As you’d imagine, digital multimeter prices vary a lot. They go from $5 cheapo, no-name, Chinese-made efforts to high-end $1,000, thermal imaging, CAT-IV-rated Flukes. Somewhere in between you can find the ideal meter, although anything under around $100 might not offer the best protection.
Quality vs Cheap
Be wary of the very cheap meters. While they may seem to work well, they are not strong enough to withstand high energy surges, especially three phase. They won’t be durable and are more likely to fail than well made ones. If you use test meters a lot, you will go through cheapos quickly and also cannot fully rely on the test results.
If you’re a hobbyist measuring low voltages systems – battery tests, continuity of control circuits, or are a ham radio enthusiast, for example – then this isn’t so much of an issue. But you still need the reliability and confidence that you’re getting the correctly displayed results.
Safety: The number one consideration of a multimeter should be safety. A cheap meter will not have the input protection to save you from damaging your hand or electric shock should you misuse the thing – such as measuring amperage when switched to resistance. A good quality Fluke in the same scenario would not cause injury.
Electricians and technicians should aim for high quality. You don’t necessarily need to be spending hundreds of dollars, but bear in mind that a top-rated Fluke DMM will often last for many years and will retain its accuracy. This translates as good value for money. They are also mechanically tough to knocks and drops; being drop-tested at the factory.
Broadly defined multimeter prices
$+: $20 – $50
$$: $50 – $100
$$+: $100 – $150
$$$: $150 – $200
$$$+: $200 – $300
$$$$: $300 – $400
$$$$+: $400 – $600
$$$$$: $600 and up
$: Etekcity MSR-P600
$+: TekPower TP4000ZC
$$: Fluke 101
$$+: Amprobe 38XR-A
$$$: UNI-T UT71E
$$$+: Klein Tools MM6000
$$$$: Fluke 87V
$$$$+: Agilent U1253B
$$$$$: Fluke 279 FC
A decent Fluke is typically in the $250 range and would offer most of the features and safety you’d need. This would buy a 170 Series model such as the 177, which are highly regarded and are rated to measure CAT-IV installations. This makes them good for industrial applications.
Although not up to the functionality and accuracy of the industry-standard 87 five series (which is around $400 and considered high end), you can’t really go wrong with them for general electrical work.
If you want to save money, perhaps look to one of the newer Brymens, such as the EEVBlog Brymen BM235. It also offers good protection and provides accurate readings. The Amprobe AM-570 is another good choice, as are some of the better Extech and Klein Tools meters. Expect to pay in the region of $100-$150 for these.
Barring Brymen, all of these are US-made and are pricier than your average Radioshack or Craftsman. While the latter can also produce decent general purpose multimeters, they don’t stand up to any of the big brand names mentioned above.
In addition are some okay Chinese meter manufacturer, such as Mastech and Uni-T. These brands have some of the best digital multimeter prices on the market and can match any brand on features. They do tend to fall short on reliability, accuracy, speed and category ratings, however. Prices are in the $50-$70 range.
You can still get a half-decent meter in the $20-$30 range. The likes of the Etekcity MSR-R500 is recommended on this site and works pretty well, as long as it is not used above its intended CAT-II rating. American brand INNOVA makes good automotive meters, like the 3320, which is also around this price. And even Fluke have the 101, priced at around $50. Again, it is not intended for heavy work.
Anything over $400-$500 will typically have excellent accuracy and display resolution, along with extra features, such as data logging, loop current measurements and even thermal imaging.
In short: When you’re not paying proper money for the likes of a Fluke or Gossen Metrawat, there will be a compromise somewhere – usually on speed and safety. Fluke don’t charge ‘silly’ money because they can or because of their name; they do so because no corners have been cut and you are, generally, getting the real deal.
Where to Buy
To get the best digital multimeter price, it is generally best to order with Amazon. They have the product throughput and prestige to consistently offer the best deals. Everyone knows them, they are trustworthy and it is easy to buy. They also have a no-hassle returns policy.
Amazon often has deals that reduce the price of their third party meters by 20% or more, whereas the manufacturer will typically stick rigidly to the full recommended retail price. There is no real advantage in going with the manufacturer these days, other than perhaps for support, which you will also get by buying through Amazon.