The best model railway controllers for DC / analogue layouts

Want to upgrade from the standard model train controller? Not sure which controller to buy? This is my guide to picking the best analogue to fit your budget and layout.

Best small railway analogue controller for the price

Gaugemaster GM-GMC-COMBI model railway controller.For a low-budget, well-built controller, suitable for single-track model railways and starter sets, you can’t go wrong with the Gaugemaster GM-GMC-COMBI Single Track Controller.  

An ideal upgrade or replacement of the controller supplied in Hornby train sets, the GMC-COMBI it’s well made, has Gaugemaster’s lifetime guarantee and is more reliable than other low-cost controllers. It also gives good operation at slower speeds which are often lacking in rudimentary models.

Unlike many of the basic controllers, such as the Bachamn 36-565,  it has both 12V DC and 16V AC output for accessories such as CDUs with an output of .75Amps.

Like all analogue controllers here, it’ll work perfectly with Hornby style OO or HO as well as smaller scale N and 009 scale model trains and track; it can also be used as a secondary controller in conjunction with a main unit for the controller of isolated sidings, service tracks and has 16v AC output terminals for powering accessories.

Summary: While it is more expensive than the budget controllers from Horby etc, its dual outputs, and lack the built-in CDU of the Morley Vector Zero Three, in my mind the ability to run locomotives smoothly at low-speed AC accessory output make this my preferred budget unit.

Best DIY DC controller for the price

If you’re looking for the absolutely lowest price controller for a small layout and aren’t afraid of a little electrical DIY, take a look at the Mini DC Motor Speed control driver board.  You’ll need to add a transformer and the circuitry is exposed but for the price, it can’t be beaten. One word of warning however is that it’s rated for much higher output than needed for model trains so don’t crank it up all the way.

Best analogue controller for large layouts and expansion

Gaugemaster Q controller

Once you step up from Hornby or Bachmann’s basic track layout, you’ll want something capable of powering multiple lines at once, such as two ovals and sidings for example.

This is where the Gaugemaster GM-GMC-Q four-track controller comes in.

It has 4 12V DC track terminals and twin 16v AC  and 12v DC terminals giving four outputs for accessories with a hefty 1Amp rating. Like all Gaugemaster controllers, it has a lifetime guarantee and is solidly built. Not mentioned much are the LEDs on each dial, these change colour as the dials are turned up to increase the colour, giving a visual indication of the speed in addition to the markings around the dials.

The ability to control four tracks may seem overkill when you first step up from a basic oval track plan but trust me, your layout will grow and keep growing so it’s always useful to have those extra track and accessory feeds

Conclusion: Which controller is right for you

Whether you’re looking for the cheapest controller to upgrade from the basic models supplied with Hornby train sets or one to handle larger layouts as you expand, one of the above models will meet your needs.

Personally, I’d recommend the Gaugemaster GM-GMC-Q four track controller. It may seem like overkill right now but model railways have a habit of growing and this controller will easily handle your current layout plus expansion in the future.

 

 
Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.

Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.

When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here,
2 comments
  1. Many thanks. Verified what I had in mind. Have 3 single controllers and am thinking about an upgrade to the Q 4 track.. However I would be interested to know if there any ideas regarding mounting 4 singles on a rack or similar. Would work out cheaper!

    • Hi Bobby, Gaugemaster do panel mounting controllers, which could work out cheaper. Their two track panel is here. This would work out a lot cheaper. Hope this helps. Andy

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