Hacked Gadgets Forum

May 27, 2009

Cheap Chinese Multimeter Warning

at 11:30 am. Filed under Electronic Hacks


David Jones from the EEV Blog has some good advice on selecting meters, or at least what to avoid. All the bells and whistles for the lowest price possible is not the way to go when looking for a meter. Inexpensive meters are fine for crude measurements if you are on a budget but if you need it to last and care about measurement accuracy you should stick to a meter with a good reputation behind it such as Fluke.



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39 Responses to “Cheap Chinese Multimeter Warning”

  1. utp Says:

    I really don’t see how this multimeter has to deal with Chinese as labeled in the video and post, it is just because a company (most likely not a China company, at least on the import/selling side) placed an order with a “as low as it can” budget targeting some “what the heck is a multimeter?” customers, that’s why this “product” was made in China, then ship to the other side of the world to fill up the “need”. (If that’s the logic, lets say like 10 year from now, you might just hear “Cheap India multimeter warning” or 3x years ago, “Cheap Japnanese multimeter warning”)

    The point here I see is, if customers do care about the quality of a product and do not buy them off these cheap makers with a “they do know it is so cheap” price, who would order/import/make such a crappy product at the other side of the world with manufacturing cost pushed soooooooo low that those poor workers don’t even know/understand what were they making (lets skip how bad the working condition are, I think they might just do better off farm in their old ways)…

    The issue here has nothing to deal with Where or Which nation it was made, it was the cost and target audience that made this cheap crappy multimeter, think of it, if it was made in US/EU with the same cost, do you expect to see a product? that’s why the good/normal ones are 5 times more expensive than the crappy ones.

    I myself avoid ANY China products when I can, but I won’t blame on them too, I just know too well that with the price I am paying, I really do/can not expecting ANYTHING.

    just my 2 cents.

  2. loki Says:

    not true ;P chep advertising

  3. Haku Says:

    I thought his homebrew scientific calculator was pretty cool, but I still can’t get over how whiny he sounds in that video. And they call us “Bloody whinging poms” ? 😛

    I have 3 usual £5 bargain bin ones & a pretty good slimline/pocket sized one and have to say that cheap multimeters do have their place, usually for rough checking of voltages (ie to make sure your supply is giving out 5v not 12v etc.), wether the polarity is correct (one of the most important uses of a multimeter for hacking purposes) & continuity testing.

    When I need high accuracy & reliability, and the ability to measure display volts + amps + watts at the same time I break out my Metrix MTX-3282, a superb multimeter with logging & graphing capabilities to boot – http://pid.webstrategy.co.uk/pid/pdf/1803.pdf

    So I’m 50/50 on agreeing with him, sure you can’t expect cheap multimeters to be reliable, accurate & stand up to lots of abuse – that’s why they’re cheap! it doesn’t mean they don’t have their uses.

  4. Tna Says:

    I use my triplett everyday and love it…well worth the money

  5. Mike Says:

    Fluke just recalled some of their meters…

    (If it works, it’s got to be a Fluke…)

  6. nothing Says:

    There wasn’t really any actual information in the video, just him being whiny about Chinese made meters and waving it around. Show me some actual data.

  7. Alan Parekh Says:

    Thanks for the comments. I think that I should not have had mentioned Chinese the article since that may offend people from China and that was not the intent. There is a place for an inexpensive meter, if it will be used a few times a year and spend the rest of the time in a dark drawer there is no need for a $300 or $400 meter. In that case a $30 meter from the hardware store would probably do just fine.

  8. Dave Jones Says:

    My response to various issues:
    1) There was no actual info in the video to back up my statements.

    Do you want me to sit and wait for the cheap meter to fail for you so I can take a “faulty” measurement with it?
    If I did have a faulty cheap meter and took an incorrect measurement with it and compared it to a Fluke that measures good, what does that actually prove?
    It is still just asserting that cheap meters can fail.
    Please tell me what I can specifically measure or what “data” I can get to make you happy…
    This is a blog comment about my extensive personal and professional experience with both cheap and top quality meters, it is not something that can be easily quantified.
    See a more recent blog were I mention an industry story about cheap meters.

    2) Cheap meters do have a place.
    Yes they do, I mention this in the video in case you missed it.
    The Chinese pocket multimeters I reviewed in another blog gets a good wrap.

