What is the best metal detector?
You’d like to get into metal detecting but aren’t sure which detector to go with.
You’ve searched high and low on all the detecting forums, and read countless opinions, reviews and case studies - most of them likely biased.
Your Youtube homepage is littered with ‘Recently Watched’ videos of every type of detector review and unboxing.
Does this sound like you?
If so, then this article is for you. I’m going to go into detail on the best metal detectors and explain what to look for when choosing.
But first, some hard truth.
There is no universal “best” metal detector.
The question you should be asking is, “what is the best metal detector for the type of hunting I want to do, where I live, my experience, and my budget.”
To answer that question, there are a few factors which may or may not affect your decision-making process.
The purpose of this article is to break everything down in real terms, so you have a much better idea of which detector is best for YOU!
First and foremost, let’s talk about your experience metal detecting.
Have you ever detected before?
If yes, you skip this section and move on.
If no, then you’re probably going to want to start with an entry-level machine. There’s no quicker way to become frustrated with the hobby than buying a complicated detector you don’t understand.
All metal detectors detect metal - just like all cars drive down the road. What makes one detector better than another (like cars) is the additional features and enhancements.
Look for a beginner detector in the $150-300 range. Anything below that isn’t really considered a detector - it’s considered a toy.
This may be the biggest factor of them all, especially when you’ve never tried a metal detector.
Not everyone has $800 to drop on a hobby they aren’t sure they’ll even like.
Most new hobbyists tend to spend $150-$300 on their first detector. Luckily, that buys just enough machine to get you hooked.
Best Entry Level Metal Detectors
Garrett ACE 300
Tesoro Silver uMax
Don’t worry if you can’t afford a high-end Minelab right away; get an intro model and go find some stuff.
The type of hunting you plan on doing makes a major difference in what machine you buy.
While most machines are designed as all around detectors for coin, jewelry, and relics, there are also specialty machines for different uses.
Coin and jewelry
Most machines are designed for coin and jewelry hunting - especially those priced under $600 or so.
One thing you want to make sure of here is that you do not buy a machine with too high frequency - i.e., one designed for gold prospecting (you can read our guide here on the best metal detectors for gold nuggets).
As long as you stay under 15 kHz, you’ll be just fine. Frequency and depth have an inverse relationship, so the higher you get, the less depth you’ll get on coin-sized targets.
You’ll also want to avoid a pulse induction machine - or PI for short. These are built more for salt water hunting and gold prospecting.
For all purpose coin and jewelry hunting, stick to a single frequency VLF detector when first starting out.
Read more here about the best metal detector for coins.
The same rules apply for relic hunting. Most all round machines will do just fine for relic hunting.
If however, you’re looking for a more advanced relic hunting machine, you’ll want to look for
features like these:
- Large coil - preferably DD
- Slightly higher frequency (10-20 kHz)
- Adjustable threshold
- Iron Audio
- Both manual and auto ground balance
Best Relic Hunting Metal Detectors
Fisher F75 LTD
You should also take a look at all the Minelab FBS machines (Safari, E-trac, CTX).
Salt Water Beach Hunting
If you plan to do most of your hunting in and around salt water, you’ll need a specialty machine.
Note that you do NOT need a specialty machine if you’re hunting on the dry sand of a salt water beach.
If hunting in the wet sand, surf or water, you’ll need a machine that’s either PI or multi-frequency.
Do NOT buy a single frequency machine for salt water - despite the marketing material of the company!
Will they work? Sure. But you’re depth will be severely limited to the point where it’s not even worth it to detect.
While either PI or multi-frequency will work, there are some pros and cons to each.
Pulse induction machines are not designed to discriminate. So if you plan to hunt beaches where there’s lots of trash, go with a multi-frequency.
PI machines also tend to be a bit heavier since many are built for diving. So you’ll also want to buy something like a chest/shoulder harness to bear the weight.
The major benefit to PI machines is their superior depth in highly mineralized areas like salt water beaches. You just can’t beat it.
