If you're a newcomer to treasure hunting, you probably have a few basic qualities you're looking for in a metal detector. You want a machine that's powerful enough to find targets, even where they're deep underground. You want one that can sort treasure from trash so you're not spending your day digging up discarded bottle caps. And you want one that's easy to use, but not so basic that it won't grow with you as you learn the ins and outs of the hobby.
It might be a little pricier than other beginner detectors, but the Fisher F4 should be at the top of your list. It's powerful, capable and feature-rich, with everything you'll need to help you grow from a fresh-faced detectorist to a veteran hunter. That's why it earns our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award as the best metal detector for a beginning hobbyist.
The basic design of the Fisher F4 mirrors most of the other metal detectors we reviewed. Its control box is mounted just above the grip, which is positioned in the middle of a flattened S-shaped curve in the shaft, midway down the detector. The positioning lets you grasp the F4 and adjust its common settings with your thumb. Its sensitivity and discrimination settings are a little higher on the control box so you can't accidentally brush them. The placement is ideal because sensitivity and discrimination are the sorts of options that can have a lot of impact on your day if you change them without realizing it.
The F4's adjustable shaft locks snugly into place and doesn't wobble at all, even if you get a little rough with the machine. It can extend far enough out to accommodate the tallest users with ease. The only significant downside to its design is its armrest padding, which – at least on the device we tested – was far too hard and had a raised edge that tended to chafe our arms. We couldn't find any evidence that other users had the same problem, though, so your experience may be different. Of course, if you buy the F4 and have the same problem, replacing the foam is a relatively easy affair.
The Fisher F4 has every major feature you could want in a metal detector, and then some. With four-tone audio and an 11-category graphic target ID, you'll always know what you're digging up, and the F4 supplements this with a numeric target ID readout. This gives you a target's precise reading on a zero-to-99 scale. Numeric ID tends to be a lot more helpful than category ID for advanced detectorists, but it can seem a bit opaque to new users. By providing both, the Fisher F4 teaches you what the numeric readings mean, and grows with you as you become more comfortable in the hobby.
Other features you'd look for in a great detector are here as well, including custom notching to complement its discrimination settings, a pinpoint mode and a surprisingly accurate and reliable depth indicator. If you've never had to ground balance before, then using its free-twisting ground balance knob can take a little practice, but once you learn how to do it, you'll be able to detect in highly mineralized soil without it affecting your depth.
Where most beginner detectors can only claim concentric coils, the Fisher F4's elliptical, DD-style search coil places the machine well above the competition. DD coils emit search fields that are shaped like thick blades: long and thin. The F4 coil's 11-inch length beats an 8-inch coil any day, so you can cover the same amount of ground as a concentric coil, if not more. Plus, the thin shape means the detector won't get confused by closely spaced targets. Given that most coils are lucky to hit depths of 8 inches and average 4 to 6 inches, the Fisher's 10-inch depth range puts a lot of power at your fingertips.
Fisher's help and support is among the best in the business. You’ll get a five-year limited warranty and a great FAQs page to answer all your questions about metal detecting. If you manage to come up with a question the online help can’t answer, there’s easy email and phone access, too. There are even instructional videos about the F4 you can find online to help guide you through its use.
The Fisher F4 is a superb metal detector that excels in just about every category. With its combination numeric and graphic target ID display and its custom notching settings, finding treasures in the wilderness is a breeze with this machine. The deep and accurate depth indicator and precise pinpoint mode let you know exactly where and how deep to dig. And the powerful DD-style coil and advanced ground balancing will get you used to finding targets others have missed in soil that leaves them confounded. It may be a bit pricier than other general-purpose detectors because of that DD coil, but it's well worth it.
The Fisher F4 has every single feature you could want in your first detector, from target ID and manual ground balancing to an excellent DD-style coil.
The padding on its armrest can chafe after extended use.
In terms of sheer power, the Fisher F4 is the best beginner metal detector on the market.