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Advice on Voltage tester and Meter for electronics/industrial electrical, long

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Ok so i've finally got back to work as a union electrician with I.B.E.W (was away for 5 years doing other things), I'm currently at a HUGE 550 megawatt solar plant! I also do lots of hobby electronics projects, I love micro controllers and programming. Recently I have been watching more and more of the EEVBlog and designing some analog stuff. I use a 30 dollar rebadged mastech, it has done the job fine for low voltage. The issue im having with it now that im getting in to analog is its precision is not anywhere near advertised! I have tested it against a 9 dollar wally world hunk of junk using precision resistors and voltage references and the 9 dollar meter is much more accurate... go figure!

So this is basically the dilemma I am having, as far as a voltage tester goes...  I.B.E.W gives you a tool list, these are the tools we are suppose to supply ourselves and if we need anything other than that the contractor must supply it. Well one of the the tools is a voltage tester (wiggens/wiggy style solenoid based tester highly recommended), I use to own an Ideal branded solenoid tester and sold it when I left. It is getting harder and harder to find a solenoid tester these days, you can't just walk in to home depot and buy one. I have searched online and found a few, but there is not a huge selection. When searching amazon for a wiggens voltage tester I actually get a bunch of testers back, with good brand names like Fluke and ExTech. The thing is they are all solid state testers that look like a wiggins style tester with the solenoid. When searching for solenoid voltage tester, this is what I get

As you can see there are a few solid state Flukes in that search, but mostly mechanical solenoid testers. The problem is Ideal is the only brand I have ever heard of and it is solid state.

So here is the deal... I love electricity. I am deeply in to hobby electronics (hope to one day merge that into my career), I'm a Union sparky and I have a lot of fun at my job. When I buy test equipment I want to buy the best quality stuff I can afford that will last and be suitable for work and home use. Im not sure what I should do in this situation. All the electricians I have ever talked to give a few good reasons for using a solenoid based tester, and Im not sure if there just older guys who are full of it like the people who say Analog sound gear and tubes sound better than digital... I'm sure there reasons for using a solenoid are correct, just not sure if there the whole story.

First off to me the biggest reason for using a solenoid tester is something called phantom voltage. Apparently Some times you can test a receptacle with a solid state tester/digital meter and get a "phantom reading", i.e voltage that isn't really there.  I'm not even sure why this would happen, capacitive coupling from the neutral wire maybe? Apparently a wiggly style meter will not detect a phantom voltage because the solenoid puts an actual load on the circuit so if there is no current there, theres no power to move the solenoid. This argument sounds logical to me and the biggest plus. The second biggest advantage to the solenoid tester ties in to the first, they test voltage by creating a load on the line which means NO BATTERIES, yay! Third thing I have heard and what I believe is mostly likely just a biased myth carried on from the older guys is that a solenoid meter is the most reliable and rugged, apparently a lot of guys will trust a 40 year old wiggy over a solid state tester.

So what should I pick up, I would think a nice solid state fluke is the best option, but if a wiggins style is really better I am a bit stumped on what to buy. Like I said I have never heard of any of the manufactures I saw on amazon besides Ideal, which I have always thought was a bit of a cheap brand trying to steal Klein's clout in the industry. I know Klein also makes meters and testers and they were a top brand on my list until I realized they were rebadged, plus there testers are also solid state!

Now I am also looking for a GOOD meter <= $200! but this is really hard I've been looking at all the big players sites, BK, Agilent, Fluke, Extech etc. I've also been watching Dave's meter reviews and teardowns. separate having a hard time finding what I want, without buying a bench meter, out of my price range. I'm not sure if buying separate pieces of gear to do separate tasks is the way to go, or buying one meter that does it all. I would like a GOOD solid meter to use for electronics, but I would also like it to double for a meter at work when needed. Granted a meter is not on our union tool list, and bringing one to work is "wormy", if we need a meter the contractor needs to supply it! I feel a bit different on this issue, Lets say Im working and need a meter. The contractor will probably supply one but I probably wouldn't bet my life on it. When using a meter at work I could be doing anything from 480v switchgears and 600v panel swaps, to commissioning (testing) solar panels. As far as if I ever needed to bring a meter to work I need something I can put my life on with hi voltages, and two features I would really want is the ability to use an amperage clamp and some type of safety as far as plugging leads in wrong.

