Today the best metal detectors are used for a diverse range of tasks from airport security, to clearing landmines, to construction, and of course treasure hunting. Frenchman Gustave Pierre Trouvé demonstrated the first prototype metal detector in 1874, which was perfected by Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell in 1881. In both cases the original aim was to find bullets in shooting victims.
Treasure hunting is not only great fun, it can also have educational value. While big finds are rare, there is always the potential for financial reward. As a result, metal detecting has become extremely popular, and a huge range of machines is available. For those who are interested in this fascinating hobby, but who have no experience with the technology, choosing the right model can be difficult. In this article we look at the science, the features, and suggest the best metal detectors for a variety of treasure hunting challenges.
— Best Overall: Minelab Equinox 800 Metal Detector
— Best Budget: Garrett Ace 250 Metal Detector
— Best for Gold: Fisher Gold Bug Pro Metal Detector
— Best For Beginners: SunPow OT-MD02 Metal Detector
— Best For Kids: Bounty Hunter BHJS Junior Metal Detector
— Best for the Beach: Nokta Makro Simplex+ Waterproof Metal Detector
How We Picked the Best Metal Detectors
There are hundreds of metal detectors on the market, so selecting our favorites wasn’t easy. Several members of the Futurism team have experience using these devices, but a lot of research was required to fully understand the technology, and ensure we had the latest information. The following aspects were also key:
Versatility: Sometimes people are looking for a specific type of device. A metal detector for gold, or a deep metal detector, for example. However many buyers, particularly beginners, want a metal detector for the beach or back yard that can identify a variety of different “treasures.” A big part of the pleasure is the suspense of not knowing exactly what you will dig up. With that in mind we tried to ensure each of our best metal detectors could find as wide a variety of items as possible.
Ease of Use: Metal detectors use features like “sensitivity,” and “discrimination” to fine tune search parameters. Different frequencies might be used, or pre-set modes. We look at these in more detail in the “Things to Consider” section below. While each of these features can allow the metal detector to focus on particular types of treasure, it’s important that the basics are straightforward so that people can get started as quickly as possible. We have tried to choose metal detectors that have a high degree of intuitive control, so users can learn while they hunt.
Brand and Price: We are always looking to find the best possible value, but choosing a metal detector based on cost alone can be problematic. We prefer to select well-known brands with a proven track record, and plenty of feedback from satisfied users. Real value for money comes from metal detectors that live up to the claims made for them, and that display long-term reliability.
The Best Metal Detectors: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Minelab Equinox 800 Metal Detector
Why It Made The Cut: The Minelab Equinox 800 regularly tops independent reviews of the best metal detectors for its high-quality, go-anywhere construction, and accurate, multi-function targeting ability.
— Coil Size/Depth: 11-inch / 12 to 15 inches
— Frequency: Selectable 5, 10, 15, 20, 40 kHz or multi-mode
— Weight: 2.96 pounds
— Precision targeting possible
— Completely waterproof
— Bluetooth headphones included
— Premium price
— Modest run time
— Complex for beginners
The Minelab Equinox 800 is our pick as one of the best metal detectors currently available, and many other independent reviewers agree. This is a high-quality machine that offers outstanding versatility, and the ability to fine tune search features to individual preferences.
Minelab’s Multi-IQ is a key feature, allowing the full range of frequencies to be run simultaneously for the widest range of detection. They can also be selected individually for more focus. This makes it capable of finding gold, silver, coins, jewelry, iron, and metal relics. Four different terrain modes can be further enhanced with automatic or manual ground balancing, and two custom search profiles can be saved for each mode. There are 50 target IDs available, allowing advanced notch discrimination to filter out “junk.” For those who like an audible signal there is 25-level threshold adjustment. Bluetooth headphones are included.
While the machine has a 5-level depth indicator, Minelab themselves don’t quote an actual maximum distance. However, tests show it can identify coin-sized objects at around 12 to 15 inches. The Minelab Equinox 800 is a completely waterproof metal detector, and can withstand immersion to a depth of 10 feet.
The Minelab Equinox 800 is an excellent machine, and for the experienced treasure hunter it is competitively priced. That said, it’s not for everyone. The complexity means beginners might struggle to get the best from it, and it will be beyond the budget of many. Users are also a little critical of run time. The built-in battery is rated at 12 hours but can be less. A power pack can be used to extend this, but extra cost is involved. Recharging takes about 4 hours.
