.

 

I did purchased the Kato sound box couple weeks ago after realizing Amazon Japan sells it for $180 shipped. I also got an extra sound card along with it. Plug and play works best for me as I have very little time to enjoy my layout.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info. It's quite a ways over my head but glad to know there are other options. DCC is too complicated for me both in terms of knowledge needed and time constrains.

 

I did purchased the Kato sound box couple weeks ago after realizing Amazon Japan sells it for $180 shipped. I also got an extra sound card along with it. Plug and play works best for me as I have very little time to enjoy my layout.

Knowing what's available is key........then making the best choice for you.

 

Inobu

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the info. It's quite a ways over my head but glad to know there are other options. DCC is too complicated for me both in terms of knowledge needed and time constrains.

 

I did purchased the Kato sound box couple weeks ago after realizing Amazon Japan sells it for $180 shipped. I also got an extra sound card along with it. Plug and play works best for me as I have very little time to enjoy my layout.

 

So give us a review with your impressions of the soundbox, please.

 

Rich K.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So give us a review with your impressions of the soundbox, please.

 

Rich K.

 

My first impressions:

Pros:

1. It makes running trains a whole lot more fun with minimal effort! I think the ease of use really is its major attraction! Especially for people like me with little background in computer/electronics and with little time to run trains. Only took me a few minutes and I was having fun with it. Truly plug and play.

2. THere are at least 2 kinds of controls depending on the sound card, and they each has its own merit:

    a. No momentum (e.g. steam, the sound card it comes with): it runs the same as without the sound card, it allows for sychronizing the chuffs with the train's movements.

    b. Momentum (e.g. e233 or other diesels from what i've read): the voltage slowly ramps up/down to the voltage set by the controller. This makes running trains more realistic and more challenging (think densha de go when stopping trains at the right spot). I definitely enjoy running the e233 card a lot more than I did with the steamy.

3. It does have an input jack, which if I want I can connect to my laptop to play chimes from the various stations, or do announcements with a mic. Haven't tried this yet though.

4. It does have an output jack, which means the sound can be as big as one wants it to be.

5. One could run train at slow speeds with the voltage dial.

 

Cons:

1. I was hoping that there would be a way to connect my layout with a reverse loop to the sound box, but since it only has 1 input/output, working the reverse loop isn't achievable.

2. This has more to do with the sound card than the speaker on the sound box itself. While the higher frequency sounds are fine, I find the lower end of the frequency spectrum lacking, even when connecting to a bigger external speaker. I wonder if the real low frequencies (20 to 60hz) were recorded onto the sound card. I have yet to hook it up to a subwoofer to confirm. 

3. the built in speaker is a little weak and failed to meet my expectation. I guess I expected too much from a tiny speaker!

Edited by locidm
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think i can help you with the reversing loop. The trick is to use a separate reversing lever after the soundbox. You connect the controller to the sound box, then the output of this to the separate lever. If your layout needs two levers, you can add another one parallel to the external one with a power feed splitter. Just like when you run the soundbox with a simple single lever controller (the blue one). This allows you to set the polarity of any section without reversing on the main controller, so your sound and momentum stays continous and the sound box sees the whole layout as a single block. This also works with cab control setups, so you can run multiple trains or even multiple soundboxes, just make sure you don't switch two controllers to the same block.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks kvp. I actually did purchase one of those Kato polarity swtiches awhile back. I really didn't like it mainly because its build quality was horrible. I think I broke one or both switches that I bought within a few minutes while I was trying to get it to work.

 

Having said that, I like your idea. I'll need to find time to see if I indeed broke both that I bought, and if not I'll see if I can install one like you suggested. That would be cool to be able to control have the yard and the station in the same block.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


×