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Look for a cheap Chinese digital meter for most uses

I agree with most of the recommendations already made, particularly for the Fluke 87 series. They set the standard for handheld DMMs. But they are pricey for someone who just wants to do occasional DIY or troubleshooting work. By all means, if you find one used in good condition for cheap – buy it.

For general troubleshooting or newbie work, I would suggest buying one of the many cheap Chinese DMMs currently on the market, which will probably have enough features and accuracy to do 95% of troubleshooting tasks. The only upgraded feature that I highly recommend is auto-ranging, where the meter finds the right voltage or current range automatically. This mean less knob fiddling and possibly is safer since you don’t need to try to manipulate probes with high voltages while adjusting the meter so much. Once you’ve worked with auto-ranging meters, there’s no going back.

Below is a link to one cheapo meter, the Cen-Tech P35017 sold at Harbor Freight stores, that I think is particularly sweet for the price.

While the regular $40 price tag is reasonable enough, my local Harbor Freight store has discounted these meters to sell for an incredible $19.95 as a special on occasion! They had a small mountain of them behind the cashier’s counter. Just for grins I bought four. They certainly don’t have all the nice features, performance, smooth feel or ruggedness of a Fluke 87, but then I could buy a trunk load of these cheapo meters for the price of one new Fluke 87 V. I find that many times I want to measure several voltages simultaneously, and having several meters comes in handy, even if you do already you have one nice Fluke as your main meter.

It looks at a distance like a Fluke 80 series meter. These are also autoranging. I compared voltage accuracy to two lab-grade rack-mount 6 ½ digit meters that I have (one a fancy-dancy Fluke and the other an HP). Accuracy was outstanding.

Reliability? Who cares? Throw it away and buy another. So far, I’ve had no problems. Even Flukes have flukes.

As an aside, I’ve also got several of the $2.99 tiny hand-held Cen-Tech digital meters for tool box and car trunk duty (battery included!). Now these are very cheesy and not nearly as well made as their big-brother, but for these secondary purposes, who cares? Not recommended for audio bench work though.

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  • Look for a cheap Chinese digital meter for most uses - BBeck 08:41:39 06/19/05 (1)

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