3 Different Types Of Metal Detectors Explained (Pros & Cons)

Types Of Metal Detectors
Image Source – KellyCo

You’re dipping your toes into the metal detecting market only to find that they’re all different.

You can’t quite figure out what makes them different since they look the same.

The way they work, what features they offer, and how much they cost can be difficult to wrap your head around.

To make things simpler, there are three main types you’ll find in the amateur market.

Let’s do a once-over so you can figure out how you want to shop for one.

Very Low Frequency (VLF) Metal Detectors

This is the most common type of metal detecting technology in the amateur market. This type uses two coils: one for the transmitter and one for the receiver.

The transmitter transmits electrical currents into the ground. Metal targets within this range will produce a magnetic field of their own. The receiver coil detects this type of response and sends an analyzed signal to the control box.

You get this information visually as a target ID on a visual display, if the metal detector has this feature, and always as a tone, beep, or series of beeps.

Cost of a VLF Metal Detector

Because this is the most simplest, although very advanced technology, of the primary, three types, it’s often seen in the entry-level and budget market. They can be as affordable as $100 while very advanced models can cost $1000.

VLF Pros & Cons

✔️ Price

✔️ Easy to use

✔️ Lightweight

✔️ Long battery life

✔️ Multi-purpose

✔️ Multiple variations

❌ Limited to single frequency

❌ Decreased performance in mineralized soils

Multi-Frequency Metal Detectors

Since VLF metal detectors can only operate with a single frequency, they’re limited in ability. To get around this inherent design, multi-frequency detectors came around.

This is the ability to use multiple frequencies simultaneously. With calibrated frequencies, you can simultaneously detect small and large items at various depths.

However, multi-frequency mustn’t be confused with selectable frequency. Selectable frequency metal detectors are often marketed as multi-frequency metal detectors but they are not. They do offer multiple frequencies, but they can only be used one at a time – not simultaneously.

Some multi-frequency detectors offer only multi-frequency operation and others offer both multi and selectable frequency operation in the same detector. All selectable frequencies will not have true multi-frequency operation.

Cost of a Multi-Frequency Metal Detector

The huge advantage of being able to detect with simultaneous frequencies means they will cost more. They will generally start at $600 and cost upwards of $1000. There are very few, if any, exceptions that may be affordable for less.

Multi-Frequency Pros & Cons

✔️ Multiple frequencies

✔️ Selectable frequencies

✔️ Increased depth detection

✔️ Better handling in mineralized soils

✔️ Multi-purpose

✔️ Multiple variations

❌ More expensive than VLF

❌ Efficiency can depend on signal and processing analyzation

❌ Multiple frequencies are not always disclosed to the consumer

Pulse Induction (PI) Metal Detectors

This type of detector technology is different. Instead of using two, separate coils, a Pulse Induction metal detector uses one coil that both transmits and receives electrical currents.

These currents are released in pulses with anywhere between 100 to several hundred pulses in a second. Obviously, the pulses have a very short duration lasting only milliseconds.

When the field current is transmitted, the time it takes for the field to reverse and collapse is measured. Longer reflected pulse delays indicate the detector has detected metal.

Cost of a Pulse Induction Metal Detector

PI metal detectors are top-of-the-line in the amateur market. They are extremely expensive often starting at $1000 and are easily found upwards of $2500.

They provide very specific performance for gold prospecting and beach hunting. These are two of the most difficult types of metal detecting activities due to the highly mineralized grounds often found when searching for gold or in and near saltwater.

Consequently, PI detectors are not the most economical choice of the three types.

Pulse Induction Pros & Cons

✔️ Immune to mineralization

✔️ Deep depth detection

✔️ Excellent for gold prospecting

✔️ Excellent for beach hunting

❌ Price

❌ Heavy

❌ Poor discrimination

How to Pick the Right Metal Detector?

If you’re just getting started, there’s no need to jump headfirst into a high-tech metal detector. More often than not, you will disadvantage yourself by acquiring a very good metal detector that you don’t know how to use. This can be detrimental to the learning process and your motivation to keep detecting.

Your focus should be on budget, user-friendliness, and preset or automatic features that can help you close the gap between inexperience and the inevitable learning curve you must master.

As you gain more experience, you can increase the budget, look for additional, adjustable user settings, and be more specific about your metal detecting style.

A few things to think about when you’re ready for an upgrade are:

  • Finer audio tone options
  • Adjustable discrimination and notching
  • Visual target ID
  • User-friendly and intuitive digital interface
  • Wired or wireless headphones
  • Auto, manual, or tracking ground balance
  • Waterproof or submersible detectors
  • Multiple search modes for the most appropriate parameters for detecting

Starting with a simple, easy to use metal detector is the surefire way to get started with the learning curve at a pace you can keep up with.

Practice essential swing techniques, get quality digging tools, and dig everything!

FAQs

How Many Types of Metal Detectors are There?

There are three most common metal detector types you will find in the metal detecting market and community. They are VLF, Multi-Frequency, and Pulse Induction metal detectors.

They are not inherently better than the other as they are different. Each have their benefits and drawbacks.

Primary considerations to select multi-frequency or pulse induction over VLF is if you need to be target or activity specific, require high performance in mineralized ground, and to possibly increase depth detection.

Can all Metal Detectors Detect Gold?

What type of gold? Almost all metal detectors worth buying will be able to detect gold jewelry. The common problem in being unable to detect gold jewelry is the use of too much discrimination or the mistake of identifying gold jewelry for a trash item as the target ID or audio can be similar.

For gold flakes and nuggets, you will need a mid to high-range frequency. Gold tends to fall into the mid-range for target IDs as they have mid-range conductivity. Frequencies over 30 kHz to 100 kHz can be used to detect gold.

Multi-frequency and pulse induction metal detectors are usually the detector of choice of gold prospecting.

What is the Best All Around Metal Detector?

There is no one, universal metal detector that does it all. If you had to pick one type of metal detector, a safe bet would be the multi-frequency metal detector.

Metal detector technology, frequency, user settings, and searchcoil diameter and physics all affect how a metal detector can and will perform.

For coins, a lower frequency works well. For relics, a frequency between 10 kHz to 20 kHz with All-Metal mode and a large searchcoil is desired. For gold, a high frequency is best.

The additional parameters around determining how a metal detector can perform will be a good indication of multi-purpose use.

Which Type of Metal Detector is Best for Beginners? 

Beginners need a metal detector that is affordable and easy to use. A VLF metal detector fits the bill. The best beginner metal detectors should cost between $150 to $300.

They should offer a digital display, a few search modes, discrimination, be lightweight and portable, and have included accessories to get detecting out of the box. These detectors usually have preset ground balance, and this is acceptable for a beginner.

Please, Get Obsessed

Metal detecting is a world of its own. While we’re all called hobbyists, and for most, it is a hobby, many of us are obsessed. It’s how we spend every minute of our free time, or at least how we might wish to spend our free time.

Reach out to your local metal detecting club to learn from seasoned pros, get advice, and acquire leads. You might end up on the other side of the world one day tracking down lost treasure or helping archeologists and furthering scientific research.

Whichever metal detector type you choose, you can get detecting right away. You may find yourself as the proud owner of multiple types over the course of your metal detecting lifetime.

So, please – get obsessed. This is a good obsession to have.

Further Reading:

About Simon Owen

I’m Simon and I love finding things. From a young age I always had the knack to find coins, notes, wallets and more. All of that was without the use of technology. I look forward to sharing with you some amazing tech that will make your treasure hunt a lot easier.