Hakko FX888D - this is a nice unit for the money and for pro applications, it's the pick.

I need a digital soldering station for work and home projects and was wondering if you could recommend something that’s affordable but good quality. Also, any tips on the qualities I should be looking for?

A: We’d recommend the X Tronic Model 3020 XTS Digital Display Soldering Iron Station 10 if you’re on a tight budget (about $A50) or the Hakko FX888D-23BY Digital Soldering Station FX-888D (around $200) if your budget can stretch a bit further. There are also decent stations from Weller – the 40W is economy, the 60W competes with the Hakko.

For low voltage electronic security work with the ability to handle more demanding projects, these 2 systems – they are both 60W – have enough power for the job. The qualities we would be looking for include a fast heat time, consistent performance – with temperature at the tip matching temperature on the readout – and a tip fine enough for moderately delicate work. You should also check the cost of replacement tips – they range from $5-12 or so for these units.

In terms of heat up speed, 30 seconds to reach working temperature is a nice quality – fast rebound is important, too. The Hakko wins here. You also want at least one ‘helping hand’ to hold the hot iron, a reasonably long iron cord, an integrated tip cleaner, an easy-to-read interface, a sleep timer, a C/F switch, and integrated protection from electrical spikes.

X Tronic 3020 XTS is not so swish as the Hakko but it’s a decent system.

Robust built quality is always nice to have – both these units deliver that, though the Hakko is better – programmable settings are good (the Hakko allows these to be password locked), digital calibration, low temperature alarm, ceramic heating element and a closed loop heat sensor are also strengths of the Hakko. Getting multiple spare tips in different configurations in the kit is nice, too. Both Hakko and X Tronic give you 5. You get a solder wire holder with the X Tronic. The Hakko comes in 2 pieces, adding flexibility – you can keep the control unit back out of the way on your workbench.

Something to take into account with the Hakko is that there are loads of fakes on the market, so if you go down that path buy from a reputable local supplier – it will cost a little more but you’ll sidestep potential heartache.

Just for the record, while we think the Hakko is the best choice for professional applications SEN uses the X Tronic, which has a retro design and is less well built but is functionally very capable for non-pro applications.

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