Update (6/1/12): Not having heard back from electronics-diy.com, on 5/29/12 I inquired by email about the assembled kit I returned. The next day I received this reply: “We have done a range of tests on your LC Meter kit and have found no problems. Both capacitance and inductance measurements are identical to our kit. We even used brand new microcontroller chip and the readings are the same. Per your request we can either ship the kit back to you, or if you are not fully happy with it offer full refund.” I asked for a full refund, which they promptly granted (minus $5 shipping that I initially saved when placing an order over $99, but now have been charged since my return brings that order under $99).
Update (3/7/12): Yesterday I prompted firstname.lastname@example.org for a reply, mentioning the number of pageviews this post has received. I received a prompt and polite response. I learned that I was mistaken in expecting the meter to read capacitors 1 uF or higher, since the published range of the meter is only 0.1pF-900nF. There was no explanation of why I am having problems with inductors that are within the published range of the meter. However, I was quite favorably impressed by an offer to test and fix the kit at no extra charge! I shall take them up on this offer and keep you updated.
Update (2/8/12): I am having trouble with this LC Meter. It gives me the same reading for all capacitors 1 uF or higher, and the same reading for all inductors higher than about 70 mH (this last value is just a guess): 838.8 nF and 83.88 mH, respectively. As you can see the digits are the same. It seems to work for really small capacitors and inductors, but anything bigger and these are the only readings I get. I emailed email@example.com on 1/8/12 about this, but as of 2/8/12 I have received no reply. Unless and until I learn the problem is due to some error of my own in constructing this kit, I recommend against purchasing it.
Yesterday evening I finished building the “Special Edition Accurate LC Meter Kit with Blue Backlight LCD”, available from Electronics-DIY.com for $69.95. I have no experience with such devices; a more experienced fellow told me he was impressed by its specifications, so I ordered the kit. Soldering it up was a snap. The main printed circuit-board is all through-hole construction, and the LCD-board that mounts over the top of it requires nothing but a connector.
If you want to build one of these you may want to order this version of the kit instead of the one I purchased: Accurate LC Meter Kit with Green Backlight LCD, for $59.95. My kit’s “Blue Backlight LCD” turned out to be green anyway, and I think the two kits have the same circuit, save an adjustable potentiometer on mine that controls the contrast of the LCD (which I just set to maximum anyway). Certainly the cheap case that comes with the kit I ordered is not worth the extra $10 — to use it you have to carve out a bunch of stuff (to make room for the circuit-boards), including two of the four stanchions that attach to the lid. After going to all that trouble (I used a Dremel tool) you are left with a case that requires adhesive tape to hold down one side of the lid!
The instructions that came with the kit were pretty sketchy, mostly limited to how you need to carve up the case (by the way, the measurements were wrong, so ignore them). The only thing that got me into trouble was the voltage regulator, which gets in the way of the LCD-board (and protrudes too high to seat the lid of the supplied case) if you solder it in the way you normally would (which I did!). By bending the voltage regulator out at angle I managed to get the LCD-board mounted, but the lid still won’t seat properly. Learn from my mistake, and bend the leads of the voltage regulator into a Z so that they lay flat on the board and allow the voltage regulator to sit just off the edge of the board. (Of course, this only matters if you try to use the case provided.)
You’ll need to supply your own power to this unit. There isn’t enough room in the case for a 9V battery, so I purchased a DC socket. You’ll also need to supply your own connectors for testing inductors and capacitors; the photograph on the Electronics-DIY.com website shows them in the case, but they aren’t supplied. I used banana-plug sockets. You’ll also need to supply your own pin-connectors if you use the supplied pins on the circuit-board, and you’ll need your own stand-offs if you want to support the LCD-board (only two of the four screw-holes match up with the lower PCB, but that’s probably good enough).
There is no way to select the units displayed on the screen, e.g. pF vs. nF. But the dearth of selector switches is actually one of the nice things about this unit. There is no need to select a range of capacitances or inductances. The only thing you have to do is plug it in, hit the reset button whenever you want to calibrate it, and stick in a capacitor to get a reading. If you want to test an inductor, you simply press one button to select inductance-mode, then attach your inductor. It just works — and it works with precision.
Here is a slideshow of some snapshots that I took with my cell-phone. They didn’t turn out very well, but they’re good enough to give you an idea of what it looks like. Notice that I used black electrical tape to mask the edges around the LCD. That’s because the opening I made was downright ugly. Next time I’ll try using a cutting wheel on my Dremel tool instead of a grinding tip!