Last updated: August 5, 2021

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Multimeters are among the most important measuring instruments and have become indispensable in electronics. They get rid of countless measuring devices with different individual functions and combine everything important in one comprehensive device. Because they not only measure voltages, currents and resistances, but also perform diode and continuity tests.

This makes multimeters the ideal helpers for repairing household appliances, finding faults, experimenting in your own circuits and much more. But precisely because multimeters are so comprehensive, it is especially important to know what to look for when buying one.

With our large multimeter test 2021 you will have no difficulties. We inform you about the advantages and disadvantages of analogue and digital multimeters and compare which multimeters convince with which functions. This way you can make your purchase decision without any problems.




Summary

  • A multimeter is a measuring device that is equipped with several measured variables and measuring ranges. Among other things, it can determine current, voltage and resistance.
  • A multimeter replaces various individual measuring devices in electronics and combines their function in one device. Modern multimeters can also perform diode tests, continuity tests and many other tests.
  • A distinction is made between analogue and digital multimeters. Digital multimeters show the values on a display and are therefore very suitable in handling for beginners and professionals. Analogue multimeters work via a pointer system and are mainly used in education.

The Best Multimeter: Our Choices

Buying and evaluation criteria for multimeters

If you are looking for a suitable multimeter for you, you can quickly be overwhelmed by the many offers. Depending on whether you are a hobbyist or an electrical professional, you will find another perfect model for you. So that you don't have any difficulties in making your choice, we have collected all the important purchase and evaluation criteria for you here. If you want to choose a multimeter, you should consider the following criteria:

The following paragraphs explain what the individual criteria are:

Range of functions

A multimeter includes many measuring functions in one device. The basic functions of measuring voltage, current and resistance are standard. But the diode and continuity tests are also very popular functions that many multimeters include. With the diode test, you can easily check whether a diode is working.

A diode is an electrical component in which the electric current can only flow in one direction.

The continuity test, on the other hand, tests whether two points are electrically connected or whether the connection is interrupted, for example in a conductor. More extensively equipped multimeters, however, include further functions: Among other things, they can measure temperature, frequency and capacity. But measurements of brightness, volume and humidity are also possible functions.

Before buying, you should therefore consider which of these functions you need. You should be able to carry out all the measurements you want, but you should also not spend unnecessary money on functions you do not need.

Setting and range of measurement

With modern multimeters, the measuring range is selected automatically. This so-called "auto range" can be very practical if you want to make many measurements in different scales. With simpler multimeters, on the other hand, the measuring range must be set manually.

A maximum value of the quantity to be measured must be selected. Depending on this selection, the value is displayed in a different unit and accuracy.

Common maximum values are voltages up to 600 volts, currents up to 10 amperes and resistances up to 20 МΩ.

If you cannot estimate how large the measurement result will be, set the largest measurement range first.

Then you can set a smaller measuring range later until the value is displayed with sufficient accuracy. Regardless of whether the measuring ranges are selected automatically or manually, you should look at the maximum values of the multimeter. This way you can make sure that your measured values are not too large or too small for the multimeter. Excessive voltages can quickly become dangerous.

Safety class / overvoltage category

The safety class indicates the areas of application in which a measuring instrument can be used safely. On the one hand, the overvoltage category is important. It indicates how well the multimeter is insulated from the outside. The overvoltage category distinguishes measuring instruments from CAT I to CAT IV.

The higher the Roman numeral, the higher the protection against transients, for example against lightning. On the other hand, as already mentioned, the permissible measuring range is also important and must not be exceeded. If no measuring category is specified on a multimeter, it may only be used up to CAT I. With the following overview, you can estimate which overvoltage category your multimeter should have.

Overvoltage category Suitability Example
CAT I Measurements on circuits and small electrical parts that are not connected to the mains Batteries, individual parts with protective extra-low voltage
CAT II Measurements on circuits that are connected to the mains with a plug Household appliances, portable devices
CAT III Measurements on fixed installations and within the building installation Distributors, switchgear
CAT IV Measurements at the source of the low-voltage installation Meters, main connection

In summary, multimeters with the CAT II overvoltage category are sufficient for hobby use. If, for example, you want to take measurements on installations in a building or on sources of low-voltage installations, you will definitely need a multimeter in the CAT III to CAT IV category.

