Before getting into multimeter reviews and comparisons of the best multimeters, let’s take a step back and put a novice spin on multimeters in general. A multimeter, also known as a multitester, and volt-ohm meter (VOM) is used to measure voltage, current, and resistance in an electrical circuit. There are two basic types: analog and digital. An analog multimeter uses a moving pointer to indicate readings. Digital multimeters use a digital screen to display readings. Some units may offer a graph of the readings as well. At one time analog multimeters are more common in professional and industrial settings and digital multimeters were more common for household use. Today, digital multimeters rule the industry.
The most common use for a multimeter is to troubleshoot electrical problems in industrial or household electronic equipment, motor controls, appliances, power supplies, and wiring systems. Finding the exact place where the current is broken can often be the difference between a quick, easy fix and having to replace an expensive piece of equipment. Multimeters are available in a wide variety of prices. Today, digital units are far more common than analog units and; therefore, are much less expensive in many cases. For instance, a simple digital unit can be as inexpensive as $10. On the other hand, an extremely sensitive analog unit for complex industrial or laboratory use can cost as much as $5,000.
- Fluke 115 – best compact multimeter
- INNOVA 3340 – best quality multimeter
- Amprobe AM-530 – best multimeter for automotive
- Klein Tools MM1000 – best multimeter brands
- Mastech MS8264 – best multimeter under 50
- Why You Need A Multimeter At Home?
- What To Look For In A Multimeter
- Multimeter FAQ
- Which Is The Best Multimeter
Fluke 115 – best compact multimeter
This Fluke 115 review covers one of the corporation’s base model multimeters, good for home owners to electrical engineers. Accurate, rugged, very portable and featuring most standard testing characteristics, it will suit most tasks, though falls short of a full service multimeter.
Although relatively expensive and lacking a milliamp / micro-amp range – where other meters may have this included – it is nevertheless a very handy tool owned by many electricians. In short, the simple use, compact design and standard functions make it a winner and best seller.
INNOVA 3340 – best quality multimeter
The perfect backup multimeter in a garage, or even as a main meter for amateurs and professionals alike, the INNOVA 3340 makes light of numerous tasks. It is great for troubleshooting engine issues, such as dwell angle and dodgy alternator diodes, as well as for diagnosing mains electrical faults and basic electronic component failure. It can do what a Fluke does at a fraction of the cost and offers great bang for your buck, though is not meant to replace professional auto test equipment.
You might want to consider replacement probe leads and perhaps the deluxe accessory kit, which can be purchased separately. For a more general purpose multimeter, INNOVA’s 3320 is a good alternative.
Amprobe AM-530 – best multimeter for automotive
For those unconcerned about slow auto-ranging times, the Amprobe AM-530 review has detailed a very good multimeter for the $60 – $80 price range. It has many useful features, such as manual ranging and voltage detection, and an overall excellent build quality and look.
The accuracy may not be the best and battery life also suffers a bit, especially when the backlight and flashlight is used frequently. It does, however, measure capacitance and temperature and has separate amperage inputs.
Alternatives: Those looking for more features and better build quality should consider the AM-570. Alternatively, Amprobe’s amp clamp multimeters offer higher current measurements plus some of the functionality of a DMM.
Klein Tools MM1000 – best multimeter brands
From the Klein MM1000 review, this tester is a serious contender to Fluke multimeters, with a host of well thought out features and a rugged quality that is generally only seen with the high end meter manufacturers. It appeals to those in most electrical trades. If you don’t have the budget for a Fluke or Gossen, certainly consider this.
This meter will suit electricians, electronics engineers, automotive technicians, DIYers and trainees. Although a serious unit, it will suit beginners just as much as professionals, since it is intuitive and as easy, if not easier, to use than the starter meters. Regards auto technicians, it is okay for testing battery draw, unless perhaps you have a major fault or try to start the engine with the meter still hooked up.
In addition, there are useful extras, such as a carry case that will hold the meter, probe leads and thermocouple set.
Mastech MS8264 – best multimeter under 50
With the Mastech MS8264 review, we have a multimeter suited to those looking for a backup. It will stand up in many fields, including HVAC, linesman, automotive and property maintenance. Industrial electricians should avoid this however, as it doesn’t have the required input protection for heavier work. Beginners may also struggle with the manual ranging dial.
Bottom line: although okay for light duties, you’d probably be better off going for the MS8268 which has auto ranging, more functions and a better display. It is also around the same price.
In industrial settings, equipment technicians and engineers use multimeters to build, refurbish, or repair machinery. In a setting where replacing a single piece of equipment can cost a company millions of dollars, it is important to be able to check a circuit for completeness, assess the voltage coming from a power source, find any faults in a circuit, and test the continuity of a power flow.