Most serious beach hunters use pulse induction.
When choosing any detector for the beach, it goes without saying that you want a machine that’s fully waterproof and submersible - which most detectors are not.
All you need is to be hit by one wave while digging your hole, and the machine is toast if it’s not waterproof.
Best Waterproof PI Metal Detectors
Tesoro Sand Shark
Garrett Sea Hunter
The benefit to using a multi-frequency detector in salt water is that you can discriminate out unwanted targets.
You can also use the same machine for all of your hunting as opposed to the PI where you should only really use it for beach hunting.
The only real con to using a multi-frequency machine on the beach is that you won’t get the type of depth you would with a PI - although it will still be excellent.
Best Waterproof Multi-frequency Metal Detectors
Minelab Excalibur II
Minelab CTX 3030
Fresh Water Hunting
Freshwater hunting is a MUCH easier beast to tackle.
The only factors you need to consider here is that you get a fully submersible machine with good discrimination - that’s really it.
Best Fresh Water Metal Detector
Garrett AT Pro
Garrett AT Gold
Gold nugget hunting (prospecting)
Prospecting machines can range from $500 all the way up to $10,000.
Most of these machines will be PI and should be used in areas where gold is known to be found.
If you want the best gold prospecting detector, go with a Minelab. They can’t be beaten.
Click here to read our complete guide on the best metal detectors for gold.
Best Metal Detector for Kids
What is the best kids metal detector? All the same rules above still apply, the only real difference, is going to be weight.
Depending on how old the child is, you might want to start with a detector that’s not super heavy.
You may also want to get a machine that’s relatively easy to use with not a lot of settings. Stick to the basics.
Best Metal Detectors for Kids
Garrett ACE 300
Tesoro Silver uMax
Click here to read my in-depth guide to choosing the best metal detector for kids.
There are a few different technologies you should familiarize yourself with when choosing which detector to buy.
I will summarize each below very broadly:
Very Low Frequency (VLF)
Very low frequency (VLF) is the technology built into most detectors - pretty much any machine under $1,000.
These are signal frequency machines used for coin, jewelry, and relic hunting. If you’re just starting out, get yourself a VLF.
Pulse Induction (PI)
Pulse induction (PI) is a technology used in specialty machines for areas of high mineralization - i.e., salt water beaches and gold country.
These machines will punch through ground minerals like salt and iron and will report on all metal objects without the ability to discriminate.
Multiple Frequency (MF)
Multi-frequency (MF) detectors are typically machines that go for over $1,000 and most commonly found in the high-end Minelab detectors.
These are best if you’re serious about detecting and have the budget to back it up.
They’re also great for doing both saltwater and all around detecting without having to buy two machines.
I use the Minelab CTX 3030 for this very reason.
Another thing to consider is the stock coil that comes with your detector. There are a few points you should consider when choosing a coil.
Stock coil size
Generally speaking, the larger the coil, the better the depth.
So common sense tells you to buy the largest coil, right?
There are other factors to consider. First, ground conditions and mineralization play a huge role in which size coil to use.
While large coils get better depth, they also see more of the ground which means your detector has to process more signals in mineralized soil which can lead to very bad falsing, poor target ID and missed targets.
When that happens, you’re forced to reduce your sensitivity, and thus reducing your depth.
A smaller coil would see less of the ground, process less ground signals and allow you to increase your sensitivity to the point where you could be getting the same depth as you would with the larger coil in neutral ground.
Make sense so far? Ok, let's confuse this further now…
Not only would a smaller coil give you comparable depth in mineralized ground, but it would also give you better target separation so you can better identify multiple targets under your coil (picking up good targets amongst trash).
And speaking of target separation, let’s talk about coil configuration.
Stock coil type
There are several types of coil configurations - the most widely used being the concentric and the
Without getting into too much detail, DD coils will get you better detection depth and deal with ground mineralization better than a concentric.
Concentric coils are typically more cost-effective. The only real advantage it has over the DD (in my opinion) is that it can be easier to pinpoint your target. Pinpointing with a DD coil just takes more practice.
