When deciding how to choose a metal detector, there are plenty of features to consider. Here are the important ones to know about.
The most important things to consider in a metal detector are discrimination, target identification, ground balance, use case, frequency, battery life, weight, search depth, and warranty.
Each of these are important factors to consider when purchasing a metal detector. Consider your detector a very powerful tool, purpose-built to find buried objects. Let’s learn about each one of these features.
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Discrimination allows the detector to understand what type of material it found. Because it can discriminate between the more junky items and the better quality targets, it reduces the “bad alerts” you get. Discrimination can help you know with more certainty whether it’s a pull tab or a coin.
If you’re looking for very specific targets, consider getting a metal detector with “notch discrimination.” This feature allows you to choose a target and have the detector filter out just about everything else.
There are times when you might not want discrimination, though. Sometimes you just want to find whatever’s out there because one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Finding a detector with the capability to switch discrimination on and off is a plus.
Metal detectors come with a lot of discrimination settings. Some have up to 40! Another feature you may want is a special alert tone rather than a beep when the detector hits on specific and valuable items.
The next feature step-up from discrimination is target identification, which helps you know what the target is more likely to be when alerting. Instead of just an alert, you’ll be given an indication of what may be down there. Being able to identify gold from junk or coins (even different types of coins) makes your hunt more efficient. To dig or not to dig, that is the question.
Target identification is by sound or by iconic pictures on the control box. Higher pitched sound indicates good stuff, lower pitches are more toward the junk side. The best indicator type is a personal choice, I prefer the icon.
Major Detector Groups
Very Low Frequency (VLF)
The most common detectors are VLF detectors. They have a transmitter coil and a detector coil. They don’t weigh much and are good for beginners.
They typically find things like jewelry, relics, coins, and more generalized deposits of metal. They’re water-resistant but not at all the choice for using underwater.
Pulse Induction (PI)
Pulse induction metal detectors have just one coil, which does the job of a transmitter and receiver. It’s better for creek banks, rivers, beaches, and even underwater if designed for that.
City use isn’t the PI detector’s strong point, though. There are a lot of different types of metal to uncover in cities and the PI detector doesn’t have good discrimination. Items made of iron trash (nails and spikes) alert just as well as coins or gold.
On top of that, they’re generally more expensive.
These are mixed-breed detectors. PI or VLF style. They detect multiple frequencies, can be purpose-built for gold, or designed to be waterproof. Specialty metal detectors, such as multi-frequency detectors, gold detectors, and waterproof detectors, can be either VLF or PI detectors.
Multi-frequency detectors are great for people who like to hunt in various locations and want to take advantage of specialized functions. This extra capability can drive prices higher, though.
Gold metal detectors can be either a VLF or a PI detector with a higher frequency range. This helps prevent alerts when ground salts and minerals, which are commonly detected while searching for gold, are present.
Waterproof metal detectors are the answer for beach and near-water or underwater use. These are built to ensure the coil and electronics don’t get wet under normal use. If you’re going scuba diving with a detector, you obviously need a special purpose-built model that is fully submersible to greater depths. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure you match your use case to the detector.
Ground balance adjusts your detector for mineralized soils. Soil rich in minerals might contain iron, salts, etc. The detector responds to this soil in the same way it does to a target, but the soil is a much more massive target. It can mask the good stuff you’re hunting for. Ground balancing helps solve this.
The ground balance feature is implemented in one of these ways:
- Automatic – no action needed from the user
- Manual – users set this based on the target being hunted
- Preset – manufacturer sets this and no user adjust is possible
- Multiple – allows you to choose automatic or manual
What is the metal detector for?
Metal detectors can find a lot of stuff! Maybe tons of variety doesn’t interest you, maybe it does.
Perhaps you’re only interested in coins and jewelry. Perhaps larger more ferrous items. Perhaps beach-only, or glass bottles, coins, and historical relics.
You need to think about this and narrow your focus before purchasing. Look for a detector that has the features that will best suit your targeting.
For example: Metal detectors used for seeking out precious metals probably don’t have discrimination capability. You’ll need some manual ground balancing capability.
Practice a search for your metal detector: Start with the product’s title, which will provide the first clues. Then read the packaging or item description. Check reviews and posted questions and answers.
All of these steps are easy to do with product listings like this one on Amazon. Take a look at that detector – see if you can find reference to some of the features mentioned in this article. Get a feel for what’s out there.
You can also use website product filters to fine-tune your search. Local clubs can help you as well as friends who have metal detecting experience.
Social media groups are also quite useful in helping you decide things.
Where will you metal detect?
A major dividing line is detecting on land or in water. Since all metal detectors have waterproof coils, there is resistance to rain and wet grass built-in. However, immersion and depth can be a huge problem if your detector is not built to handle them. You’ll need to choose where you want to operate. An interesting distinction, for underwater units you won’t see much of a control box and the alerts will be audio-only.
Whether you choose land or water (or both and shop for two detectors), you’ll want to consider these aspects:
As alluded to with VLF and PI detectors earlier, frequency plays a very important part is deciding what to buy.
Different frequencies are used for different types of detecting. They’re measured in Kilohertz and you’ll find that information in the manual specifications. Why that measurement is important is because different metals react to different frequencies. The design of the metal detector takes advantage of that fact to properly alert the user that it not only found something but (as in the discussion of discrimination and target identification) it’s in the neighborhood of what you’re searching for!
Like with any electronics, usage drains batteries. Metal detector batteries range from about 5 hours up to 18, even 20 hours of use. That entire range nicely covers a casual outing, and taking along extra batteries will extend your hunt time.
Useful time depends on how you use the detector and the quality of the battery. You can choose between alkaline or rechargeable. There is a difference in voltage between the two, however. Not a large gap, and it depends on the chemistry, but alkaline AA’s are about 1.5 volts while the comparable rechargeable is about 1.2 volts (Wikipedia)
Your metal detector won’t care, but you might.
Believe it or not, weight is a factor in choosing a metal detector. This is because metal detectors are held out in front of you and need to be swung side-to-side for fairly long periods of time.
Kids especially need one that isn’t too heavy and should have a telescoping pole to adjust for the user’s height. This National Geographic metal detector is worth a look.
That adjustment is also important for adults, especially if you’re sharing one. Your arm and shoulders will get tired after a period of time with a detector that’s too heavy,
Metal Detector Price
Don’t worry too much about this. Set a budget and find something that works for you in that price range. The best metal detectors can be found from about $200 on up. Don’t overbuy.
If you get super good at metal detecting and want to buy the most expensive metal detector out there, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $5,500 – but it doesn’t stop there.
The highest-priced one I’ve seen is the OKM EXP 6000 priced at just over $32,000. It’s a professional-grade, deep scanning metal detector with features like ground scan, tunnel scan, magnetometer, mineral scan, pinpointer, and live scan modes.
Generally speaking, metal detectors can detect things between 2 to 15 inches deep. Lower frequency detectors offer deeper surface penetration than higher frequency ones.
Variables that impact those depth numbers include the ground you’re detecting through and outside interference from nearby things like cell phones or power lines. Anything that can impact an electrical field, like the one your detector utilizes, can impact detection capability.
This is because your detector’s coil(s) near the ground (called inductor coils) interact with your metallic targets. When the coil’s magnetic field moves over the target metal, it induces currents in the target metal. The detector senses those and alerts you. Likewise, the detector can sense currents from nearby interference and that degrades its performance for you.
Simple enough, read the packaging, read the manual, see what the description on places like Amazon says.
Metal detectors are expensive, and they do get banged around a bit in the great outdoors. Look for ruggedness and a good warranty.