The 10 Best Multimeters
This wiki has been updated 32 times since it was first published in February of 2015. While multimeters are primarily aimed at professional electricians who need to regularly measure voltage, current and continuity, some of the units we've selected will also be suitable for mechanics, technicians and hobbyists working on automotive wiring or appliance circuitry. Whatever your purpose, one of these tools is sure to help you get the job done quickly, confidently and accurately. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
January 28, 2020:
This round of updates, in order to make room for a number of high-end selections that would appeal to electrical contractors as well as other serious tradespeople and hobbyists, we eliminated the Neoteck 8233D Pro, Mastech MS8268, Amprobe AM-560 and Extech EX330. We also removed the iDVM 510, due to availability issues. Some of our new additions include The Klein Tools MM700, the company’s top-end model that’s built-tough and comes in a convenient carrying case; the Triplett 9055, which sets itself apart with its host of environmental sensors that allow it to measure noise, brightness, temperature and humidity; and the Fluke 279FC, a notably-expensive choice that’s loaded with features, including a built-in thermal-imaging camera and an adapter that allows it to function as a clamp-on ammeter.
A few factors worth metering as you shop:
Overvoltage Categories: This is a very important consideration. So, for your safety’s sake – pay attention. All electrical metering equipment is awarded an overvoltage-category score between one to four (sometimes simply referred to as a safety score). You’ll often see this denoted using the industry-accepted shorthand “CAT I, CAT II, CAT III or CAT IV.” While it would be easy for me to recommend that everybody purchase a CAT IV tester, and be ready for anything, the cost difference between a CAT I and CAT IV unit can be massive and, depending on your intentions for the meter, an inexpensive CAT II model might be just fine for you.
A basic breakdown of the categories is as follows:
CAT I: This designation is given to testers that are strictly intended for metering protected electronic equipment, and are not suitable for working on any electrical systems. CAT I options were not deemed acceptable for the purposes of these rankings.
CAT II: This designation’s given to testers that are intended for metering unprotected electrical equipment and single-phase branch circuits (under certain circumstances). This is a limiting designation, and one that we tried to avoid for the purposes of these rankings. However, we did decide to include the inexpensive Innova 3320 – recognizing that it would be suitable for some users, and Triplett 2030-C – admiring its compact design.
CAT III: This is likely the most common designation for multimeters, and one that leaves them fairly well equipped. Devices of this category are suitable for most electrical contractors, and are suitable for three-phase distribution work, as well as everything downstream from there. Two solid CAT III options we ranked that land well within the under-$100 budget are the Klein Tools Kit (which comes with the Klein Tools MM300) and the Triplett 9007-A.
CAT IV: This category’s on the top of the pile, ready to go up against just about anything you throw at it, including “point of origin” metering, which happens upstream of your main overcurrent protection for any electrical system. While the Fluke 279FC is, in my humble opinion, the most impressive option we ranked, its price tag is likely to send most running. If you’re in the market for a budget-friendly CAT IV option, you should check out the Eevblog Brymen BM235, which comes at nearly a tenth of the cost of the Fluke 279FC.
Connectivity: This is a capability that most will have no practical use for. However, for the scholarly electrician who’s working on complex systems or chasing harmonic distortions, modern models in this category have begun to incorporate the ability to connect to smartphone and desktop applications, to better track and distribute data. While the Greenlee DM-820A can connect to a PC via USB cable, the Fluke 279FC connects wirelessly to its proprietary smartphone app.
Bells and Whistles: While most the units we’ve ranked share a basic set of capabilities, there are many models that have one or more standout features, as well. The Eevblog Brymen BM235 and Greenlee DM-820A are both capable of single-lead voltage detection, and the Klein Tools Kit comes with a receptacle tester and non-contact voltage tester. The Fluke 117 boasts a 400-hour battery life and the Klein Tools MM700 comes with a handy magnetic hanger, giving you a “third-hand” during metering. And, although we’ve already mentioned the thermal-imaging camera that comes with Fluke 279FC, and the environmental sensors that are built into the Triplett 9055, gearheads like me will certainly agree they’re worth mentioning twice.
A note on safety:
Electrical work is dangerous at the best times and, even in the context of some small around-the-house jobs, it can cause fires that lead to serious injuries or even death. If you aren’t a qualified professional, for the sake of your and your family’s safety (as well as local bylaws, in some cases) ensure that any work done on your home or business is completed by a reputable, licensed electrician.
