Multimeter vs. Oscilloscope: Main Differences

Multimeter vs. Oscilloscope: Main Differences

If you are in the market for a new electronics testing device, you may be wondering whether to buy a multimeter or an oscilloscope. Both of these devices have their pros and cons, and it can be difficult to decide which is the best option for your needs. In this blog post, we will discuss the main differences between multimeters and oscilloscopes.

What is Multimeter?

Multimeters are one of the most common pieces of test equipment in electronics labs and workshops.

Multimeters usually have several input jacks so that you can measure more than one parameter at a time. They also have a display that shows the measured value. The most common type of multimeter is the digital multimeter, which displays the measurement as a number.

There are three main types of multimeters: digital, analog, and auto-ranging.

  • As I have already stated, digital multimeters are the most common type. They display the measurement as a number. They have a variety of input connectors so you can measure current, voltage, and resistance.
  • Analog multimeters have a needle that moves across a scale to indicate the measured value. They are not as common as digital multimeters, but they can be more accurate for some measurements.
  • Auto-ranging multimeters automatically select the range of measurement based on the value of the parameter being measured. This is useful because it prevents you from having to select the range manually.

What is Multimeter?

Multimeters are available in a variety of sizes and prices. The most common size is the hand-held multimeter, which you can hold in your hand. There are also benchtop multimeters, which are larger and have a more stable base.

One more thing you need to know about multimeters is that they can be dangerous. Be sure to read the safety instructions that come with your multimeter before using it.

Check more guides to improve your knowledge about multimeters:

What is an Oscilloscope?

An oscilloscope is a piece of test equipment that allows you to see the waveform of an electrical signal. This makes it useful for debugging and troubleshooting circuits.

The oscilloscope has two main displays: the time domain and the frequency domain. The time-domain display shows the voltage or current over time, while the frequency domain display shows how much of the signal is at each frequency.

The oscilloscope can also measure other properties of a signal, such as its amplitude and phase. Additionally, it can generate signals to test circuits.

In addition, oscilloscopes can be used to measure the frequency of an input signal and to produce output signals that are synchronized with the input signal.

They are available in different types of technologies, such as analog or digital.

  • Analog oscilloscopes use a cathode-ray tube (CRT) to display the waveform. This type of oscilloscope is no longer being manufactured, but they are still found in many laboratories.
  • Digital oscilloscopes use a digital display to show the waveform. They are the most common type of oscilloscope and are available in a variety of form factors, including handheld devices and benchtop instruments.

There is one more important thing to note about oscilloscopes: they are time-consuming to learn how to use. You can’t just pick one up and start using it. It takes some time to learn the controls and how to interpret the waveforms that you see on the screen.

What is an Oscilloscope?

Check more guides to improve your knowledge about oscilloscopes:

Difference between Multimeter and Oscilloscope

There are many different types of electronic test equipment on the market, but two of the most common are multimeters and oscilloscopes. Both have their own specific uses, but there are some main differences between them.


The very first main difference between multimeters and oscilloscopes is their intended uses.

  • Multimeters are made for general electronics troubleshooting. They are usually used to check the continuity of a circuit, measure DC and AC voltage, and measure DC and AC current.
  • Moreover, oscilloscopes are used for displaying and measuring electrical waveforms. Additionally, they can be used to diagnose and troubleshoot problems with electronic devices or circuits.
  • Oscilloscopes are made for analyzing waveforms in electrical circuits.
  • Oscilloscopes are typically used to debug electronic circuits by observing the waveforms of signals at different points in a circuit. Moreover, they can help to determine the frequency and harmonic content of a signal.

This makes oscilloscopes more ideal for analyzing waveforms, which is why they’re often used in electrical engineering and physics.

People usually buy multimeters when they are starting out in electronics, and then may upgrade to an oscilloscope if they need more features for their work.

Multimeters are typically more affordable than oscilloscopes, which is why they’re popular for general use. However, oscilloscopes offer more features and higher performance, so they can be worth the investment for more specialized applications.


The next main difference between multimeters and oscilloscopes is how they operate. Operation means how the user interacts with the device to get results.

  • Multimeters are typically used to measure current, voltage, and resistance in a circuit. You can also use a multimeter to test capacitance, frequency, and diodes. To measure any of these parameters, you need to connect the leads of the multimeter to the points in the circuit you want to measure. Just be sure to not create a short circuit by connecting the leads together!


  • Oscilloscopes, on the other hand, are used to measure voltage and time. They are also used to display waveforms. To measure these parameters, you need to connect the probes of the oscilloscope to the points in the circuit you want to measure. The probes can be attached directly or through a patch cord. The probe on the left measures the positive voltage, while the probe on the right measures the negative voltage.

