Have you ever wanted to go looking for buried treasure? It’s a lot easier when you see can see below the surface. A good metal detector will help your search whether you’re hunting for history or digging for gold.
What to Look for in a Metal Detector
It turns out metal detectors aren’t cheap. A good entry-level machine is going to be at least $200, and they quickly skyrocket in price. So, if you’re planning on purchasing one, you’ll want to know that it will work for you.
- Accuracy: The metal detectors need to be able to differentiate the stuff underground. There are a lot of different things in the soil. There’s a fine line between some iron inside a rock and a valuable coin. Differentiating is usually done with either Target or Tone ID.
- Target ID and Tone ID: These are what the detector uses to tell you what it’s looking at. Target ID detectors display a number, usually from 1 – 99, and things like gold and silver will often fall under a specific range. So the number will tell you what the object is made from. Tone ID works in a very similar way, but it uses audio cues. This is the screeching noise commonly associated with a metal detector. Lots of detectors only have one or two tones for either good or bad (A relic, or some trash,) but some have a wide range of tones to differentiate the materials underground. Most detectors will have a version of both Target ID and Tone ID.
- Range and Depth: The larger the range on the detector’s coil, the more ground you can cover at one time. The size of the coil generally translates to the range and depth the device has, however, too large of a coil can make it hard to discern exactly where the object is. You want to be able to cover a large area while still being able to pinpoint an object. In high trafficked areas like battlefields and beaches, the artifacts and relics close to the surface have already been discovered. So, the deeper you can look, the more likely you are to find something new.
- Coil Frequencies: Detectors usually operate on frequencies between 2 and 50 kHz. Each frequency is good at detecting certain materials. Low frequencies between 2-5 kHz are suitable for deep coins and objects. Mid-range frequencies between 5-12 kHz are good for relic hunting and jewelry. Higher frequencies are usually used for hunting for gold. Low-end machines generally only have one or two different frequencies to search for a specific type of treasure. Whereas more expensive detectors usually have a wide range of frequencies available and multi-frequency options that search for everything across a wider range.
- Portability: Metal detectors are long and can get pretty heavy. To spend long periods swinging one back and forth, it needs to be easy to hold and have grips that leverage off of your arm or hip.
- Water-Resistance: While waterproofing isn’t entirely necessary for relic-hunting, metal detectors are used outside, and the weather can be unpredictable. Lots of people take their metal detectors to the beach. Being water-proof gives you more protection and even lets some detectors be used entirely underwater.
- Audio: Some detectors just screech at you from a speaker, but most modern detectors come with dedicated headphones and sound equipment. Higher-end models usually also include Bluetooth compatibility so that your detector can swing cord-free.
There is a lot more that goes into using a metal detector than just waving it around, hoping for it to go off. You need to understand where to go to find buried treasures. There are hundreds of thousands of leftover bullets, shells, and artifacts buried on battlefields across the world (be careful; not everything you’ll find will be defused.) Beaches are another popular spot because things get lost in the sand and washed onshore.
Metal detectors are a considerable investment and should only be undertaken if you want it to become a serious hobby. If you’re just trying to find a lost ring in your backyard, consider finding one to rent or borrow from a friend. If you do want to get involved in the hobby, consider joining a detecting club or visiting an online community for hunters like r/metaldetecting on Reddit to help you get started using your new detector.
The Best Overall: Minelab Equinox 800
The Minelab Equinox has everything one will need to start searching for buried treasure. The machine has five different operating frequencies ranging from a low 5kHZ for deep coins to a high 40kHz gold detecting frequency. It can also be used in multi-frequency mode to make sure that you don’t miss anything beneath the surface. Your search can then be even more customized with options for depth and sensitivity.
The machine has a wide double-D shaped coil, giving it a lot of range. It also includes a protective coil cover. The whole machine is water-proof; you can wade into the water to use this at a depth of up to ten feet. So, it works rain or shine, on and off land.
The detector includes its own set of headphones and a wireless module for a low latency Bluetooth connection. There’s also an aux cable for wired audio and a charger for the headphones. The metal detector itself has a magnetic charging cord, which is just a small quality of life feature that prevents damage to your machine from accidentally yanking on the cord.
