Why Buy a Metal Detector?
The top performers in our review are the Gold Award winning Fisher F4, the Silver Award winning Garrett Ace 250 and the Bronze Award winning Teknetics Delta 4000. Here’s more on choosing a great metal detector, along with details on how we arrived at our rankings of the 10 best.
Open fields, sandy beaches, old backyards – knowing where to hunt for treasure is important, but more critical is the equipment you take with you. After comparing the most popular metal detectors on the market, we’ve figured out what makes a great one and assembled our lineup of the top 10.
If you're just getting in to the hobby, never fear; we explain every pertinent aspect of treasure hunting you need to know. The differences between coil shapes, what discrimination and ground balance are, why notching can be so useful – we've got you covered. Learn about the hobby, read our metal detector reviews and you'll be discovering lost relics in no time.
How Do Metal Detectors Work?
Metal detectors work by projecting magnetic fields through search coils you wave back and forth over the ground. When a coil passes over metal, it senses the magnetic distortion and sends a beep your way. Different search coils project fields of different shapes and sizes, so it’s important to know what each can offer.
Coil Construction: Concentric vs. DD
There are two basic types of search coils. The most common are concentric coils, which nest one metal ring inside another. Concentric coils emit a cone-shaped search field about as wide and deep as the coil itself; if a coil is 8 inches across, its search field will have a maximum depth of about 8 inches.
Cone-shaped fields are narrowest at their deepest points. Unless you’re very methodical with your search patterns, your effective depth will probably be much less than the full width of the coil. That’s where DD coils come in to play. Named because they look like two Ds facing one-another, DD coils project a blade-shaped search field: 2 to 3 inches wide, 10 to 11 inches tall and another 10 to 11 inches deep – all depending on the coil’s size, of course.
A DD coil’s blade field has two major advantages over concentric coils. First, they’re thin. Metal detectors can only identify one metal at a time; any more and they get confused. If you pass a wide field over several closely spaced metals, your detector can only see one of them. With a bladelike field, you have a better chance of spotting individual objects.
Second, while cone-shaped fields are mere pinpricks at their deepest points, a DD coil’s field is about half to two-thirds the coil’s diameter at the same depth. That significant increase gives you a far better chance of finding worthwhile treasure further down.
Target ID: Know What You’re Digging
Different types of metal distort the search coil’s field in different ways. In our experience, the best metal detectors can guess what might be hiding beneath the soil. True, identifying what a buried object might be is far from an exact science, but you can use a series of related technologies to get a decent idea:
Because different metals affect the detector’s search field in different ways, they can be identified by those effects. User-friendly detectors tend to offer graphic target ID, which maps ID results to one of a handful of possibilities, notated with some sort of picture – a nickel, a quarter, a nail and so on. More advanced detectors display a number, usually between one and 100, that corresponds to a specific type of search field distortion. Over time, you can learn what these numeric target IDs mean and instantly tell the difference between trash and treasure.
As a general rule, trash metals like nails and pull tabs tend to fall lower on the target ID scale, while coins and jewelry tend to appear higher. At default settings, a metal detector beeps at anything it finds. By using discrimination settings, you can ignore any metals that fall beneath a certain threshold on the target ID spectrum.
Notching is a specialized type of target ID discrimination. While basic discrimination settings disable alerts for all metals beneath a given threshold, notching lets you isolate and ignore specific frequencies, leaving the rest – both above and below – intact. For example, if you were hunting in a field full of nails and they kept returning target ID values between 25 and 35, you could choose to notch out any metal in that range but continue to receive notifications if your detector finds something with a value of 15 or 60.
Coinshooting vs. Gold Detecting: Setting Your Expectations
The technologies and practices we’ve talked about so far all pertain directly to coinshooting, or using your new metal detector to go treasure hunting for modern coins. It’s certainly possible to find ancient relics with a metal detector, but you’re far more likely to find dozens, if not hundreds, of coins of every denomination.
Finding gold is far more difficult because gold can show up on any segment of your detector’s target ID. Depending on the gold’s size, shape and purity, it might register as jewelry, a penny or a piece of trash metal. If you’re determined to find gold, keep an eye out for detectors with higher operating frequencies. That said, you needn’t invest in a dedicated gold detector; you just need the patience to dig up every single object your metal detector finds.