Both multimeters and oscilloscopes can be used to measure frequency, capacitance, and diodes; however, only oscilloscopes can measure time. This is because oscilloscopes have a storage function that allows them to store waveforms so they can be analyzed at a later time. Multimeters do not have this function, so they can only measure frequency and capacitance when the waveforms are happening in real-time.

When using a multimeter, you get the result of the measurement immediately. With an oscilloscope, you need to wait for the waveform to stabilize before you can get a reading. This is because an oscilloscope displays the waveform on the screen.

However, once the waveform is stable, you can get a more accurate reading with an oscilloscope than with a multimeter. This is because an oscilloscope measures the amplitude and frequency of the waveform, while a multimeter only measures the voltage.

Remember that operation also includes how you store and analyze the data. Multimeters typically store data in a memory chip, while oscilloscopes store data on a disk drive or computer. Oscilloscopes also have more sophisticated software that allows you to do a more complex analysis of the waveforms.

Data Storage and Display

Another factor to consider is the amount of data that each can store. It is an important aspect to consider because you want to be able to capture all of the data you need for your analysis.

Multimeters typically store less data than oscilloscopes, making it difficult to capture waveforms or other complex signals. This makes oscilloscopes better for capturing long or complex signals.

Data Storage and Display

Multimeters can store up to 60 readings, while oscilloscopes can store up to 30,000. This is a significant difference and one that should be taken into account when making your purchase decision.

  • Additionally, oscilloscopes often have color displays that make it easier to see waveforms and other signals.
  • Multimeters are typically limited to a black and white display, making it difficult to see some details in signals.

The color of a display is usually not the biggest concern when choosing a multimeter, but it can be helpful in some cases. Moreover, oscilloscopes usually have a higher vertical resolution than multimeters, meaning they can display more detail in signals.

Multimeters typically store and display data in text form, while oscilloscopes store and display data in graphical form. This means that multimeters are not as good at displaying high-frequency signals, while oscilloscopes are not as good at displaying low-frequency signals.

Consider your needs regarding data storage and display when making your decision between a multimeter and oscilloscope.

Signal Display

The next important difference between multimeters and oscilloscopes is the way in which signals are displayed. This should be considered because the way in which a signal is displayed can affect how it is interpreted.

Multimeters typically show voltage, current, and resistance values as text on a screen, whereas oscilloscopes show waveforms as graphs. This difference can be important when trying to diagnose a problem, as waveforms can often contain more information than text values.

Multimeters are able to display a signal as an amplitude (voltage or current) over time. Oscilloscopes can also do this, but they can additionally show the shape of the waveform. This is important for determining if a signal is periodic or not.

Multimeters usually only show one point on the waveform at a time, while oscilloscopes can show multiple points simultaneously. This can be useful for comparing signals or for looking at a signal’s harmonic content.

In addition, oscilloscopes can usually show a wider range of frequencies than multimeters. This is because multimeters are limited by the bandwidth of their circuitry, while oscilloscopes use digital signal processing to extend their frequency range.

Oscilloscopes offer much greater detail and resolution than multimeters. This can be important if you need to capture very small signals or if you need to see how a signal changes over time. Oscilloscopes also have the ability to save captured signals as digital files, which can be useful for later analysis.

The signal may be displayed in different colors on an oscilloscope, which can also be helpful for analyzing a signal.



Another aspect that should be considered is the way that they measure signals.

Multimeters typically use a technique called direct current (DC) voltage measurement, while oscilloscopes use an alternating current (AC) voltage measurement.

This difference means that multimeters are better for measuring steady voltages, while oscilloscopes are better for measuring waveforms.

Oscilloscopes can also measure frequency, which is the number of times a waveform repeats per second. This measurement is important for analyzing the properties of signals.

Multimeters can only measure voltage, current, and resistance, while oscilloscopes can also measure capacitance and inductance.

This additional functionality makes oscilloscopes more versatile tools for electronics work.

However, multimeters are less expensive than oscilloscopes, so they are a better choice for hobbyists and students who are just starting out in electronics.

Consider the measurements you need to make before you choose a multimeter or oscilloscope. You need to choose the right device if you want to get the most accurate measurements.

If you choose the wrong one, that would be just a waste of money.


One more key difference between multimeters and oscilloscopes is size. Size usually plays a big role if you are looking for a handheld device. This can be an important consideration if you have limited space or need to travel with your device.

  • Multimeters are typically much smaller than oscilloscopes, making them more portable. This can be a major advantage if you need to move your equipment around often or if you have limited storage space. Moreover, multimeters typically require less power to operate, making them more energy-efficient.
  • Oscilloscopes, on the other hand, tend to be larger and heavier than multimeters. They also require more power to run, making them less energy-efficient. It can be more difficult to move an oscilloscope around, and they take up more space when stored.

