There are myriad multimeters out there and obviously not all are made the same. They go from basic, DIY units for a few bucks to high quality, industrial meters for the professional.
If you want to buy a multimeter, it’s always best to read some reviews first. On this site, we’ve detailed dozens of devices from a variety of brands. We cover specs, accuracy levels (usually in the form of a table), test ranges, design and build quality, special features, performance, pros & cons etc.
Multimeter reviews have been formulated from cross-referencing the manufacturer’s specs with reviews left by verified purchasers from Amazon. This is valuable feedback from genuine customers, with unbiased views on whether a meter is good or not.
Going with the manufacturer’s recommendation alone is not really a good indication, because, of course, as with any company, they are biased. The only real exception is probably Fluke as you can generally be sure that their meters are of sound quality, with most electricians swearing by them.
Our reviews also have an image and a link back to Amazon for more information on the product, such as price, and then with the option to buy. We have also included a link to the online manual where possible (usually in pdf format) from either the manufacturer or Manualslib. You can view these online through your browser or indeed download them.
What do you want it for?
All multimeters test for voltage, resistance and continuity. Those for more money often also test for current and capacitance, with advanced ones also having temperature inputs, low pass filters, frequency and data logging etc.
Although it’s nice to have all the bells & whistles ‘just in case you might need them’, it is best to narrow it down to what you need. It might be tempting to go with the industry standard Fluke 87 as it has great functions, accuracy, a high category rating and is as good at electronics and electrical work, but if all you are doing is jobs around the home testing fuses, switches, batteries and suchlike, one of these meters would be overkill. You could go with one of the cheaper brands, like Amprobe or Extech.
Types of Multimeter
There are basic, DIY-based multimeters, devices made specifically for HVAC (having temperature and micro-amps ranges), automotive meters, industrial ones with tougher cases & category ratings, and those with data logging capabilities.
Although you can get a decent meter for $50, $100 is somewhat of the benchmark, where features, specs, safety and overall feel tend to improve dramatically. Around the $50 and below is best for home projects or as a spare multimeter, or those where you don’t need a whole lot of reliable features.
What else to look for…
Accuracy is basically the amount of error that a meter is likely to incorporate while taking a measurement. You’ll see it represented as a ‘±’ percentage, plus the offset of the ‘least (last) significant digit’. Accuracy is important when looking at multimeter reviews, but, as with feature-set, it is not a game changer for those that don’t need to be super-precise.
While accuracy should be noted, resolution is equally as important. Resolution is represented as d i g i t s (such as 4 ½ digits, or counts) and is the smallest change in a given signal that the meter can show. This is essential for some sensitive electronics. Bench multimeters are the most accurate and have the best resolution, but you can also get precise with a high end hand held one.
You will also often see ‘True RMS’ advertised while reading this or that multimeter review. This is simply the meter’s ability to be able to more accurately ascertain an accurate AC signal as it would for a DC one. It is only really useful for those engaged in variable speed drives, however, such as with HVAC work.
Reviews should also take in input impedance; the internal resistance measuring circuit of the meter. The higher the better with sensitive electronics and computers – preferably 10MΩ and up – so the meter itself doesn’t compromise test results.
When looking for a new meter, check out some multimeter reviews first to better see what is out there and for pointers on whether you are looking at a reliable unit from people that have already bought one. More on reviews here…