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Are you a looking for a fun metal detector for a child who likes to “hunt” for buried treasure?
Or perhaps you’re a hobbyist who would enjoy scanning the ground for lost pocket change, jewelry, and other trinkets.
If so, our shortlist of top metal detectors can help you find what you need.
Our metal detector review focuses on a range of machines that would suit many different owners, from curious kids to adult beginners to dyed-in-the-wool hobbyists. All are affordable, and all deliver an excellent value for the money.
At BestReviews, we do not accept “free” products from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do. We also interview experts, pore over product research, and consult owners to learn their opinions of different products.
Bill has been a hardware store owner, locksmith, and general home repair guru for over 40 years. His ability to solve problems and repair every item in every situation is a true gift. In his spare time, you may find Bill working in his garden, tending to his perfectly manicured lawn, or riding his bike.
When we've finished testing, we donate our test products to charities and other non-profit organizations. Because of the effort we put into our reviews, we feel confident that you’ll benefit from our honest reports.
Please see our product matrix, above, for our top recommendations in the metal detector field.
And please continue reading this shopping guide if you’d like to learn more about metal detectors.
A discriminator is a small device inside a metal detector that helps you discern between a 200-year-old cache of gold and a five-year-old aluminum can. The discriminator compares your “hunting” results to the reaction times of known metal samples. It then displays the matching metal type.
Most consumer-grade metal detectors use an older technology called VLF (very low frequency) detection. A VLF metal detector uses two related forces, electricity and magnetism, to generate an audible signal when something is detected.
A metal detector's circular base contains two wire coils: a larger transmitter coil and a smaller receiver coil. When the user activates the detector and begins a sweep, the electricity from the battery flows into the outer transmitter coil, creating a ground-penetrating electromagnetic field. Any metal object that receives this electromagnetic charge becomes “excited” at an atomic level. In a sense, the outer transmitter coil creates a magnetic “glow” around metal objects.
Once the transmitter has “excited” any metallic objects in the ground, a smaller receiver coil takes over. This coil looks for any changes in the charged ground's magnetic field. Metal objects send out a second magnetic current in reaction to the transmitter coil's energy. This change in magnetic polarity is what the receiver coil actually detects. A signal is sent to a loudspeaker, which issues a tone based on the characteristics and strength of the charged metal.
A metal detector emits different sounds to convey messages about the treasures it has found. Louder tones denote depth, while changes in pitch often denote the type of metal.
Many high-end metal detectors also contain a microprocessor-controlled analyzer known as a discriminator. A discriminator compares the signals sent by the receiver coil to the known signals of various metals. For example, the typical gold signal is noticeably different than the typical aluminum signal.
A discriminator can be set to squelch signals from common “junk” metals, such as steel and aluminum. This allows the user to concentrate on more valuable metals that could be lurking underground, such as gold and silver.
Valuable metals such as gold and silver have different electromagnetic properties than “junk” metals such as iron, tin, and aluminum. A quality metal detector's discriminator filters out common metal hits electronically, allowing only hits from possible gold or silver sources.
The models on our shortlist offer various search parameters based on their intended audience. After all, a child searching for quarters on the beach has different needs than an adult treasure hunter in the field.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating different products:
Although a discriminator can reduce “junk metal” hits, it can also limit discovery of metallic historical items. Detecting sessions combine archeological discoveries and trash collection, so you may want to keep your options open.
Some metal detectors are completely waterproof. For example, the Garrett Pro Pointer can be submerged up to 10 feet.
Others have waterproof coils but can’t be completely submerged, such as the Ace 250, Bounty Hunter TK4, and Bounty Hunter Time Ranger. Users should never submerge the electronic parts of these devices.
Arguably the most important thing about a metal detector’s coil size is the amount of ground you can cover. The challenge with small coils is that if you sweep too quickly, you could miss things. Larger coils help to eliminate this.
If you’re interested in accuracy, the Bounty Hunter Time Ranger Metal Detector could be just what you need. Two coils are provided: an eight-inch model for general purposes and a four-inch "Gold Nugget" coil that provides a more focused search for smaller objects. (It's not designed for gold specifically.)
Bounty Hunter’s TK4 provides one coil (also eight inches) instead of two.
Hope for treasure but expect to find trash. Keep your goals realistic, and don't be disappointed if you have a bad day — or a run of them. Keep persevering!
When it comes to informational displays and other features, big differences exist among the metal detectors on today’s market. When considering a purchase, look for these special features. Granted, some of them may not appeal to you, but it’s nice to know what you’re buying into.
Your metal detector will beep frequently. If you’re interested in controlling the volume, you’ll want a volume knob. Notably, the Ace 250 on our shortlist does not have this feature. In spite of this, it’s one of our favorites.
