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Harbor Freight/Ames DM1010 Digital Multimeter Product Review

A while back, Harbor Freight Tools (HFT) revamped their entire product lineup of digital multimeters, retiring the Cen-Tech name and replacing it with that of Ames Instruments. I reviewed what to me was the most interesting meter of this lineup. It took quite a while for the DM1000 offering to land. When it finally did, I also wrote up a fairly critical printed review of it on their site. Critical enough, in fact, that their senior manager of product development reached out to me and offered to send me a revised replacement product. They made good on the promise and the replacement DM1000 was considerably improved over the original. It's still got a few bugs, but you could do far worse than to buy into the DM1000 if you want or need a digital multimeter.

Another meter model mentioned on the DM1000's packaging caught my fancy, that being the DM1010. I periodically visited two area Harbor Freight stores to see which one would get it first. This one took an almighty amount of time to land (relatively speaking). Price tags showed up long before the meter itself, and fluctuated wildly with a low of $79 and the ultimate price of $120. I'm not sure why the DM1010 took so long to land, why its pricing fluctuated so wildly, or why price tags were even displayed on retail shelves before one could actually buy it. (Note the "datalog" text in the price tag below. We'll talk about that later.)

Ames Instruments DM1010 early price tag, $80

To make a long story short, the Ames Instruments DM1010 is a terrible product and you shouldn't buy it. It's also, as we'll soon find out, terrible value for money.

On two occasions I posted critical reviews of this meter to Harbor Freight's website and neither one was published. They've also tweaked their reviewing system so that you can't request to see the most helpful, relevant or useful reviews. Oh well, they can't stop me posting my own review to my own web site, now can they?

You might be inclined to think that my negative reaction to this product was little more than sour grapes. It's not. I own a large number of Harbor Freight Tools products, many of which I've been perfectly happy with over the years. Most of them have lasted well and have proven to be excellent value for money. I shop there quite often, although that may have something to do with the continual barrage of coupons they send out, especially those for a free item with any purchase.

So, let's justify my statement above about the DM1010 being a terrible product in many different ways.

It's Overpriced

The Ames DM1010 multimeter is a rebaged Uni-Trend UT61C. You can buy this same meter under Uni-Trend's own name for roughly a third of the price that Harbor Freight is asking. To be fair, Uni-Trend has been known to produce slightly different versions of their meters for different markets, some of which have more protective circuitry in place than others. Harbor Freight claims to have safety tested these meters through ETL/Intertek, so it seems likely that theirs is the improved version. That fact alone doesn't justify the sharp hike in asking price to my view.

An early version of the product manual, discovered through the time honored technique of sequentially incrementing URLs conclusively proved the origins of the meter, as did the circuit board within.

An excerpt from the cover of the Ames Instruments DM1010 digital multimeter owner's manual,

It's Not Quite What Harbor Freight Says It Is

Uni-Trend makes several different versions of the UT61 series meter, marked A through E. Only models D and E feature true-RMS AC measurement capabilities. Harbor Freight's current marketing literature as well as the box my DM1000 came in both claim that the DM1010 is supposed to be a true-RMS meter. I wondered at first if HFT would have enough clout to have a true-RMS variant of the UT61C sold under their own name.

Harbor Freight Ames multimeter product line card

Having finally gotten my hands on a DM1010, I tested and was able to confirm that it is not a true-RMS meter. It will not read accurately when measuring distorted AC signals. HFT bills the DM1010 as their "professional" multimeter with a suggested use being "advanced troubleshooting", which to my mind also implies that it would be the best they have to offer. I can't imagine any professional or "advanced troubleshooter" wanting a meter without true-RMS capability.

HFT has the audacity to suggest you compare the DM1010 against a Fluke 179. This is rather like saying that a Volkswagen Beetle and a Freightliner are the same thing because they're both vehicles. The Fluke has better capability in some measurement ranges, is a true-RMS capable meter and comes with a lifetime warranty.

It's Not Even As Good As Uni-Trend's Own Product

The UT61 series meters all have computer connectivity support for the purpose of logging data. (Possibly. This is subject to further verification. I thought only the UT61C and up had data logging capabilities. Uni-Trend's web site is presently broken enough that I can't verify, and I'm relying on a third party report.)

Although at least one of the price tags I saw for the DM1010 identified it as being capable of data logging, only HFT doesn't include the needed cable or software. Nor do they presently offer such separately. In fact, the data logging indicator in the meter's display is called out (incorrectly) in the HFT manual as being a "sleep" mode indicator. It's not. While one can turn on the data logging function on the DM1010, and there is an LED present that would allow for isolated optical data exchange with a computer, it appears that the driving circuitry might be missing. I observed the LED through an IR sensitive viewer and never saw it illuminate even once. I'll give HFT the benefit of the doubt here. I didn't 'scope the LED pins to see if it was actually being driven, and I'd be quite surprised if they spent the money to populate an LED and left the driving circuitry out. Perhaps my example of the meter was defective.

It's Just Not Enough Meter For Your Money

Yes, I know I'm repeating myself here. It's true, though. Why the DM1010 meter has fallen so far short of the mark is hard to say. Perhaps someone at HFT didn't pay enough attention to verify that the meter they were selling actually did everything they expected it to? I'd love to hear from someone within HFT, or at least have this review alert them to the fact that there might be a problem with what they are selling.

If this was a $50 or maybe even a $65 meter, it'd be OK (just not great) value for the money as-is, without true-RMS or computer datalogging capabilities. At this price range, you have far better options. There's the EEVblog branded version of the Brymen BM235. It's as good and safe of a multimeter as you're ever likely to need. Amprobe's AM-570 would also be comparable and is similar in price. Moving a bit further down the price chart reveals the Amprobe AM-530 or Southwire 13070T. Even further down, you'll find grey-market offerings of the Fluke 101. This is a minimalistic meter, but it's not unreasonably priced for what you get and it is guaranteed to be one of the safest choices.

Even Harbor Freight themselves have a better option, in the form of the Ames Instruments DM1000. It utterly outclasses the DM1010 in every way, and costs far less. If what you want is a multimeter from Harbor Freight, the DM1000 is the one to buy.

Should you buy this meter and find yourself unhappy with it for whatever reason, I discovered that this is yet another product for which you'll be charged a restocking fee. Should you complain enough, as I did, or even fudge the truth a bit by saying it didn't work, you'll probably be able to get out of that.

Okay, I Want To Buy One Anyway

Suit yourself. I tested the DM1010 for accuracy against a precision DC voltage reference (2.5-10V), 1% tolerance resistors and banks of small and large capacitors. My example proved accurate and well within its quoted specifications.

...but seriously, you can buy a lot better meter, for a lot less money and even from Harbor Freight.

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Copyright 2019 by William R. Walsh. Some rights reserved. Please see the top level page of this site for more information about your rights to utilize this content elsewhere. Last updated 5/5/2019, to remove some typos and fix the abandoned sentence.