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 electronics for years.
|Solid range for a multimeter in the price category.||Check Price on Amazon.com|
|Colored LED lights make battery checks incredibly easy.||Check Price on Amazon.com|
Klein Tools MM400
|Rugged feel and build that will last a long time||Check Price on Amazon.com|
Craftsman 34 – 82141
|Easy on a small budget||Check Price on Amazon.com|
Best Multimeter for Electronics Hobbyist
Here are individual reviews of the best multimeters for electronics hobbyists:
Mastech MS8268 Autoranging 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, this model is one of the best options in category – “best multimeter for beginners”
- 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 (very good multimeter model from home use). 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 multimeter 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 3320 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 in a lower price range that does what it needs to.
What are multimeters used for?
We use multimeters for measuring and testing various properties of various objects. The area of multimeter applicability is truly enormous. Multimeters are divided by their purpose.
We have standard multimeters designed for technicians. These multimeters are most common. Basic multimeter functions are voltage, capacitance, and amperage. All multimeters have those functions except multimeters designed for beginners. These multimeters sometimes can’t measure amperage.
Basic multimeters are used in combination with two standard multimeter probes. The user is required to plug those probes in the multimeter on the lower front side.
Then we have multimeters that are used in ‘Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning’ area. Air conditioning technicians and plumbers use those types of multimeters. Such multimeters usually have additional functions like temperature measuring and sometimes non-contact voltage testing function alongside the essential multimeter functions.
When measuring HVAC specific functions with multimeters of this type, one is to use particular probes that are designed for those functions. This rule only applies to the temperature function on all multimeters except industrial multimeters. For example, if a user is to measure temperature, he will need to use thermal probes. If a user is to measure essential functions, like voltage, he is to use standard multimeter test leads.
The third multimeter type is called an ‘automotive multimeter,’ and it is used for testing various car properties. Most common and most important features when it comes to this type of multimeters are a rotations-per-minute function, continuity testing function, non-contact voltage testing and voltage testing. RPM function is used to test if the engine is performing optimally, the continuity function can be used for testing the tachometer, and the voltage function is used for car battery testing.
Almost all multimeters except the cheapest models have safety features like inbuilt fuses, blast shields, and safety certificates.
The pricier the multimeter is, it is safer to use, and it has more added protection.
What do multimeter symbols mean?
The manufacturer writes multimeter functions symbols around the dial and buttons of the multimeter because they serve the purpose of saving time and energy for the user so that he won’t have to read words, but will instead merely see the symbol and know what the purpose of the selected setting is.
Since you are probably confused by the variety of symbols, I will now describe them and write what they mean. Multimeter symbols are separated into specific subsections that users can easily differentiate by finding a universal symbol. For example, the symbols for voltage functions are written as a capital letter V in combination with other symbols. If a tilde is beside the capital V, that function is for AC voltage measuring.
You can see a straight line and an intermittent line beneath it with a capital V on the side for the DC voltage measuring function. The symbol mV is used for emphasizing the millivolt measuring function. ‘A’ means amperage measuring. If an ‘A’ has an ‘m’ beside it, this signifies the milliamperes function.
A Greek letter omega symbolizes the resistance measuring function while the symbol that is very similar to the wifi symbol signifies the continuity measuring function. A ‘T’ flipped on the right on the left and an arrow flipped to the left on the right side symbol is used to signify the capacitance function. Thermometer symbolizes the temperature measuring function. If it has an ‘F’ or a ‘C’ beside it, the multimeter can measure either in degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit, or both, if you press the button for alternating between functions.
Hz symbol is short for ‘Hertz’ which is a physics symbol for frequency.
Symbols for multimeter functions can be quite confusing, but I hope that this answer has brought a little clarity to you.
What can multimeters measure?
Basic multimeters designed for technicians can measure capacitance, resistance, continuity and some can measure amperage. Only the output of the continuity setting varies from the multimeter to multimeter.
Some multimeters have visual indicators of continuity, either in the form of an LED that lights up or signs on the screen of the multimeter. However, the existence of continuity is most often signalized by a beeping sound signal because it is easiest to detect.
Some specialized multimeters for users in HVAC fields can measure temperature and moisture.
Multimeters that are designed for automotive use are designed to be able to measure rotations per minute, sometimes temperature and frequency. Automotive multimeters also possess the ability to measure essential multimeter functions like voltage, for example, in increments that are suited to the automotive field of work. For example, a voltage function in an automotive multimeter is designed to be able to measure car battery life in values that are more precise than they would have been if the user had used a standard multimeter and conducted the measurement with it.
Multimeters are also useful in finding faults within existing systems where it is difficult to pinpoint the exact problem. Such operations don’t have a set function. It is instead necessary to use multiple functions to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem. For example, if there is a broken lead on the circuit, it would be obvious that something is wrong when I would start testing some function of the circuit, for example, resistance. After I noticed that, I would set the multimeter to continuity mode and test the circuit, part by part.
