With the current DIY/Maker movement in full swing, one thing that almost all of us need is a good Multi-meter. When shopping for one, it was decided right away that a good entry-level multimeter for beginners had to be:
- under $50
Why these 3 criteria?
Digital for high precision, Auto-ranging to eliminate the need to switch the dial every time something changed, and $50 maximum to keep this within the budget of most DIY’ers/Makers like you and me. (As an aside, the requirement for an Auto-ranging feature also makes the minimum around $20.)
After perusing Amazon, it was discovered that 8 models fit this criteria. The biggest problem was that all 8 of them reviewed really well typically averaging between 4.4 and 4.7 stars.
The customer reviews were okay for getting a feel of each model, but they were so inconsistent that there was no way to compare and contrast one model with the next. So one of each was purchased and immediately we began the going over of the models while poking and prodding each one.
Of subtlety and nuance
This review is going to focus a lot on the subtle and nuanced things that each Digital Multimeter (DMM) does. As each model was tried out, it was observed that there were certain variations between models. For example, all models had a continuity test feature, but each model responded slightly differently than the next. In each case, we attempted to quantify these nuances into more discrete measurements such that things could be more comparable. Not everything is quantifiable, so in some cases, more verbose descriptions were required.
Major features of DMMs (which may be confusing)
Before going into the details of each unit, it seemed important to address certain major “features” that are advertised on most of the units. And I use the word “features” lightly as in some cases it is more marketing than anything else.
On the packaging of almost all the units is the word “counts” with a number next to it (sometimes shown as “LCD counts”.) Common values are 2000, 4000, 6000, etc. And if you didn’t know any better, you might look at one model and another model and say, “well, this one has 4000 counts and this only has 2000 counts, so the 4000 count model MUST be better.” And of course, that’s what the manufacturers are hoping.