REVIEW - Sonic Models GWR 56xx 0-6-2
The first powered model from N Gauge newcomer Sonic Models is now arriving with purchasers. We take a look at this welcome new model, and first impressions are good.
But first, a little history......
Sonic Models is a new company set up by Sam Leung, a former Kader/Graham Farish engineer. Sam was responsible for the design of some Farish’s best-known and appreciated models including the LMS Duchess and MK.1 Coaching Sock.
Sam approached Revolution Trains in 2018 with the CAD of his VEA van and impressed with the design, Revolution offered to act as his distributor in the UK and in addition providing assistance on research and livery diagrams.
The VEA van was released to widespread praise, notably for the highly detailed underframe featuring many separately applied parts, and the excellent and detailed livery application with multiple variations available.
With this first model on the market, Sonic have now turned their attention to powered models, the 56xx being their debut locomotive.
After the 1923 grouping of UK rail companies, the newly formed Great Western Railway found itself with a large inherited fleet of various locomotives from the Welsh rail companies it had absorbed. Many of these were condemned by the GWR, and a new class designed by C.B Collett was ordered to replace them on the coal traffic around the South Wales rail network.
Using the Rhymney Railway R class as the basis, but built with Swindon design principles, the 56xx followed the 0-6-2 layout of it's predecessors. This suited the relatively sharp curves of the Welsh valleys as well as providing the necessary power, adhesive weight and and breaking ability required for the heavy coal trains they were designed to haul. As the distances between pits and sheds were reasonably short, the water tanks and bunker were comparatively small.
The first bacth of 100 was built at Swindon between 1924 and 1927, but the requirement for a further 100 of these engines was so urgent that, unusually for the Great Western, 50 were built by private contractors Armstrong Whitworth of Newcastle with the other 50 being built at Swindon. All were completed by October 1928, when the last batch of twenty were delivered. The second batch of 100 were slightly heavier than the first and were numbered in the 66xx range.
All the 56xx locomotives passed into British Railways ownership at nationalisation in 1948, and all remained in service until 1962, at which time they were withdrawn from service quite rapidly, with the onset of diesel traction on BR gaining momentum. All had been retired by 1965.
Nine of the class survived into preservation with two currently in service, six at various stages of restoration or overhaul and one on static display. Eight of the nine survivors were rescued from Woodham's famous Barry scrapyard.
When removing the model from the packaging, Sam's Graham Farish heritage is immediately obvious. The 56xx could just as easily have come in a black and yellow box as the orange and blue of Sonic Models. For a first powered locomotive model from a new company, it has all the hallmarks of a one that has been around much longer.
The first thing that stands out is the weight of the model, it coming in at around the same as the Farish N Class. Impressive in a tank engine but necessary as the model is not supplied with traction tyres to allow pickup from all wheels.
The next thing that catches the eye is how well the Sonic model captures the look of the 56xx. From the rather bulky bunker, cab and tanks to the high mounted and forward projecting boiler & smokebox, Sonic have perfectly captured the poise of these ruggedly handsome machines.
The level of detail is also impressive, with fine tank side and bunker rivets which are subtle enough to be visible but not appear horrendously over scale. Fine, separately fitted handrails are abundant and there is a wealth of separately fitted detail along the tank tops and running plate forward of the tanks.
There is a nice representation of the boiler backhead details which are visible through the cabside openings and a nice touch is the inclusion the tool boxes at the rear of the cab and hand brake on the right hand side.
Front and rear cab windows are seperatley fitted, with the latter having a fine representation of the protective rails as part of the moulding.
The cab doors are modelled in the closed position to help hide the PCB and blanking plate/DCC chip, and there is a moulded representation of the sliding weather panels on each side of the cab.
Cab and forward steps are moulded as part of the plastic running plate along with the injector pipework, whilst sandboxes and pipes are separately fitted parts. Brake equipment is moulded as part of the wheelset retaining plate, which also features the front NEM coupling pocket.
A nicely turned copper chimney cap is fitted neatly atop the chimney, and the safety valve cover is a separately fitted brass painted moulding. An impressively fine whistle moulding is also present on top of the firebox.
