Up till recently, the only soldering iron I had was the Antex XS25 25W Soldering Iron that I bought through school with subsidised student pricing. It had met my needs and was sufficient enough for most PCB and prototyping work. However, it struggles on heating larger gauge wires and when I am desoldering components attached to a large ground plane.
For quite some time, I had kept looking for good quality soldering stations that has large heat capacity, very good heat up time and controllable temperature. The Hakko FX-888d seems like a good start, however its price is quite expensive. Moreover, recently the ‘new’ style of soldering irons had became really popular, where both the heater and thermal sensor integrated inside the tip. I began to look for those that use the Hakko T12 series tips. Those promise high heat capacity and lower heating times. Knowing that named brands soldering irons of the ‘new’ type is much more expensive, I began to look at the ones from far east, China.
I then stumbled on KSGER, which had good reviews all around, including a few video reviews online. The most important features for me is that its power supply is ESD safe, and indeed the reviews confirm its tip is properly earthed. Others may have a ‘floating ground’, which is typical of many switching power supplies.
I then bought the V2.01 version with the blue handle and 3 T12 tips included from Aliexpress [Link] for SGD 57.98 (42.22 USD) and one additional T12-BCF3 tip for SGD 4.40 (3.20 USD). It arrived in a week, which is really fast!
The controller is made of brushed extruded aluminium, with its front containing the rotary encoder, 1.3″ OLED screen and the handpiece connector. The back holds the fused IEC C14 mains connector with a switch.
The bootup time is quite long, about 3-5 seconds. On my first powerup that 5 seconds seemed like an eternity and I thought I had a DOA (Dead on Arrival) unit. Turns out it wasn’t.
The screen was a letdown for me, as it was quite dark and hard to see, as compared with what was shown in the product page and the online video reviews. More on this later.
The aluminium case was easy to disassemble, it was just 8 screws holding the whole case together.
The 24V 5A power supply takes up the bulk percentage of the space inside, while all the control circuitry are placed on a PCB behind the OLED screen.
The power supply is of very good quality. Soldering of the components was perfect, no leftover/excess flux and overall looks very good. The IEC connector is soldered to terminals on the PCB. While that may be a burden if the power supply happens to fail, it implies that KSGER is very confident that the power supply can last long, which I am confident too that it will.
The are multiple input protection method implemented, MOVs, fuses, and an NTC. Not only that, the IEC connector also has a fuse and for my case (UK Plug), my IEC cable also has a fuse. Basically 3 times the protection! (Looking at you Weller! Where’s your primary side fuse?!)
The iron heats up really fast, it only takes about 5-7 seconds from room temperature to about 300˚C. The PID tuning done is also excellent, no overshoot and no slower heating effect as it goes nearer to the set temperature. The iron also features a ‘boost’ mode, where the temperature will be temporarily increased for a set period of time. It can be activated by turning the knob to the right.
In the pictures and videos of those who had reviewed it and even the product’s page on Aliexpress, the OLED Screen was quite bright and easy to read even under strong light. However, mine was quite dark in normal room lighting and really hard to see unless I looked at it directly.
While I had the case open, I decided to look further into the OLED Screen. In order to remove the OLED/Control Board, I had to unscrew the nut that was holding the rotary encoder. There is also a small piece of foam that is attaches the control board to the bottom of the case, presumably to stabilize and straighten the OLED display as it is only mounted and constrained to the rotary encoded nut. Afterwards, I powered the station on and … you can see the results for yourself.
The OLED screen is way brighter than it seems. I’m not sure why that had to do it but the front panel has a really dark plexiglass, which dims the OLED screen substantially. I am quite certain that they were running ‘short trial’ of using dark plexi instead of a clear one.
I did contact the seller regarding this issue, she had told me that she had feedbacked to the engineering team on this issue. If I happen to have the time, I will try to replace the dark plexi.
I selected the blue thinner handpiece (Set 7) and was really satisfied with it. It allows me to have greater control as the tip end is close to my hands. However, as a result, the handpiece was a little warm at the edge, not terribly warm, but it may cause discomfort with prolonged use.
The handpiece has a rubber grip, which feels really nice. It is also well-balanced, which helps with long soldering sessions.
The handpiece has a little bit of rattling noise, due to the tilt switch, which is for idle detection. I believe they could have used a metal ball , as mercury can be dangerous to the environment, which explains the rattling noise.
To change the tips, you can simply pull out the tips and then insert the new one. Of course, if the tips are still hot, you may want to use a cloth or silicone tip puller. No messing around with screw collars found in other irons! Although I’m not sure how many tip changes the handpiece can handle until it fails to hold the tip securely.
The strain relief and the cable is made of heatproof silicone, so accidental burning of the cable can be prevented. The cable is also really flexible.
The iron uses standard Hakko T12 tips. The set came with T-12 K, D16 and JL02. I also bought an extra BCF3 for S$4.39 (3.22 USD) for heavy duty soldering.
However, the ones made by KSGER isn’t really of good quality as the rosin likes to stick to the unplated edges of the tip and sometimes the edges of the plated part. Wiping with a moist sponge seemed to not help at all. I don’t think it is due to the temperature as usually I had set it to 300 – 320°C. This was not of a problem when I was using my Antex XS25, after 1-2 wipes on a wet sponge, the burnt rosin would come off. For now, sometimes I would scrape off the burnt rosin with my fingernail when the tip is cool.
In order to counter this, I always set the iron to sleep mode (180°C) once I finished soldering one component while mounting the other components. In the long run, I’m looking to use genuine Hakko T12 tips as they offer superior quality and longer life, albeit the more expensive cost.
Option Menus / Features
The firmware version that I got was the V2.09 one, with V2.01 hardware version.
These are the features that the Soldering Station has:
- Temperature Boost Function
- RTC (Real Time Clock)
- Auto/manual standby/shutdown
- Auto wakeup
- Tip Selection
- Password Function
- Screen Saver
- Power Supply Voltage Display
- Power Supply Low Voltage Warning
- Temperature Calibration
Due to the soldering station being powered by 24V DC, I am planning to modify the case to add a DC jack for powering it via a battery, for portability and when I do not have access to mains power. It should be fairly easy to also include a DPDT switch to let me switchover the power input of the controller board to the battery.
Also, as mentioned earlier, I am planning to switch the dark plexiglass to a clear one so that I am able to see the OLED screen easily.
Conclusion & Final Views
All in all, I am very happy that I made the decision to purchase this soldering station and really liked it. It is really a cheap and good alternative to soldering stations with named brands. If you are thinking of purchase this iron, I recommend for those who are getting their first soldering station. Though I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are just starting to learn soldering. With plenty of power, fast heatup times, ESD safe and lots of features, this is definitely the best bang for your buck in terms of the best soldering stations.
Note: More pictures to come in the future!