Multimeters – Buying guide & Comparison
If you’re short on time and you just want to find the best multimeter, this short paragraph should help you get exactly the model you need. We have collected a lot of information about various brands and models in this category by consulting expert review sites for electrical equipment and carefully comparing the reviews and ratings there with what is said in actual owner feedback. According to our findings and research, the Fluke 115 2538790 is the one you ought to give some thought to. The model has been outfitted with a large LED display that can assist you in visualizing the info even in dark places. This device can be employed to measure the frequency, the capacitance, the resistance, as well as the continuity. You cannot use the device for temperature readings, however. If the Fluke 115 is no longer available, perhaps you should give the INNOVA 3320 a shot as it came second on our list.
Basically a test tool that measures two or more electrical values, a digital multimeter is a serious upgrade to the old needle-based analog meter thanks to how it can do readings with greater accuracy, increased impedance and reliability. Combining the testing capabilities of a single task meter including the ohmmeter, ammeter and voltmeter, this type of device generally comes with advanced options as well as extra specialized features to accommodate the needs of technicians who use it. Now what makes a good quality multimeter?
Reliable Accuracy, Resolution and Digits
Some might argue that poor accuracy rating is not really a fatal flaw in a DIY electronic meter. We beg to disagree, since a multimeter with poor accuracy can fundamentally do little else than let you know if a circuit is working or not. If the device is not designed to be accurate, it may not even be able to do that at all. Another thing you wouldn’t want either is a meter that can’t be calibrated. Regular calibration ensures accuracy at all times.
The units that get top ratings in the best multimeter reviews boast reliable accuracy. Accuracy is the maximum allowed error limit for measurements. It is expressed as ± (% + number of least significant digit or LSD), and is given by two numbers, a relative error and absolute error. The relative error is expressed as a %, such as 0.5%, while absolute error is expressed in digits, such as 2 digits. Even educated engineers can neglect or downplay measurement error because of the number of digits the meter shows them. The absolute error loses its significance as the reading goes up, such as when comparing a 100.0 reading (0.2%) and a 900.0 reading 2 digits (0.022%). Accuracy specification is the maximum limit around the true value of the signal being measured. The least significant digit encapsulates the errors due to rounding off of values, analog digital converter (ADC) tolerances and offset noise.
Resolution refers to the smallest change in an input signal that can generate a corresponding change in the output signal. This element is expressed by the number of digits the meter can display. If you have a 3 ½ digital multimeter, that means it has 3 full digits that display values from 0 through 9, and one that displays either 1 or 0. The resolution is thus ±1,999 since the device displays positive and negative numbers up to 1,999. Today’s multimeters can be 4 ½ or 3 ½ digit models having a display range of ±19,999 or ±1,999. There are times when the resolution is referred to as ‘count’, which is the number the device can show prior to changing measurement ranges. Thus, a 19,999 or 20,000 display count multimeter is the same as a 4 ½ digit digital multimeter.
Accuracy is an entirely different thing from resolution. To illustrate, if you own a multimeter with 4 digits, this is equivalent to a resolution of 0.1%. However, if the accuracy of the same device is just 1%, then the last digit has no use. Bear in mind that if you need to differentiate between two circuits, with one working fine and the other working poorly, especially for electronics repair, then you’ll have to make sure your multimeter offers a superb level of accuracy.
Suitable form factor, true RMS converter
There was a time when only serious engineers used benchtop meters while handheld meters were confined to field work use. This has changed readily with the advances in technology that have made modern handheld models at par or even better than older benchtop meters, making them popular among most do-it-yourselfers. Benchtop models can be extra pricey but if you want the best in your devices, they make good investments. Do steer clear of the cheaper units, since you would be better off purchasing a top rated handheld meter. A bench meter offers quadruple-wire measuring ability, a superior technique for reading resistance thanks to how the resistance of the measuring wires themselves do not interfere with the measurements. A regular 2-wire measurement can have contact and wire resistances that can hamper the performance of some measurements, specifically with inferior quality resistors.
Look for true-RMS models, which offer true RMS values. True RMS values do not just signify the absolute value average of the curve, which is functional only with sinusoidal waveforms and not for nonlinear waveforms that are more complicated. Typically, only models beyond $100 offer true RMS capability. They can measure both sinusoidal and nonsinusoidal AC waveforms accurately. Sinusoidal or sine waves present purity and no distortion, with symmetrical transitions between valleys and peaks. Nonsinusoidal waves are characterized by irregular, distorted patterns in the form of sawtooths, triangles, pulse trains, spikes, squares and other angular or ragged waves.
