Is That Cheap Multimeter As Good As A Fluke? Let’s Find Out

When [learnelectronics] talks about cheap meters, he always says, “If you are doing this for a living, get yourself a Fluke.” But he realized he’s never shown the inside of a Fluke meter, so he rectified that in his most recent post. For comparison, he opens up a Fluke 26-III and an Aneng AN870 (retailing at about $500 and $30, respectively).

The initial opening shows that the Fluke has hefty brand name fuses, but the Aneng has little generic fuses. In addition, the Fluke has an internal case that helps keep you away from live voltage. The Fluke also has a proper rotary switch, while the cheap meter has a switch that is etched on the PC board; a cost-cutting trick that’s often a point of failure on these cheap meters.

The Fluke also has a significantly larger number of protection devices and heftier components, you presume can take more punishment. Of course, if you don’t have a few hundred volts running through your meter, it probably doesn’t matter. The cheap meters are certainly good enough, even though you do get what you pay for, as you might expect.

As long as you have a meter open, you might as well hack it to have WiFi. Or, if you prefer, a serial port.

64 thoughts on “Is That Cheap Multimeter As Good As A Fluke? Let’s Find Out

  1. Please compare apples to apples. Of course the $30 is not going to match up with a $500 meter. Try the fluke $500 to the EEVblog meters at $125 or $250. Half the price or less for the same or better performance. Thanks!

    1. Ev blog meters have had issues and are a jobber built meter who builds for anybody. As an electrician of 35 years and ESWP subject trainer and a meter user myself, you can use what you want but my meter I use and teach others to use is a 3rd party tested robust cat 3 Fluke.

        1. I knew better, but did it without thinking.

          I took my HP 410B. VTVM about forty years ago and attached theground clip to the “ground” of an AC/DC tv set. I guess I then plugged the tv set in, because suddenly the insulation was burning off that ground lead. I of course had shorted what wasn’t ground to ground through the VTVM’s ground lead (and then to ground via its three prong plug).

          It uses cheap wire for the ground lead to this day. The original did act like a fuse of sorts.

          Oddly enough, tye v set was not damaged.

          1. I had that just the other week with a 12v 1A powersupply, connected to the drum module of an old yamaha organ where the positive had to be connected to ground and I hooked my scope up and a amplifier at the same time. fortunately i used a cheap breadboard wire for the ground connection of the probe. the isolation melted and i unplugged the thing. nothing was broken, except the dupont wire.

      1. Someone with a cheap meter was checking out a machine. First he checked out the on light, it was good. Then the main power supply (440 volts about 200 amps) he left the meter on oms, he was not holding the meter. The face plate bounced off the celling.

  2. “even though you do get what you pay for, as you might expect”
    Why repeat a cliché that is so wrong? Yes, I’m being pedantic, and the phrase is not really meant to be taken literally. It’s much better to say exactly what you mean: for a few people, it’s worth spending the extra money on a fluke. For many (probably most) HaD readers, I think it’s not worth it. I don’t have a fluke, and I’ve been working with electronics and embedded systems on and off for work and for fun over three decades. I’ve got two CAT II meters, a CAT II/III UT203, and a CAT III Ideal meter, none of which cost me more than $50.

    1. It’s been very inexact for the last decade and a half, there’s no range any more. Your purchase price variance between $10 BOM and $20 BOM versions is $400 different. Then you consider the cheap one is too cheap, and the expensive one is too expensive so you try to midrange your buy and are more likely to end up with the $10 BOM version in a fancy box rather than a better deal on the $20 BOM type or something half way between.

      1. +1 – well put. Hard to tell in the midrange what is what, with trumped up specs on the $10 BOM. Nice when teardowns are shared to see what is $10 BOM with lipstick, and what is a great deal on a $20 BOM.

      2. Very much agreed. Never paid $500 for a Fluke because I was dumb enough to spend $250 on one once and the display went out in under a year. My expensive bluepoint meter also died in a matter of months. Meanwhile the $80 RadioShack meter I had before either of them still works perfectly more than 10 years later. Obviously don’t trust the meter that costs less than shipping, but don’t expect quality just because of a name either. Same goes for almost everything, not just meters.

