Building your equipment inventory
Getting more serious about DIY electronics and circuitry but don’t have an extensive workbench setup yet? Test equipment is an important part of any workshop, and a digital multimeter (DMM) is one of the most important pieces of test equipment you can own. From measuring current and voltage, to testing capacitors, to waiting for the reassuring “beep” of continuity, you’ll pull out your multimeter for almost every project you build.
Most people will tell you that the industry standard for digital multimeters is Fluke, and we have no reason to argue. Fluke makes serious test equipment for serious projects, and have built a rock solid reputation on accuracy and reliability. However, Fluke (and their customers) know this, so you’ll pay dearly for the privilege of owning one of their meters. Even for a relatively basic meter like this Fluke 115 Compact Multimeter, you’ll pay about two to three times more than comparable products from other manufacturers. So, don’t feel bad about putting a Fluke on your “someday” list and turning to other options, as there are plenty of good alternatives out there.
Our pick for the best beginner multimeter is the Mastech MS8268, an auto-ranging meter that packs a ton of features into its modest $25-30 price tag. Most reviewers find the basic functionality (voltage and current testing, etc) to be accurate within +/-1%, which is more than enough for most hobby work. It runs off of standard AA batteries, which is much preferable to the hordes of 9V units.
The auto-ranging feature is convenient and works very well, selecting a display range in short order so you don’t miss transient or difficult to probe signals. This is also one of the cheapest units you’ll see with auto-ranging, period, never mind auto-ranging that works reliably and well.
The probe ports light up when you select a mode, meaning you won’t get a bad reading or blow out a fuse by trying to measure current through the voltage ports, etc. Also, it comes with a 10A ceramic fuse that can be reset, which is much preferable to the one-time use fuses (or even worse, no fuse) found on many cheap meters.
Finally, our unit came with impressive build quality. The probes are top notch, and the case, dial, and other parts seem firm and solid. A few reviewers have complained about quality problems, but most seem to agree that the Mastech is a solid unit.
You can find cheaper meters in the $10-20 range, and some of them may even be fairly good. However, many will be bad, and none will come with the features and quality shown by the Mastech. Do yourself a favor and order this bad boy rather than picking up the budget option from Radioshack – you won’t regret it.
If you’re just getting started in electronics and want to build you multimeter and circuit testing chops, check out some of our additional beginner resources:
The best books on electronics