Originally Web posted 24 September 2000.
Content last modified Friday, 25 January 2008 .
External links last verified Thursday, 27 January 2005.

Sonic’s DMM recommendations

For Homeowners and other Casual Users

For Electronics Technicians and Advanced/Serious Hobbyists

I like Fluke DMMs. They have been good to me. They are very well-made, made in the U.S. (last i checked), and just keep on working. Their accuracy, usability, and safety features are excellent. Warranty service is (at least was, when i needed it in the mid-1980s) decent. The meters themselves and their parts are readily available.

While Fluke is certainly not the only worthy brand, it is the only one which i have used extensively in recent decades, and so the only one i can heartily recommend from personal experience. Having used non-DMM test equipment from B&K Precision, i suspect their multimeters are excellent also. Simpson, Tektronix, and Triplett are other known brands (Wavetek’s test equipment line was bought out by Fluke). There is no shortage of other brands, such as Tenma, with a much shorter company reputation. Many of these semi-off-brand meters appear to come from the same Chinese factory. They may be great; i’ve never used one.

If you’re into electronics for the long haul, get the most and best that you can reasonably afford. For me in the mid-1980s, that was the then-new Fluke 77, which is still my multimeter today. Were i making a new purchase today, i would probably go for a Fluke 87, or 79. The True RMS capability, while not essential, would come in handy from time to time. Also, my older 77 does not measure frequency nor capacitance, both which would have been useful over the years.

Features that i consider essential or highly desirable in a multimeter include:

The feel of the test leads, the meter itself (especially the controls), and the visibility of the display are personal decisions. This is one reason multimeters continue to sell well in physical stores, even in our relatively new virtual world.

Expect to pay at least U.S.$100 for a pro meter, and probably more like U.S.$200-400.

For Homeowners and other Casual Users

Anyone who works at all with their hands and ever does anything beyond merely using electrical and electronic devices can make good use of a digital multimeter (DMM). I strongly suggest that everyone get one! Seems that i’m always packing my Fluke 77 along on any trip, no matter how casual, to measure stuff for friends and family - stuff that they could easily measure, if they only had their own meter!

There really is no need to spend hundreds of dollars for a tool that you’ll only use every now and then, nor is there really any reason to rent a high-end meter on those few occasions. The sorts of measurements useful for checking household appliances, electronics, power wiring, and automobile electrical/electronic systems can easily be done with relatively simple meters.

Here is the shopping list of features/specifications for casual meter users, in order from most to least important:

Brands

If possible, try and stay with the brands listed above for the pros: Fluke, B&K Precision, Wavetek, Simpson, Tektronix, and Triplett (i prefer the first three). If you find some other brand that meets all the specifications above (plus any others you may have) and you have a very good feel for it and about it, BUY IT. Some inexpensive odd-brand meters will be plenty good enough, whereas others will not even be worth the lesser amount you pay for them. There are far, far too many of both of these for me to make individual recommendations beyond what is on this page.

Analog vs. Digital

Many of the least expensive meters you will see, esp. at places like Radio Shack, auto parts stores, and the like, will be the older analog multimeters. These have a very large meter face with a thin, long pointer, and lots and lots of tiny numbers and letters. Even if your eyesight is outstanding, seldom is it humanly possible to read analog meters as accurately as a digital display. Furthermore, it is far, far easier to totally destroy your new analog meter than it is to burn out a digital meter (DMM). On very rare occasions, a technician will need something like an analog pointer to help them make an adjustment. The casual user will not ever need to make these sorts of adjustments with any meter, so you do not need this capability.

Now, if someone gives you an old, working analog VOM or VTVM or similar meter, go ahead and use that, and save your money. Make sure the kind person at least gives you the original meter manual, and preferably trains you on how to use the old meter… it is likely to be much harder than any modern DMM.

Range setting - Automatic vs. Manual

If your budget and/or sense of thrift causes you to balk at the thought of spending over U.S.$40 or so on a DMM, you will very likely be stuck with a manual ranging meter, meaning that you will have to tell the meter what sort of voltage, current, resistance, etc. to expect, so that it can give you a usable number. This means that:

  1. You have to have a very good idea of the magnitude of what you are about to measure,
  2. You have to be familiar with what buttons to push/dials to twist to set the meter to the correct range.

