What is the best metal detector?

In-depth buyers guide to help you choose the right metal detector for you
Marc McDermott

If you’re looking for the best metal detector that matches your budget, experience level, and type of hunting, then this guide is for you. As the former owner of Hollands Brook Metal Detectors, I’ve tested all the major brands and helped thousands of hobbyists find the right equipment for their treasure hunting adventures.

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Best entry-level metal detectors

PhotoMetal DetectorBest for…Price
Nokta Makro SimplexBest performanceCheck Price
Fisher F22Best value Check Price
Garrett ACE 300BeginnerCheck Price
Garrett AT ProBest of the bestCheck Price

Nokta Makro Simplex

What we like:

  • Mid-level detector performance for entry-level price
  • Powerful DD coil
  • Fully submersible to 10 ft
  • Built-in rechargeable battery
  • Wireless audio when used with compatible headphones

What we don’t like

  • Controls not as basic as other entry-level detectors

Fisher F22

What we like:

  • Weatherproof
  • Iron Audio
  • Fast Recovery (Processing) Speed
  • Digital Target ID
  • Lighter, easier to use
  • 5 Year Warranty

What we don’t like

  • No adjustable ground balance

See our full F22 review here.

Garrett ACE 300

What we like:

  • Easy to use
  • Digital Target ID
  • Adjustable Frequency
  • Enhanced Iron Resolution

What we don’t like:

  • No adjustable ground balance
  • No Iron Audio

See our full ACE 300 review here.

Garrett AT Pro

What we like:

  • Fully waterproof and submersible to 10 ft
  • Manual and auto ground balance
  • Proportional audio
  • Iron audio

What we don’t like:

  • Waterproof headphones sold separately

Best relic hunting metal detectors

Photo Metal Detector Best for… Price
Minelab Equinox 800Best valueCheck Price
Minelab CTX 3030Best of the bestCheck Price
Fisher F75 LTDAdvanced usersCheck Price
Teknetics T2Lowest priceCheck Price

Minelab Equinox 800

What we like:

  • Fully submersible up to 10ft (or 3 meters)
  • Multi-frequency for better target ID
  • Wireless headphone capability
  • Switch between frequencies based on your needs
  • Weighs under 3lbs
  • Value for money

What we don’t like:

  • Included headphones aren’t waterproof

Minelab CTX 3030​

What we like:

  • Superior discrimination and target ID
  • Don’t need to buy separate land machine
  • Lots of coils available
  • LCD display
  • Digital Target ID

What we don’t like:

  • Price
  • Can’t be used for diving

Fisher F75 LTD

What we like:

  • More search coil options
  • 65 tone ID’s vs the T2’s 6
  • Static all-metal mode
  • Boost mode for enhanced sensitivity and depth
  • Cache mode for deep, large objects

What we don’t like:

  • Price

Teknetics T2 Classic

What we like:

  • Low price for such a powerful detector
  • Large LCD screen
  • Expanded iron range
  • Can also be used for basic gold prospecting

What we don’t like:

  • No backlight
  • DD coils only
  • Does not save settings when turned off

Best waterproof PI metal detectors

PhotoMetal detector Best for…Price
Fisher CZ-21Best performanceCheck Price
Garrett Sea HunterBest valueCheck Price

Fisher CZ-21

What we like:

  • Fast response time
  • Audio boost mode
  • Pinpoint button
  • Easy to hip mount
  • Clear tone on deep, faint signals

What we don’t like:

  • No threshold adjustment
  • Concentric coil

Garrett Sea Hunter​

What we like:

  • Interchangeable coils and headphones
  • Has large 10×14 accessory coil
  • Independently sealed battery compartment
  • Pulse Delay for heavy iron beaches

What we don’t like:

  • No volume control

Best waterproof multi-frequency metal detectors

Photo Metal Detector Best for… Price
Minelab Excalibur IISaltwaterCheck Price
Minelab CTX 3030Most versatileCheck Price

Minelab Excalibur II

What we like:

  • Excellent iron discrimination
  • Multi-frequency machine that can also be used for diving
  • Very accurate tone ID
  • Submersible to 200 ft

What we don’t like:

  • Iron null delay can make you miss good targets
  • Hardwired headphones
  • Requires additional kit to hip mount
  • No tone on deep, faint signals. Just threshold change.

Minelab CTX 3030​

What we like:

  • Superior discrimination and target ID
  • Don’t need to buy separate land machine
  • Lots of coils available
  • LCD display
  • Digital Target ID

What we don’t like:

  • Price
  • Can’t be used for diving

Best freshwater metal detector

Photo Metal Detector Best for… Price
Garrett AT ProBest valueCheck Price
Garrett AT MaxMost featuresCheck Price
Fisher 1280xWater-onlyCheck Price

Garrett AT Pro

What we like:

  • Fully waterproof and submersible to 10 ft
  • Manual and auto ground balance
  • Proportional audio
  • Iron audio

What we don’t like:

  • Waterproof headphones sold separately
  • Single frequency

Garrett AT Max

What we like:

  • Can also be used for gold prospecting
  • Better ground balance options than AT Pro
  • “True All Metal” mode
  • Wireless headphones included

What we don’t like:

  • Waterproof headphones sold separately
  • Single-frequency

Fisher 1280x​

What we like:

  • Fully submersible to 250 ft
  • Volume control
  • 75+ hours battery life
  • Low 2.4 kHz freq. which is great for coins

What we don’t like:

  • No LCD display
  • Not ideal for relic hunting or gold prospecting

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.

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.

Read our complete guide to choosing the best metal detector for kids.

Buyer’s guide

This buying guide will 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 that 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!

Skill level

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 a beginner metal detector that’s easy to use. 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.
Budget

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.

Intended use

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 for coin shooting. 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 saltwater hunting and gold prospecting.

For all-purpose coin and jewelry hunting, stick to a single frequency VLF detector when first starting out.

Read more about the best metal detector for coins.​

Relic hunting

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 search coil – preferably DD
  • Slightly higher frequency (10-20 kHz)
  • Adjustable threshold
  • Iron Audio
  • Both manual and auto ground balance
  • Best Relic Hunting Metal Detectors

Saltwater beach hunting

If you plan to do most of your hunting in and around saltwater, 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 saltwater 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 saltwater – 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.

See our complete guide on best beach metal detectors.​

Pulse induction in saltwater

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 saltwater 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.

Multiple frequency in saltwater

The benefit of using a multi-frequency detector in saltwater 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.

Freshwater 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.

Technology

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 metal 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.

Search coils

Another thing to consider is the stock search 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?

Wrong.

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 double d (DD).

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 an LCD 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 in the ground

Detector weight

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 treasure hunting for several hours at a time.

Additional research

YouTube Research

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.

Read reviews

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.

Quality brands

I typically recommend you stick to the known brands for their quality and customer support.

Those brands are:

  • Fisher
  • Garrett
  • Makro
  • Minelab
  • Teknetics
  • Tesoro
  • XP
  • Whites

Warranties

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.

Accessories included

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:

  • Pinpointer
  • Headphones
  • Digger
  • Pouch
  • 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. We call these ‘dollar store accessories’.

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!”

Final thoughts

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.

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