Useful features and safety
In addition to the basic measurement functions, some multimeters are equipped with advanced functions that make them useful for special applications and needs especially for electronics repair and for computer repair technicians. These include: autoranging; USB interface; a stable stand; touch-hold; graphic display for showing AC measurements in real time; data logging software for convenient monitoring and documentation of measured data; low pass filter for motor drive troubleshooting; low impedance mode that prevents ghost or induced voltages during measurements; and offset compensation or smart ohm for resistance testing using 2 different applied currents
The unit should be protected against common electrical hazards. Think about the applications and environment the instrument will be used in to ensure you have the perfect device for your needs. For instance, when subjected to high current, a low-quality unit may explode and catch fire and the entire unit might melt within the first 30 seconds. A better quality unit would suffer no damage at all during the first 30 seconds. The internal fuse would break if you sustain the high current longer, but even if you have the device in your hand, no physical damage would occur that can cause user injury or hazardous contact with electric energy.
Top multimeter reviews in 2017
There are numerous options on multimeters on the market, so any buyer would easily get overwhelmed. We encourage consumers to refer to the above buying guide for valuable information about this type of equipment to help them make an easier shopping decision. We have also showcased the best products below for more help.
Fluke 115 2538790
Offering simple, intuitive operation while ensuring accuracy, the Fluke 115 2538790 is undoubtedly the best multimeter for electronics thanks to its true RMS functionality that makes it suitable for reading non-linear loads while being CAT III 600 V safety rated.
This is also the best pocket multimeter thanks to how it fits in the palm of your hand while enabling you to do continuity, frequency, capacitance and diode test, the measurements of which you can easily read on the backlit 6,000-count digital display that features large digits. Exceptionally user-friendly, this multimeter comes with straightforward labeling that shows you the functions of every jack, dial and button.
This true RMS meter emits a simple beep when electrical circuits or fuses are working properly, while no beep indicates the need to recheck settings. Offering autoranging, this model finds the range of value the voltage, capacitance, resistance or any other electrical characteristic you’re measuring has a failure in so you won’t have to determine it yourself.
It also prevents common errors that result in reading inaccuracies. The large white LED backlight enables you to view readings even in poor lighting conditions. It measures 20A momentarily for 30 seconds and 10A continuously. It also offers Min/Max/Average measurements with elapsed time to help you take note of signal fluctuations
Click to see the price on Amazon!
Genuinely the best digital multimeter for home use, the INNOVA 3320 is a UL certified product engineered to accurately and safely troubleshoot diverse household and automotive electrical problems. It features auto ranging scales that eliminate the need to dial the correct range prior to performing measurements.
This device does it for you! It is also the best affordable multimeter that provides 10 Meg Ohm circuitry, which prevents damage to sensitive electronics. It comes with test leads and holders as well as an easy slip-through strap for hands-free testing.
Lightweight and portable at just 4.8 ounces and 2 x 10 x 5 inches, this model is equipped with a large digital display that enables effortless viewing of readings. The color-coded LEDs allow quick checking of general purpose batteries, with green meaning good, yellow signifying weak and red meaning replacement is needed. The single setting resistance function proves to be useful for AC and DC voltage.
The protective rubber corner guards keep the device from getting damaged when dropped accidentally. The device comes with all the cables and accessories you need to get the job done, whether it be around the house or your vehicle. This tool makes diagnostics for home and automotive applications easy.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($21.16)
The Craftsman 34-82141 lets you maintain your home in an intelligent way. It allows you to handle jobs dealing with AC and DC current, amps, and ohms by yourself. The device delivers accurate readings that can be viewed easily on the capacious 2,000 count LCD screen.
All you need to get started on your troubleshooting tasks come in the package, including the needed test leads and the rugged case, so you can store the entire unit and the accessories in your tool box without worrying that the multimeter or the other items with it would get damaged. It doesn’t matter what diagnostic task you need to do, as this device provides reliably accurate readings every time, being the best digital multimeter for automotive as well as household applications.
