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What's the Best Starter Metal Detector for Beginners?


Matt is a professional painter who enjoys fishing and metal detecting for old coins and relics.

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 a love for the outdoors will enjoy getting into the hobby of metal detecting. Similar to fishing, you never know exactly what you might find, and that's why I love both hobbies.

With a good metal detector, you can find old coins and lost relics in almost any historical place where people have congregated. Since buying my metal detector, I've made interesting finds on my own property, parks, abandoned house sites, and at private home permissions. I mostly search for old coins.

Metal detecting isn't the cheapest hobby to get into, but you don't have to spend a fortune either as a beginner. I started off using a regular shovel as my digger before eventually buying more accessories.

How much money you spend on this hobby depends on the type of detecting you want to do (land/water) and what you want to find, as well as how serious you are about it.

When I first began metal detecting, I was already very interested in the hobby, watching hundreds of YouTube videos for several months, figuring out what I could afford to buy as a beginner.

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.

Before I provide my recommendations for good metal detectors for beginners, I'll explain some different features and things to consider to help you make the best choice.

Iron Discrimination

A super cheap, low-quality metal detector, usually won't have the technology to null out iron signals, which means the detector will be really noisy and difficult to use in trashy areas when searching for old coins or jewelry. With iron discrimination, you can adjust the settings so the machine ignores some, or all, of the iron signals so it's easier to hear the faint high tones of potential coins and relics.

In addition, a low-quality machine will perform poorly in soil with high mineral content. The machine will chatter a lot, lose depth, and give false signals, which is really annoying. A quality metal detector will have good ground balancing and settings that allow you to ignore ground minerals and iron so you dig less trash.

Metal Detecting Land vs. Water

Not all machines are 100% waterproof or even waterproof at all. The search coil might be submersible but not the control box or the stock headphones, and if you accidentally drop them into the water, you could ruin your gear in a flash. Knowing whether you want to primarily detect on land, water, or both makes it easier to find the best gear for your needs.

If you plan to do mostly water hunts, it's important to buy a machine known for performing well in your specific water conditions, whether it's salt or freshwater. Some detectors perform poorly in saltwater, but work fine in freshwater, including the one I use. Additionally, some machines can only be used underwater down to a certain depth. Deepwater hunting requires the use of specialized gear designed for that purpose.

Notching Out Targets

Some metal detectors have another form of iron discrimination that allows you to not only notch out iron, but also any other signal you want. I use the notch out feature when I have very limited time, and I don't want to waste it digging up foil and pull tabs.

With this feature, you can adjust the settings so you'll only hear signals in the target ID range selected. So if you only want to find quarters, for example, you can do that. This feature works awesome in old trashy parks when you want to bypass garbage and laser in on the good stuff (deep silver coins).

Ground Balancing

Buying a machine with ground balancing is a must. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier in this article about minerals and iron in the ground. Without ground balancing, the machine will sound off at every metal object, including soil with too many minerals in it.

Ground balancing eliminates chatter and false signals. I owned a cheap $100 detector a long time ago, and it was basically useless because it didn't have any ground balancing. When you ground balance the machine, the search coil becomes stabilized, ignoring minerals in the soil. This also maximizes depth so you're not passing over good targets without a sound.

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, the best detector is an affordable one designed for the type of treasure hunting you want to do. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, cheap metal detectors ($50 to $100) lack many important features that are very useful for reducing trash finds, and a beginner is more likely to get frustrated and quit the hobby without them.

When I got into this hobby, I didn't want to spend a lot of money on something I wasn't totally sure I'd be happy with. You can find good metal detectors with submersible search coils in the $250 to $500 price range.

If you're on a budget, machines with submersible search coils cost a little less than all-terrain ones where the coil and the control box be submerged. All-terrain metal detectors offer the best of both worlds though, without the worry of potentially damaging your gear if it starts raining, or if you drop it into the water.

I'll provide a couple of recommendations for beginners based on my own experience in the hobby.

Garrett AT Pro Metal Detector

I own and use the Garrett AT Pro metal detector exclusively, which is a good choice for beginners wanting an all-terrain machine for coins and relics. The settings are easy to learn and allow any beginner to start making finds on land, or in the water, without the big learning curve of a complex machine.

The AT Pro is completely 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.

The AT Pro is a silver coin magnet when ground balanced and used correctly, and at $400, the price is fair for a detector equipped with the depth and 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 had a problem with a defective search coil on the first model I received. After making one phone call, Garrett shipped a replacement unit to me immediately, no questions asked.

Garrett Ace 300 Metal Detector

The Ace 300 is a good alternative to the 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's changed.

The only reason I'd 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.

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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