Testing The Garrett Ace 250
As many of you know by now, Garrett's Ace 250 is a metal detector that is very light on weight yet heavy on features and performance. Charles Garrett has not only responded to the call of customers who want an easy to use, real-world detector in a fatigue free package, but to top it off, he somehow offers it at a retail price of only $250. This unit will knock the socks off cheap electronics packages masquerading as metal detectors. It puts an honest-to-goodness, quality machine within the budget of nearly everyone.
How they managed it is a mystery, but Garrett is now providing many top end, working features at an unheard-of low price. If you are just becoming acquainted with the Ace 250, you will be stunned by the multitude of features and controls packed into it. It was nothing short of amazing to me, because even though I was aware of the super low price beforehand, I never dreamed you could get so much for so little. The Ace 250 has some very exciting features, so sit back and read along as we look over this bright new star of Garrett Electronics.
The Ace 250 is an interesting, ergonomic arrangement with a three-piece S-handle design having an elbow rest/stand at one end, a 6.5 x 9" elliptical coil on the other, and a control box at the top of the handle. The controls are within finger and thumb reach for quick adjustments and pinpointing in the field. The housing contains an external speaker or one can use the 1/4" headphone jack. The top slides off easily to reveal four AA batteries. The search coil is waterproof and interchangeable to allow the use of various size loops.
The control box and elbow rest are a pleasing yellow color, which contrasts strikingly with the black of the coil and rod. I hate to harp on cost, but the low price didn't stop Garrett from providing a comfortably padded handle-grip and elbow rest. At first glance the housing face looks simple enough to operate, with a good-sized LCD screen, three push pads, and three adjustable +/- pads. However, while it is indeed simple to operate, a closer look makes it apparent that it took some engineering ingenuity to incorporate so many electronic abilities into this easy to use format.
The features of the Ace 250 are remarkable and include 12-segment adjustable notch discrimination (trash elimination), eight levels of sensitivity (depth and interference regulation), all-metal non-motion Pinpoint (exact target location), coin depth readout to 8", Visual Target ID (LCD screen), plus three-tone Audio Target ID, and five preset yet adjustable search modes (All-Metal, Jewelry, Custom, Relics, and Coins)— all packed into a total weight of only 2.7 lbs. (1.2 kgs.). Its length is adjustable from 42" to 51", and its operating frequency is 7.2 kHz.
Don't let all these features throw you, newcomers. Thanks to Garrett's microprocessor controlled electronics and a well thought-out design, the Ace 250 can hunt at the push of one button. Just turn it on by pressing the PWR (Power) button, and this intuitive detector does the work of setting the controls for you. You can choose to start out in the factory preset Coins mode to automatically eliminate signals from common trash. It doesn't get much easier, and as you gain experience the controls can be adjusted to your own wishes.
Controls In Depth
The screen is a good-sized viewing area with red lettering and dark black cursors for indications. As you can see in the accompanying photo, the LCD's left side lists the modes available, the center indicates sensitivity level, and the right side the depth readings. This is a great feature, as I don't recall another detector of this price having any depth meter at all. Between the latter two displays is the always-visible battery life scale. Just above the sensitivity level is a row of indicators that create 12 different sections or notches of discrimination. Above these is the cursor that appears when a detected object identifies itself by pointing the cursor to a target above the LCD screen, from Iron through Silver Dollar.
The depth readings on the right of the screen function while one is hunting, rather than after Pinpoint is employed. I offer a couple of cautions here for the newcomer. While it is convenient to know the depth before stopping to pinpoint, you should be aware that on any brand of metal detector with this capability, depth readings and target ID are much more accurate when the center of the coil goes over the center of the target. Otherwise, an outer part of the coil may not be receiving the full signal, and that can result in an error (not enough information to deliver a dependable result). Therefore, once there is a signal to investigate, it may be a good idea to pinpoint the exact location and then run “center over center” for a more accurate depth and target ID. Try to keep a coil height of about an inch over the surface to avoid overload from surface signals.
Another thing to keep in mind during depth readings is that the Ace 250 provides it in two-inch increments. So when you dig a coin that indicated 4" but ended up being maybe 2-1/2 or 3", that is still correct. The reason is that it is an approximation. The 2" level is not necessarily 2"— it is anything up to 2". The 4" mark is actually over 2" to 4", and so forth up to the 8" mark, which will also serve for over 8" if that case should occur.