The device comes with automatic shutoff feature to preserve the life of the battery, ensuring that it is ready to do measurements when needed.
This device gives you all the information you need whether you’re simply fixing your washing machine or trying to figure out what’s wrong with your computer hardware voltage. This device is also the best inexpensive multimeter that comes with 20 ranges and 8 functions for professional-quality home maintenance.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($19.69)
The Tenma 72-1055 is a benchtop digital multimeter that measures AC and DC voltage along with current, resistance, frequency, capacitance, transistor hFE and temperature. It is engineered for use in an education setting as well as in diagnosing electrical item problems in any service bench or in hobby settings.
This multimeter can also be used to test diode and perform audible continuity test functions. It runs on 6 C-size batteries that can be bought at your favorite hardware supply stores. It comes with an AC adapter for out-of-the-box functionality. The LCD screen offers problem-free viewing of captured value with its 1999 count, for accurate readings so you can do the needed adjustments to settings.
Providing fused current measurement to 10A, this model lets you handle various diagnostic tasks around the home. The backlit display enables easy reading of values even when the space is poorly lit. The device comes with the needed test leads, alligator clip test leads for measuring capacitors and resistors, and a temperature probe. It is also easy to position on your work surface due to its diminutive dimensions of 4 ¼” (H) x 8 ¾” (W) x 12″ (D).
The range select/function knob provides easy grip in the hand with its big size. The device will both sound and display an alert if any of its test leads are inserted in one of the jacks for current reading when the device has not actually been geared to perform current measurement by the user.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($106)
B&K Precision 5491B
Undoubtedly the best digital multimeter for the money, the B&K Precision 5491B is a versatile and dependable device that can be used in the service, education, repair and manufacturing sectors that require basic yet reliable value measurements.
This digital bench multimeter enhances professional productivity thanks to its convenient built-in math functions that calculate the values for you. The USB connectivity of this device is a feature that is not found in other bench meters. It enables you to control and configure the device using a remote PC while letting you retrieve measurement results for more in depth analysis. You can also use the downloadable application software to remotely control the device.
The device is equipped with up to 50,000 count display resolution for a wider level of accuracy. It provides a basic volts-of-direct-current (VDC) accuracy of 0.02% for amazing precision. The bright Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) display can show two measurements at once to save time on doing two separate readings.
The soft rubber control buttons ensure effortless use of the various features of the multimeter while providing precision that no dial knob can match. The sheathed safety banana jacks provide convenience by making wire connections easier to do. This rack-mountable device is equipped with tough rubber bumpers that provide extra protection while enabling stacking of multiple devices. The front panel fuse compartment enables effortless fuse changes.
Click to see the price on Amazon!
The Keithley 2100/220 is a high precision 6½-digit digital multimeter that carries out critical measurements. It is the best multimeter for the money as it comes at the price of a 5 ½ digit model. The device provides 11 measurement functions that cover most frequently measured parameters.
It has fully specified accuracies on all functions to deliver nothing less than ISO-compliant results. The included PC software utilities enable you to do graphing and data sharing in both Microsoft® Word and Excel for greater flexibility. This device comes with rugged construction for durability in bench/portable applications. It has selectable front/rear inputs to facilitate bench or rack use.
This multimeter ships with all the accessories needed to ensure out-of-the-box functionality, including the startup software, safety test leads, USB cable and power cable. It is a CE compliant and UL listed device that is also TMC compliant. It comes with a convenient USB 2.0 interface for use with SCPI test programs for versatility.
This multimeter measures AC and DC current, resistance and frequency and also provides diode and period measurements. The programmable A-D converter and filter settings ensure dependable signal to noise optimization, it also performs eight mathematical operations on measurement readings so you don’t have to do them yourself.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($892)
The uses of a multimeter
Combining the testing capabilities of single-functionality meters including the ohmmeter, ammeter and voltmeter, the digital multimeter is a test tool that replaces the needle-based analog meter easily thanks to its ability to measure with more reliable accuracy plus increased impedance. The multimeter measures AC or DC voltages, continuity of electrical components and resistance, along with small quantities of currents in circuits. It allows you to find out whether voltage is present on a circuit so you can perform diverse tasks. Technicians in the electronic/electrical industries use a digital multimeter as a diagnostic tool.
