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Thread: Good cheap multimeter?

  1. #1

    Default Good cheap multimeter?

    I have spent far too much on this hobby the past year. I already have the Pila charger and I know my batteries are fine but I am just sometimes curious as to what their charges are. Nothing too serious. What do I need to be able to read their voltage? Is it called a multimeter? Is there a good cheap one out there? I have shopped around but its just a bit confusing when im not 100% sure what I am looking for.

    I have a bunch of AW 18650's, 17670s, rcr's, and a set of callies customs 3100mahs.

    Thanks guys.

    -Tom

  2. #2

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/...eap-Multimeter
    The harbor freight ones on sale are decent. As far as knowing the charge using the voltage as a reference is not typically an accurate way to do so unless you are very familiar with the charge left at the resting voltage of the particular battery. Meters cannot measure capacity left without draining a battery to do so.
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  3. #3
    *Flashaholic* Mr Happy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Do you live anywhere near a Harbor Freight Tools? If so, I suggest you pick up one or two of these:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/7-function-digital-multimeter-90899.html

    Now, you are not going to get deluxe quality or durability for $4.99, but it will be a perfectly serviceable tool to learn what a multimeter is and how to use it. I have a few of them and they are quite accurate and functional.

    But just in case you are tempted, don't go anywhere near mains circuits with them, stick to low powered batteries. They don't have any safety standards at that price point.
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    *Flashaholic* Mr Happy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Just to give you a quick heads-up: you measure lithium ion voltages with the DC volts setting on the meter, for example the 20 V scale on the Harbor Freight one. If the cell reads 3.7 V or less it needs recharging. When freshly charged it should read between 4.1 V and 4.2 V. If it reads less than 4.1 V when freshly charged it is showing signs of wear.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Is a cheap multimeter all that is needed ?

    I have a cheap one but is something like a ZTS Multi Meter going to be an advantage or is knowing the voltage enough ?

    I have an Ansmann battery tester but sadly it does not work with the more exotic battery types such as 18650 etc.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tommygun45 View Post
    I already have the Pila charger and I know my batteries are fine
    You cannot possibly know that your Li-Ion batteries are fine without an accurate means of measuring the open-circuit battery voltage ... The state of charge of a Li-Ion can be easily checked by simply measuring its rested voltage ... There are tables available on CPF that will give you the Percentage Charge in the battery ... Obviously a reasonably accurate DMM is required , or a precision reference with which to check your meter.

    No-one should put their faith implicitly on the charger alone ... That is irrespective of the make of the charger and its apparently good reviews ...

    I use cheap meters but I know they are very accurate as I check them against a known high accuracy voltage reference device ... I check all my meters regularly and if one is not the same as the others , it is usually because the battery in the meter needs replacing ... If (or when) a meter is out of my limits , it is either thrown away or given to someone who doesn't need this degree of accuracy ... So far , I have only given away one cheap meter ...

    My meters are all identical to the Harbor Freight cheapies and bought here in the UK for less than £5 each.
    .

  7. #7
    Flashaholic* samgab's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I've had a few really cheap DMM's over the years. They've all been pretty crappy, and I don't know how dependable the readings have been...
    I recently got a Fluke 17B from China, for <$100.
    I'm very impressed and completely satisfied with it, and expect it to last reliably and dependably for many years to come.
    If you're looking for something at around the USD$80-100 price point, I highly recommend the Fluke 17B.
    Cheaper than that, and while you'll get readings, you have to make sacrifices in terms of quality and reliability; in my experience.
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Happy View Post
    Do you live anywhere near a Harbor Freight Tools? If so, I suggest you pick up one or two of these:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/7-function-digital-multimeter-90899.html

    Now, you are not going to get deluxe quality or durability for $4.99, but it will be a perfectly serviceable tool to learn what a multimeter is and how to use it. I have a few of them and they are quite accurate and functional.

    But just in case you are tempted, don't go anywhere near mains circuits with them, stick to low powered batteries. They don't have any safety standards at that price point.
    I can vouch for the HF multimeter -- I've had mine for about a year an used it on my rechargeables and my car with pretty good results. Nothing to complain about for $5.

