Metal Detector Advice & Guidelines

Minelab CTX 3030 Metal DetectorChoosing your first – or your next – metal detector can be challenging considering the many models available on the market. There are several factors that might possibly influence your decision, and these does not limit only to price, but also to your level of proficiency, experience, skills, and purpose. While some models work great for coin shooting, others might be more suitable for detections on soils that are rich in minerals, such as beaches.

Alternatively, you cannot expect an entry- or mid-line metal detector to have the performance of a more technologically-advanced machine that is equipped with a wider range of features. You will probably see that many expensive models work just like they have been specifically invented for a specific task – it happened to me once, but I was not disappointed in my Fisher F2’s performance either way.

To help you out, I compiled a list of the best metal detectors by category. As long as you make sure to keep an eye on my suggestions in regard to specific aspects like discrimination, ease of use and price, you can always go to shopping for a different model if these ones are not suited for your tastes or budget.

There is also an overview of how a metal detector works and the different types of detectors at the end of this for anybody curious about the inner workings of a detector.

Best Metal Detector for the Money ($300 or Less)

If you want to buy a decent working metal detector but do not have too much room in your budget, making a good choice is going to be a real challenge, since most machines do not come with a money-back guarantee. Most entry-level and mid-line detectors are conveniently priced under $300, but not all of them incorporate the same features. I personally look for a good balance between price and features, as this is the best way to tell a worthy machine from a crappy one.

Fisher F2 Metal DetectorOur choice for the Best Metal Detector Under $300
Fisher F2, click for more info

First of all, you might want to consider a detector that features enough discrimination segments to help you eliminate all worthless metals from the detections. The more general are the discrimination patterns, the more inaccurate your detection will be. Another important aspect you should keep an eye on is audio target identification – you probably will not find a machine that can make very loud sounds without a headphone, so be sure to purchase one as well. Look for a detector that can make three or more tones to signal the different targets you found – that, combined with visual target ID, will decidedly tell you what metal you will be digging for before even starting.

Lastly, be sure that your machine features a Pinpoint mode, which will provide the exact location of an object once the detector has largely identified it. Most mid-line detectors allow you to switch over to the Pinpoint mode but be sure that yours has one, too.

I personally recommend the Fisher F2 if you cannot afford to spend too much. This metal detector features several discrimination segments, 4-tone audio ID, pinpoint, and the 2-digit target value, plus it costs only $215, so you can spend the remaining $75 on accessories.

Best Metal Detector for Beginners

If you are looking for your first metal detector, things are going to be a lot simpler. My first machine was a Garrett Ace 250, but I sent it back and got an Ace 150 instead due to the ease of use and lack of complexity of the user interface.

Garrett Ace 150 Metal DetectorOur choice for the Best Metal Detector for Beginners
Garrett Ace 150, click for more info

Since you supposedly do not have any experience handling a metal detector, you will want a machine to help you familiarize with the hobby. As such, look for one with very few buttons on the interface – two or three are preferred, but four are good as well. You will basically need them to switch the detector on and off, change the user mode, and eventually increase sensitivity.

There are entry-level detectors that do not have an LCD screen, but I warmly advise to get one of those that have. They typically provide feedback on target depth and tell you what objects you are willingly discriminating, which is a great thing if you are a newcomer. If possible, go for a machine that is pretty lightweight – carrying and swinging it around for several hours is not going to be an easy job, I am warning you.

My personal advice is to never choose a detector that has way too many features, like ground balance, 8+ discrimination patterns, 5+ user modes or anything similar – you are going to get lost while trying to adjust it, and you will eventually give up.

A good option would be Garrett Ace 150 as it provides three users modes (All-Metal, Jewelry, and Coins), it features four sensitivity segments, it displays approximate target depth, and it is very easy to maneuver even for those with no experience at all.

Best Metal Detector for Gold

And here comes my favorite part: gold prospecting. Assuming that you have already had your first entry-level metal detector and are prepared to take your hobby to a whole new level, you decidedly need a suitable machine – one that has lots of discrimination patterns. Most metal detectors are implemented to locate any type of metal, ranging from pull-tabs to pennies, quarters and even silver, but if you want to gold prospect only, then you will need a machine that can discriminate most other metals. The more discrimination segments it has (I would say 30 and upwards), the better chances you will have to find those gold meteorites you are hoping for.

Garrett AT GoldOur choice for the Best Detector for Gold
Garrett AT Gold, click for more info

This time, you will not need plenty of search modes, but I suggest choosing a detector you can set to Jewelry mode because gold is oftentimes included in this category. Increasing sensitivity is a must in those conditions where the ground is highly trashy, but you might need several sensitivity segments anyway to better sense those sparkly gold nuggets. In the end, be sure that your machine has a Pinpoint mode, which is ideal for those situations when the nuggets are very tiny, and might be inaccurately identified by the detector.

