Graham Green had a stall at Make Change yesterday. Graham’s the former manager of Active Surplus, the much-missed Toronto surplus emporium. He had some military-surplus multimeters that hadn’t seen daylight since I was in school. That’s a while back: this (unfortunately) was #1 the week I left school. So I bought one of Graham’s meters just to see what was inside …
Would I recommend the Soltec as a general purpose meter? Not really. There are more capable multimeters available for about the same price, and you don’t need to go as far as the unbelievably expensive Agilent DMM I use (or even the strictly ornamental analogue ex-Forces Bach-Simpson 635 multimeter that graces/clutters my workbench). It would need a video to show where analogue meters excel: in showing changing values and getting a rough idea of the limits. It would make a great battery tester, or — if coupled with a micro-controller with PWM or DAC ouput — part of a demo rig. If nothing else, it’s a great way to learn how to appreciate modern test gear and all it does for us.
After opening it up and cleaning out all the corroded battery gunge, it cleaned up pretty well:
The needle would only go about ⅖ full range, though. Carefully opening up the front showed that the corrosive goo had got into the meter movement itself:
Since the meter was pretty much useless as is, I carefully scraped away at the green gunge on the stator. This freed up the moving coil, so the meter now works pretty close to how it should. Clock that dial!
I took the HV back off the meter. There’s no way I’m going near 6 kV with this meter. Anything over 12 V makes me worried …
See the little orange thing on top? That’s the part. It’s 70×40×15 mm, and made in Malaysia. It was packed bubble wrap in a sturdy little cardboard box (163×73×43 mm, or 12× the volume of the part). That box was then packed in a very solid box (originally shipped from Penang to Gaffney, SC) measuring 200×200×170 mm; that’s 162x the part’s volume. Finally, that box was inside a third box of 330×245×220 mm, or 424× little doohickeys.
Thing is, the little doohickey is a tough injection moulded polymer part. It could probably be dropped in a padded envelope and survive any mail journey.
I’d been surviving on a series of sub-$50 multimeters for years. They’d give an approximation of a reading,then fail miserably in a variety of stupid ways. The last one, a rip-off of an Extech, decided to show me how its wires were connected to the probes. “Barely” is a fair description.
So I thought I’d buy a decent meter. One that had heft and gravitas, like the Avo 8 that my dad used to bring home from work. The Avo — seemingly constructed from bakelite, glass and lead — didn’t just take readings, it told you The Truth on its mirrored scale.
So I bought an Agilent. Reliable company, all the right features, beeps politely only when required; a very, very sensible meter. Then I found these in the package:
Dude, what?! Skins on a meter? Meters aren’t toys. Meters are sensible things used by sensible people. We don’t want our work distracted by thoughts of Space!, America!, Sports!, or Some Kind of Bug Thing Eww Squish It Squish It! If you were able to get “skins” for the Avo 8, they would be about Wisden, sheds, and the TSR2.