Best Budget: Garrett Ace 250 Metal Detector
Why It Made The Cut: The Garrett Ace 250 is one of the world’s most popular metal detectors. It’s easy to use, with a comprehensive feature set, yet remains very affordable.
— Coil Size/Depth: 6.5 x 9-inch oval / 8 to 10 inches
— Frequency: 6.5 kHz
— Weight: 2.64 pounds
— Outstanding value
— Easy-to-use search modes
— Submersible coil
— Headphones extra
— No ground balance adjustment
— Screen can be a little confusing
Garrett is one of the world’s best-known metal detector brands with a number of high-quality yet affordable devices. The Garrett Ace 250 is their most popular model, offering a wide range of features at a budget-friendly price.
Initial simplicity comes by way of five search modes for coins, relics, jewelry, all-metals and one that is user-customizable. Each has built-in object-specific discrimination, so beginners can just select one and start detecting.
For more experienced users who prefer greater control, there are 12 target IDs that can be used for notch discrimination, plus 8 sensitivity settings. Adjustment is via straightforward plus or minus buttons, so it’s easy to change settings on the go. Object size and depth indications are also provided. Audio tones come with the detector, though headphones are not included. The Garrett Ace 250 includes a ground balancing function to filter out interference from mineral deposits but it’s a factory pre-set with no adjustment.
The coil is rated IP68, which means it is submersible to a depth of 3 feet. Although the screen is a good size, and the control buttons are nice and chunky, there is a lot going on which takes a while to get used to. The Garrett Ace 250 uses 4 AA batteries, giving a run time of around 25 to 30 hours.
Best for Gold: Fisher Gold Bug Pro Metal Detector
Why It Made The Cut: The Fisher Gold Bug Pro is capable of discovering a variety of buried treasures but its primary focus is on finding small, high-value gold nuggets that other detectors miss.
— Coil Size/Depth: 5-inch / Up to 10 inches
— Frequency: 19 kHz
— Weight: 2.5 pounds
— Best-in-class sensitivity
— Computerized ground balancing
— Light and maneuverable
— Small coil
— No headphones
— Limited versatility
Fisher’s highly-rated Gold Bug line has been around for some time. The Gold Bug Pro now offers digital rather than analogue features, giving it improved accuracy. In All-Metal mode, the Fisher Gold Bug Pro can find coins, jewelry and relics, but finding nuggets and small gold objects is where this machine excels.
Soil mineralization can be a problem for many devices, but this machine has a trademarked Ground Grab feature that is the most accurate automatic ground balancing of its type. Further fine tuning is available through target ID, which effectively discriminates against silver, iron or “trash” items.
The 5-inch coil might seem modest, but gold metal detecting is often about careful examination of small areas, and this coil can reach where others cannot go. The coil is described as waterproof, but does not have an IP rating. It’s capable of prospecting for gold in shallow freshwater streams for example, but the machine must not be submerged.
High-quality gold metal detectors can cost thousands of dollars, so while the Fisher Gold Pro is more expensive than many general-purpose devices, it nevertheless offers good value. While perhaps more suited to intermediate users, beginners shouldn’t take long to become proficient.
Best For Beginners: SunPow OT-MD02 Metal Detector
Why It Made The Cut: The SunPow OT-MD02 is ideal for those who want to try metal detecting at minimal expense, or who just want a machine for occasional use.
— Coil Size/Depth: 10-inch / 8 to 10 inches
— Frequency: 6.2 - 6.8 kHz
— Weight: 2.1 pounds
— Surprisingly low cost
— Waterproof coil
— Headphones and shovel included
— Modest feature set
— Inconsistent quality
— Awkward battery compartment
Having a metal detector that can be loaded in the car or RV for camping trips or other vacations sounds like a great idea, but if it’s only going to be used occasionally then cost can be an issue. The SunPow OT-MD02 is a very affordable solution, and while it doesn’t offer the feature set of some, it’s a proper metal detector, not just a toy.
