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Multimeter do you own one if so what kind?


bc6

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I'm thinking about getting a multimeter and I m looking for some advice on what brand I should get. I'm looking for something not expensive but has a good amount of features on it that would be helpful for model railroading thanks.

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I am no expert in Multimeters. All I ever needed was check resistance, the obvious "beeb" connection thing wich name I forgot, and voltage measure. TBH for my means every cheap AF Multimeter does that job. Not seen anyone I would rather use as well.

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These days just about any multimeter will do the trick for the main model rr tasks of voltage, amperage, and resistance. If you look around for a well reviewed $20-40 multimeter you will do fine. Yes it won’t be ultra precise, but well within good enough for the readings you will need. You can verify against some standards to see how it looks if you worry. I have a number of them (no big name brands) and they are all with in few percent tolerance, plenty good enough for the normal model rr stuff. Big thing is to get the features that fit doing simple model railroading stuff and how you like interacting with the multimeter. When I use to do a lot more electronics I had a fluke and a big old bench heath (both I got great deals on slightly used), but even then it was a bit overkill and unless you’ve got a lot to spend really not needed.
 

big thing newer features these days is simplified auto range, where you just select the reading and it will deal with figuring out the range for the meter to measure in for the reading, otherwise you choose the type reading and the range. The tighter the range selected the more accurate the read is, so measuring 5v on a 1-100v range will be more accurate than reading it on 1-1000v range. So auto range is handy if you are grabbing the probes fast to take a reading and don’t want to fiddle with changing anything if you are doing different range reading but in model trains we are generally 0-12v and 0-5a, resistance is the only thing you may need a broader range, but even there it’s usually for leds and only 0-5000 ohm range. I have a newer little autorange I picked up for like $25 and it does a decent job for general stuff. Auto range and even auto mode are becoming more the normal these days as well. More sophisticated circuitry is allowing better auto range and protect the multimeter for being zapped.

 

don’t worry about diode, capacitance, and ic testing as for regular model rr stuff you won’t be using those unless you dive into electronics. At that point you can shop for a meter for those tasks. Some of those features are on most multimeters go but you just won’t use them for the regular stuff so you can basically ignore it for now.

 

other features I find I have mostly shopped for are these below. I’ve found most multimeters I’ve looked at usually have some videos with them that will show most of this stuff and usually a YouTube review or a few that will walk you through them.

  • Most important to me is a large backlit display to see numbers easily at a glance. non backlit can be hard to read in some lighting and angle situations. These use to chew up batteries fast, but newer backlit displays are more efficient
  • form factor (usually don’t like huge models that take up lots of bench space)
  • auto shutoff after a set time so you don’t forget and leave it on and drain your battery
  • audio continuity tester. A mode to just check for continuity in a circuit, if resistant less than a fraction of an ohm it hums. This is one of the most used features on a multimeter usually with model train stuff to make sure you don’t Hague a gap in a circuit or connection. Most all multimeters have this, but make sure.
  • Push buttons or dial control. Mostly multimeters have relied on the old dial to spin around to set reading and ranges. This takes some focus to dial it into the right one and nicer units have a very clear digital display of what the dial is on so you don’t have to squint at the dial label (sometimes small print and not great coloring). Some dials also are very hard to turn so you have to hold the multimeter with one hand and turn with the other. Newer units now have push buttons for setting reading (ie dc, ac, Amos, ohms, cap, etc and are usually auto ranging.
  • display interface, how clear is it what mode you are in and is it easy to grok at a glance. Some displays put stuff in strange places (I have one that puts v or mv centered under the reading instead of the right of the reading which always makes me have to stop a second.) some use only icons for mode and small so it can be harder to tell what you just switched into.
  • probe plug sizes that are standard sized, not odd small odd ones that you can’t easily buy replacement or multiprobes for. On some smaller multimeter you have no choice in the matter as the standard sized plugs just won’t fit in
  • probe socket location, this determines where the probe plugs will go. Can be an issue on how and where you intend to use the multimeter,
  • built in stand. Most have a built in stand, but smaller multimeters may have plugs on the bottom edge of the unit as it’s too shallow to have them on the face of the meter. This means it’s great to have in your hand, but can’t stand up. Many small hand multimeters don’t have stands.

One thing about stands, for years I’ve struggled with multimeters being a bit hard to access on the bench to change a setting and probe leads kind of sweeping around at the bottom of the unit and knocking stuff around some. Also some multimeter stands are a little flimsy or at a low angle so meter is a bit harder to see. A few years back I discovered a neat trick to use a little cell phone stand to raise the meter a bit off the bench so it’s easier to see and probe leads not right on the bench as much and you can angle the meter to suit your viewing best. You can get these stands in metal to have some heft to them and some unfold to higher levels which can be nice to get them out of the mess of the bench. Some have clamps to hold a phone by the sides but others are just a bottom lip to support the phone and those you can always use some Velcro or a rubber band to attach the multimeter to the stand better. I recently got a little metal swing arm stand (they go for $10-30 and can pick them up cheap on ebay auctions) to clamp the the bench to hold the phone to video stuff and plan on trying it for the multimeter so I can swing it out to the front of the bench when using.

