Making Right Choices... Choosing The Right Metal Detector
Selecting the right metal detector can be confusing, There are many different brands and models to choose from, with just as many variations in features, options, and prices.
Reading ads in the treasure and prospecting magazines isn't much help, especially if you're unfamiliar with the high tech terminology and jargon being used. Besides, according to them every detector is the perfect one. Taking advice from "expert" friends, relatives, or fellow club members isn't much better, as they are probably only familiar with a few models themselves.
So how can you be assured of making the "right" choice? How can you distinguish what is fact from advertising hype, and be able to discern the well meaning advice of others? What can you do to ensure that your choice will be based on sound knowledge and good judgment and not on impulse or misplaced faith? Which brand or model detector you choose or how much money you spend is not important at this point. Guidelines must first be established in order to avoid costly errors in the selection process. TIP: Making a selection based upon brand or how much a detector costs could lead to a very expensive, even devastating mistake.
What Will You Be Hunting For?
Metal detecting is multi-faceted, providing many avenues of exploration. So, the first step is to determine your areas of interest. Next, list them according to their importance in relationship to the amount of time you will be devoting to each. Is your main interest in searching for coins and rings, relies from ghost towns and battle fields, caches concealed for safe keeping, gold nugget prospecting, shallow water hunting, or scuba diving? Once you've identified your interests, you can begin to match them with various metal detectors. In short, there are detectors that do much better at certain tasks. These are specialty detectors and they should be given the highest priority of consideration if you will be primarily performing one specific kind of detecting over another. This is especially true if you will be spending a lot of money traveling in order to metal detect. For example: you probably' won't need to purchase a specialty metal detector for prospecting if you're just going to make a stop for the day. There are several detector models available that will do an excellent job at nugget hunting and serve as a superior coin detector upon your return. However, if your trip is specifically for nugget hunting, that's not the time to scrimp on the detector you use. In this case you will not want to compromise on the detector's gold hunting capability. It would be foolish to spend a lot of money on a trip and then go ill-equipped. It could turn out to be as disastrous as going elk hunting with a .22 caliber rifle.
Where Will You Be Hunting?
How you will be using the metal detector is important. Will you use it with the control housing on the pole ("pole mount"), or do you plan to make the pole easier to handle by removing the control housing and strapping it on your body ("belt/body mount")? How easily will it convert from one configuration to the other? Will you be using the detector for long durations at a time or just short stops? Will you use it in competition hunts? These are big considerations as the weight and convertibility of the detector may be a major factor in your decision. Also consider environmental conditions: dry and dusty, or wet and humid? Will you be metal detecting in well-maintained residential and public use areas or in remote, rugged locations? Will it be in thick brush on a wide open sandy beach or in rocky steep terrain?
Ground condition is another critical consideration. Will you be metal detecting salt water beaches or in heavily mineralized ground? Will you be working in just one type of area or in a variety of conditions?
Different applications and conditions call for different types of metal detectors and general purpose instruments cannot always provide the performance needed in extreme environments.
TIP: Determining what conditions you will be operating the detector in will guide you to selecting one that will be able to handle the worst scenario.
The Right Tool For The Job
Knowing your detector's limitations is equally important. It is not necessarily bad to select a detector which cannot handle certain conditions, since you may have little or no need to hunt in these. However, it is unjust to subject a detector to conditions for which it was not designed and then expect it to operate at peak performance. Although many detectors will work well at most tasks, they simply cannot provide the performance of today's specialty detectors:
Specialty detectors are specifically engineered to excel while performing a particular type of detecting task. Their features have been designed to provide the operator with the kinds of functions necessary to handle each unique condition and accomplish specialized operational needs. It would also be unjust to expect a special use detector to perform other tasks with equal results as one that is specifically designed for the job.
TIP: You should ask if the metal detector is designed to do the type of metal detecting you're primarily interested in, instead of simply asking if it is capable of doing it. Then, you might inquire as to whether or not the detector is suitable for performing your secondary detecting desires.
Assess Your Knowledge
Before going any further in the selection process, you must be honest about your level of knowledge and experience about metal detecting. Even if you are an experienced detectorist, chances are that you will benefit by doing a bit of extra research before investing in a new instrument.
Detector technology is constantly changing, and even the most advanced detectors of a few years ago are virtual "dinosaurs" today. The key is to be able to determine which models are truly new and improved and which are merely repackaged outdated designs made to look current.
Updating old designs is often accomplished by the addition of microprocessors, LCD lights, or fancy LCD meters. Each of these items add "pizzazz" to an old detector design, but add little or nothing to its actual performance capabilities. Detectorist are often inclined to be loyal to a particular brand-an understand- able sentiment and one we appreciate our- selves! However, this can be a serious error if superior or equal performance with a better warranty can be obtained elsewhere. Changing technology can quickly overcome experience, so don't outsmart your- self by assuming there is nothing new you need to know. Do your homework. Knowledge is the best substitute for experience. No matter how long you've been metal detecting or how many metal detectors you've owned, things change.
