Specialty Hobby Chip Manufacturer Embraces Global Supply Side Economics
by Allen Williams
As a long time railroad enthusiast, I appreciated the step up to sound in today’s model railroading hobby. A lot of manufacturers have jumped on board to meet the hobby demand for these unusual devices. Growth has been quick and often volatile as companies compete to offer the latest innovation and increase their capture of the hobby market. So what does this do to market competition?
Many of the customer problems circulating in American industry have crept into the hobby field. For example, the idea of Just in Time Manufacturing i.e. (JTIM) selling something you don’t have. Everything depends on quick and efficient product assembly and good timing to deliver the product on schedule, but when something goes wrong, deliveries to anxious purchasers can be anywhere from a few weeks to many months.
There is a remarkable lack of visible complaints in the model railroad hobby arena, not because there aren’t legitimate beefs but because the same mechanisms that exist for other business consumer complaints like ‘Trust Pilot’, ‘Yelp’ etc simply aren’t there.
But consumer complaints generally are expressed in various rail hobby forums or product publication reviews. Here’s one from a 2010 review in Model Rail roader Magazine, “This is not a very good effort by Soundtraxx and I'm surprised that Intemountain was 'satisfied' with the result. I sincerely hope that the new user-installed version of this decoder, will be better, but I doubt it.”
So here’s someone else who thinks the company doesn’t put much effort into their products It appears that Soundtraxx of Durango, Colorado isn’t interested in providing product performance and reliability because that’s not the globalist way. The control of consumer demand is the real objective and best accomplished by limiting supply to facilitate higher prices. Industry oil pricing should give you a fair basis for understanding how supply side economics works. And Soundtraxx supply side marketing is more than a little disingenuous as I'll demonstrate a little further down.
There appears to be an unwritten rule in the hobby that ‘nobody complains’. I was made aware of that after ordering and receiving a cast metallic car from a hobby manufacturer with very poor visual quality and windows that had to be drilled out before the car windshield could be installed. When I expressed my displeasure over what I received the model car manufacturer told me “..that’s not how we do things in the hobby” Oh? Then is that a license to shaft your customers? Just so you know that it’s all about disposable income, after all, you’d probably spend the hobby money getting drunk or buy a new cell phone anyway, so why shouldn’t the seller gouge it out of you? ‘If you don’t like it buy something else’ was the typical response.
In reality, the hobby industry is on the cutting edge of consumer abuse given their marketing techniques. Some time ago I bought two Soundtraxx decoders, the DSD-100LC and the DSD-101LC for an F7 and a USRA switching steam locomotive respectively. Both moved the respective engines well early on but the steam sound wasn’t particularly good from the start and you could overdrive the unit when attempting to raise the CV output during programming resulting in greatly reduced sound. The 100LC wouldn’t even run after simply setting on the track for an extended period, no motion and a weak croak was all it could manage. It’s now in a third party shop awaiting repair.
In addition the DSD-101LC suffered from a fusible link flaw, a slight track short would burn it out and you had a dead decoder. I had to send it to Soundtraxx to replace the fuse shortly after buying it. Don’t expect to hear about these types of supplier design deficiencies from Model Railroader’s Tony Koester.
About two weeks ago, I experienced a similar short in the same steam loco when I had to service it and this time the decoder was ‘dead for good’ because all LC decoders are on the company’s Discontinued list and the 2-year service extension has long since expired. Beginning in 2008 there were some 10 discontinued Soundtraxx decoders in just 9 years.
The LC sound devices were eliminated in 2009 and service repair two years later. Now interestingly enough, I can still get parts for my Pentium III computer which far outdates the 2009 cutoff for the LC series decoder. So these decoder lines are deliberately made obsolete.
The whole culture has been mind conditioned to believe if something isn’t brand new it isn’t any good. It was the global automotive giant General Motors that first conceived the notion of 'planned obsolescence’ as a means of stirring consumer demand for new autos. But the hobby industry has taken it one step further with 'forced obsolescence.'
The 101LC fuse was totally unnecessary as all the DCC command stations have a very fast short sensing mechanism and would quickly trip out the station protecting the decoder. The fuse idea on a limited production item is merely a means of forcing one to upgrade.
