It used to be that people measured whether wires carried electrical current by grabbing stripped leads with bare hands. If they fell over and required immediate medical assistance, odds were good it was still a live circuit. If they could talk and joke around, you took the next step in troubleshooting.
Fortunately, we’ve gotten past that and now can use multimeters where we once used human test subjects. Meters have gotten more sophisticated, too, and are able to measure a number of qualities related to electronic current. Perhaps you’re just getting started as a hobbyist and are wondering which one to buy. We get that. An electronics hobbyist without a meter is like a carpenter without a hammer. Anyone can tell people whatever they want, but no one will take that claim seriously without basic tools. We’ve tested a few for you, and if you don’t like our answers included a handy buyer’s guide at the end to help you make a decision.
|Klein Tools 69149||15 ounces||4.7/5|
|Neoteck Pocket NTK017|
(Best for the Money)
|Innova 3320||11 ounces||4.2/5|
|Elenco M-1250K||4 ounces||4.0/5|
The Fluke 101 is the dog of the electronics hobbyists’ field. We don’t mean the dog that eats your pot roast, chews your shoes and does its mess on your carpet. We mean the one that will stick by you through thick and thin and deliver faithfully each and every time. We had a feeling going into these tests that this would top the field, and nothing we saw told us that was a wrong impression to have.
It measures accurately and precisely. It can also handle powerful currents without dying. It’s also built so sturdily that if nuclear bombs fall, we expect the surviving cockroaches will be troubleshooting their electronics with Fluke multimeters.
What pleased us less was the slow reaction time when testing continuity. The Fluke was so good in every other respect that we expected that it would be so fast as to measure it in reverse time. That is, give us a reading before we touched the probes to the circuit.
And, of course, there is the price. It has to be said again. You are paying for the Kobe beef of multimeters. If you want a multimeter akin to beef you’d feed a neighbor you bear a grudge against, look to a cut-rate butcher shop.
Sometimes we have difficulty piecing off the top of the line from the runner-up. In the case of multimeters, that wasn’t very hard. We liked the Klein Tools 69149. We really did. We just liked the Fluke better, in every respect.
We should note that this isn’t just a multimeter but a toolkit. It has a multimeter, a voltage tester, and a wall outlet tester. If you just need to test outlets, this is even simpler than the Fluke, because you just plug it in. This one also separated itself from the rest of the field in that it can handle more powerful currents than a standard wall.
What it doesn’t have is the accuracy of the Fluke or its bells and whistles. Then again, you pay Fluke prices for Fluke quality. You pay less than Fluke prices if you’re willing to accept less in quality. If you’re looking for Fluke-lite, this is a great choice.
The Neoteck Pocket NTK017 is perfect if you want just a basic multimeter for the home to do basic measurements and that you don’t want to invest in as a professional. It’s affordable, digital so that it’s easy to read and mostly accurate. If you are just looking for something to help out around the house and don’t want to spend money on something with a lot of bells and whistles, this is a great for-dollar choice.
As a basic meter, we liked everything about it. It was simple to hold, uncomplicated to read and the probes were easy to use. And it came at a very affordable price.
What we didn’t like was that it was a great multimeter for basic home use. It’s so simple to be crude. It doesn’t do well at measuring capacitance and won’t go very precise in measuring resistance. If your work requires that you do anything outside basic home tasks then you will want to look at pricier models.
We liked the Innova 3320 as a secondary meter you can take into dirty, damp conditions where imminent failure of your equipment is expected. It’s very affordable compared to other models, and also poorly constructed, there’s good reason to think of it as a disposable multimeter. Use it until it breaks, replace it without shedding a tear and spare your better equipment for more controlled locations where they’ll last longer.
It measured accurately enough, although we found it a bit tricky to actually get the probes to measure. If you didn’t have them in just the precise spot, you’d have to muck around until you did. This makes jobs that require testing lots and lots of wires a nearly unmanageable headache.
It’s also only rated to Category II, which means anything stronger than wall current will likely kill this thing off. But, considering the construction we were already expecting that, weren’t we?
Anyway, the Innova 3320 is cheap to buy, cheap to maintain and cheaply constructed. If you don’t mind exchanging dead ones for ones that work all the time, it might not be a bad investment for you.