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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Happy View Post
    don't go anywhere near mains circuits with them
    Ditto. Arc-flash danger.

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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    My favorite cheap DMM is my Equus Innova 3320... I'm more inclined to take it out of the house since it only cost me $20 and has taken many harsh falls without breaking... I also have a JLY A830L that I got from one of "those" sites for something like $9 shipped that has gone through several battery changes without dying on me.

  11. #11
    *Flashaholic* Mr Happy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by shao.fu.tzer View Post
    My favorite cheap DMM is my Equus Innova 3320
    Yes, I like that one too. Nice quality feel, big digits on the display, very small, wrist strap for working in confined spaces (wear it like a wrist watch), good robust case. Can find it in WalMart.

    However, since it is sold and intended for automotive applications it is probably best not to use it on mains circuits just like the Harbor Freight one.
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    One "cheap" meter I thinks look good is the Vichy VC99, some of the good points are:


    • Display can show 6000, i.e. with LiIon batteries you get an extra digit (Like 4.123 volt, most meters will only show 4.12 volt).
    • No shared volt/current terminal.
    • It has fuses on both current terminals.
    • It has a nice selection of ranges.
    • Precision looks good
    • Has a yellow rubber protection around the meter.

    But I have not used it enough to say how it stands up to daily use (I nearly always uses my expensive meters).



    Only problem I have seen with the meter is the blue lettering, it is difficult to see.
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  13. #13

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I'm going to disagree about the Harbor Freight suggestion. I went and bought one of these on a similar suggestion. Lasted all of about 20 minutes until one of the plugs broke. Went to Walmart and bought the Innova Equus 3300. About $11. The HF unit was so cheap I swear it weighed about a third of the Innova unit. Spend the 6 bucks extra. I checked it against my uncle's Fluke and it's good enough for me. BTW, like you, I only use it for battery testing. I'm sure it's good enough to learn on if you want to do more.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by shao.fu.tzer View Post
    My favorite cheap DMM is my Equus Innova 3320... I'm more inclined to take it out of the house since it only cost me $20 and has taken many harsh falls without breaking... I also have a JLY A830L that I got from one of "those" sites for something like $9 shipped that has gone through several battery changes without dying on me.
    +1 on the Equus 3320. Picked up one recently and have been pleased. Think Amazon has for about $16

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    *Flashaholic* Mr Happy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sci Fii View Post
    I'm going to disagree about the Harbor Freight suggestion. I went and bought one of these on a similar suggestion. Lasted all of about 20 minutes until one of the plugs broke.
    Yeah, that happened to one of mine too. But I bought four of them on sale at $2.99 each, so I was not too concerned. They are basically disposable at that price, and if you get the odd failure you just take the rough with the smooth.
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  16. #16

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I have had one of the HF multi's for about two years. I have mistreated it becuse it was so cheap and i bought more than one. The thing still works great and is my general purpose go to multimeter. I dont have to worry about losing it or tearing it up. I do agree that spending a little more may buy you a better multimeter. But there is always lemons in everthing you buy.
    The ideal setup would be one or two cheap meters and one accurate dependable meter.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    It's not just that Mr Happy. The dollar amount here is not the important thing. There's something about using such low quality stuff that's it's almost demeaning to the user. Some low dollar stuff is OK or even quite acceptable. This is not one of those cases.
    Last edited by Sci Fii; 10-25-2011 at 07:56 PM.

  18. #18
    *Flashaholic* Mr Happy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sci Fii View Post
    It's not just that Mr Happy. The dollar amount here is not the important thing. There's something about using such low quality stuff that's it's almost demeaning to the user. Some low dollar stuff is OK or even quite acceptable. This is not one of those cases.
    OK, but I don't have the same experience. I broke the plug on mine because I was heavy handed and forced it. Apart from that the quality seems fine. It works, it's accurate, and the display is very readable with good contrast.
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  19. #19

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I have a half dozen harbor freight Dmms. I bought 3 and inherited 3 and all of them seem to work fine. I think they are on the cheapest side of the "good" multimeter. I have a craftsman DMM that has broken once needing repaired already that cost more than the 6 harbor freight meters. If you only need one meter you may consider investing in a $20 one instead of a cheap one. I prefer to have a good meter and a cheap one I can toss a cheap one in my car, keep two in the garage, 2 in the house and loan one out and still not have to worry about my $20 meter.
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  20. #20

