The 3 Types of Metal Detectors Explained

The 3 Types Of Metal Detectors Explained

Metal detecting is a useful activity and is often performed for various reasons. For coins, relics, or gold, you can search locations like old farmsteads, parks, beaches, and underwater areas like lakes, oceans, and rivers.

The ground also hides many objects that are not valuable but have a historical nature. Sometimes finding these different hidden items will require a specific metal detector.

There are three main types of metal detectors:

  1. VLF (Very Low Frequency) metal detectors – VLF metal detectors use a very low frequency (VLF) electromagnetic field to detect metal objects. These detectors are typically the most popular and are suitable for a wide range of applications, including coin shooting, relic hunting, and gold prospecting.
  2. PI (Pulse Induction) metal detectors – PI metal detectors use a pulse induction (PI) system to detect metal objects. These detectors are typically more sensitive to small, deep-lying objects and are suitable for use in areas with high mineralization levels, such as saltwater beaches and goldfields.
  3. BFO (Beat Frequency Oscillation) metal detectors – BFO metal detectors use a beat frequency oscillation (BFO) system to detect metal objects. These detectors are the simplest and most basic type of metal detector and are typically used for basic metal detection tasks, such as finding lost coins or jewelry.

Overall, the type of metal detector best suited to your needs will depend on the specific applications and conditions you will be using it. VLF metal detectors are suitable for a wide range of applications and are the most popular type. In contrast, PI metal detectors are better for detecting small, deep-lying objects in areas with high mineralization, and BFO metal detectors are suitable for basic metal detection tasks.

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 versatile and waterproof, up to 10 feet underwater. It is excellent at finding any metal, coins, rings, and jewelry, but I learned last year that if you want to find 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 quickly learned that such things as specialty detectors are designed to look for gold. That day I tried out the White’s GoldMaster GMT 24k, which was complete night and day when trying to hunt for gold up at a gold mining claim in Idaho.

That is when I learned that my AT Pro could find a gold ring just fine but could NOT find gold nuggets. 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 with no special requirements regarding what they want to look for.

It is good to mention that very low-frequency devices are not the best you can find on the market. Their performance is often limited because of their specifications and capabilities. Still, they allow you to find various metal items below the ground, including rings and coins.

Very low-frequency metal detectors are also popular because of their price. They are cheap and easy to use, lightweight, have long battery life, and are excellent to practice with and learn how to get started metal detecting properly. These are all very good factors for someone who is still in the 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 other types of metal detectors. It is also important 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 beginning. When you master the skills, you can then transfer to more advanced metal detectors.

Although some people start with this kind of metal detector and never switch because it fits their needs, they are perfectly happy using it for as long as they stay with this hobby.

Very low-frequency metal detectors are also good for 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-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 serves to receive the signal from targets. It is then transformed into 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 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.

Low-frequency metal detectors are not ideal for locating small targets, and that’s probably the biggest drawback of such a device. Many valuable and important items are not big, but this machine often misses detecting such targets.

That’s probably the main reason many professional hunters use more advanced types of metal detectors, or they might use them in 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 long periods without worrying about changing batteries frequently. That’s a nice advantage when you are in distant areas away from stores where you can 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 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 in capabilities, multi-frequency metal detectors are far more efficient in finding different metal targets. This device can transmit more frequencies simultaneously so that no target can escape its sensor easily. High-frequency detectors are excellent for discovering and locating small targets, and these devices can easily operate in that mode.

That is why it is better for more efficient hunting because stronger specifications guarantee better results. A low-frequency detector can spot only larger targets, but this type can locate small and big ones.

A multi-frequency metal detector has positive and negative sides, so it is good to know some facts if you plan to use such a device. This type of detector is more complex, so it may not be the best solution for beginners. The kid’s detectors are, for example, usually very low-frequency device because it is typically easy to learn and use.

This kind of detector usually has a higher price than the type above, so you must be ready to spend more money on the product. However, it will pay off if you know how to operate it properly. This, of course, still takes time, practice, and patience.

For 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 features that a 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 will easily miss all those items because of the ground mineralization. The multi-frequency devices can ignore such minerals in the ground while staying focused on targets.

That’s because they have settings, such as Ground Balance, that allow you 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 useful no matter what kind of Ground Balance you use.

Multi-frequency metal detectors give you a chance to increase the detection depth if 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 with a visualization of the targets.

Pulse Induction Metal Detector

Pulse Induction Metal Detectors 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 perform some pretty demanding tasks successfully.

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 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 device’s performance. You would constantly receive signals from targets you do not want.

The pulse induction metal detector is great for discovering 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 heavy and has some advanced features that can confuse someone 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 also quite expensive, so the price is always significantly higher than 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, which is why they usually purchase more affordable metal detectors.

Common Aspects of The Different Types

Despite some significant differences, there are also a lot of similarities when comparing different metal detector types. For example, all devices have quite a similar shape and 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.

All metal detectors are fully portable because they allow you to investigate distant areas. Many are also collapsible, meaning that the arm extending from the control box to the coil can be shrunk down for transporting.

If nothing else, almost all will come with their 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 allows you to eliminate all potential sounds that different objects from the surrounding area might cause. When a metal detector discovers a target, it provides a notification in the form of a short and simple sound.

It is not very loud, so you could easily miss the signal if there is a lot of noise around the search area. The headphones, however, increase 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 resist bad weather conditions, such as rain or snow. However, those with the highest level of water protection can go far below the water’s surface so the researchers can investigate the areas deeply covered by water.

Water protection is a useful feature that gives additional strength to a metal detector in different conditions.

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Who Uses a Metal Detector and Why

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

Many hobbyists use metal detectors to find variously 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.

Law enforcement agencies also use metal detectors, 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 work of that type, and numerous lives have been saved thanks to the existence of such an important machine. Militaries use it all over the world, but the Polish army was the first that utilizes 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 by strength and quality. However, three main kinds of metal detectors dominate the market.

Chapter 5 – How Does a Metal Detector Work?

Go here to read our Beginners Guide To Metal Detecting.

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