Multifunctional Measurements All In One
One of the most practical applications for a digital multimeter is determining electrical faults, which are defined as abnormal electrical currents.
Whether you're a professional electrician or engineer, you know someone who is an electrician, or you just enjoy having gadgets around the house to help you assess and solve electrical problems with your appliances, then a multimeter is an integral tool to include in your arsenal.
Also referred to as a VOM (volt-ohm meter or volt-ohm-milliammeter), a multimeter is an all-in-one instrument that is capable of measuring several properties of an electrical circuit, mainly voltage (volts), current (amps), and resistance (ohms). Multimeters are available in either analog or digital types and are often designed for handheld use. An analog multimeter leverages the use of both a microammeter and moving pointer to display its readings. The microammeter is simply an instrument that measures small electrical currents.
By contrast, a digital multimeter (also known as a DMM or DVOM) features an easy-to-read numeric display that may also include a graphical bar representing the measured values. Because digital multimeters offer an increased level of accuracy and precision, they have become more common than their analog counterparts. However, analog multimeters are still useful, particularly if you're concerned about a rapidly-changing measurement that is more easily visualized using the analog display and pointer.
In addition to the meat and potatoes properties for voltage, current, and resistance measurements, some digital multimeters also contain circuits for continuity testing, diodes, and transistors. They are also capable of measuring additional electrical attributes such as capacitance and frequency.
Digital multimeters typically have three built-in sockets on their faces to which a test lead attaches. Although this may sound complicated, test leads are simply flexible, specialized, and fully-insulated black and red wires used to connect the multimeter to the circuit that's actually being tested or measured. The black test lead will always connect to the black socket (labeled COM for common), while the red test lead can plug into either of the remaining red sockets for measuring voltage and resistance or for measuring electric currents.
One of the most practical applications for a digital multimeter is determining electrical faults, which are defined as abnormal electrical currents. An abnormal current could take the form of a short circuit, so you'll know if that toaster you just bought could be problematic or if there is an underlying problem with your household wiring system and power supplies.
Additional functions for specialized multimeter applications include temperature measurements with a thermocouple probe, inductance, connectivity to a computer, and even the capability for the multimeter to speak a measured value aloud.
Safety First, Hazards Need Not Apply
Always exercise caution when dealing with electricity of any kind. I know this sounds rudimentary and simplistic, but remaining informed about the multimeter you choose (including its limitations and hazards) will help to keep you safe. Many multimeters are designed with varying levels of protection against common electrical hazards. When making a choice, one must be sure to understand the test equipment, its requirements, and how the equipment works.
Many multimeters are designed with varying levels of protection against common electrical hazards.
It's vital to know the maximum voltage rating of the circuit, which is an evaluation based on research and experimentation that helps to determine how much voltage can be safely utilized by a particular device or form of wiring over its life. This is especially important when investing in a multimeter to ensure your testing does not exceed its maximum voltage limit.
Making sure your multimeter includes high-quality test leads is also an important factor to consider, since you will be handling them quite often and you don't want to risk electric shock. For that reason, ensuring the leads are properly insulated is definitely a good idea.
Many digital multimeters also feature bright, backlit screens, which come in handy if you have to work in dark places. Additionally, extra-long battery life should be a given if you're a professional electrician and plan to do a lot of testing.
Finally, while compact size comes with the territory of many digital handheld multimeters, finding one with a folding design can also provide additional protection for its sensitive sockets and components during transport.
A Brief History Of Multimeters
Invented in 1820, the galvanometer was the first moving-pointer, current-detecting device used to measure voltage and resistance with a Wheatstone bridge. However, the galvanometer was considered to be too slow and too delicate.
Dissatisfied with being forced to carry so many separate instruments required for the maintenance of telecommunications circuits, post office engineer Donald Macadie invented the first multimeter capable of measuring amps, volts, and ohms. At the time, it was referred to as an avometer (or AVO). Macadie brought this invention to the attention of the Automatic Coil Winder and Electrical Equipment Company (AWEEC) where it was put on sale in 1923. The best known model of the AVO series was the Model 8, which has remained virtually unchanged since its inception.
Today's digital multimeters have a strong focus on multifunctional use that includes computer connectivity and voice communication.