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What's the Best Starter Metal Detector for Beginners?

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Matt is a professional painter who enjoys fishing and metal detecting on the weekend for old coins and rings.

This guide will help beginners choose a great starter metal detector.

This guide will help beginners choose a great starter metal detector.

Choosing the Best Beginner Metal Detector

Anyone with a curious imagination and an interest in history will enjoy getting into the hobby of metal detecting. Whether you're on a quest to find rings, coins, Civil War relics, or jewelry at the beach, you never know what you might find, and that's why I love the hobby.

With a good metal detector, you can find old coins and lost relics in almost any historical place where people have congregated. One of the best places to go metal detecting is on private property around old homes and old swimming holes. I've found silver coins and relics in my own yard, old parks, and abandoned house sites, and on private property permissions.

Metal detecting isn't a cheap hobby, but you don't have to spend a fortune either as a beginner. I started off using a digging shovel from the garage and a cheap metal detector someone gave me before upgrading my gear.

How much money you spend on this hobby depends on the type of treasure hunting you want to do (land/water) and what you want to find, but a good quality detector will feature more useful settings and enhanced search coil depth.

If you want to find cool stuff and minimize the garbage finds—and believe me, you're going to find plenty of garbage—plan on spending at least $200 for a decent detector with a good search coil capable of finding coins. The detector should have settings to allow for better target identification.

Before I give my recommendations for good metal detectors for beginners, I'll give you some pointers on what to look for when making your choice.

Settings for Iron and Trash

Low-quality metal detectors lack settings to null out iron and other trash signals, which means the detector will be really noisy and difficult to use in trashy areas like a park. A good metal detector includes settings to eliminate iron tones so you can program the machine to ignore those sounds and hear only the good signals for coins and rings.

A super cheap detector will also perform poorly in soil with high mineral content. The machine will chatter a lot, lose depth, and give false signals, which is really annoying. Trust me, the hand-me-down detector I started out with was terrible. A quality metal detector will allow you to ground balance the search coil so you can maximize depth and stabilize the machine.

Do You Want to Metal Detect Underwater?

If you don't plan on doing any metal detecting in the water then all you need is a good detector for land use only. These typically cost less than all-terrain detectors. Not all metal detectors are 100% waterproof. On some land models, the search coil might be submersible but not the control box or the stock headphones, and if you accidentally drop them into the water, or it starts raining suddenly, you'll ruin your gear.

If you want to go treasure hunting on land and in the water, buy an all-terrain metal detector like I did, but make sure you choose the right type of machine for the water type. Some detectors perform poorly in saltwater but work fine in freshwater. Depth capability is important to know, too, because some machines have limits before damage can occur. The one I use is submersible to a maximum depth of ten feet.

Notching Out Targets

Another useful feature that some models include is a target notch-out setting. Let's say you're metal detecting a trashy park, and you only have a couple of hours. With a limited time window, you want to avoid trash and find as many high tone coin signals as possible. Similar to programming out iron, like I explained earlier, you have the ability to program the search coil to ignore everything except the target ID numbers you want.

This feature is very useful for finding coins in trashy old parks. Although it does reduce search depth, it comes in handy, especially when you're short on time.

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Ground Balancing

Buying a machine with ground balancing is a must. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about minerals and iron in the ground. Without ground balancing, the detector will be unstable and chatter constantly.

Ground balancing stabilizes the search coil and prevents false signals. The super cheap metal detector I started out with didn't have any ground balancing. When you ground balance, you maximize search coil depth and accuracy too.

You don't need a super expensive metal detector to start digging into the hobby.

You don't need a super expensive metal detector to start digging into the hobby.

The Best Metal Detectors for Beginners

If you're totally new to this hobby, you don't have to spend a lot of money on a fancy metal detector to find coins and jewelry in the ground, but as I've explained in this article, cheap metal detectors ($50 to $100) lack many important and useful features that make it possible to find more coins and jewelry and less trash.

The cheap detector that was given to me was horrible. I don't even remember the brand, but it wasn't long before I threw it in the garbage and bought a good one that I still use to this day. You can find good metal detectors with submersible search coils in the $250 to $500 price range.

If you're on a budget, land-only machines with submersible search coils cost less than all-terrain, but if you plan to do any serious treasure hunting in the water, it's worth spending a little more on a water-proof model that allows the control box to be submerged.

Here are my two recommendations for good beginner metal detectors and the one I personally use.

Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector

I own and use the Garrett AT Pro metal detector for all of my treasure hunting. It is the only detector I currently own. I bought it in 2017, and it still performs the same as it did the day I unboxed it. The AT Pro is a great option for both beginners and experienced treasure hunters who want to go search on land and in the water. This metal detector is a coin magnet. That is mostly what I metal detect for. The settings are easy to learn and allow any beginner to start finding coins at the local park or even in your own back yard.

The AT Pro coil and control box is submersible down to ten feet. I've made some awesome finds with this machine on land and in the water, including many silver coins, rings, and interesting relics. I've recovered larger metal targets over 12-inches deep.

At $400, the price is fair for a detector equipped with the depth and similar features found on high-end machines that cost three times the price. My personal experience with their customer service department was also very positive when I called with a few questions.

Garrett Ace 300 Metal Detector

The Ace 300 is a good alternative to the pricier AT Pro if you want a cheaper option for coin hunting and don't care about having a completely waterproof unit. The search coil can still go underwater, but not the control box. The Ace 300 costs $250 and displays target ID numbers on the control screen, unlike the cheaper Ace 200 that does not.

This metal detector is great for kids getting into the hobby. If you only want a detector to play around with on occasion, it's really all you need. Protective covers for the search coil and control box are included too, which wasn't the case with my more expensive AT Pro, unless that has changed.

The reason I recommend the AT Pro over the Ace 300 is if you'll want to do water hunting in deeper water where you might need to submerge the control box. The search coil is also better, as well as the control box read-out speed. There is also the newer Garrett AT Max, which I haven't used, but is supposed to come with some features that the AT Pro lacks. I know detectors from companies like Fisher and Minelab are also popular, but my experience is limited to Garrett.

You may not find a whole chest of buried treasure, but what you do find might still surprise you.

You may not find a whole chest of buried treasure, but what you do find might still surprise you.

© 2019 Matt G.

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