The Rocker Box Blog Archive

What's the Best Metal Detector


One of the most commonly asked questions I get when talking treasure hunting is, “What the best metal detector?” Every person that is asked that question is going to have his/her own slant on the subject. Each has their own experiences, and each has their own ‘type” of treasure they’re going for. I’m no different. So, I’m going to give my “slant” and see if what I contribute will narrow the selection down a bit.

First…and by far the most important criteria in selecting a metal detector is “choose a metal detector that you’re going to use.” I don’t care how fancy or expensive a metal detector is…if all it does is sit in a corner with a jacket hanging over it, it will find no more treasure than a child’s toy. I say this, as I have seen people with an arsenal of metal detectors…some basic, and some fancy…and many times they opt for the basic detector, because all the settings, controls, buttons, and what-nots on the fancy detector is just too complicated for them. They don’t enjoy it; they don’t understand it, and therefore they don’t use it. So, if you’re new to metal detecting, or don’t relish the idea of having to learn what all those buttons, knobs, and screens do and mean, then perhaps you’re better off with a more “basic” model, at least until you get experience and figure out exactly what you want and can handle.

Metal detectors do just that. They detect metal…all metal. Ferrous metal is iron based and can be attracted to a magnet (iron, steel, etc.). Non-ferrous metal is not iron based and cannot be attracted to a magnet (aluminum, copper, nickel, silver, gold, platinum, etc.). Except for the very basic models, metal detectors are “generally” designed either to provide good performance on a wide variety metals (relics, “costume” jewelry, coins) or good performance non-ferrous metals (gold, silver, precious metal jewelry). Some of the higher priced detectors have circuitry to provide excellent performance on both, but you’re getting into “fancy” terrain and many buttons, knobs, and the like. Most times, the manufacturer’s literature will tell you what you need to know about the “purpose” of the detector.

With the above said, let’s get down to the basic three criteria I look for when choosing a detector:

Ground Balancing – Many detectors will offer some type of circuitry to deal with mineralization in the soil. Mineralization can be caused by salts, iron, “black sands,” “hot rocks” or other “hot” deposits that naturally occur. If you intend on nugget-shooting (metal detecting for gold nuggets), opt for a machine that is specifically designed for nugget-shooting. If you’re going to be beach combing (metal detecting at the beach), opt for a beach machine (not only is the circuitry better designed to handle the mineralization’s found at the beach, but most times they are better built to withstand the saltier environment). If you’re looking to do a little metal detecting at various locations, such as parks, fairgrounds, or other public places, then a “general purpose” machine will do just fine. Just remember, though, you want a machine with some type of ground balancing capability.

Sensitivity – Most detectors will have a sensitivity adjustment. The search coil of the detector is essentially an antenna that has an electromagnetic field emanating from it in a shape that is “shaped” by the shape of the coil (round or elliptical are the most common). The distance (depth) it reaches is a factor of power output and frequency. When this field is disturbed by a target (piece of metal), the circuitry senses the disturbance and the detector registers it with sound and/or visually on a display (meter or graph) if so equipped. The sensitivity adjustment will allow the detector to sense this disturbance caused by a smaller target (at a given depth) or a given target at a greater depth. The trade-off is that the greater the sensitivity, the greater the effect of non-target “junk” and mineralization. Setting the sensitivity too high will cause false hits, or so much electrical chaos that targets are missed, especially weak targets. Too much sensitivity can also cause a medium or large size target to “overwhelm” the circuit and cause it to blast an overload signal.

Discrimination – This gets back to the question of ferrous versus non-ferrous. Like I stated earlier, all metal detectors detect all metals. The question is, can it be adjusted to tell the difference between a bottle cap and a coin? Can it tell the difference between a rusty wire and wire gold? Good discrimination is a time saver. If you can determine, either visually or by sound, that a target is “valuable” or “junk,” you can opt not to dig the junk and only dig the valuables…IF…and it’s a big if…the detector is reliable enough and you trust it enough to pass over the “junk.”

The culmination of those three capabilities also provide a means of the machine to determine “size,” “depth,” and “composition” of the target. Better quality machines will be more accurate at this, but there’s a tradeoff for this too. The more capabilities and functions, the more expensive and complicated. And…NO MACHINE IS FOOLPROOF!

Is that it? Not really. There’s a whole host of the features you can put into the mix. Physical size, water resistance, weight, balance, battery type, battery life, visual display, coil size, coil selections, headphone connections, WIFI/Blue Tooth, even voice commands. And I could go on and on. With all the features, colors, and options you might as well be buying a car. But, if you stick with the basic three, and look at other options from there, you should be able to select a decent detector for your needs within your budget.

Now…I said at the first of this article that I would put my “slant” on this subject…so here goes. I have a few detectors. Mainly, though, there are two I use far and above the rest.

For “all around” use (parks, beach, fairgrounds, etc.) I use the Garrett GTI 2500. It’s a fairly-fancy model, but not so fancy that the average person can’t learn the machine fairly-quickly. It’s pretty light-weight, swings nice, and the battery can be separated and hung on your belt. It can be customized to match the targets you’re concentrating on (like coins), with “trash” being notched (discriminated) out. It’s got good depth and the display of target size, depth and composition is pretty-accurate. There is a variety of coil sizes, including a dual coil model to get extreme depth (20 feet or so, depending on the size of the target). This model has been around for several years, which demonstrates the lasting rock-solid performance.

For detecting gold, I use the Fisher Gold Bug II. Gold tends to concentrate in areas of high Fisher Gold Bug 2mineralization (especially black sand) and this detector does a good job of ground balancing to minimize the mineralization’s negative effects, like black sands and hot rocks. It’s simple to operate, sensitive to very small nuggets, and very light weight. It uses sound for target detection (no visual display), so good headphones are a must. Just remember there is LIMTED discrimination on this machine. It is designed to detect the smallest of nuggets, but that means you sacrifice a lot of discrimination. If you do your homework right, you should be detecting in areas that will not have a lot of stray “junk,” although there is a certain amount of junk everywhere. As with the Garrett GTI 2500, the Fisher Gold Bug II has been around several years, attesting to its rock-solid performance in getting gold.

These are the two detectors I recommend based on my experience and my type of treasure hunting. Others will differ and that’s OK. There are more expensive detectors, less expensive detectors, and maybe even some comparable metal detectors out there, but since I have not used them extensively, I’ll stay with my tried and true tools. I hope that I have been able to provide a little clarity in the fog of selecting a good metal detector for you. Now…get one and get out there. Find your treasure!


Full Disclosure: The supplies, equipment, tips, techniques, and procedures I recommend are based on my evaluation and experience. I link items I recommend to companies I have an affiliate agreement with (or to The Rocker Box Catalog) from which I receive a small percentage of sales if sales are made during your visit to their website. The recommendations are mine, and mine alone. I use any proceeds to pay for The Rocker Box website, and to generate future articles and activities. I thank you in advance for your patronage and support to further the great recreations, hobbies, and vocations of treasure hunting, gold prospecting, metal detecting, ghost town hunting, and rock hounding.

30-Second Bio: I am a retired soldier of the US Army Special Forces (aka Green Berets),The Author: Mark Prewitt serving for over 25 years. My specialties were communications, medicine, operations and intelligence, with extensive cross training in weapons and demolitions. I was a paratrooper, jumpmaster, combat diver, combat dive supervisor, combat dive medic, sniper, and pathfinder. I’ve been deployed countless times to locations on four continents, and have participated in operations in open water, riverine, jungle, mountain, desert, arctic, and urban environments…but I’ve been a “treasure Hunter” since I was eight. The End.