Product Comments: Brawa pin socket LED lights

When I first came across these novel lighting products from German manufacturer Brawa, I was blown away with what a great idea these were! Brawa has produced N Scale lights that use a small metal pin which is inserted into a socket that you install in your layout, allowing for flexibility and stability that is hard to achieve with other alternatives. Additionally, they are LEDs which means that you get a light that will last much longer than a conventional incandescent bulb, plus low heat, and low power consumption. The 'plug and play' simplicity of the pins and sockets mean that you can change light fixtures as you wish, and if you need to replace a bad bulb (in theory with LED's, a rare occurrence?), changing the bulb/light fixture cannot be easier.

I love this idea and despite the relatively hefty per light price, it seems like a good investment. A Brawa 4000 (single, curved street light) goes for about USD $11-13. Brawa's similar non-Led and traditional wire version is about 30% less at USD $7-8. Of course, you can go with the very cheap Model Power versions, where you can get a pack of 3 for about $6-9. I don't care much for the Model Power versions despite the price (they just look cheap to me). Brawa has a similar 'traditional' model as well (the #4596) but this has the same challenges and limitations as the Model Power lights.

Brawa continues to come out with new light styles, with remarkable quality for N scale, allowing you to change lights or 'upgrade' if you find something that better creates the ambiance you are looking for. Take a look at the picture of the two lanterns near my cathedral.

The only 'down side' with these lights is that they are definitely the 'blue-ish' white type of LED's, and not the more 'warm white' versions that I think most of us prefer. This seems acceptable for street lights, which can often be 'blue or green-ish' (except for the Netherlands, where all the lights are quite orange! I've always wondered what the reason for that is, other than the obvious Orange symbollism...anyway, I digress).

The trick with installation is that you should ensure you have a 5.5mm drill bit (or the closest thing possible) and a power drill to bore the hole for the socket. Don't go too far, otherwise your drill will leave a bit of an impressions on your sidewalk, for example (ugh, also see my sidewalk around the 'socket' in my second-from-top photo)!

Unfortunately, I have to report that my experience has not been great. Of the 18 that I currently have or have had installed on the layout, 9 of them no longer work! The instructions imply that these lights should be used with the Brawa plugs, plate, and cables connected to a 12-16v power supply (the non-LED, non pin socket versions specify 14-16v AC for longest life, but no preference for AC or DC in the LED pin socket instructions is specified).

My connection is to an AC transformer with a max of 18VAC. Its likely that the max voltage was turned up one too many times and some of the LED's were fried (not not all of them, and the ones that went dark seem to do so individually). Additionally, the instructions state not to remove the lights with the power on. Yep, I've done that before. However, I've always noticed the the lights continued to work on those few times when I removed them from the socket with the power on. I've also noticed a curious decrease in the LED's brightness which I now recongize as an early sign that the light will soon fail altogether.

Its a mystery to me why I have a failure rate of 50%, which is clearly not acceptable! Something has to change! The Brawa fixtures look great, although I am adding in some Viessmann lights which look just as good with traditional bulbs. I am going to change my power supply, and because I like simple, clean, and easy to connect type of arrangements for wiring (just like with Unitrack), I will probably order the Brawa plates and plugs (I still have enough 4000, 4020, and others already installed and waiting to be installed to make this salvage effort worth it). If any reader with more electrical knowledge than me (which is near zero) has any suggestions that might help, I'd like to hear from you. Otherwise, at this point, I have to say this esteemed and high quality German manufacturer seems to have a great product concept, but it has been a disappointing experience for me (so far).


  1. The problem is that the voltage of AC signals, as listed, is not the peak voltage, but the RMS voltage (which is kind of like an average), which is lower than the peak voltage. For example, your household outlets supply 120VAC, measured as RMS. But the peak voltage is 170V! So if your supply is rated at 18VAC, it will be supplying as much as 25.5V at each peak! (In brief bursts, of course, not continuously.) Which is, of course, far more than those little buggers were designed to handle. I would strongly recommend using (minimally) a 12VDC power supply; unconditioned supplies are pretty cheap. Of course, the Brawa power supply is likely much better yet, although more expensive.

  2. Thanks, I never knew that about peak voltage! Yikes! Fortunately, 12VDC power supplies are quite common from all the various wall warts from obsolete cell phone chargers, etc... Any reason these can't be used to supply the power? I'm already using one (from an old external hard drive) as my power source for my building lights and it seems to be okay.

  3. I was going to suggest just that. Worst case, Harbor Freight has a $10 Dremel-like tool with a handy 12V 2A DC power supply :D

    As long as the power draw from the lamps doesn't exceed the current rating (in amps), then by all means go for it :D

  4. Oh, I should add: Use a multimeter to make sure that your power supply really is supplying the indicated voltage! I've heard some of the cheaper ones can be off by quite a bit. Shouldn't be a problem, since your lamps are rated up to, what, 16VDC did you say? But can't hurt to check.