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Meade DSX-125


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Many years ago I learned to avoid garage sales. All too often I would buy something I didn’t need. Unfortunately, I don‘t apply that principle to telescope sales. Lately, I have succumbed to the offerings of the Meade Factory Outlet store on eBay. Here you can purchase discontinued telescopes at about half of their original selling price. And this is how I happened to buy a DSX-125. Originally selling for $995, the factory closeout price was just $475 including shipping. It was a deal I just couldn’t pass up, even though I already had 5 fairly good telescopes.

So what’s a DSX? As far as I know, it is a special telescope Meade developed for resale by Brookstone, a nationwide retailer of specialty consumer items. It was first introduced toward the end of 2003, and is now apparently being discontinued. The DSX places an ETX tube on Meade’s DS GOTO mount, hence the designation DSX. Two models of DSX scopes were made – a 90mm and a 125mm. The tube is painted a silver color instead of the traditional Meade blue. The DS mount is Meade’s lower end GOTO mount, normally powered by Autostar #494. The DSX’s sold through the factory outlet included the Autostar #497. I placed my order on a Monday and received it on Thursday of the same week via UPS.

Overview
The DSX-125 includes a silver ETX-125 optical tube assembly complete with an 8x25mm right angle optical finder. The mount is the DS single fork mount with a special metal plate designed to hold the ETX tube. The tripod is a very light weight aluminum model with a plastic eyepiece shelf that can sit either outside or inside the tripod legs. Also included are a Meade series 4000 26mm Plossl eyepiece and an Autostar #497 hand controller.

Setup is fast and easy. Just attach the mount to the tripod with a single bolt, the tube to the mount with two bolts, and the finder into the finder rings, and you’re good to go. Overall, this telescope looks very nice – someone referred to this as a yuppie version of the ETX, and based on appearance, I would tend to agree. This is also a very lightweight, portable telescope. All set up, it weighs just 19.5 lbs.

The Details
The tube is classic ETX, except for the color. There was no UHTC option available. It has the standard flip mirror and focuser. I found the focuser to be quite smooth and precise, with minimal image shift. It is better than the focuser that was on an ETX-125 I recently owned. The way the tube attaches to the mount allows easy access to the focuser, even when pointing at the zenith. The finder is the standard Meade right angle finder that is included with the ETX-105’s and 125’s.

A large ‘L’ shaped metal plate attaches to the fork arm of the mount, as shown in the picture to the right. The tube rests on this plate, held in place by two bolts. There is a 4” slot in the plate the bolts slip through. This lets you adjust the position of the tube so that a good balance can be achieved. Unlike the ETX-125, which is heavy on the corrector end on the mount, you can balance the DSX-125 and avoid the front end heaviness. This mounting arrangement offers the potential to attach other tubes to this mount.

The mount is a single arm fork. It feels more solid than the ETX mount, probably because there is more exposed metal. Like the ETX, the altitude clutch is tightened by turning a knob. And like the ETX, you have to turn it very tightly to allow the altitude motor to engage. In my first use of the scope, I tightened it too tightly, heard a ‘pop’ from inside the fork arm, and the scope promptly stopped slewing, even though I could hear the motor running. Taking apart the arm was easy, and I discovered a slip ring that had popped loose. Repositioning it solved the problem. But on a number of occasions thereafter, the ring popped loose again, and it became apparent that you should keep the clutch engaged at all times and move the scope in altitude only by use of the controller. The “slipping slip ring” is a known weakness of this mount, and a number of solutions have been devised, the most extreme of which involves screwing the whole assembly together and foregoing the ability to ever manually move the tube again.

The base of the mount sits in a cup shaped support on top of the tripod. There is no azimuth clutch to tighten and loosen. If you want to move the scope manually in azimuth, you have to loosen the large bolt that attaches the mount to the tripod. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up turning the scope by moving the gears with potentially bad consequences. So, as with the altitude mechanism, I decided that the DSX should only be moved in azimuth through use of the controller. One saving factor here is that there are no hard stops in azimuth as there are on the ETX. That means you can rotate the scope in azimuth as long as you want. Setup also does not require you to worry about the location of the hard stops.

