​The digital multimeter is one of the most important tools in the electronics professional’s and electronics hobbyist’s toolbox, so much so in fact that the electronics aficionado usually has more than one. However, digital multimeters are used not only by electronics ​enthusiasts but also by other professionals​ such as car mechanics and electricians, who often have slightly ​different needs with respect to multimeter specifications. As a consequence, the humble digital multimeter comes in a variety of different flavours ​which cater to the needs of ​different professions. ​Therefore the electronics ​hobbyist needs to know beforehand what specifications are appropriate for electronics work, and what he or she should be looking for when buying a digital multimeter. So what's the best multimeter for electronics work and what should ​a newly-minted electronics hobbyist be looking for in their new digital multimeter? Let's try to answer those questions.

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​Probably one of the best ways to choose a digital multimeter for electronics work is to ​follow the advice ​of electronics ​experts who have spent years working ​around electronics and with multimeters of ​many kinds. Today, one of the best electronics gurus out there is Dave Jones from EEVblog. Fortunately, he has provided us with his expert opinion on this very subject in an excellent video ​detailing practically all the characteristics ​to look out for when trying to choose the best multimeter for an electronics hobbyist​:

​As you can see from the (somewhat lengthy!) video there are a large number of characteristics to watch out for when purchasing a digital multimeter for electronics, ​making it ​hard to keep track of them all when going through potential multimeter candidates. So to make it a little easier on us, below you will find a summary of the essential points raised by Dave, ​that electronics hobbyists ​and even electronics professionals should find useful.


​Brand name

Ideally the electronics hobbyist, and certainly the electronics professional, should get a ‘brand-name’ digital multimeter (DMM). This is because established DMM companies have a reputation to uphold and so produce good quality meters. Unfortunately however, better quality ​is usually synonymous with 'more expensive' but for electronics professionals and serious amateurs alike, getting a good quality meter is a must. Some of the more established digital multimeter brands are listed below (however, the list is not exhaustive): 

  • ​Fluke
  • ​Agilent
  • ​Gossen Metrawatt
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    ​Extech
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    ​Amprobe (owned by Fluke)
  • ​Protech
  • ​Ideal
  • ​BK Precision
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    ​Yokogawa
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    ​Hioki

​​Auto-ranging or manual-ranging

  • ​Here the choice is a simple one:  go for an auto-ranging digital multimeter since DMMs with auto-ranging cost about the same as DMMs with manual-ranging and the former is a lot less of a hassle to use and is more efficient when it comes to making measurements.
  • The auto-ranging feature should also have a manual control override button so that you can fix readings to a specific range if the need arises.
  • ​Finally, auto-ranging speeds need to be relatively quick so as not to excessively annoy the user - any multimeter that takes more than a second to auto-range is taking too long and should be avoided.

​Parameter ranges

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    ​Voltage:
    ​- The digital multimeter should be able to measure both AC voltage and DC voltage.
    ​- F​or both AC and DC voltage, t​he digital multimeter should be capable of ​measuring millivolts (eg. 200mV) up to approximately 1000V.
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    ​Resistance:
    ​- For electronics work, the ​digital multimeter should be capable of measuring from about 200Ω up to a minimum of 20MΩ, and higher if possible.
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    Current:
    ​- For both AC and DC ranges: the ​digital multimeter should be able to measure in both the microAmp (µA) range as well as in the milliAmp (mA) and Amp (A) ranges.
    ​- The amperage measurement upper limit of the ​digital multimeter should be at least 10-20A.
    ​- ​Less expensive multimeters will often have a combined ‘VΩmA’ terminal (image below left) - this is not recommended. For safety reasons, it is preferred that the current (µA / mA / A) terminals are separate from voltage and resistance (VΩ) terminal (image below right).

​Multimeter with ​combined µA/mA and VΩ terminals

​Multimeter with separate mA and VΩ terminals

​Input impedance

​The ​digital multimeter should have at least 10MΩ input impedance to prevent it from significantly changing the voltage measured across high resistance components.

​Safety fuses

  • ​The high amperage (eg.10A) range MUST be fused otherwise this can present a serious safety hazard! Good meters will also have the milliAmp (mA) range fused as well.
  • The fuses used in the meter should be of the High Rupture Capacity (HRC)-type to reduce potential damage to the meter and to the ​operator in the unfortunate event that ​a fuse blows.
  • NB: ​Digital multimeters without a fuse or with sub-standard fuses should only be used in simple battery powered circuits (eg. those powered off an AA or 9V battery). They should never be used on mains electricity nor other high voltage circuits.