There are two modes: All Metals and DISC. The latter allows the use of discrimination to focus on particular items. Rather than target IDs, SunPow uses categories: either gold, silver, iron foil, nickels, pennies, pull tabs, or s-caps. Surprisingly on such a low-cost machine there is manually adjustable ground balancing.
The SunPow OT-MD02 is a lightweight device, and height adjustment from 47 inches to 55 inches helps make it comfortable for everyone from older kids to tall adults. The coil is rated waterproof to the IP68 level, but the rest of the machine should not be submerged. Headphones, a shovel, and a carry bag are all included.
It’s not all good news. The SunPow OT-MD02 is a very cheap metal detector after all, so a few drawbacks are no surprise. Although the screen and controls are comprehensive, they are also a bit muddled, so there’s something of a learning curve. It requires 8 AA batteries, which are not included, and are fiddly to load. While reliability in general seems good, quality control seems inconsistent and faults are not unknown.
Best For Kids: Bounty Hunter BHJS Junior Metal Detector
Why It Made The Cut: Bounty Hunter offers a kids metal detector with real metal detector features. It’s light and manageable, and provides an easy-to-use introduction to this fascinating hobby.
— Coil Size/Depth: 6.5-inch / 5 inches (see below)
— Frequency: 6.6 kHz
— Weight: 1.3 pounds
— Clear, simple screen
— Light and easy to handle
— For ages 6 to 12
— Somewhat basic
— A few quality control issues
— No forearm or elbow support
Bounty Hunter is another of the world’s leading metal detector brands. While the Bounty Hunter BHJS Junior has been designed to be easy to use, it nevertheless incorporates proper metal detector features that introduce young people to the hobby in a realistic way.
The Bounty Hunter BHJS Junior metal detector will find coins down to about 5 inches, and large objects to around a foot or so. An analog display with a swinging needle gives straightforward indication of a find, and there is an audible tone that increases in pitch. There are two modes, either for All Metal or allowing basic discrimination via a tuning knob. Another is marked “Power”’ and is effectively a simple adjustment for sensitivity. Two 9-volt batteries are required but not included. An indicator light shows when they need to be changed.
The Bounty Hunter BHJS Junior comes with a very low price tag. Although many users have found the machine to be reliable, that isn’t always the case. While there doesn’t appear to be a single recurring problem, breakdowns have been reported.
Best for the Beach: Nokta Makro Simplex+ Waterproof Metal Detector
Why It Made The Cut: The Nokta Makro Simplex+ has extensive treasure hunting features, is fully waterproof, has LED lighting for night or underwater use, and is terrific value for money.
— Coil Size/Depth: 11-inch / 10 to 12 inches
— Frequency: 12 kHz
— Weight: 2.9 pounds
— Salt water search mode
— Full underwater capability
— Silent vibration mode
— Not the best for gold
— Headphones not included
— Fussy charging
Those looking for a metal detector with an extensive feature set for modest investment will certainly want to consider the Nokta Makro Simplex+. Like most modern devices, ease of use comes by way of preset modes. In this case all-metal, field, park, and beach. The latter compensates for salt water interference making it a top pick as a beach metal detector. The unit is also waterproof to IP68, so it can be fully submerged to 10 feet.
Nokta’s Iron Volume control is unusual in that it filters out iron signals in silent mode without alerting the user. Unfortunately it can’t be used in all-metal or beach modes. Wide-ranging notch discrimination comes via target IDs. For night and underwater use there is a backlit screen, illuminated controls, and a flashlight. This detector also features a vibration mode to signal finds when visibility is poor. In addition, the shaft can be reduced to just 25 inches long for use in tight spaces. Fully extended it goes out to 52 inches.
The Nokta Makro Simplex+ metal detector offers very good value but it’s not perfect. Having a rechargeable battery is great, but connecting it for charging isn’t as easy as it could be. The high frequency rate means it isn’t the best metal detector for gold. While the machine is compatible with Nokta’s wireless headphones, they aren’t included.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Metal Detector
The basic concept of how a metal detector works is actually quite simple. It sends out an electromagnetic signal, and if anything bounces back, the detector measures its estimated size and structure. Radar works in a similar way. Bats do the same thing with sound to identify obstacles and food.
The tricky bit is interpreting the reflected signal accurately, so you don’t spend all day digging up rusty soda cans or bottle caps. There are a number of specific features to consider.
