I have used quite a few multimeters in the past 16 years or so, ranging from $10 no-name garbage to an $1100 Agilent 34461A benchtop meter. The two Extech multimeters I own are in the $25 to $80 price range.
In addition to multimeters, I have used standalone voltmeters, ammeters, and probably a frequency counter or two.
I have been testing a range of handheld multimeters these past few weeks, and thus far the Fluke 87V has proven itself to be the best one by a significant margin. Maybe it’s the best handheld multimeter on the market, I can’t say, but I do know it’s by far the best handheld digital multimeter I have ever used.
Price Check: via Amazon
There are at least 8 qualities I consider when shopping for or judging multimeters. Overall performance is an important quality, but can be difficult to gauge in testing tools and other electronic devices.
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Here are the factors that are generally most important to me:
Features – what can it measure, and how well?
Build Quality – can it survive a few drops, dings, and bumps?
Protection – if I overload the meter, will it blow up in my face?
Reliability – will it work when I need it to?
Accuracy – are the readings trustworthy?
Precision – are the readings repeatable?
Ease of Use – do I have to read the manual to figure out basic operations?
Probe Quality – do I have to spend more to replace junky probes?
The Fluke 87V, which is the 5th edition of the 87-series meter, is as great as can be in each of these areas. It has all of the measurement modes I could use, it’s very well built, I trust Fluke’s commitment to user safety, measurements are reliable, accurate, and precise, the meter is easy to use, and the probes it comes with are quite good. What more can I ask for?
There are other multimeter aspects to consider for specialty applications, such as whether a meter comes with thermocouple probe connection, whether it’s pocketable, and whether it’s rated for wet, dusty, or explosive environments, but these things aren’t high priorities for my typical measurement needs.
Fluke 87V Features
The 87V has a very long list of features and specifications, which you can find on Fluke’s website.
- DC Voltage up to 1000V, ±(0.05% + 1) accuracy, 10 µV resolution
- AC Voltage up to 1000V, ±(0.7% + 2) True RMS accuracy, 0.1 mV resolution
- DC Current up to 10A or 20A for 30-seconds max, ±(0.2% + 2) accuracy, 0.01 µA resolution
- AC Current up to 10A or 20A for 30-seconds max, ±(1.0% + 2) accuracy, 0.1 µA resolution
- Resistance up to 50 MΩ, ±(0.2% + 1) accuracy, 0.1 Ω resolution
- Capacitance up to 9,999 µF, ±(1% + 2) accuracy, 0.01 nF resolution
- Frequency up to 200 kHz, ±(0.005% + 1) accuracy, 0.01 Hz resolution
- Duty Cycle up to 99.9%, ±(0.2% per khz + 0.1%) accuracy, 0.1% resolution
- Temperature: the range depends on probe, but the meter itself has a maximum range of -200.0°C – 1090°C (328.0°F – 1994.0°F)
- Conductance up to 60.00 nS, ±(1.0% + 10) accuracy, 0.01 nS resolution
- Diode Check: 3V range, 1 mV resolution, ±(2 % + 1) accuracy
- Display: 6000 count (19,999 counts in high resolution mode)
- Battery life (9V alkaline): ~400 hours without backlight
- Automatic ranging, with manual override
- Hold, min/max, peak, relative modes
- Lifetime Warranty
- Built in the USA
*These are the best accuracy and resolution specs for the 87V throughout its measurement range. More detailed accuracy specifications can be found in the user manual (PDF, pgs 45-50).
One thing to point out is that, while the 87V does have built-in thermometer functionality, it can only measure temperature through an attached thermocouple that has built-in banana plugs, or is compatible with a thermocouple-to-banana jack adapter.
Build Quality and Protection
What’s dark grey, yellow, and built like a small plastic tank? The Fluke 87V. It’s designed to survive 1-meter drops, which is about 3.3 feet, but feels solid enough that it might shrug off harder shocks. Fluke makes other meters (e.g. 27 II and 28 II) that can survive drops of up to 3 meters (~10 feet).
Fluke’s meters are known to have very long lifespans in industrial and field use environments. And if something should go wrong, their service department will treat you well.
The 87V multimeter can operate in a very wide range of temperatures, from -20°C to +55°C (-4°F to 131°F). If you must use the meter in sub-zero conditions, you’ll be thankful for the 87V’s glove-friendly dial and buttons.
The 87V is not waterproof or dustproof – or at least it’s not IP-rated – it’s not intrinsically safe for hazardous environments, and it’s certainly not small enough to be pocketable.
Additionally, the meter conforms to international standards and can withstand 8,000 V transient impulses. This helps to reduce the risks associated with power surges and spikes.
Reliability, Accuracy, and Precision
I tested the 87V alongside my Agilent 34461A DMM, and the measurements were all in close agreement. Specifically, I used the meters to measure DC voltage, AC and DC current, frequency, and resistance.
At the end of the day, I feel like the 87V produces precise, trustworthy and repeatable measurements, which is the most one could ask for.
Ease of Use
As you can imagine, Fluke has spent a lot of time getting their multimeters’ displays and controls *just right* over the years. The 87V is ready to go out of the box, and it’s extremely easy to learn the controls. It could not be any easier.
I did have to refer to the quick reference guide (PDF) once, and that’s because I didn’t at first realize the built-in thermometer required a thermocouple. Without a thermocouple attached, the meter display just says open.
The controls are easy to read, easy to understand, and easy to adjust. A rotary switch and grouping of buttons could not be any easier to use.
The base model 87V comes with Fluke’s TL75 test probes (PVC) and alligator clips.
The 87V that I have been testing is part of Fluke’s 87V/E2 industrial electrician combo kit, which comes with TL224 silicone test leads, TP238 test probes, AC220 long-reach alligator clips, an 80BK-A thermocouple (-40°C – 260°C / -40°F – 500°F), a magnetic meter hanger, and a soft carrying case.
The probes included as part of the kit are superb. As mentioned in our silicone vs. PVC test leads post, I very strongly prefer silicone test leads over PVC. It makes sense why Fluke would bundle the 87V with basic PVC test probes, but I’m happy they upped the quality of test leads included with the combo kit.
Summary & Recommendation
Fluke offers a range of meters, starting in the sub-$150 range and working upwards from there. So why opt for the 87V, which is priced at ~$350 for the base model and ~$430 for the special combo kits?
More features/measurement modes, greater accuracy, lifetime warranty.
Let’s say you have a 20.00V signal that you want to measure. The 87V has an accuracy of ±(0.05% + 1), which is interpreted as ± 0.05% of the signal plus or minus 1 digit/count to the least significant digit. The first part of the error means that the measurement would be between 19.99V and 20.01V. Taking the second error component into account, this means the allowable measurement range would be between 19.98V and 20.02V.
A good – but less expensive – meter might have an accuracy of ±(0.5% + 2), which would mean a measurement range of 19.88V to 20.12V (±0.1V and 2 digits/counts).
Just like some users need different features than others, there are those that need greater accuracy.
The Fluke 87V is the best handheld digital multimeter I have ever used. It’s quick, accurate, easy to use, and there’s nothing I might need to measure that it cannot handle. It might even be the best handheld DMM currently on the market, as I can’t imagine there being a meter that does anything better.
I definitely recommend the 87V to anyone that could use its everything-including-the-kitchen-sink measurement modes. It’s suitable for electrical testing applications, electronics work, industrial environments, and even R&D use.
The 87V fits standard shrouded (and regular) banana plug test leads and accessories.
Thank you to Fluke for providing the review sample unconditionally. Review samples are typically given away, donated, or retained for benchmark and comparison purposes.