Chris's Metal Detecting Page!
How To Choose a Metal Detector
plus: Entry-Level Detector Roundup!!
2. Some Brands & Models For Beginners
3. Summary of Models
4. And The Winners Are...
Many times, newcomers want to go to a department store and just buy the cheapest detector they can find.
Let me tell you why that's a bad idea, and why ultimately you'll end up spending more money in the long run.
Cheap toy detectors and $99 mystery machines seem to be very popular with unsuspecting newbies. Oh, sure, these units might have names like "Ultimate Barracuda 1000" and "Sooper Dooper Mega-Trash-Eliminator", but let's look beyond that for a moment and ask ourselves some tough questions.
1. Are the manufacturers into metal detecting, or is it just a business? Take a guess.
2. Are experienced users buying these units? Ummm, No.
3. Are experienced users raving about their awesome quality-to-price ratio? Nope.
4. Is anyone rushing to put down their big-name brand machine to buy one of these things? Again, nope.
You can build a metal detector that has so much power it eats up batteries like there's no tomorrow, but that doesn't mean it will detect coins at any real depth. The consumer metal detectors of the early 1980's put out the maximum allowed power, too, but their performance in discriminate mode was pretty poor. You'd be lucky to find a quarter at five inches deep, if that.
The big-name manufacturers have spent the past thirty years refining their circuitry to squeeze the most performance out of the constraints (battery drain being a big one, but not the only one). Most of their designs are trade secrets.
Beginners in almost anything tend to feel some sticker shock when they learn how much "serious" equipment costs. The good news is that genuinely good metal detectors aren't that expensive compared to the entry costs of some other hobbies. More good news: virtually all the big-name makers produce one or more models designed for (and priced for) the beginner.
Let's take a look at some realistic choices.
As I said before, don't waste your time or money on the ones that cost $100 or less when new. Expect to pay $160 to $225 (2013 prices) for a good beginner unit. If you are willing to push the budget to a little over $250, there are even better choices.
I'm including Bounty Hunter because I know there are a lot of beginners who consider this brand. BH does offer some nice features for the money, but you're trading off other features such as build quality.
Bounty Hunter makes some really affordable detectors, but let's don't dive in just yet. Their upper-range models are fairly decent for the money, but here's why I'd avoid their ultra-cheap ones: you'll just end up spending more in the long run. I like First Texas products, but Bounty Hunter is sort of their "discount store" line, and their cheapest ones are going to be something you'll outgrow fast.
If for some reason you really feel a craving for BH metal detectors, at least get something in the $150 range. You can pick up a BH Quick Draw II for about that price here. In my opinion, though, if you require tone ID and digital display, you're better off getting a Fisher F2, a Teknetics Alpha 2000 or Delta 4000, or a Garrett Ace 150 / 250.
The lower build quality of BH detectors can become a real issue, but then again some people like to have a cheap detector to throw behind the seat. I've seen some duct-taped BH's that were still finding treasure.
The BH Discovery 3300 (about $214 here) is another popular model and is one of the best Bounty Hunters. It has the same LCD display as the more expensive Fisher F4, but the software is different. (Just to be clear, the F4 is a better detector by far). The Discovery 3300 has better build quality than the lower-cost Bounty Hunters, but it's still a Bounty Hunter. What it really has going for it is the ability to adjust ground balance. There's virtually nothing else in the entry-level category that offers this. The 3300 also has three-digit numeric target ID (goes up to about 150), whereas most other units have two-digit (going up to 99). The wider range provides even more reliability in identifying different targets, at least in theory.
In practice, the display information becomes unreliable at shallower depths than you'll experience with Fisher or Teknetics. The Bounty Hunter has slower signal recovery than the Fisher or Teknetics, also. These are kind of major things but not necessarily show-stoppers.
Next up, the Fisher F2:
Ever since Fisher was taken over by First Texas and became connected with Bounty Hunter and Teknetics, all three brands have started to show some similarities. They can have a rather plasticky feel. That said, Fisher and Teknetics are better-made detectors than Bounty Hunter in the same price range. The F2's construction is actually pretty good, and the control panel has a nice quality (as you can see). I was never really a fan of soft-touch buttons, but these are big, easy to find, and work well.
The F2 has at least one key advantage over the Garrett Ace 250: exceptionally good target separation. Quite a bit better than the Garrett, in fact. When you're in trashy areas, this is a huge help. If there are two things next to one another, the Fisher F2 is more likely to read them as two different objects. The Garrett Ace 250 is more likely to blur them together as one object. It's not hard to understand how this can affect your coinhunting success.
