What to Look for when Shopping for a Metal Detector

by on August 14th, 2010
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For those who have at last been convinced that metal detecting is indeed a great opportunity, it is then just a matter of selecting the best possible metal detector to start with. Fortunately, there are models to suit just about every budget. They start as low as $35 (for younger users) and can go up to $30,000 or more. Your first detector should be the right weight (the lighter the better) and the right length (taller people need a longer model); secondly, go for a “motion/all motion” detector, since the “no-motion” requires constant tuning; thirdly, avoid looking for the “perfect” metal detector (since there is no such a thing) and underestimating how much learning (preferably done “on the job”) awaits you; finally, remember to have some fun at this. Below are additional guidelines to follow when looking for an ideal metal detector:

1. Select a model with pinpointing capacity. This will allow you to sort through the dirt as you dig. Then again, many people prefer to use a hand-held pinpointing device when digging, so a pinpointing capacity is not necessarily crucial. Another similar capacity to look for, which allows you to map out the location of certain loosely-detected and perhaps spread out finds, is “ground tracking” capacity.

2. Select the right type of search coil. While sizes go from 4” to 12.5,” usually round and concentric, most popular models are either 8″ or 10″ long. Select the larger models if you have a larger area to search and you are looking for bigger and deeper finds (and the area you are working in is relatively clear of trash or debris). Select the smaller model if working in trashy areas, if you are interested in better discrimination between different types of metals, and if the area being covered is relatively small. Another consideration is whether you will be detecting in wet or dry areas; some coils are water/moisture friendly, while others are not.

3. Look for depth recognition capacity. This involves two components: ability to indicate how deep the object is buried and what is the maximum depth indication for that model. Simpler models do not indicate how deep the object can be found. This characteristic can be a great time saver, in terms of digging guidance, especially if looking for jewelry and coins.

4. Make sure your model has a broad target discrimination capacity. An “all-metal” capacity is a popular choice; the more sophisticated the model, the better it can distinguish between the different metals. The idea is to stay away from (and avoid digging for) metals that are generally not very valuable, like aluminum/tin cans, rusty nails, discarded electrical wire, wire hangers, bottle caps, etc.

5. Look for notch capacity. Models with this option allow user to pre-set machine to stay away from or overlook undesirable metals. A word of caution: be careful, in your desire to avoid bad metals, not to bypass areas that, while they may have some readings of “iron,” may also have valuable metals mixed in with those “bad” metals. Some fields may also be subject to mineralization, i.e., having large quantities of certain metals (such as iron oxide) which can throw off readings or cover the existence of other metals underneath.

6. Do not fall into the “price trap.” Some people think that they will have better finds if they spend more than they need to spend for a metal detector. The truth is that beginners will do better if they go for a moderately-priced model. Also, avoid unnecessarily complicated units, especially those with fancy LCD tuning and programming options. These models are best for people who have learned the basics and are ready for that kind of intricacy. A model costing $300 or less will suit most beginners.

7. Look for a model with a good target ID display system. Units with LED/LCD displays are better in this regard, but some models without LED/LCD displays can also give good target ID readings. In fact, all models make sounds, and it is these sounds that tell the story of what (and if something) can be found at a particular location. Learning to read these sounds is the primary goal of good metal detecting. Realize, however, that it takes time (years, in fact) to develop the auditory and cognitive skills necessary to become adept at this craft. As you develop these skills, you can place as much reliance on what you hear as you can on the fancy indicators of your machine.

8. Invest in a good set of head phones. While most models have built in speakers, head phones will help you to sift through surrounding noises (which can interfere with the process), better read the produced sounds (some of which may be faint), and reduce use of the batteries, off which the speakers work. The poor-quality head phones that come with some units may not be as good as the ones you purchase independently. Of course, make sure that the metal detector you select has a head phone jack.

9. Confirm that the model has a battery power indicator. Also, make sure you bring extra batteries, especially if intending to be in the field for a long time.

10. Along with your machine, purchase the proper accessories, some of which may be included with the model. This is one of the reasons for doing some well-informed comparison shopping before selecting the right unit and deciding from whom you will purchase it. During special promotions, companies give away some accessories. Basic accessories you need to have are digging tools, a pouch or sack in which to put finds, a rugged carrying bag for the unit (preferably one that includes a cushioned part for the search coil, which is generally very sensitive), a hand-held pinpointer, extra batteries, a user’s manual (preferably with an accompanying video), at least one good metal detecting guidebook, and good-quality head phones.


1. “Metal Detectors Coil & Search Head Design: Patents & Utility Models”

2. “Metal Detector FAQs”

3. “Metal Detector Basics”

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