Below the screen are six control pads. The top three for Mode, Sensitivity, and Discrimination save space in that separate minus and plus pads for each control are not needed. Using the same pad, just press left or right to run the range of the settings. The bottom three pads are the push-button type with a press and release for PWR (Power) and ELIM (Discrimination), while the Pinpoint in the center is a press and hold.
Press the switch marked Mode and watch as each mode is chosen at the left of the screen. The five modes are all preset at the factory but are adjustable to the user's likes and dislikes. These represent two top-of-theline features in that not only do you have the choice of various modes, but you can also save favorite settings in the Custom Mode. All-Metal is just what it implies— it has no discrimination set and herefore detects all metals. The Ace 250 is very sensitive to tiny objects; therefore, gold seekers and beach hunters may want to use this mode, depending upon hunting conditions.
Jewelry mode knocks out the first two discrimination segments and thereby eliminates signals from small iron and thin foil. Again, depending upon hunting conditions, including trash level, beach hunters should love this mode for finding rings, bracelets, and other jewelry. Custom mode is the one that will save your discrimination settings. The first time used, it starts in a Coins set-up but is adjustable as needed. Any discrimination changes that you make in the other modes will be lost when the detector is turned off. Relics mode generally eliminates signals from small iron trash yet retains signals from lower end lead and brass objects.
Coins mode is the one to use in a trashy park or any location where the junk is driving you crazy. It eliminates signals from the lower end trash such as tinfoil and iron nails, yet retains the nickel-range signals while also rejecting most pulltabs. In this mode, you will see the 12-segment discrimination scale with darkened cursors to accept nickels, and the higher six segments for most coins with no cursors shown to reject the trash icons just mentioned.
Press this pad left or right to lower or raise the sensitivity of the detector. As experienced detectorists know, sensitivity can be a double-edged sword. It can be your friend or your nemesis. All metal detectors should be run at a sensitivity level that allows the highest setting yet operates smoothly. Running a detector “too hot” can actually be detrimental to your unit's performance. The ground balance on this detector is factory preset. While sweeping the coil across the ground, raise the sensitivity until falsing signals are heard, and then back it down until the detector becomes stable. This will provide the best depth for existing conditions, including ground mineralization and trash. Many newer detectorists try to use a sensitivity that is too high and become frustrated. The Ace 250 is a very sensitivity machine, and full sensitivity at eight bars is not necessary to obtain good depth. The user will be amazed at the excellent depth gained with 50% to 75% sensitivity in this low-cost detector.
The DISCRIM pad works in conjunction with the ELIM pad below it. Use the DISCRIM pad to range the Target ID cursor across the top of the 12 discrimination cursors. As the ID cursor stops over each one, a press of the ELIM pad will make the discrimination cursor either darken or disappear, thereby allowing the signal to be heard or not heard. In this way, the hunter can change the discrimination settings of the current mode to match the situation in the field. As with all detectors, be aware that eliminating the signals of bad targets may also reject good targets. For example, a gold ring with the same conductivity as a pulltab that is being rejected, will also be rejected. However, thanks to the Ace 250's 12-segment range, one can fine tune with notches in the discrimination to decide what is accepted or rejected.
PWR & Pinpoint
What's to say about Power, right? It turns the detector on and off. Pinpoint is pressed and held as the center of the coil comes over the target to locate its exact location. As the sound increases, the top row of darkened cursors increases with the signal strength. One can also detune to narrow down the size of the target by releasing the Pinpoint pad, repressing, and holding it as the center of the coil comes closer to the center of the target. Using this method, I found that targets were located just forward of the notch in the center of the coil and below the top of the inside loop.
I also was able to obtain an accurate pinpoint by bringing the searchcoil side to side over the target, then pointing the top of the coil into the target until the sound increases. The object will be just below the nose of that inside loop. On deeper targets, the allmetal pinpoint tone was often not as strong as the motion discriminate mode. My guess would be that the motion discriminate mode has an audio boost employed to ensure that those deep signals are heard and not missed when hunting.
In The Field
There wasn't a great deal of time to field test the detector before old man winter froze the ground in the East. However, it didn't take long to learn that, despite its lightweight and low cost, the Ace 250 is no toy. Although there was no opportunity for a trip to the seashore for beach testing, reports from others indicate that they are finding the detector works smoothly at the beach as long as the sensitivity is reduced a bit to accommodate the wet salt conditions of the sand. The open design of the coil should make for easier sweeping through shallow water. On dry sand areas inland, I was digging nickels with strong signals at up to 8", and that is a good indication for gold rings of similar conductivity. In other tests on dry land, I also found some incredibly tiny and thin pieces of metal with strong signals, so I have to believe that jewelry hunters will do well on the beach.
