Multimeters are used by electricians primarily to check current, voltage, continuity and resistance. A reliable, quality meter with high input impedance is the electrician’s most important tool, but even a hobbyist can benefit greatly from a basic test meter where accuracy is not critical.
There’s a huge variety of multimeters on the market and many factors to consider, such as category rating, features and of course price. While you shouldn’t leave yourself short, you don’t need to go over the top either.
This site provides unbiased advice to help you research and choose which multimeter to buy. We cover main brands and models, with detailed descriptions of key features, specifications, and the pros and cons of a given device.
|BRAND / MODEL||TYPE||SIZE||REVIEW|
|INNOVA 3320||DIY, Auto||Mini||Full review|
|Etekcity MSR-R500||DIY, General||Mini||Full review|
|Mastech MS8229||Multi-tester||Large||Full review|
|TekPower TP4000ZC||Data Logging DMM||Standard||Full review|
|Amprobe AM-510||General||Standard||Full review|
|INNOVA 3340||Auto, General||Standard||Full review|
|Amprobe PM55A||General||Full review|
|Klein MM1000||All Round||Standard||Full review|
|Extech EX330||All Round||Compact||Full review|
|UNI-T UT61E||Data Logging DMM||Standard||Full review|
|Fluke 115||Field, General||Compact||Full review|
|Fluke 116||HVAC||Compact||Full review|
|Fluke 117||General||Compact||Full review|
|Brymen BM235||All Round||Compact||Full review|
|Amprobe AM-570||All Round||Standard||Full review|
|Fluke 87V||All Round||Large||Full review|
|Fluke 177||General||Standard||Full review|
|Agilent U1253B||Data Logging DMM||Large||Full review|
|Fluke 289||Data Logging DMM||Large||Full review|
|Fluke 279 FC||Thermal Imaging DMM||Large||Full review|
– prices may fluctuate
There are several well known brands that produce various classes of multimeter. Here are some of the most common ones:
The Fluke Corporation is without a doubt the number one manufacturer today, and arguably since its inception. They are the default, go-to brand with a large amount of high quality testers for most tasks. Reliability, accuracy and attention to detail are all tenets of the Fluke brand, and they lead the way on innovation.
Fluke multimeters are also stylish and hard-wearing – tested to the nth degree at their onsite testing and calibration facility – and conform to rigid standards. They produce a long list of high quality digital multimeters (DMM), from good, entry level units to super-accurate tools for the service technician.
Fluke also produces an impressive number of other measuring tools, including clamp meters, insulation testers and thermal image condition-monitoring equipment.
Though Fluke has a budget in mind for a given product – as with any brand – the focus is on producing an item to exacting specs and then setting the price. As such, they are a premium manufacturer, with prices from around $130; the cheaper, entry-level 101 being the exception. Compared with most others, they are expensive, but they last… my Fluke 73 (bought in the early 1990s) is still going!
This Taiwanese manufacturer is an excellent alternative to the higher end brands, like Fluke or Agilent. Although more pricey than a lot of the mid-level brands, they have focused on producing solid multimeters with excellent input protection. Good screens, features and accuracy are typical hallmarks of Brymen quality, with the compact BM235 and BM257 being especially popular.
Extech Instruments is another respected brand name of quality handheld test and measuring equipment. Although not as high spec, their multimeters are nonetheless reliable and innovative, often incorporating extra features and boasting a rugged quality. One of their most popular is the excellent EX330, a small meter with a big feature-set.
Amprobe has been inventing and manufacturing electrical test products for generations. They have one of the largest selections of multimeters and amp clamp meters in the market and are a good midrange alternative. Their specialty is amp clamps (since they invented them), but they also produce a wide variety of very useful multimeters for the HVAC technician, as well as for other trades. The brilliant little PM55A pocket multimeter is a great tester for anyone.
Klein is a widely recognized, privately owned US firm that both manufactures durable hand tools and a range of multimeters. The Klein MM1000 Electricians Multimeter and more budget friendly Klein MM200 are among their most popular. They also produce low impedance DMMs, dedicated HVAC meters, and electrical test kits.