What Are You Paying For?
If metal detecting is something new to you, it pays to be especially careful. Even though you're eager to get started, avoid the urge to buy until you know that you are ready. Shortcuts such as buying what a trusted friend uses or what someone else has recommended may work out. However, if such friendly recommendations are given from personal preference, brand loyalty, third hand word-of-mouth, or a catchy ad and are not based on direct experience or knowledge, you may end up being disappointed with your purchase. Chances are those same people would do new research before making another purchase themselves. Buying the "top-of-the-line" metal detector may not be a safe shortcut either. The most expensive detector may provide more razzle-dazzle, but it does not ensure better performance, just more gadgets and marketing innovations.
Gadgets and innovations are expensive and normally confusing to a beginner. At first they may seem simple enough. Their features may even give the feeling of "how can I do without them?" But learning how to use them properly and to discern the information they provide you with may be confusing at best and can result in a loss of finds. What looks good on the surface may not be of benefit at all. The graphic display or elaborateness of a read-out is not an indicator of a meter's functionality, nor is it a sign of the internal circuitry's capabilities. For example, a meter can give a variable signal readout providing a lot of information about the probable target. It can have a large number of digital segments providing a good amount of target information, or, it could be an inexpensive one that provides very few segments of target analysis. It is hard to tell the quality of a component, the circuitry's ability, or complexity of the microprocessors program just by looking. You will not be able to identify a detector's limitations or true capabilities without testing it or talking with someone who has.
TIP: Just because one model has a fancy meter doesnt mean it works better than another one.
Making a "bargain" purchase may prove fatal to your metal detecting as well. You need to find out if it is a current model that is still being made, or if it is one that has been discontinued and soon to be replaced by new technology. Take your time, be patient and persistent in your research. Don't let anyone pressure you into a quick and costly decision. And most of all, check the warranty and service reputation of the manufacturer. Service after the sale is invaluable. That's why so many companies offer ex- tended warranties on such a wide variety of products. A company's warranty not only indicates the kind of service you can expect to receive down the road, but it also reveals the faith that a company has in its own product durability.
Different Types Of Detectors
In order to properly qualify a metal detector and match it to your requirements, you should be aware of the various types of metal detectors available and how they might apply to your own detecting activities. Notice the word types, rather than models or brands. Before making any choices become familiar with terms and the types of detectors.
Several types of detectors are manufactured and are in use today. And though a particular type might be very popular, that doesn't mean it will fit your needs. In fact, early in your investigation, you will begin to realize that certain detectors are simply unsuitable for your purpose.
You will usually hear the terms VLF (or VLF/TR), Pulse (or PI), or RF in reference to common, modern metal detector types. You will also hear the term TR, which stands for transmitter-receiver, used with different types of detectors. The terms TR, VLF and VLF/TR can be confusing at first. The fact is they are all transmitter-receiver detectors. The terms TR and VLF are merely used to provide an easy way to distinguish the difference between the two. In electronics, VLF stands for Very Low Frequency (3-30 kHz), but with metal detectors the term is usually used to indicate a "mineral-free all metal" mode of operation. TR stands for Transmitter/Receiver, but usually indicates a "non-motion discriminate mode" of operation. VLF/TR usually indicates "mineral-free all metal" and, "mineral-free discriminate" operation. Although they have their place, the higher frequency TRs are generally not competitive with the latest VLF/TR's with silent search motion discriminators, as they are unable to handle the problems imposed by mineralization in the ground. TR's have long since given way to the superior ground- effect control provided by the very low frequency (VLF) instruments. TR's are normally restricted to use on non-mineralized salt water beaches and for salt water diving as they are capable of ignoring the effects caused by conductive salts, if properly tuned. Since TR's cannot ground compensate for mineralization, they are incapable of obtaining the depth achieved by the newer VLF type instruments thus limiting them to finding only shallow surface targets when used in mineralized areas. Whereas, the newer VLF/TR detectors do ground compensate, thus accomplishing much greater depths of detection when mineralization is present.
RF two-box instruments are very specialized detectors that can respond to large metallic objects at great depths. Cache hunters sometimes find the two-box a useful tool, although almost all caches ate well within the range of VLF/TR's equipped with large diameter search coils. The two-box also sees action in prospecting when massive mineral deposits are being sought and in a variety of industrial applications. However, they cannot respond to coin-sized objects and are therefore entirely limited to deep seeking tasks of large objects.
