Author Topic: Looking for a good cheap multimeter  (Read 9565 times)

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Offline Haggai

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Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« on: March 18, 2011, 09:53:12 PM »
Hi everyone!

I got here after watching some Dave's multimeter reviews (and also the clip with the flying pig :) ), and it looks like a friendly and informative place to be in.

So, I need a new multimeter.
I only have a 3$ crappy meter, and after seeing it misreads almost any current over 500mA, and that it has no fuses at all, I decided I need something better. (After seeing it is unfused I was very surprised with it still being operable, maybe I am a very safe n00b :))

I need some simple multimeter for around the house jobs - fixing electric devices, testing the mains, and it would also be great if I could measure my car battery, maybe other car electronics.
But I also need it for a bit of electronics, and I'm also into flashlights so I really would like to be able to measure currents of up to 5A and to test LEDs.
I would also like to be able to do touch temperature measurements.

In short, what I'm looking for is a cheap (sub 50$, preferably 30$ or cheaper, including shipment to Israel) multimeter, with the following abilities (correct me if I'm wrong):
  • AC/DC voltage and current (DC current up to about 5A, but the higher the better)
  • Resistance
  • Continuity
  • LED tests (3.7 Vf)
  • Temperature - at least -20 to +500 celsius
  • Fused - both mA and A if possible

I don't care if it measures even with 2%-3% error, most of my measurements don't need a better accuracy.

What comes to mind are the Vichy VC99 or some of the cheaper UNI-T (like UT39C) or a Minipa or a Mastech.
I was even thinking of buying a second hand Fluke, but can't find anything at a reasonable price.

I'll buy it from some Chinese / Hong Kong vendor, so I don't really care much about warranty.

Any recommendations?

Thanks!
 

Online Hero999

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2011, 05:13:09 AM »
Don't buy a cheap shitty meter which could catch fire when overloaded. Buy a decent meter which will have all the necessary protection circuitry.

Forget about crappy brands such as Mastech for mains, they may be fine for projects running off a small battery or wall but not for anything more than that.

You want a mid range meter. Meterman seem to make reasonable meters, I've got one and it might not be as safe as a Fluke but it does have protection diodes and a MOV on the PCB, unlike shitty Mastech meters.
 

Offline Haggai

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2011, 05:22:34 AM »
Any particular model that satisfies my needs for under 50$ shipped to Israel?
 

Online Hero999

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2011, 05:26:06 AM »
I can't help you with that because I've no idea whether you're talking about US dollars or the shipping rates to Israel. I live in the UK and I bought my meter over five years ago.
 

Offline Haggai

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2011, 05:28:15 AM »
50 USD = cost of meter + shipping cost
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2011, 09:40:28 AM »
get the AM220 from Amprobe. nice meter, not as good as a fluke but certainly a good machine for the money (£30ish)
The µCurrent has landed in Europe and now also selling Probe Master probes: http://www.sparkylabs.co.uk/store/
 

Offline Kiriakos-GR

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2011, 12:17:32 PM »
Don't buy a cheap shitty meter which could catch fire when overloaded.

We have speak over and over about this ridicules scare tactics of yours ..
If you feel bored to spent some ink about the subject , then it best to not reply at all.

As about the good cheap multimeter, it does not exist.

About pricing , personally I believe that the UNI-T , has the best pricing for what it offers.
At list in my region. 
« Last Edit: March 19, 2011, 12:24:25 PM by Kiriakos-GR »
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2011, 07:16:51 PM »
there are some pretty scary little meters out there Kiriakos. Maybe the Greeks have better sense but you can get some real junk from stores and websites in the UK. As to them not been so bad: I have had in total 4 multimeters that cost around £5, none of them are around anymore as they all just stopped working In the end i had to spend £30 on the AM220. I bought a VC99 and well the ohms never did work properly, then I dropped it and it stopped working all together ! Now you think I'm goba trust that thing on safety if it can't even read ohms properly NO WAY.

I have a small meter (sort of pocket size) that I leave in the car. I just use it for little things like car battery voltage and continuity. I'd not trust it for much else, particularly on accuracy. Cheap meters safe or not are not reliable in accurate reading.
The µCurrent has landed in Europe and now also selling Probe Master probes: http://www.sparkylabs.co.uk/store/
 

Offline Haggai

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2011, 08:04:10 PM »
I couldn't find the Amprobe or any Extech, or in fact anything that ships from USA, for a reasonable shipping price anywhere.
I really wouldn't want to spend over 30$+ just for shipping.