If you’re looking for a cheap/inexpensive multimeter, you could read our guide found here.
You can tell the Elenco M-1250K isn’t a serious choice as a multimeter because it warns potential customers that some soldering is required to assemble it. Also, it’s analog, which was cutting edge technology when people still hand-cranked windows up and down.
It was fun to build while reminiscing a bygone age when men put astronauts onto the moon using computers the size of buses and not nearly as powerful as today’s WiFi-capable watches. If you enjoy farting around with soldering guns and don’t want to run the risk of burning your home down while doing it, this is a great little project piece. One of our team is a former Navy sailor, and he said it took him back to his days at sea … in 1995.
As a multimeter, this isn’t one. In fact, the instructions tell you straight up that it’s not terribly accurate measuring resistance. And while analog doesn’t actually automatically mean inaccurate and terrible, in this case, you have to solder it together yourself with no one to stand behind its quality but the person who bought it. That’s just not a good idea.
Buying a multimeter is probably not the most complicated consumer choice you’ll have to make. Most of them do basically all the same things and in big picture term, there’s little daylight between them in price. If the one you choose doesn’t perform like it’s supposed to, there’s little enough money involved that lawyers probably aren’t going to get involved. Still, there are some tips we’d like to share to make sure that you’re getting the most from your money and that you’re getting the right multi-meter for your needs.
The first question is always about you. What do you plan to use this for? This will go a long way to determining which meter you should buy. If you need precision or expect to test high voltage circuits, you’re going to want to look at the meter’s rating. Two of the models we tested you wouldn’t want to use on anything stronger than wall current, while the Fluke 101 and the Klein Tools 69149 were both rated to test stronger currents. You can save a few bucks if you honestly can’t see yourself doing much more than testing batteries or farting around with a Raspberry Pi. In fact, the Neoteck Pocket NTK017 is a perfect choice for you.
What we liked about the Fluke was its ability to deliver precision measurements of resistance several places past the decimal point. This is useful if you’re serious about being a DIY-er where some jobs will require serious attention to precision. You won’t always need this, but it’s a handy thing to have available if you do. In the same way, you might not need to measure capacitance or get good readings on continuity, but again those are helpful to have if you need to. On the other hand, If you’re not all that serious and just want to know when you need to replace a wall outlet or when batteries are about to go bad, those are bells and whistles you maybe don’t want to pay for.
Since digital displays are for the most part function the same way, this is a very polite way of saying analog vs. digital. Analog carries with it a negative connotation because the technology is old. There’s truth to that, but if the meter itself is reading accurately, that’s what matters. What also matters, however, is that the meter communicates this cleanly and accurately to the user. An analog display with its needle isn’t always very easy to read. It requires doing a few calculations in your head. Also, it’s 2019. They’re not even teaching kids to read analog clock displays anymore. Get with the modern age, man.
This leaves out the Elenco M-1250K, which is, in reality, a hobby build in the first place. All the other four models came fully put together and ready to go. The Elenco required assembly and soldering and the manufacturer said it didn’t even measure all that accurately. So, let’s forget we said anything in the first place.
As we said at the beginning, there’s not really a lot of space between the top-of-the-line and the truly forgettable hobbyists’ multimeters. But, the difference does track pretty well with the quality of the product. The Fluke was the most expensive. The Innova 3320 was the cheapest of models we’re willing to consider. Expect quality of construction, accuracy in reading, ease of use and soundness in construction accordingly.
The Fluke 101 was far and away our winner in this field. It delivered in every way that someone would require of a hobbyists’ multimeter. If you’re willing to pay the price, this should set you up for a good long time. The Klein Tools 69149 is really a set of tools, some of which are simpler than the Fluke. It’s also cheaper, but it just doesn’t deliver the Fluke’s quality. If you just need a basic meter for around-the-home use, the Neoteck Pocket NTK017 is a perfect budget choice. We wouldn’t recommend Innova 3320 unless you’re looking for disposable quality, and the Elenco M-1250K is a great model to have fun building, but once done you should set it aside and tell people it’s a museum piece from the 1980s.
We hope you’ve found these reviews helpful in choosing your own home multimeter. And if you didn’t see just the right model for you, we hope you find value in our buyer’s guide. And, as always, we wish you the best in your tool purchases.
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