What is the Best Beginner Metal Detector?
Everything You Need to Know About Buying Your First Metal Detector
Are you looking to get into metal detecting as a hobby and struggling to figure out which is the best detector for a beginner? After extensive testing with over 10 years of metal detecting experience, our top pick is the Fisher F22. Whether you're just starting out, or looking for a backup machine, the F22 boasts technology not normally found in entry-level detectors.
Best metal detector for the money
The big brother to the famous Fisher F2, this detector adds several new features not normally found on entry-level detectors.
In this “no BS” article, you’ll learn what is the best beginner metal detector so you can stop tearing your hair out and start finding treasure!
But first, here is a quick snapshot of our top picks (more on each of these machines below).
My Top 5 Picks
Here are the best beginner metal detectors
Updated: January 2020
How Serious Are You about Metal Detecting?
All of the content in this article is geared toward folks who are serious about getting started in this amazing hobby.
It’s not intended for those who just want to buy a cheap detector from Walmart.
Understand that there is a significant difference between real metal detectors, and toy metal detectors. Generally speaking, any machine priced under $150 is considered a toy.
Toy machines are intended for folks who just want to muck around now and then on their summer vacation. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not the focus of this article.
If you've decided that you're serious about getting into metal detecting, after you read this post you should check out my Ultimate Guide to Metal Detecting here.
What Do You Want to Find?
If you’re serious about metal detecting, the first question you need to ask yourself when choosing a metal detector is, “what do I want to find?”
Coins? Jewelry? Relics? Gold nuggets?
The entry-level detectors we talk about in this article are built for all-purpose detecting - meaning coins, jewelry, and relics.
If you’re hunting for small gold nuggets or flakes, an entry level machine is not going to cut it.
You’ll need a specialized gold prospecting machine like the Fisher Gold Bug Pro or Tesoro Lobo.
These machines are the most economical but if budget is not a concern, then by all means go for something like the Garrett ATX, Minelab GPX or Minelab GPZ.
For more on the best gold nugget machines, read our complete guide here.
As long as you don’t plan on doing any gold prospecting, then an all-purpose entry level machine is all you need to get started.
Once you’ve identified the type of hunting you want to do, the next question is, “where will I be doing the bulk of my detecting?”
Where Will You Be Hunting
So this question not only pertains to where (geographically) in the country (or world) you’re located, it also relates to the types of areas you want to hunt such as beaches, rivers, lakes, etc.
Across the United States, there are areas of the country with very different soil compositions. To keep this super simple, we’re just talking about iron.
Areas like Virginia and the Pacific Northwest has higher levels of iron in their soil - often referred to as areas of ‘high mineralization’ or ‘hot ground.’
In these types of areas, entry level machines have a tough time performing well. You’ll find that you get a lot of ‘chatter’ and false signals from the detector.
This high mineralization will cause you to walk right by good targets at depths more than a few inches.
The same is true on salt water beaches. If you live near the coast and want to hunt beaches on the wet sand, surf and/or water, the salt will have the same effect on your machine as did the iron. See our guide here on the best beach detectors.
Bottom line? Iron and salt can wreak havoc on your entry level machine, confuse your detector and mask good targets.
Remember, entry level detectors are designed for the broadest set of users. And the average user does not live in Virginia, the Pacific Northwest or hunt salt water beaches. That’s just a fact.
Metal detectors that are considered mid-level on up have features and technology built-in to combat performance issues related to iron and salt.
These machines typically start in the $500 range.
With geography out of the way, let's dive into landscape.
Where exactly will spend the most time hunting?
We already talked about salt water beaches, so let’s talk about other bodies of water like creeks, rivers and lakes.
99.99% of metal detectors have coils that are waterproof and submersible. This means that you DO NOT need a fully waterproof machine to hunt in water.
Now the part of a detector that is NOT waterproof is the control box (except on fully waterproof machines).
In other words, you can take your ACE 300 or F22 in shallow creeks and rivers so long as you don’t get the control box wet.
Do I recommend this? No. Absolutely not.
Reason being is that the second you slip on a rock or drop your detector while digging a target, it’s toast.
So while you can certainly use an entry-level machine in shallow water, your best bet is to get something fully submersible like the Garrett AT Pro.
Next, let’s talk about some terms you need to know.
Basic Metal Detecting Terms
As you progress in this hobby, you’re going to find that there is no shortage of terms used by manufacturers to refer to different features and technology.
Here are the most basic terms you need to know for buying an entry level metal detector. Each one of these terms deserves their own post, so I’ll keep things short and straightforward here.
As the name implies, metal detectors detect all types of metal.
But who wants to dig up things like bottle caps, soda cans or tin foil?
Simply put, discrimination is the ability to exclude specific types of metal based on its conductivity.
For example, if you’re only interested in finding coins (high conductivity), then you can use the discrimination setting on your detector to ignore most all trash targets (low conductivity).
This feature is especially important when hunting in trashy areas like public parks, schools, and beaches.
Notching is a form of discrimination that allows you to cherry pick the type of metal you want to accept and reject.
In the discrimination example above where we only wanted to find coins, notching would give us the ability to find only dimes or only quarters.
