I purposely avoided getting caught up in the whole “which detector should I buy?” dilemma in my QuickStart Guide, since the whole point of the book was to get you out in the field hunting as quickly as possible.
But your metal detector is your primary piece of equipment as a treasure hunter, and it’s important that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each detector. The primary thing you need to know—despite what anyone may tell you—is that there is NO one “best machine.”
There are better machines than others for certain types of hunting, and there are some machines that are better general or overall use than others. But there is no one machine that is the be-all, end-all of the hobby.
Naturally, people tend to gravitate to one machine or brand, and their opinions and enthusiasm lean accordingly. So as a beginner, keep your ears AND your mind open, but learn to recognize the bias. That way, you’ll learn the most but still make the best decision for yourself, the kind of hunting you want to do, and the kind of soil you usually hunt.
The things that set one type of detector apart from another are its features and its functions. If you’d like to learn more, including an explanation of all the terms and what they mean, I write in depth about this in the Equipment section of my book.
Conventional Wisdom About Buying A Beginner’s Metal Detector
Generally, I make one blanket statement about metal detectors and quality: Stick with the well-known brand names, and you’re least likely to get stung. However, there is one brand name a lot of people know—because they are widely sold and distributed by major retailers—but whose quality and performance (based on my OWN experience, as well as that of several others I know personally) is spotty. They make a wide range of machines, and some of them are pretty good, especially for beginners. But others from the same manufacturer—even in the same product line—can be disappointing.
Without naming names, here’s a pretty good guideline that I can’t say will guarantee you a good machine, but is the best guideline I can come up with (and given the many ways to buy a machine these days, there will certainly be exceptions): In general, if you want to buy a new machine that has some serious performance to offer, I recommend spending at least $200.
I have used a number of no-name machines, some of which I bought really cheap just to try them out, and they performed exactly as expected, which is to say they didn’t perform well at all. The most you can generally expect of these machines is that they will indicate that something metal is under the ground beneath the search coil, but that’s about it. And once you really start hunting, you’ll realize what a limitation that is. So as a beginner, stick with established, known brands until you have some experience under your belt to allow you to make a better judgment for yourself.
There’s Always An Exception To The Rule.
However, in the interest of honesty, I must also include this info that goes against conventional wisdom and what I just said above: Out of curiosity, I have tried one “no-name” brand of metal detector that has frankly impressed me with its performance. It’s the 9-function Metal Detector from Harbor Freight Tools.
Now, Harbor Freight isn’t exactly a no-name brand, but it’s certainly not one of the better-known metal detector manufacturers. But this detector (not to be confused with its 6-function model, which does NOT, in my opinion, make the cut for performance) costs less than $50.00, and has all the essential function and performance of the Garrett Ace 250, which I pretty much cut my digging teeth on. The main differences:
- The Ace 250 is a digital machine with an attractive, colorful, ergo-designed control box and handle.
- The HFT model is an analog (i.e., twist knobs and meters with needles instead of pressure switches and LCD readouts) machine with a utilitarian design and a “handshake” style handle that can strain your wrist after a while.
- The Ace 250 weighs a bit less and costs a little over $200.
- The HFT’s shaft is a bit more flimsy and less substantial than the Ace (but if this really bothers you, and you don’t need to telescope it together, just wrap the shaft in duct tape for some added strength and you’re good to go. Otherwise, just don’t beat it to death and you shouldn’t have a problem).
I can say these things because I own both of the models above, and I have used both quite a bit, enough to make these comparisons fairly. I have given three of the HFT models to friends who wanted to try the hobby but weren’t sure they wanted to make a big investment until they knew they liked it. So far, so good!
The other issue, at this point, is that it appears that Garrett has discontinued the 250 in favor of the Ace 300—at least some of their dealers have. And, as a point of reference, it seems Garrett name their models after their suggested price point; so, the Ace 250 retails for about $250, etc.
Who Really Knows What They’re Talking About?
You want to know who to trust when it comes to learning about each type and model of detector? That’s pretty much a no-brainer: Go straight to the source—the manufacturer. What? you say. Aren’t they just going to hype me? Can I actually believe them? Well…yes, and yes, pretty much.
Of course they’re going to hype you—that’s their job, and knowing that all the other detector makers are going to be doing the same, they’d better do it, too, or they won’t stay in business long. That said, as universes go, metal detecting is relatively small, and while hype gets some leeway on either side because it’s ill-defined, downright lying doesn’t fly very far. Detectorists by nature seem to be a pretty no-nonsense crowd, and they don’t stand being lied to. So, while a dealer may be inclined to stretch the truth a bit to move certain inventory (and I’m not saying they all do this), the manufacturers themselves are pretty straight-up people.
So do your homework using their literature, and don’t be shy about asking to see a user manual to study or even request a chat with one of their designers or engineers before making a purchase if you feel that need. They’re all proud of their products and tend to be quite amenable to talking with their customers or potential end users. But the research is the most important part of making sure you’ll be happy with your purchase, so do it diligently. You’ll never be sorry for doing too much homework on a new purchase, but most people with buyer’s remorse about anything admit that it was due to a lack of it.
The great part is that there has never been a time where doing your research was easier. Between manufacturer and dealer websites, and literally thousands of websites and social media pages to check out, you can easily gather all the information you need to know in a few evenings, and spend a few more reading it all and asking questions. Not a big investment of time and energy to make sure you get what you really want.
What Others Have To Say About Buying Your First Metal Detector
Here are some excellent resources to help you choose the right detector for YOUR individual preferences:
- How to Select a Metal Detector by Sondra Bernzweig
- Five Questions: How To Choose The Right Metal Detector
- Making the Right Choices: Choosing the Right Metal Detector for You by Treasure Tom – I like this one because it’s comprehensive and not written or hosted by a dealer trying to sell you something. On the other hand, it may be a little too thorough, because Tom says some things I don’t necessarily agree with here. But I think that’s because he’s essentially talking about gold prospecting detectors in particular, and those do have some peculiarities of their own. But the points he makes, and the questions he asks, are spot-on the same ones you should be considering, even as a beginner.
What About Stinkers—Are There Any?
So, are there any detectors you should avoid altogether as a beginner? Well, that depends who you ask. But I definitely have my own opinions. I don’t like to invite trouble with anyone, so I won’t say anything on this site about specific models. But if you want to contact me privately, I will tell you what I know from experience, aside from the warnings above about just buying cheap machines.