For the electronics, there is a handbox connector, an on/off switch, a power light, and an auxiliary connector in the base. Conspicuously absent is a connector for external power. You have to run the DSX with 8 internal ‘AA’ batteries. Fortunately, the holder for the ‘AA’ batteries connects to the scope with a 9 volt connector, so it would be relatively easy to rig up an external battery or AC supply with an equivalent connector. In testing the scope, I found that the motors sounded much more robust when using an AC adapter than fresh ‘AA’ batteries.

The tripod is probably the weakest component of the DSX package. It uses square aluminum legs with plastic fittings. As a consequence, the DSX is subject to vibration that affects visual observing. On the plus side, the tripod is very light weight and easy to fold up. The shelf is a bit flimsy, but convenient. It attaches to one of the tripod legs, and sits either outside or inside the tripod, depending on your preference. You can fold up the tripod legs and keep the shelf attached while moving the scope. The shelf holds, 4-.965” eyepieces, 4-1.25” eyepieces, 1 – 2” eyepiece, plus a holder for the Autostar controller. I ended up boring all the .965” holes to 1.25”, giving me room for 8 eyepieces.

Performance
If you follow the standard Autostar/Meade precepts, you will get pretty close in your alignment. You have to make sure the mount is level and that the tube is level – don’t rely on the ‘0’ setting on the declination circle. Calibrate the Motors and Train the drives. Make sure the date, time, and location are correct, and that you are pointing at true north. Do this, and using Easy Align, you should get within 2 – 4 degrees of the two alignment stars.

Thereafter, GOTOs will be of mixed quality. Some objects will fall within the field of view of the 26mm eyepiece. Others will be off by as much as 2 – 4 degrees, but visible in the finder. I have been unable to determine the cause of this inconsistent behavior, nor an identifiable pattern. My conclusion is the DS mount is simply not as accurate as the ETX mount. I know that all of the gears in the DS mount are nylon, whereas some of the gears in the ETX are metal, so this may account for the difference. You can, however, Synch on an object, and your GOTOs will be very accurate for the portion of the sky you Synched on. I found tracking to be satisfactory – an object remained in the field of view of a 15mm eyepiece (127x, .41 degree field of view) for about 20 minutes. I was only able to test the GOTOs and tracking using the internal batteries. I do not know how well it will perform using an AC adapter (the Slip Ring performed its magic again and cut short an observing session where I planned to use the adapter).

Optically, the DSX performs as you would expect from an ETX – very sharp, contrasty images. In my case, the optics were slightly out of collimation, and I will have to return the tube to the factory to have this corrected. Even with the miscollimation, visual observing was very rewarding. Epsilon Lyra was easily split at 127x under seeing conditions of 5 on a scale of 10. Star clusters, such as the Double Cluster and Wild Duck Cluster, revealed delicate pin point stars that distinguish the Maksutov design. Deep Sky objects, such as the Swan Nebula and Lagoon Nebula revealed good contrast and definition.

Stability is compromised by the flimsy tripod. A sharp rap on the tripod generates 2-3 seconds of vibration before things settle down. This is not a major problem for deep sky observing, but high power views of planets and the Moon are made more difficult because there is vibration each time you touch the focus knob.

Conclusion
If this telescope were still in production for a price of $995, I would advise against its purchase. Aside from good optics and portability, it has too many problems to be serviceable as a person’s only telescope, or as an entry level instrument. Indeed, I am troubled to see telescopes such as this marketed to beginners – it may quickly discourage the newcomer to astronomy, and effectively eliminate a future base of customers who purchase more expensive telescopes based on a positive experience with their first purchase.

In spite of these concerns, this is a remarkable instrument for the closeout price. The tube and Auto Star #497 controller alone are worth the closeout price. With enough tweaking, you can get reasonable GOTO performance and classic Meade ETX Maksutov optics in a highly portable package. For the tinkerer or the amateur who loves to collect telescopes, this package can be a lot of fun. The mount is quite adaptable to mounting small telescopes, as can be seen in the photo of my Orion 120ST mounted on the DSX mount.

Disclaimers, Experience, etc.
In writing this review, understand that I have no financial interest or affiliation with Meade Instruments Corporation. I’ve been doing amateur astronomy for about 50 years, and always have more to learn. I currently have an 11” and 8” SCT, a 5” f/5 refractor, a 4” APO, a 90mm Mak, and now the DSX-125. I live in a dark sky area of Northern California. This review assumes some knowledge of the Meade ETX line of telescopes through some of the terminology used.




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