My first trip was to the local park, where modern clad coins frequently popped up, unable to hide from the Ace 250. The elliptical shape of the coil covered more ground with each sweep, which translated into missing fewer coins. Pinpointing with the elliptical coil took a little getting used to at first. When going to Pinpoint, I could hear a faint threshold. Then the audio increased as the coil neared each target, and the signal strength cursors could be seen on the display screen. After detuning practice on a couple of targets, I was able to locate that hotspot on the coil, and pinpointing became a snap.
I didn't know how well I would do at playgrounds due to the larger coil, but it turned out well. By dropping down the sensitivity level, I was able to get the coil close to the metal playground equipment. I knew I was getting closer than others were when coins turned up close to swing poles, while the rest of the playground had been cleaned out. Most of the time I used the All-Metal and Jewelry modes to pick up those little pieces of jewelry that the kids lose. This is where I came across bits of metal no larger than a teardrop, with solid signals—and that means a very sensitive machine.
Starting in the Jewelry Mode at the next park, it didn't take me long to decide that digging pulltabs was no fun. The grounds turned out to be laden with junk. However, two presses on the minus side of the Mode button put the Ace 250 in the Coins mode, and those pulltab signals disappeared. A nice thing about the Mode button is that it eliminates scrolling through layers in the LCD. All five modes are right there to see, and with just a couple of presses the desired discrimination settings were immediately available. It also didn't take long to realize that the good sound of the Belltone in both directions of the sweep meant treasure, but no signal in the other direction meant trash.
I don't believe the higher level of discrimination had any effect on depth ability, because two silver dimes were found on this day, one at 7" and one at 8". Also noticed were good targets near bad. Sometimes, when a good sound came through mixed with an iffy one, a slow, careful sweep could separate junk near a good coin. I can only conclude that the detector has a quick recovery time, and that means good target separation— and that, in turn, means pulling more treasure out of the trash.
Several more hunts at parks and yards followed with similar results. The visual Target ID was generally good except when there were multiple targets under the coil, and that result is the same for any detector. As noted earlier, the Ace 250 seems to have a knack of separating those targets, especially when one raises the coil off the ground and works slowly. At one area, some wicked “hot rocks” were recognized when the detector gave a beep in one direction but not the other. Even in this harsh environment, several coins made themselves known at 6" and went straight to the goodie pouch. In every instance, though, the Ace 250 ran stable and smooth as long as I matched the sensitivity to the site. Even at half sensitivity, coins still beeped loudly at a good 6". By the way, you will want to get a good set of headphones for this detector, as there is no volume control. Of course, most headphones today have their own volume controls, and that solves the situation nicely.
In areas where the trash was light, it was enjoyable to run the detector in All-Metal mode to hear the different audio tones and watch the Target ID. Iron gave itself away with a low tone and Target ID. These were the times when the sensitivity of the machine astounded me. I couldn't get over the tiny and thin pieces of metal that did not elude the power of this Garrett. No doubt that will be good news to gold and relic hunters. In all modes, the Ace 250 nsistently found coins at 6-7" with sensitivity set at only half to three-quarters of its ability. It never let me down at any location.
Once again, I have to come back to price. I lost count of the times I shook my head in wonderment when the Ace 250 performed yet another feat of the much more expensive detectors. Even though one can appreciate this machine as an experienced detectorist, the real news is that it is an enormous breakthrough for the beginner. It puts previously expensive features into the hands of the newcomer, who generally doesn't want to invest a great deal of money until he's sure that this is the hobby for him. In addition, how many new detectorists have been discouraged due to a cheap detector that was difficult to use and couldn't find a manhole cover at 6"?
Does this mean that the more expensive machines are now swept away? No, of course not. However, the Ace 250 makes many of their top-of-the-line features affordable, and that keeps people in the hobby/sport. No longer will they quit in frustration before they have barely started. The Ace 250 has real ability and many things going for it. It is extremely light, and that means more comfortable detecting hour after hour, greater convenience in backpacking and traveling, and low-fatigue competition hunting. It is easy to understand and fun to use. Most of all, it incorporates those wonderfully expensive features into a most affordable package.
The Ace 250 may be low in price, but it is definitely not bottom of the line. Who would have dreamed that such an affordable detector would include features such as pinpointing, notch discrimination, mode selection, visual and audio Target ID, and depth reading? If you are looking for a metal detector, you owe it to yourself to check out the Garrett Ace 250.
Reprinted with permission from Western & Eastern Treasures (Copyright May 2005)