The F2 has "notch" capability, which allows you either to accept or reject everything on either side of a particular target. For example, you could "notch in" zinc pennies so you can dig them all and get them out of a site (so you can later find good stuff). Or, you could "notch out" square pulltabs so they don't make any signal.
F2 lacks a separate "all metals" mode. For that, you'll want to go with either the Tesoro Silver uMax or, if you need a numeric display, the Teknetics Delta 4000.
In case you can't wait to get your hot little hands on a metal detector, the F2 is actually my choice for "Best buy in a Target-ID Machine". You can pick one up with a pinpointer and additional coil for about $215 through this link. Or, grab this bundle for the same price and get some more accessories with it.
If you want the F2 without the pinpointer and extra coil, you can get it for about $199 here. This bundle comes with headphones that are actually fairly decent (I use the same ones even now!!) and there's also a headlamp and a couple other items.
Garrett Ace 150 and Ace 250. The Ace 250 is a very popular unit. It has a nice bright-yellow case and a very well-designed appearance. Garrett also makes the Ace 150, but the 150 can't pinpoint. That's not really too much of a problem, though, because if you're learning to detect, you should learn to pinpoint by criss-crossing the target anyway.
The 250 has a motionless all-metal mode, while the 150 lacks this capability. As a beginner you might think you'll never need that, but it's really nice to have. If you definitely want a Garrett and you're in the entry-level price range, get the Ace 250 (about $212 here) instead of the 150. You will have lots of good company on the metal detecting forums.
One really nice feature of the Ace 250 is the Custom mode, which retains your notch settings when you turn off the machine. Most low-priced detectors don't have this feature. It also has special "coins" and "relics" modes. A drawback to the Ace 150/250 is that there is no numeric target ID. It's just category ID, very much like the Teknetics Alpha 2000 (but not the Delta 4000, which has numeric ID).
The only thing I really dislike about the Garrett Ace 150 / 250 is the "bell tone" when it hits on a coin. This seems to be a feature you'll either love or hate. In mild soil you can get a bell tone on a dime at up to 6", but beyond that, no belltone. This can be confusing.
The bell tone kind of takes away more information than it adds, because unless you look at the meter, you'll have no idea if you're dealing with a coin at 0" or a coin at 6" depth. You have the depth meter, of course.
Another thing about the Ace 150 / 250 is the rather poor target separation and the necessity of using a slower sweep speed. That said, there are a lot of happy Ace 250 users out there, and they're finding plenty of stuff..
Teknetics Alpha 2000 sells for as low as $189.99 here, but you can pick one up with a trowel, headlamp, and treasure pouch for about $200 here. (Usually I avoid those throw-in extras, just so you know... get a good digging tool, headlamp, and pouch separately.) The Alpha 2000 is their beginner-level detector, along with the Teknetics Eurotek.
One thing common to the entire "Greek series" (Alpha, Delta, Gamma, Omega) from Teknetics is their design and handling. They are some of the lightest-weight machines on the market, but they have the biggest LCD screens for their size. They're like the flat-panel computers of the metal detecting world. The Teknetics Alpha 2000 has the same basic handling and most of the core functionality of the Omega 8000 that I like so much. The Alpha doesn't have as many features, obviously. The Alpha 2000 lacks numeric target ID and instead has only a category ID.
The main drawback to the Teknetics Alpha / Delta / Gamma / Omega is (or rather, was) vulnerability to electromagnetic interference (from mobile phones, power lines, etc.) It seems the problem was the cable that goes to / from the coil... the shielding was too thin or something, which I guess made the coil wire act like an antenna for EMI. I had a Teknetics that went haywire at any sensitivity, but when I got it back from First Texas it worked like a charm. If you buy a new one like this, First Texas should take care of you. It might involve just sending the coil back for replacement, but talk to them. They are a USA company and I've had good experiences with them.
Anyway, the problem seems to have been ironed out with their newer units. If you buy a new Teknetics machine, expect a very lightweight, very capable little metal detector with a nice big LCD screen.
The Alpha 2000 has a notch feature (see Fisher F2 for explanation). Like the Fisher F2, the Alpha 2000 lacks a separate all-metal mode.
Teknetics Delta 4000 is a little above my arbitrary price cutoff for "entry level" machines (currently the Delta is about $280), but I wanted to mention it here because many people do buy one as a first detector. What does it have that the Alpha 2000 doesn't? Mainly, more information in the visual display. It has the same 3-tone audio, the same coil, and the same basic design, but the LCD readout is much better. According to the manufacturer, the Delta offers more depth than the Alpha.
