Voltmeter vs. Multimeter

Voltmeter vs. Multimeter: Understanding the Difference

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When it comes to electrical measurements and troubleshooting, two common tools you may encounter are the voltmeter and the multimeter. Both devices serve essential roles in electronics and electrical work, but they have different capabilities and applications. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between voltmeters and multimeters and when to use each one.


A voltmeter is a specialized measuring instrument designed primarily for measuring voltage in an electrical circuit. It provides a precise voltage reading at a specific point in the circuit. Here are some key features and applications of voltmeters:


  1. Voltage Measurement: Voltmeters are designed solely for measuring voltage levels in volts (V) or millivolts (mV). They provide accurate voltage readings, making them suitable for tasks like checking battery voltage, circuit troubleshooting, or measuring electrical outlet voltage.
  2. High Input Impedance: Voltmeters typically have a high input impedance, meaning they draw minimal current from the circuit under test. This ensures that the measurement does not significantly affect the circuit being measured.
  3. Specific Function: Voltmeters are specialized tools focused on one function: voltage measurement. They do not provide readings for other electrical parameters like current or resistance.


  • Troubleshooting Voltage Issues: Voltmeters are indispensable for diagnosing electrical problems related to voltage, such as identifying voltage drops in circuits, checking the output of power supplies, and verifying the presence of voltage in various components.
  • Quality Control: They are used in quality control processes to ensure that electrical systems, devices, and components meet voltage specifications.

Different Types of Voltmeters

Voltmeters are instruments used for measuring voltage in electrical circuits. There are several types of voltmeters, each designed for specific applications and operating principles. Here are the different types of voltmeters:

1. Analog Voltmeters:

  • Operating Principle: Analog voltmeters use a moving-coil or moving-iron mechanism to measure voltage. When voltage is applied, it causes a current to flow through a coil or iron, resulting in a mechanical movement of a pointer on a scale.
  • Advantages: Analog voltmeters provide continuous readings and are known for their accuracy and reliability. They are suitable for applications where a continuous display is essential.
  • Applications: Analog voltmeters are used in various industries and laboratories for general voltage measurement tasks.

2. Digital Voltmeters (DVMs):

  • Operating Principle: Digital voltmeters use analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) to convert the analog voltage signal into a digital format. The voltage is then displayed digitally on a screen.
  • Advantages: DVMs offer precise and easy-to-read digital displays. They are versatile and can measure voltage, current, and resistance. They also provide faster readings compared to analog voltmeters.
  • Applications: DVMs are widely used in electronics, telecommunications, automotive diagnostics, and other fields where accurate and fast voltage measurements are required.

3. Moving-Coil Voltmeters (MCVs):

  • Operating Principle: MCVs use a coil suspended in a magnetic field. When voltage is applied across the coil, it generates a torque that causes the coil to move. This movement is proportional to the voltage and is indicated on a scale.
  • Advantages: MCVs provide accurate measurements and are well-suited for both AC and DC voltage measurements. They have a high input impedance, making them suitable for measuring voltage in sensitive circuits.
  • Applications: MCVs are used in laboratories, educational settings, and industries where precise voltage measurements are essential.

4. Moving-Iron Voltmeters:

  • Operating Principle: Moving-iron voltmeters use a piece of iron that moves within a magnetic field when voltage is applied. The movement of the iron is proportional to the applied voltage and is indicated on a scale.
  • Advantages: Moving-iron voltmeters are robust and can handle high current levels. They are often used for measuring AC voltage in industrial settings.
  • Applications: Moving-iron voltmeters are commonly used in power systems, substations, and industrial environments for monitoring AC voltage.

5. Vacuum Tube Voltmeters (VTVMs):

  • Operating Principle: VTVMs use vacuum tubes (valves) to amplify and measure voltage signals. They provide high input impedance and are suitable for measuring high-frequency AC signals.
  • Advantages: VTVMs offer high sensitivity and accuracy, especially for AC voltage measurements at radio frequencies. They have a high input impedance, minimizing the loading effect on the circuit under test.
  • Applications: VTVMs are used in electronics, telecommunications, and radio frequency (RF) applications where precise voltage measurements are required.


A multimeter, short for “multiple meter,” is a versatile measuring instrument that combines various measurement functions into a single device. It can measure voltage, current, resistance, and often additional parameters like capacitance, frequency, and temperature. Here are the key features and applications of multimeters:


  1. Multiple Functions: Multimeters can measure voltage (volts), current (amps), resistance (ohms), continuity, capacitance, frequency, temperature, and sometimes more. They are versatile tools suitable for a wide range of electrical measurements.
  2. Selectable Measurement Mode: Multimeters allow you to select the specific measurement function you need. You can switch between voltage, current, resistance, and other modes, making them adaptable to various tasks.
  3. Integrated Display: Multimeters typically feature an integrated digital or analog display that shows measurement values directly.