At home a multimeter, has a similar role, just on a smaller scale. You can use the top multimeters to:
- Check batteries in electronic devices, your automobile, or motorcycle home.
- Test fuses.
- Check the power supply and voltage from an alternating current or direct current source.
- Measure the resistance in a current(Ohms).
- Check bulbs and lighting fixtures.
- Check for breaks in current within the wiring in your home.
- Check for short circuits
What To Look For In A Multimeter
You should invest in a multimeter that is going to be up to the task you are most commonly going to ask of it. While that is a very ambiguous statement, it is the truest measure of which multimeter is suited to you. Are you going to be measuring circuits that put out a lot of amperes? Then safety is a major concern. Are you simply looking to check out an occasional circuit? Then the best digital multimeter for the money, may be your top concern. Once you have determined your expected usage range, then you can concentrate on the attributes of a variety of multimeters.
Those attributes should encompass many things, but minimally they should include: ease of use, especially for a novice; price; accuracy (digital units can be more accurate than analog by about 5 percent); versatility in measurement. Along the lines of versatility, most home hobbyists will want a unit that offers auto ranging, dB ratings, adjustable sample rating, triggering and data acquisition. If you need additional features, nice options such as a removable data storage, transistor testing, auto continuity, and temperature can come into play. Of all these features, auto ranging may be the most important. This feature allows you to select a wide range of voltages so you can easily and quickly switch from looking for a computer malfunction to testing a complex wiring system, then on to another task without having to calibrate or change multimeters.
On the surface, it may seem that the design and quality of the display is a trivial detail, but it will have a major impact on how easy a multimeter is to use. Many digital multimeter reviews point to the need for an LCD backlight for use in low light areas. While a backlight is of huge importance for professionals, it is not quite as key for home use. What is key under any circumstances is to have a display monitor that is large enough to be read easily.
The Fluke has a large display that is easy to read with a white backlight for those enclosed areas.
The INNOVA 3340 Automotive Digital Multimeter has a large display that is similar in size to the Fluke 115. This unit is marketed toward the automotive industry and is not backlit.
The display screen of the Amprobe AM-530 is the exact same size as that of the INNOVA 3340. It does have a backlight and a built in flashlight. The flashlight feature allows you to verify wire colors and see more clearly when working in electrical boxes.
Klein Tools designed the MM1000 Electrician’s Multimeter with the professional in mind. The large backlit display is easy to read under any number of circumstances. The backlight is bright enough to help relieve some lowlight situations.
The Mastech MS8264 offers a backlit LCD display for easy use under a wide variety of circumstances.
Controls And Settings
The best digital multimeter must have a wide variety of controls and settings so that it can meet all of your needs. You will want a multimeter with auto shutoff, data logging, temperature measurement, and min/max/peak hold features at a minimum. The best digital multimeter for the money you spend will offer every feature that you can imagine needing on a regular basis.
The Fluke is able to handle a DC ma range of 200ma to 1A; checks continuity, frequency, capacitance, and offers a diode test; measures 20 A for 30 seconds and 10 A continuously; has an operating temperature range of -10 degrees to +60 degrees Celsius; and has built in overload protection.
The INNOVA is designed to specifically test alternator diodes, duty cycle, solenoids, breaker points, wiring, switches, etc. To ensure that is performs all of those functions, it features a temperature probe, inductive RPM clamp, auto-ranging, auto shut-off, over-load protection, and test lead holders for hands-free use, a key feature when testing while the motor is running.
The Amprobe is able to test voltage up to 600V AC/DC, AC/DC; can test for current, resistance and frequency, has a true RMS feature; test for capacitance; includes an audible continuity feature; has non-contact voltage detection; a built-in flashlight; as well as diode and duty cycle test features for for troubleshooting.
The Klein Tools offers a bar graph instantly responds to changes; true RMS; min/max/relative reading for easy troubleshooting; able to test 10.00A AC/DC, up to 1000.00 VAC and VDC; can test up to 1.0 Mhz frequency; and tests conductor resistance up to 40.00 Ohm all with an auto-ranging feature.
The Mastech offers an SMT application; a 1999 count display; automatic function and symbol indication; diode testing; continuity testing; auto power-off; data hold; and a backlight.
Why is safety compliance important with a multimeter? Voltage is voltage after all, isn’t it? That might be true if it weren’t for the oft times unpredictable nature of electrical currents. Engineers have discovered that failed multimeters were frequently subjected to higher voltage than the user believed they were measuring. Another issue is momentary high-voltage spikes or transients. Protection from these transients must be built into the multimeter. The International Electrotechnical Commission(IEC) has developed international safety standards for electrical test equipment. The current standard is IEC 1010 for the highest level of safety. There are four categories within IEC 1010. Denoted with Roman numerals I through IV, the higher the number, the higher the electrical load the equipment can withstand. Additionally, if you purchase a multimeter that is rated for loads heavier than you require, it may not be sensitive enough to detect the lower loads that are key to your work.