After I placed the probes between the broken part, the continuity buzzer would not work, and it would be evident that there is a problem with some part of the circuit. I would then replace the broken part and test the circuit again to see if everything is fine.
How to choose a multimeter?
Multimeters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so it can be challenging to choose the right model for you. Pinpointing what you need as narrow as possible will help you to decide which multimeter is the best one for you.
First of all, you should decide whether you want to get a basic model for technicians, an automotive model, designed for car mechanics, or HVAC model, designed for plumbers and HVAC technicians.
Once you make a decision that fits your field of expertise, you can start to pinpoint the exact type of multimeter that you require. If you need high precision, you should get the RMS or True RMS multimeter. Although multimeters with the True RMS feature are somewhat pricier, the gain in accuracy overpowers the adverse effects of the price.
If you don’t like calibrating your multimeter, you can always get a factory calibrated model. Such multimeters appear in the mid to high price ranges.
If you plan on working with high voltages, safety is imperative. Look for fused multimeters, if possible, with two or more fuses.
Multimeters that cost lower than one hundred dollars don’t always come with high-quality ceramic fuses, so it can pay off to replace them and save no money when choosing better fuses. Safety certificates are also essential when it comes to buying a multimeter that will serve you for a very long time.
If you are looking for a multimeter with a legitimate CAT III or CAT IV certificates, don’t look at multimeters that cost lower than fifty dollars. When it comes to safe multimeters, Fluke’s models are the best.
The last feature when it comes to safety is the rubber shell that envelopes the multimeter. This feature is primarily designed to protect your multimeter if it falls, but when I am buying multimeters, I always try to pick out the models that have thick shells, because it will stop the shrapnel in case that the multimeter overloads and it will protect you from electric charge.
Why are digital multimeters more accurate than analog multimeters?
A digital multimeter has a screen that displays values up to a certain decimal point, while analog multimeters show results that move the pin overwritten values, similar to the way in which a car tachometer works. On a more profound level, digital multimeters have certain enhancements that enable them to calculate results with more precision. Some of these enhancements are based on technology that can be found in the handheld calculator, but more refined, to suit the needs of the technicians.
Multimeters are usually not accurate when first bought and require calibration, but you can find more on that in an answer to the following question. If precision is an important quality to the buyer of the multimeter, some higher grade multimeters come with a function called the RMS function.
The CAT III or CAT IV certificates
This is a statistical function that follows and remembers all the results in a set and divides them to get the arithmetic mean. The arithmetic mean is then displayed as a result that is most likely to be accurate. For example, if you have an oscillating value and you can’t find a specific, precise result because it the displayed result keeps changing from second to second, the RMS function takes the mean value and display it as a result.
Some RMS multimeters calculate previous RMS values of the same set to improve the accuracy of the result further. If you require even higher accuracy, you should get the multimeter with the True RMS function. Such a multimeter can measure even more precisely because it is capable of further improving the RMS results by utilizing the sinusoidal and nonsinusoidal wave in the final result.
True RMS is preferred due to this because sinusoidal and nonsinusoidal waves are often necessary to accurately describe electrical appearances.
Why does a multimeter need to be calibrated?
A multimeter needs to be calibrated because it will otherwise not display accurate results. Calibrating a multimeter is usually straightforward, and you can pay a technician to do it for you in a store where you bought the multimeter if you don’t like doing it yourself.
Multimeters that cost more are also more accurate and can, therefore, be calibrated to greater precision. Some manufacturers, like Fluke, sell models of the multimeters that are factory calibrated. Such multimeters don’t need to be calibrated, but the downside of that is that these models usually cost a lot more than the models that an average buyer needs.
Factory calibrated multimeters are usually multimeters designed for industrial usage or multimeters with basic functions.
To calibrate a multimeter, you need an accurate power source that displays values of the type of property you are calibrating, or a power source that doesn’t have that feature, but you will need to have an accurate, already calibrated multimeter instead.
It is also highly recommended to use battery powered energy sources since accidents can happen if you power your energy source on the city grid. Besides, you don’t need much energy for successful calibration of your multimeter. You should then turn the power source on and put the probes of your multimeter on the power source.
All that’s left for you to do then is to compare the output on the screen of the power source with that displayed on the screen of your multimeter.
If you don’t have a display on the power source, put the probes of the already calibrated multimeter on the energy source alongside the uncalibrated multimeter.
Be careful that you don’t short circuit your multimeters and compare the results from the calibrated multimeter to the results displayed on the uncalibrated multimeter’s screen.
When you detect a difference in the results, turn the calibration screw that is usually located on the inside of the multimeter carefully until the values align.