​Diode measuring function

  • ​Almost all meters are fitted with a diode measuring function.
  • However, not all diode measuring functions are created equal as they can vary in the maximum test voltage that they will measure.
  • In general, a ​digital multimeter with a maximum test voltage of 4V is good enough for electronics work but an even higher upper limit for the test voltage is always preferred.

​Continuity function

  • ​The Continuity function is used a lot in electronics.
  • First of all, there are some cheaper ​digital multimeters that produce ‘scratchy’ sounds even when probes are in full contact - this is not ideal!
  • ​In addition, there are two main types of continuity function that are common in ​digital multimeters - They can either have a: ​
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    ​Slow latching time: this leads to a slight delay in the beep when a continuous circuit is detected. In general, one should avoid this type of ​digital multimeter as it is not only annoying but can also prevent you from doing certain useful measuring techniques such as quickly swiping across the individual legs of an integrated circuit while checking continuity.
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    ​Fast latching time: this means that a beep is sounded almost instantaneously upon touching of the probes to a continuous circuit. This is the type of continuity function that one wants in their ​digital multimeters.

​Battery and fuse access

​Better ​digital multimeters will provide easy access (usually a bespoke door) to the battery that powers it, as well as the fuses that protect it.

​Long battery life

  • ​Some (usually brand name and more expensive) digital multimeters (DMMs) have been designed to use battery power more efficiently. In general, DMMs fall into the following broad categories with respect to battery ​life:
            - Best high-end DMMs:     1000 hr
            - Good DMMs:                    300 - 500 hr
            - Poor DMMs:                     100 hr or less
  • ​Electronics ​hobbyists should be aiming for a DMM that falls into the 300 - 500 hr battery life range.

​Input jacks

  • In general, ​digital multimeters have one of two types of input jack:
            1. A metal jacket with a split : these tend to wear out more quickly (although some higher quality meters use this type but are specifically designed to be hard-wearing and long-lasting).
            2. A solid metal jacket: these tend to be on higher-end ​digital multimeters as they are more robust and longer lasting.
  • ​In the interests of safety, the input jacks on ​digital multimeters should also be of the shrouded type so that you cannot accidentally touch the metal contact (in addition, the probes’ banana plugs should also be shrouded).
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​Capacitance measuring function

  • ​In general, the lower the capacitance measuring range of the digital multimeter (DMM), the better it is for electronics work:
            ​- Less expensive DMMs will only be able to measure capacitance down to the hundreds of microFarads (µF).
            - Medium-range DMMs will normally be able to measure down to a couple of nanoFarads (nF).
            - High-end DMMs will be able to measure capacitance in the picoFarads (pF) range.
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    ​One thing to remember is that measuring capacitance using any ​digital multimeter is not particularly accurate and one ​should expect that a good meter will be only ~ 1-2% accurate.
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    ​In addition, some meters have separate terminals for testing capacitors. This is fine for low voltage capacitors, however, this presents a safety hazard when measuring high voltage capacitors and as a consequence higher-end DMMs will ​never have separate capacitor testing terminals.

​Relative measurement feature

​This feature is found on some ​digital multimeters and is useful in that it allows the ​meter to compensate for the internal resistance of the probes themselves (and their wires) which might skew readings slightly. It can also be used to measure a change in the voltage from a reference value.

​Min-max button

​This allows the operator to set the ​digital multimeter so that it records the minimum and maximum values that are observed during a measurement.

​Hold function

​This feature freezes the readings on the meter so that the user does not have to constantly see the display screen, ​and holds the reading even after the probes are removed. There are 2 types of Hold function that are available on today’s consumer ​digital multimeters:
        1. Auto-hold which is found in the higher-end ​digital multimeters, and automatically freezes the reading when the measurement has been made usually ​at the same time as sounding a beep. This is the (much) preferred option!
        2. Manual-hold which is found on less expensive multimeters, which requires the operator to push ​a manual hold button to freeze the reading when taking a measurement. This is often difficult to operate since the operator’s hands are usually occupied with holding the probes during a measurement, making it hard to press the hold button!

​Temperature measurement

​This feature is often found on ​digital multimeters and usually comes with a separate thermocouple probe.