This feature is very usefully if you know the exact type of target metals you're searching for.
Digital Target ID
This feature comes in a few different forms, but only two apply for entry level detectors.
- Notch ID
- Number ID
Notch ID is the detector identifying a target by assigned it to a ‘category’ or range of metals based on its size and conductivity. Notch ID is found in machines like the Garrett ACE 250.
Number ID is a better form of target ID and is typically represented on a scale from 1-99. This allows much more precise identification of targets. Low conductive trash signals may register from 0-30 while good higher conductive targets range from 30-99.
With enough practice, you’ll be able to identify your target before even digging it up!
As we talked about above, things like iron and salt can make your detector go nuts.
Ground Balance is a feature that allows your machine to read your exact ground conditions and cancel out the unwanted ground signals. This allows you to find and identify targets at much better depths.
This is one of the most confusing features/terms for newbies. One reason for this is that there are a few different types of ground balance.
Preset ground balance is what you’ll find on most entry-level machines. Remember how we mentioned above that entry-level detectors are designed for the average user?
Well, preset ground balance is the manufacture using average ground conditions without the ability to adjust on the fly.
Automatic and manual ground balancing are not typically found on entry level machines. These features allow the detector to read the ground conditions in real time and adjust accordingly.
If you live in an area of the country with bad soil, you will need a machine with either automatic or manual ground balance.
This setting allows your detector to increase/decrease the depth at which it returns a signal.
Your goal is always to hunt with the highest level of sensitivity as possible for maximum depth.
But this isn’t always possible for a number of reasons. Here are just a few:
- Highly mineralized ground
- Power lines
- Radio waves
- Any electrical interference such as detecting right next to a house.
When you buy your first detector, take it out of the box and assemble it indoors. Waive it in the air and listen to it go berzerk. That’s what I mean by electrical interference.
Always start your hunt as maximum sensitivity and work your way down based on how much chatter you’re getting.
Frequency is simply a number of times your detector is pumping energy into the ground searching for a target.
This is one feature that a lot of people get overly concerned about for no good reason. They think that 7 kHz is better than 6 kHz.
The reality is that whether your machine is 5 kHz or 10 kHz, there’s not much of a real difference in performance. All entry level detectors are in this range.
The only time you need to concern yourself with frequency is when you’re talking about high-end or specialty machines.
Now that we’ve covered some basic terms and features, let’s talk about the best metal detectors for beginners.
The Best Metal Detectors for Beginners
The Fisher F22 recently succeeded the popular Fisher F2 and is my personal favorite entry level machine.
The biggest advantages to the F22 is that it is rain-proof and has a feature called iron-audio (two features not normally found on entry level machines).
The weatherproof feature means the control box is waterproof to the rain, but cannot be submerged in water.
Iron Audio is an awesome feature that I like to describe as ‘calling the bluff of bottle caps’. Many times targets like bottle caps can trick your detector into thinking it’s a coin.
But iron audio will emit a separate audio tone that tells you there is some level of iron in the target and not to dig. Again, not a feature found on most entry level machines.
These also come with a five-year warranty which is one of the best in the industry.
Check out my in-depth review of the Fisher F22 here.
Here's a great intro video to the F22:
Garrett ACE 300
The ACE 300 is the machine that succeeded the wildly popular Garrett ACE 250.
It improved upon the ACE 250 by upgrading from a notch target ID to a number target ID (0-99).
It also added some better audio features, larger coil, more stability on the shaft and the ability adjust frequencies.
Frequency adjustment allows you to make very slight changes to your detector’s frequency in extreme cases of electrical interference.
This also comes in handy if you’re hunting with a buddy using the same detector or even doing a group competition hunt. You don’t want your detector picking up signals from other machines!
Check out Garrett's intro video for the ACE 300:
The Compadre may look super simple at first, but don’t let it fool you. It packs a punch.
With minimal settings and not LCD to mess around with, the Compadre is perfect for those who prefer the more classic interface of metal detectors (knobs instead of LCD screens).
The only setting you need to worry about is discrimination. Just set it and go!
The Compadre is the most affordable entry level machine and comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s also super lightweight for any of you with bad shoulders!
Here's a great overview from a Tesoro dealer and read our complete review here:
Teknetics Eurotek Pro
The Eurotek Pro is made by the same company who makes Fisher. The parent company originally designed the machine to be just a tad bit better than their Fisher F2 to compete further with other brands like Garrett.
Now that Fisher has released the F22, the Eurotek Pro has dropped in my list of top entry-level machines - only slightly.
This machine also has the Iron Audio feature along with a number target ID.
You have the option of buying this with either the 8” concentric coil or 11” DD coil.
Here's a great overview video:
So there you have it. The best metal detectors for the beginner.
You can’t go wrong with any of these machines. If by some chance you end up not liking this hobby, these machines hold their value like crazy and can easily be resold on eBay.
Now over to you. Do you have any questions about a specific machine or any of the terms/features described in this article? Leave your comment below.
I hope this article has helped you better understand which entry level metal detector to buy. Now go buy yours and get hunting!