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Absolutely most dirt cheap digital multi-meter you can find?
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enroper
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26th December 2012
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Absolutely most dirt cheap digital multi-meter you can find?

So, I'm diving into electronics and know I will need a meter, but I'm trying to do it on a shoe string budget. That said, what is the name / model of a functional and accurate DMM that can be had used for dirty cheap? Feel free to spam me if you have one to sell too...

I figured I'd ask you folks since I just know, like any niche, there is literally thousands of crap pieces of gear out there, and I dont want to buy something cheap but not functional and accurate.
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26th December 2012
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26th December 2012
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Several bottom dollar DMM's have M830 in the model number. I found some in the outlet store for under $5 US. Not great for audio work, no low-volts AC and only near power line frequency. But very expendable.
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26th December 2012
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Yes, digital multi-meters for as low as $5 and perfectly usable (depending on what you are trying to do). And meters $10-15 at places like Harbor Freight, etc.

Note that "functional" and "accurate" depend a lot on exactly what you are trying to do. As speedskater says, maybe not terribly useful for measuring audio signals directly, but then it is rather rare that you need to do that.
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26th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcrowley View Post
Yes, digital multi-meters for as low as $5 and perfectly usable (depending on what you are trying to do). And meters $10-15 at places like Harbor Freight, etc.

Note that "functional" and "accurate" depend a lot on exactly what you are trying to do. As speedskater says, maybe not terribly useful for measuring audio signals directly, but then it is rather rare that you need to do that.
im mostly going to be diving into building pedals. eventually i'd like to get into fixing guitar amplifiers but that will be a long time from now i bet..
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26th December 2012
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Personally, I would "save up my pennies" and spend the money to purchase a decent/high end meter that would be useful for years/decades.

My "go to" meter is a Fluke 87V these days. Sadly, Fluke discontinued their 187 model 5-10 years ago....JUST as I was in the market for a new digi meter. But, my Fluke 87 is "almost there" as a meter that covers most everything for me.

I still wish I owned a Fluke 187...but...Oh Well...

Reasons for a high end meter? (Keep in mind....I design/repair pro recording studios as well as doing a lot of custom DIY...)

1. ASSumed accuracy of the meter readings, especially on the AC voltage ranges. Cheap meters crap out above 400 Hz...the frequency used for the Mains on older aircraft. As Mr. Crowley mentioned, the accuracy of the AC ranges is often NOT a problem.....but I want accurate numbers in my work.

Overall accuracy:

"If a man has one clock, he knows what time it is. If the man has TWO clocks, he NEVER knows what time it is." Same deal with a meter......

2. Useful feature on ANY meter includes a 'beep mode' for checking continuity. Easier to hear the beep vs. staring at the readout.

3. My Fluke has a capacitance range up to 9999 microfarads. Cheap meters lack any capacitance ranges, or maybe only go up to a few dozen uF.

4. Once in a blue moon, I am interested in temperature degrees F or C, and my Fluke came with a temp. probe.

I can Ramble On (a GREAT/ ANCIENT Led Zepplin song...lol) about meters, but my suggestion is to Bite the Bullet and purchase a very decent meter that will last you for decades.

That said, I have found that MCM gear is decent for the price:

Electrical Meters / Testers within Test Equipment - MCM Electronics Category


PS, in addition to my Fluke, I also own a cheap analog meter bought at Radio Shack. SOMETIMES a wiggling analog meter is helpful when troubleshooting vs trying to decipher the numbers diddling around on the Fluke.

Bri
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26th December 2012
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if your just starting out start with good tools. I'd recommend getting an auto range meter. esp if your just setting up parts bins. Not having to switch around to find the right range for resistors is awesome when your trying to set up 100 or more resistors into right values.
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26th December 2012
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Originally Posted by doulos30 View Post
if your just starting out start with good tools. I'd recommend getting an auto range meter. esp if your just setting up parts bins. Not having to switch around to find the right range for resistors is awesome when your trying to set up 100 or more resistors into right values.
Oh you mean you dont check every resistor by color code alone?
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26th December 2012
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The only thing you win by finding the absolutely cheapest meter is usually an inaccurate one you can't trust for much. I use my meter a lot for troubleshooting.

While I am not a tool pimp who insists on owning the most expensive. I have owned a number of analog and digital VOM over the years. My last few have been relatively inexpensive Radio Shack digital meters. I don't recall the price but modest $25 give or take for inflation, but they work adequately well for my purposes.

When troubleshooting something you don't want to be constantly second guessing your VOM.

