A multimeter is a valuable tool for anyone dealing with electronics. Many hobbyists have their own needs for a digital multimeter, but choosing a new multimeter to buy is no easy task. To help you in your buying decisions, I have listed four different models of digital multimeters that are popular among hobbyists and DIY-ers.
To see which one makes the most sense for you as an electronics hobbyist, I will briefly introduce each model before I outline the pros and cons. All the multimeters in this comparison article are available under $50 and have been used by hobbyists and DIY-ers for years.
|Solid range for a multimeter in the price category.|
|Colored LED lights make battery checks incredibly easy.|
Klein Tools MM400
|Rugged feel and build that will last a long time|
Craftsman 34 – 82141
|Easy on a small budget|
Mastech MS8268 Autoranging 4000 Counts Digital Multimeter
The Mastech MS8268 is an auto-ranging multimeter that will delight many hobbyists. It comes with neat features that help guide inexperienced users, such as lead sockets that will light up until the leads are all the way in, and an audible and visible warning when the jacks are inserted for a different function than is currently selected. It measures up to 1000V in AC or DC, and allows for all other standard tests you expect in a digital multimeter.
Although it doesn’t have a rugged feel of industrial multimeters, it feels very sturdy for a household tool, and delivers quality and performance that holds up to more expensive meters when limited to use around the house. The readings are accurate and it comes with all the features you’d expect in a multimeter in this class. Another nice feature is that you can store the leads flat against the back of the multimeter. This keeps everything tidy when you’re putting your multimeter away.
However, the readings are fairly slow. For some tests, it will take a few seconds for the readings to come in. When you’re working with tiny objects, this can be frustrating. Sometimes it can take the meter a while to ‘warm up’ as it were, and give reliable readings. When you’re looking for a fast multimeter that can be used in an instant, the Mastech MS8268 shouldn’t be your first choice.
- Solid range for a multimeter in the price category
- Good quality readings
- Tidy design that doesn’t take up a lot of space
- Great choice for beginners with audible feedback to prevent mistakes
- Readings can be slow
Innova 3320 Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter
The Innova 3320 is one of the heavy weights among the digital multimeters, weighing in at over a pound. It is also considerably larger than most other multimeters, but comes with a protective guard that keeps it from breaking when you drop it. The autorange function works really well and the readings are precise; the Innova will measure AC and DC up to 600 Volts.
It also comes with a specific battery load test, which is not readily available on other multimeters. Color-coded LED lights help make a snap judgment about the battery tests, where green, yellow, and red make for very quick checks that anyone can execute. The giant screen makes results very easy to read and the Innova 3320 also comes with a wrist wrap that allows for hands-free testing. Finally, the multimeter also offers reverse polarity protection, and is UL certified.
Some of the downsides of this digital multimeter are the probes. They’re don’t feel high quality and aren’t as reliable as comparable products. You have to really touch the tip of the probes to get the right reading, which may not work as well in every situation. Overall, the meter feels cheaper than other multimeters in the category, and is not as durable. The plastic clips on the side of the meter that are supposed to hold the probes are flimsy and don’t add anything to the meter. When it comes to the readings themselves, the Innova 3320 holds up well in any test.
- Colored LED lights make battery checks incredibly easy
- UL certified and reverse polarity protection
- Comes with a wrist wrap
- Poor quality leads
- Feels cheaper than comparable multimeters
Klein Tools MM400 Auto Ranging Digital Multimeter
The Klein MM400 is by far the most expensive multimeter in this test, but one of the smaller and lighter ones. It also offers a few unique features that are missing on the other multimeters, such as the ability to measure temperature and a CAT-III rating. It’s built more ruggedly than the other meters and is clearly made to last in a working environment. The Klein MM400 measures up to 600V in AC or DC, and offers the standard tests that you expect in a digital multimeter.
It is also the one multimeter that extends its intended use beyond the household. The backlight on the LED screen makes the readings easy to see, and the continuity test has both a light and a beeper, which makes using it in a noisy environment a lot more effective. It stores the probes neatly on the back of the meter, which makes the meter nice and compact to carry around.
The readout can be a bit difficult to read, which is a common problem with multimeters, but something to consider when your demands include reading the measurements from above. Another quirk I found with this multimeter is that the button for the backlight doesn’t work like any of the other buttons. The backlight button is the only one that you need to hold for a full second before it turns on.
Other than these minor drawbacks, the Klein MM400 is a great multimeter that justifies its price with a great accuracy, excellent build quality, and CAT-III rating. It doesn’t have the range of capacities of more expensive and advanced meter, but overdelivers on what it does promise.
- Rugged feel and build that will last a long time
- High quality engineering
- CAT-III rating
- Includes temperature probe
- More expensive than comparable multimeters
- Screen can be hard to read from some angles
Craftsman 34 – 82141 Digital Multimeter
The Craftsman 34 – 82141 is the smallest multimeter that’s discussed in this article. It easily fits in your pocket and weighs too little to bother you as you work on other things. It has a big enough 2000 count display but is the only model we’ve discussed that doesn’t offer an auto-ranging function. With those things in mind, the Craftsman is the most basic model in this article.
It does what it needs to but doesn’t come with the before-mentioned autoranging feature, so it might be a little harder to use for absolute beginners. At the same time, the accuracy of the readings is impressive, and the Craftsman 34 – 82141 doesn’t round its numbers like some other multimeters do.
The most obvious downside of this multimeter is the lack of a backlight. When you’re working in less-than-optimal conditions, a backlight can be a very important feature, and if you can’t work without one, don’t rely on the Craftsman.
This really is the most basic multimeter discussed in this test, and this holds true for all of its features. It doesn’t have extra tests, doesn’t have a backlight, and misses an auto-ranging feature that the other multimeters have. On the other hand, it is smaller, cheaper, and lighter than the other models and does what it needs to do just as well.
- Small design makes it easy to fit in your pocket
- Easy on a small budget
- Lacks an autoranging feature
- Screen has no backlight
Much of picking a multimeter is knowing what you want to get out of it. If you’re looking for a basic multimeter that doesn’t cost more than it has to and gives you the occasional reading, the Craftsman is perfect for you. On the other end of the scale is the Klein MM400, which is more expensive, more extensive, and meant to be used more regularly and in more demanding situations.
In between those two extremes, the Innova and the Mastech offer their own features. The Innova has a lower range than the Mastech and isn’t built as ruggedly. Its quick battery reading feature might make the difference for someone who foresees using it a lot, but the Mastech comes out of this showdown as the winner.
For the electronics hobbyist, your best call is the Mastech MS8268 if you work with electronics occasionally. Others might pick the Klein MM400 if they expect to use it more than just every now and then. For those who can’t justify spending much on a multimeter but still need one, the Craftsman is a good meter for a low price that does what it needs to.