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  • Advice for multimeter upgrade

    Hi all.

    I am getting my teeth stuck into amplifier electronics and I want to upgrade the meter I am using. Does anyone have any favourites or models I should avoid?
    M

  • #2
    I have a couple of flukes, but I find myself using the cheapies from Harbor Freight.
    I mainly just do ohms and voltage, and they work great for that.
    I use them til they get busted, then toss them.
    Harbor Freight Reviews - 7 Function, Digital Multimeter
    You may want something better, but I like them.
    T


    "If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride!" Scottish Proverb 1600s
    Terry

    Comment


    • #3
      Fluke meters are the ones I have found to be most dependable & reliable.
      Drewline

      When was the last time you did something for the first time?

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Drewline View Post
        Fluke meters are the ones I have found to be most dependable & reliable.
        I like the better meters like the Flukes because you can reliably measure a small AC voltage riding on a large DC voltage. Also, many models have a capacitance measuring function and a frequency meter function which I like to use too.

        Comment


        • #5
          For a bargain I like the Extech EX420 meter that I bought in 2012 and it still works great. I did eventually buy a Fluke and you can't go wrong with that at all. In fact, I see great deals on used Fluke 175 models all the time on Ebay(Think $100). What I like about Fluke 175 compared with the 115 or 117 models is that it can do voltages up to 1000v. Not sure what sort of deals you see in your part of the world??? Just remember that the auto range features make using them much easier.
          When the going gets weird... The weird turn pro!

          Comment


          • #6
            What budget and what other test gear do you have? For example if you have a good scope, spending more on a meter is wise. If you don't have a scope get a cheap Chinese meter and put the money you would have put into a Fluke or other quality meter, into a scope instead.
            A competent workbench for building, and testing or repairing amps would include a oscilloscope, multimeter(analog is actually prefered for many types of measurements. Precision and resolution are not as important for audio work because nothing is reliable or repeatable to more than 3 significant digits in analog electronics so a 6 digit display contains 3 garbage digits), load resistors, monitor speaker, metered variac and a signal generator. All those are available for low cost used or low cost digital types. Spending $300 on a meter does not make much sense if you could buy a good analog 2 channel scope and a cheaper meter for less than $300.

            Comment


            • #7
              The things I look for with a meter are;

              1. Speedy acquisition, especially when measuring resistance. I don't like a meter that takes time to settle on a reading - that gets annoying.

              2. Quick and reliable range selection - I prefer auto-ranging. Also, for everyday use I want a basic, accurate and reliable instrument. Some are too cluttered and are garnished with point-of-sale 'features' that just get in the way. They may as well have horoscope and wind direction scales for what use they are.

              3. You want decent leads and good, sharp, hardened probes. Silicone leads are good - super-flexible and burn-resistant when they accidentally come into contact with your soldering iron or a hot tube.

              4. Reasonable overload protection. The CAT rating is one thing, but how does the meter stand up to accidental overloading? For example, the Brymen BM-257 is excellent in this respect.

              5. Sharp, high-contrast display that has a good viewing angle.

              6. Whilst not absolutely necessary, I always go for a true-RMS meter.

              Comment


              • #8
                If you pay much for a meter, then you want it to have Auto Shutoff.
                That is the only thing I really miss on the cheap meters?
                I tend to leave them on too often, and they will eventually run down the battery.
                All my Flukes have auto shutdown.
                T


                "If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride!" Scottish Proverb 1600s
                Terry

                Comment


                • #9
                  I have a drawer full of those 7-function HF meters... not because I paid for them, but because HF sends me coupons where I can get something for free with any purchase that I make. As a result I accumulate drawers full of retracting tape measurers and cheapo meters. That little 7-function HF meter only sells for $5.99 and to be honest, it's only worth about that much. It feels flimsy and cheesy to me, and when the battery died on it after one use (they come with really crappy batteries) I didn't think it was worth the price of a battery to get it running again. So I tossed it back into the junk drawer and it's sat there ever since.

                  I have a friend who works in industry as an EE, and he swears by the HF 11-function DMM. He says that it's a great meter, and it's only $25. To be fair, many of the handheld DMM are essentially meter-on-a-chip packages today, so at the low end it's hard to differentiate them.

                  I think it's a general truth that every penny that you spend on a meter upgrade will result in significantly better measurements, that is, if you need to measure the types of things that the meter upgrades are designed to improve. I've found cap measurements on most inexpensive hand-held meters to be pretty worthless. Most hand-held meters are also pretty worthless when it comes to taking low resistance measurements. It's as if they just don't have enough current source from the little AAA batteries to take a reliable low-R measurement. The Flukes are much better in that regard, but then they're powered off of a 9V battery. In the big scheme of things, there aren't any handheld meters that can hold a candle to the precision benchtop units when it comes to precision/accuracy on low-R readings.

                  If you're just doing basic amp work, you can probably get by with any of the cheapo meters like T said. I got along with cheap meters for a long time. But like Tom mentioned previously, measuring AC ripple on a DC waveform can confuse the lesser meters. There is a reason that many people pay more for better meters. As far as generic amp work goes, I think Tom's point about ripple measurement is probably the most important reason to upgrade if your present meter can't perform that task well.

