The 3 Types of Metal Detectors Explained


Metal detecting is a useful activity and often performed for various reasons. You can search locations like old farmsteads, parks, beaches, and underwater areas like lakes, oceans, and rivers, for coins and relics, or gold. The ground also hides many objects that are not valuable but have a historical nature to them. Sometimes finding these different hidden items will require a specific metal detector.

The three main types of metal detectors used in finding these treasures include (PI) Pulse Induction detector, (VLF) Very Low-Frequency detector, and specialty detectors.

When I first went to buy my own metal detector I had never heard of any of those terms.  I just knew I didn’t want a cheap $200 “beginner’s metal detector” and I didn’t want a very expensive $1,500+ detector. I wanted something midrange around $600~$800 that was a good all-around detector that would get me started. After looking around I found the Garrett AT Pro, it wasn’t top of the line, but it wasn’t cheap either.

It was very simple to use and learn as I got started, and it was very versatile, and waterproof up to 10 feet underwater. It is excellent at finding any type of metal, coins, rings, and jewelry, but I learned last year that if you want to find actual pure gold nuggets with this detector, you are out of luck.  As a test, I could not find a small gold nugget buried in an inch or two of sand. I learned very quickly that is why there are such things as specialty detectors that are designed to look for gold. That day I tried out the White’s GoldMaster GMT 24k, which was complete night and day when it came to trying to hunt for gold up at a gold mining claim here in Idaho.

That is when I learned that my AT Pro could find a gold ring just fine, but could NOT find gold nuggets at all.  That is when I started my research into what all these different types of metal detectors were all about.  With a proper metal detector, it is not hard to discover and locate such items despite the fact they might be covered with sand or different types of soil. How will you know what type of metal detector you will need? I hope to cover that in detail here for you.

Very Low-Frequency Metal Detector

Very-low-frequency (VLF) metal detectors are the most common on the market. The popularity of that type of device is based on different factors. Such metal detectors are good for beginners and hobbyists who do not have any special requirements when it comes to what they want to look for. It is good to mention very-low-frequency devices are not the best you can find on the market, so the performance of these is often limited because of their specifications and capabilities. Still, they give you a chance of finding various metal items below the ground, including rings, and coins. Very low-frequency metal detectors are also popular because of their price. They are not only cheap, but they are also easy to use, lightweight, have long battery life and are excellent to practice with and learn how to properly get started metal detecting. These are all very good factors for someone who is still in a process of learning.

Very-low-frequency detectors are also good because they do not use too many components, and it positively affects their weight. The models of this type are generally lightweight, so they are significantly easier to use longer-term than some other types of metal detectors. It is also an important factor to consider, especially if you are new to this activity. Metal detecting can take hours of hard work so it is far better if your device does not cause additional pressure on your body and hands. That’s a good way to maximize efficiency and master the skills faster. Thanks to such specifications, very-low-frequency detectors are just overall easier to use.

There are not too many components as common parts of the device, so nothing can confuse you. It is quite easy to use the basic controls, even if you are just beginning. When you master the skills, you can then transfer to more advanced metal detectors. Although there are people that start with this kind of metal detector and never switch because it fits their needs and they are perfectly happy using it for as long as they stay with this hobby.

Very-low-frequency metal detectors are also good when it comes to discovering and locating big targets in the ground. Their range might be stronger or weaker depending on a particular model so you should check the specification before making a purchase. A perfect example is this almost three-foot, 50 some pound hunk of metal that we found while metal detecting a beach at a local park.

Very-low-frequency devices use two search coils. The first is for transmitting a signal and the second one serves to receive the signal from targets. It is then transformed in a form of a beep sound that arrives as a notification to the user. Very-low-frequency detectors are generally compatible with headphones, which in many situations are ideal to use. It is definitely a suitable way to approach this task because sometimes the sounds from surrounding areas can interfere, and you might miss some discoveries. That’s why you should always use headphones while detecting an area.

Very-low-frequency metal detectors are not, however, ideal for locating small targets and that’s probably the biggest drawback of such a device. There are many valuable and important items that are not big in size, but this kind of machine would often miss detecting such targets. That’s probably the main reason why many professional hunters decide to use some more advanced types of metal detectors or they might use them in a combination with each other searching the area with different types simultaneously.

Very low-frequency detectors generally have a strong battery. There are no additional components to steal the energy so you can use the device for very long periods of time without any worries of having to change batteries frequently. That’s definitely a nice advantage when you are in distant areas away from any stores where you can just pick up some more batteries.

Specialty Detectors

When it comes to Specialty Detectors there are three main groupings. You have the Multi-Frequency Metal Detectors, Gold Metal Detectors, which are normally used when specifically looking for gold nuggets, and then Waterproof Metal Detectors.  Although there are detectors like my Garrett AT Pro which is good up to ten feet below the water, there are specialty detectors like the Minelab Excalibur II that can go in depths up to 200 feet below the water.

While very-low-frequency metal detectors are pretty limited when it comes to capabilities, multi-frequency metal detectors are far more efficient in finding different types of metal targets. That’s because this device can transmit more frequencies at the same time so no target can escape its sensor easily. High-frequency detectors are excellent for discovering and locating small targets and these types of devices can easily operate in that mode.

That is why it is better for more efficient hunting because stronger specifications guarantee better results. A very-low-frequency detector can spot only larger targets, but this type can locate both small and big ones, respectively. A multi-frequency metal detector has its positive and negative sides so it is good to know some facts if you are planning to use such a device. This type of detector is more complex in nature so it may not be the best solution for beginners. The kid’s detectors are, for example, usually a very-low-frequency device because it is typically easy to learn and use.