Autoranging meters avoid all this silliness, and let the meter figure out how to set itself to give you a meaningful result. This is easier, safer, and much more likely to provide good results. Unfortunately, it costs more. In the catalogs at which i am currently looking, the least expensive autoranging DMM is about U.S.$35 (pretax)(B&K Precision model 2700 from Newark Electronics). If you are willing and able to spend between U.S.$40 and $100 for a DMM which will last a lifetime, it is well worth your while to get an autoranging meter. You’ll be glad you did!

“I just wanna buy one now. What should i get? From Where?”

For those who feel no need to physically go out shopping themselves, and are willing to trust a Web Stranger’s recommendations, consider the following:

Sonic’s Picks for Casual Users (Currently available models as of the modification date of this page)

the B&K Precision website Multimeter Selection Tool (unlike the older and better chart, requires Javashit… oh, i mean -script).

B&K Precision model 2700 - about U.S.$35.
Features look good, and the price is right. I did not check the specifications, and that is probably the “rub”. The 2700 is listed as a “Pocket Digital Multimeter”, and appears to be built much like those inexpensive, thin calculators. As such, it is probably not as durable as most everything else listed here. The test probes do not appear to be removable as on all standard DMMs, so if you break one or don’t like it, too bad - you’re stuck with them. Still, if one is a gentle, careful sort of person, this seems like a far better budget bet than randomly picking an off-brand.
B&K Precision model 2407A - about U.S.$55.
Although appearing not as solidly-built as the Flukes, the 2407A much more closely resembles the usual DMM than does the 2700. Includes A.C. and D.C. current measuring ability missing from the 2700 (and not essential for casual users, though nice and definitely useful), plus audible continuity tests (safer: watch the test probes, not the meter). There are less expensive models in this Mini-Pro® line if you want to get really primitive and do without auto ranging.
Fluke Type 12 or 12B - about U.S.$100.
Appears to have all the recommended features for casual users listed above, plus is the most easy-to-use of any meter i’ve seen. Designed for homeowners and other casual meter users. The 12s have a few extra features which may occasionally be useful (min/max value recording with time stamp, plus special continuity and input sensing functions). The 12 is gray and has a slide lever and buttons; the 12B is identical except it is yellow and has a rotary dial + buttons. It appears that the other, lower-priced models in this series, 10 and 11, have been discontinued and there is no obvious replacement in the Fluke line.

Models to Avoid or Consider With Caution, and Why

Fluke Type 7-600 - about U.S.$70
Very easy to use and safe. Not as many features of importance to most users as other choices at the same or lower price. Mostly folks who mess with tube audio equipment need this capability, and if you are in that category, i do not consider you a casual user!

Used Models

There are far, far too many of these to list. The ones below are the very few models that used to be recommended on this page when they were available new, for which there is no current equivalent in that manufacturer’s lineup. Used versions of many, many good models, such as the Fluke 70 and 80 series, will be at least as good as the items below, and may be cost-competitive when purchased used.

Fluke Type 7-300 - about U.S.$50 when new
Very easy to use and safe. Not as many features of importance to most users as other choices at the same or lower price. A lower-cost, lower max. voltage version of the 7-600.
Wavetek model DM78A - about U.S.$39 when new.
Same idea as the B&K Precision model 2700, for about the same price. Probably every bit as good, or possibly better (this is closer to the bottom of the list only because i have not personally used Wavetek equipment).
Wavetek model DM9 - about U.S.$46 when new.
Looks to be a good value. All the basic features appear to be covered.

Purchase Suggestions

If you feel no need to touch and hold a meter before purchase, and live in the U.S.A., i recommend Newark Electronics, Digi-Key, and Zack Electronics.

There are many other places, on and off line, to purchase DMMs. The ones above happen to be my favorite online/mail order places. I have no affiliation with any of them, other than as a satisfied customer.

Why aren’t there pictures and more specs here?

Whaddo i look like, a walking catalog? I’m no test equipment salesman, and i’m sure not making any money off of this page! Hopefully, you have enough information above to go to the actual sources (manufacturers and distributors) and look at the pictures/read the specs for yourself. Besides, i would be violating copyrights if i snitched pictures from those sources.

Happy Meter Shopping!


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