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Side by Side Comparison -

Minelab Explorer XS vs. Tesoro Tejon is mainly about [what else?] mineral collecting.  Treasure hunting is sort of related to minerals, and so...

Behold, Chris's Metal Detecting Page.

About the color scheme:  most of uses a black background.  This was meant to give the impression of being in a darkened room, making the glow of the minerals more prominent.   It would be nice to keep the whole site consistently light-on-dark, but people who surf in looking for metal detector info seem to find it odd.  

An Update

A little while back, another detectorist sent me an email.  Even after reading this article, he seemed to believe the Tejon was somehow far inferior to the Minelab.  He was incredulous that my article could be true.  (Yes, it's true... and it's based on a carefully-conducted test.)

This emailer referred to a test by another detectorist that suggested the Tesoro Tejon could find a 0.7" silver coin at no more than 4.72 inches, while the Explorer series could find the same coin at better than 7 inches.  That's about a dime-sized coin.

While the test he mentioned is interesting (I guess), it fails to take into account the ionization that would occur from soil acids and water over many years.

"Study it carefully," said the emailer.


Here are some things to consider:

1.) The test he mentioned was not a real-life situation.  I used a Tesoro Tejon, in real life, to find a Barber dime at a measured 9.5 inches at an old house site in New Jersey.  The only other way to have known that a Barber dime was buried there would have been to use X-ray vision or clairvoyance.  Or, perhaps, to guess correctly that a Barber dime was lost in that exact spot 90 or 100 years ago......  nope, sorry, the Tejon found it at 9.5 inches, fair and square.   It gave a classic "round" signal (though a faint one).

At another location, the Tesoro yielded a Barber dime at a measured 9.0 inches.  At a third location, the machine revealed a Wheat penny at about 12 inches (even I found this hard to believe, but I measured it).  In none of these cases was the depth a result of the coin falling out of the side of the hole.  As holes were dug, sides and bottom were scanned continually with Treasure Mate probe.

Wheat penny dug from TWELVE INCHES with Tejon

No, the photo above was not staged.  This wheat penny was indeed found at a depth of approximately 12 inches with a Tesoro Tejon and its standard coil.  This was in June, 2006, near a gigantic old tree, in the front yard of an old house that had been demolished.  No, I do not know what business a wheat penny had in being that deep. No, the deep penny didn't fall from the side of the hole.  Finally, nobody is claiming that 12 inches represents a typical depth... your mileage may vary depending on skill and conditions.

The ion halo effect theory is based on very sound science.  Real-life experience also supports it. 

Make sure you fill in all your holes.  It's best to cut a plug that's hinged on one side, so you can fold it back neatly after replacing the soil.  Leave the place in as good a condition as you found it, and we'll all have more places to detect.

Even a Tiger Shark was able to find a couple of Barber dimes at 7+ inches (while detecting in the middle of a torrential downpour... waterproof units are great!), which was  well beyond its air-test range at the sensitivity I was using.  Certainly, the Explorer has found coins at impressive depths.  Nobody is contradicting the notion that the Explorer series are excellent detectors, as they should be for the price.  Please don't ever forget that when you read my articles, you're reading from someone who uses and enjoys Minelab detectors.

2.)  The whole point of the multi-frequency design of the Minelab Explorer series is that it gives them optimal depth with a wider range of soil conditions.  There are indeed some soil conditions under which a single-frequency VLF detector will give a poor showing.  Of course, a detector that has manual ground balancing might not have been balanced properly by its owner.   4.72 inches on a dime is pretty mediocre and speaks of incorrect ground balancing.  My Silver uMax can do better than that, and the Tejon is definitely better than the Silver uMax.  Is it better than Minelab?  Read the Shootout and decide for yourself.

3.)  That other detectorist's experiment, while interesting, still has the drawback of not being able to predict how a detector will respond to long-buried objects.  This was the very issue that I addressed in my own comparison.  

4.)  Consider that friend of yours, who keeps digging iron all day.  Did you ever stop to think, maybe he digs all that iron because he knows something you don't................? 

Now, without further ado, here it is:  
The Shootout!!!

The following is a comparison of two metal detectors that I've used pretty extensively.  I've posted this comparison to another forum a while ago, but now that I've put in more time on both machines, I am even more confident in my conclusions. 

When doing a side-by-side comparison of metal detectors, some people are tempted to say "Stan with detector X found more coins than Timmy with detector Y, therefore detector X is better".  If they were hitting different targets in different areas of the place, this kind of test tells us nothing!  