Comfort

In addition, there are other features of a multimeter that determine the comfort of measuring. Before buying, you should consider what is important to you when using the multimeter. Well-equipped, but also some simple multimeters have the following comfort features:

  • Display illumination An illumination of the display can be practical if you have to measure in dark places with little light and still want to read your values easily.
  • Data storage If you want to save the measured value so that you can read it later, the so-called "hold" function is very helpful. This allows you to take a measurement when you can't look at the display and read the value later.
  • Stand An integrated stand on the multimeter is a good idea if you want to measure at a table. This way you can easily place the device in front of you.

Accuracy

In order for your measured values to be useful in the end, they should be displayed as accurately as possible. In the best case, three specifications in the product description provide information about the accuracy: the basic accuracy, the digits and the counts / digits together provide information about how accurately a measurement result can be displayed by a multimeter.

Value Description Example
the basic accuracy indicates how accurately the multimeter can measure. The value indicates how large the percentage deviation of the last digit displayed can be. This deviation is caused by inaccurate measurement of the multimeter 3%: the last digit displayed can deviate by 3%
Digits In addition to the measurement inaccuracy, inaccuracies may occur due to lack of space on the display. The digits indicate by how much the last digit displayed may be wrong as a result. +3: the last digit displayed is 3 too high or too low
Counts indicates the maximum number that can be shown on the display. A value is given without a comma 5000 counts: Numbers from 0.001 to 4999 can be displayed.
digits Alternatively, the number of displayable digits can also be indicated as a number. In this case, entries with 1/2 often occur. 1/2 means that the first digit has only limited space and can therefore only display the digits 0 and 1, but not the digit 2 3 1/2 digits: the largest number that can be displayed is 1999 (3 whole digits and one limited digit)

If you pay attention to these values of basic accuracy, digits and counts or digits, you will know how accurate the multimeter is. Note, however, that many counts are of no use if the basic accuracy is not high enough. Also, if your multimeter has few counts, it should also have as few digits as possible.

Equipment with True RMS

In addition, the True RMS (Root Mean Square) feature is interesting for specifying the accuracy. True RMS multimeters can also determine accurate measured values for alternating voltages that are not sinusoidal. Multimeters without True RMS measure an AC voltage like a DC voltage and then convert the measured value by multiplication for AC voltages.

However, this only works if the AC voltage is sinusoidal. If the waveform deviates from sinusoidal, for example due to a dimmer, a multimeter with True RMS is recommended for accurate measurement. They have a special converter built in, which makes it possible to measure any alternating voltage.

Decision: What types of multimeters are there and which one is right for me?

If you are looking for a multimeter, there are two different types you can choose between. To make it easier for you to decide, we have explained the differences in more detail in the following two sections.

Analogue multimeter

Analogue multimeter

Analogue multimeters work with a pointer system and different scales for the different measured variables. There is a scale for voltages, one for current and one for resistance. You have to make sure that you read the values on the correct scale. In general, errors can quickly occur when reading off the values because they are not displayed as precisely as with a digital multimeter.

Overall, the handling is somewhat more complicated. On the other hand, however, changes in voltage, current or resistance are made very clear by the pointers. This can be especially important for educational purposes, for example at school, training or university. Another advantage of analogue multimeters is that they do not need a power source such as a battery.

Advantages
  • Current and voltage changes clearly visible
  • no power supply necessary
Disadvantages
  • Values can only be displayed inaccurately
  • difficult handling
Digital multimeter

Digital multimeter

Digital multimeters have become more popular than analogue multimeters. They determine the values electronically and show it numerically on the display. This enables a quick and error-free reading. In addition, digital multimeters are now very cheap because the individual parts can be mass-produced. One disadvantage of digital multimeters, however, is that they require an energy source due to their electronic mode of operation.