    3) Just because it comes from China does not mean it’s crap.
    Very true, which is why I specifically mentioned CHEAP no-name meters, that is what I’m really talking about. Perhaps I should not have mentioned China at all, my mistake.
    Some excellent meters come out China, and even Fluke make their low end meters in China.
    Please keep this in context, I’m talking about CHEAP $10/$20 no-name meters.


  9. Bill Hates Says:

    That was intense!

  10. hmm Says:

    nice copy/paste from youtube comments dude…
    anyhow, awesome way of talking crap without backin’ it up… it makes you loose all credibility. i really was expecting some whoooha misreadings or something… kinda lazy job there… showing some circuits in a crappy focused camera doesnt make it, and refering to a particular brand as the solution makes it look like advertising and fully unethical behavior.

    Sadly you ain’t telling anything new, it’s like telling a NASCAR driver not to buy a LADA for his races, cause it ain’t gonna do the job… kinda useless

  11. Dave Jones Says:

    Geeze, there is just no pleasing some people.
    ANY failed meter will read bad, that isn’t showing anything exciting. I can force the cheap meter to fail and show it reads bad, what’s the point of that?
    You obviously just don’t understand the point and relevance of my blog on this topic. Do you even understand what measurement confidence is in a professional measurement environment?

    My comments are based on my professional and personal experience with these meters, it is not something that is easily quantified and demonstrated. You didn’t answer my question from last time, so I’ll ask again. If you have any ideas about how I can actually demonstrate it then I’ll be glad to hear them, seriously.

    I mention certain brands because they are KNOWN and PROVEN in the industry as being reliable. You have to have SOME reference point for comparison.

    If I’m not telling anything new, why comment on my blog at all?, simply ignore it. It might be helpful to some people, and that’s good enough for me. In fact I have had a lot more positive thankyou relies from people about this episode than anonymous complainers like yourself.

    Go listen to my other blog about how these cheap meters can cost you or your company a LOT of money.


  12. yeah baby Says:

    i can totally hear you all pissed-off in your high-pitched aussie accent!

    great video blog btw! but you should state clearly that cheap multimeters are great unexpensive tools for hobbyists, but a horrible alternative for professionals.

    all the best

  13. adam Says:

    he could have at the very least broken the connectors on the cheap model or dropped a $10 meter and his beloved fluke a few times and show the cheap meter breaking 🙂 i’m an electrical engineering student with a tight budget, i bought a meter similar to the yellow one he shows at the beginning of the video. i bought it at Harbor Freight a discount hardware store(i don’t know if they are nationwide). i really love my meter. I bought it because it had a capacitance range and thermometer attachment. of course i wasn’t expecting it to give perfect readings, but i received one of those radioshack 100 value assorted resistor packs for christmas and used my meter to label them all (i didn’t want to spend the time decoding resistor colors why cant they just write the values on the side?) and given the 5-10% variation of the resistors it worked perfectly. i even plugged it into the wall and to my surprise it read 120v exactly an rms reading! i don’t know how long it will last but if i’m still on a budget i’ll definitely buy another, although if I get a good job in industry before that i’ll buy a fluke (you couldn’t go to work with a cheap model and be taken seriously).

    Honestly if we are fans of this site we all know a $20 multimeter is cheap and not nearly as good as fluke, but many of us still buy them anyway. They are more then enough for hobbiest even if the readings begin to drift. we build bench top power supplies out of old computer power supplies, and other diy equipment but spending $20, instead of $200 on a meter is bad, really?

    I guess what i’m trying to say is How did this get on here? I clicked it expecting to find out my meter was going to explode or was leaking poisonous chemicals into my room(he did say chinese meter lol), but i get some guy whining about cheap meters being cheap! Sorry for the rant, i just couldn’t help myself.

  14. cde Says:

    He should send me his cheap crappy chinese meter. I’ll put it to good use (My little radioshack pocket meter is almost 7 years old now, and no current setting D: )

  15. Dave Jones Says:

    Not pissed off at all, I find it all rather humorous actually!
    My blog was about *measurement confidence* and how a cheap meter does not really give you that. Perhaps I should do another episode about this, the controversy is fun!

    Sorry if my comment about cheap meters having their place wasn’t clear enough.
    Like I said, take a look at my (positive) review of the cheap(ish) pocket multimeters.


