Spur 1 Märklin BR 38 testing and written review

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This video shows the steam functions, etc., of the new Märklin BR 38, era IV (epoche IV), prod.no. 55384. A review of the good sides and bad sides of this new model:

Märklin has been a highly conservative company when it comes to gauge 1 (spur 1), showing us hardly anything new in the last 10 years, also focusing more on providing reprints of different eras of the same model (at the rate of one era per year),whilst largely not providing models of the same era with different operating numbers.

It was therefore a joyful surprise to learn that Märklin had:

a) finally entered the age of dynamic smoke, cylinder steam and steampipes (the BR 58 only had dynamic smoke, which I have not seen in action), trailing Kiss and Zirkus Krug (KM 1) by a decade,
b) would release in three different eras at the same time, rather than over a period of three years.

Märklin was probably confident that their new developments, apparently aimed at putting the company at the very forefront of gauge 1 locomotive developments in the smoke department, would be a success.

Well, the era IV model of the BR 38 is certainly a thing to be experienced and enjoyed, and my view is that Märklin has on the whole lived up to their influential and central market position with this model.

The physical detailing is absolutely exquisite, also on the rivet-level! I am not an expert on the real thing, but I can certainly recognise a beautifully crafted, maticulate model when I see it. In viewing Märklin’s BR 38 era IV model, perhaps particularly the cab interiors, I find that it can definitely compete against Kiss and Zirkus Krug. This is far better than most Märklin models, also in the high end price range for this company. Impressive, and the best I have seen so far from them. See detailed pictures at the excellent www.spur1info.com

The lighting is standard Märklin, with a slight and very fast turn on and turn off-function. There is hardly any dimming, maybe half a second. Märklin is still trailing its closest competitors here.

The smoke functions are, on the other hand, maginificent! The dynamic smoke from the chimney looks absolutely realistic in terms of rhythm and is clear, sufficiently thick and therefore easily visible. The smoke oil compartment contains up to 15 ml of smoke (a standard Märklin model holds 1 – 3 ml), thus allowing for longer treks without having to refill every 2 minutes of playtime. This is also a clear improvement over any previous Märklin model, possibly bar the “insider” BR 58 (which I have not tested, as mentioned above). The cylinders give out a visible veil of smoke upon starting to move, and also during motion if you hold down the cylinder sound & smoke function. However, I have had some difficulty replicating this effect once on the main track. This may have something to do with my layout, as it seems to work fine whilst exiting the switching range, as you can see on the video above. The steampipe smoke does wonders, as it emanates two thin lines of smoke about 30 centimetres into the air upon command, along with the appropriate whistle sound, very satisfactory indeed!

The sounds themselves do leave a lot to be desired! There is the usual number of representations present as function keys, as well as more operating sounds emanating from the train at intervals, which is fine. However, the quality is the same outdated sound which has been employed for many years by this manufacturer, and it absolutely can not compete against the crispness of a Kiss or Zirkus Krug product. Frankly, Märklin’s BR 38 sounds like something which was made on an Amiga 500, not like they were recorded anywhere near an actual loco.

Conclusion:

The visible detailing and smoke functions of this era IV BR 38 steam locomotive from Märklin are magnificent and can compete and to some extent surpass that of their immediate competitors. In that sense, the model delivers on the promise associated with the price and the product description from the manufacturer.

But Märklin might well have missed what I believe to be an obvious chance to impress and show customers and competitors alike that they stand second to none in the middle part of the high-end market. On the contrary, the poor sound along with the aged lighting techniques show a classic Märklin lack of commitment or ability to create models of a quality which make the choice of buying it over their rivals’ products in that same price range more difficult than it has to be.

Given the price of the model, in the high end for Märklin products and comparable to that of the Kiss or Zirkus Krug steam locomotives, this is on the whole acceptable and satisfcatory, to me. We get something better (the steam functions, detailed cab interiors), something comparable (the exquisite detailing), but also something subpar (poor sound quality and outdated lighting technique).

Questions and comments are welcome!

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