Whether you're kickstarting a new hobby or tracking down a life-changing haul, these are the best metal detectors we've tested
Metal detectors are no longer the remit of middle-aged men wearing khaki and camo. Even the best metal detectors are now accessible to just about anyone with a keen interest in what’s buried beneath their feet. Today, a wide demographic is taking part in this growing pursuit – and some fortunate individuals have even managed to make a living out of it.
Indeed, a metal detector could turn out to be the best investment you ever make. That was certainly the case for one lucky detectorist who, in 1989, discovered the largest lump of gold in the western hemisphere. Known as the Boot of Cortez, it weighed in at an astonishing 289.4 troy ounces and sold at auction for over $1.5 million. He found it using a budget detector, too.
So, if you’ve ever spotted a detectorist scanning the beach for loot, seen them crouch down and retrieve a diamond necklace/tin can and felt a pang of envy, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve called in a batch of the best metal detectors around and taken them out in the field (as it were) to put them through their paces.
How to choose the best metal detector for you
How do metal detectors work?
Consumer-focused metal detectors use a transmitter coil that creates a magnetic field around itself. When you sweep the detector from side to side – with the circular coil section just brushing the surface of the ground – the magnetic field causes an electrical current to flow through any metal object in the vicinity, and it alerts you to the fact with a series of beeps that get stronger the nearer you are to the target. Metal detectors can locate most types of metal, including iron, nickel, copper, brass, aluminium, tin, lead, bronze, silver and gold.
What kind of metal detectors are there?
Metal detectors fall into a few different categories based on their price. Most beginner models start at around £100 and are capable of locating metal up to six or so inches below the surface. However, they will inevitably find more trash than treasure so try and go for a model that’s equipped with a discrimination function. This will help it tell the difference between a rusty iron nail and a silver ring or coin, and save you a great deal of unnecessary digging in the process.
If you have a bit more to spend (between £250 and £400), consider buying a model equipped with a wider level of discrimination and a pinpointing feature, which emits a long tone that increases in intensity the nearer you are to the target. Most mid-priced detectors will spot something of interest up to a foot deep – and possibly deeper if the target’s a big one.
Few budget and mid-priced detectors are suitable for searching beaches below the water-line. Yes, their coils may be waterproof, but their electronics could easily be confused by the salty water and large amounts of natural black iron deposits in the sand. However, there are a few models on the market – like the Makro Multi Kruzer, reviewed here – that are configured for use below the waterline.
If money really is no object and you have dreams of possibly striking gold, consider a specialised gold detector. These prohibitively expensive probes cost as much as £8,000 but they can detect gold up to and occasionally beyond a depth of five metres if the target is large enough. The most tech-laden models can even stream full-colour underground images of the target to your tablet.
Anything else I should consider taking with me?
Most metal detectors run on four AA batteries. It’s a good idea to take a spare set with you because detecting can be a very time-consuming pursuit and you don’t want to run out of juice just before possibly striking gold.
You’ll also need a trowel, small spade or specialised detector digging tool that can penetrate compact earth without making too big a hole. Digging with your hands is out of the question unless you’re on a beach above the wave-breaking line where the sand is soft enough. That said, the best tool to use on a beach is a colander-style sand scoop that you shake from side to side to release the sand and expose the goods.
If you have some extra funds, also consider investing in a hand probe for pinpoint accuracy once the main detector has found its target. These handy gizmos are very sensitive and really good at locating the source of the find: they emit a continuous tone that gets louder as you approach the target. The Garrett Pro-Pointer is an excellent model in this respect, but it’s not especially cheap.
Finally, don’t forget to take a small shoulder bag with you to carry all that lovely treasure you’ve just found.
Where are the best places to start metal detecting?
When it comes to metal detecting, the mantra, “where there are people, there’s treasure” stands fast. Considering Britain’s rich ancient history, our open fields are naturally among the most sought-after places in the world to find valuable relics.