So, seems like I am limited to Chinese/HK sellers, which means the brands I mentioned in my first post.

My next question is: If the meter comes with a glass fuse - is it okay to replace it with a ceramic one of the same specs?
Would it change any measurement accuracy dramatically? (i.e. >2%)
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2011, 08:09:40 PM »
changing the fuse won't affect measurements, it still won't make the meter much safer (but from saving you from glass blast if the fuse explodes). Protection against high voltage spikes is what is required for a meter working on the mains and protection to the meter should you connect it to the mains in ohms mode or other non AC voltage measuring range

Where are you located ?
The µCurrent has landed in Europe and now also selling Probe Master probes: http://www.sparkylabs.co.uk/store/
 

Offline Haggai

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2011, 08:33:50 PM »
I live in Israel.

Regarding your remark about wrong mode selection - isn't the VC99 already protected against it because of the separation of the A/mA from the V/ohm inputs?

Anyway (and I hope it's ok to post links to sellers sites) there's this meter which has a built-in protection against such mistakes: http://www.dealextreme.com/p/2-8-lcd-handheld-auto-range-multimeter-voltage-current-resistance-temperature-3-aaa-37888
Nice feature.
Also nice specs overall and the leads seem to be marked with CAT rating, although it's quite unintelligible from the low res photos.
Manufacturer (?): http://chinayehai.en.alibaba.com/product/347223692-210526664/Innovative_Digital_Multimeter_YH113.html
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2011, 08:43:06 PM »
yes you can post links providing they are relevant to the discussion and not spam.

Yes many multimeters have seperate jacks for amps and volts. The best multimerts have input protection to stop the meter being damaged should you accidentally leave it on ohms or some other setting and connect it to a high voltage. Poor quality multimeters can explode if they do not have this safety feature. and while it is meant to save you from your own error I'm sure willing to admit it might be a mistake i could make and pay for that protection rather than the clever and with only one had  ;)
The µCurrent has landed in Europe and now also selling Probe Master probes: http://www.sparkylabs.co.uk/store/
 

Online Hero999

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2011, 08:48:49 PM »
there are some pretty scary little meters out there Kiriakos. Maybe the Greeks have better sense but you can get some real junk from stores and websites in the UK. As to them not been so bad: I have had in total 4 multimeters that cost around £5, none of them are around anymore as they all just stopped working.
Yes, I have one which has no fuse on the 10A setting and another with a 500mA 250V fuse when the meter's manual claims it's rated to 1kV.

A good use for a cheap meter is to check you've got 5V on a micro controller projector or to take it apart and use it as a panel meter for a homebuilt power supply but not to measure mains or even a car battery with.
 

Offline mzacharias

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2011, 09:15:05 PM »
The guys here are engineers and must think in terms of worst case scenarios. For example, a given cheap meter might be safe enough measuring 120 or 240 volts UNTIL a fault occurs and the voltage spikes far above normal. Millions of meters by Simpson, Triplett, Micronta, and others have been safely used for decades before CAT III or IV were even a gleam in some engineer's eye, but nowadays even a completely untrained person can watch a Youtube video and get into a circuit he has no business in, get himself killed, and the family still sues for millions. Normally either of the two meters you show would probably be OK for your purpose, but in this day and age, you could end up with a counterfeit copy of a design that was only marginally safe to start with. The one from Dealextreme would be my choice of the two, but I would want to inspect the inside before ever using it to measure mains voltage. Maybe post a couple pics of the insides here on this forum.

Mark Z.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2011, 09:21:29 PM by mzacharias »
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2011, 10:39:18 PM »
"once upon a time" meters like everything were made to do a job and do it well. Unfortunately these days the vast majority of stuff is made to be built cheaply and sold for as high as possible proffit margins. So when you need to rely on something for safety you need certifications left right and centre plus genuine trust in the manufacturer. Most cheap meter manufacturers really don't give a rats ass if you kill yourself with their product.
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Offline Kiriakos-GR

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #15 on: March 20, 2011, 09:35:49 AM »
Most cheap meter manufacturers really don't give a rats ass if you kill yourself with their product.