Parts of a standard multimeter
The display lets you view measurement readings and is where measurement readouts can be viewed. Typically, it comes with four digits and also has the ability to display a negative sign. Some models come with backlit displays that facilitate viewing of values in poorly lit conditions.
The selector knob, dial or rotary switch enables you to select different primary measurement values, whether amps, volts or ohms. The dial has arc-shaped scales visible through its window, along with a pointer that indicates the values read from the scale, which are the ranges of magnitude. The meter dial face can feature arc-shaped marks of different colors that indicate each scale, so there will be different values. There may also be a wider mirror-like surface shaped like the scales. This mirror-like surface reduces parallax viewing error by ensuring that the pointer is lined up with its reflection prior to the reading of the value indicated by the pointer. This can appear as a wide gray strip between the black and red scales. The selector knob or switch lets you change the function from amps to ohms to volts. It also enables you to change the scale of the instrument. Multiple ranges are presented by the different functions, making it essential that both are correctly set to prevent damaging the device or causing operator injury. Some meters feature an OFF position on the selector switch but others come with a separate switch for turning the instrument off. When the device is not being used or to be stored, make sure it’s switched off. The different buttons on the instrument allow you to select different functions, with options varying across different brands and models.
The input jacks are where the test leads or probes are inserted on the front of the multimeter. Test probes are flexible insulated wires that are red and black, serving as the conductor between the device and the item being tested. Almost always connected to the negative (-) or ground of a circuit is the common or black COM probe. However, there is no difference between a red and a black probe except in the color. When measuring large currents, the special port used is 10A. The red probe is typically plugged into the mAVΩ port, which enables the measurement of resistance (Ω), voltage (V) and current (up to 200 mA). On the end of the probes is a banana-type connector that plugs into the multimeter. Any probe with a banana plug will work with a multimeter so different types of probes can be used with the device.
The test leads or probes can be of various types: banana to alligator clips leads are suitable for connecting to large pins or wires on a breadboard. They are perfect for doing longer term tests where there’s no need to hold the probes in place as you manipulate the circuit. Banana to IC hook types are suitable for smaller and legs of ICs. Banana to test probes are easy and cheap to replace when broken. Banana to tweezer type probes are useful for testing SMD components.
Some common tests using the multimeter
A multimeter is used to measure resistance. The test for resistance should be performed when no current is present. Make sure to unplug the device or switch the circuit breaker off prior to attempting to do the test. In a circuit, the resistance denotes how much the flow of current is impeded. It is a necessary element for the generation of heat in various heating elements such as those in a hair dryer, electric oven, dryer or stove. To know if a device is indeed functioning properly, it is necessary to test for the proper resistance rating. The multimeter should be set to the ohm setting to carry out resistance testing.
The difference between two points in the potential of electrons is called the voltage. A difference in potential occurs when the accumulation or concentration of electrons in one point is greater than in the other point. If a wire is used to connect those two points to each other, the electrons will flow from one point to the other until the electron potential becomes equal. This movement of the electrons from one point to another is referred to as a direct current of electricity. When measuring the voltage of a battery, the range selector switch is set to any of the DCV positions.
The test for continuity is also done when current is not present. It should also be performed with the main circuit breaker switched off or the item being tested is unplugged. A continuity test is done to find out whether a circuit is open or closed. The multimeter also has to be set to the ohm setting. Even when the probes are not in contact with anything, the multimeter will read infinity. This means the circuit is open and therefore unable to conduct current. The reading changes to zero when the probes are touched together, indicating that the circuit is closed and is able to conduct current. When each probe is touched to one of the terminals and the reading changes to zero, it indicates the presence of continuity.
Testing for ground can also only be carried out when current is not present. The device to be tested should be unplugged and the main circuit breaker turned off before you attempt to test ground fault. Ground fault testing is performed to determine if current is not appropriately channeled from a circuit. If left unchecked, ground fault presents a potentially dangerous electrical shock hazard as well as a cause for the electrical device to get broken. Ground fault testing, like all other tests done with a multimeter, is carried out at ohm setting.
