View Full Version : Any recommendations for an "affordable" multimeter?
09-05-2006, 12:41 AM
Looking to get a cheap multimeter to test odd's and ends, nothing big. Anyone have any recommendations? I prefer not to spend over $60 or so if possible.
09-05-2006, 02:36 AM
As someone who has accumulated perhaps 20 or 30 analog multimeters (passive pointer-type meter with range selecting switch) and a dozen or so digital voltmeters over an engineering career, I don't think it's worth a lot of your time agonizing about the selection. Almost any low cost VOM or DVM can do the jobs you describe just fine. (I can't resist buying a fully functional $260 Simpson VOM for $5 or $10 at a salvage store.)
One initial decision is whether to get an analog multimeter, also known as a VOM (Volt-Ohm Meter) or a DVM/DMM (Digital Volt Meter/Digital Multi-Meter). Both have their virtues and disadvantages for various uses. And both types can do the great majority of tasks admirably.
If you are concerned about precision, the DVM is the way to go. Assuming that the DVM was properly calibrated by the manufacturer, it can give you more accuracy than the average user can read from a VOM pointer. Some DVMs also offer more features in the basic package than you get for the same price in a VOM. However, it is rare that one requires the kind of precision that a DVM can offer except in a laboratory situation or in battery charger voltage checks.
A major disadvantage of DVMs is that they require battery power for all their functions. I can't tell you how many times I have pulled out a DVM from it's storage location, from the drawer in my shop, or from under the seat of the car, and gotten only a flashing low battery indication. An analog VOM is always ready to go (except the ohmmeter function, which also requires one or two batteries).
Another disadvantage of DVMs is that they are a PITA for following a varying voltage or resistance. For example, just yesterday on another thread I suggested that the inquirer use a VOM instead of a DVM to check for noise and intermittancy in the pot of a foot pedal he had just gotten for free as he gradually depressed the pedal. A VOM will clearly and easily show any dropouts or intermittancy of the pot, while the flashing numbers of a DVM are very difficult to interpret in terms of the smoothness of voltage or resistance change.
Most DVMs are more forgiving about misuse than most VOMs because the electronic circuitry in the front end usually has built-in protection against application of excessive voltages. Especially the auto-ranging DVMs (those with a function switch but no range switch) are pretty bullet-proof against misuse. Some will even beep to warn you that your leads are plugged into the current jacks while you have the function set on voltage - a sure-fire way of either blowing a fuse or destroying your current sensing resistor. That's usually only on more costly DVMs. Some high-end (over $250) VOMs also have built-in protection, but protection is inherently not as easily built into VOM as into the active circuitry of a DVM. You just have to have your wits about you more with a VOM to avoid smoke or a bent pointer.
After all that, my recommendation to a first-time user would be to get the $10 VOM being offered by C&H Sales in Pasadena, CA (www.candhsales.com) AND the $10 DVM from Harbor Freight (item 92020-ORRA). (Perhaps that reveals the reason I have a storage problem.) Live with them for a while and see if you need more functionality or precision. Put the one you don't use regularly in your car for emergency use (but remove it from your car when it goes in for service - I've had three stolen from my cars).
The VOM being offered by C&H is made by SOLTEC, a highly reputed european instrument maker (although this one is probably made in China under their name). I bought one to leave at my step-daughter's home in the LA area for those times they ask me to fix things during visits. While it's definitely not a Simpson, it seems to me to be a very good value for $10. I've also had for years one of the HF DVMs in my battery stash for checking batteries. Seems fine as a basic unit and an amazing value at $10. Actually, I see that they are offering two DVMs, both for $9.99. The one I have is actually item 90899-ORRA. I don't know what the difference is between the two models.
If you don't want two laying around, either one will do 99% of your tasks.
If you ever get to the point where you just NEED more precision and class, get a Fluke DVM or a Simpson VOM.
09-05-2006, 05:58 AM
If you have the blue or orange box store nearby they have several brands below $60.00 digital and analog. I have a Fluke DVM and several 10.00 radio shack special VOM's. They have a lot of both types on ebay for around 50.00 or less. You could always check out any local pawn shop.
09-05-2006, 01:50 PM
awright, Thanks for all the info, I appreciate you taking the time to write all that up!
I like your advice in getting both a cheap VOM and a cheap DVM.
Ries, I'd love to get a Fluke but they don't make any affordable models that I know of.
09-05-2006, 02:31 PM
Hit Radioshack or eBay. Personally, I use a Radio-shick unit and it works for the stuff I do.
09-05-2006, 02:32 PM
Gardner Bender 32-Range Digital Multimeter Model GDT-292A
$39.99 at Lowes. Works great, big digital readout, replaceable fuse.
09-05-2006, 11:00 PM
It is really difficult to find a low budget meter (ha, skirted the vom/dvm lingo) that can be used for the full gamut that even home and hobby can throw at you. Not understanding the ranges and what to expect can lead you down the wrong path once in awhile. Not having the ranges available can be a real puzzler too. Tough subject when it comes to test gear. I don't think there is just one. :) Like awright here, between home and work I use quite a number. You can probably get by with any particular one for about 75% of the time. Buy one and put another right back on the wish list.
09-06-2006, 08:58 AM
In Canada, I suggest going to Canadian Tire; from time-to-time on sale for ~$15 Canadian, there is a nice digital VOM (see attached picture) that turns itself after 5 minutes (saves killing the 9 volt battery which comes with the unit). I have two of these and could use a few more - they are great.
All the $15 - $60 digital voltmeters seem to have similar specifications that typically look like:
Five functions with 19 ranges
DC voltage - 200mV, 2000mV, 20V, 200V, 1000V
AC voltage - 200V, 750V
DC current - 200µA, 2000µA, 20mA, 200mA, 10A
Resistance - 200, 2000, 20k, 200k, 2000k, 20M
Continuity beeper / Diode test
With more $$, you pick up
Temperatue 0 to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (probe not usually included)
Also, last month the Princess Auto stores had on sale a VOM for $18 that had the open/close C-clamp transformer at the top that permits non-contact measurement of AC amps flowing through a single wire. I bought one.
I have a Craftsman meter for home use. So far I really like it for checking things around the house.
Here is a link to it on their web site:
The only bad comment I've heard is that frequency function apparently doesn't seem to like the output from small engine welders. I'm not really surprised, the sine wave produced by most small engine driven welders is pretty jagged. I use a better one for checking engine RPM on welding machines.
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