Which Metal Detector is Best for You?

A guide to choosing the best metal detector

By Michael Bernzweig

If you are just getting started in the hobby of metal detecting, your most important purchase will be your metal detector. Sure, you will probably be interested in some accessories, such as headphones, digging tools and different sized search coils. But the first place to start is selecting the right metal detector for you. Don’t make the mistake of a spontaneous choice. You may end up with a detector that is a mismatch for your interests or your location. Here are four things to consider before making a purchase:

  1. Decide which types of targets are most likely to be found in your area. For instance, if you live in Nevada near the desert, you probably will not need underwater equipment. You’re also not in the area of Civil War relics. You are lucky enough to be in gold country! Best detectors for local hunting would be those for coin hunting, jewelry and/or gold prospecting.
  2. Learn a little about metal detecting basics. Browse the internet and check out other "Getting Started" articles in our Learning Library. This will give you a general understanding about different models and their capabilities. VLF (Very Low Frequency) detectors are the most common. Newer models include the Pulse Induction units. There are water-resistant models, wireless models and multi-purpose metal detectors. Experts also suggest studying brand names in metal detecting magazines or books. Then, you can gather information about the brands online; in particular, check out our section called, "Shop by Brands."
  3. Become familiar with metal detecting key words or functions of the machine. Then, you can decide which features are most important for the type of treasure hunting you’ll be embarking upon. Below we’ll explain basic metal detector functions.
  4. Consider joining a metal detector club in your area. This is a great way to make new friends and learn more about the hobby. A local club is a great place to learn proper technique and the finer details about metal detecting in your region. To find a club visit our Club Finder directory to find a club near you.

Become Familiar with Important Metal Detector Features

Before you run out and buy a metal detector, there are important features that are talked about in product descriptions. A brief overview will help you understand the functionality of a metal detector, so you know what you’re looking for and how to compare models.

Discrimination:

Discrimination is the ability of a detector to distinguish between one target and another. In other words, being able to tell if the signal you’re getting is a quarter or a trash item. There are just as many bottle caps and rusty nails in the soil as valuable treasure, so discrimination saves you time digging up garbage. Most detectors either auto adjust or they allow you to tune out garbage manually. For certain targets like gold and relics, detectorists choose not to use discrimination because they want to dig up everything that’s metal.

Ground Balance:

Any soil you are detecting contains a minute level of metal (such as iron). This can interfere with a detector’s ability to find coins, jewelry and other valuables. Ground balance allows your detector to bypass these minerals. There are few different variations of ground balance on metal detectors. Automatic: many modern units have circuitry that detects and adjusts for ground effects automatically. Preset ground balance: the manufacturer presets the ground balance at a certain level which works adequately in most searching environments. Manual: requires the user to adjust for ground balance each time they are detecting. This is a desirable option if you are prospecting for gold because of changes in ground conditions. Multiple ground balance allows users to either select manual or automatic setting depending on their preference.

Target Identification:
Target identification is a great tool on a metal detector that can distinguish between coins like a nickel, quarter, dime/penny, silver jewelry, foil/junk or the probability of gold. The output can be an audible tone that is high-pitched for valuables and a low grunt for junk. This is called tone identification. More frequently, target ID is visual and appears on the LCD display screen. There is often a numeric value called a VDI number that appears on the screen. You will get to know what the numbers mean as well as their probable targets.

Operating Frequency:
Frequency on a metal detector is the number of times the signal is transmitted and received by the detector every second. Lower frequency detectors scan deeper, so they offer better overall detection depth. Most general purpose models operate at lower frequencies. Higher frequency detectors are more sensitive to small objects and gold. If you are searching for smaller relics or specks of gold, you would opt for a unit with higher frequency. However, they are less able to penetrate deep into the ground.

Sensitivity:
Sensitivity is the ability to detect metal objects from a distance. You can compare it to a volume control on a speaker. If it’s set too low, you can’t hear the sound. But if it’s set too high, you get distortion and static. Most detectors with sensitivity control are marked with the manufacturer’s recommendation. In certain situations, it is necessary to lower the sensitivity: areas of high mineral content and near power lines are good examples.

Search Depth:
This is the depth to which your metal detector is able to search for coins and other objects. Lower frequency detectors offer better depth. The composition of the soil being searched can have an impact on search depth, as well as your search coil. The larger the search coil, the deeper it can search. You can usually find coins to a depth of one and a half times the search coil diameter. If you’re using an 8-inch search coil, you will typically find coins at 8-12 inches for example.

What Can You Find in Your State or Region?

Before selecting a metal detector, consider the climate and land composition in your area. The three main categories metal detectors fall under are land-based coin and relic hunting; beach and underwater detecting and prospecting for gold and other precious metals. Land detecting is most common. Metal detectors designed for this purpose will locate coins, jewelry, relics and general metal recoveries. If you live near lakes, beaches, rivers or the ocean, you may consider a beach and/or underwater model. These detectors require specialized equipment because of the electrical properties of salt and water, as well as waterproofing. Gold prospecting detectors are best suited for specific regions of the U.S. Their operating frequencies are higher and they’re designed for the salts and minerals that are encountered during prospecting. Most manufacturers design multi-purpose metal detectors that perform well at two or more of the above-mentioned specialized purposes.

Below are a few of our most popular multi-purpose metal detectors:

Entry Level:

Mid Level:

High End:

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