    2. Many meters marked as CATIII do not meet requirements for this ratings. EEV blog covered that many times. This is why some brands earn more trust and people are willing to pay for this.
      Personally at work I use Fluke 117 (for CATIII) but at home DT830.

    3. And then there some such as me that went to a yard sale of a bunch of stuff some old man that passed leaving all to his widow to find a new home for. I bought a big box of electronic stuff that no one looked into. I did, and down under all that stuff was a nice high dollar Fluke meter along with a few other neat things. Got the box for $25. Nothing like getting a Fluke cheap !

  3. I had a Fluke 289 that would fail every year where it was beeping that the leads were plugged in the wrong position. It would still take measurements, but it was doing that annoying beeping nonstop. I’d send it in for warranty repair, they would replace a diode, and then the next year it would do it again. To be fair, our office was extremely dry in winters and the meter was probably getting hit with ESD pretty regularly, but I still think it should survive that. Yeah, they’re great meters, but they fail too.

  4. Auto power off and a fast bar graph are what make the Fluke worth it .

    The bar graph is a direct conversion from the analogue meter needle speed and for those that transitioned it is extremely useful. I don’t know that people who only used digital will use that in the same way as us old fogeys.

    1. Real Cat III, Cat IV are what make a fluke worth it.

      I “trust” my CCC [ Cheap-Ch*nese-Cr*p ] meters with nothing above ~48V DC. They are great for “spot” measurements here and there, or to verify something is generally within tolerance.

      Trusting a cheap meter, is cheapening your life.

  5. So no mention of calibration, Are the unit measurements are within published specs? How long does it remain within stated tolerances, if it remains within tolerances at different temperatures, if it can be re-calibrated, how well the jacks hold up, battery life, audio loudness, repair-ability, etc. This seems to be about just taking things apart!

    1. A few years back I bought a Radio Shack Multimeter. It had a temperature probe which was a thermocouple! The meter’s designers obviously had no clue that thermocouples measure relative temperature, so readings would be wrong if the meter was in a cold or hot environment. (I know they can be compensated to read properly, but I have no reason to believe this was.)

    2. Was wondering this myself…

      I have a Keysight multimeter which I bought to replace a Digitech-branded meter that broke down (basically a part on the rotary switch broke… one of these days I’ll raid the filament at HSBNE for a replacement part). It was chosen because it could do manual ranging as well as auto-ranging and had Sigrok support if I want it.

      The only thing I miss is the ability to read current, which can be achieved with a current shunt and some maths anyway.

      It came with a calibration sheet to show that it had been factory calibrated. I don’t have the equipment to verify that calibration, but for what I use it for, it seems to be on the mark. I doubt it’ll get calibrated again, so I expect over time it will drift off those original figures, but compared with an el’cheapo, probably still competitive.

      The Fluke meters at work get regularly re-calibrated. Those do see the business end of LV circuits on a regular basis, so there’s good reason to do this.

      How do the el’cheapos compare on this front? If I bought two el’cheapo meters, are they likely to both read about the same or are they going to give me two wildly different answers? How close would either be to a “quality” meter?

      It’s nice to know there’s been effort on the physical safety of the device. That said, I do not hold an electrician’s ticket, so I’m legally not allowed to touch >120V DC or >60V AC unless it’s the RF stages on a radio transceiver (for which I hold a radio license).

    3. This is just about taking it apart because he’s already reviewed and currently recommends the cheaper meter for beginners and hobbyists. This is just him explaining the actual, internal differences between them, so his viewers have a better idea of what they’re missing out on.

      I’ve been watching him for about 3 months now, after finding a review for this exact DMM (I know which factory OEM’s this).

    1. I have two Fluke 77s at home (souvenirs from previous companies)

      I use them all the time.

      One of our lab techs decided to save us some money and bought a bunch of cheap-o (but you’d recognize the brand) DMMs. They worked…OK…but the most annoying thing about them, was that they would auto-off after about a minute. If you’re working in the lab, the last thing you want to be doing, every g-d minute, is turning your meter off and on again. Of course, you could not disable this “feature”

      They got dumped. We’re back to (admittedly a bit on the pricey side) Flukes.

