$50 Multimeter Comparison and Teardown

We remember when buying even a modest digital multimeter was a big investment. These days, you can find tool stores giving away cheap meters and if you are willing to spend even a little money, you can buy a meter with tons of features like capacitance, temperature, and other measurements.

Like most things, though, you can pay a little money for a bargain, or you can overpay for a dud. To help you pick, [TechnologyCatalyst] decided to do an extensive video review of 15 different meters in the under $50 price category.

If you are looking for a quick video to watch, you might want to move along. The review is in nine videos ranging from an introduction, to a comparison of build quality, discussion about the displays on each meter, and, of course, the measurement capability of each meter. There’s even a video that shows tear downs so you can see inside the instruments.

The videos weigh in at 15 to 45 minutes in length, so expect a lot of detail. If you are considering buying any of these meters, these videos are a good way to get a peek at the instruments before you buy. If you are buying a cheap meter, though, you might be careful about using it around high voltage.

44 thoughts on “$50 Multimeter Comparison and Teardown

  1. What happened to the teardown? I thought you would open them up, or put them to some accuracy testing. I have some cheap meters from China, via Ebay, and they don’t compare to Agilent meters, but they do feel good, and work pretty well. Which meter I use depends on where I’m going to use it, and the odds that it will get hurt, lost, or stolen. Around the home I stick with the Agilent meters. I have a bench model that was very expensive and has a nice color display, but it takes so long to boot that I hardly every turn it on. I use a handheld Agilent that does really well in all areas, even when using it to measure temperatures. I like the Bluetooth adapter I have for it so I can remote operate it, or do data logging to a netbook or PC. To the best of my knowledge, none of the you reviewed can do any of that. The Agilent meters are very accurate too, and that is really the major feature of good meters, if you can trust the readings you get as being accurate, what else relay matters.

    1. I did teardowns and measurements in the later videos (it’s 9 videos total). I split it up to keep the video lengths down. I really do need to make a short summary though.

  2. Yeah, a 9 part series of 30-45 minutes videos? This desperately needs an *article*.

    Society seems to have forgotten that a video is often the *worst* way of presenting information.

    1. I agree last time I bought a multimeter I read a multimeter shoot out before buying. The author bought a bunch of components with a tolerance of 0.002%. Then they put the results in some spreadsheets that could be read in a few minutes. Bottom line that 5 hours of this video could easily be condensed into a spreadsheet that would take a few minutes to read. Even if the micro machine dude was talking that spreadsheet would take less time to read than watching the video

    1. $50 sounds like a lot for a hobbyist whose first multimeter might have been from a hardware store bought for 10bugs or a kid/student that starts with electronics where the budget isn’t that big. So it wouldn’t hurt to watch the measurements being compared, I guess? Before I read this article I was actually spending 1-2 hours researching multimeters in exactly that price range for myself and bought a rebranded Uni-T UT61E.

    2. This is considered entertainment to some of us. That someone took the time to go through all of this stuff. You can get a feel for how different manufacturers treat un-thought of frills like a kickstand that even works right.

  3. Any recommendations for a multimeter for working with low voltage stuff (like Raspberry Pi)? Want to teach some basic electronics to my children but also want to make a good, long term investment. Back in the day Fluke was considered very good or overpriced depending whom you talked with.

      1. Well, in all fairness. I have several Fluke meters and I do like them. But I also have some $10 junker meters that I throw in trunk of my car, loan to students, or otherwise do things with that I wouldn’t do with one of my big meters. So I’m a big fan of a good quality meter, but I also buy a lot of cheapo meters too. Now, personally, I probably wouldn’t have done this broad a study of $50 meters myself, but since [TechnologyCatalyst], I’m happy to use the results.

      2. Just checked Fluke prices… I swear I remember there being a Fluke basic for around $100. Now I’m not seeing anything less than $160… Dang it. I apologize for my suggestion. I’ll change my vote. I’ll join a few folks here in recommending the Uni-T model that was mentioned earlier.

        1. The UT-61E is prob. the best bang-for-buck for hobby grade low-voltage electronics, just be warned that it is not idiot-proof like the big $$$ brands, you will destroy it if you do something dumb (for example the frequency measurement doesn’t have overvolt protection) and there is potential for injury/death is you do something really dumb (like trying to measure the short circuit current of the house main supply)…

          Dave from EEVblog has a multimeter shootout where he did tests and took it apart…

          p.s. if you plan on sticking the leads into things like electrical mains swithchboxes or HV electric vehicle powerpacks, the more expensive big brands is an investment wort considering.

  4. My Fluke 87 (original) has been working well for 20 years or so, divide the cost by 20 and the cost per year is quite low. I have a couple of other Fluke meters about the same vintage and still going strong, yes I am a light user, but love the Fluke stuff

    1. While I love my trusty 87v, it’s a pretty high price of entry for a beginner wanting to poke around with some basic breadboarding adventures. I don’t feel that there’s any harm in picking up a cheapo meter until you “outgrow it”.

      Now talk high voltage/energy stuff and that’s a different ballgame. You can’t put a price on a human life. In those cases, the Fluke wins handily, even over other big brands like Keysight / Brymen.

      But for probing your breadboard decade counter project while learning the ropes, I think a $50 meter would fit the bill.

    2. I’ll see your Fluke 87 and raise you a couple of Fluke 77s I have. Best damn meter I’ve ever used. They’re there when you need ’em and they sip batteries. Nobody wants them now, because they’re green, not orange. You should be able to pick em up on Ebay for under $100.

      They’re in the same class as the old Weller WTC* magnetic solder stations. I have one that must be 40 years old by now. I just replace the tip every now and then, and it solders everything from surface mount to power supplies.