The construction of the model is worthy of note with the smokebox boiler forward of the tanks being a separate moulding. The top of the firebox is also a seperate moulding as are the cab front, roof, rear bulkhead and coal moulding. The fit of these parts is generally very good although the roof on the model reviewed here did sit a fraction high toward the rear.
Being their first powered model, Sonic have opted for a prototype with no outside valve gear, however the simple coupling rods are commendably fine, and the hex bolts used to secure them reasonably unobtrusive. Sonic have also tooled different wheels to allow for the variations in balance weights found on the prototype. The wheel centres are painted whilst the tyres are blackened. If I were being ultra picky, the ends of the axles would benefit from a dab of black paint.
There is a nice representation of the visble detail between the frames just behind the smokebox saddle in the form of a separately fitted part.
The finish of the model is superb, the BR black being evenly applied with no blemishes in the paintwork. There was a very tiny amount of red overspray on this sample from one side of the buffer beam, but otherwise there a no complaints here about the quality of the paintwork. Bunkerside numbers and BR totem are nicely reproduced, being sharp and nicely detailed with good colour density over the black background. The smokebox door number and shed plate are also well printed.
A small bag of user fitted parts is supplied with two versions of coupling hooks, one without moulded screwlink coupling (only suitable for use with the rapid couplers fitted) and one without. The running plate mounted tool box is also included for the user to fit alongside the smokebox saddle on the right hand side of the model.
Technical & performance
The model, unsurprisingly, follows a similar design ethos to most recent Graham Farish models. The split chassis design features pickup bushes for current collection from the driving wheels, whilst the sprung pony truck also features a clever pickup system to give the model all wheel collection.
Removing the body is achieved by unclipping the pony truck by gently pulling to the rear and removing the single screw underneath the bunker, then sliding the body moulding backward slightly before lifting it up at the rear to release the securing lug on the front face of the smokebox saddle.
Performance out of the box was good, although on this example there was initially a very small tight spot. After 30 minutes running in each direction this has now completely disappeared, the running qualities now being very smooth and stable and certainly comparable with the best runners from Graham Farish. The small coreless motor is practically silent and as with the tight spot, any gear noise present on first run has now reduced significantly as everything beds in.
Sonic suggest that the model is suitable to be used on curves of R1 (approx 9" or 228mm) or greater.
Haulage capability is very good as a result of the impressive weight achieved in a relatively small model. 12 Graham Farish Mk.1s were easily hauled around a small test oval of Kato Unitrack without any sign of slippage or struggle.
A basic set of instructions is included detailing the warranty, spare parts, DCC fitting and lubrication.
A six pin socket is provided which is designed to accommodate a Bachmann 36-556RA 90 degree decoder. It should be possible to use alternative smaller decoders such as the Zimo MX616 which is small enough to sand upright in the socket, however this would be visible through the cab openings. Gently and carefully bending the pins through 90 degrees would allow the chip to sit out of view, however I cannot recommend you try this unless you are absolutley confident in doing so!
The bunker weight is removable via a single screw, and it may be possible squeeze in a small speaker and sound chip, however it would be an extremely tight fit with even the smallest sound decoders currently available and most likely intrude into the open cab space.
A new entrant into the N Gauge market is always a welcome event, and hot of the heals of Kato and their impressive Class 800, we now have another serious player in the form of Sonic Models.
The 56xx is a very impressive debut locomotive model with excellent detail, finish and running qaulities and should certainly make some of the more established manufacturers sit up and pay attention.
Very highly recommended!
Price and availability
The 56xx is now on sale exclusively from Rails of Sheffield, with 10 different versions currently available. Rails report that several versions are now close to selling out.
The model reviewed here was purchased by the reviewer from Rails for £109.95
Shortly after this review was prepared, Sonic Models issued the following statement regarding the DCC socket:
Sonic Models have been advised that the 6 pin socket on the PCB may be offset a little bit on some models. It may cause a difficulty to re-assemble the body shell after fitting the suggested decoder (Bachmann right-angle decoder 36-556RA) because the inner space is very tight on such a small loco.
One customer has reported that an alternative is to remove a small amount of plastic from the decoder socket so that the body can sit flat and enables the original suggested decoder to fit correctly.
Sonic Models apologises for any inconvenience that this may cause customers.