Answering a forum question the other day I was surfing around for the best price for an SPL meter, and stumbled across a bargain I felt I should pass on.

Since Tandy vanished from our shores, and with it ready availability of the Radio Shack meters, setting up a home cinema system has got tricker – and a good deal more expensive. Yes, you can track down the Radio Shack meter – Cornwall Electronics sells both the analogue and digital versions - but otherwise you're looking at spending £50 or so for something to do the job.

Well actually not quite: currently in the Maplin catalogue for just £17.99 is the little SPL meter you can see at the head of this story – and having just got my hands on and tried one, I can say it's perfectly adequate for setting up an AV system. And at the price, it's a sensible purchase, not a "But how many times will I use it?" one.

But why do you need a meter in the age of Audyssey, DCAC, MCACC and YPAO, any of which systems can set up an AV receiver at the push of a button and whole load of odd noises?

Well, it's simply that I'm yet to find any one of these systems able to set up a surround system the way I like it, so it's handy to have a meter able to check sound levels and let you adjust them with some knowledge of what you're doing, not just by ear.

And the little Maplin unit is more than good enough for that: it has nothing more than an on/off button and the option of measuring maximum or minimum levels over time as well as taking instantaneous measurements. Oh, and a light sensor for the backlight on the LCD panel, plus auto shut-off after 15 mins of disuse.

That's is a major benefit over the old Radio Shack models, which always seem to have a flat battery because someone's left them turned on.

A tripod bush on the base completes the package.

It measures 'C'-weighted, which is the most useful weighting, will go up to 130db, and checked against a variety of other meters I had to hand seems pretty accurate, even down to low frequencies.

OK, so the THX professionals and those who aspire to a tool-belt may get a bit sniffy, and say for truly accurate measurement the only meter for the job is going to cost you a lot more than a smidge under £20. But then they also probably drool over the MachineMart catalogue, lusting after petrol-powered leaf-blowers and wondering why no one makes a big hunky diesel-fuelled one.

For the rest of us, the Maplin Mini is all the SPL meter we're ever likely to need.

More after the break