 

cheers

 

jeff

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1 hour ago, cteno4 said:

These days just about any multimeter will do the trick for the main model rr tasks of voltage, amperage, and resistance. If you look around for a well reviewed $20-40 multimeter you will do fine. Yes it won’t be ultra precise, but well within good enough for the readings you will need. You can verify against some standards to see how it looks if you worry. I have a number of them (no big name brands) and they are all with in few percent tolerance, plenty good enough for the normal model rr stuff. Big thing is to get the features that fit doing simple model railroading stuff and how you like interacting with the multimeter. When I use to do a lot more electronics I had a fluke and a big old bench heath (both I got great deals on slightly used), but even then it was a bit overkill and unless you’ve got a lot to spend really not needed.

Long story short, you get what you pay for.  I’ve found that I’ll make use of top-end tool features some day (thermo probe, induction voltage measurement, etc). Good quality tools are a lifelong investment.

 

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I agree, nice tools are great and last a lifetime, but for those with more limited budgets and needs a pretty inexpensive multimeter will do the job for the basic model railroading tasks. I think any of my cheap multimeters have been off by maybe 5% at max and that’s good enough for most modelers’ needs for a few checks of voltage, amperage,  resistance and continuity. I’ve had cheap multimeters last a long time as well.

 

im just saying if you are doing just a few checks here and there an inexpensive one will do you fine. If you’re diving into heavier electronics then a nicer one will probably be needed. 

 

Jeff

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cten04 nails it, for model railroad work a cheap meter will cover everything you need.

I've been working in electronics as a hobby and then a career for 45 years, and most times all I needed for measurements was a very basic meter.
I've got some very good meters, and you do get what you pay for, but in general the quality of cheap digital meters today is more than good enough for general work. I've got a cheap UniT that I bought at a street market in HK 15 years ago (because I left my good Fluke at home) and it's been in my work kit ever since and still going strong.

One thing I should point out is working with DCC. Most meters will not give you an accurate measurement of the track voltage of a DCC system. Some meter manufacturers go to great efforts to give true RMS readings, but the DCC signal is not a sine wave, and not even a 50% duty cycle square wave, so the track voltage reading will probably be wrong. It's not the end of the world, just measure the voltage of the track with no load on it, write it down, and use that as a reference point if something does go wrong.

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Here are some pics showing what you get for the money.

A Uni-T 33D vs Fluke 77.

The bump rubber on the Fluke is twice the size of the actual meter.

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I have a few cheap basic multimeters around the place that I don't know where they are - a box or drawer somewhere no doubt. So currently my goto device is a Klein tool's voltage tester  https://www.kleintools.com/catalog/electrical-testers/acdc-voltagecontinuity-tester For some of the other things I work on, all I need to know is the voltage level (1.5-24VDC) or connectivity. If I see neither of them, there's an issue.

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The one I purchased on Amazon for 16 euros, a digital one is far enough for my use. No need to have a very expensive one

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Welshbloke

I follow Big Clive on YouTube, he's a very long-experienced electrical engineer (started at a steelworks aged 16 and just carried on, has a dim view of some of the current training schemes having learned his trade the old way). He genuinely recommends the little £6 digital meters from ebay with the rotary dial (try searching DT-830B) for beginner electronics. Obviously do not go poking around in high voltage with these as they weren't designed for it, but if you just want to measure resistor values, check continuity, see how far around the circuit 12v DC is getting, etc they're ideal.

 

A pair of test leads with meter plugs on one end and clips on the other is well worth having for chasing layout problems. You can leave one end clipped above/below the board while prodding around on the opposite side, as well as making it simpler to connect the meter in circuit and measure current draw.

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Yeah for basic stuff on the layout most any old multimeter will do ya. these most all will even do house 110-240 ac to check sockets and such, just have to make sure to hav the higher range selected. Many now are auto sensing so it will decide for you ac/dc and range.
 

You are spot on a nice set of leads is actually the most critical that have a few options like alligator clips. I have separate alligator and also micro lead clips which come in handy when you don’t have 8 hands.Some lead sets have a bunch oof tip/clip options that just screw into the lead ends. I also have a pair of tips that just plug in over a regular tip that have needle tips so easier to get into tight places when needed like on a PCB board. I’ve also used the little spring loaded tester tips which are used in machines to test printed circuit boards. The nice thing is the little spring loaded give the tip has. This lets you easily apply some pressure so if your hand backs off a tiny bit the lead tip does not disengage with the contact point. You can also get a variety of tip shapes.

 

jeff

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Welshbloke

I'm not sure how global this is, but here meters come with a category rating stamped on the front. This tells you what it's safe to use on, from tinkering with low voltage circuits (Arduinos, LEDs, all the fun stuff) up to poking around in very scary industrial sized distribution boards. Obviously some common sense needs to be applied - if it cost less than a beer at some local bars then it probably shouldn't be plugged into three phase AC, no matter what the number on the front claims!

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I have several, all relatively cheapo ones.  I can never find them when needed and recently bought one at Home Depot from "Commercial Electric" to use while figuring out stuff in the house, but will then use it on the work bench.  In the last couple years I bought a couple from Ali Express or Banggood,  including one I can't figure out where everything is auto sensed -- like I said, I can never find them when needed.  None of my are nmr brand or expensive and all work fine for testing continuity, resistors and stuff, low voltage DC, and simple 120V/240V wiring.

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