Best Digital Multimeter for Electronics Work and for the Electronics Hobbyist

The digital multimeter is one of the most important tools in the electronics professional’s and electronics hobbyist’s toolbox, so much so that electronics aficionados usually have 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. Consequently, 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. In it, he details 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. As a result, it can be hard to keep track of them all when going through potential multimeter candidates. So to make it a little easier, below you will find a summary of the essential points raised by Dave, which electronics hobbyists and even electronics professionals should find useful.


What to look for in a digital multimeter for electronics work

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, better quality is usually synonymous with 'more expensive'. However, 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
  • Extech
  • Amprobe (owned by Fluke)
  • Protech
  • Ideal
  • BK Precision
  • Yokogawa
  • Hioki

Looking for a digital multimeter for automotive work? Then, some of the key features to look for in a device are different. Find out how best to choose and use a DMM for your car at www.diyfidelity.com.

Auto-ranging or manual-ranging

  • In this case, the choice is a simple one:  go for an auto-ranging digital multimeter. That's because DMMs with auto-ranging cost about the same as DMMs with manual-ranging. Also, auto-ranging DMMs are a lot less hassle to use and are more efficient when it comes to making measurements.
  • The auto-ranging feature should also have a manual control override button. With the override, 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

  • 1
    Voltage:
    - The digital multimeter should be able to measure both AC voltage and DC voltage.
    - In addition, for both AC and DC voltage, the digital multimeter should be capable of measuring millivolts (eg. 200mV) up to approximately 1000V.
  • 2
    Resistance:
    - For electronics work, the digital multimeter should also be capable of measuring from about 200Ω up to a minimum of 20MΩ, and higher if possible.
  • 3
    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) - this is not recommended. For safety reasons, it is preferred that the current (µA / mA / A) terminals be separate from the voltage and resistance (VΩ) terminal (image below).
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. This is 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. This is to reduce potential damage to the meter and to the operator in the unfortunate event that a fuse blows.
  • NB: You should only use digital multimeters without a fuse or with sub-standard fuses in simple battery-powered circuits (eg. those powered from an AA or 9V battery). You should never use them on mains electricity or 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. That's because they can vary in the maximum test voltage they will measure.
  • In general, a digital multimeter with a maximum test voltage of 4V is good enough for electronics work. However, an even higher upper limit for the test voltage is always preferred.

Continuity function

  • Firstly, you will use a digital multimeter's Continuity function a lot in electronics.
  • Secondly, there are some cheaper digital multimeters that produce ‘scratchy’ sounds even when probes are in full contact. These are not ideal!
  • In addition, there are two main types of continuity function that are common in digital multimeters - They can either have a:
  • 1
    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 executing certain useful measuring techniques. For example, you might want to check the continuity of a mounted integrated circuit by quickly swiping across its individual legs.
  • 2
    Fast latching time: this means that a beep is sounded almost instantaneously upon the 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 through 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) 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
  • Therefore, 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 do 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. This is so that you cannot accidentally touch the metal contact. In addition, the probes’ banana plugs should also be shrouded.

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.
  • Another thing to remember is that measuring capacitance using any digital multimeter is not particularly accurate. Therefore, you should expect that a good meter will be only ~ 1-2% accurate.
  • 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. Consequently, higher-end DMMs will never have separate capacitor testing terminals.

Relative measurement feature

Some digital multimeters can compensate for the internal resistance of the probes themselves (and their wires). That's because most probes will skew some measurements slightly. You can also use this feature to measure a change in voltage from a reference value.

Min-max button

This allows you to set the digital multimeter so that it records the minimum and maximum values during a measurement.

Hold function

This feature freezes the readings on the meter so that you do not have to constantly see the display screen. In addition, it holds the reading even after you remove the probes. However, there are 2 types of Hold function available on today’s consumer digital multimeters:
        1. Auto-hold: higher-end digital multimeters automatically freeze the measurement usually at the same time as sounding a beep. This is the (much) preferred option!
        2. Manual-hold:  less expensive multimeters require you to push a manual hold button to freeze a reading when taking a measurement. This is often difficult to operate since your hands are usually occupied with holding the probes!

Temperature measurement

Most digital multimeters will have a temperature-measuring feature which usually involves using 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 away, 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. That's because such DMMs can protect themselves (and you) from high-energy circuits like mains electricity.
  • 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. That is because less scrupulous manufacturers will often use the label irrespective of whether the devices are truly CAT II rated or not.
  • 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).
  • Resistance (Ω) is the second important parameter to look at. Its accuracy should be close to that of DC voltage.
  • You will likely find it hard to come by digital multimeters with highly accurate current (µA / mA / A) measurement. However, as a general rule, you should consider a current accuracy of ±1-1.5% as too high since it is insufficient 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 According to the table below, this should at least have 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. This will provide a more accurate measurement of AC current as well as AC voltage.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    - By comparison, top-notch professional (and expensive!) Agilent digital multimeters will update the display 8 - 15 times a second.

