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Reliable Soldering Station for "Pseudo-Hobbyist"?

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Given all the price hikes, supply problems, etc, etc in the last few years: In 2023, is the Pace ADS200 still the go-to step up from the FX-888D? JBC CD-1* models? Ersa? Metcal? I need something that's "buy once, don't worry about it for the next 10+ years". Are there better options out there that would be just as reliable? I know enough about soldering stations to know that I really don't know anything about soldering stations, so I offer the question here.

Wall 'o Text Explanation:

I've been lurking 'round the forum and yt channel for a while. I've searched this forum/google/reddit/etc. but haven't found a good solution. Maybe this has already been addressed, but if so, I can't find it.

Where I find myself is that don't do much hobbyist stuff anymore, but do a fair number of repair jobs on the side. Most of the stuff is audio-related and ranges from fine circuitboard work to desoldering crusty old volume pots from a guitar or amp or something.

The issue I'm running into is that my trusty FX-888 seems to have a hard time pumping enough heat quickly enough into some of these parts, so I'd like something with higher wattage / better thermal performance.

What I'm looking for is something of good quality that I won't have to bother upgrading again for the foreseeable future. Something that'll be totally reliable if I go 6 months without touching it and then have to do several repair jobs in a row. Something that has readily-available tips without some crazy lead time if I'm in the middle of a project 5 years from now and need a new tip or part or whatever at the drop of a hat. Then again, I don't need all the features that you'd need on a production line or anything like that (like quick-change tips, programmable temps, etc).

Also (obviously) I'd like something that won't be catastrophically expensive, but you gotta pay to play I suppose. +/- a few hundred $ is not a huge deal if it's something I'll keep for many years. I don't expect to burn through all that many tips, so wouldn't think tip price would be an issue? I could be totally wrong, though.

I've seen a lot of information out there, but a lot of it seems to be old - I'm not sure if that means outdated, though. Also, it seems like the new hotness (pun intended) out there is the Chinese OEM/rebadge/clone/etc. As much as I'd like to, I don't have the time or energy or motivation to add "soldering iron project" to my hobby list. As fun as it'd be to design my own temperature controller and build a DIY soldering station, I just can't. Nobody seems to be talking about anything else, though.  :-//

Surely I'm not the only one in this position? Maybe I'm massively overthinking things? Maybe some/most/all of my assumptions are bad? I'm just at that point in my life where I just don't have the "human bandwidth" to keep a constant string of DIY projects going (including hours/days/months of internet research). Maybe I'm just getting old...

What is your budget?  There will be very different answers for $150 vs $1200.

Oh, sorry! Derp.

That's part of my dilemma. From the research I've done, it seems like my starting point should be in the $400-500 range (US), but since I'm not dying to get it right now, my budget is flexible. If the difference between "pretty good" and "really good" is a few hundred dollars or whatever, I'm cool with that. I can be patient and save up some more.

With most products I've seen, it seems like there tend to be fairly well-delineated price brackets that correspond to features/quality/etc. I'm not seeing that in soldering stations, though maybe (probably) I don't know what to look for. There are some units by seemingly well-respected brands that I've only seen a few recommendations for. The Metcal MFR-1110 seems like it'd be a competitor to the ADS200, but I only ever see the Pace compared to the JBC. No one seems to mention any of the Ersa units either. Is it because Dave only compared the ADS200 against the JBC in his video?

Edit: Also on the topic of budget, I know I could probably save some cash by getting something used, but I currently don't have the time or energy to spend a bunch of time combing ebay or craigslist or whatever. I'd prefer to just buy something new from a reputable supplier and call it a day.

Also edit: I suppose getting a used unit is fine if it's one of those situations like "There are tons of used ones out there because they're rock solid and will never fail you." As long as I don't have to shop for something for weeks/months/+ to find a good deal.

Metcal is partly in the "rock solid" category, although it would be an overstatement to say they never fail. The 13.56 Mhz MX500 units are very reliable and that is why they go for such high prices used. The MFR-1100 are 455 kHz induction so a totally different system but from my experience they are also very reliable. Those ones are in lower demand and go for lower prices used.

The thing to watch out for with Metcal is that the 455 kHz system can use both "cartridges" and "tips". The tips do not have the induction coil in them. The coil is a separate assembly in the handpiece. My experience is that the coils are not very well potted and can break apart so you need to watch out for that. The cartridges, on the other hand, are a single solid assembly and would not be subject to that problem.

Why is the ADS200 compared to JBC and not Metcal? Your guess is as good as mine, although as an induction system, Metcal stations cannot vary the temperature setpoint. The temperature is controlled by the cartridge or tip based on the composition of a metal slug using the Curie effect. The part number will have a digit or letter suffix indicating the temperature range at which it regulates. Pace and JBC both use servo temperature feedback and you have more control over tip temperature that way.

Ersa, like JBC, is in Europe but doesn't have as large a dealer network in other continents so many will not have seen them.

If your issue is thermal capacity, the common solution is either Metcal or JBC.
You can watch SDG's videos:

MX5000 or 5200 units can be had on ebay for under $400, within your budget.
MX500 is fine, but its 40W compared to the 80W of the above units.


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