Gold’s rarity is one reason many detectorists choose to hunt, not for gold, but for coins. Many rare coins hold value much higher than their denominations, and while you’re probably not going to make it rich as a coinshooter, you can certainly come away with your fair share of usable cash. Most veteran detectorists even clean as they hunt, hauling away bits of trash and leaving the outdoors better than they found it.
Metal Detectors: What We Evaluated, What We Found
While there are metal detectors available for under $100, we focused our efforts on high-quality beginner detectors. These are devices you can feel good about buying and using for years, even if they’re not quite as capable as those priced at $700 or more. All are general-purpose machines – for example, there aren’t any dedicated underwater metal detectors on our lineup – but they offer excellent entry into the world of treasure hunting.
The finest metal detectors are comfortable, accurate, offer DD-style coils that make canvassing large areas easy and have customization options that grow with you as you advance in the hobby. Even the smallest details and functionalities can have dramatic effects on your next treasure hunt.
A Good Search Coil Makes All the Difference
DD-style coils are best for accurate, thorough treasure hunts, but they’re more expensive than their concentric equivalents. If you’d rather not spring for a DD coil, try to at least find an elliptical concentric coil, which is thinner than it is tall. Thinner search fields are better for picking between closely spaced treasures.
Ground Balance Is Important
Ground balance lets you adjust your detector to the mineralization in the soil. If your detector randomly chirps at you, you probably need to adjust your ground balance to compensate for higher quantities of natural metals in the area. The best metal detectors let you manually adjust ground balance, though many beginner detectors set it at a fixed value.
Don’t Ignore Ergonomics
The value of a light metal detector that’s been properly adjusted to your height can’t be understated. Treasure hunting often involves hours of walking across wide fields. It can be simultaneously relaxing and exciting, but it can also put a lot of stress on your arms and back if the detector is too heavy or too short. Prioritize detectors that have both adjustable shafts and arm cups, and that weigh under 3 pounds – preferably closer to 2 pounds.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of typical consumers. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our methodology, nor was that methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Metal Detectors: Our Verdict and Recommendations
After considering each device’s search coils, ergonomics and advanced features, there’s a good chance we found the best metal detector for you. Whether you’re looking for performance, value or long-term viability, here’s what we found:
The Best-Performing Metal Detector: Fisher F4
The best metal detector we reviewed is the Fisher F4, a powerful, capable machine with a big elliptical DD coil, 11-segment graphic target ID, manual ground balance and a fully adjustable frame. At 2.9 pounds, it’s slightly heavier than we’d like, but the device’s other ergonomic qualities keep it comfortable during extended hunts. Whatever your concerns about the F4 might be, its 11-inch coil is worth the detector’s price of admission; it can detect as deeply and accurately as a first-time detectorist could hope.
The Best Entry-Level Metal Detector: Garrett Ace 250
One of the best-selling metal detectors of all time and a popular recommendation that veterans make to new hobbyists, the Garrett Ace 250 offers a brilliant balance of usability and performance. Lightweight, long lasting and decently powerful, it’s a superb pick-up-and-go option. This, combined with Garrett’s bell tone that clearly signals the presence of coins, makes the Ace 250 a superb first-timer pick.
The Detector That Grows with You: Teknetics Delta 4000
If you want a metal detector that can teach you how to be a better detectorist, Teknetics’ Delta 4000 offers a great one-two punch. New hobbyists often look to graphic target ID to give them an idea of what they’ve discovered beneath the soil, but there are only so many graphical segments you can fit on a detector’s control box. Numeric target ID, meanwhile, tends to be as specific as it is obtuse, at least for newcomers. By offering both, the Delta 4000 helps you grow in the hobby. You can use graphic target ID to give you an idea of what different numeric ranges mean until your mastery of those ranges makes the graphic option obsolete.
Should you still find yourself struggling to pick, check out some of our articles on metal detectors. Between the information they provide and the comparison chart we've assembled at the top of this page, you shouldn't have a problem finding a new detector that you’ll love taking on your next hunt.