ESU CabControl DCC system announced

Even though I don’t need one, I’m pretty excited to learn that ESU (the “LokSound” decoder company) has announced a new DCC system designed specifically for the North American and Australian markets. The new “CabControl” system offers layout builders the best of ESU’s ECoS system while removing some of the more “Eurocentric” features and dropping the price to make it competitive with other popular DCC systems.

ESU CabControl
(The ESU Cab Control system | Click on the image to read about it on ESU’s website)

Regular readers will recall that just under a year ago, I upgraded my layout with the ECoS 50200 DCC system. I’m really happy with this decision but I knew that the ECoS would not be for everybody, since it includes a number of features that are not in high demand in North America – specifically, the two case-mounted throttles. These add considerably to the price of an ECoS system, putting it in a different snack bracket from starters sets offered by other manufacturers.

Obviously, the developers at ESU have decided they’re missing an important opportunity here, because the new CabControl starter set deletes the case-mounted throttles (and the touch screen) in favour of a black box that houses the command station and a WiFi access point. It then adds the Mobile Control II – a WiFi-based wireless throttle that combines the best of a touch-screen Android-based tablet with a super-sweet servo-driven throttle knob and some programmable push buttons to give operators quick and intuitive access to commonly-used functions (such as the bell and whistle). I saw this new system in action at a recent train show in the greater Toronto area, and I was definitely impressed.

(My current ESU DCC system – including the ECoS 50200 command station, a wireless access point, and two wireless Mobile Control II throttles)

I have a pair of the Mobile Control II throttles that I use with the ECoS 50200 and I love them, so it’s great to see that ESU has made this fresh commitment to the North American market. With a product more suited to our tastes in control systems – at a more competitive price – I expect more modellers on this side of the Atlantic will make the switch to ESU. And from a purely selfish perspective, that means my ECoS 50200 – which is already well supported – will be even better served in the years to come.

I see Matt Herman from ESU fairly regularly at local shows, and he’s a frequent guest on the “DCC Decoded” segment of TrainMasters TV. What’s more, I know that I’ll be hosting Matt in the TrainMasters TV studios before the month is out for an in-depth exploration of the ESU CabControl system. I’ll post about that here when I do – so stay tuned!

11 thoughts on “ESU CabControl DCC system announced

  1. I really like the ECoS system when I had the chance to use it on your layout, but its way too much system for a small shelf layout like i’m considering to get the desired flexibility of hand held controls. I missed the new system being shown off in Brampton (mostly as I’m blind, as i was talking with Matt at ESU about my own decoder install issues). This new unit and pricing brings it squarely into play against the other big DCC starter systems for me to consider when i seriously start shopping for a system in 2018. I look forward to learning more about it as it gets to market.


  2. I agree the ESU Mobile Control II with the new CabControl seems to be a very good system. I note it is 7 Amps and has a filtered power supply. When you make your video there are several questions that I would like to see addressed. Specifically, can the CabControl be used with an Android enabled smart phone as a controller (in lieu of or in addition to Mobile Control II) similar to Train Driver or TouchCab? What are the four (4) buttons on the sides of the Mobile Control II (ESU manual does not explain). Does the touch screen or other input (slider on screen?) have the capability to “play” a whistle i.e. vary the pitch? And lastly how does this system work for programming of a decoder i.e. could DecoderPro be adapted to display on the Mobile Control II or Android phone screen? Thanks.

    Rod Jensen

    • Hi Rod:

      I can take a stab at answering some of these questions.

      The Cab Control package includes a Mobile Control II throttle. I suspect you need at least one (included) to interface with the command station since the command station has no screen, etc. Beyond that, I know you can use a number of the model railway control apps on Android or Apple devices (such as WiThrottle) with the ECoS 50200 and I assume you’ll be able to do the same with the Cab Control system. The fact that the Mobile Control II itself is an Android device means you should have no problems.

      The four buttons on the sides of the Mobile Control II are user-assignable function buttons: you can program any function (F1, F2, etc) to any button. You can also turn one into an emergency brake, if you wish. The idea is that you can put the most-commonly-accessed functions on these buttons so that you do not have to look at the screen in order to use them. (They also show up on the screen, of course.)

      One drawback of using software-defined throttles on a touch-screen device is you can’t tell by feel where your fingers are, so you have to look away from the layout to – for example – blow the whistle. These buttons take care of that drawback. And because these are user-defined, you can change them to suit the decoder or operating style you use. For example, I found that when I switched from TCS WOWSound to ESU LokSound, I wanted to change the buttons on the right side to take advantage of the LokSound “Drive Hold” feature.

      I do not believe one can play the whistle – but then I have no decoders that enable this feature, so I could be wrong.

      I am sure we will discuss using the Cab Control system to program decoders when we shoot our videos for TrainMasters TV.


    • Hi Rod: I agree – and I think the price-point was top of mind as ESU designed this system.

      My understanding is they wanted to offer North Americans (and Australians) a system that is configured more like what you see from competitors like Digitrax and NCE, and at a price that puts ESU back on the consideration list.

      The ECoS 50200 – the system I have – is very powerful, but comes with extra features that many of us in North American wouldn’t necessarily want. The two fixed cabs are an example: In North America, those on the leading edge of the hobby (who are the market for DCC systems) tend to build large walk-around layouts and want a wireless throttle so we can easily follow our train. The fixed cabs serve no purpose for us (although I have found them extremely handy for programming/testing on my sector plate staging area). By removing those cabs (and the large touch screen) ESU has been able to deeply slash the MSRP for their starter DCC system:

      The current-generation ECoS 50210 lists for US$675 at Tony’s Trains, while a Mobile Control II is US$256 with a wireless access point (US$240 without). So, an ECoS plus one wireless throttle would cost more than US$900. (It would give one three throttles, but two of them would be fixed to the command station.)

      The Cab Control system comes in at less than that, at US$390 on the Tony’s Trains site.

      By comparison (and if I’m reading the choices correctly on their website), Tony’s price on the cheapest Digitrax starter set with a radio cab is US$460 (although you can get one with an infrared cab for US$285.) And the cheapest NCE starter set with radio cab is US$480.

      Obviously, each has its own specs, features, throttle ergonomics, etc. But this will put ESU on the consideration list for many.


    • Hi John:

      I’m not sure what you mean by a web interface, John. According to the ESU website, the CabControl Integrated Control Unit (command station) can connect to a PC to take advantage of model railway control software such as JMRI, Train Controller and so on.

      While I’m a huge fan of what ESU is doing, I am only a customer – not an employee or dealer – so my knowledge is relatively limited. I’ve had a bit of experience with the new system through our video sessions at TrainMasters, and I have experience as a user of the ECoS 50200, but that’s it. For more specific questions, I encourage you to contact Matt Herman at ESU directly. You’ll find contact methods here.


  3. Hi, thanks for the reply. The ECoS has the screens where you see the throttles and design your layout and configure locos and layout hardware. You can display these menus onto a PC monitor by accessing the ECoS IP address. I makes it easier to work at your PC/laptop or you can display to a large momonitor in the room to an audience. This in built into the ECoS. Since the new system does not have a screen except for the tiny display on the throttle, I wonder if these menus are accessible or intergraded like the ECoS

    • Hi John:
      Thanks for the clarification. I have no idea. You would have to ask ESU directly. I do know that the brains in this box are essentially the same brains as in the ECoS. But I don’t know if ESU left all that functionality in place.

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