  16. Alan Parekh Says:

    Hi Adam,

    I know where you are coming from. When I was in college taking electronics I loved the first $20 meter I bought and the first $7 Radio Shack soldering iron. 🙂 In fact I still have that meter and still use it for the transistor test function it has since my more expensive meters don’t have a transistor beta test function (not that I need it very often).

    The reason for featuring this article here is that it is a great fit to this site! Dave covers lots of topics that readers of this blog would be interested in and it is also a nice reminder that you should take readings from test equipment with a grain of salt. I remember one time I was banging my head against a circuit issue, in the end it was my meter that had been indicating low battery for the last few days, it was still operating as expected but the readings were all wrong. 🙁 I didn’t expect that effect, I would have thought that the display would dim or the meter would simply refuse to turn on instead of showing wrong readings. But it is sharing information like this that allows us to learn from each others experiences and become better for it.

    I am jealous of your Harbor Freight stores! The closest thing we have here in Canada is Princess Auto but the deals at Harbor Freight always seem to be much better.

  17. yeah baby Says:

    “Perhaps I should do another episode about this, the controversy is fun!”

    Totally looking forward for it!
    some crash tests as #13 proposed would be awesome (or not for your own wallet lol)

  18. Nick Says:

    I have a $3 multimeter from Harbor Freight that has worked fine for me for over a year. Personally I don’t care if a power supply is giving me 5.2v instead of 5v like my meter says. It doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to know that there is power there, and that it isn’t some crazy voltage (like 12v instead of 5v). Most of what I do is checking continuity anyway, which is why my $3 meter works just fine for me. Maybe someday I’ll own a Fluke, but I have more important things I could spend my money on. (like ditching my RatShack soldering iron)

  19. Serge Says:

    Wanted to make a note that you can get a GOOD Fluke that is a few years old on eBay. I’ve had my Fluke 23 DMM for about 10 years now and it’s been an amazing device. It has never failed me or given me trouble.. they truly great to work with. If you check eBay, you can grab them for as little as $30 sometimes. Totally worth it in my opinion.

    Although I am tempted to get a cheapo $10 DMM to keep in my car just incase.

  20. mikheil Says:

    so what everyone knows the Japanese electronics are best in the world but to say that the chines is bad that will not be correct because we see Chinese electronics everywhere i had original ps2 made in china which was working okay only fan died after 2 years because of the dust
    my iphone is original and it is designed in California and made in china

    i also have Multimeter Chinese chip like 2/5$ trisonic TS-F309 which is not accurate and probable made in someone in china for extra money it is okay in 0.0 but do not even think about 0.00 i think it is sopuse to be like that i just payed 2$ for it what do you want more for 2$-s

    what i wanted to say is what you pay is what you gat if you pay less you will goat less if you pay more you will goat more
    and stop complaining

  21. Dave Jones Says:

    Quote “Wanted to make a note that you can get a GOOD Fluke that is a few years old on eBay. ”

    Indeed. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of my blogs actually.
    The Fluke 25/27 is an old model (but still available) that probably goes for as cheap as you’ll get a good 2nd hand Fluke. Waterproof and shock proof too.
    The 20 series (23/29) generally go for less than the 70 series, as fewer people know they are exactly the same meter, and they are more familiar with the 70 series.

    Crash tests could be fun, perhaps I’ll have to do something like that. Vibration, temp and over-voltage tests are always a hoot too.

    One other thing about the cheap meters, they are nowhere near as safe as a properly designed meter. Little or no overload and surge protection, and the probe insulation and construction can be questionable. Use them on high voltage and/or high power gear at your own risk.


  22. Hansi Says:

    This video is bullshit.
    Telling that TTH-components are bad and some capacitors may be bad is just stupid.
    SMT components are even cheaper.
    He didn’t show the measurements, because these cheap things work just fine.

  23. Dave Jones Says:

    >This video is bullshit.

    Let’s see your video of you extolling the virtues of cheap meters then, can’t wait, it’ll be a real hoot!

    >Telling that TTH-components are bad and some capacitors may be bad is just stupid.

    No, it’s not.
    Do you know what non prime-spec components are and the failure modes they can have?
    Do you know about electro failure modes?
    Do you know about the gray market component business at all?