Your metal detector needs regular maintenance. Lubricate the wires, brush dirt off of the joints, and clean it with fresh water after long hunts.
Metal detecting is a somewhat noisy hobby. If you’d rather keep your business to yourself, look for a detector with a headphone jack. Some products include headphones, too.
If you opt for either Bounty Hunter product on our list in the form of a kit (as opposed to the lone metal detector), a pair of headphones is included. Notably, the price of a complete kit is higher than the price of a lone detector.
In "Sniff" mode, the Time Ranger can be set to ignore a particular type of metal object that frequently gives false positives (such as loose bottle tops). Other manufacturers refer to this feature as “custom notching.”
Many metal detectors offer a range of sensitivities, which you can adjust to filter out junk and focus on what you’re looking for.
The frequency at which a metal detector operates reflects its ability to discriminate between wanted and unwanted metals. If you’re looking for gold, you will probably want a higher-frequency detector.
This feature gives you the ability to “tune out” interference from natural metals in the soil (like iron).
Notching is a lot like discrimination in that it allows the user to filter out some unwanted results. The Ace 250 and both Bounty Hunters on our list offer a notching feature.
You don’t need a special license to own a metal detector. However, as a hobbyist, it’s important to know the general rules and regulations that apply to metal detector use.
Some cities allow amateur metal detectors to search public properties such as fairgrounds, city parks, and beaches. It may (or may not) be possible for you to keep what you discover. In either case, the ground must be returned to its original condition.
Some states require hobbyists to register before searching public properties. The laws on public metal detecting vary from state to state, so be sure to consult your local government agency before searching for treasure on public property.
If you’re to search private property with your metal detector, the owner of the property must first give permission. The owner can add conditions to your use of his/her land, such as ownership rights or time limits.
If the private property you search can be claimed as protected land under an antiquities law, it’s illegal to remove any items from the site.
Penalties for violating these laws and restrictions can range from a stern warning to thousands of dollars in fines. We urge amateur metal detectors to do some research and obtain all pertinent clearances before starting a search on any private or city-owned property.
Antiquities laws trump most property rights when it comes to the removal of metals and other objects of value.
With all of these rules and limitations, you may be wondering where you can actually use your metal detector lawfully. In truth, there are still a number of locations open to hobbyists. The key is to find places where people have actually lived, worked, or played. Consider these areas:
Old home sites
Note: Some states allow metal detection on sandy beach areas between the water and the dune line. Others require searchers to obtain special permission before gaining access to state parks and bodies of water.
Places like fairgrounds, parks, sport fields, picnic spots, and schoolyards can be very rewarding for metal hunters, as they are very likely to have bits and bobs left behind by the crowds. If you are looking for silver coins or relics, try your luck at “old” and “historical” areas. Beaches are a treasure trove and regularly yield jewelry, coins, and the like.
If you're going treasure hunting, you need a machine that's comfortable for you to use over the long haul. Look for these features to find the most ergonomically sound metal detector for you:
The length of some metal detectors can be adjusted based on the arm size of the user.
How much does the metal detector of your choice weigh? It may seem like a small matter, but if you’re planning to spend an afternoon waving the detector around, you’ll probably want something that doesn’t strain you.
The Bounty Hunter Time Ranger Metal Detector is notably heavy, and there are those who think that the included arm brace – a necessity, given the device's weight – could be improved upon.
Private owners of historical property may be willing to grant access to respectful hobbyists who agree to hand over any objects they find.
There are cheap metal detectors and not-so-cheap metal detectors. In this section, we evaluate each product on our shortlist and examine what you get for the price.
The Ace 250 is manufactured by Garrett, the maker of the Pro Pointer on our shortlist. This is an excellent company with a good reputation for quality. The ACE 250 sits near the top of our list in terms of sensitivity. Many owners have found silver coins, bottle caps, loose change, and other treasures with it. That said, those same owners have also found their share of trash: rusty nails, aluminum cans, torn shreds of iron. But as any hobbyist knows, that’s the nature of the activity.
The Ace 250 isn’t cheap at $0. The coil can be submerged in water, but the electronic parts would be ruined if they got wet. (You could get a decent metal detector, such as the waterproof Garrett Pro Pointer which submerges up to 10 feet, for less money.) Chances are you won’t recoup the purchase price of the Ace 250, but you’ll have fun searching. And you never know; one owner told us that his Ace 250 helped him find about $750 in coins along a river bank.
A metal object doesn't necessarily have to be magnetic in order to become charged by the electromagnetic field the detector generates.
The all sun Junior Metal Detector, at a cost of just $28, would likely appeal to parents who want to give their child the experience of metal detecting without spending a lot of money. This is definitely not a toy that most adult hobbyists would relish, but children under the age of eight would likely love it.