  6. The $0 Harbor Freight meters (with coupon) do the trick for 99.9% of my use (I do not do anything above 120 V with these, most of the time it is below 12 V). Heck, I must have some 6-7 of those dispersed through my home. I also have more expensive devices, but seldom take them from their cases.

    1. they work fine, last long time if you pay attention to what your doing. Does not appear to be any state of the art design going on in the Fluke. I like my Simpson 260, not sure where it is anymore.
      watching him take things apart I expected to see a band aid or two.

      1. This.
        The difference between a Fluke and some other meters is if you put a Fluke in resistance and plug it into a 480vac circuit it doesn’t catch fire. The harbor freight meters will catch on fire if you do the same and plug it into 120vac. What you are buying with Fluke is the ability to hand it to any dumb gorilla and they have to really do something bad to get hurt.

        We have recently switched to Hyoki for the ability to read up to 1700 VDC (the systems are only supposed to be 1500vdc but that still way outside what Fluke will commit to writing).

    2. The Harbors have extremely cheap test leads. Which also seem to work well as a fuse of sorts. Ha. For the cost of a few bucks to nothing with coupon not really a complaint. Big dollar equipment stays on bench while those get tossed around, beaten, tortured, stepped on and trashed when no longer viable. Great for newbies who havent figured out anything yet.

      1. I have much nicer meters than the HF freebies, but I use the freebies about 99% of the time. They give you a pretty good idea of what you are reading. If I need to measure something and need to very accurate, or need the high input impedance, or 4 wire ohms, I will get one of the flukes out. I have enough of the HF’s that I have them in all the cars and shops. The flukes stay in the electronics shop.

  7. I use and trust a Fluke at work and have ended up with only fluke and hp DMMs at home. However I find it ironic when people say they will only use a fluke in their hobby hacking. The fact that they have opened up the hazardous voltages inside panel on their non-UL listed AC powered device is the hazard. Even a cheap meter is the last of my worries in that situation.

  8. some of the lower end modern fluke’s are not even as good as a fluke, which is telling me they are falling into the weller trap, where their name dictates they can sell a 6$ soldering iron wired to a lamp dimmer for 60+ bucks … cause yea weller.

    THEN you fall into the trap of “only professionals” bullshit, to the point where at one time I was troubleshooting my furnace and my HVAC “professional” neighbor came over and was like all “woah there cowboy be careful with that cheap meter” … yea know my cheap Tektronix meter. If that wasn’t amusing enough he returned with a fluke china clone, so apparently if its not yeller n brown its garbage.

    final point being is that 99.999% of DMM’s are only going to be exposed to light duty tasks, does anyone NEED an expensive meter to eyeball kids toys, arduino’s, car batteries, or even household voltages … no, in fact you dont NEED an expensive meter for almost all of handheld meter needs, outside of working on the power grid or a train station.

    Is your harbor freight free coupon meter good enough to use in a industrial application (probally)? is it fine for troubleshooting your car or checking xmas lights or a wall outlet, its actually overkill

  9. It’s interesting that the focus is on safety. Very little discussion is over specs. A meter that reads wrong isn’t so useful either.

    I have no idea how accurate the cheap meters are, it’s not really discussed.

    And as I think I commented when this came up before, not much n “how cheap is high enough”muslim. There must be plenty of room between a Fluke and a free DMM, but that middle ground isn’t explored just “Fluke is good” and “cheap is bad” (without even specifying price level).

  10. I have a Fluke that I use for “important” stuff, and I buy the cheap ones to do rough stuff, like continuity when I am checking why this lamp doesn’t work or if there is something close to 120V on that outlet. I carry the cheap ones to work and one in the car and if they get stolen or broken, no biggie.

  11. Speaking of wifi communication for a DMM, i bought this DMM for work and it has an IR port on it. I found out it’s a sigrok known DMM, but under different brand name (by looking at the pictures at sigrok’s webpage). So i bought one of those IR modules used for obstacle avoidance, cut the emitter LED off and connected it to the serial RXD of an ESP8266. Used a step down converter to power it at 3.3V and connected it to a USB power bank. Put ESPlink on it and got WIFI DMM. Since the communication method is regular 9600bps serial, but not ascii though, it works out nice.