    >SMT components are even cheaper.

    Not necessarily. You’d be amazed at what prices the asian assembly houses can get surplus through hole parts for.
    The newer cheap meters are using surface mount components these days because labour in China is going up and pick’n’place machine capacity is more plentiful and getting cheaper, so the tide has shifted a great deal towards machine assembled boards. At least that’s a step forward.

    >He didnt show the measurements, because these cheap things work just fine.

    Of course they do, until they fail or play up on you. And of course Mr Murphy will ensure that is at the worst possible time causing you the greatest deal of anguish. The odds are not in your favor dude. Good luck.


  24. alex Says:


    I too was expecting a bit more details in this video. While your points are most likely correct, you nonetheless do not present quantifiable data.

    Yes, this is hard to do, but the burden of proof is on you, since you are the one making the claims. Getting defensive, questioning others’ certifications/etc (albeit light-heartedly), describing personal anecdotes, and citing experience in the field, etc, does not do anything to change this fact, it only makes it seem like you’re saying “believe me because I know” (well, *how* do you know? how can I be sure?).

    Until you provide reproducable experimental results, there will be some that doubt the validity of your claims. There is nothing you can do about this, except get some data.

    Then you can point and say “I told you so” 🙂


  25. Dave Jones Says:

    No burden of proof needed on my part, it’s my blog and my opinion based on my knowledge and experiences 😛
    Complaints are water off ducks back – quack!
    But I do happily take constructive criticism.

    How do you know if I’m right? Why, use your own engineering judgement of course. I don’t expect anyone to take my comments as gospel, it’s designed to be food for thought.
    Open a cheap meter yourself, look at the quality of the construction, ask yourself what corners were cut to get a $10 or $20 retail price, look at the quality of the design and layout, think about what quality plastics and other stuff they are using, inspect the quality of the switch mechanism, look at the stress points for the connectors, look at the overload and surge protection used, question the safety aspects etc etc

    Anyone who doubts that a $200 industry proven brand name meter is not going to outlast and have greater precision, stability and measurement confidence than a $20 no-name multimeter is a fool. So surely that is not in question here?

    If a $20 no-name meter works for you and meets your requirements then there is nothing wrong with that, they have their place as I said. But IMO you will never regret spending the money on a top quality meter. A cheap meter is a gamble that may or may not pay off for you. Your call.

    Even if I somehow provided “definitive data” and proof, there will always be whingers, that’s the nature of the world. Doesn’t bother me in the least, it’s all good fun!

    IMO, personal and professional real-world experiences are very valuable, especially so in this case where it is hard to actually quantify “design and build quality” and “measurement confidence”.

    For those that haven’t seen a follow-up blog story:


  26. Forseti Says:

    Hm.. I was expecting some proof that cheapo meters sucked at accuracy half way through the video but there was none. Fake capacitors? That would be awesome if they were those chiclet gum pieces with wires sticking out of them. After the meter died you could eat your fake capacitors!

  27. Hansi Says:

    design and build quality is nice to have, ok
    measurement confidence is sometimes a problem, especially with high-impedance circuits or when there is hf on the signal.
    But my point is, that if you use your $80 on a better multimeter, that is $80 for parts to play with.

    Please open your Fluke and show us the better quality components inside 😉

  28. Dave Jones Says:

    >design and build quality is nice to have, ok
    >measurement confidence is sometimes a problem, especially with high-impedance circuits or when there is hf on the signal.
    >But my point is, that if you use your $80 on a better multimeter, that is $80 for parts to play with.

    Sure, never argued that. If you are on a budget and can only afford a cheap meter then get the cheap meter.
    Just know what you are getting.
    If your needs are simple, the cheap meter will be all you’ll ever need.
    My blogs are aimed at a slightly more engineering savvy audience.

    >Please open your Fluke and show us the better quality components inside

    I have, and a Meterman, in my other blogs, but of course not to everyones seemingly demanding standards on here :->
    Once again, I just “talk” about it and show a few fuzzy camera shots, so sorry up front if it disappoints you!


