BACKGROUND: Recent evidence suggests that the frequency response requirements for peak expiratory flow (PEF) meters are higher than was first thought and that the American Thoracic Society (ATS) waveforms to test PEF meters may not be adequate for the purpose. METHODS: The dynamic response of mini-Wright (MW), Vitalograph (V), TruZone (TZ), MultiSpiro (MS) and pneumotachograph (PT) flow meters was tested by delivering two differently shaped flow-time profiles from a computer controlled explosive decompression device fitted with a fast response solenoid valve. These profiles matched population 5th and 95th centiles for rise time from 10% to 90% of PEF and dwell time of flow above 90% PEF. Profiles were delivered five times with identical chamber pressure and solenoid aperture at PEF. Any difference in recorded PEF for the two profiles indicates a poor dynamic response. RESULTS: The absolute (% of mean) flow differences in l/min for the V, MW, and PT PEF meters were 25 (4.7), 20 (3.9), and 2 (0.3), respectively, at PEF approximately 500 l/min, and 25 (10.5), 20 (8.7) and 6 (3.0) at approximately 200 l/min. For TZ and MS meters at approximately 500 l/min the differences were 228 (36.1) and 257 (39.2), respectively, and at approximately 200 l/min they were 51 (23.9) and 1 (0.5). All the meters met ATS accuracy requirements when tested with their waveforms. CONCLUSIONS: An improved method for testing the dynamic response of flow meters detects marked overshoot (underdamping) of TZ and MS responses not identified by the 26 ATS waveforms. This error could cause patient misclassification when using such meters with asthma guidelines.