      1. I will call(? sorry don’t play poker) your 77’s with a couple of my own also – yes a great meter also

        The 87 has the frequency measurement & the min / max record – helped me look like a hero when I used to do field service work and also work on industrial control systems, in one case helped me find an encoder chain whip problem (way short pulse) that broke the tracking system on a pallet conveyor system that was causing 4,000 lb. pallets to run into each other

  5. Fluke is good if you’re not short of cash, but for most users, you can get a lot more for your money elsewhere.
    The only real improvement Fluke has made to the 87 in a couple of decades is a white backlight.

  6. I actually just bought a “vintage” Fluke 8050A bench multimeter for $48 including shipping on ebay. It does true RMS AC readings, as well as dB measurements with selectable Z (impedance) which are useful to me since I repair audio equipment. Not portable, but the price is right!

  7. EEVBlog named Extech EX330 as the winner last time. The Extech that TechnologyCatalyst tested isn’t the same model.

    I kinda ordered two Extech EX330 as soon as that review was out. Just wanted to see how these other ones compared.

    1. Indeed. The one I chose had True RMS for the same price as the EX330 was five years ago when Dave did his shootout. Prices sure have dropped!

      The entire Extech “EX” range has had some pretty bad quality control issues, however. It’s not that they can’t be great meters–it’s just that you have to open them up to make sure there aren’t any nightmares living inside your specific unit. Their non EX models are made by Brymen, and are quite good. That being said though, I have no major complains about the EX430. Despite the quality control issues that many people have had, the meters wear the Extech name brand which is known for really good customer support, so if you do get one of those lemons, you’re in good hands.

      1. My dickhead former boss was lecturing me on how fluke meters were overpriced. À few days later I ended up using the extech pos that he was professing to be superior to any fluke I owned. I got electrocuted. The solder joints on the lead attachments had fractured and thîs lead to a zero voltage reading. I have owned two fluke meters. One I bought in 1989, a fluke 23, and an original 87 that I bought sometime around 1994.
        I lost the 23 back in 2008 and the 87 sits on my bench. I am currently considering a 289. Over the years I furnished fluke meters for my field technicians.
        It always bugs me when I read “fluke is overpriced” . what does that mean? I have a 21 year old meter that still does great work for what it is. I’ve dropped it off a roof more than once. I’ve dropped it while holding the leads and its yoyoed to the ground more times that I could ever count. I dropped a Simpson 260 off a 6′ ladder * once*.

        For all the years I worked out in the field, there was never a moment I thought I had paid to much for a tool that I made so much money with. You all can have your $50 meters, as I guess I’m a fossil from a time when $50 wouldn’t even buy you a decent Wiggy.,,.

        1. I don’t disagree with anything you said, but you definitely don’t need a $550 Fluke 87V to measure the voltages on your breadboard projects. A $50 meter would suffice for such tasks.

          But as an electrician? Yeah. Fluke or bust. If I had to choose one single multimeter that I own to use in a dangerous situation that my life depended on–I’d choose my Fluke 87V without hesitation. It might be a $550+ multimeter, but when safety is of concern, the $550 is a drop in the bucket compared to the worth of a human life.

          But as I mention in the video(s), you have to choose the right tool for the job. For some people starting off with their low level breadboard projects on a small budget, a $50 DMM would be perfectly fine. (but by all means, if they can afford a higher end meter, it never hurts–those better meters last a lifetime)

        2. I gave away the EXTECH junk a former employee bought. Turn ’em on, make some adjustments to the circuit, pick up the leads…and the damn thing has powered itself off to “save battery”!

          Just spend the money and buy a Fluke. If you want to do good work, buy good tools. Yeah, they do cost more. There’s a reason for that.

        3. If you got electrocuted I’d say it was your fault as it sounds like you didn’t “prove, test, prove”. Always prove your meter is still working on a known live source after you test a circuit for dead.

  8. Buy 1 good meter and then get a pile of the free junk from Harbor Freight. I have tested several of the freebies you can get from them and they are accurate enough for teaching someone or starting out.

    That said, I also have and use a LOT a giant Simpson analog meter that tells me a LOT more than any digital can. the finesse of loads pulling down a power rail you can get from a high end analog is amazing and lacking badly from digitals.

    1. The analog meters definitely have their purpose in life. I had a Micronta analog meter for the longest time that my grandfather got me. It was the beginning of a slippery slope!

      Oh, and if you get a decent digital meter with a good bargraph with high update rate, you can get “similar” visual results, but definitely lacking in resolution compared to an analog needle.

      1. The true magic of analog meters is the lower impedance (and resistance to static electricity), loading the circuit sometimes tells you things you could not see with a DMM…

  9. The first multimeter i really used for a long time – i found it on the junk. some keithley handheld, still around today. as time, hobbies and salary changed, i upgraded with an analog hp3400a (thermocouple, true rms up to 10MHz), but thats voltmeter and dB only, and a fluke 8000a (vintage, digital). one day i thought it might be fun checking how accurate the “junk” meter is. the “junk” meter falls not far behind the fluke, which is calibrated every 2 years. of course the fluke and hp were not in the under $50 class, even as vintage items. i also own a very cheap one from a diy store – still useable but take the note on high voltage use, and another one from an electronics store with a goldcap in it – good for “live” recharge, but the cap has aged, so you are left with about 5 minutes per charging cycle now. my conclusion is… each one has its advantages, as well as disadvantages. unless you dont want to measure extreme ranges, or need extreme precision – which is in most appliances a joke – you will do just fine with about anything thats somehow of quality.

    PS the “junk” meter is the only one with capacity tester from all of them

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