Great achievements have been made in PI (Pulse Induction) instruments. Once limited to underwater diving, great technological strides have been achieved by some manufacturers making this type of detector popular among saltwater beach combers as well. Although the PI is an "all metals" only detector, its popularity has increased in areas where little trash is located and on black sand beaches where PI out performs the VLF/TR since they are capable of ignoring both conductive salts and mineralization simultaneously.
Recent developments in PI technology have brought about innovative advancements like eliminating the annoying pulsing threshold sound and new kinds of searchcoils. These searchcoils make it possible for the first time for a PI detector to find previously undetectable fine gold jewelry and to be used for hunting gold nuggets in alkali and extreme hot rock areas, which are too difficult for the VLF/TR instruments. These searchcoils are not only different on the inside, but they are interchangeable in- stead of hard wired as in the past. Though PI detectors get excellent depth on sandy and wet beaches, some loss of depth will be experienced metal detecting when operated over hard, dry ground. Because of this, PI detectors are normally used only as secondary, specialty instruments and not as the primary detector, One word of caution: this new PI technology is not universal and, therefore, most manufacturers do not have it available yet. You may need to check with a local dealer for more information.
Two other types are BFO (Beat Frequency Oscillator) and TR (Transmitter-Receiver). Although once popular these two are no longer being made by professional metal detector manufacturers. BFO's may still be around but they are normally confined to cheap, toy type detectors.
Most Commonly Used Metal Detector
With all of these facts in mind, most detectorists will probably choose a VLF/TR motion discriminator with silent search as their primary machine. VLF/TR's with discriminators have the capability of controlling trash and mineralization simultaneously. The word motion indicates that the search- coil requires movement in order for both ground control and discrimination to be achieved. No longer is it necessary to rapidly swing or "whip" the searchcoil back and forth as in the past. Today's motion discriminators require very little movement of the searchcoil in order to identify a target. This advancement has taken much of the fatigue out of metal detecting. The better instruments also allow instant switching from the motion Discriminate mode to a non-motion all metal, or Normal tune mode for pinpointing, and for general purpose non-motion non-discriminate hunting. Several innovations deserve special mention. Surface mount technology has now opened the doors to miniaturization, permitting extremely compact designs. A select number of detectors are now available which utilize these hybrid circuit boards, though only available through select manufacturers at this time. This great achievement permits complex circuitry to be designed into small control housings. This greatly reduces the weight and bulkiness of the unit without sacrificing performance of the instrument. In fact, when properly engineered, this innovation provides even greater results, including virtually trouble-free operation.
Other innovations include: coin depth indication, target identification/interpretation, and the notch filter discrimination. You will find details concerning these features in the glossary and in special articles elsewhere on this site. As you can see some highly desirable extras are offered, but it is important to investigate them thoroughly before you buy. High tech features can be expensive, driving the cost of a metal detector up dramatically. Therefore, it is important to determine which, if any, of these additional features you will use and to determine if they will actually enhance the detector's performance, "Whistles and bells" are exciting but ask yourself if they are really needed before you buy them.
Cost & Features
We now come to the matter of cost. Some magazine articles have approached this subject on the basis of strict budgeting by determining the performance you want, not whistles and bells, but performance. Then based upon the type of metal detecting you will be doing, select the features that best fit your detecting needs. Look through all the literature, books, and advice you've collected and select the models that most fit these needs. As you do so, remember these basic guidelines: If you plan to concentrate on coin shooting, discrimination is essential. For cache hunting, excellent depth and the option of larger searchcoils will be needed. If your main interest is prospecting, you'll need to be able to ground bal ance (ground compensate). Also, a non-motion All Metal mode with a quick cutoff or fast auto tune is mandatory. For ore sampling and pinpointing, a normal tune mode will be needed.
Again, carefully identify your needs. Then check the price ranges of the various manufacturers for those models which can deliver the kind of features that will meet these needs best. Separate them according to features, performance and warranty. In doing this you may find that some offer much more for your money than others. Keep in mind that just be- cause a metal detector costs more does not mean it performs better or is any more capable of going deeper. Each manufacturer has their own built-in cost of doing business and each has their own marketing and merchandising plans. Some are inexpensive straight forward programs while others are quite elaborate and can drive the cost of their products up considerably, even though they do not offer any more performance. Just remember, there is no free lunch. Every advertisement, promotion, Christmas package, or mail order discount has all been factored into the suggested retail price of their detectors. They simply increase the price in order to absorb the increased costs from these special promotions and discounts. That's called merchandising.
Some detectors may be imported, in which case there will be charges for freight, customs, duty, banking fee's, etc., all added against the price you will pay, while again, not providing any real performance difference over other brands and models made in the USA.