However, there’s every chance you’ll be venturing onto private land, so you will definitely need permission from the landowner first, or you could forfeit anything you find. A recently ploughed field is the best place to start since the topsoil has just been turned and the ground is soft enough to dig. Amazingly, you won’t need to dig too deep either because, as some experts have pointed out, a ring or coin lost on the surface around 100 to 200 years ago will only sink between 3cm and 20cm over time.
If you’re a beginner and want a better chance of finding something possibly very valuable, consider visiting the nearest beach, especially the “towel line” where sunbathers lay out their towels. Given that so many people visit beaches all year round, you have a very good chance of finding something valuable and contemporary, like a ring, watch or bracelet that’s slipped off the owner without them realising.
Whether you feel the need to hand the Rolex watch you just found beneath the sand into the local police station is entirely up to you. Usually, the police will hold it for 28 days and, if no-one claims it, it’s yours. It’s a moral dilemma that every finder faces: do you get off on the pleasure of handing a treasured item back to its ecstatic rightful owner or would you rather have a few thousand extra pounds in your bank account?
It should be stressed that UK beaches are also under ownership. Usually, the area above the high water mark is either privately owned or belongs to a local authority, while the area between the high water mark and the low water mark belongs to the Crown. Clearly, you’d be wise to check first and ask permission if necessary. That said, it seems most beach owners turn a blind eye to the activity while others aren’t even aware you’re doing it.
What are the rules of metal detecting?
While stories of multi-million-pound finds may inspire you to get into serious metal detecting, be aware that there are laws in place governing treasure finds. You can find out more from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Treasure Act 1996 states that if you stumble upon a pot of solid gold coins, you’re supposed to report it to the local coroner within 14 days. And don’t expect to keep all the proceeds of the find because you’ll almost certainly be required to share at least 50% of it with the landowner. Still, 50 grand from a £100,000 haul isn’t bad for a single day’s work.
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The best metal detectors you can buy in 2023
1. Minelab Go-Find 22: Best budget metal detector for beginners and kids
Price: £139 | Buy now from AmazonThis light, entry-level detector from popular Australian specialist Minelab is far and away the best-designed model here, and an ideal choice for kids and smaller adults.
The Go-Find 22 comes with an 8in coil and features two find modes offering basic but accurate discrimination between cheap ferrous metals like cast iron and mild steel, and non-ferrous metals like tin, aluminium, copper, gold and silver. It also produces two different audio tones to help you differentiate between a cluster of rusty nails and something more valuable like coins or a gold ring. There will be times when you think it’s detected a high-value target only to discover it’s a screw cap or dreaded ring-pull, but that’s par for the course with any budget metal detector.
If you’re after a keenly-priced treasure finder that is really efficient at locating stuff (even if it’s not always what you were expecting), then give this tidy package some serious consideration. It’s really easy to use, amazingly compact when folded and remarkably light in the hand. Best budget buy.
Key specs –Weight: 1kg; LCD screen: Yes; Discrimination: Yes (presets); Pinpointing: No; Batteries: 4 x AA
2. Garrett Ace Apex HP: Best all-round, high-end detector
Price: £528 | Buy now from AmazonWeighing a tad over 1kg, the Garrett Ace Apex is light enough for extended use without your arm seizing up (it happens). This amazing all-terrain, high-end model offers four single frequency search modes for different types of metals, including gold. However, the very best thing about the Ace Apex is that it also features a Multi Frequency mode that encompasses all four frequencies in one easy-to-use function.
This model also comes with a pair of wireless headphones and you can program the system so that the warning sound for trash items like iron is at a quieter volume, making it easier to differentiate between different metals. The Garrett Ace Apex is also equipped with a multi-frequency salt mode, so it’s a perfect model for use on a beach, along the shoreline and in the shallows. Expect up to 15 hours of use from a full charge of its built-in Lithium Ion battery.