Now, I’ll discuss the disingenuousness of Soundtraxx marketing as it appears in their product packaging and labeling. The company’s tendency to question customer observed faults is truly astounding. I had bought a third Soundrrax decoder for the EMD 567 locomotive well before the last LC series decoder problem.
Photo: EMD label and Registration Insert
The EMD label was all the documentation in the sealed plastic bag, no wiring diagram, no indication of how many amps were required to drive it and NO wires! Most of all, there was no information on the EMD insert as to the decoder’s purpose, i.e. replacement, new, etc.
I was somewhat surprised to see such a plain decoder in front of the EMD insert with only two wires connected to a capacitor for the sound system. I had expected the wiring diagram to be underneath the EMD insert but upon inspection I found that there was NO wiring diagram included.
Photo: What was visible in the Package just in front of the EMD insert
After getting in touch with the company service representative via email, I was forwarded to one of the owners who told me that this particular decoder was intended for locomotives with a Printed Circuit Board (PCB). (I suppose that’s where they expected me to acquire the necessary wires to install it). But wait, it gets better! The owner then denied that the wiring diagram could be missing because it was part of the package and this couldn’t happen. In other words, I’m either blind or couldn’t recognize the diagram if it fell on me.
The owner stated: “Once again, I refer to the PDF that I sent with my last email. This absolutely would have been attached to that sealed plastic bag before it ever left the factory. It contained all the information you say was missing. I apologize that when you purchase this it was not part of the complete production. I can also assure you it did not leave the factory without that bag header. It was why I asked where you had purchased it because I couldn't imagine how that could even happen.”
Oh brother! This individual is either naïve or is deliberately misleading in her remark. I have personal knowledge of equipment sent to jobsites missing key components or just omitted from the Bill of Lading completely. So the owner made this observation principally to deflect criticism. My response: “I don't recall the 'header' containing any sort of wiring diagram. I know the store owner where I bought it personally. It’s not his policy to do anything more than sell the DCC materials he receives as they are. And again you [the owner] make the misleading statement that the PDF file would have been attached to the bag. It wasn't unless you printed it on the back of the bag header and then stapled it to the bag (that would have made for some pretty small reading.) That kind of information belongs INSIDE the bag to avoid situations where buyers may inadvertently discard the header or sellers replace it with one of their own, etc.”
Obviously, I had no way of knowing that this Soundtraxx decoder was intended as a replacement for a factory PCB board. Not all the locos listed on the EMD insert have factory PCB boards, I know because I have some of these models. It depends on the manufacturer. And, unlike most computer motherboards there is no model number silk-screening on the decoder chip to provide a clue I didn’t find out the model number until the owner emailed me the PDF wiring file. I continued: “You are misleading customers into thinking that wires are already included on a PCB board replacement which clearly isn't true. And, how nice to find out after the fact that the decoder is a prototype. That's disingenuous. Now you'll be able to shorten the time this decoder is available for service and force the customer into ordering a new model,..” And this model was discontinued in 2016
The owner didn’t address many of the items I noted in my emails but incredibly, did question where I got the notion the AT-1000 decoder was a prototype. She tells me that "I'm very confused as to why you think that this was a prototype..”
This is absolutely priceless! "Oh, I dunno. Maybe because YOUR documentation states prototype on the top of the 1st page of the wiring diagram. Do you think we're all stupid out here? READ your own literature. "Model TSU-AT1000 Digital Sound Decoder.. 16-BIT DIGITAL SOUND AVAILABLE IN A VARIETY OF PROTOTYPES…
Here's the definition of 'prototype' from Microsoft's Encarta dictionary: "the original form of something, which has the essential features and is the model for subsequent forms.." Your use of the term prototype confuses the reader because it can mean the prototype of chip sound features to come or it can mean a particular architecture prototype or it can refer to prototypical response of a particular locomotive's operation. In any case your use of the term is misleading which brings me back to my earlier comment about Soundtraxx being disingenuous. What 'prototype' means in your literature is left up to the reader's interpretation.”
This is clearly a prime example of Caveat Emptor, i.e. let the buyer beware and it is particularly applicable in the rapidly evolving globalist economy. One has no way of knowing whether or not a new decoder chip just purchased is discontinued at the time it was sold because companies often buy discontniued inventory and sell them off at discount prices. You have to check the supplier site prior to any purchase.
But, I’ll be buying my future sound decoders elsewhere.