It's great exercise, it's surprisingly addictive, and if you keep at it, you can make your money back with interest – it's no wonder metal detecting is such a popular hobby. Every day, detectorists the world over strike out in search of buried treasure. Some walk away filthy rich; others are just happy to have spent a day outside. But for all of them, the thrill is in the hunt, and the path to that hunt is choosing a great metal detector.
If you're just getting into the hobby, you'll need a detector that's durable, easy to use, and has the sorts of features that will make long searches a joy. You'll want to consider structural designs and coil shapes – the Fisher F4's DD coil, for instance, has a different magnetic field than the concentric coils you'll find on the Garrett Ace 250 and the Teknetics Delta 4000. To help ease the learning curve, we've put together some articles on metal detectors that explain some of the hobby's more complex aspects.
Once you understand a few basic detecting concepts, picking out your top metal detector becomes a whole lot easier. Use the points below to guide you in your search for a solid beginner machine:
Performance and Usability
The best metal detectors are comfortable to use and can help you pick out treasures from a field of trash. Comfort is primarily a matter of weight: If a detector is lighter than around 3 pounds, you'll be able to carry it for hours on end. As for ease of use, watch for these basic features:
Target ID: Detectors with LCD display screens always come with a feature called target ID, which gives you visual feedback whenever buried metal is spotted. Many advanced detectors offer numeric target ID, placing each target on a 0 to 99 scale according to its magnetic properties. Numeric IDs are precise, but they can be a bit difficult for new users. For this reason, beginner detectors often sport graphic target ID, which replaces the numeric scale with easy-to-read icons for different metals.
Depth Indicator: Once you've found a piece of metal, a depth indicator can help you figure out how far down it's hiding. Some indicators are simple visual diagrams, while others have clearly marked numeric readings. The accuracy of depth indicators can vary based on factors like soil mineralization, but they'll help speed the digging process regardless.
Pinpoint Mode: Yes, you can pinpoint a target's location by carefully maneuvering a detector back and forth over the ground, but a pinpoint mode eases that search considerably with a solid tone that gets louder the closer you are to metal.
Once you've found a detector with basic features like target ID, depth indication and pinpointing, you can look at its more advanced offerings. For example, every detector has some form of variable discrimination. Discrimination helps you tune out trash metals so a detector only sounds when it finds something worth digging for. The more levels of discrimination available, the more control you have over your search. However, discrimination works on a linear scale, tuning out everything that falls beneath a given threshold – if you tune out pull-tabs, for instance, you might also tune out the frequencies that are shared by gold and certain kinds of jewelry. That's where custom notching comes in: It allows you to selectively notch out specific frequencies, leaving the rest intact so you can still find those treasures.
Sensitivity controls and ground balancing are two other features that can greatly affect your detecting experience. Sensitivity lets you increase or decrease a detector's reaction to electromagnetic signals, which can be useful in areas close to power lines or urban development. They can also be used, to some extent, to cancel out soil mineralization, something that can throw a detector off and cause it to beep erratically.
Unfortunately, turning down sensitivity also impacts your detector's ability to find deep metals. To combat mineralization without affecting depth and power, some detectors have a manual ground-balancing knob. Others have automatic ground balancing that can adjust to the soil.
There's no perfect setup to a metal detector's electronics; different builds are suited to vastly different purposes, which means a lot of it comes down to personal preference and what you're looking for in your detector. The biggest decision you'll probably make is choosing which search coil to buy. Most entry-level detectors have round, concentrically constructed search coils, but some are elliptical in shape and use a different internal construction known as the double-D. These DD coils emit their search fields in a vertical blade that slices into the ground, allowing you to cover a larger swath of area with each swing while still giving you fine-grained control to help you weed through junk metal. Some detectorists prefer concentric coils, but it's generally agreed that elliptical DD coils are far better at all-purpose detecting.
Also pay attention to operating frequency. Different frequencies tend to be suited to different purposes – a higher frequency is usually better for gold detectors, while a lower frequency is best for general-purpose detectors. Detectors that operate between 6 and 8 kilohertz are most common among beginner machines because of their versatility, though they tend to struggle at ore prospecting.
Help and Support
Extremely important and often overlooked, the support offered by a manufacturer can mean the difference between a detector you know and love, and a collection of unused wires and pipes gathering dust in your garage. Watch for warranties at least five years long, and consider buying a brand that has good instructional videos you can use to help you get your feet wet.
Once you catch the treasure-hunting bug, you'll probably have it all your life; metal detecting is as addictive as it is fun, especially after your first big find. Read up, and don't get discouraged if you don't find gold on that first outing. After all, the joy of treasure hunting isn't in the finds, but in the hunt itself.
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