Multimeter Recommendation

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by molo, Aug 31, 2010.

  1. molo

    molo Member

    Messages:
    845
    Location:
    cold new york
    I would like to purchase a meter that performs basic functions. I want to get a good quality (preferably not made in China) meter for under $50. I don't need it to be a Cadillac, just to work well and do the basics.

    Thanks!
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,134
    Location:
    New England
    Most electronics of this sort are made in China these days. I have (I think) 3-4 of them lying around. A small, general purpose one is this one http://www.alliedelec.com/search/productdetail.aspx?SKU=7312700#tab=Specs. Mine has worked well for many years, but the LCD display has recently been damaged so I have a black blob on part of it. Not worth fixing, but still useable for most things. If you think you may want to do something like purchase an inductive current probe or a high voltage probe, or a temperature sensor, you need one that has Bananna plugs (for generic) or some other removeable probe set. the better probe sets can easily cost more than your $50 price point, too. Some of them come with slide on clips and different shaped pins to let you probe different things.

    Something like this has some advantages, http://www.alliedelec.com/search/productdetail.aspx?SKU=6310029 but unless you replace the probe with a lead, you may not be able to read the display - sometimes it's nice to have the display remote from the probe itself (I have a similar one to this as well!).

    Fluke and HP both make some really nice stuff, but I think they'll all be more than your $50 price point. I have an older HP unit that's now over 30-years old that still works, but back then I paid almost $300 for it. think I bought it in 1976.

    An autoranging DMM is my preference. It's nice if it can also measure current, but that requires putting the meter in-line with the load unless you buy an inductive probe (but those only work on a/c currrent - an d/c current isn't reliable with an inductive probe). Most meters are limited to about 10A when used to measure current in-line, while an inductive one can usually read significantly more.

    If you want to use the thing to check stuff like diodes or transistors, not all meters can do that. Most people don't need a meter than can read more than say 300v, but if you do, watch the max range. Not all of them read-out a/c in RMS, but some can, but that may not be an issue. The number of samples it takes and a peak hold capability are handy. A bar graph to show instantaneous reactions is nice while the digital readout stabilizes. A range hold function speeds up things if checking multiple, similar points (otherwise, it starts at full range, then steps down, each sample and range change takes time). Those with higher sample rates will be both more accurate (generally), and faster to read out the result.
  3. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

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    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    $50 gets you China. Sperry and Ideal are two decent brands you will find around.

    I have a Fluke 77 which is at least 25 years old...still going strong.

    Buying a name brand made in US will get you better accuracy....more than you probably need! And probably better inherent long term reliability. But no reason not to buy a cheapy and use it till it croaks!
  4. molo

    molo Member

    Messages:
    845
    Location:
    cold new york
    Thanks for the replies Jad and Jimbo.

    Digital or Analog? Does digital offer advantages other than the beep and not having to watch the gauge?
  5. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,134
    Location:
    New England
    There are advantages to either. An analog meter usually will have an internal battery that often gets forgotten and puts a much larger load on the circuit you are testing, so it could (depending on what you are measuring) influence what you are seeing. A DMM often has many Mohms of input impedence, while an analog one may be in the order of 20Kohms/volt input impedence. On many digital, low impedence circuits, an analog meter will load it and give you problems in deciphering. Plus, an analog won't be autoranging, and pegging the meter can literally bend the silly thing's needle when it hits the stop if you don't burn something out internally. Still they have their place. For general use, I'd go with an analog. You can often find them on sale at Sears or Target at a cheap enough price point where if you only get a few years out of them, you won't feel cheated. Some of the Flukes and HP units have not only DMM's but also logic analyzers, scopes, and maybe even frequency counter functionality built-in. Now you start talking money, though.

    The biggest advantage to an analog meter is you might be able to notice spikes or other changes. On a DMM, some of the better ones have an approximation of the analog needle, as a bargraph to help show you spikes. This is a nice feature. The response rate can be damped, depending on the design, so may not respond to all variations. The digital bargraph could respond faster than the inertia of an analog meter's needle...depends on how it is designed.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2010
  6. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    There are advantages to the analog meter, some of which were mentioned. The BIG disadvantage.....you can't drop it from an 8' stepladder and expect it to survive. They are delicate, unlike the digital. Also, if working on DC, you have to be very careful about polarity, because reverse hookup also is damaging. A digital meter doesn't care....it just throws a minus sign into the display!!!!!!
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,134
    Location:
    New England
    FWIW, all of the meters that I have are DMM's, from one that cost maybe $15 at Radio Shack, to the HP that cost hundreds.
  8. dlarrivee

    dlarrivee New Member

    Messages:
    1,172
    Location:
    Canada
    I doubt you need a clamp meter, I don't, but I like how handy the clamp is for working in awkward areas and I like having a beep to confirm continuity.
  9. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    Amprobe is my choice,
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 8, 2010
  10. Furd

    Furd Engineer

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    446
    Location:
    Wet side of Washington State
    I have to agree with Ballvalve. I have several multimeters and a couple of clamp-on meters. I love my Amprobe digital clamp and also my two Flukes but for the average homeowner who wants a digital multimeter I suggest the ones from Harbor Freight. I even have two of them that I bought for the ridiculous price of (if I remember correctly) $1.98 for one and $2.98 for the other. One of them even has a back-lit display.

    Or, as I usually recommend to a homeowner who wants a tester for use around the house I recommend a solenoid-type voltage tester. Unlike the digital multimeter the solenoid-type is immune to false readings from phantom voltages.
  11. Wrex

    Wrex New Member

    Messages:
    126
    Location:
    New Jersey
    As others said for $50 bucks you're going China. Even a basic Fluke meter will cost you in the $130 range and ironically the Flukes at that price point the 110 series are also made in China. They're well built but not made in the USA only the higher end Flukes like the 80 series and some others are still made in the USA.

    Here's a good video summing up decent 50 dollar meters.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoeUgMFLyAw

    When I was searching for a meter I never considered the meters at Bottom of the Harbor Freight. But I'm willing to bet they don't have the proper Cat ratings for input protection.

    If you're going to be using the meter to measure line voltage get a decent Cat 2 or 3 rated meter. If you're just measuring low voltage mostly (under 30 volts AC or DC) then a HF meter maybe ok.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2010
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