  • General Electrical Testing: Multimeters are the go-to tool for electricians, technicians, and hobbyists for general electrical testing, such as checking circuits, diagnosing faults, measuring current, and verifying resistance values.
  • Maintenance and Repair: They are used in the maintenance and repair of electrical and electronic equipment, including appliances, automotive systems, and industrial machinery.
  • Quality Assurance: Multimeters are employed in quality control processes to verify the functionality and electrical parameters of products.

When to Use Which:

  • Use a Voltmeter When: You need to measure voltage levels accurately at a specific point in a circuit or determine the presence of voltage. Voltmeters are specialized for voltage measurement tasks.
  • Use a Multimeter When: You require versatility and need to measure multiple electrical parameters, including voltage, current, and resistance, or when you’re unsure about the specific measurement required. Multimeters are suitable for general electrical testing and troubleshooting.

Different Types Of Multimeters

Multimeters, often referred to as “multitesters” or simply “meters,” are versatile instruments used for measuring various electrical parameters. There are different types of multimeters, each designed for specific applications and measurement needs. Here are the common types of multimeters:

1. Analog Multimeters:

  • Operating Principle: Analog multimeters use a moving-coil mechanism combined with a needle or pointer on a scale to display measurements. The pointer’s movement is proportional to the measured quantity (voltage, current, or resistance).
  • Advantages: Analog multimeters provide continuous readings and are often favored for their simplicity and ease of use. They are suitable for quick measurements in many applications.
  • Applications: Analog multimeters are used in electrical troubleshooting, basic electronics, and educational settings.

2. Digital Multimeters (DMMs):

  • Operating Principle: Digital multimeters use analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) to convert electrical signals into digital data displayed on an LCD or LED screen. They offer precise numerical readouts.
  • Advantages: DMMs provide accurate and easy-to-read measurements. They are versatile, capable of measuring voltage, current, resistance, capacitance, frequency, temperature, and more. They offer additional features like data logging and connectivity.
  • Applications: DMMs are used in electronics, electrical maintenance, automotive diagnostics, industrial settings, and laboratories for a wide range of electrical measurements.

3. Auto-Ranging Multimeters:

  • Operating Principle: Auto-ranging multimeters are digital multimeters that automatically select the appropriate measurement range based on the detected voltage, current, or resistance. Users do not need to manually set the range.
  • Advantages: Auto-ranging multimeters simplify measurements by eliminating the need for manual range selection. They are user-friendly and suitable for both beginners and experienced users.
  • Applications: Auto-ranging multimeters are used in various applications where quick and accurate measurements are essential.

4. True RMS (Root Mean Square) Multimeters:

  • Operating Principle: True RMS multimeters are designed to accurately measure AC voltage and current, including non-sinusoidal waveforms. They calculate the effective value of the AC signal, providing precise readings for complex waveforms.
  • Advantages: True RMS multimeters are essential for applications involving non-standard or distorted AC signals, such as inverter-driven equipment, variable-speed motor drives, and some power electronics.
  • Applications: True RMS multimeters are used in industrial settings, power quality analysis, and troubleshooting complex electrical systems.

5. Clamp Meters:

  • Operating Principle: Clamp meters measure current by clamping around a conductor without disconnecting it. They use a built-in current transformer to measure AC or DC current.
  • Advantages: Clamp meters are safe and convenient for measuring current in live circuits. They are commonly used for electrical maintenance, HVAC, and troubleshooting applications.
  • Applications: Clamp meters are used by electricians, HVAC technicians, and maintenance professionals to measure current in power distribution systems and equipment.

6. Benchtop Multimeters:

  • Operating Principle: Benchtop multimeters are larger, more advanced, and often more accurate versions of digital multimeters. They are designed for use in laboratories, workshops, or fixed testing environments.
  • Advantages: Benchtop multimeters offer high accuracy, precision, and a wide range of measurement functions. They are suitable for research, calibration, and testing purposes.
  • Applications: Benchtop multimeters are commonly found in electronics labs, calibration labs, manufacturing facilities, and research institutions.

The choice of multimeter depends on the specific measurement requirements, environmental conditions, and user preferences. It’s essential to select the right type of multimeter for the task at hand to ensure accurate and safe measurements.