This model can detect coins 12in to 14in below the surface, which is exceptional; indeed, many users have had amazing success with this metal detector in all terrains. It’s extremely well made, really easy to use and a brilliant choice for those who are prepared to spend a bit more on a set of features that undeniably save time and hassle while out in the field. Highly recommended.
Key specs – Weight: 1.3kg; LCD screen: Yes; Discrimination: Yes (presets); Pinpointing: Yes; Batteries: Rechargeable Li-ion
3. Minelab Go-Find 66: Best intermediate metal detector
Price: £229 | Buy now from AmazonThis higher-end Minelab model is identical in design to the Go-Find 22 above but comes with a few more bells and whistles.
The high-performance Go-Find 66 collapses like a telescopic camera tripod for easy transport and, unlike the majority of other models, the main cable from the large 10in coil to the onboard processor is hidden from view rather than wrapped around the shaft. To use, simply extend both shafts to your desired length, close the cam lock and start scanning.
The bright, easy-to-read backlit LCD screen has simple icons that tell you roughly what may be waiting down below, plus buttons for coil sensitivity and audio volume. A pair of mini earbuds is also provided for those who don’t wish to attract attention to themselves.
The Go-Find 66 weighs just 1.06kgs and features four find modes for sharper detection and better reliability at sorting the wheat from the chaff, a pinpoint tone for zoning in on a target and five levels of sensitivity (handy when used in areas with lots of distracting metals). It also works in conjunction with an Android/iOS app for added functionality.
Aside from the earbuds, the 66 also comes packaged with a brilliant nylon carry bag, a digging tool, a waterproof smartphone holder and two camouflage skins to help protect the body.
If you’re in the market for a well designed metal detector with excellent stats, then this is the one to go for. It’s easy to use, light in the hand, efficient at finding all types of treasure and we absolutely love the way it folds down into such a compact package.
Key specs –Weight: 1.06kg; LCD screen: Yes; Discrimination: Yes (presets); Pinpointing: Yes; Batteries: 4 x AA
4. Garrett Ace 400i: Best high-end mid-priced metal detector
Price: £337 | Buy now from AmazonThis is the model to go for if you want to take your detecting to a higher level. Garrett is one of the best-respected players in the metal detecting arena, and this model pretty much has it all. However, it’s a complex beast that requires a modicum of manual-reading first.
The Ace 440i provides five search modes for specific types of metals: zero-discrimination for all metals (including nails, etc), jewellery, relics, coins and a custom option for dialling in your own preferred settings. The ‘jewellery’ mode, for instance, ignores most iron trash but finds rings, watches and bracelets, while ‘relics’ eliminates most small pieces of iron but detects brass, bronze and lead.
Notch discrimination is another handy asset when metal detecting because it will eliminate most rubbish. For instance, when a bottle top or ring pull is located, simply tap the eliminate button and that type of metal composite will be ignored from then on.
As a further aid, you also get three types of audio tone – low for ferrous objects like nails, a mid tone for stuff like silver foil wrappers and a bell-like tone for more precious metals like silver and gold. The Ace 400i also features an ‘iron tone’ button that can be engaged to discriminate between a bottle top with iron in it and a valuable coin. With the iron tone button deployed, a buzzing tone is emitted on the edges of the target area to let you know a dig ain’t worth a dime. Finally, once you’ve located a target, tap the pinpoint button and it will emit a long tone that increases in volume when directly above the item.
The Garrett Ace 440i comes with a strap-on rain cover for the main unit, a camouflaged swag bag and a pair of cool Garrett-branded headphones to keep all that beeping from bothering others around you. It’s a fairly pricey model, but its practical, time-saving functions will save you a lot of unnecessary digging. Top premium buy.
Key specs – Weight: 1.32kg; LCD screen: Yes; Discrimination: Yes (presets); Pinpointing: Yes; Batteries: 4 x AA