If you’re debating buying a multimeter, you may be struggling to decide which one is right for you. There are loads of kinds out there from different manufacturers, but one of the most important things you have to consider when buying a multimeter is one simple question:
Digital, or analogue?
Both digital and analogue multimeters function as great tools for measuring electrical current, voltage and resistance, but which of these instruments is truly better than the other, and which is more ideally suited to prolonged use?
What's the Basic Difference?
The basic difference between an analogue and digital multimeter is quite simple.
One is digital - it will displays numbers on a digital screen. An analogue multimeter doesn't display numbers on a screen, but instead uses a needle scale to show how readings are changing over time.
As technology has advanced, so has the multimeter. What started out as a simple instrument with a needle scale that was quite difficult to read has advanced into the digital multimeter, which showcases a test's results accurately on an LCD display. This eliminates the guesswork of carrying out testing, and allows testers to clearly see the accurate result they need rather than a fluctuating result on a scale.
Since digital multimeters are generally more accurate than analogue counterparts, this has led to the popularity of digital multimeters rising, while the demand for an analogue multimeter has declined.
On the other hand, digital multimeters are generally much more expensive than their analogue friends. If you have more money to spend and need more accurate results, then digital seems like it makes the most sense – but remember this, despite not being as accurate, analogue multimeters can still give a reasonable test rating and generally retail for significantly less than their digital counterparts.
When electricity flows, it changes. The current can suddenly fluctuate at any moment, meaning the first, initial reading gained by a digital multimeter may not be an accurate representation of the electricity currently passing through it.
In comparison, an analogue multimeter, thanks to having a changing display, can accurately showcase sudden fluctuations that are taking place with the electrical flow. It won’t be an exact reading like you get on a digital multimeter, but the analogue instrument will give you a general reading of any sudden fluctuations and alert you to potentially problems with the electricity flow in whatever you’re currently testing.
In this instance, digital multimeters win hands down. An analogue multimeter has a fluctuating scale built into it, but it is up to the user to set this scale correctly and make sure the results gained are correct. This can often lead to the wrong scale being set, and the readings gained being inaccurate.
In comparison, a digital multimeter automatically sets the scale for you, and can actually tell you the scale on the built-in screen as well.
Digital Special Features
Unfortunately, the humble analogue multimeter simply does what it is meant to do. If that’s all you need it for, then great, but you should know that digital multimeters can generally perform tasks outside of their abilities to measure current, voltages and resistance.
For example, many digital multimeters also have a wide variety of additional functions. Many units can test temperature using type K thermocouples, some can measure power levels and most include additional functions such as true RMS (enhances accuracy when testing AC), data hold (freezes value on the screen), auto/manual ranging and much more.
So Which Is Better?
In terms of features, readings and ease-of-use, the digital multimeter wins the race.
That said, analogue multimeters still have their merits, and are worth considering if you need a cheaper multimeter solution.