How to choose the right metal detector
Five things to consider
There are five basic questions to ask when investing in a good metal detector.
1. How much do I want to invest?
Good entry-level detectors start at about $225.00. Cheaper models can be found, but they require a lot more digging because they don't discriminate (screen) out iron very well or tell the depth of types of metal accurately. Also, the coils are smaller so their depth capability is less, normally 4 - 6" versus 6 - 10" or deeper that is typical as coils progress from the 8" size to 10" or larger.
Many beginners start with a Garrett Ace 250 or Fisher F2 because they are easy to learn and provide many features usually found on more expensive detectors. For a few hundred dollars, one can try the hobby for a summer, and, if it doesn't work out, upgrade to a larger coil, or sell the detector on eBay or Craigslist for close to the original price.
For increased depth, better iron discrimination, and more accurate target pin-pointing, price points between 500 and 700 dollars are the norm. The popular Garrett AT Pro, for example, starts at $595.00, and the Fisher F5 with a DD coil is about $550.00. Whites brand offers many mid-level price points, mainly for coin-shooting machines.
For experienced metal detecting hobbyists, models start at about a thousand dollars, and peak out around the three-thousand dollar range, such as Minelab's CTX 3030. There are more expensive models, but they are designed more for professionals than hobbyists. Coins, rings, and occasional artifacts are the hobbyist's targets, whereas professionals detect for a living and typically look for more lucrative finds such as caches and large meteorites.
2. What do I want to find?
Most hobbyists are looking for small, round metal objects such as coins, rings, and tokens, so this is what hobby-level detector electronics are designed to isolate. If you are looking for large artifacts, that opens up a higher level of legal implications, costs, and equipment. So, read my Hub Page article on metal detecting genres before proceeding. There isn't enough time left in life to do them all because there is simply too much metal in the ground. Make a choice and stick with it for a while, and let your metal detecting hobby evolve naturally. You will gravitate toward what fits your interests as you learn, especially if you join a metal detecting club.
3. How hard do I want to think?
I have purchased top-of-the-line programmable detectors only to find out that I don't have the patience to learn all the bells and whistles. I want to find treasure right away without spending two-years reading forums, learning technical information, and continually re-programming my machine.
Don't worry about learning to ground balance your detector. It's easy to learn and only takes a few minutes to do. I would rather not use a pre-balanced detector because I've found more with models such as the AT Pro. I can adjust it for different soil conditions and instantly see improved results.
If you are a technical geek and don't mind putting in the hours to tinker, buy a programmable machine and customize away. If you're not, don't invest in something that will end up in a closet corner gathering dust. Be honest with yourself.
4. How much do I want to dig?
Metal detecting is like gardening. There is a lot of digging, stooping, and bending. If you dislike digging, then buy a better detector so you know what's probably there before digging it. Get a machine with good discrimination, good depth, accurate pin-pointing, and the ability to differentiate types of metal. Remember, the bigger the coil, the deeper it detects, but the dirt has to me moved.
And, buy a good pin-pointer. That will save 70% of your digging. I like the Garrett Pro-pointer for land and the Vibra-probe for water.
5. How long of a warranty do I want?
No detector lasts forever, especially if it's designed for water. Water will find its way into it eventually. Hopefully it will have paid for itself ten times over by then. Protect your investment in your metal detecting "tools." Coils will wear out unless scuff covers are put on them. The ground, sand, rocks all wear away the plastic until the wires are exposed.
Tesoro warranties are lifetime. Fisher's are five years. Most brands offer two-year warranties. I have owned most brands, and can say they have all been good on service. But, it costs a lot to get something fixed once the warranty expires. If you are the type that craves security, buy a Tesoro. I have a 12-year old model that part of the support stand broke off of last week. No problem! I will just call it in.