Passing it off as a scientific comparison would be committing an especially gross act of junk science.  Stan could have gotten very lucky and put his coil in just the right places that day, while Timmy might actually have the better detector but was having a bad day. 

Comparing two different brands of detector may be like comparing apples to oranges anyway, but in this case we're going to compare them as best we can.  We're going to make apples and oranges run exactly the same obstacle course and see how they compare.

The crux of the test is to use each detector to go over the same unknown target, record the results, then dig the target up and see what it is.  That's really the only meaningful way to test.

The way I test the machines is to tweak them for maximal depth while keeping them stable in the particular soil conditions.  You may notice the Explorer was not set to its absolute limit of sensitivity.  At least one technician at Minelab USA has told me that 24 actually gives the highest sensitivity for a lot of soil conditions.  I don't know if that's always true or not, but 24 is about as high as I can run the machine in the magnetite-rich soil where I hunt.  If you think a Minelab can never give false signals, you haven't hunted my favorite site.

THE PLACE:  An old fairground site.  This place was hunted heavily in the late 1980's and into the 90's.  Therefore, it does not have that many shallow targets, and nearly all of the remaining coins are at least 6 inches deep.  It is not an easy place to find something good.

THE DETECTORS were set up as follows:

SENS = 10
THRESH set low (not supertuned, because I like to trigger into All Metal sometimes)
Ground balance slightly positive
COIL was stock 9x8 concentric

Explorer XS:
SENS = 24 / Manual
GAIN = 7
SOUNDS = Ferrous
COIL was the stock 10.5" Double D

SOIL CONDITIONS:  A dark soil composed of organic matter, iron minerals (mostly magnetite), and clay minerals.  The dug soil becomes like wet cement after a good rain (fun!).  This time, the soil was moderately damp but not soaking wet.

THE TARGETS were unknown until they were actually dug!  This is the only way to do a scientifically valid test, because (1) freshly-buried targets will lack the ionization halo that takes years to form, and (2) knowing what the target is can bias the operator's interpretation of the signal. 

The ionization factor is especially great for iron targets;  a freshly-buried nail is not going to react to the metal detector's field the same way as if it's been buried for a hundred years.  (There is a well-known detecting site that attempts to disprove the "halo theory", but I believe their methodology was flawed.  They do have a very nice site, though.).

Now let's see what the detectors said and what the targets turned out to be:

Target 1.  Both detectors gave solid "DIG" signal.  The Minelab showed it in the area of the screen where I usually get Lincoln pennies- very consistent, did not bounce.  The tone was a very nice, fluty high tone with modulation.   The Tesoro gave solid tone even on DISC 2 ("Tabs"). 

What it was:  Not a Lincoln penny at all.  It was an iron ring or collar, thoroughly rusted, depth about 6-7 inches.  Its circular shape is probably why it registered so well.  There was nothing else in the hole.

Target 2.  Both detectors gave solid "DIG" signal.  Minelab showed it in the area where it could have been either a larger silver coin or a piece of magnetite (yes, I've dug magnetite with an Explorer... often).   The sound was a nice, fluty high tone with modulation.  The Tesoro gave a solid tone even on DISC 2.

What it was:  a 1911-D Barber Quarter at 7".   There was nothing else in the hole.

When I set out looking for something great, I rarely find it.  When I set out to do a comparison of two metal detectors, I find something great.  This is one of the best things I've ever found. 

I used to wonder how the guys in the treasure hunting magazines could nonchalantly find these great old coins during the course of their field tests, while I was struggling for months to find anything pre-1965. 

I think I understand now (why I hadn't been finding anything, that is).

Target 3.  The Minelab suggested there were 2 targets.  One of them showed in the silver zone.  It gave a high, fluty tone with modulation;  it sounded like a very good target.  The Tesoro gave a good but very LOUD signal that began to break up in DISC2 (which I usually keep just above "pulltabs")..  The Tesoro also led me to believe it was about 6 to 8 inches from where Minelab said it was. 

The Tesoro was right.

What it was:  A rusted piece of iron strap hinge.  The Minelab had me digging everywhere.  Even when I uncovered the hinge with the aid of the Tejón, the Explorer was still telling me there was a coin 6" or 8" away.  There wasn't.  After I took the hinge out of the hole, all signals went away.

Target 4.  The Minelab gave a super high tone with very little modulation (this is the "nail sound" that I've learned to avoid for the most part).   The cursor jumped from extreme upper left to extreme upper right, also suggesting nails.  According to the Minelab, this was a "NO DIG" signal.  The Tejon was still giving me a "DIG" signal, somewhat faint but very steady.