Minelab 3720-0002 Equinox 800 Metal Detector, Black
The Minelab Equinox 800 has a full range of multi-frequency search abilities and a wide double-D shaped coil that allows it to search for any metal deep beneath the surface.
The Budget Choice: Garret Ace 300
If you’re not looking to throw down close to a grand on your first metal detector, there are entry-level machines that will give you a starting point to learn how to use a detector. The Garett Ace 300 is a single-frequency 8 kHz machine that is good for finding lost jewelry and coins that aren’t buried too deep. It has five search modes for coins, jewelry, relics, a custom mode, and a zero-discrimination mode (any metal will set it off).
The Garett Ace 300 has a smaller coil, which is useful for pinpointing small objects but not for covering large areas. The Target ID has a normal 0-99 range, and it comes with a set of cheaper wired headphones to listen to its tones.
The Premium Pick: Minelab CTX 3030
The Minelab CTX 3030 is similar to the Equinox 800 only better in every way. The machine uses Minelab’s FBS-2 technology and full range multi-frequency detection (1.5 – 100 kHz) to pinpoint and discriminate objects below the surface. The device also includes a low latency wireless module and a pair of nice over-the-ear headphones. However, the headphone jack is a custom Minelab port (not a standard auxiliary port) that allows the machine to be submersible up to ten feet. The rechargeable battery is removable and charges in a stand. You can bring extra batteries and swap them out in the middle of an excursion.
The most significant difference in this machine is its full-color LCD. It has an easy to operate interface with a bunch of quick menus for changing the search criteria, and—best of all—GPS tracking. The detector uses GPS and Google Maps to keep track of where you have already searched, so you spend less time retreading the ground. It lets you set up waypoints and mark locations where you have already found something. All this enables you to develop a better idea of the area you are working on and where the next treasures are likely to be located.
The Gold-Digger: Fisher Gold Bug Pro
The Fisher Gold Bug Pro is designed to give you the best results when hunting for gold. It only operates at 19 kHz, but that is perfect for gold, so it’s not a big drawback. Even though it’s focused on gold, it does still include the option to search for all metals indiscriminately. The Gold Bug is great at pinpointing nuggets deep underground and can work in highly mineralized soil.
The machine uses a standard Target ID (1 – 99) and a two-tone audio system for discriminating. The audio can be played out of either its standard 3.2 mm headphone jack or its larger 6.3 mm jack. The search coil itself is water-proof, but the whole detector can not be submerged.
Fisher Gold Bug Pro Metal Detector
The Fisher Gold Bug Pro is perfect for anyone looking to strike gold. The detector operates on a single 19 kHz frequency, which is great for finding gold nuggets of all sizes.
The What Even is Money Choice: Minelab GPZ 7000
The Minelab GPZ 7000 is insane. This machine is designed to be the best commercial detector for gold prospecting. It doesn’t even use the normal frequency-technology of the other devices—it uses Zero Voltage Transmission (ZVT) that lets you detect gold that’s buried two to three feet below the surface. ZVT also allows the detector to discriminate gold in highly mineralized ground that would send a standard metal detector screeching like a banshee.
The GPZ 7000 has a similar full-color LCD to the CTX 3030, and it also has an easy to use menu system. The machine has GPS and Google Maps integration for path tracking, waypoint creation, and documenting find-locations. The wireless audio is supposed to have no discernable latency (<10ms.) This thing is such a beast that it even comes with a full backpack mount to take the pressure off your arms and distributed on your back. If you’re serious about finding the gold that’s been left behind by other prospectors, the GPZ 7000 is the best detector commercially available. To offset its huge price tag, however, you’ll need to unearth five ounces of gold. Better get to work.
The only negative thing about this machine is that it’s not fully submersible, but the coil and arm are waterproof and will still work up to three feet under.
Minelab GPZ 7000 Gold Nugget Metal Detector
The Minelab GPZ 7000 is the best of the best. This machine can find gold nuggets buried up to three feet and lets you keep track of everywhere you've already been with a GPS and Google Maps. Just watch out for the price tag .