A battery, for example, must be inserted for the device to work. In addition, changes cannot be shown on the display as clearly as with analogue multimeters. Therefore, digital multimeters are not so good in education, but better for independent use – whether for hobby electronics technicians or professionals.

Advantages
  • inexpensive because of simple production
  • fast and safe reading
Disadvantages
  • need energy source
  • changes not clearly visible

Guide: Frequently asked questions about multimeters answered in detail

In the following guide, we will answer all important questions about multimeters. Afterwards, you will know everything you need to know about buying and using a multimeter.

Multimeter-1

Multimeters include many functions for measuring quantities. But you should always keep an overview.
(Photo source: Tabtong/ 123rf.com)

What is a multimeter?

A multimeter is a measuring device that is equipped with several measured quantities and measuring ranges. This makes the multimeter one of the most important measuring tools in electronics.

What can I measure with a multimeter?

The basic equipment includes the measurement of

  • Voltage
  • Current and
  • Resistance

Popular functions are also:

  • the diode test
  • the continuity tester

With modern devices, other variables can also be measured:

  • Temperature
  • Frequency
  • Capacitance
  • Brightness
  • Volume
  • Humidity

How do I use a multimeter?

A multimeter can be used to measure many different quantities. We will explain how to proceed in the following sections.

How do I measure the current with a multimeter?

  1. Plug the black measuring cable into the black socket marked COM.
  2. Plug the red measuring cable into the red socket labelled A (for amperes)
  3. Set the switch to the ammeter and select a maximum amperage. If you cannot estimate how large the current will be, select the largest unit first and switch down if necessary.
  4. Connect your multimeter in series in your circuit. Pay attention to the orientation of the poles: The black cable goes to the negative pole and the red to the positive pole.
  5. Read the current on the display. Pay attention to the unit.

Multimeter-2

Whether you are a beginner or a professional in electronics: a multimeter should be part of your basic equipment to easily carry out the necessary measurements.
(Image source: Michal Jarmoluk/ pixabay)

How do I measure voltage with a multimeter?

  1. Plug the black measuring cable into the black socket marked COM.
  2. Plug the red measuring cable into the red socket marked V (for volts).
  3. Turn the switch to the desired type of voltage measurement. Volt DC (direct current), millivolt DC (small voltages) or Volt AC (alternating current) are possible. If your meter has an auto-range function, you can skip this step.
  4. Hold the test prods at the two points between which you want to measure the voltage. For direct current, pay attention to the orientation of the poles: the black wire goes to the negative pole and the red wire to the positive pole. In a circuit, you must place the multimeter parallel to the component you want to measure.
  5. Read the voltage on the display.

To measure the mains voltage, set your multimeter to AC voltage and hold the measuring tips to the socket.

How do I find the negative or positive pole with a multimeter?

Use the voltage measurement function as explained in the last section. If the multimeter shows a negative value, you have confused the polarity, i.e. the negative and positive poles. In this case, change the connection of the measuring cable. If a positive value is displayed, the polarity is correct.

Now you know that the negative pole is located where the black measuring cable is connected. The positive pole is on the side where you connected the red measuring cable.

How do I measure the resistance with a multimeter?

  1. Plug the black measuring cable into the black socket marked COM.
  2. Plug the red measuring cable into the red socket marked with the Ω resistor symbol.
  3. Turn the switch to the resistance measurement, which is also marked with the Ω symbol.
  4. Hold the two measuring tips at the two points between which you want to measure the resistance.
  5. Your multimeter will show you the resistance in Ω (ohms).

How do I measure the capacitance with a multimeter?

If your multimeter is equipped with the capacitance measurement function, proceed as follows:

  1. Discharge the capacitor and remove it from the circuit.
  2. Turn the switch to capacitance measurement. This function can often be selected with an additional button.
  3. Connect the measuring leads to the capacitor.
  4. Read the value of the capacitance. If the multimeter shows "OL", the capacitance is greater than the measuring range or the capacitor is broken.

