The Kit: The Chinese-sourced control unit has a red 3-digit LED temperature read out which can be set using two up/down push buttons. The third button toggles between hot air and iron to set the desired working temperature. There are two LEDs to indicate which heating mode is selected and two independent rocker switches to apply power to the iron or hot air. The central dial controls the air flow rate. You need to attach the hot air gun cradle with the screws provided. When cradled, the hot air power is automatically switched off (magnet detection?) but the air continues flowing until the element has cooled to 100 C before air flow stops. When lifted off the cradle, the hot air flow resumes. The two nozzles provided with the hot air gun look a little clunky but they are perfectly serviceable. After the desired temperature has been set and after about a 3 second delay, the display automatically indicates the actual working temperature coninuously. The setting-up is natural and straight forward. The unit remembers the last temperatures set at switch off - there is no facility for storing other pre-set temperatures but that's no hardship.
The Iron: The British made TC50 (24V 50W) iron is nicely balanced and the handle remains cool. (My Curie point temperature controlled Weller became uncomfortably hot and the plastic body eventually split. The cost of a replacement element was uneconomic and the iron was ditched. In contrast, my mains 25W Antex iron has lasted 40 years). The TC50 iron comes with solid a "1100 type" 2mm tip, iron plated to reduce bit wear. The bit design has changed as the old bits were split and contact with the heating element was maintained by an external spring clip surrounding the bit. The new style bits are solid and are retained by an internal spring metal shim. The design is excellent as all the heat generated in the element has to pass into the bit. There is a range of nine bits for this iron with tip sizes from 1mm to 6mm. The iron has a separate stand moulded from hard, heat resisting plastic (looks a bit like black Bakelite). The plug at the end of the iron's silicone heat resistant cable is retained in the unit by a metal lock ring.
Iron Performance: The bit provided with the iron has a slender cylindrical tip ~2mm diameter and projects ~10mm from the main body if the bit. It affords an excellent view all round the joint to be soldered. It heats up quite quickly from room temperature to a set test temperature of 290 C, taking 15 seconds to reach 100 C, 30 seconds to reach 200 C and 45 seconds to reach 290 C. I checked the temperature stability with a K type thermocouple probe. At a set temperature of 290 C the thermocouple indicated cycling between 290 C and 302 C. At a set temperature of 400 C the thermocouple indicated cycling between 360 C and 381 C. It didn't look too hot (sorry) until I realised that the thermal mass of the thermocouple was about the same as the tip. Heating the probe was like using an eye-dropper to refuel a Ferrari with the engine running. The thermal mass of the leg of an ic is tiny and a practical soldering test proved the tip was well capable of coping.
Hot Air Performance: Accurate measurement of air temperatures is notoriously tricky and I haven't checked this with the thermocouple couple but I've relied on the one in the hot air gun. It reaches a set temperature of 400 C at full air flow in a little over 5 seconds and remains within 2 degrees of the set temperature.
Having purchased 2 cheap Chinese soldering station only to have them both fail almost immediately, and retiring my trusty Pace iron as the price of tips were approaching a mortgage payment! I decided to give Antex a go, and I'm really glad I did, solid piece of kit and extremely easy to setup. Tips can be purchased almost anywhere for a reasonable price. Well worth the price tag.
Excellent kit, spares readily available. The hot air gun is really quiet compared to some and heats up really fast. The auto sleep and cool down when put in the holster is useful and works well. The photo doesn’t show the air gun holster that can be bolted to either side of the case. The soldering iron is the usual good Antex quality, so much better than the Atten station that I had before.