Originally Web posted 24 September 2000.
Content last modified Saturday, 9 January 2021 .
External links last verified Thursday, 27 January 2005.
For Homeowners and other Casual Users
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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!
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:
the B&K Precision website Multimeter Selection Tool (unlike the older and better chart, requires Javashit… oh, i mean -script).
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.
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.
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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