Etekcity is an online retailer of consumer electronics products and offers a budget range of multimeters for around the $20 mark. Prices are low largely due to their online persona, which doesn’t necessarily mean their products suffer. The feature-packed mini MSR-P600 is a popular tester for both entry-level and experienced electricians. These meters are decent starters for trainees and as a backup for automotive engineers and electronics technicians.
Based out of Irvine, California, INNOVA Electronics (parent firm: Equus) produce multimeters and other diagnostic test tools mostly for the car servicing industry. They are not as high spec as Fluke, nor need to be, with less emphasis on mains current testing, ruggedness or overload protection.
Their well priced 3300 series of test meters is in the $15 to $50 range. The 3320 model is especially popular, with such features as auto ranging and dedicated battery ‘load’ check, perfect for diagnosing auto faults.
Agilent is one of only a few brands that vies with fluke in producing high end equipment. Also a US firm, created by Hewlett Packard, their focus is mainly high tech laboratory-based equipment; with sister firm Keysight producing the multimeters. Their tools are typically very precise and accurate, such as the excellent U1253B, which is noted for its 50000-count, organic LED display. Prices are in the Fluke range.
There’s a glut of Chinese-based makers of electrical measuring equipment nowadays, many of which churn out absolute junk. However, there are a few notable exceptions; the Tekpower brand being one of these. They make usable analog and digital multimeters that are quite sturdy and can handle most tasks.
Most are in the low- to mid-budget range and often have some decent features. The TP9605BT is a useful data logging multimeter with Bluetooth capabilities, and which can also measure current up to 10 amps.
Another of the better quality Chinese brands, Mastech is based out of Shenzhen and has prices similar to Tekpower. They produce scores of devices, from environmental measuring equipment to popular multimeters like the MS8229. This rugged unit has the electrical functionality of a standard DMM, plus it can also measure light, sound, humidity and temperature.
Hong Kong firm Uni-Trend churns out acceptable quality devices for the money. They have a big fan base among electricians and ham radio hobbyists alike. While they may not offer the input protection and build quality of others, they put out very usable meters, including good data loggers. The hi-res UNI-T UT61E is especially well known.
What to Look for in a Multimeter?
A DMM is an essential item for the electrician and non-electrician alike. The choice can seem overwhelming, but as long as you know the basics, it’ll be easier to pick the right meter.
They are not made equal. Although cheaper meters have come a long way over the past few years, it generally pays to dig deep as those with a higher dollar value have a better build quality, better protection and are more accurate.
This is essential for electricians and technicians working with mains voltage / current and who may need more features. Tradesmen in industry should stick to industrially-rated, CATIII or CATIV multimeters.
This would be overkill for the hobbyist, who may only need one for testing voltage, resistance and continuity. Features like capacitance, frequency, temperature measurements and True RMS will not be necessary.
All multimeters can measure voltage, continuity and resistance. The ability to measure current is usually less pressing, but, as a point of reference, look at a CATII meter that at least has a milliamp range. The higher safety-rated CATIII and CATIV multimeters can usually measure AC and DC mains current continuously.
The following are essential features in a quality meter for the electrician. Many of these might not be necessary for basic home / vehicle diagnostics and may be taken as guidance.
This is the internal resistance of the actual testing circuit of the multimeter and is important. The higher the better, so it has a lesser affect on the overall results when measuring resistance in a given circuit.
Input Impedance should be at least 10 megohms (MΩ).
Up to 600V AC / DC, CATIII rated.
Should also have a millivolt (mV) range.
Up to 10A continuous AC / DC amps. There should be a separate fused circuit for amperage (A) and milliamp (mA) inputs – separate jack sockets. Fuses should be of the quick blow, non-destructive ‘HRC’ ceramic type. Those into HVAC and electronics will need a micro-amps (μA) range.
Resistance input range ideally be upwards of 20-40 megohms (MΩ), which could be a requirement when testing circuit board components.
For when measuring breaks in circuits / wires, the unit should have a good beeper with a quick-latch reaction time.
Aside from electronics and motor starters, not really essential, but would ideally extend to the nano-farad (nF) or even pico-farad (pF) range.
If needed, the wider the bandwidth range the better – from 10Hz to 1MHz, for example.