JR
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Quote:
Oh you mean you dont check every resistor by color code alone?
I prefer not to. Sometimes they get the band wrong one or 2 is failed or out of tolerance etc.

I measure them with a auto range meter and 2 mini hook clips it's fast works and makes cleaning a misc resistor drawer fast and easy.
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27th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brianroth View Post

2. Useful feature on ANY meter includes a 'beep mode' for checking continuity. Easier to hear the beep vs. staring at the readout.


Bri
Only counts if you can actually hear it. I can't here anything over 13K, and can't hear a VOM meter beep in the shop to save my my ass.
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27th December 2012
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Wow, guys. Enroper said that he was going to be building guitar pedals and repairing guitar amps. He doesn't need 4-digit precision or 0.1% accuracy here! As long as its got ~2 1/2 digits and a 10 (or 20) VDC scale, what more does he need? If he finds he really needs it, he can upgrade to something more fancy and throw the beginner meter into the tool box.
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27th December 2012
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I still use my ancient analog Simpson 260 all the time.

Can't be beat unless you need extreme accuracy.
And the built-in circuit breaker has saved me countless times.
Usually about $20 used because nobody wants them.
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27th December 2012
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I used a Simpson 260 at one of my early technician jobs and it was sweet... If it was mine I'd still have it.

You can measure diode junctions and polarity using the low ohms scale.

JR
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27th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnRoberts View Post
I used a Simpson 260 at one of my early technician jobs and it was sweet... If it was mine I'd still have it.

You can measure diode junctions and polarity using the low ohms scale.

JR
Before I retired the company I worked for switched to digital meters and decided the Simpson analog meters were no longer to be used by the techs. The 260 I had at work found a new home on my own workbench.

Of various digital meters I have, I bought one made by Extech from Amazon. Not a bad meter, but I did need to upgrade the cheap leads that came with it.

Amazon.com: Extech MN35 Digital Mini MultiMeter: Home Improvement
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29th December 2012
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I also have one of those jumbo Simpson 260 analog meters on my tech bench. In addition to being a decent meter, it has some sentimental value since it was given to me by a gentleman from Chicago who I assisted with some restoration projects of his Ampex tape machines, and who has passed away during the past few years. Great analog meter!!! But, it lives in Ye Shoppe cuz of the size. Much of my work is done at clients' studio sites, so all my tools/test gear have to either fit into my PT Cruiser if the site is within driving distance, or carefully packed into heavy-duty boxes if I have to check tools/gear as baggage on a commercial air flight.

I still insist on good accuracy for something as 'BASIC' as a digi multimeter....I don't want to be guessing. For similar reasons, I own quality hand tools vs. 'Walmart junk'.

Bri
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Note that even a "Walmart junk" digital $5 multi-meter is probably as accurate as an antique analog meter. Especially if that heirloom hasn't been calibrated since the invention of the transistor. With modern technology it is SO MUCH easier to create an inherently accurate (and stable) circuit than back in our grandfathers' era.

OTOH, there is nothing like a waving meter needle and that quaint yellowish candle-light glow of an old-fashioned VU meter. Especially the old Simpson with the spade-shape arrow at the end of the needle. Even though they are ill-suited to modern digital technology where there is absolutely zero headroom above FS. I marvel now how much I depended on the inherent headroom of that oxide sandpaper wearing away at my tape heads.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcrowley View Post
Note that even a "Walmart junk" digital $5 multi-meter is probably as accurate as an antique analog meter. Especially if that heirloom hasn't been calibrated since the invention of the transistor. With modern technology it is SO MUCH easier to create an inherently accurate (and stable) circuit than back in our grandfathers' era.

OTOH, there is nothing like a waving meter needle and that quaint yellowish candle-light glow of an old-fashioned VU meter. Especially the old Simpson with the spade-shape arrow at the end of the needle. Even though they are ill-suited to modern digital technology where there is absolutely zero headroom above FS. I marvel now how much I depended on the inherent headroom of that oxide sandpaper wearing away at my tape heads.
Not to be argumentative but methinks you are confusing resolution with accuracy. The old Simpson 260 was not going to deliver a 5 digit digital readout, but was a quality instrument. I have seen cheap digital meters give impossible results when their auto-ranging is confused or some other gotcha occurs.

I repeat my suggestion that it's OK to buy cheap, but not so cheap that it doesn't work. If you don't trust your meter, even if it is working OK, it is too cheap for you.