Generally speaking, the larger the coil, the deeper the electromagnetic signal will penetrate. Our best metal detector for kids has a 6.5-inch coil and can pick out coins at around 4 inches deep. Our top pick has an 11-inch coil, and will reach down 12 inches or more.
Also check if the coil is waterproof. Ideally it should be IP (Ingress Protection) rated, but some manufacturers do not use this independent testing because of the cost involved. Some metal detectors are described as weatherproof, but this offers no specific guarantee, and it’s unlikely they could be submerged without damage.
Frequency and Sensitivity
Most consumer metal detectors use VLF (very low frequency) transmitters. The frequency available might be anywhere from 5 kHz (kilohertz) to 40 kHz, with 5 to 15 kHz considered the sweet spot for consumer models. Most machines are fixed, though some offer multiple settings. The latter allows sensitivity to be adjusted to suit conditions, and the materials or items being searched for.
A low frequency is good for finding conductive metals like silver (and thus some jewelry), and has good depth penetration. However, because not many electromagnetic waves are transmitted it isn’t so good for small items. Higher frequencies are better for gold, iron, and coins, but the waves often don’t go as deep.
There can also be problems with interference from minerals in the ground. A feature called Ground Balance is often incorporated to solve this problem. Many metal detectors also offer multiple modes like beach, park, or field, for example, to help compensate for ground conditions.
It’s nice to be able to tell the difference between junk and treasure before going through the effort of digging it up. When metal detecting, this is called discrimination. All metal detectors try to help with identification to some extent, and provide controls to narrow down the type of target. This is often called “notch discrimination” or “notching out,” which basically tells the metal detector not to look for items within certain frequency ranges.
There is always a visual display of some kind, and usually an audio signal (called threshold or threshold pitch). The best metal detectors also offer a target ID, and estimate target volume (size).
Weight and Ergonomics
Handheld metal detectors are all reasonably light, but most people will notice a big difference between a 2-pound model and a 4-pound machine if it’s being used all day.
Some handles are padded, some not. A forearm/elbow support is usually provided. Shaft length is often adjustable to accommodate people of different heights, but for those who fall outside the ‘average’ this is another feature worth checking.
All metal detectors use batteries. They can be as simple as a couple of AA or 9-volt cells (often not included), or they can be sealed rechargeable units. While the latter will usually last several years, replacement may mean returning it to the manufacturer to avoid damaging waterproof seals. When you're ready to upgrade, find out how to recycle electronics.
Q: Do you need a license to use a metal detector?
You do not need a license to own a metal detector, but you do need the landowner’s permission to use one on private property. On state property, national parks, or other public land, a permit is usually required. Some states do not allow metal detecting on their properties. It’s important to check with local authorities or you could face a fine, and have your metal detector confiscated.
Q: How much do metal detectors cost?
What a metal detector costs depends very much on the performance expected. Metal detectors for kids start at around $50, and metal detectors for beginners can be little more than $100. Metal detecting enthusiasts can pay anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. We’ve recommended a range of machines that offer excellent value.
Q: How deep do most metal detectors go?
How deep most metal detectors go depends on a number of factors discussed above, such as the capabilities of the machine, soil conditions, target size and material, etc. Good budget metal detectors might go 4 to 8 inches, whereas midrange machines can reach 14 to 16 inches. Professional metal detectors can reach 12 feet or more, but these are very expensive.
Q: How can I increase the range of my metal detector?
Increasing the range of your metal detector can be done in a number of ways.
First and foremost, make sure you understand the functions of your device by reading the manufacturer’s manual carefully.
— Range can drop as batteries lose power, so making sure they are fully charged is a good starting point.
— Increasing sensitivity and/or reducing discrimination can also help, though you may get more false positives.
— If your metal detector can be upgraded to a larger coil, that can also increase range.
— If these options don’t provide the performance you need it may be necessary to move up to a more powerful device.
The Minelab Equinox 800 is an excellent metal detector with performance that challenges more expensive rivals. However, it’s a significant investment, and perhaps best for enthusiasts who are moving up from entry-level devices. The Garrett Ace 250 isn’t the cheapest metal detector for beginners, but it has a strong feature set that will make it the only metal detector many hobbyists ever need.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.