Roco/Fleischmann’s Digital Handbook, vol. 1

Roco/Fleischmann’s Digital Handbook, vol. 1

A review

By Ernest H. Robl

When Roco announced in 2016 that it planned to produce a series of books, at least two of which would focus on digital operation, I was immediately interested, both because I saw a need for some better documentation and because more documentation is usually a good thing. As someone who’s done a fair amount of technical writing myself, I’ve often been critical of the documentation offered by model railroad manufacturers for its various shortcomings.

Well, the first volume, Roco Fleischmann Digital für Einsteiger 1, is now available. (The cover title is Modellbahn Digital für Einsteiger 1. The spine title is Modellbahn Roco/Fleischmann–Digital für Einsteiger 1.

Side track: Probably of interest only to library and publishing geeks: The title page title of a book is considered the official title; any variant titles found elsewhere in the book, such as on the cover, spine, or as running titles at the tops of pages, are considered secondary titles, though usually all variant forms of a title are searchable in catalogs.

Yes, this book is currently available only in German. But many people who model European railroads have at least some knowledge of German — and many of the digital terms such as decoder, booster, etc., are the same in both German and English. So, with even a very basic knowledge of German, you should be able to at least decipher the captions for the symbolic wiring diagrams and other illustrations.

Side track: I do not claim to be an expert on digital operation, though I have now installed decoders in about a dozen locomotives and have nearly another dozen that were purchased with decoders already installed. I do feel that I now have a reasonable understanding of the principles behind digital standards and operations.

Also, I did not read this book from cover to cover. Instead, I skipped around, looking for subjects of primary interest to me. However, by the time I started this review, I had at least glanced at all the chapters and actually read about 80 per cent of the content in detail

First, the basics

The book comes in paperback in the A3 format, approximately 8.25 by 6 inches, with 112 pages divided into 20 chapters. The book has good production values, using moderately heavy glossy paper and reasonably large type faces. (I often wonder how manufacturers expect purchasers to read the microscopic print of some of their documentation.)

R-81395-bk1The book uses a two-column layout throughout, with illustrations being either one or two columns wide.

My copy says it is the 2nd revised edition, with a 2016 copyright date — and no information on the previous original edition.

The suggested retail price of 15 Euros (available in the U.S. for around $15) is reasonable for the size of the book and its content.


As stated in the blurb on the back cover, the book says its intended purpose is to dispel model railroaders’ fears about digital. It succeed at that — to a degree.

The content interweaves two types of content:

  • Explanation of the basic principles of digital model railroad operation, and

  • How these principles apply to the Multimaus-based Roco digital systems.

(The book explains early on that the Roco and Fleischmann digital systems are functionally identical, with components fully interchangeable, though the labels and colors may be different in the two systems. It also acknowledges that some digital components, such as decoders, sold under the Roco and Fleischmann brands, are actually produced by other manufacturers.)

The book notes that the Multimaus can be used with several different Roco systems, including the older amplifiers and the z21 boxes supplied with start sets. (I presume the second volume will include information about the more sophisticated Z21 system.)

Positive points

The book presents a large volume of useful information, such as:

  • One section illustrates the pin assignments of all the major decoder interfaces, including showing how the 8-pin NEM 652 plug is different from the 8-pin PluX 8 plug — and how decoders with some of the smaller PluX plugs can still be used on the PluX 22 sockets, though with obvious loss of some functions. This section includes the standard wire colors for each decoder pin.

  • Another particularly good explanation describes how some CV (Configuration variables — the user-settable characteristics of a decoder — are actually a byte of data, which consists of eight bits, each of which is an on-off switch that can be set individually.

The book devotes considerable space to operation of the Roco Multimaus, including symbolic illustrations of its menu structure (as also shown in the Multimaus documentation itself).

Most of the illustrations, such as those showing the differences in the wiring of analog and digital layouts, are clear and well thought out — though some have previously appeared in other Roco documentation.

Critical points

Areas where I think the book could have done better:

  • The book cannot quite decide whether it wants to be a how-to manual or a reference book. The two typically need to have a quite different type of content structure.
  • The book focuses too much on the technical aspects of digital, without really emphasizing that the whole point of digital is to have more realistic operation. Particularly in the introduction, it would have been useful to devote more space to things model railroaders have always wanted to be able to do — but which were either impossible or extremely difficult with analog operations.
  • A few of the screen illustrations of the Multimaus could have used some enhancement to give them better contrast.
  • A set of oscilloscope images of electrical current in both analog and digital formats are probably of little interest to most readers — particularly as these images also lack sufficient contrast for easy viewing.

The bottom line

Is this book a worth-while investment? And, will I buy the second volume when it becomes available? Yes and yes, particularly if you are considering using or have already decided to use the Roco Multimaus controllers. The book does pull together some information that would otherwise have to be found in several other documents.

Side track: I own two of the Multimaus controllers myself (and will add a third later this year). I really like the Multimaus units — and like them better than other digital controllers that I have seen or had a chance to use.

Do I think that the authors could have done better? Yes, to that also. There are sections where the fact that the whole point of digital is to operate trains realistically appears to be lost. (Perhaps the authors assume that the readers already know that.)

Often it’s difficult for those who know a technical subject extremely well to put themselves in the shoes of the end users who care less about the details of the technology than about how they can apply that technology to accomplish something.


As always, comments are welcome.


4 Responses to Roco/Fleischmann’s Digital Handbook, vol. 1

  1. Gordon says:

    Thanks, Ernest. I often think that manuals should be written by the customer rather than the inventor.

  2. Lindsay Holley says:

    It is available in Australia but again only in German, I would purchase it if it was in English.

  3. Gordon says:

    Is volume 2 available yet?

  4. Ernest Robl says:

    Apparently not yet. The Roco factory site shows this item as due for availability in the 4th quarter of 2017.

    – Ernest

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