I used the Garrett AT Gold a couple of times, and I managed to find my lost gold ring, plus lots of other earrings and necklaces during detections. It has 44 iron discrimination patterns, it has three user modes + 8 levels of adjustable sensitivity, as well as efficient target identification with target depth.

Best Metal Detectors Beach Detecting & Coin Shooting

Beach detecting is a popular branch of metal detecting, which consists of using your metal detectors on beaches – that is pretty clear. If beach detecting is a hobby of yours, you should better put some money aside every month if you want a machine that performs well and does not start beeping before you start detecting.

Never forget that the sand is extremely rich in minerals that can possibly affect the accuracy of your machine once they get into the electromagnetic field of the search coil. Since your machine has not been adapted to detect such minerals, it will automatically start making noises if they come into contact, although there is no object buried in the ground. Personally, the Tesoro Sand Shark was the best option for me, specifically, since it was adapted for sandy terrains, not to mention that it works seamlessly underwater as well.

Tesoro Sand Shark Underwater Metal DetectorOur Choice for the Best Beach Detector
Tesero Sand Shark, Click for More Info

As for coin shooting, this branch of metal detecting is, even more, popular than beach detecting, as it involves searching only for coins, regardless of their type, provenience or other such aspects. The best metal detector you can possibly choose might be Garrett AT Pro although the Ace 250 has been performing very well at coin shooting. Both come with a Pinpoint mode that is simply great, and if you set the machine to Coins mode before activating the Pinpoint one, the results will be just stunning.

Garrett AT Pro Metal DetectorOur Choice for Best Coin Detector
Garrett AT Pro, click for more info

Best Metal Detector, Period (Unlimited Budget)

If money is not an issue, then your options become unlimited. Since you are going to pay a lot more, you should definitely look for a metal detector that can offer you more options and opportunities than a typical mid-line machine. Having more than ten segments of discrimination is a must, and if you can get the opportunity to set your own patterns, that will certainly be an advantage. I suggest going for a machine that offers more than 30 levels of sensitivity, especially if you are very serious about actually finding anything.

Most technologically-advanced metal detectors come with trash density settings, which are great if you plan to start detecting in very trashy areas. This will eliminate objects like pull-tabs and pennies from the detection, leaving only more valuable targets to be located. If you ask me, a trash density function is critical to the success of your detection, especially if your metal detector includes a High Trash search mode.

XP DEUS Wireless Metal DetectorOur Choice for Best Overall Metal Detector
XP Deus, Click here for more info

The most important features of a high-end metal detector are the customizability of the user modes and the adjustability of the ground balance. Setting your own user modes will be just great since you will be able to save and use them at any time in the future, whilst manually adjusting the ground balance will save you time and effort you would otherwise spend on digging for objects that are not actually there.

My recommendation is the XP Deus, specifically because this machine is the first wireless detector, and can be fully controlled from the WS5 headphone it is equipped with. The unit offers 10 factory programs + 8 customizable ones, 4 interchangeable frequencies, four settings for the ground balance (including Manual), extended discrimination range, and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts up to 27 hours.

How Does a Metal Detector Work?

A metal detector is a pretty awesome tool. They can detect metal objects or metal inside of other objects. Metal detectors have many uses ranging from high profile security checkpoints at airports or government facilities to simple hobbyist toys for those who want to go looking for hidden treasure.

Metal detectors work due to the fact that metal is conductive. Metal detectors create an electromagnetic field, which penetrates the ground. When the search coil senses a change in this field (caused by a metal object) it sends a signal back to the control box which then alerts the operator. Metal detectors react to the surface area of objects, not their mass, therefore the larger the object, the deeper it can be detected.

Operating Frequencies and Sensitivity

Measured in kilohertz (kHz) the frequency is the number of Times a signal is transmitted into the ground and received back, per second. The lower the frequency used by a detector, the deeper it can normally penetrate. At low frequencies, however, the sensitivity to small targets is sometimes reduced. The higher the frequency, the higher the sensitivity to small targets, but it may not penetrate as deeply. In general, gold detectors operate at higher frequencies (to find small nuggets) while coin and treasure detectors work at lower frequencies for deeper penetration (the exception to this is MPS type metal detectors that are sensitive and deep-seeking simultaneously).

Difficult Soil

Soil contains naturally occurring salts and minerals, which are known as mineralization. Areas of highly mineralized soil are generally known as difficult soils. Sandy or loam soils are low in minerals and are usually very easy to detect. Most detectors have a control called ‘ground balance’ which is used to compensate for the effect of mineralization. The most difficult ground conditions are the areas where mineralization varies. Here, the operator must repeatedly re-balance their detector Unless their machine features Automatic Ground Tracking (AGT) Technology, which will continuously and automatically adjust the detector for perfect ground balance.

Quiet Ground

Quiet ground does not contain minerals. It is neutral and Generally loam to sandy in consistency. Ground balancing a Metal detector is much easier in these conditions.