The Delta has 0 to 99 target-ID readout, whereas the Alpha has just a category reading (iron / foil / 5c / zinc / dime / qtr / 50c+). Delta also has a separate All-Metals or "autotune" (AT) mode with two sub-modes (A1 and A2). These are designed to give more depth and are useful if you're looking for relics or just deep coins that wouldn't show up in the discriminate mode. It's more of an advanced feature (partly because you will be digging all metals, including nails), but it gives you some room to grow into this detector. Just know that the audio tones in AT mode mean something different... low means smaller or farther from the coil, so a low tone in All Metals mode on the Delta is not necessarily a piece of iron.
Like the Alpha and almost every other beginner-level detector on the market, the Delta has a pre-set ground balance. If you want to be able to adjust ground balance (which gives maximum depth), you'll need to look at detectors in the $300-plus range (or the Bounty Hunter Discovery 3300). That said, I still use detectors with pre-set GB and still like 'em for a lot of situations.
I'd definitely choose the Delta 4000 over the Alpha 2000, but if it comes down to budget, either one is a good machine.
Next we look at the Tesoro Compadre:
Tesoro Compadre is actually the best deal for the money, costing not much more than a department-store toy. Well, alright, you can get a "toy" metal detector for like fifty bucks, but skip that and go for the Tesoro. I think you'll be happy you did.
You can pick up a Tesoro Compadre for about $160 brand-new, but before you do that, you should know what the Compadre isn't.
The Compadre is not a fancy machine. It has no meters, no LCD screen, no fancy features, no depth finder, no multi-tone audio.... just one knob. Turn it on, and you're ready to detect! Even though the Compadre is a very lightweight machine that some people mistake for a toy, the build quality is actually very good. It is worlds ahead of the cheap department-store units, and actually it's got a more solid feel than just about anything else in the under-$300 price range (except the Silver uMax).
Most important is the electronics. The Compadre has very effective discrimination, crisp response, and incredibly fast signal recovery. It's great for finding good stuff amid trash. The Compadre is not a Silver uMax with one less knob; it's actually different circuitry.
The Compadre, unlike other detectors by Tesoro, has the coil permanently attached. That means you can't change it. Whatever coil size you choose, that's what your Compadre will have for the rest of its days. The cool thing is that this machine is priced so low that the whole machine (with coil) costs about the same as just a coil would cost for another machine.
There are plenty of advanced people who still tote around a Compadre or have it as a backup unit. These things are just pure fun. No extra junk to break down, no LCD meters to go haywire, no soft-touch keypads to malfunction... just pure metal detecting goodness. Made in USA by Tesoro, with a lifetime warranty. (Another reason to get this instead of a toy.)
I know there are a lot of people who will agree with me: If your budget is under $200, just get a Compadre unless for some reason you really want multi-tones and computerized features.
For trashy areas, get the Compadre with the 5.75" coil (about $160 here).
For places that are more wide-open but may have deeper coins, go for the one with the 8-inch coil (also about $160, here).
Tesoro Silver uMax is properly called the Silver Micromax, but just about everybody (including me) calls it the Silver "u-Max". (I'm from Redneckistan, where we mash Greek letters into Roman letters and pronounce them as English. We say stuff like "Where ya at?" and "Git 'er done buddy". And it's good.)
So anyway, the Silver is both a "beginner" machine and a serious detector. It may not have the depth of a Tejon or Vaquero, but it's very impressive for what it is. I'd actually get a Silver uMax over any of the entry-level offerings by any other manufacturer. Some of the more jaded characters may tell you never to waste your time on a "beginner"-priced detector, but they'd have to be pretty grumpy indeed to say anything bad about the Silver uMax. It's just such a great machine.
The Silver is just a little above the arbitrary price cutoff I'd call "beginner" (it's currently about $259 here), but this is one of those detectors that once you have it, there's a good chance you'll never want to part with it, even when you get more advanced.
There's no visual ID meter, but it's simple to learn to use this machine. Learn what a good signal sounds like, and you'll be finding coins in no time. The Silver uMax also has All Metal mode, which you can activate with just the flip of a toggle switch. I love this feature. Toggle switches may be old-school, but they just work. No nonsense. That's what I like about Tesoro. It's a serious machine that works like an American classic (which it is), even though a lot of people think it looks like a toy. (Not so much anymore, though, now that smaller control boxes are the norm. Tesoro pioneered that.)
If you get good with the Silver uMax and your ground isn't too nasty, you could be finding dimes at 7+", and some people have reported finding them at up to 9". That is outstanding, especially for a lower-priced detector like this. I have a more in-depth review of the Silver uMax here.