Why do we say that adults wouldn’t love it? We’ve heard of owners who were unable to find hidden property stakes with it, as well as some who had difficult digging up loose coins. Then again, other owners — most of whom bought this for their children — say that it’s the perfect toy for a day at the beach or an exciting “field trip” to the park.
We’ve included this metal detector on our list because it’s quite a hit with parents of small children. That said, we have not labeled it our Best Bang for Your Buck in spite of its $28 price. The reason: it’s too basic. Most adults would want something with more sensitivity, and to get that, you need to spend at least as much as you would on the Bounty Hunter TK4, our Best Bang for Your Buck product.
Want to try metal detecting on the cheap? Consider investing in a highly inexpensive detector like the all sun Junior Metal Detector and upgrade to a more precise machine in the future.
If you’re looking for a waterproof metal detector, the $127 Garrett Pro Pointer is a terrific option. It’s designed for people who want to search pond/lake/sea floors for nuggets and treasures, although potential buyers should realize that it should be submerged no deeper than 10 feet. Owners like the three sensitivity levels, the unit’s bright orange color (easier to see underwater), and the short amount of time it takes to pinpoint objects. In fact, many say they’d use nothing but a Garrett Pro Pointer because it does its job two to three times faster than metal detectors from other manufacturers.
On the downside, we did encounter some durability complaints about this unit. Those who had a disappointing experience with a brand new Garrett tended to say that it lasted just a month and then gave out. We urge all buyers to register for Garrett’s two-year limited warranty. The registration form can be found on Garrett’s website.
The Garrett Pro Pointer is waterproof up to 10 feet, so if you plan to take it on vacation, there are no worries if a child takes it off the beach and into the shallow part of the sea.
At only $79,the Bounty Hunter TK4 is probably best suited for young kids and those who want only to dabble in the hobby. Although the manufacturer claims that it detects treasure in “extreme ground conditions,” some owners say that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In fact, one owner said his detector couldn’t find things much deeper than one inch. In spite of occasional complaints like this, we’ve heard a lot of rave reviews about the TK4. It’s a top seller among consumers for several reasons. First of all, it’s not terribly expensive. In fact, its simplicity is a draw for some people. Second, it shares great features with high-end metal detectors that may help you find a good haul, such as its two-tone audio and discrimination modes.
Burial grounds and national reserves are off-limits to metal detectors, as decreed by state and federal law.
The Bounty Hunter Time Ranger costs $180. That's a significant step up from the TK4 from the same manufacturer, so the question is, what do you get for the extra money? The answer: predictability of results and saved time. It takes a couple of hours to learn the Time Ranger's multitude of functions, but chances are high that you'll do a lot less junk digging and a lot more finding things of actual value! Owners think it's made well, and they rave about the LCD's wealth of information. Comfort could be improved, and some find this model overly complex, but beginners and intermediate users rate this metal detector very highly.
We’re impressed with Bounty Hunter as a manufacturer of top-quality metal detectors, and we have no problem declaring it as we see it: the Bounty Hunter Time Ranger is the Best of the Best.
Metal detection takes time and patience. It can take up to six months to figure out all the settings on your metal detector and to find the best stomping grounds.
Before you go treasure hunting, be sure to understand the correct settings and capabilities of your metal detector. Read through the manual and research online, if needed.
Like golf, metal detectors require a proper swing to work well. Swing your detector slowly from side to side, keeping it as close to the ground as possible — but make sure it does not touch the ground.
Similar to having the right digging tools, your choice of clothing is important when you’re on a hunt. Wear comfortable clothes that are appropriate for the weather, knee pads to protect your knees when you have to dig, shoes that help you wade through terrain, and gloves for your hands so you don't get them dirty or cut yourself when scooping up soil.
Educate yourself on the local laws regarding metal detecting before you start. That way, you know which areas are permissible and what kind of digging is allowed. Remember, even public areas may not allow metal detecting if they have landscaping that could be damaged.
Q: How deep will a typical metal detector penetrate the ground?
A: The answer to this question depends largely on the detector's make and model, but in general, the average detector can find larger pieces of metal 12 to 16 inches below the surface. Deeper searches would require a more powerful device, such as a ground-penetrating radar.
Q: Do I need a special kind of metal detector to hunt for gold?
A: While most metal detectors can detect the presence of gold in a general sweep, many discriminators have difficulty tuning out other metal signatures. This is why dedicated gold hunters often purchase a special metal detector designed to “listen” specifically for smaller gold fragments.
Q: Metal detecting seems very straightforward to me. What do the pros know that I don't?
A: For one thing, experienced hobbyists and professionals use several different types of sweeping and search patterns, not just a simple back-and-forth or up-and-down motion. Through experience and mastery, they can tell the difference between valuable metal hits and “trash” hits by the subtle changes in signal tones. Mastering the art of metal detection takes time, patience, and practice.