  29. adam Says:

    sorry about going off,i don’t know why but i was doing that on several blogs last night, lol. anyway you make some good points. I still enjoy my $30 meter for home use where we just need to know its close to 5v then 12v like mentioned earlier, but obviously i use the flukes when i’m at school and need to know exactly what it is (the physics department actually uses $10 20 function cheap meters. There is no way I think my cheap meter is better then (or anywhere near) a fluke.

    if i’m shopping at harbor freight i know i’m getting a piece of junk, i’ll never buy an air compressor or lathe from there but i like it for dremel accessories, cheap multimeter,and cheap tools(hand tools have a lifetime warranty.) i even got an adjustable soldering iron for about $25, it doesn’t have an accurate temperature, but i can adjust it until my solder just barely melts and that works fine for my home projects, if i need something better either i use school equipment or i’ll save up and buy what i need.

    p.s. it’s good to know that the cheap meters could give wrong readings when the batteries are low. i thought they would just stop working. that’s probably what happened to my little $5 meter (yes i know it was crap i got it with a kit during my highschool senior year.)

  30. XLiquidIceX Says:

    The boundary was crossed when you somehow matched cheap products with Chinese. The fact is that cheap and unreliable products can be found ANYWHERE! Next time, please refrain from pointing fingers at nationalities as it is rude, disrespectful, and definitely NOT professional. Some Chinese companies actually make very reliable products; computer motherboards for example.

    Well that’s my $0.02

  31. Dave Jones Says:

    I have reviewed Chinese test instruments favorably in other episodes of the blog.
    I’ll be more careful with my wording next time so there is no inference that Chinese=Bad, sorry it upset so many people.


  32. kosta Says:

    Can we send Mr. Mom back to China? His 20 dollar review of 20 dollar multimeters was of poor quality.

    Why would you rip into an eighty dollar meter to prove your point that 20 dollar meters are crap? Maybe I’m missing something…

  33. alex Says:

    You can’t disassemble a multimeter without breaking it?

    So the moral is: don’t get a cheap multimeter if you need reliability.
    That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go to the most expensive brand in the market.

    Exactly how much better are the high-end versus the mid-range (but not “cheap”) multimeters?

  34. kiwi_frog Says:

    At work I have a 8 year old Fluke worth NZ$600, and at home a cheap 15 year old Dick smith meter worth $40. The Fluke has been completely unreliable, the selection switch has always been faulty(and been away to be fixed twice paid for by fluke), I’d admit parts are always available and when an idiot co-worker broke the LCD display they still fixed it for free. But fluke only guarantee the measurement’s if the unit is calibrated every 2years, in-fact for regular use they recommend every year. We also have a 20 Year old Fluke that stopped measuring AC for around 5years then suddenly started working again.

    My Dick Smith meeter has always been reliable, has always worked and its calibration is perfect still to this day, I can compare the measurement to a well calibrated scope I have and its still very exact.

    I’d argue that Fluke is a better brand, but a cheap crappy meter can be as reliable if not more so.

    And before you say your work meter must get used more, I’ll add I used the cheapy at work for 5 years.


  35. no way Says:

    Here is an easy way to test the confidince levels of these meters. Its pretty easy actually, but time consuming.

    Get a steady voltage or current source, whatever you want to test. I saw some decent supplies there.

    Get a measurement with the device in question. Write it down. Close the device. Get a measure with your “expensive” device, close it. Rinse and repeat a hundred times. Change the source voltage and repeat the experiment.
    Find the standart deviation and the error (the real value – mean value of the device in test). If the error is big, the device may need a calibration. What we are looking here is the standart deviation. That will give a clue of which device is better.

    Besides this methodology anything you say is biased and will mean nothing.

    If you want to talk about MTBF that is a more tedious work to be done. Lets say you “claim” that the cheap chineese meters diw in 2 years. While the expensive ones work good for 10 years. You may need thousand of these meters and let them work for (claimed time / 1000) years. This doesnt sound practical right? Or you may get the MTBF of each component and calculate a MTBF of the device from those numbers which isnt easy either.

    Just dont throw claims at us.

  36. Marchello Says:

    Sorry for my english, my Fluke was made in China, and it sucks (died when measuring a 3PH 380V motor), was replaced with a very cheap multimeter without problem. This article don’t probe anything, was it sponsored by a multimeter brand? 😛

  37. mrmeval Says:

    In rare cases will you find a really bad meter. I have my experiences which shape what I will buy. The best I’ve had I verified with a 5,000 dollar calibrator. No Way has a good idea that costs less and will give fair results.