What it was:  A small brass air valve, from a bicycle or a very old car.  It was hiding among rusted nails.  Depth was about 6".


What This Comparison Didn't Do:  It didn't test the absolute depth limits of the detectors in the particular soil conditions.  Is the Explorer deeper than the Tejon?  I wouldn't say that. 

A good friend of mine is a die-hard Explorer fan.   I am a fan of both machines, but I really love the Tejon.  When he gets a faint signal on the Minelab, sometimes he asks me to come over and check it with my Tesoro.  The same signal will be also be faint on the Tesoro, but I'll detect it just as well as he will.  At first I think that surprised him, because I think he was hoping that a $1200 machine should thoroughly defeat a $600 machine.  Most people hope that, especially when they are intent on buying the $1200 machine. 

In fact, the deepest coins I've found so far have been with the Tejon.   You may not want to hear this.  Look, I'm not bashing Minelabs--  I love 'em and would recommend them to anyone with a sufficient budget-- but I'm going to put it to you this way:  the depth of these two machines is about equal under every circumstance I've tried.  In any given set of conditions, one might edge out the other.  Neither is "superior" for all sets of conditions.  I could go back over the same site, alternating between the two detectors on different days, and keep finding stuff.

There are some ways the Minelab Explorer beats the Tejon, but a brand new Explorer costs a lot more than a brand new Tejon (UPDATE:  in 2013, Minelab offers the Safari and the E-Trac, but no more Explorer.  Both cost significantly more than a Tejon).  If you're looking at a new Tejon or a used Explorer XS, now I'd say it's a toss up, because now the prices are more in line with one another.  Both will find dime-sized targets at 8 to 9 inches pretty reliably, unless you're doing something wrong.  The new Tejon has a great warranty (lifetime, in fact) that the used Explorer just ain't gonna have.

If you plan to hunt coins buried deeper than 10 inches on a routine basis, forget both machines and save your money for a Nexus.  (Actually I haven't heard much about these lately... not sure if they're still being made.)

You might find the occasional coin at 12 inches with either the Tejon or the Explorer.  These extremely deep finds do happen.  I found a wheat cent at 11 1/2 inches (update:  it was closer to 12;  I just dug up the photo I'd taken on that day... it's posted on this page now)  and a Jefferson nickel at 10 inches with the Tejon.  That's very impressive, considering most other VLF detectors max out around 6 or 7 inches on coins this size.   Some Explorer users have reported coin finds at ridiculous depths (16-18 inches), but where I hunt, a dime begins to sound faint on the Explorer at 8 inches.   That's not to say an Explorer can't do those super depths if the conditions are right, it's just that it requires a lot of experience, perfect ground conditions, and optimum machine setup.  Besides, a quarter or a half is easier to detect than a dime.

Some relic hunters have reported Minie ball finds at 18 inches with the Tejon.  I cannot yet  vouch for this from experience, but they are probably telling the truth.  At such depths the sound won't be so much a "beep" as it will a faint "click".   The other thing to remember about the Tejon is that these extreme depths are best achieved on mid-conductive targets such as lead, brass, bronze, nickel, and gold.    The Tejon's designers intended it to be a relic hunting machine first and foremost.  Silver coins may not register as strongly as bronze or bullets at the outer limits of the Tejon's depth;  however, I do know that a lot of Brits swear by the Tejon for hunting those thin, hammered silver coins from the Middle Ages.  Most of those register somewhere in the Aluminum Foil range anyway.

Finding coins at over 10 inches requires ideal ground conditions for either machine.  Most of the sites you hunt won't be ideal.  I read a booklet from the early 1980's that claimed people were finding small targets at up to 22 inches deep with the detectors of their day.   By "small" I take it they meant "Volkswagen bus".  Actually, in all-metal mode, the detectors of the 1980's had pretty good depth.  If you don't mind digging everything that makes a sound, you can find deep targets with a vintage metal detector. 

Putting It All Together

he test results suggest that both the Explorer and the Tejon are excellent, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Notice that I don't list lack of a visual target ID (TID) as a "con" for the Tejon. 

Tejón pros
• Great depth
• Light weight
• Analog knobs are easy to adjust on-the-fly
• Precise pinpointing
• Good at picking out small targets among nails

Tejón cons
• Learning the subtleties of one-frequency audio takes a lot of practice
• Can be fooled by iron targets sometimes
• Manual ground balancing may need readjustment as you hunt

Explorer pros
• Great depth
• Tone ID
• DD coil included standard - covers more ground per sweep
• Display screen and programmability
• Automatically deals with ground mineralization

Explorer cons
• Heavy weight
• Can be fooled by iron targets sometimes (even Tone ID and Display will give false indications)
• Pinpointing difficult (especially if there is rusty iron or multiple targets near each other)
• The XS model has very slow threshold recovery (improved in the II and SE models)

Some dealers claim the Explorer can mask out iron completely.  This absolutely not true.  There is not a metal detector in existence that can distinguish 100% of the time between a good target and a piece of iron that has built up a large halo in the ground.  Go back and read that sentence one more time.