You should ask yourself how you will be using your equipment before making a purchase. If you want to take a device with you on the go, a multimeter is the better choice. If you need a device that can handle heavy-duty tasks, an oscilloscope is a better option.

Remember that there are different types of both multimeters and oscilloscopes, so be sure to do your research before you buy. Each of them has different weight and size specs, so it’s important to find the one that’s right for you.

So which type of device is right for you? If the size is a major consideration for you, then you may want to choose a multimeter over an oscilloscope. But if you have the space and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of portability, then an oscilloscope may be the better option.

Trigger System

The next main difference between multimeters and oscilloscopes is the trigger system. This aspect should be considered because it affects the waveforms that will be displayed on the screens of both tools. The trigger system is responsible for initiating the acquisition of data on multimeters and oscilloscopes.

Trigger System

  • On multimeters, the trigger system is always live. This means that it will continuously acquire data, which can lead to a lot of noise on the screen. The amount of noise that is displayed can be reduced by adjusting the gain setting on the multimeter, but this is not always possible.
  • On oscilloscopes, the trigger system can be set to either live or single-shot mode. In live mode, the oscilloscope will continuously acquire data just like a multimeter. However, in single-shot mode, the oscilloscope will only acquire data when the trigger is activated. This allows you to capture specific waveforms without having to worry about the noise that is generated by the continuous acquisition of data.

If you are looking to purchase a tool for measuring waveforms, the trigger system should be one of the factors that you consider. If noise is a major concern, then an oscilloscope is the better option. If you are not as concerned with noise and want to save money, then a multimeter is the better option.

Pay attention, please, that the trigger system works differently on different oscilloscopes, so please read your oscilloscope’s manual to find out more.

Unique Features

Last but not least, both instruments have unique features that make them stand out from each other. I mean, there are reasons why people might want to buy a multimeter over an oscilloscope and vice versa.

  • Multimeters usually come with more features than oscilloscopes. For example, multimeters usually have the ability to measure capacitance, frequency, and inductance in addition to voltage, resistance, and current. They can also be used as a continuity tester and a diode checker.
  • Oscilloscopes, on the other hand, are more specialized instruments. They can be used to diagnose problems with electronic circuits, identify faults in electrical wiring, and study the waveforms of various types of signals.

Moreover, multimeters are typically less expensive than oscilloscopes. So if you’re looking for an all-in-one instrument with a lot of features, a multimeter is probably the way to go. But if you need an instrument specifically designed to measure voltage and current signals over time, an oscilloscope is the better option.

And finally, it’s important to keep in mind that both multimeters and oscilloscopes can be used for a variety of other tasks as well. They’re both incredibly versatile tools that can come in handy for a wide range of applications.

Multimeter vs. Oscilloscope: A Comparison of Key Indicators

In this table, we compare some of the key indicators of multimeters and oscilloscopes, such as measurement type, accuracy, resolution, frequency range, input impedance, cost, and application, to help you choose the right instrument for your specific needs.

Multimeter Oscilloscope
Measurement type Single parameter Multiple parameters (waveform)
Accuracy High Medium to high
Resolution Low to high High
Frequency range Low to medium High
Input impedance High Low
Cost Low to medium High
Application General purpose Specialized (e.g. signal analysis)


What can an oscilloscope do that a multimeter can not?

An oscilloscope can measure the frequency, amplitude, and phase of a signal. It can also show the waveform of a signal.

Can we use an oscilloscope as a voltmeter?

Yes, an oscilloscope can be used as a voltmeter. It can measure voltage by displaying the amplitude of a signal. This is helpful for identifying problems with a signal.

What is the difference between an analog and digital oscilloscope?

Analog oscilloscopes use a cathode ray tube to display signals. Digital oscilloscopes use a digital signal processor to create a digital representation of the signal. This makes it easier to identify problems with a signal. Additionally, digital oscilloscopes can store data for later analysis.

Do oscilloscopes always have to be connected to a computer?

No, oscilloscopes can also come with a built-in display. This allows you to view the signal without connecting it to a computer. However, you will not be able to store data or perform analysis on the signal.

What is the bandwidth of an oscilloscope?

The bandwidth of an oscilloscope is the frequency range that the oscilloscope can measure. Most oscilloscopes have a bandwidth of 50 MHz or 100 MHz.

How do you change the timebase on an oscilloscope?

On most oscilloscopes, you can change the timebase by pressing a button labeled “T”. This will change the timebase to the next available setting. You can also press a button labeled “X” to change the horizontal magnification.

When might you want to use a multimeter instead of an oscilloscope?

There are a few reasons you might want to use a multimeter instead of an oscilloscope. First, multimeters are generally less expensive than oscilloscopes. Second, multimeters are smaller and more portable, making them easier to take with you on the go. Finally, multimeters typically have more features than oscilloscopes, making them more versatile tools for troubleshooting and repairs.