The time or period that a machine/device is running/’on’ time, usually expressed as a percentage. Good for checking motor run-time, but the average user will unlikely need it.
The higher the testing voltage, the better. Most multimeters have a diode test output of around 2V. Although okay for many tasks, some LEDs require a higher test voltage – 3V is better. Certainly not essential but almost all multimeters will include a diode checker.
Rarely needed unless you are keen on electronics, though an oscilloscope would give a more accurate result. Some cheaper multimeter brands might include a transistor checker as a tempter to divert attention from their limited specs.
Stick to testers with auto ranging, which is usually standard nowadays. This means that you don’t need to manually select a range (eg: up to 200V, or 20kΩ) as the meter will determine the right range for you and display the result automatically with the correct decimalization.
NOTE: be sure to check the auto ranging response time – really needs to be less than a second.
Manual Ranging pros & cons
With manual ranging, you might need to know a bit about electrics to get going, since you will have to select the right range level before you can measure a circuit correctly.
Example: a 9V battery would be measured by selecting the 20V DC voltage range. Those with experience may prefer it, however, since reaction times are usually faster. The ideal scenario would thus be to have an auto ranging multimeter with a RANGE button that lets you switch to manual ranging mode.
Further to auto ranging, this setting will determine whether a circuit is AC or DC and display the result in its correct range. This is ideal when you’re not sure of the supply voltage type and will save potential damage to the meter.
Aside from electronics, most applications won’t need super accurate tolerance. Most of the budget, standard meters on the market today average around ±1 to 1.5% across the various input ranges (volts, amps, ohms, etc).
Budget doesn’t necessarily mean inaccurate, although a top-branded 20000-count multimeter, such as Fluke’s 87V, may have an accuracy rating inside of ±0.05% on DC volts. Bearing in mind it will cost you a pretty penny for the privilege.
Most cheaper meters ‘average out’ the RMS value of the equivalent DC voltage when measuring AC voltage, but present their results based on a perfect sine wave. The reading will be accurate as long as the wave is uniform. If it is erratic, or ‘changed’, such as that of an inverter output voltage, the reading will probably be out.
Seen on most professional multimeters, True RMS gives a more accurate AC reading when the sine waveform is obscured.
NOTE: on deciphering which multimeter is more accurate, RMS type is not something you need to be overly concerned about if merely wanting a meter for hobbies, homes and vehicles.
Multimeters are categorized, or rated – that is, what they can safely test together with what level of voltage spike they can withstand. If starting out and diagnosing car electrical faults, for instance, you could use a CAT-I meter for basic continuity work. HVAC technicians would want a CAT-III meter.
Category I (CAT-I)
These are best for electronics or other low voltage circuits, such as in vehicles. CAT-I multimeters should not be used to test a mains supply.
Category II (CAT-II)
Good for single phase mains, such as house socket outlets, lighting circuits, home appliances and power tools, for example.
Category III (CAT-III)
Okay for testing single and low current three phase circuits, including motors, distribution boards, control panel boards, and sockets and switches, etc.
Category IV (CAT-IV)
Can safely accommodate higher current/voltage levels (to 600V) and should feature good overload, spike protection circuitry. For testing service supply panels, heavy duty machinery, pump motors and so on.
International Electrotechnical Commission Voltage Ratings
|Voltage Rating||Category I Peak||Category II Peak||Category III Peak||Category IV Peak|
More on IEC category ratings…
NOTE: CAT-II-rated meters and above (signifying the ability to accommodate mains voltage) should all have input protection built in – power resistors, thermistors, MOVs and the like.
If you are unsure, it is best to go with a higher category rating. Seasoned hobbyists might want to consider at least a CAT-II, with HRC (High Rupture Capacity) fuses installed.
Price usually dictates quality, as of course does its category rating, feature-set and specifications. For instance, CAT-I meters built for testing basic, low-voltage circuits won’t be as robust as CAT-IV meters for three phase power systems.
In many cases, you’d want a rugged testmeter that comes with shock protection in the form of a rubber holster. These are complimentary on most brands’ models upwards of the $30 mark. Also, look for nicely made jack sockets with rubber shrouds protecting the terminals.
