Your First Meter

One good thing about the Internet is that you can find lots of information and advice on just about anything. The bad thing about the Internet is that you can find lots of information and advice on just about anything. The problem, of course, is that much of the advice you’ll get is contradictory, and if you’re not in a position to properly evaluate the advice, then you’re no further along than before you got the advice.

Here’s a case in point. On the Ham Radio Help Group Yahoo mailing list, a guy innocently asked if the Meterman CR50 Multi-Meter would be a good choice for a ham’s first meter. At $57, it has a lot of features, and being a Fluke, it’s probably pretty well-made and reliable, so my answer was, “Looks good to me.”

Then, the floodgates opened. One guy suggested he might want auto-ranging.

Another commented, “Seems pretty pricey. My present meter looks like that and has all the same features except the capacitance checker. I found it on the closeout table in an auto parts store for $4.”

Another said, “You can find less expensive units, may be just as good, may not be, at Harbor Freight Tools.”

A third had this suggestion, “Get an inexpensive analog meter and learn how to use it…If you can find a used Triplett 630 analog, you got yourself a beauty that you won’t want to let go.”

A fourth said that, “Sears (and especially their Sears Hardware versions) offer somewhere on the order of 20 different digital multimeters, including both their own Craftsman brand and certain Fluke models. I’ve had a Craftsman meter for about five years now, and have absolutely no qualms about recommending them. I know it’s not the quality/accuracy of a Fluke, but it’s about 1/3 the price, and it’s available locally. My recommendation is to watch Sears sale ads until you see a Craftsman auto-ranging digital multimeter on sale for half-price.”

Now, if you were the ham asking for advice, what would you do?

I’ll stand by my advice that this seems like a good deal. Yes, it’s more expensive than something you can buy at Harbor Freight, but I think that for a beginner this would be a better choice. It will be more accurate and more reliable, and I think that, for a beginner, that’s important.


  1. I have used Fluke meters professionally for over 25 years. They make a lot of models, some more expensive, some less expensive. Dollar for dollar you will get your money’s worth with a Fluke meter. One thing about the Fluke meters is that they are almost indestructable. Most of the cheep meters will self destruct if you are on the ohm scale and touch a voltage source. The Flukes just show an error and will work correctly when you put it back on the correct scale.

    I have a work tool box and it has a Fluke model 77. It gets over 2 thousand hours operation on a 9 volt battery. Thats about 6 yeaars of daily use. My personal/home/hobby tool box has a new Fluke 114 True RMS meter. It measures from one one-thousanth of a volt to 600 volt auto ranging.

    Another consideration is the safety leads that come with the meter.

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