For circuit operation, the variations between de and ac functions are not too dissimilar. For de signal voltages, the individual stages of the instrument are directly coupled. Direct coupling can also be used for ac voltage signals, but typically capacitors are used to pass only the ac signal voltages from one stage to another. The test indications for ac must be handled slightly differently because of the nature of ac waveforms and the different ways of describing their levels. One ac wave has average, effective (RMS), and peak values. The analog meter movement responds to the average ac value, but we all use the effective or RMS value to describe a waveform, such as 120-V ac line power. The ac meter is calibrated for the effective value, even though it reacts to the average value.
Current-measuring meters are called ammeters. There are two ways of measuring the current flowing in a circuit. The first way is to open the circuit being tested and link the meter test leads into the circuit so the current flowing in the circuit flows in series through the meter as well. This is the in-circuit-type of ammeter sometimes referred to as an in-line meter. An external type of ammeter, known as a clamp-on ammeter, can be used without opening the circuit. The clamp-on ammeter has jaws that open and clamp around the sides of one wire in the circuit and measures the magnetic field that the current in the wire produces, to determine the current flow. The clamp-on ammeter is widely used and simplifies the measurement of current from one to hundreds of amperes. It is especially helpful for field testing and troubleshooting AC power lines.