As far as needs at home, which is where this meter will spend 98% of its life.. I want good accuracy especially when reading resistors and shunts.  The standard .5% ohm is probably about what I actually need, as long as the meter has the advertised accuracy, all my meters are advertised at .5% and they don't meet that at all, nor will they measure down to .005 ohms for hi side current shunts. As far as voltage accuracy goes It would be nice to get within 10 microvolts accuracy at the 0 to 10v range, but this is not a concrete requirement. The other features i'm looking for is to 50, frequency (my mastech reads 60Hz 90% of the time even with no mains reference I would hope to avoid this) up to 500khz~1Mhz. Diode test that can do LEDs. Capacitance hopefully up to about 400uF. Transistor HFE tests.

I would also like LCR/ESR features but this is where I am running into issues most good hand meters don't have these features only, nor do they have very low/hi capacitance measurements. I have found a ton of multimeters that advertise LCR/ESR but they are all cheapo $50 meters on e-bay and I'm sure they aren't worth a crap.  This is where I am wondering if buying a separate LCR/ESR meter is actually the better decision.  I have seen a few good meters that have LCR/ESR but they are all $700+ or bench top, while a separate ESR meter is much cheaper.

For what you are doing/want to do, there aren't many choices. There are a couple of multimeters that have a low impedance mode for eliminating phantom voltages but I can't recall which at this point.

For the kind of work you are implying and accuracy you want you can forget <$200.

I would like to suggest a Brymen BM869. It is very well built and has CATIV/1000 volt rating and high accuracy. I have one and I can say that it is a very good buy but over your $200 limit, closer to $290 with shipping. With the kind of energy sources you say you will be working with you need this level of CAT rating. There are Flukes that I would recommend but you are getting up to $400 and way over.

With the energies you will be working with, please consider at least the Brymen BM869 or a higher end Fluke. When it comes to that level of safety $100 more is nothing compared to a lost finger or eyes. Forget transistor testing in a multimeter, they are included as a feature just to sell shitty meters and any meter that has this feature is instantly to be considered junk. No hand held multimeter is going to be accurate to 0.005 ohms.

Perhaps the do it all meter that might be right for you is the Amprobe 37XR-A, around $140. It is not as highly rated for safety as the Brymen BM869 but it it has a few more functions.

Really, you are better off with a good safe meter for electrical work, and a good LCR meter for precision component testing. Sorry, but <$200 is not going to do everything you want. I think with your requirements you are looking at $500+

I have checked in to the bryman bm869, I can't for the life of me find a place that sells it in the US, nor can I figure out if there is a greenlee equivalent.

As far as work goes for right now just a decent tester, will suffice. What Meters would you recommend if I were just looking for those features on the electronics side of things? All the accuracy stuff I listed is mostly for electronics home use, so maybe the better choice would be to get a decent meter with the functions and accuracy I listed above for electronics, and then go out and get a solid CATIV meter with just the basics which I can plug an amp clamp in to?

At work, I have a Fluke 116 (we had to get a multimeter with temp function which could be calibrated, FDA rules even though the stuff I make isn't FDA applicable) this has a Lo-Z function. Which according to the Fluke website:
--- Quote ---LoZ function prevents false readings due to ghost voltage
--- End quote ---

It appears the Fluke 114, 116 and 117 meters have this function. Not sure if that helps or not.


--- Quote from: rwgast_lowlevellogicdesin on May 05, 2013, 03:14:46 am ---I have checked in to the bryman bm869, I can't for the life of me find a place that sells it in the US, nor can I figure out if there is a greenlee equivalent.

--- End quote ---
Greenlee DM-860A


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