This kind of detector usually has a higher price in comparison with the type above so you have to be ready to spend more money on the product. However, it will definitely pay off if you know how to operate it properly. This of course still takes time, practice, and patience. As an example, if you were to buy a White’s GoldMaster GMT 24k for around $800, and you practiced and searched enough to find just an ounce of gold and current market prices an ounce of gold is about $1,700. You just made your investment back to cover the cost of the detector and you pocket about $900.

The multi-frequency metal detector has some features that a very-low-frequency device does not possess. It can, for example, successfully operate in overly mineralized areas. As you may know, beaches or red earth often contain a lot of salt and such grounds might mask and hide various targets. If your detector is not good enough, you would easily miss all of those items because of the ground mineralization. The multi-frequency devices have the capability to ignore such minerals in the ground while staying focused on targets.

That’s because they have settings, such as Ground Balance, that give you the possibility to handle the issue of high mineralization in certain areas. Some of these settings might be automatic or you might be forced to set them up manually. It depends on the particular model you use, however, the feature is definitely useful, no matter what kind of Ground Balance you use.

Multi-frequency metal detectors give you a chance to increase the detection depth if it is necessary so you can even discover and locate objects far below the surface. Many of these devices also have small displays so they can provide you a visualization of the targets.

Pulse Induction Metal Detector

Pulse Induction Metal Detectors are ones that use a single coil that lets you both transmit and receive a signal. It will normally receive several hundred pulses within one second. These allow metal detectorists to successfully perform some pretty demanding tasks. The devices of this type are ideal for beaches and river banks because they are entirely immune to soil mineralization. It does not have any negative effect on the working of the detector, and you are not even required to make a necessary adjustment because the device performs all the steps itself.

On the other hand, Pulse induction metal detectors are not the best choice when it comes to searching areas in cities with a high quantity of iron trash. That’s because they usually do not have a discrimination option so the garbage can often interfere with the performance of the device, and you would constantly receive signals from targets you do not want.

The pulse induction metal detector is however great when it comes to discovering small and tiny items. Many researchers use this type while hunting gold on beaches and river banks. That’s because it can spot even the smallest items placed deep in the ground.

The pulse induction metal detector is also not a suitable product for beginners. The device is pretty heavy and has some advanced features that can confuse someone who is new to tasks of this type. It takes a lot of energy to operate with such a type so you should be fully prepared physically for that purpose.

The pulse induction metal detectors are quite expensive too, so the price is always significantly higher compared to very low-frequency detectors. You are normally talking about detectors that start around $1,000 and can be upwards of $3,000 or so. Beginners are usually not willing to spend so much, and that’s why they usually decide to purchase more affordable types of metal detectors.

Common Aspects of The Different Types

Despite some significant differences, there are also a lot of similarities while comparing different metal detector types. For example, all devices have quite a similar shape and they work on the same principles by creating electromagnetic fields that search for targets. All different types have the same predecessor, and that’s the root of their similarities.

Almost all metal detectors are fully portable because they give you a chance to investigate distant areas. Many are also collapsible, meaning that the arm that extends out from the control box to the coil can be shrunk down for transporting. If nothing else almost all will come with their own carrying case, which you can put everything into and carry without having to hold the detector, pinpointer, headphones, and shovel separately. The carrying case for a metal detector is very similar to the size and shape of a shotgun or rifle case.

All modern metal detectors are headphone compatible, and that feature gives you the possibility to eliminate all potential sounds that might be caused by different objects from the surrounding area. When a metal detector discovers a target, it provides notification in the form of a short and simple sound. It is not, however, very loud, so you could easily miss the signal if there is a lot of noise around the searching area. The headphones, however, increase the efficiency, and it is good that all metal detectors provide such a feature.

Almost all metal detectors provide water protection, however, the waterproof level might vary depending on a particular model. Some are resistant to different bad weather conditions such as rain or snow. Those with the highest level of water protection can, however, go far below the water surface so the researchers can investigate the areas deeply covered by water. Water protection is definitely a useful feature that gives additional strength to a metal detector in different conditions.

Who Uses a Metal Detector and Why

Archeologists really like metal detectors because such devices help them to find remarkable discoveries. Otherwise, it would be very hard, and the process would take a lot more time and energy from the investigators.

There are also many hobbyists who use metal detectors to find various lost and hidden items. They are generally not allowed to dig national parks and historical sites because the property belongs to the government. However, they can visit beaches, riverbanks, local parks, forests, and many abandoned areas. As you know, a lot of people might gather at those locations occasionally, and sometimes they lose valuable things such as pieces of jewelry, rings, or coins.

Metal detectors are also used by law enforcement agencies, and the device might have different purposes in the hands of those professionals. For example, the military might use a metal detector to clear minefields. The device has shown excellent efficiency with the work of that type, and numerous lives have been saved, thanks to the existence of such an important machine. It is used by militaries all over the world, but the Polish army was the first that utilized the metal detector on the battlefield. Still, it is good to know, there are different types of metal detectors and they often have different specifications and capabilities. Not all provide the same results, and the prices can vary in accordance with the strength and quality. However, these are three main kinds of metal detectors that dominate the market.

Jason Smith

I am a former Marine who works as a Software Engineer. I have five US States left to visit. My sarcasm is legendary as is my knowledge of movie quotes. I can name the song or artist of just about any 80s or 90s song. I like whiskey, wine, coffee, soaking in hot springs or my hot tub. I enjoy getting out hiking, and taking pictures, along with metal detecting & magnet fishing from time to time. I do enjoy the occasional gaming by breaking out the original NES or SNES. I do spend a lot of time building other websites, (about 30 some in total).

Recent Posts