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I have to also recommend the Innova 3320 from Walmart. It's accurate, and the only thing you gotta do is change out the leads to heavier gauge shorter wire if you're planning to do current measurements.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sci Fii View Post
    The dollar amount here is not the important thing. There's something about using such low quality stuff that's it's almost demeaning to the user. Some low dollar stuff is OK or even quite acceptable.
    I guess that is the reason why some people buy expensive torches ... It is demeaning to be actually seen with a cheap torch ... I don't mind being demeaned (?) ... I don't have any expensive torches but I still have my immaculate (but very old) Avo Model 8 meter which still works perfectly ... I could even use it on my Li-Ions if I wanted to as the mirror scale makes it easy to read very accurately ... Checked against my five volt reference device , it is spot-on ... However it is so much easier to read my digital cheapie meters that the Avo is just left sitting on display in the study in its nice polished leather case ... The Avo 8 was a very expensive meter when it was bought for me about 37 years ago ... As I was working on electronics , I also had some Flukes for a few years ... The three Flukes all died and yet the old Avo 8 has carried on working as good as ever ... The Flukes were deemed to be beyond economic repair when in-fact it was only their display that had failed ... They had frequency measurement on them which was useful , but as I also carried a TMS and an SLMS with me that feature wasn't absolutely essential ... Luckily I wasn't paying for the Flukes ...

    My ultra cheap Harbor-Freight lookalikes are absolutely spot on in their readings of my reference and that is all I need for my Li-Ion voltage readings ... If a meter starts reading low , I check its battery and if that is not the problem I will dispose of the meter ... So far , I have given away only one meter that was 30mV out on the 20V range when measuring the 5V reference ... It was given away to my Son-in-Law 'cos it was still OK for him to check bulbs , fuses and NiMh batteries with.

    So, cheap meters are OK as long as you can trust their readings ... All meters , even the most expensive should be checked against a reference that is at least ten times better (preferably more) ... Nowadays , you can have your reference checked annually for just a few dollars plus postage if you really need the ultimate accuracy.
    .

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    You can find cheap Fluke 12's and 113's on the auction site.

  23. #23

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by march.brown View Post
    You cannot possibly know that your Li-Ion batteries are fine without an accurate means of measuring the open-circuit battery voltage ... The state of charge of a Li-Ion can be easily checked by simply measuring its rested voltage ... There are tables available on CPF that will give you the Percentage Charge in the battery ... Obviously a reasonably accurate DMM is required , or a precision reference with which to check your meter.

    No-one should put their faith implicitly on the charger alone ... That is irrespective of the make of the charger and its apparently good reviews ...

    I use cheap meters but I know they are very accurate as I check them against a known high accuracy voltage reference device ... I check all my meters regularly and if one is not the same as the others , it is usually because the battery in the meter needs replacing ... If (or when) a meter is out of my limits , it is either thrown away or given to someone who doesn't need this degree of accuracy ... So far , I have only given away one cheap meter ...

    My meters are all identical to the Harbor Freight cheapies and bought here in the UK for less than £5 each.
    .
    Just because you can get an accurate voltage reading on one scale does not indicate that you can get accurate readings on all scales and all things you are reading. This has been my issue with cheap meters ... cheap switches and dials and flaky readings. I would certainly feel more comfortable with a cheap autoreading meter as there is less to go wrong.

    Semiman

  24. #24

    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I have a DT 830B Digital Multimeter, on sale at Fry's Electronics for probably $4.00-5.00 or so, a couple of years ago. It looks almost identical to the Harbor Freight multimeter. I haven't had problems with any leads breaking or anything like that. It's fine for simple measurements. I use it to perform simple diagnostics on my car, as well as check battery voltages. It runs on a single 9V battery. Like others said, set it on the 20V scale to check battery voltages. It's worked for me, so far...

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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by SemiMan View Post
    Just because you can get an accurate voltage reading on one scale does not indicate that you can get accurate readings on all scales and all things you are reading. This has been my issue with cheap meters ... cheap switches and dials and flaky readings. I would certainly feel more comfortable with a cheap autoreading meter as there is less to go wrong.