JR
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29th December 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnRoberts View Post
Not to be argumentative but methinks you are confusing resolution with accuracy. ...
No. I double-checked to confirm the proper term that I meant. I get what you mean, however. People INFER many decimal points of resolution on a digital readout to mean that the measurement is actually ACCURATE enough to require that many digits. Of course, resolution and accuracy are two separate and independent factors. And modern technology makes it trivial and cheap to show 5 digits when something may be accurate to only 2 digits. But the extra 3 digits LOOK impressive even though they are only displaying random noise.

Remember that the accuracy of that old equipment depended on a great many marvelous (nearly miraculous) materials and design tricks, most of which are likely lost in modern times. And remember also that modern solid-state technology with integrated bandgap references, automated laser-trimming, etc. are trivial to reproduce by the millions at a vanishing cost of pennies.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcrowley View Post
OTOH, there is nothing like a waving meter needle and that quaint yellowish candle-light glow of an old-fashioned VU meter. Especially the old Simpson with the spade-shape arrow at the end of the needle.
That's not the meter used in the 260.
260 = No wavering, No spade-shape arrow, No yellow background.

A merit of the 260 is that they are pretty indestructible as long as you don't drop them. Most are over 50 years old, and with proper care will be going strong in another 50.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank_Case View Post
That's not the meter used in the 260.
260 = No wavering, No spade-shape arrow, No yellow background.

A merit of the 260 is that they are pretty indestructible as long as you don't drop them. Most are over 50 years old, and with proper care will be going strong in another 50.
Yes, I know that. I have a 260 (although it was non-functional when I got it and I have never had the time to fix it). I was referring to analog meters in general, and VU meters specifically as relevant to this population.

OTOH, I would like to see what would happen if some of you with functional 260s had them calibrated and note how far (or maybe not?) they have drifted over those decades.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcrowley View Post
I have a 260 (although it was non-functional when I got it and I have never had the time to fix it).

....
OTOH, I would like to see what would happen if some of you with functional 260s had them calibrated and note how far (or maybe not?) they have drifted over those decades.
First issue: Might be a blown fuse. That's why I prefer the 260 with the built-in circuit breaker (white button on the front). Even then, there is a yet another fuse inside the battery compartment that occasionally blows. Other than that, they usually keep on ticking. But don't drop it.

Second issue: I've compared it to my Fluke and it's amazingly accurate.
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Another virtue of a 260 type meter is that it's a rather low impedance meter. It is not subject to those ghost (phantom) reading that modern very high impedance DMM's get when measuring unterminated wires.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Speedskater View Post
Another virtue of a 260 type meter is that it's a rather low impedance meter. It is not subject to those ghost (phantom) reading that modern very high impedance DMM's get when measuring unterminated wires.
Back in the days of high-impedance firebottles, that was a DISadvantage. That is why we had VTVMs (vacuum-tube volt-meters) with high-impedance inputs. How many of us had one of these Heathkits (or an ancestor of it)

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30th December 2012
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I'm gonna agree with everybody and tell the OP to go ahead and get the $15 turd at Wal-Mart, it'll do until you can afford a Fluke. Save those pennies and when you're ready to buy a real meter you'll know enough about them to make an informed decision (notice OP did not mention what features needed)

I scored a like-new Fluke 77 mkIV on Amazon used with the test leads, gators, and a pouch for just under $100 a few years ago and I freakin LOVE it. Only thing I wish it had was inductance. I still have my old turd for high voltage and uncertain house wiring, etc, so if I blow it up I'm out $15.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank_Case View Post
Trouble was you had to plug it in and wait an hour for it to warm up and stabilize. But after that, they were pretty good.
Another reason that modern digital meters (even ultra-cheap ones) beat the pants off that old technology.
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31st December 2012
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I build pedals and tinker with and repair amps.
I have one these and like it. I've been using it for years without trouble.
Digital Multimeter - Save on this AC/DC Digital Multimeter
I have 8 other meters (now that I count:yikes) but that one never leaves my bench.
Does what any other meter is expected to do plus measures caps, transistor gain and temp
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I build pedals and tinker with and repair amps.
I have one these and like it. I've been using it for years without trouble.
Digital Multimeter - Save on this AC/DC Digital Multimeter
I have 8 other meters (now that I count:yikes) but that one never leaves my bench.
Does what any other meter is expected to do plus measures caps, transistor gain and temp
interesting. the negative reviews make me weary though. dont like buying stuff twice...
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31st December 2012
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Truth in Advertising? - Hazard Fraught Tools | Hooniverse

On a more serious note, the Radio Shack stuff is usually decent for the price.
I'm tearing up here. I can't even see to type (yes i have to look at my keyboard to type) that s**t is so funny. Oh my, saved to ubiquitous 'funny pics' folder.
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