What To Look For When You Read About Detectors
Accumulating information is easy, but getting the real facts is much more difficult. Reading hobby related magazines is helpful. However, they do not and cannot tell you if a metal detector is right for your needs.
Field tests are good to review, but consider the source when reading them. Sometimes a field tester is being polite in order not to upset an advertiser. Therefore, field tests should be viewed as an overview of the detector's general performance and not as a comparison to its abilities against competitors. When reading a field test, check to see if the writer makes original and meaningful statements about the product. Look to see if they are paraphrasing the manufacturer's buzz words and sales literature, or do they tell you how it really works. Often you can tell from the way the report is written whether the detector was genuinely impressive or just OK.
There are many books available about metal detecting that are a good source of information. Though all will contain some basically correct information, you will notice many contain biases toward a specific brand. That is because a particular manufacturer may have provided the equipment, funding, or printing for the book. In fact, there are metal detector companies which own or have a vested interest in publishing companies that print metal detecting and treasure oriented books. Obviously, if a book constantly promotes a particular product, what you are reading is really nothing more than an elaborate sales brochure.
Send for catalogs, data sheets and other literature. Read through them and then reread them with a critical eye. Look for hard information and straight talk about features and performance as well as meaningful points of comparison. If necessary, write to the manufacturers with particular questions you have. Expect to receive real answers in straight terms, not double talk, without being pushed off to someone else just to appease you.
Watch The Warranty!
Pay attention to warranties. Don't just look at what the warranty card says, call the factory and ask direct questions about the things they do and do not cover, such as: What is their hourly labor charge should a heeded repair not be covered by the warranty?, How long is a circuit board governed for and how much does it cost to replace one?, Do they warranty their searchcoils, and if so, what are the limitations?, Will your claim be honored beyond a limited time?
By all means find out what the exclusions are before you buy. Ask tough questions and expect sound answers with no wishy-washy responses.
Where's The Best Place To Buy?
Independent metal detector dealers can be an invaluable aid to you. With few exceptions, they will be the best informed. And contrary to what you might expect, most are genuinely interested in helping you become successful in the hobby of metal detecting and not just out to make a quick sale.
An honest, competent dealer will be willing to take the time to assist you in selecting a detector well-suited to your requirements. In fact, he will probably insist on it. He knows that this initial extra effort will ensure your lasting satisfaction, both with him and the detector he sells you. Do, however, watch out for those dealers who try to steer you toward a "bargain. These are often discontinued models, trouble models, or obsolete used machines that he is trying to unload on an uneducated person. The same is often true with some manufacturer's package deals. If the package is not being offered to introduce a new model, it is probably a slow seller, one that they are overstocked in. Also be aware that some discounters liquidate brands no longer being manufactured. The friendship and guidance of a good dealer can make all the difference both before and after the sale. Assuming you've made your selection, it is time to decide where to purchase. Either a local dealer or a factory authorized mail order firm can supply the detector. The difference is the nature and extent of their additional services to you. A good local metal detecting dealer will offer personal service, first hand instruction, his expertise and much more. He will check out your detector before you take delivery to make certain everything is operating properly and complete-your warranty registration making sure it is validated for you. They will help with minor adjustments, loan you a spare metal detector in the unlikely event yours needs service, and handle arrangements for service on your behalf. Buying at the local level does not guarantee you this type of special attention, so it is advisable to check into the dealer's written customer service policy before you buy.
Mail order firms cannot offer the same type of in-person service as individual dealers. Some may be merely order takers, so to speak, and may rely solely on a lower price to attract customers. In considering this option, be sure you're not going to need a dealer's expertise, instruction, or any of their other services. Give it some thought before you decide.
Comparing BrandsAll manufacturers like to think they build the finest metal detectors. Truthfully, most of the major companies are good, but how can they all be "the best"? Deciding between them isn't easy, because of all their conflicting claims, catchy slogans, convincing advertising, and marketing razzle-dazzle. Every brand of detector is separated by engineering design concepts and philosophies. It is hard to sort these out and understand them all, and that makes it easy to become swayed by glossy ads, fast talk, package deals, and sales pressure. Be patient, and if at all possible get a hands-on demonstration where you can evaluate your choices over a test plot that has actual buried targets. Test the features for yourself and make sure the metal detector operates as you have been led to believe it would.
Once you've gotten this far along, you're going to have a pretty good idea of who means business and who's "blowing smoke".
One Last Word Of Advice
Don't expect instant success while metal detecting after you buy a new detector. Regardless of the type, brand, or model you choose, it will require time, practice, and plenty of perseverance to fully understand what your new metal detector is telling you and to achieve its full potential.
Regardless how long you've been using detectors or what experience you have, read and study the operator's manual before dashing out to use it. When it finally comes together, it will be more than worth the effort. I hope you enjoy this great hobby of metal detecting.