    Semiman
    My cheapie meters are normally only used for measurements on my torch batteries ... I use the twenty volt DC range for Li-Ions and the two volt DC range for NiMh cells ... The resistance ranges also get used on fuses , bulbs etc ... I can trust the reading on the twenty volt DC range as it is checked against my five volt reference device.

    I am perfectly happy with my meters and should they eventually fail , I will simply buy another ... I can take my five volt reference device to the shop and check the cheapie meter before I buy ... No problem ... The salespersons all seem very keen to see how their products perform.

  26. #26
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    It's not obvious but you can use a wall oven and a 4-1/2 digit DVM to measure the short circuit current capability of your residential panel. Mine came in at 10,800A.

    You can probably make any cheapie meter safer for mains work by putting a fuse in series with the meter with an interrupting current rating greater than your particular value.

    The RCA Voltohmyst, a VTVM, used this method. It had two fuses in series which didn't make sense until you looked at the parts list.

  27. #27
    *Flashaholic* Flying Turtle's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    I've also been using a Craftsman for a few years. I think I paid less than $20. They are often on sale and there is a large selection. Certainly good enough for voltage checks.

    Geoff

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    Flashaholic* samgab's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Here's something interesting:
    I just received a DMMCHECK precision 5.000V voltage reference in the mail today.
    I tested the Entry level Fluke 17B versus one of the old cheapies I had lying around.
    Here are the results:


    So the cheap junkie one is more accurate (At 5 V) than the Fluke that I have been relying on!
    Now I want to get a "PentaRef" so I can check the readings at different scales of DC Voltage.

    Edit: I've adjusted the 17B now. The precision voltage reference is accurate, for those of eevblog who doubt:
    Last edited by samgab; 11-01-2011 at 08:15 PM.
    In date order, as far as I can remember: Mag 4D LED, LL P14, Fenix LD20 R4, 47s Preon 2 R5 red, 47s Quark Mini AA S2, Fenix TK35 XM-L T6, 4Sevens ReVO SS S2, Maha MH-C808M, Maha MH-C9000, 47s Single Bay Li-ion charger, Zebralight SC600 XM-L U2, Fenix TK70, iCharger 206B, Sunwayman D40A...

  29. #29
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by samgab View Post
    So the cheap junkie one is more accurate (At 5 V) than the Fluke that I have been relying on!
    On average it shouldn't be but you'd have to check several meters of each kind to see how these two meters compare.

    Does 5.00 +/- 0.04 v pass spec on the Fluke?
    +/- 0.5% of 5v is .025v + 3 LSBs would give 4.98v + 3 LSBs.
    The Fluke might be out of spec by 1 LSB.
    Last edited by xul; 10-27-2011 at 08:50 PM.

  30. #30
    Flashaholic* samgab's Avatar
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    Default Re: Good cheap multimeter?

    Quote Originally Posted by xul View Post
    On average it shouldn't be but you'd have to check several meters of each kind to see how these two meters compare.

    Does 5.00 +/- 0.04 v pass spec on the Fluke?
    +/- 0.5% of 5v is .025v + 3 LSBs would give 4.98v + 3 LSBs.
    The Fluke might be out of spec by 1 LSB.
    The rated accuracy spec for the Fluke 17B for DC Volts is .05% +3 counts Least Significant Digits.
    So the spec for 5.00V would be (rounded) 4.95-5.06 V. So yes, it's within spec... Just.
    (4.98-3LSD is 4.95.
    5.03+3LSD is 5.06.)
    See @6m 18S of the video onwards for explanation of the LSD counts...
    Last edited by samgab; 10-28-2011 at 03:52 AM.
    In date order, as far as I can remember: Mag 4D LED, LL P14, Fenix LD20 R4, 47s Preon 2 R5 red, 47s Quark Mini AA S2, Fenix TK35 XM-L T6, 4Sevens ReVO SS S2, Maha MH-C808M, Maha MH-C9000, 47s Single Bay Li-ion charger, Zebralight SC600 XM-L U2, Fenix TK70, iCharger 206B, Sunwayman D40A...

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