Gadgets

A Beginners Guide to Buying a Digital Multimeter

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For an electronics enthusiast, looking for the right digital multimeter (often abbreviated to DMM) can be a daunting process; there are off brand options, medium range brands like Micronta and better known brands like Gossen or Fluke, perhaps the most commonly used brand of DMM. However, knowing what you want from your DMM and what to look for can help you find which one is right for you.
Digital Multimeter
What is a Digital Multimeter?

A DMM is a tool used to measure several different types of readings, commonly voltage, current and resistance. The tool is ‘digital’ because of its digital screen, an advancement from analogue multimeters which would more commonly use a dial to display their readings. This dial could lead to human error when taking readings, so the clear, legible screen on a DMM is a distinct advantage. Analogue multimeters are also more susceptible to damage.

What can I do with my DMM?

One of the simplest things to do with a DMM is to measure voltage, which you might want to do if you’re testing a circuit. You can also measure the resistance of a circuit (although it is important to do this when the circuit is without power to avoid damaging you DMM), and measure the current of a circuit.

What should I look for in a DMM?

Different types of DMM have different capabilities, so it is important to think about what you want from your DMM when considering which one to purchase. For instance, some DMMs are automatic ranging, whilst others are manual. Generally speaking, automatic ranging DMMs cost a similar price and cut out a lot of hassle that manually setting range can cause.

You should think about what resolution you’re looking for in your DMM. You need to consider what scale of measurements you are going to be making and look for a DMM that suits that. If you’re not going to be using the tool professionally, you probably don’t need your DMM to be perfectly accurate.

The build quality is also very important to consider. A DMM from a leading brand like Fluke may be more expensive, but you’re paying for better build quality that makes the DMM more durable, and less likely to break and have you buying a replacement.

Choosing the right digital multimeter is made considerably easier when you know a bit about what you plan to be doing with it. For a non-professional user, very inexpensive off-brand DMMs are available and can sometimes do the job, but it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for. These DMMs will generally be less well designed and less fully featured than a more expensive DMM, so it’s important to consider whether it’s worth spending a bit more money for a better quality tool that might be of more use to you, and less likely to break.

A professional grade DMM and an off brand DMM can be vastly different, both in price and capability. That being said, a DMM like the Fluke-117 combines industry level specifications with an ease of use and a price that doesn’t exclude the DIY or enthusiast buyer.  However it’s a DMM that’s optimized for electrical projects like home mains wiring, rather than electronics troubleshooting where something with a wider range, that will handle smaller voltages, is more appropriate.

Written by: Christopher Parkinson originally studied microprocessor design theory before testing phone lines and repairing faulty circuit boards for a couple of telco companies. His interest in electronics started at an early age when he used a screwdriver to open up a video game cartridge to see how it worked. These days Chris is a home electronics enthusiast who enjoys tampering with the latest a technology when not writing about the latest oscilloscopes and newest types of probes available.

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