The Fluke complies with IEC category III for 600 volts. That means you can test distribution, including single-phase commercial lighting, equipment, and appliances with a short connection to service entrance.
The INNOVA is UL-listed for 10 Ohm. It is not in compliance with an IEC category and should only be used for automotive testing.
The Amprobe is in complaiance with IEC category II 1000V and category III 600V.
The Klein Tools is in compliance with IEC category III 1000V and category IV 600V.
The Mastech conforms to IEC category II 1000V and category III 600V.
One of the most important aspects of finding the best digital multimeter for the money is its sensitivity range. If you are dealing with industrial equipment, you will not need to be able to detect low levels of current. If you are mainly working with electronics, you do not need to detect large current levels. Knowing what the main use of your multimeter will be could save you quite a bit of money on the initial purchase. It could also prevent you from having to buy additional units in the future. There are many ways to measure a multimeter’s sensitivity range, eight to be exact. We are only giving the known ranges for AC/DC voltage in this review. Further details can be found on the website of each unit’s manufacturer.
The Fluke can measure between 0.1 mV AC/DC up to 600V AC/DC.
The INNOVA can measure up to 15 amps and has an impedance of 10 MegOhm to prevent damage to sensitive computer equipment.
The Amprobe is able to measure AC/DC voltage between 400mV and 600V.
The Klein Tools is able to accurately measure voltage between 2V and 1000V AC/DC.
The Mastech is able to measure AC/DC voltage between 2V and 1000V.
Another important aspect of a multimeter’s sensitivity range, is its accuracy when measuring. Our digital multimeter reviews would not be complete without mentioning this all important feature. Each of the multimeters reviewed has an accuracy rating that falls between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent depending on what aspect you are measuring. Another factor that is key to accuracy is RMS(root mean square). True RMS(TRMS) is the conversion of the sinusoidal AC signal to the displayed value. TRMS meters will cost more, but measure more accurately even when they are reading irregular waveforms like square, sawtooth, and/or rectified.
Analog vs. Digital Monitor
At one time, analog monitors were the only option available. As with every piece of technology, multimeters have evolved. The digital monitor has been a key upgrade within the electrical testing niche. The digital monitor has made multimeters more suitable for handheld use and offer a more accurate reading than many analog units. Still, it may be important to explore the precise reasons for needing each type of multimeter before moving on to the units we are reviewing.
Analog multimeters offer a few variances that digital multimeters may not. Among them are: personal preference, peaking adjustments, fast moving changes and trends in a circuit, as well as having a low impedance compared to the high impedance of a digital multimeter. This low impedance is a drawback when measuring electronic circuits. On the other hand, low impedance is key to detecting the stray or ghost voltages between de-energized wires and adjacent energized wires. Analog meters will load a circuit and completely drain a circuit, rendering it safe to work on. Digital multimeters will not read these ghost voltages.
To solve the low impedance issue, some digital multimeters have a setting on their rotary switch labeled LoZ for low impedance measurement of AC voltage, others have an accessory to do the same job. All of the multimeters we are reviewing here have digital displays, but not all of them offer the LoZ setting for measuring electronics. Often because they are designed for heavier loads or offer an accessory for the job.
The Fluke does not have the LoZ setting.
Designed specifically for automotive technicians, the INNOVA 3340 does offer low impedance to ensure the integrity of automotive computer circuitry.
The Amprobe does not offer the LoZ setting.
The Klein Tools does not offer an LoZ setting.
The Mastech with Temperature Measurement does not offer the LoZ setting, either.
Unfortunately, it seems as if none of the multimeters listed here would qualify as the best multimeter for electronics.
Which Is The Best Multimeter
As we wrap up our multimeter reviews and comparisons, we have a small conundrum. There are two multimeters that would be considered the best, but for different reasons. Overall, the Fluke 115 Compact True-RMS Digital Multimeter is the best digital multimeter on our list. It offers the greatest testing range and the vast majority of features that buyers could want. It also offers great customer service and a warranty. The high price tag can be daunting, but the extra money is worth it.
For the bargain hunter, the best digital multimeter on our list may well be the Klein Tools MM1000 Electrician’s Multimeter. Yes, it is more expensive than the Mastech MS8264, but it offers a wider range of testing and fewer aggravations from the warm-up period and is more compact.
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