Most popular brands
Definitely one of the best multimeter brands on the market today, Fluke multimeters benefit from the company’s sustained leadership in the manufacture, distribution and service of electronic software and test tools. Now the most popular name in the industry, Fluke was founded in 1948. Since then, the firm has helped shape and propel a unique technology market by providing world-class testing and diagnostic products that have become bywords in mission-critical applications both in the manufacturing and service sectors. Keeping business and industry worldwide well maintained at all times, Fluke products have been used and endorsed by engineers, technicians, metrology professionals, computer network professionals, medical-device manufacturers and countless others who stake their reputation on the tools they use.
As an internet-based retailer and wholesaler, Etekcity has been serving a broad customer base that includes clients in consumer electronics, home improvement and outdoor equipment. The firm invests countless hours in ensuring optimized operations while making its supply chain management better and better. This is while never compromising on lower costs plus higher efficiency for the sake of the consumer, for the best service and value among various e-commerce brands. Etekcity ensures that it provides products that truly make life simpler. It supplies kitchen equipment, products for outdoor use like LED lamps and moisture meters, consumer electronics items including cell phone, audio and video accessories and bluetooth speakers, office and other supplies including scanner and tester and shipping supplies.
Craftsman has been making history one tool to the next, and it has successfully established itself in manufacturing top rated hand tools, power tools, lawn and garden equipment, smart products like garage door openers and lawn mowers, as well as storage and garage gear. The brand started out as a Sears-acquired trademark in 1927, at the same time being touted quickly as being superior to both the Trojan and Fulton tool lines. During World War II, Craftsman tools were utilized for Pacific Islands projects. The Craftsman cordless electric riding mower and rotary mower started the brand’s thrust for the green revolution. In 1997, Sears achieved leadership at the forefront of the ecommerce industry with over 3500 Craftsman tools on its online website. Until now, the brand has been a widely recognized source of performance-driven products.
A leading supplier of test equipment and diagnostic reporting for the automotive aftermarket, Innova Electronics Corp. ensures the delivery of top quality products along with immense value and innovative diagnostics to all of its customers. The brand distributes from both its US and Canada facilities, with its products backed by research along with cutting-edge development and design at the headquarters of the company in Irvine, California. The brand was acquired in 1990 by Equus Products, Inc., a leading manufacturer and distributor of gauges, tachometers and test equipment for the automotive aftermarket and also an ISO 9001: 2008 certified company. Innova supplies easy-to-use products for servicing the vehicles of the future as well as those of today.
Products that are no longer available
Fluke 28 II
Some say that this model is the best digital multimeter for electronics, while others simply enjoy the fact that it is both dustproof and waterproof. This IP67 rated model is completely sealed and comes with its own holster to allow use in harsh environments. It is even built to withstand a 3-meter drop.
With a high resolution 20,000 count display mode, the device is the best basic multimeter that offers true-RMS AC voltage and current for reliably accurate measurements on nonlinear waves. The keypad buttons have backlighting to enable hassle-free visibility in dimly lit areas and the harshest environments. This model makes it easy to troubleshoot most electrical problems in non-ideal conditions.
This multimeter has earned approval from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. It has an extended operating temperature range of -15 degrees Centigrade to +55 Degrees Centigrade or -5 degrees to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, and 40 degrees Centigrade for up to 20 minutes.
It has been tested to operate at 95 percent humidity while measuring up to 1000 volts AC and DC or 10 A, and 20 A for half a minute. It comes with an extended AC voltage bandwidth of 15 Hz to 20 kHz. The built-in thermometer lets you take temperature readings without the need for a separate device.
If you’re looking for the best multimeter for automotive use, the Etekcity MSR-R500 provides the perfect solution.
This model ships with the cables that you need to do testing. The protective rubber sleeve ensures protection when the device is accidentally dropped. Lightweight at just 10.4 ounces, this multimeter only measures 5.8 x 4.3 x 2 inches for effortless transportability. Use it to safely and accurately troubleshoot a variety of household and automotive issues, as it can accurately measure voltage, resistance, current and more. The device comes with overload protection on all ranges to ensure the safety of the user especially with high loads.
This best compact multimeter delivers hassle-free use with its ability to carry out quick sampling at 2 to 3 times readings every second, reducing your exposure to electric elements.
It also comes with Data Hold functionality that lets you view the reading so you can do the necessary adjustment to the settings on the item being measured. The backlit LCD makes it easy to read the values in poorly lit conditions, while the large digits enable effortless viewing at any angle so you won’t have to do repeat readings. Hands-free use is facilitated by the built-in support stand.