It is worth researching multimeter reviews which make note of the quality of the circuit board and components, as well as plastics used in the construction of the enclosure. Over-current and over-voltage protection should be incorporated to protect the device, the user and the environment.
The quality of the display on a $30-$50 multimeter is typically quite good today, and will usually be backlit. Keep an eye on the refresh rate, though – how often the display updates and thus how responsive it is to changing values. Higher end ones usually have higher refresh rates (around three or four times per second), along with a higher count together with a higher resolution. Newer meters also often have a bar graph that will show fluctuations in real-time, like an analog meter.
It is worth pointing out that many cheaper multimeters can lose their charge quite quickly and you might find yourself forever opening up the back to replace the relatively expensive (especially 9V) batteries. Choose one with a battery life of at least 300hr (specified without backlight).
NOTE: auto shut-off conserves battery life and is an important, often overlooked feature.
Pay attention to how the battery is accessed. Having to open up the case to change the battery is not only a pain, but, on the cheap ones in particular, the screws are prone to stripping their fixings. Multimeters with a separate battery compartment and solid terminals to the circuit board are much more user-friendly.
The test probes should be of the silicon insulated type, supple, of good gauge and incorporate protective finger guards – essential in mains test meters. Cheapo models are notorious for including cheap probes on short leads. If you are testing category II and above circuits, ensure you have a good set of leads to protect against shocks, or consider buying a replacement pair.
Digital vs Analog
Digital all the way! They both measure and display the same values, though digital multimeters employ square waveforms to analyze inputs, whereas analog multimeters use sine waves. Analog is old hat and really only beneficial for those measuring changing values.
Digital offers many pluses. Most of all they are more accurate, easy to read and display precise values. They are also more robust to bangs as well as overloads, such as when testing under the wrong input range. Digital multimeters also generally offer more functions.
Although they are often cheaper, analog models can be unreliable as they are less accurately read at distance. In addition, they tend to have lower input impedance, meaning their very measuring of resistance in a given circuit might skew results. Digital meters tend to have high input impedance, which is especially important when testing electronic circuitry.
Where analog excels is in measuring fluctuating voltage, current or resistance, but bear in mind that a basic oscilloscope will give a far more accurate reading. In addition, the better digital meters now have fairly reliable bar graphs displays.
Which Multimeter Brand?
Professionals tend to shop by brand. Those looking for reliability will often go for Fluke as they have the reputation and prestige to deliver a sound product. Similarly, Gossen Metrawatt, Agilent and Amprobe also produce high quality.
But do you really need high end? It depends what you’re doing. The likes of Extech, Klein Tools and INNOVA produce decent quality multimeters for standard electrical work. However, those testing three phase power in a humid factory environment would be better served, and safer, buying the best.
Price and Value for Money
Similarly, if price is a major consideration, at least go for a brand that has been around for a while and avoid going generic. They may seem to have all the bells and whistles, but you could almost guarantee that the enclosure, circuit board components, specifications, functions, accuracy and overall reliability will be sub-par.
In time, these cheapos will let you down and can be darn right dangerous. Be dubious of $10 multimeters that are built for anything but light CAT-I use.
Reliability is important for troubleshooting anything from car batteries and socket outlets to control panel board faults. You could get a cheaper meter for low voltage testing, but be aware it might not have handy features like auto shut-off.
“I’m Still None the Wiser! “
If you’ve read this far, are totally flummoxed and still don’t know which multimeter to choose, don’t worry, just bear these few pointers in mind before buying.
What’s it for: electronics, car diagnostics, DIY, home electrical maintenance, commercial HVAC, industry?
The Bottom Line
Most people are looking for a basic multimeter to find out if a socket outlet has voltage, to test a battery, or to find a broken wire in a power tool, etc. In this instance, you won’t need the accuracy and robustness of a high-end device. Thus, consider starting with a cheaper, albeit brand name, model like the Etekcity MSR-R500, then perhaps upgrade later if you need more features.
If testing three phase voltage, and especially if measuring high current values, then it’s time for a serious tester such as a Fluke, Brymen, or higher end Amprobe, which are safer and offer more reliability.
See our multimeter reviews for more ideas…