Low-pass filter

Multimeter low pass filter icon

Digital multimeters with a low-pass filter can be useful when working on motor drives and other noisy circuits. This feature 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 also be relatively robust with features like a rubberised jacket that protects it from rough handling.

Burden voltage

If you plan on doing lots of current measurements with your digital multimeter, then you should pay attention to its burden voltage. This voltage drop, when you place a meter in series 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. More specifically, the hundreds of KiloHertz (KHz) into the several MegaHertz (MHz) ranges are usually the most useful.

Data-logging and Graphing digital multimeters

These speciality meters are generally more expensive than regular digital multimeters. In addition, the quality of some important features on them is often sacrificed to keep their prices reasonable. Furthermore, these types of multimeters tend to use a lot of battery power. This means that they usually do not represent a good everyday-use multimeter.

Identifying the best multimeter for electronics work

As you might expect, there is a plethora of digital multimeters on the market. This makes identifying the best one for oneself quite a challenge. In the following table, you will find some of the more popular digital multimeters on the market. In particular, the table focuses on how popular DMMs stack up against each other when it comes to their features.

RangingAC
Voltage
DC
Voltage
ResistanceCurrent (DC)
VΩ mA
Separate
Terminals
Fused
High Amp
Continuity
Temp.
Backlit
Display
CAT III
Rated
Counts
Ultirics
Manual200V
600V
200mV
2V
20V
200V
600V
200Ω
2kΩ
20kΩ
200kΩ
2MΩ
200µA
2000µA
20mA
200mA
10A
1999
Crenova MS8233D


Auto2V
20V
200V
600V
200mV
2V
20V
200V
600V
200Ω
2kΩ
20kΩ
200kΩ
2MΩ
20MΩ
200µA
2000µA
20mA
200mA
10A
2000
Neoteck XL830L


Manual200V
600V
200mV
2V
20V
200V
600V
200Ω
2kΩ
20kΩ
200kΩ
2MΩ
200µA
2000µA
20mA
200mA
10A
2000
Proster VC99


Auto400mV
4V
40V
400V
750V
400mV
4V
40V
400V
1000V
400Ω
4kΩ
40kΩ
400kΩ
4MΩ
40MΩ
400µA
4000µA
40mA
400mA
4A
20A
6000
Extech EX330


Auto400mV
4V
40V
400V
600V
400mV
4V
40V
400V
600V
400Ω
4kΩ
40kΩ
400kΩ
4MΩ
40MΩ
400µA
4000µA
40mA
400mA
10A
4000
Fluke 117


Auto600mV
6V
60V
600V
600mV
6V
60V
600V
600Ω
6kΩ
60kΩ
600kΩ
6MΩ
40MΩ
6A
10A
n/a
6000
AstroAI DM6000AR


Auto600mV
6V
60V
600V
750V
600mV
6V
60V
600V
1000V
600Ω
6kΩ
60kΩ
600kΩ
6MΩ
60MΩ
600µA
6000µA
60mA
600mA
6A
10A
6000
AstroAI DM2000

Auto200mV
2V
20V
200V
750V
200mV
2V
20V
200V
1000V
200Ω
2kΩ
20kΩ
200kΩ
2MΩ
20MΩ
100MΩ
200µA
2000µA
20mA
200mA
10A
20000
Kaiweets KM100
Manual20V
200V
600V
200mV
2V
20V
200V
600V
200Ω
2kΩ
20kΩ
200kΩ
2MΩ
20MΩ
20mA
200mA
10A
2000
Kaiweets HT118A


Auto600mV
6V
60V
600V
750V
600mV
6V
60V
600V
1000V
600Ω
6kΩ
60kΩ
600kΩ
6MΩ
60MΩ
600µA
6000µA
60mA
600mA
10A
6000
Kaiweets KM601
Auto99.9mV
999.9mV
9.999V
99.9V
750V
99.99mV
999.9mV
9.999V
99.9V
1000V
999.9Ω
9.999kΩ
99.99kΩ
999.9kΩ
9.999MΩ
99.99MΩ
9.999mA
99.99mA
999.9mA
9.99A
10000
RangingAC
Voltage
DC
Voltage
ResistanceCurrent (DC)
VΩ mA
Separate
Terminals
Fused
High Amp
Continuity
Temp.
Backlit
Display
CAT III
Rated
Counts
-- Information not currently available

Digital Multimeter Reviews

AstroAI DM6000AR (WH5000A) Multimeter Review

The AstroAI DM6000AR multimeter, sometimes badged as the WH5000A model, is a budget digital multimeter that has a lot, if not all, of the specifications required by electronics hobbyists and even some professionals. These features include a 6000-count machine with excellent accuracy on par with some more expensive competitor multimeters. The measurement sampling rate on the DM6000AR occurs two times per second which is also a good level for a budget multimeter. Measurements occur by way of an auto-ranging mechanism by default but the DM6000AR multimeter can also switch to manual ranging for more refined control if needed. Although the auto-ranging process is not as quick as some high-end premium multimeters, it is certainly fast enough for normal use.