    When I outfit technicians I will lease the expensive calibrator traceable to NIST standards and lease the equipment needed to verify they truly are safe at the voltages and currents claimed. I have the luxury of doing this and many of you do not. Since we buy enough meters in bulk I can require samples for testing. I can also require a longer warranty for the meter maker to get the contract and to exclude some of their ‘abuse’ clauses.

  38. Dazza Says:

    I agree totally with David Jones on the matter of the cheap Jaycar meter he presented.
    Man that meter he shown in the video was defintely “shite”.

    I guess the real answer to everyone’s answer is: Is your meter going to be used in a “mission critical application” or do you need that high spec tolerance, where every measurement you make is with 99.9999% confidence/accuracy?

    If no, then , yeah, cheap is great, Foe example I use a cheap $20 meter to meaure my 12V car battery, its not life or death, and all I want to see if if the car battery floats above 12.5Volts and if the alternator generates 13.8Volts. I put this in the back with the spare tyre.

    But on the otherhand, if you have a mission critical application, say an electrical component that needs to go into a commerical aircraft or a satellite, and it was serviced/measured by a “non-calibrated”/”uncalibrate-able” piece of crap like that cheap chinese Jaycar special, then hell no! Please give me a quality calibrate-able Fluke thanks!

    No professional engineer would ever sign off on a piece of mission critical equipment or let alone,fly on that plane, if the measurement device was not calibrated, or has a poor measurement confidence. Sure, it might work….. but all you are doing is compounding the risk of failure through multiple inaccurate measurements! Think about System MTBF! Each time you measure in-accurately, you slowly, but surely lower the system MTBF, through cumulative in accurate measurements.

    Its synonymous (or exactly like) with Electro Static Dischage, ESD. Have any of you out there considered the dangers of static electricty on an electronic component? Sure, you don’t need to be anti-statically grounded to pull a chip out of its ESD packaging and solder it onto a PCB. I am sure it will work fine for >99% of times. But why risk burning out that chip to save a few bucks on ESD protective equipment? It is because the 1% of times that a part fails, that you will be cursing and wishing you put that anti-static wriststrap on.
    Also similarly to lowering MTBF, ESD damage most likely occurs over gradual ESD events. It builds up cumluatively, eventually failing!

    So if you want to have a quality result, that is highly reproduceable, with 99.9999% measurement confidence, or is a mission critical device, please use a quality calibrate-able multimeter. I am sure that there are reasons why cheap meters are cheap, because they come with a compromise. I don’t know what that comprimise is, let it be MTBF, or cheaper lower spec components, it could be anything. But if the manufacturer can guarantee his company’s reputation that they built a high quality, high spec, high tolerance multimeter, then why not sell it at a higher price? since , I would assume, more engineering and more rigorous Quality controls were in place during manufacturing and final calibration testing! You pay for what you get. Cheaper meters would have obviously cut Quality assurance and reduced the amount of testing or are using the cheapest manufacturing methods to get the pricepoint of their meters down. Cheap meter manufacturers have to make a profit too!

    My personal expereince is that have failed in a university assignment and blown up electronic devices because I trusted a cheap multimeter. Yeah, it wasn’t mission critical, I didn’t die, I managed to finish Uni, but man it was a huge waste of my time, and I was very pissed off. So after I finished uni, I bought myself a Fluke 189. I have never regretted that decion. I always trust the measurements, I save heaps of time, and I know that, as David Jones said, I can drop/industrially wear it out, and it will last.

    Again, What you pay for what you get!

  39. Jimp Says:

    Having just bought one of these, and then found this blog, I wonder if I have wasted the money. I want something to test incoming power from 2 different generators, one in the backyard rated 5.5Kva suplying down a short 6mm2 copper wire, a big external one rated 32Kva, but the power is coming down a 250m 10mm2 coated aluminium wire and I’m afraid the voltage might drop. I also want to be able to check what power draw comes from the equipment on maximum,somewhere around 3000 – 5000watts, so as to be able to strategise use to reduce power draw, especially on our own generator, which shold not be run regularly over 3.3Kw. The smaller generator is just for back-up. The external one runs 4 hrs in the morning and 7 hours in the afternoon-evening. Is this gadget going to do anything of what I want?

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