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, while others are just happy to have spent a day outside. For all of them, the thrill is in the hunt, and the first step on the path to that hunt is choosing a great metal detector.
If you're just getting into the hobby, you will need a detector that's durable, easy to use and has the features that 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 you can read before diving into our reviews.
Once you understand a few basic detecting concepts, picking out your first metal detector becomes a whole lot easier. Use the points below to guide you in your search for a solid machine.
Design & Performance
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. The biggest decision you will make is about 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. This unique shape allows you to cover a larger swath of area with each swing, while still giving you fine-grained control to weed through junk metal. Some detectorists prefer concentric coils, but it's generally agreed that elliptical DD coils are better for all-purpose detecting.
Pay attention to operating frequency, too. Different frequencies are suited to different purposes – a higher frequency is usually better for gold detectors, while a lower frequency is best for general-purpose detectors. Frequencies between 6 and 8kHz are most common for beginner machines because of the versatility in this range, though these detectors tend to struggle at ore prospecting.
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 object on a zero 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, the best beginner metal detectors often sport graphic target ID, which displays easy-to-read icons for different metals. Not all detectors offer both graphic and numeric target ID, but those that do help you learn what each number range means, so you can grow in the hobby over time.
Once you've found a piece of metal, a depth indicator can help you figure out how far down it is 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 up the digging process regardless.
Yes, you can find a target's location by carefully maneuvering a detector back and forth over the ground, but a pinpoint mode eases your search considerably. This is a solid tone that gets louder the closer you are to metal.
Once you've found a metal detector with basic features like target ID, depth indication and pinpointing, you can look at some more advanced offerings. For example, every treasure-hunting metal 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 by 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 other kinds of jewelry. That's where custom notching becomes useful. This feature allows you to selectively notch out specific frequencies, leaving the rest intact. This way, you can still find treasures that have frequencies close to the undesirable one.
Sensitivity controls and ground balancing are two more features that can greatly affect your detecting experience. Sensitivity controls let you increase or decrease a detector's reaction to electromagnetic signals, which can be useful in areas close to power lines or urban development. The sensitivity function 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, while still others simply feature a static, pre-defined ground balance.
The best metal detectors are comfortable to use. 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 basic features like a target ID, depth indicator and pinpoint mode.
Help & 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 of 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 your first outing. After all, the joy of treasure hunting isn't in the finds, but the hunt itself.