Main Specifications

Useful for both electronics and electrical work, the DM6000AR measures DC and AC voltage down in the millivolt range right up to a maximum of 1000V for DC voltage and a maximum of 750V for AC. In addition, the input terminals are rated Category III (CAT III) up to 600V.  The AstroAI multimeter also measures impedance from the ohm level right up into the mega-ohm range. As for Alternating Current and Direct Current, the device measures from the micro-Amps into the 10A range. Importantly, the multimeter has separate input terminals for amperage and voltage/resistance measurements increasing overall safety.

Fuses

The DM6000AR multimeter also incorporates internal fuses of the better quality ceramic type on both the Amp and milli-Amp terminals. These protect the machine from inappropriate high currents that the multimeter cannot handle. In addition, these fuses have been cleverly designed to be user-accessible. For this purpose, a battery access door obviates the need to disassemble the whole machine to change them. However, the only reservation one might have with these fuses is that replacements can be hard to find. This is especially true when it comes to getting the correct physical size.

Other Features

Like most multimeters designed for electronics work, the AstroAI DM6000AR can also measure transistor and diode values, as well as capacitance down to the nanofarad range. The DM6000AR also has a relative function meaning it can eliminate the resistance error caused by the probe leads, as well as ‘Max/Min’ and ‘Hold’ buttons useful for freezing measurements on screen when observing it continuously is not convenient. The DM6000AR multimeter can also measure temperature over a wide range, from -40°C to 1370°C, using an included thermocouple probe plugged into the main terminals. To top it all off, the multimeter can measure frequency from the hundreds of kHz range to the tens of MHz range, working well for both square and sine waveform inputs.

Continuity

Like most multimeters, the DM6000AR can check for continuity, sounding a buzzer if the resistance is lower than 30Ω. Importantly, however, the multimeter has to be specifically configured for the buzzer to sound, which has confused some new owners into thinking that their device is faulty when it fails to make any noise during continuity testing.

Build Features

Build-wise, the DM6000AR has a large clear display with big digits and a backlight that can be turned on at the press of a button, useful when working in poorly lit areas. Unfortunately, the backlight only stays on for 15 seconds or so, which sometimes can be too short a period for taking a measurement. The main rotary dial that selects the type of measuring function also has ‘Off’ positions on both sides of the dial selector circle making it easy to switch off the machine without undue wear and tear on the dial mechanism. For battery conservation, the multimeter also includes an auto-shutoff feature turning the machine off after 15 minutes of inactivity. Note that this auto-shutoff feature can itself be switched off if the machine needs to be kept in measuring mode for a longer period.

Device Positioning

Uniquely amongst its competitors, the AstroAI device has a strap and two magnets on its back surface which can be used to attach the multimeter to metal surfaces, such as a metal electrical cabinet door or a raised car bonnet, allowing the operator to work holding only the probes. Likewise, the back of the multimeter also houses a kickstand which can be snapped into position when the multimeter needs to be propped up on a surface. The only qualm here is the kickstand is not of the highest calibre, being a little fragile and with a rather rough deployment mechanism.

Negatives

As for the negatives with the DM6000AR digital multimeter, these include the lack of an accompanying carry or storage case, while the leads that come with the device are of very basic quality, making it advisable to buy a higher-quality replacement set to get the most out of the machine. Another notable negative comes from the operating manual that comes with the DM6000AR. Although it is written in clear, reasonable English, the physical dimensions of the manual itself are on the small side and the text within it is tiny making it challenging to read, especially for the older folk among us.

AstroAI

As for AstroAI, the company is headquartered in the United States but in reality, it is a Chinese company, with all of its products manufactured in China. Although the DM6000AR multimeter is a budget model, with negative implications for quality control and long-term reliability, the service from the company is usually very good, and they are very responsive especially if the product develops a fault during the warranty period.

Overall, the AstroAI DM6000AR is an excellent budget multimeter. It is particularly suited for the electronics hobbyist as it carries all the functions and capabilities that may be needed during a hobbyist’s electronics endeavours, as well as some extra features on top. So if you are looking for an all-in-one digital multimeter to get your electronics career off to a good start without breaking the bank, you can’t go far wrong with the DM6000AR from AstroAI.