Metal detecting is a fun, rewarding hobby. Why not start out right with one of the best metal detectors for beginners? Here are my recommendations.
The top four metal detectors I recommend have the key fundamental features you need, are budget-friendly, and easy to use. Below, I explain the most important things to look for in a beginner metal detector, which are found in my top four choices:
- Nokta Makro Simplex+
- Fisher F22
- Garrett Ace 300
- Minelab Vanquish 340
One thing to keep in mind is that more features do cost more money, but don’t actually help you find a proportionately larger amount of treasure. Detectors that cost twice as much don’t bring you two times the finds. So let’s focus on the features that are most helpful for beginners.
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Consider These When Buying Your First Metal Detector
As a beginner, make sure you find a detector that uses VLF (Very Low Frequency) technology instead of PI (Pulse Induction); make sure your new detector has a “discrimination” feature; and strongly consider headphones (though, if this exceeds your budget, it can be skipped or purchased later)
When you use a metal detector, you’re using your shoulders, waist, elbows, and arms. Metal detecting requires you to “swing” the unit side to side so that the coil passes over the ground in large swaths.
A pretty accurate estimate is 100-120 swings per minute, and you spend a lot of time swinging the detector. You can see that the heavier it is, the easier it is for you to get tired.
Answer: you want a detector that doesn’t weigh too much – less than 3 pounds is good. My first detector was a 1980’s vintage machine that fortunately had a light coil and most of the weight was centered up top in the control box. It wasn’t too tiring, but compared to today’s models, it was a bit of a beast. A pound or two makes a lot of difference!
There are a number of things you can set for optimal performance on a metal detector. Discrimination, ground balance, and sensitivity are the most prevalent.
As a beginner, you’re trying to get into the hobby and want to minimize fiddling around with various settings. Having some good presets helps you enjoy the hunt. Here’s what to look for:
Discrimination Presets: Common setting are:
- All types of metal, sometimes called “all-metal mode”
- “Prospecting” mode or preset – used for hunting gold
Ground Balance Presets: Dirt/Soil contains varying degrees of different metals. You’ll hear the term “mineralization” in respect to this. Depending on how much mineralization, it can result in a false alert. Ground balancing your detector can reduce or eliminate that.
- Examples: presets for ignoring iron up to a certain threshold, or “beach mode” that compensates for the salt water environment
- The two main types of ground balance settings are manual and automatic
- As a beginner, automatic is the choice I recommend, as it makes for a quick and accurate ground balance
Audio: Some machines produce different tones for different types of objects. When you’re in coin preset mode, you’ll hear different alerts than in another mode. If you were in all-metal mode, different tones will help you decide whether to dig up the target. Prospecting mode is a bit like all-metal mode, but the detector provides a telltale sound when it senses iron so you can distinguish it from the actual target you’re seeking.
A Note About Sensitivity: Basically, the higher the sensitivity setting, the deeper your machine detects. You want to look for a sensitivity feature, but be aware that this is usually a variable setting and not a preset.
Easy to Replace Batteries
First of all, metal detecting is fun. So, you don’t want a hassle when it’s time to change batteries. On average, you can expect your batteries to keep things running for 20 to 30 hours depending on the presets and other settings you choose, headphones versus speaker, etc.
You don’t want to have to whip out a coin or screwdriver and open a compartment to get to the batteries. Look for an easy-slide compartment cover or a replaceable battery pack. Some detectors have a built-in battery that is rechargeable and may not be easily recharged in the field. In that case, bring a compatible power pack that can boost your battery while you take a break.
Availability of YouTube Videos
One great source of product information and user recommendation is YouTube. Even if you can’t find a review for a specific model of interest, try searching for “beginner metal detectors” and see if there are any videos of detectorists using them out in the field (hint: there are!) and make a list of the brands they use. Then see if that brand has a beginner model.
Believe it or not, some detectors hold their value pretty well. It shouldn’t be a primary consideration, but if you’re weighing options between models and almost all seem equal, resale value could be a tie-breaker.