Differences between Voltmeter and Multimeter

  1. Purpose:
    • Voltmeter: A voltmeter is specifically designed to measure voltage, which is the electrical potential difference between two points in a circuit.
    • Multimeter: A multimeter, on the other hand, is a versatile instrument that can measure several electrical parameters, including voltage (volts), current (amperes), and resistance (ohms). It can also perform additional functions such as continuity testing and diode testing.
  2. Functionality:
    • Voltmeter: A voltmeter measures voltage by connecting it across the points where voltage is to be measured. It displays the voltage reading in volts.
    • Multimeter: A multimeter combines the functions of various meters into one device. It can function as a voltmeter, ammeter, and ohmmeter by selecting the appropriate mode on the device. Multimeters often have multiple input jacks and settings to switch between different measurement functions.
  3. Measurement Range:
    • Voltmeter: Voltmeters are designed with specific voltage ranges, such as 0-10V, 0-100V, or 0-1000V, depending on the intended application. Some voltmeters may have selectable voltage ranges to accommodate a wide range of voltage levels.
    • Multimeter: Multimeters typically have multiple measurement ranges for voltage, current, and resistance. Users can select the appropriate range based on the expected value of the parameter being measured. For example, a multimeter may have voltage ranges of 200mV, 2V, 20V, 200V, and 1000V.
  4. Display:
    • Voltmeter: Voltmeters typically have a digital or analog display that shows the voltage reading in numeric format (e.g., 5.67V).
    • Multimeter: Multimeters can have either digital or analog displays, with digital displays being more common. The display shows the measured value along with the unit of measurement and any additional information such as polarity or measurement range.
  5. Additional Features:
    • Voltmeter: Voltmeters may have additional features such as input impedance adjustment, which is important for accurate voltage measurements in circuits with high impedance.
    • Multimeter: Multimeters often include additional features such as continuity testing (to check for the presence of a continuous electrical connection), diode testing (to check the functionality of diodes), capacitance measurement, frequency measurement, and temperature measurement with the use of additional probes or sensors.
  6. Cost:
    • Voltmeter: Voltmeters are typically less expensive than multimeters since they are designed for a single purpose (voltage measurement).
    • Multimeter: Multimeters are more versatile and feature-rich instruments, which may result in a higher cost compared to voltmeters.

In summary, while both voltmeters and multimeters are used for electrical measurements, voltmeters specialize in measuring voltage only, whereas multimeters offer a broader range of measurement functions including voltage measurement along with current, resistance, and additional features such as continuity testing and diode testing.

Voltmeter vs. Multimeter FAQS

What is the primary function of a voltmeter?

  • A voltmeter is primarily used to measure voltage in an electrical circuit. It provides a voltage reading at a specific point in the circuit.

Can a voltmeter measure current or resistance?

  • No, a voltmeter is designed specifically for voltage measurement and cannot measure current or resistance directly.

What is the primary function of a multimeter?

  • A multimeter, also known as a multitester, is a versatile instrument capable of measuring various electrical parameters, including voltage, current, resistance, capacitance, frequency, and often temperature.

How does an analog voltmeter differ from a digital voltmeter (DVM)?

  • An analog voltmeter uses a moving-coil mechanism and a pointer on a scale to display measurements, while a digital voltmeter uses digital electronics to provide numerical readings on a digital display.

What are the advantages of using a digital multimeter (DMM) over an analog multimeter?

  • Digital multimeters offer precise and easy-to-read numerical readings. They are versatile, capable of measuring multiple parameters, and often provide additional features like auto-ranging and data logging.

When should I use a voltmeter instead of a multimeter?

  • Use a voltmeter when your primary objective is to measure voltage accurately at a specific point in a circuit, and you do not need to measure other electrical parameters like current or resistance.

When should I use a multimeter instead of a voltmeter?

  • Use a multimeter when you need to measure multiple electrical parameters, such as voltage, current, and resistance, or when you require versatility and the ability to troubleshoot various electrical issues.

Can I use a voltmeter to measure resistance or current indirectly?

  • Yes, you can use a voltmeter in combination with other components like resistors or known values of current to indirectly measure resistance or current. This method is known as “Ohm’s law” or “current shunt” measurement.

Are multimeters available in both analog and digital versions?

  • Yes, multimeters are available in both analog and digital versions. However, digital multimeters (DMMs) are more common today due to their accuracy and versatility.

Can a multimeter perform both AC and DC voltage measurements?

  • Yes, most multimeters can measure both AC and DC voltage. They are versatile tools suitable for various electrical applications.


In summary, voltmeters and multimeters serve distinct purposes in the field of electrical measurements. While voltmeters excel at precise voltage measurements, multimeters offer a broader range of functions, making them indispensable for comprehensive electrical testing and diagnostics. The choice between the two tools depends on the specific measurement requirements of your task.

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Ohmmeter vs Multimeter

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