That said, there are also a few reasons you might want to use an oscilloscope instead of a multimeter. First, oscilloscopes can measure voltage over time, which can be helpful for diagnosing issues with electronic circuits. Second, oscilloscopes can trigger on specific events, which can help you identify intermittent problems. Finally, with oscilloscopes you can usually see the waveform of the signal, which can be helpful for understanding the behavior of electronic circuits.

What are some situations where you might want to use an oscilloscope instead of a multimeter?

If you need to debug a circuit or look for signal integrity issues, an oscilloscope is going to be a better tool than a multimeter. Oscilloscopes show you the shape of a waveform, which can tell you a lot about what’s going on in a circuit. Oscilloscopes are also better equipped to measure fast-moving signals than multimeters. Finally, if you need to visualize a signal in order to understand what it looks like, an oscilloscope is the right tool for the job.

On the other hand, multimeters are generally more useful for measuring DC voltage, resistance, and continuity. They can also be used to debug circuits, but they’re not as well suited for the task as oscilloscopes.

Which is more accurate: a multimeter or oscilloscope?

This is a difficult question to answer. Both multimeters and oscilloscopes have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to accuracy. In general, however, multimeters are more accurate than oscilloscopes.

Oscilloscopes still offer a pretty accurate real-time view of a signal however so they have their own advantages. It really depends on what you need the instrument for as to which one is more accurate for your needs.

What is the accuracy of an oscilloscope?

The accuracy of an oscilloscope is the number of digits to which the meter can measure. The higher the number, the more precise the measurement. The accuracy of an oscilloscope is equivalent to a 3.5-to-4-digit digital multimeter. This means that an oscilloscope can resolve signals pretty accurately. Still, when it comes to accuracy , multimeters are better.

What are the possible sources of error in an oscilloscope?

Oscilloscopes aren’t exactly the most simple devices, and as with any complex device, there are a few ways things can go wrong. Let’s start with the three most common sources of error:

  • Inaccurate readings can be caused by calibration error, which is simply when the oscilloscope isn’t accurately calibrated to begin with. Oscilloscopes need to be regularly recalibrated to ensure accuracy- typically once a year.
  • Another potential source of inaccuracy is input impedance error. This occurs when the input impedance of the oscilloscope doesn’t match that of the device under test, resulting in false readings.
  • Finally, bandwidth-limiting error can come into play if the bandwidth of the oscilloscope is too low for the signal being measured. This results in distortion of the waveform, and consequently inaccurate readings.

Can an oscilloscope measure AC and DC voltage?

Yes, an oscilloscope can measure both AC and DC voltage. However, the multimeter is better suited for measuring it since it can more accurately measure very small changes in voltage.

However, where most oscilloscopes fail is measuring current. This is where the multimeter shines, as it can measure very small changes in current while an oscilloscope can only measure voltage changes.

How can an oscilloscope be used to measure frequency?

Luckily, with most oscilloscopes you won’t need to make any manual adjustments to do this. Simply measure the voltage and the frequency will be displayed on the screen. You may need to push a couple of buttons to enable this function on some models, but the process is generally pretty straightforward.

To get an accurate reading, you may want to use a horizontal scale. First measure the time it takes for one complete cycle. Then multiply the number of divisions by the time to get the signal period. Finally, calculate the frequency by taking one divided by the period.

Can a multimeter measure frequency?

Unfortunately, no. A multimeter can measure voltage, current, and resistance, but not frequency. That’s where oscilloscopes come in handy. Oscilloscopes can measure both the amplitude and the frequency of a signal, which is very useful for troubleshooting electrical problems.

So, if you’re trying to figure out whether a certain component is faulty or not, an oscilloscope would be the better tool to use. However, if you just need to measure voltage, current, or resistance, a multimeter will do just fine.

Useful Video: Multimeter vs Oscilloscope – DC Voltage Measurement

Final Thoughts

When you are choosing a tool for your electronics work, it is important to understand the main differences between multimeters and oscilloscopes. And now you know the key distinctions between these two tools.

Multimeters are good for general circuit testing, while oscilloscopes can provide more detailed information about waveforms. Ultimately, the tool you choose will depend on your specific needs.

If you need a tool for general circuit testing, a multimeter is a good choice. If you need to measure waveforms or debug circuits, an oscilloscope is the better option.

If you are just starting out in electronics, a multimeter is the better option, but if you are more experienced and need more features, an oscilloscope is the better tool to choose.

Finally, remember that both multimeters and oscilloscopes can be used for a wide variety of tasks, so don’t feel limited by this overview. With a little experimentation, you’ll figure out which tool is best for your specific needs.

I hope this article has helped you understand the main differences between multimeters and oscilloscopes. Thanks for reading!

Be sure to check out our other blog posts for more information on electronics tools and techniques.