                  The meters that I use most commonly are inexpensive handheld meters, just because the majority of measurements that I take in real life are non-critical measurements. I have some really nice meters that are on the expensive side, and I prefer to leave those on the bench so that I don't damage them. As mentioned previously, today's digital meters can be slow to respond and analog meters can be better for those instances where you need a quick reading. To be fair, any meter will be slow to respond if it has to charge up a big cap to take a measurement. But there is something to be said for the response time of a range-select analog meter compared to an auto-ranging DMM, and for benchtop meters that are supplied by AC power and aren't current-limited by a battery.

                  Another thing to consider when working on tube circuits is that you don't want a meter whose impedance is low enough to alter the measurements you're taking, and with some tube circuits a modern DVM can be a problem. In other words, there's a place on every tech's bench for a VTVM. I'd recommend buying one if you don't have one already.

                  To sum it up: I tend to use inexpensive hand-held meters for most non-critical measurements just because they're portable and cheap and it's no great loss if they get damaged. I have VTVM in both portable and benchtop platforms that are indispensable for amp work. I have a 5-digit 4-wire kelvin meter (benchtop Fluke) that I use for precision low resistance measurements, and I have a hand-held BK 879B LCR meter. Of all of these, the kelvin meter and the LCR meter are the most expensive, and they're overkill for basic amp work, but they are worth every penny if you need to take the kind of measurements that they're designed for.
                  "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

                  "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by bob p View Post
                    I have a drawer full of those 7-function HF meters... not because I paid for them, but because HF sends me coupons where I can get something for free with any purchase that I make. As a result I accumulate drawers full of retracting tape measurers and cheapo meters. That little 7-function HF meter only sells for $5.99 and to be honest, it's only worth about that much. It feels flimsy and cheesy to me, and when the battery died on it after one use (they come with really crappy batteries) I didn't think it was worth the price of a battery to get it running again. So I tossed it back into the junk drawer and it's sat there ever since.

                    I have a friend who works in industry as an EE, and he swears by the HF 11-function DMM. He says that it's a great meter, and it's only $25. To be fair, many of the handheld DMM are essentially meter-on-a-chip packages today, so at the low end it's hard to differentiate them.

                    I think it's a general truth that every penny that you spend on a meter upgrade will result in significantly better measurements, that is, if you need to measure the types of things that the meter upgrades are designed to improve. I've found cap measurements on most inexpensive hand-held meters to be pretty worthless. Most hand-held meters are also pretty worthless when it comes to taking low resistance measurements. It's as if they just don't have enough current source from the little AAA batteries to take a reliable low-R measurement. The Flukes are much better in that regard, but then they're powered off of a 9V battery. In the big scheme of things, there aren't any handheld meters that can hold a candle to the precision benchtop units when it comes to precision/accuracy on low-R readings.

                    If you're just doing basic amp work, you can probably get by with any of the cheapo meters like T said. I got along with cheap meters for a long time. But like Tom mentioned previously, measuring AC ripple on a DC waveform can confuse the lesser meters. There is a reason that many people pay more for better meters. As far as generic amp work goes, I think Tom's point about ripple measurement is probably the most important reason to upgrade if your present meter can't perform that task well.

                    The meters that I use most commonly are inexpensive handheld meters, just because the majority of measurements that I take in real life are non-critical measurements. I have some really nice meters that are on the expensive side, and I prefer to leave those on the bench so that I don't damage them. As mentioned previously, today's digital meters can be slow to respond and analog meters can be better for those instances where you need a quick reading. To be fair, any meter will be slow to respond if it has to charge up a big cap to take a measurement. But there is something to be said for the response time of a range-select analog meter compared to an auto-ranging DMM, and for benchtop meters that are supplied by AC power and aren't current-limited by a battery.

                    Another thing to consider when working on tube circuits is that you don't want a meter whose impedance is low enough to alter the measurements you're taking, and with some tube circuits a modern DVM can be a problem. In other words, there's a place on every tech's bench for a VTVM. I'd recommend buying one if you don't have one already.

                    To sum it up: I tend to use inexpensive hand-held meters for most non-critical measurements just because they're portable and cheap and it's no great loss if they get damaged. I have VTVM in both portable and benchtop platforms that are indispensable for amp work. I have a 5-digit 4-wire kelvin meter (benchtop Fluke) that I use for precision low resistance measurements, and I have a hand-held BK 879B LCR meter. Of all of these, the kelvin meter and the LCR meter are the most expensive, and they're overkill for basic amp work, but they are worth every penny if you need to take the kind of measurements that they're designed for.
                    It depends on what you're doing with the meter.
                    I like the cheapies, because they are good enough for most of the stuff I do, and I have them spread around in different places.
                    If it offends you to use something cheap, then don't!
                    My Flukes wind up in a safe desk drawer in the house, not used.
                    That's why they make all kinds for all budgets and uses.
                    T
                    **Two features I do like about the HF cheapie, is the on/off switch, not on the dial.
                    You don't have to rotate the big switch each time to turn it off.
                    The other feature I like, is it reads 1000v DC, some meters only read to 500v.
                    500v DC will get you buy mostly, but not always on Higher voltage amps.