    One problem is that i have to use a virtual serial program to get the data to a virtual serial port, so that i can use SmuView (since pulseview does not support DMMs) to see and record the data, since the sigrok driver does not support other than serial, atleast not yet.

    Now i need to design a case for it, since the tape around the modules stuck to the DMM slot is not very stable.

  12. Always used Fluke at work and obviously didnt have to pay for them. At home I have an old school Avo meter thats older than me, still works but the calibration is slightly off now. I just love that post WWII look of it. Other than that I always used cheap ones, if they go pop or the battery runs out just chuck em. That was till recently when I got the chance to buy a new Fluke at a very reasonable price. Its then you realise just how out the cheap meters can be. On one of my projects i kept killing psus, turns out it was due to voltage not being what the cheap meters said it was. As they say you get what you pay for.

    1. Semantics is literally what words mean. If you don’t care about semantics, please don’t attempt to read or write.

      The problem with *thinking* that you know what you’re reading when you actually know nothing is the cornerstone of hubris but not knowledge.

  13. Some 40 years ago I purchased an inexpensive Micronta brand (Radio Shack) meter, hoping that it would keep working long enough for me to buy a Fluke. In 1980 the cost of a new, basic Fluke DMM was the equivalent of $1200 today. It wasn’t like that extra $1185 was buying greatly enhanced accuracy / precision either. Not that it mattered, because back then 5% tolerances for electronic components was considered top notch.

    Long story short the Micronta meter is nearly as good as new today, and I still use it regularly. I finally got a status-symbol Fluke, but most of the time it’s kept somewhere it cannot “walk off” from. The main reason why the old Micronta is still with me is because I simply didn’t do anything stupid with it. I never tried to use it to drive nails, and whenever I encountered voltages (and potential currents), falls etc. that could kill me, I took precautions to guard my own life first. What kept my life safe also kept the meter safe.

    Before oscilloscopes became mostly digital devices, it was well worth the money to buy a HP or Tek scope because the accuracy and precision was better, and top brand scopes needed break/fix service less often. But nobody really needs to spend that much for a DMM.

    1. 2 Microntas in the herd here, the one I got new has to be about 35 years old, was my only meter for years. The digital pocket size one is probably about 20 years old. The first though I just realised guiltily that I have not checked the battery in it lately, hope it has not leaked. The second has a voracious appetite for lithium coin cells, especially if you use it in continuity beep mode. I guess I never did anything gratuitously stupid with them, but they’ve not had a real easy life.

  14. I have a calibrator at work to accredited standards and compared a Chinese vici multimeter to a fluke 177 equivalent and there’s not much between them on their measurements the vici failed to meet flukes standards on temperatures below – 15 ohms in the megaohm range and I believe high capacitance values but only by a small amount.

  15. As a retired electronics teacher I would use the cheap Chinese meters in my classroom number one because I had a buy them all myself the school did not have the money.., because the students would lead to go through maybe I have a dozen a year. I only use the fluke for myself

  16. I once worked with a guy whose wife worked at Fluke and she got me a meter (forget which one) at employee price. I was really happy with it until the connector between the board and the LCD crapped out. Wasn’t much good without a display. It was well beyond warranty by then and I couldn’t afford to have it repaired (I tried myself, but it was hopeless) so I tossed it. I can buy a LOT of $30 meters for $500.

  17. I was Fluke’s Internal Sales Engineer in the UK. One of my proudest moments was when I persuaded someone not to buy a Fluke meter. He was a one-man-band domestic TV repairer. Even the cheapest Fluke meter would have been a major investment. If he bought a digital meter he was going to wrap it in cotton-wool. He didn’t need a meter that would survive falling down a mountain. I like to think that old man Fluke would have approved of what I did that day.

  18. I have a fluke 286 at work. I use it mostly for safety reasons when I poke around 3-phase circuits and UPS systems, and even though they’re calibrated yearly, I can’t say that I ever needed the precision. For bench stuff, I almost always use my cheap uni-t meters.

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