Accessory Coil Sizes
Ground mineralization aside, there are a few other reasons why you might want to have additional coil sizes in your bag.
If you’re hunting small, tight areas like playgrounds or very rocky areas like in gold country, then you should consider a smaller coil for better maneuverability. These coils are called sniper coils.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to cover large, open areas like beaches and farm fields, a larger coil might be a better option.
Just remember, larger coils will be a lot heavier so you may need to get some type of harness if you want to detect more than 30 minutes.
Screen vs. no screen
Most experienced hunters detect largely by sound, but a screen (VDI) comes in handy.
It can tell us things like depth of the target, what it thinks the target is, where our sensitivity and discrimination are set, battery life and many other things, depending on the detector.
Some folks think it’s silly to own a machine without a screen, while others are just fine with a Tesoro-type detector that features only knobs.
The Fisher F5 integrated both of those worlds. It has a screen and knobs. For those who like the best of both worlds, that may be a detector worth looking into.
Metal detectors without a screen are commonly referred to as beep and dig machines since there’s no display telling you what the detector thinks it has found
Some metal detectors are light as a feather while others are built like bricks and can be quite heavy.
If you have elbow or shoulder problems or another ailment that limits physical activity, it’s recommended to get a lighter detector.
Fisher and Tesoro have reputations of being the lightest in the industry. Mid and high-level machines like the AT Pro are quite a bit heavier but still not a monster.
When considering your first machine, pay close attention to how much it weighs, especially if you plan on hunting for several hours at a time.
YouTube is your friend
Once you have narrowed your choices down to two or three detectors, watch them in action on YouTube.
There is nothing like seeing them and hearing the owners talk about them to give us a great idea what the machine is like and how it works.
YouTube features everything from reviews to testing to actual hunting scenarios, and everything in between.
This one may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people purchase a detector ‘completely blind’, so to speak, having never read a single review on the machine.
So, if you are thinking of the Fisher F22, for example, type Fisher F22 reviews into your search engine and read as many as you can find. They truly do help.
You can also find my in-depth review of the Fisher F22 by clicking here.
Whether watching youtube videos or reading online reviews, take everything with a grain of salt.
Don’t let a negative review affect your buying decision. Most negative reviews are a result of someone buying the wrong detector.
Remember, the ‘right’ detector depends on factors like skill, budget, use, location, etc.
A perfect example of this is when people say the AT Pro is awesome in salt water.
Look at where they’re located. Are they near the Gulf of Mexico where salt levels aren’t as extreme as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans?
They almost always are.
Another example is when people try to use an entry level detector in areas like the pacific northwest where the soil is extremely mineralized.
It’s not that the detector is bad, it’s just the wrong application.
I typically recommend you stick to the known brands for their quality and customer support.
Those brands are:
You should also understand how the warranty works for the brand you decide.
Most brands will have a warranty ranging 2-5 years except for Tesoro which is lifetime.
If you’re buying a water machine, the warranty is usually much less (1-2 years).
Also if you decide to buy used, make sure the warranty is transferrable as some brands do not allow this.
Finally, you might also want to consider any accessories that might come with your detector - especially if you’re trying to stay on budget.
If you’re new to the hobby, some accessories you’re going to find yourself buying at some point are:
- Carry bag
- Scoop (if beach hunting)
Don’t be fooled by some retailers who include cheap accessories with their detectors - especially with pinpointers and diggers.
Usually, these items are about the same quality as you’d find in the dollar store - despite the retailer claiming “hundreds of dollars in value!”
Metal detecting is a hobby you can grow into overtime. There’s no need to buy the most expensive detector right away and have no idea what you’re doing.
Don’t overthink your first purchase. This article talks about a lot of factors to consider, but it’s not intended to scare you away from your first purchase.
As long as you stick to your price point with one of the major brands, you really can’t go wrong.
I hope this guide was helpful and that you now have a better idea of the best metal detector for YOU!
Good luck and happy hunting.