If something shows up in the "coin" area of the screen and makes a nice, high, fluty tone, you're going to detect it even if running Discrim or Iron Mask at a high level.   In other words, circular iron can come along and fool your discrim / iron mask. 

The Explorer SE reportedly has better iron discrimination than the II or the XS, but I doubt it's magical.  There is always going to be that piece of badly corroded iron that has just the right characteristics to give the "high fluty tone" of a coin.  Someone on the treasure forums recently unearthed a Civil War revolver (!!!) in an area full of horseshoes.  Maybe you shouldn't ignore those iron signals after all (even if it were possible).

One more thing... it just occurred to me that someone could buy a Tejon and a Silver umax for less than it would cost for an Explorer SE.  That's two detectors for less than the other would cost.  Not that you shouldn't buy an SE... they're awesome units... but people who get crazy about metal detectors start to think in terms of "how many [decent] detectors can I squeeze into my budget".  Just an interesting thought to consider.

Help Me Out, Support This Site

Plus:   Tips on What To Buy

If you enjoyed this article and are in the market for a Tesoro Tejon, please use this link (or the one at the bottom of the page) to buy yours.  It helps support this site so I can continue to bring you free content.   I specialize in no-nonsense reviews, so you can have the information you need to make an informed buying decision.

You can still pick up a used Minelab Explorer XS on the 'bay.  (Here again:  use any of these links to buy your gear, and it helps me keep this site going.)  My advice:  Don't pay more than $350 to $400 an Explorer XS in good working condition, unless it comes with accessory coils.  If so, look for ones already mounted on separate shafts.  For an XS without extra coils, I'd lean toward the $350 side of things, or lower if possible.

Here's my reasoning.  It's 2013 now, and Minelab no longer supports the XS.  I double-checked to make sure.  They don't have replacement PCB's or keypads for it, which means if your XS fails, it's done.  Consider that when shopping for one.   A highly-computerized machine that can't be repaired is kind of risky;  there's just too much to go wrong.  (When I bought my used XS years ago, I actually had to send it back to Minelab for repairs almost right away.)  If I wanted a Minelab now, I'd either buy a used Explorer SE or else I'd just save up and get the E-TRAC brand new (keep reading). 

As of 2013, the Minelab E-TRAC has replaced the Explorer series. 
My 'tectin buddy who first borrowed my Explorer now has an E-TRAC, and he loves that thing as much as I love my Tejon.  You can pick up a new E-TRAC through this link;  they're currently about $1,549.  If you like tone-ID machines, this is as good as it gets.  The E-TRAC's primary advantage over the previous models is its high stability, which can help you get at the deep silver.   It's not a more powerful machine, though.  We're back to the fact that consumer-grade metal detectors are all limited by FCC rules.  They are not allowed to have more than a certain amount of power.  The depth increases are all a result of fancy circuitry, improved processing, faster threshold recovery, and that sort of thing.  In a way, that makes it more of an interesting competition, because anyone can "cheat" by putting more power to the coil, but the real talent is in designing a better detector within the rules.

A more affordable E-TRAC alternative is the Minelab Safari (brand new, currently $999 here), though be advised that the Safari does not have "Ferrous" sounds.  As a fan of the Explorer series, I'd really want those Ferrous sounds, but if you start out with a Safari and never get accustomed to that feature, you might never miss it.  If you want to hunt nail-infested places like I described in this article, though, I'd highly recommend the Etrac. 

Based on what I learned in the Explorer vs. Tejon shootout, the Tesoro Tejon is still my personal favorite, and I think it stands up well against any "digital" metal detector, as long as it's in the hands of a competent user.   When it came down to making the tough choice, I had to sell off my Explorer to pay some bills.  I kept the Tejon.   You'd better believe I wish I still had the Explorer also, but when it mattered most, I chose the Tejon and I would choose it again.

I think the analog metal detectors like the Tejon actually provide more "sport", as it were, because you're placing more reliance on your own skills than on a computer.  These detectors with their knobs are at the same time simple and sophisticated.

What's really cool about metal detectors is that you can have two radically different approaches to design, and yet both of them are strong performers.  

Thanks for reading, and happy metal detecting!



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