Resale and brand recognition: Stay with the brand names. When people start researching the hobby, they’re going to read blogs like this one. They’ll no doubt see many brand names and almost no off-brands mentioned. Brand recognition, combined with brand reputation, helps preserve resale value.
Don’t be tempted by popular low-cost tool catalog places that sell multi-function metal detectors for $40 or $50 – you’re not going to get the key features or reliability that you need.
Another way to approach resale value: If buying a machine based on resale value is high on your priority list, buy a used detector and then sell it back later for what you paid.
These Things are Not Necessary for a Beginner Metal Detector
- Multi-frequency coils – Potentially provides more accuracy on target identification, but not significant additional depth increase
- Backlit Display – nice but not necessary
- Underwater Capability – if your beginning interests involve SCUBA or deep water detecting, you’ll need this. If not, you can opt for “water-resistance” instead of “waterproof.” That’ll help if it gets splashed on or you encounter very light rain.
- For the coil, however, almost all detectors come with waterproof search coils for shallow water searching. That’s a good thing to have.
Opinions – Like Noses, Everybody’s Got One
Here’s the thing… everybody has a recommendation for a good beginner metal detector. I know what I’d look for. I also know what a lot of other detectorists recommend by asking them, reading forums, and reading product reviews.
From that, only a few recommendations bubble easily to the top. I’ll go over these models and then present the leader of the pack in my opinion. Armed with this information, you should be able to find the one that’s right for you. Here’s a summary:
|Product (and Amazon Link)||Price Range*||Notes – Current as of writing, over time these may vary, check the product links for current information.|
|Nokta Makro Simplex+||$255 – $300||Many YouTube videos, waterproof, stay up-to-date with firmware updates (via USB on PC), extreme depth and high-end features at an entry-level price, auto ground balancing, preset search modes (including beach mode), easy-to-use single menu design|
|Fisher F22||$220 – $290||4 Modes of Operation (jewelry, coin, artifact, custom), 2.3 lbs operational weight, visual Target-ID by category, weather proof|
|Garrett Ace 300||$250 – $270||Adjustable frequency, digital target ID, electronic pinpointing, iron check, graphic target analyzing|
|Minelab Vanquish 340||$200 – $260||Simultaneous multi-frequency, 3 find modes (coin, jewelry, all-metal), 2.6 lbs operating weight, 10″ double-D coil standard|
So, What Are the Best Metal Detectors for Beginners?
Nokta Makro Simplex+
- Updates for your machine
- Extreme depth and basic features of a high-end device
- Fully submersible up to 3 meters (10 ft) and protected from total dust ingress
- Turns off or adjusts the volume of the low iron tone
- Notch discrimination for unwanted metals
- Will vibrate upon detection of target – great for hearing impaired users and underwater detection
- LCD backlight, keypad backlight and LED flashlight
- Built-in Lipo Battery that is easily charged with the supplied charger or a USB powerbank
Near-Equal Runner-Up: Fisher F22
- Visual Target-ID by Category
- Operates on 2 AA Batteries (25-30 Hours) (easier to change in the field)
- Adjustable Iron Audio plus Iron Identifier Icon
- 9-Segment Visual Target-ID
- Large 2-Digit, 1-99 Numeric Target-ID
- 4 Modes of Operation: JEWELRY, COIN, ARTIFACT, CUSTOM
- Pinpoint mode
- 10 Levels of Adjustable Sensitivity
- 20 Levels of Adjustable Volume
- 4-Tone Audio-ID
- Non-Volatile Memory Saves Settings
- 9-Inch Concentric Elliptical Waterproof Searchcoil
- Only 2.3 lbs. Operational Weight
Budget still an issue for you? Remember, you want good features but not be overburdened by them! If budget is an issue for you then I congratulate you on being frugal. Once you’ve decided on features and a model or two, consider buying a used one. You should be able to sell it back later at a decent price.