Not even the buyers give a rats ass, to read the specs of what they buy.
Blame them too.

In the scenario, that some one does not ask for perfection,
and the device does not ask the big cash , its one balanced relation.

Every one knows who is the safest car in 2011, but many they will not buy it due taste.
Let them select what ever they like.

What matters the most , are to be available choices.  

If i get an small old car, I am aware that it will not save my life in to a crash.
And this risk its greater and more frequent than .. spikes on the electrical measurements.

Lets protect our self from overreacting, that's what I am trying to say. 

« Last Edit: March 20, 2011, 09:40:39 AM by Kiriakos-GR »
 

Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #16 on: March 20, 2011, 07:19:54 PM »
yes the user has to be aware as well. While most people figure out that they need a driving license to drive a car many have never been educated about electrical safety and one would assume that a multimeter that can measure 600V can do it safely and is made to do so safely. In reality most of the specs on cheap multimeters are lies. It's like a car dealer selling you a car and telling you it has good breaks but in reality it does not.

ever noticed the flimsy test leads on cheap multimeters that are speced for 600V ? Noooooo waaaay
The µCurrent has landed in Europe and now also selling Probe Master probes: http://www.sparkylabs.co.uk/store/
 

Offline Neilm

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #17 on: March 21, 2011, 04:33:01 AM »
ever noticed the flimsy test leads on cheap multimeters that are speced for 600V ? Noooooo waaaay

Actually, I have seen thin, rubbish leads on a "600V CATIII" meter. It was the first thing I noted in the report. Following that was glass fuses, insufficient clearance and creepage, poor quality plastic that begain to melt at about 70 degrees C.

Needless to say, it wasn't approved for resale.

Neil
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Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #18 on: March 21, 2011, 04:49:12 AM »
well there is also the issue of manufacturers that will try to get cat ratings on their crap stuff. I hope that an external body qualifies the units for CAT rating.

self certification does not work !
The µCurrent has landed in Europe and now also selling Probe Master probes: http://www.sparkylabs.co.uk/store/
 

Offline Neilm

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #19 on: March 21, 2011, 04:58:24 AM »
There is no external body for CAT ratings. They are part of the design spec as they detail the required creepages and clearances. They are assessed as part of the IEC61010 qualification checks.

Neil
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Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #20 on: March 21, 2011, 05:53:34 AM »
so they are checked by an external body. Yes the CAT specs must be well documented so theres no excuse to not adhere to them if you expect to put the rating on your product
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Offline Kiriakos-GR

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #21 on: March 21, 2011, 09:42:25 AM »
Yes the CAT specs must be well documented so theres no excuse to not adhere to them if you expect to put the rating on your product

Well there is an hole in the CAT specs, that many takes advantage of it,
and this is the time that the leads should survive under the electrical stress.

But hey , we are getting completely out of topic.  :)
We can not demand industrial standards, from items for home use. 


« Last Edit: March 21, 2011, 09:44:27 AM by Kiriakos-GR »
 

Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #22 on: March 21, 2011, 04:55:00 PM »
While most people figure out that they need a driving license to drive a car many have never been educated about electrical safety and one would assume that a multimeter that can measure 600V can do it safely and is made to do so safely.
...
ever noticed the flimsy test leads on cheap multimeters that are speced for 600V ? Noooooo waaaay

I refer to my neighbor and his Protek 5050E. That thing has a whooping 3.3 kVpp, 1.2kVrms AC range - and comes with test leads that don't even have a strain relieve. But the leads have no rating either.

Not that I would trust that meter and the test leads with anything more than 48V. But I am sure my neighbor would happily plug that thing into something saying 1kV, because it says so on the meter.

I tried to educate my neighbor, but well ...
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Offline Simon

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #23 on: March 21, 2011, 05:33:57 PM »
I used to buy an electronics magazine as a teenager in Italy. They had a project that converted a cheap multimeter that could measure 1KV to one that could measure 2KV by using a series resistor yiiikes !
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Offline Neilm

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Re: Looking for a good cheap multimeter
« Reply #24 on: March 22, 2011, 06:44:31 AM »
so they are checked by an external body. Yes the CAT specs must be well documented so theres no excuse to not adhere to them if you expect to put the rating on your product

Companies can self certify on safety - they just need a technical document.

Neil
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