Clamp meter: One measures current, while the other … measures current. The lines are blurred between clamp meters and multimeters, so when it’s time to make the wisest choice for your business or operation’s needs, it’s time to dive a little deeper.
First up, you’ll probably conjure up a mental image of the clamp meter when we remind you that the distinguishing feature is the clamp itself. It’s the hinged jaw that sits atop the electrical meter device that enables users to easily clasp it around a cable or wire without ever needing to disconnect, de-energise or even touch the conductor in question. While current (amps) was traditionally measured with an ammeter, clamp meters do not require the actual device to be wired into the circuit, making them faster and safer and yet still accurate enough to be widely useful.
It’s important to note, however, that the electrical meter component – the non-clamp part – of the clamp meter is essentially a basic digital multimeter, with the ‘multi’ standing for the multiple electrical values it is capable of measuring. The primary measurement values of the multimeter, however, are voltage and resistance (ohms), and sometimes continuity and other standards – with current more easily measured with the latest generation of clamp meters.
Blurring the lines even more, though, is the fact that some of these modern clamp meters are incorporated into more sophisticated multimeters, making it often difficult to give the product an accurate label for the shop shelf. Indeed, many multimeters may appear to lack a clamp, but in fact one can be seamlessly attached. Often, the product you require for your particular and specific needs comes down to the individual features, such as whether you need to see tiny ampere differences in the thousandths and millionths, rather than the tens or hundredths that are more typical with a more basic meter. You can purchase one from any reputable reseller e.g. RS Components.
In a nutshell:
* A clamp meter in its most basic form is for measuring amperage alone on the higher end of the scale, although more advanced iterations can be more accurate and with multiple features or measurements.
* A multimeter, even in its most basic form, typically measures voltage, resistance and continuity, although basic versions can have current-measurement capabilities, with more advanced iterations able to measure multiple electrical values with very high accuracy.
So while the clamp meter versus multimeter head-to-head used to be much more of a clean-cut choice for the professionals or operations looking to complete their daily tasks, it’s now much more a case of diving deeply into the latest generation of products.
As a basic guide, though, let’s run through who should buy a dedicated clamp meter, and who would be better off with a multimeter:
Basic clamp meter: For safe, fast, basic current measurements.
Basic multimeter: For basic voltage and continuity measurements.
Advanced multimeter: As above, but for measurements with higher resolution, including easy and high-accuracy current measurements with the potential incorporation of a clamp.
Remember, whether you need a clamp meter or multimeter (or both!) is a highly specific choice, so always make sure to double-check with an experienced industry expert if you’re not sure.