Knowing what I know now and looking for a first metal detector, I would just order a Silver uMax straight away and get out there & start 'tectin. I'll save you the time of reading ahead: this is my favorite choice out of all the detectors here. And, like other Tesoros, it has a lifetime warranty.
Here's a quick re-cap of entry-level detectors and their current prices. Just note that the prices could change... these are just the best ones I found, as of the time I wrote this.
The prices are for the detector only, with no accessories.
Now, we move on to the conclusion of this roundup...
Best Target-ID Unit For The Money
Best Target-ID Unit
Best Overall For The Money
Or, just scroll down to see them...
Best Target-ID Unit For The Money:
For what you get, the F2 is the best deal in a target-ID machine. The Garrett Ace 150 / 250 cannot provide as much target info, and then there's that bell-tone which many people find annoying. Finally, the Ace has slower recovery than the F2. (To be sure, though, there are a lot worse things you could buy than an Ace 250.)
The Bounty Hunter Discovery 3300 was a contender here, too... mainly because it offers a separate all-metal mode and manual ground balance, which the Fisher F2 lacks. However, the F2 has much better target separation / faster re-tune. The F2 also has better real-life performance than the BH. These really tipped the balance for the F2.
The Fisher F2 provides more target information than the Teknetics Alpha, so that's why the Alpha didn't win this category.
Get your Fisher F2, bundled with a pinpointer and an additional coil, for $215 here. The included pinpointer is not of as good quality as the F2 itself, but it will hold you over until you get a better pinpointer, such as this.
Best Target-ID Unit:
Teknetics Delta 4000.
This was "almost" a tie with Fisher F2, but the Delta offers true all-metal mode. It also has a wider iron range, which comes in handy if you want to do relic hunting.
Finally, the Delta may offer a slight depth advantage over the F2, but just keep in mind that maximum depth can vary slightly between different machines of the same model.
The one advantage the F2 has is four audio tones instead of three; in fact, it's one of the only four-tone machines in the whole bunch. That said, I like using the Teknetics "Greek" series with three-tone audio most of the time, so not having four tones isn't a huge problem.
The Teknetics Delta 4000 is a bit more in line with the capabilities of the more expensive Fisher F4 (currently $399) but the Delta's lower price (than the F4) makes it an option when your budget is less than $300. I didn't even mention the F4 in this roundup, because four-hundred bucks is getting outside the entry-level price range and into the mid-range level (that's a whole 'nother article for some other time...)
At $280 discounted, the Delta 4000 is the top target-ID machine in this roundup, again because it has nearly all the features of the F2, plus true all-metal mode. You can get your Delta 4000 here.
Best Overall For The Money:
Even more crisp and faster auto-retune than the Silver uMax, albeit with fewer features. If your budget is under $200 for a detector, just get a Compadre. I mean it. Even if you advance to a higher-end detector, you'll still want to keep your Compadre for those high-trash areas. Nothing beats a Compadre for finding small jewelry.
Grab the one with 5.75" coil here, or the one with 8" coil here.
Tesoro Silver uMax.
The Silver uMax has something that goes beyond feature lists. One-tone audio can provide more information than multi-tone audio, even though that may seem counter-intuitive. It's all about the nuances of that single audio tone.
The Silver uMax is better-made than pretty much any of the other detectors in this article, except the Compadre (which is also made by Tesoro). Finally, the Silver has probably the most depth out of the whole bunch, though the Compadre with 8" coil can approach it. What tips the balance in favor of the uMax is the sensitivity control, the true all-metals mode, and the fact that the uMax has a toggle switch to check the battery.
One of the coolest things I ever found was with a Silver uMax in all-metals mode. There was just that nice "round" signal that told me to dig it. You don't get that so much with the computerized detectors. Normally in all-metals mode you have no idea what you're going to dig, but once you get into "the zone" with a beep-dig unit, you can develop an almost uncanny ability to know what it will be. Not as in, "this will be an 1877-CC quarter", but you can say "Yeah, that could be a coin, and I'm definitely digging that."
You can show your support for my website by purchasing your Silver uMax here. Even if you progress to other detectors later, I predict for most buyers that the Silver uMax is going to remain as a lifelong favorite.
Until Next Time, Amigos...
Every one of these detectors could do well for a beginner. I don't think you can go too far wrong with any of them; just decide what features are important to you.
I hope you've found this article helpful in deciding on a metal detector. You can help me out, too... If you buy your stuff through any of the links on this page, it really helps me keep this website on-line.
Thanks for reading!!