​Clear display with big digits

​This can make taking readings much easier and the display can also be seen from far if necessary.

​Evenly-lit backlight

​This allows for use of the ​digital multimeter in low-light conditions.

​CAT III-rating

  • ​​Digital multimeters should be CAT III-rated as it can protect the meter (and ​the operator) from high energy circuits like mains electricity.
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    Less expensive ​digital multimeters will often be labelled with a ‘CAT II-rating’. However, the CAT II-rating on these cheaper multimeters can often not be trusted since less scrupulous manufacturers will often use the label irrespective of whether the devices are truly CAT II-rated or not.
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    In addition, the probes themselves should also be rated for CAT III. They should also have finger guards to protect the user from accidentally touching any bare metal.

​Accuracy

  • ​DC voltage (VDC) is the primary parameter to check when looking at the accuracy ​of a digital multimeter. For the average electronics user, ±0.5% accuracy on a 2000 count multimeter is good even for electronics professionals. For higher count meters, the accuracy should increase correspondingly (see the 'Counts' section below).
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    Resistance (Ω) is the second parameter to look at, and its accuracy should be close to the accuracy of the DC voltage.
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    Current (µA / mA / A) measurement with high accuracy is hard to get in a ​digital multimeter. However, as a general rule, a current accuracy of ±1-1.5% is considered too high and suggests that the ​digital multimeter is not good for electronics work.

​Counts

​When it comes to counts, the more counts there are on a ​digital multimeter, the better the meter, however this should not come at the expense of accuracy which can be checked using the basic formula below. In general, one can expect that a good multimeter will have at least 4000 counts (which according the the table below should have at least a DC voltage accuracy of ±0.25%).

​True RMS and AC bandwidth

  • ​Good professional multimeters (usually labelled with 'True RMS') will actually measure the alternating current (AC) sine wave instead of just assuming it to be perfectly sinusoidal ​providing a more accurate measurement of AC current and AC voltage.
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    AC bandwidth is given in Hertz (Hz) since AC is a sine wave. In general, the higher the frequency range, the better:
            - top-notch ​digital multimeters will have a maximum AC bandwidth of approximately 100 KHz.
            - lesser ​digital multimeters will have a maximum AC bandwidth of 1 KHz - 0.5 KHz.
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    However, AC bandwidth is less critical for the regular everyday-use digital multimeter.

​Display updating speed

​This refers to how often the display is updated when performing a measurement. Obviously the faster the updating, the more closely it will represent the parameter being measured especially if it is changing rapidly. In general:
    - Higher-end ​digital multimeter displays will update around 4 times a second.
    - Less expensive consumer ​digital multimeters will update the display about 2 times a second.
    - For comparison, top-notch professional (and expensive!) Agilent ​digital multimeters will update the display 8 - 15 times a second.

​Low-pass filter

​Digital multimeters with a low-pass filter can be useful when working on motor drives and other noisy circuits as they will filter out a lot of the high frequency noise that is generated within such circuits. However, for a regular everyday-use meter, this feature is not essential.

​Rugged design

​The ​digital multimeter should be relatively robust with features like a rubberised jacket that protect it from rough handling.

​Burden voltage

​If you plan on doing lots of current measurements with your ​digital multimeter, then the burden voltage of the meter (or the voltage drop when you place a meter in series with the circuit ​​for current measurement) should not be more than 1mV per mA.


​Non-essential features of ​digital multimeters for electronics work

​Transistor hFE tester​​​​

​This is a gimmicky feature and often goes unused by electronics professionals and enthusiasts. ​To drive the point home, high-end ​digital multimeters will never have a dedicated ‘Transistor hFE tester’.

​Frequency & Duty cycle

​Another feature that is rarely used on a ​digital multimeter is making frequency and duty cycle measurements. This is because oscilloscopes are ​better suited to performing these functions. However, if the frequency feature is present on ​a ​digital multimeter, then the higher the frequency range, the better, with the hundreds of KiloHertz (KHz) into the several MegaHertz (MHz) ranges being the most likely to be useful.

​Data-logging and Graphing digital multimeters

​These are generally more expensive than the regular ​digital multimeters and the quality of other important features on them are often sacrificed to keep their prices ​reasonable. In addition, these types of multimeters tend to use a lot of battery power​ so do not represent a good everyday-use multimeter.

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