How do I measure frequency with a multimeter?

  1. Plug the black measuring cable into the black socket labelled COM.
  2. Plug the red measuring cable into the red socket marked with the symbols Ω and V.
  3. Switch the rotary switch to frequency measurement. This function can often be selected with an additional key.
  4. Connect first the black and then the red measuring cable to the circuit.
  5. Read the frequency and remove the measuring cables in reverse order: first red then black.

How do I measure temperature with a multimeter?

  1. To measure the temperature, you need a special probe that you can connect to your multimeter.
  2. Switch the rotary switch to temperature measurement. Hold the probe at the place where you want to measure the temperature.
  3. Read the temperature on the display.

How do I do a diode test with a multimeter?

  1. Make sure that the diode is removed from the circuit and that there is no voltage.
  2. Set the rotary switch to diode test mode.
  3. Connect the test leads in any direction. Make a note of the displayed value.
  4. Change the position of the test lead and also note the displayed value.
  5. The diode functions when it indicates "O.L." in the reverse direction and a voltage between 02 and 0.8 volts in the other direction.

How do I measure continuity with a multimeter?

  1. Select the continuity test function on the rotary switch.
  2. Plug the black measuring cable into the black socket marked COM.
  3. Plug the red measuring cable into the red socket marked with the symbols Ω and V.
  4. Make sure that there is no voltage in the circuit and connect the measuring cables.
  5. The multimeter signals an existing continuity by an acoustic signal or a note on the display.

What does a multimeter cost?

Multimeters are sold in a wide price range. Depending on the quality and range of functions, the cost varies. Prices range from 10 to 1800 euros. However, the price depends very much on how professionally the device is to be used.
Type price
analogue multimeter 5 to 600 euros
digital multimeter 10 to 1800 euros

Common analogue multimeters range in price from 20 to 40 euros, while you can buy digital multimeters from 10 euros.

Do I need a calibrated multimeter?

Calibrated multimeters do not measure more accurately or better than non-calibrated multimeters. Calibration is the process of checking whether a multimeter gives a result within defined accuracy limits. The deviations are recorded in a protocol that is included with the multimeter when it is purchased. The deviations are not minimised.
Advantages
  • Deviations are logged
Disadvantages
  • Deviations are not minimised

What are the alternatives to a multimeter?

When looking for a multimeter, you will come across many alternatives. In the following overview, you can see their function at a glance.
Alternative function
Voltage tester / Phase tester / Voltmeter / Duspol checks presence and level of voltages
Ohmmeter / Resistance meter measures resistance
Ammeter / Amperemeter measures amperage
Oscilloscope specialises in graphical representation of changing voltages

The voltage tester, resistance meter and ammeter all perform a sub-function of the multimeter. If you are sure that you only want to use one function, you can find a cheap alternative to the multimeter this way. However, since you usually need all the basic functions of the multimeter, it often makes more sense to buy a multimeter than to buy individual devices.

What do the symbols on the multimeter mean?

When using a multimeter, you will come across many symbols. So that you don't get confused, we have put together the following overview with the most important symbols.

  • A = Ampere (unit of measurement of current)
  • V = Volt (unit of measurement of voltage)
  • Ω = Ohm (unit of measurement of resistance)
  • DC = direct current
  • AC = alternating current
  • hFE = Transistor test
  • COM = Connection socket for black cable

What does "O.L" mean on the multimeter?

The abbreviation "O.L." stands for "open load". This can have several causes:

  • the maximum resistance value has been exceeded or no current is flowing at all
  • you have not yet connected the measuring cables correctly

Does the multimeter measure r.m.s. values or peak values with alternating voltage?

With AC voltages, a multimeter without True RMS measures the peak values of the voltage and calculates the effective value. This only works with AC voltages in sinusoidal form. True RMS multimeters can measure the rms value of the AC voltage and are therefore more accurate.

The rms value is the amount of AC current that produces the same power as a DC current of the same size.

Image source: Boonkitphuwadon/ 123rf.com

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