                    "If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride!" Scottish Proverb 1600s
                    Terry

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      On a cautionary note, I'd be a little worried about the voltage ratings on the probes with the cheapie meters.
                      Teee, what are the probes like on that unit with the 1000VDC range? Just curious.
                      "Everything is better with a tube. I have a customer with an all-tube pacemaker. His heartbeat is steady, reassuring and dependable, not like a modern heartbeat. And if it goes wrong he can fix it himself. You can't do that with SMD." - Mick Bailey

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by big_teee View Post
                        It depends on what you're doing with the meter.
                        I like the cheapies, because they are good enough for most of the stuff I do, and I have them spread around in different places.
                        If it offends you to use something cheap, then don't!
                        Terry, I think we're in pretty violent agreement on those points. Like I said before, I use inexpensive handheld meters all the time, and I resort to the precision units when I need to measure something that the cheapo meters aren't good at. Some of my favorite go-to meters are cheap old Micronta meters from RS, or cheap $10 meters from Sears. I just don't particularly favor the $5 HF unit, as it just screams "garbage" to me. But the $25 HF unit seems to be a pretty good deal.

                        Getting back to the point of servicing the OP's request -- he wants recommendations for upgrading his equipment, and to me the $5 HF meter doesn't fit into his request.

                        To nitpick, I hate the 5-minute auto-off on a meter. I have to waste a lot of time spinning dials to turn meters on after they shut themselves off to save the precious battery. Why they couldn't make the countdown 30 minutes instead of 5 escapes me. To me, the convenience of not having to fight with a meter that keeps turning itself off while I'm doing calculations is more valuable than a battery, but the guys who design these things seem to think that battery life is more important then user convenience. I hate that.
                        "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

                        "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by g1 View Post
                          On a cautionary note, I'd be a little worried about the voltage ratings on the probes with the cheapie meters.
                          Teee, what are the probes like on that unit with the 1000VDC range? Just curious.
                          I agree with Terry's suggestion that these inexpensive meters make great general purpose around the house meters for routine house/car type uses. I already have better meters that are in that role, so I've just accumulated a bunch of the HF meters in my junk drawer. I do have some reservations about using them on amps for a couple of reasons.



                          First, if you look at the specs on the package, they give you an operating range for measurements but there is no mention of resolution. I prefer to use a meter that has specs that will tell me the amount of error in the measurements in every range of the meter, and the inexpensive meters never offer those specs.

                          Another problem is that the band of useful measurements is pretty narrow for amp work. When I'm working on an amp I'm often trying to measure something that's outside of this meter's published specs. With this specimen, 120VAC is not in the meter's range. Nor is a 1 KHz test tone, or a resistance measurement below 200R.

                          Putting this into the context of the OP's question about how to shop for a meter upgrade, if I were upgrading a meter I'd be shopping for a product that has a useful range AND gives precise specifications about the meter's accuracy with everything that it measures. As a rule of thumb, if a manufacturer doesn't publish these specs it's because they don't want you to know them.

                          On the subject of those 1000V leads, these are the leads that HF rates at 1000VDC. They look like PVC insulation to me, which is normally rated at 600VDC and burns easily. I wouldn't use them to measure B+.



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                          edit: fixed the attachments, which seem to have disappeared
                          Last edited by bob p; 07-01-2016, 06:45 PM. Reason: fixed the attachments
                          "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

                          "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            So what gives with the 200R?
                            200 is the range.
                            It will read 1 ohms, or continuity all day long!
                            Personally I like it, and use them a lot, and if I need something better, I go get the Fluke 89 out of the house.
                            You're acting like a test gear snob!
                            It's plain you don't like the meter, so don't use it.
                            I bet if the truth be known, this meter is used around the world for all sorts of things.
                            I'm done, have fun!
                            T


                            "If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride!" Scottish Proverb 1600s
                            Terry

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by big_teee View Post
                              200 is the range.
                              No, 200 not the meter's range. If that were the case, then a 200-ohm range would make it a very poor excuse for a meter.

                              200 is the lower limit of the range. The packaging states that the range is 200R to 20kR.

                              Originally posted by big_teee View Post
                              So what gives with the 200R?
                              You tell me. The manufacturer's specs clearly say that the meter is only rated for 200R to 20,000R, with no accuracy figures provided in that useable range. According to the packaging anything below 200 ohms is out of the meter's stated rage, as is anything over 20k ohms. Sure, you can get "a reading" when you take measurements outside of the stated range, but who knows if they're anywhere close to being accurate? Or precise?

                              I take measurements that are beyond that meter's published specs every time I work on an amp.

                              If that makes me a snob then yes, I'm a snob, and I don't take offense by being called a snob. In the big scheme of things, we need to stop hijacking the OP's thread. He is not interested in upgrading to a cheap-ass $5 meter. He asked about upgrading his equipment, and the $5 HF meter doesn't answer his question. If anything, its' the kind of test equipment that he's trying to move away from.
                              "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

                              "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

                              Comment

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