Discrimination

Discrimination refers to the ability of the metal detector to Estimate the type of metal a target is made of. Discrimination Gives you the ability to ignore unwanted objects like iron, steel, Pull-tabs etc, while detecting for valuable items made from Metals like silver, gold, or copper.

Coils

The coils send an electromagnetic field into the ground and receives a response that is interpreted by the control box. The size of the coil can effect the depth a target can be detected or the sensitivity to that target. Coils may have different search patterns, depending on how they are made. For example two coil types are; Double-D and Monoloop which give a good detection coverage, depth and highest level of overall performance. By changing the size or design of coil, the detector can become more versatile for changing conditions.

The Parts of a Metal Detector

So exactly, how does a metal detector work? In this article, I’m going to be discussing the metal detectors used by hobbyists. You know, the ones you see the guys on the beach walking all over the place with, with headphones on? Those kind. First, let’s talk about the parts of a standard metal detector.metal detector diagram

As you can see from the diagram, the search coil is at the bottom, with a stem reaching up to the controls, handle, and arm cuff. Now, let’s discuss what each part of the detector actually does.

How Metal is Detected

We’ll start with the most important part, the search coil. The search coil is what actually senses the metal. An oscillator (a component used for producing alternating current) transmits an electromagnetic field into the ground through a coil, which will energize any metallic object in that field. The metallic object will then transmit a signal that can be detected with the device.

With most detectors, the objects must be within a foot of the surface of the ground to be detected. This depends on the size of the coil used. Smaller coils may only reach a depth of 6 inches.

How it Lets Us Know it Found Something

Once a metallic object is detected by the coil, the signal is sent up to the control housing where it will give an indication of how strong a signal it has detected. An audible signal is usually sent to the user who can plug in a set of headphones to the device. The louder the sound, the stronger the signal received.

There will also be some sort of indicator on the device such as a simple needle display, to full-blown LCD displays. Some devices can even tell you what type of object it is detecting.

Of course, this is a simplified version of how a metal detector works, but to get a little closer look, let’s take a look at the different types of detectors and the technology that they use.

The 3 Types of Metal Detectors

There are 3 types of technologies used in metal detectors. Each one is explained below.

Very Low Frequency (VLF)

This technology is also known as “induction balance,” and is probably the most common type of technology used in detectors today. They are versatile, meaning they have the ability to detect a wide range of material.

As described above, VLF detectors use 2 coils to transmit and receive electromagnetic signals.

  • Transmitter coil – the outer coil used to send the electromagnetic signal into the ground.
  • Receiver coil – the inner coil used to receive electromagnetic signals.

The process used to distinguish between the 2 types of signals is known as “phase shifting.” In layman’s terms, it’s the difference in the 2 wavelengths that the transmitter coil is sending, and the receiver coil is receiving.
If an object in the ground is present, something called a “phase demodulator” detects the difference in wavelength, and sends an audible tone to the user.

“Discrimination” is a technique available in many detectors which allow you to control the sensitivity of the detector. The higher the discrimination setting, the more likely you are to miss certain objects. The best way to learn the discrimination characteristics of your detector is to set out various types of objects you would be searching for and test them out.

The frequency range used in “VLF” is 3-30 KHz, while the wavelength is 10-100 km. As an interesting side note, the VLF radio bands used by these detectors are also used by the military for communications with submarines.

Pulse Induction (PI)

Another kind of technology is Pulse Induction. These are different from VLF detectors in that they use a single coil, rather than two. Repeated pulses are sent to the coil, which produce a magnetic field aimed toward the ground.

If a metallic object is detected, an opposite magnetic field will be generated, and is picked up by a “sampling circuit.” The sampling circuit then measures the time it takes for the magnetic field to decay. If it takes longer than normal (as if no metal objects were present) for the field to decay, an audible tone is sent to the control housing via an “integrator.”

The user is then able to determine when the metal detector is picking up on something.
Pulse Induction detectors are not as good as VLF detectors at discrimination but have the ability to pick up on objects a little deeper in the ground. They are also great for using in areas with minimal trash, such as the beach. If you’re heading to the beach, Pulse Induction is the technology you want.

Beat-frequency Oscillation (BFO)

These are the simplest form of metal detector, and use the oldest form of technology among the three discussed here.

Two coils are used in this device. However, one of the coils is located at the bottom, and the other is located up higher in the control housing. Both coils transmit electrical current at frequencies just slightly different from each other. If the search coil at the bottom passes over a metallic object, the object then alters the frequency at which the search coil is transmitting.

This widens the difference in which the two search coils are transmitting, which produces an audible tone. The tone is then amplified and sent to the headphones, allowing the user to know when an object is detected.

Summary

Hopefully, this overview of how metal detectors work and some buying information has helped to give you a better understanding of these interesting and cool devices. If you need help finding the right detector for you, please check out the rest of this site to help you in your decision.

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