Article
Multimeters are must-haves for an electrical contractor’s toolbox. The technology behind these devices isn’t new, but it has definitely evolved over the years. Many electrical pros now go directly for the latest digital offerings, thanks to their accuracy and easy-to-read displays. But older analog designs still hold advantages in some testing applications and, at the higher end, cost – and an argument could be made for having one of each on hand to be ready for all testing needs.

Multimeters: Analog, Digital or Both?

Chuck Ross
Multimeters are must-haves for an electrical contractor’s toolbox. The technology behind these devices isn’t new, but it has definitely evolved over the years. Many electrical pros now go directly for the latest digital offerings, thanks to their accuracy and easy-to-read displays. But older analog designs still hold advantages in some testing applications and, at the higher end, cost – and an argument could be made for having one of each on hand to be ready for all testing needs.

Regardless of technology, multimeters are all designed to measure a range of electrical characteristics, including AC and DC voltage, resistance and battery charge, to name a few. Higher-end models add to this functionality. Digital products also can automate some of the testing settings, such as determining the right voltage testing range.

On the surface, going digital seems like a no-brainer. The auto-ranging function and direct digital display make both set-up and interpreting results easier and faster. Accuracy also is improved over analog models, which can be difficult to read (especially for older eyes). And entry-level digital products aren’t much more expensive than their analog counterparts (though high-end digital multimeters can be significantly more costly).

One testing application where analog meters have an advantage, though, is where fluctuations in measured functions are taking place. In these situations, a digital display might simply lock into the first reading or keep changing so quickly that it’s impossible to read. An analog meter’s shifting needle can make it easier to understand both the range and frequency of the fluctuation being measured. So, for contractors whose work might require understanding such conditions, an affordable analog meter could be a good complement to a more sophisticated digital unit to help diagnose a broader range of possible problems.
Photo courtesy of Gardner Bender
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