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Updated Sep 27, 2022 3:34 PM
Glimmering in the soil, just a couple inches beneath the sandy upper strata, is the nugget you’ve always dreamed of … and a few inches above that, a metal detector for gold. With the best metal detectors for gold, you’ll come to the field equipped with the tools needed to find that pocket, seize that seam, and sniff out the deposits that still dot the hills of the United States and beyond.
Metal detectors come in a few basic varieties, but all follow a general principle: an electric charge is used to create a magnetized wave that is directed at the ground; if this wave comes into contact with metal, the metal begins to vibrate in a specific manner, which can be detected by the device. When the sensor finds metal, it alerts the detectorist via a set of earphones, or a moving dial.
The best metal detectors are sensitive enough to distinguish between gold and ferrous metals, are often fully submersible, and can even find gold in difficult soils, such as mineralized black sand. Some detectors also come with special features, such as a gold-probability register that gives you a read on how likely a nugget might be gold or just a chunk of lead. Whatever your price point, sniff out a doubloon or three with the best metal detectors for gold.
The people who love metal detecting love it for the hunt. If you’ve ever swept sandy shores looking for a little pot of washed up relics, or scoured scree fields in Colorado searching for a glimmering something that’s freshly rolled off the mountain, you know the thrill of the hunt. However, a successful hunt can’t happen without two things: the right know-how and the right tools. We researched numerous models from lots of different leading brands, looking for the best of the best. We took into account metal detectors we’d used, ones that peers had recommended, and ones that users spoke favorably of. Along the way, we did a deep dive into the technology behind our picks.
The methods used to detect metal falls into a few categories. The two most common technologies are very low frequency (VLF), and pulse induction (PI). These technologies both use electromagnetic waves to locate metal.
VLF detectors use a sensor coil and transmitter coil. The transmitter coil emits constant electromagnetic energy at a tuned frequency. When this energy encounters metal underground, it creates an eddy current in the metal that results in a phase shift of the reflected frequency. The sensor coil is then able to read this phase shifted frequency pattern. VLF detectors make up the majority of metal detectors out there and tend to be the most versatile. However, they don’t do as well in more mineralized soils without calibration. VLF detectors meant for finding gold will usually be tuned to a higher frequency. Some VLF detectors at higher price points are able to emit varying frequencies.
PI detectors, on the other hand, emit rapid pulses of electromagnetic energy. These pulses quickly decay. When the pulses encounter a magnetic object they cause an eddy current to form in it. This magnetic eddy current then causes a measurable delay in the decay of subsequent pulse transmissions. PI detectors do a better job than VLF detectors at picking out gold in more mineralized soils and can generally be effective at ID’ing gold at greater depths. The newer technology is also generally quite expensive, but can be worth it for veteran prospectors who want a device that will give them the edge in more difficult terrain.
Coil size is an important factor in VLF detectors. While smaller coils will generally be more sensitive for gold, larger coils will allow you to scour more ground quickly. Luckily some detectors allow you to swap out coils. These enable you to hone in on a gold rich area, then switch coils for a more accurate search.
Detection depth varies substantially. PI detectors usually do a better job at detecting gold that’s buried deeper, sometimes up to two feet. Only the higher priced VLF detectors have the penetration required to find deep gold.
Ground balance is used to tune a detector’s frequency to the mineral you’re after (in this case gold) and filter out everything else. A properly ground balanced detector will filter out the frequencies of other minerals and mineralized earth you encounter, and dial you into gold, at deeper levels and with better accuracy. Many detectors offer automatic ground balancing, while some allow you to fine-tune their balance manually.
Frequency describes the transmission of electromagnetic waves from your detector. Since gold is a very low conductivity metal, higher frequency transmitters with shorter wavelengths do a better job at spotting it. Most detectors will have one frequency that they are able to transmit, while some have a range. We looked for detectors that transmit at good frequencies for finding gold, generally 14kHz and above.
Before you start prospecting, there’s a few considerations to make:
Most metal detectors are tuned to a specific frequency. However, some metal detectors do a better job than others at versatility. If you’re looking for a great metal detector for gold that can also moonlight as a detector for silver, relics, and rare ores, then look around for a more versatile detector that has multiple frequencies or swappable heads.
Metal detectors get expensive quickly. Before you commit to a metal detector, it’s usually a good idea to determine exactly what you want. While there are budget options out there, if you’re serious about looking for gold, an investment in a true prospector-grade detector could be worth it. Pricier detectors are usually better at piercing deep into the soil where worthwhile nuggets of gold remain, and won’t get thrown off by deposits of other minerals. Still, gold is hard to find. Many true prospector-grade devices leave most hobbyists priced out. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a budget in mind before you begin to shop.
While gold can certainly be found with the right time and know-how, you’re unlikely to find any in Central Park. Before you commit to investing in an expensive metal detector for gold, it’s a good idea to plan your prospecting strategy. When you’re starting out, it’s generally a good idea to search areas that have been known to produce gold in the past, even if larger hauls might come from remote areas, such as Alaska, Northern Canada, or Western Australia.
With the wrong detector for the job, you may have strayed past a life-changing chunk of gold and never been the wiser. That’s why when we were compiling this list we wanted to make sure we could bring an authoritative selection of metal detectors to the table. Here are our picks for the best metal detectors for gold.
Best overall: Minelab Equinox
Why it made the cut: With full-waterproofing and multiple frequency modes, this excellent gold detector is ready for all valuables in all sorts of environments.
- Operating frequency: Simultaneous 5, 10, 15, 20, 40 kHz
- Waterproofing: Waterproof up to 10 feet
- Detect modes: Gold, Park, Beach, Field
- Weight: 2.96 pounds
- Multiple frequencies and detection modes
- Solid waterproofing
- Clear dig tones
- Superior sensitivity
Sometimes a company just hits on a slice of perfect and if you’re after a personal basset hound for the bullion, then the Minelab Equinox is a detector you can’t afford to ignore. Historically, when you bought a metal detector, you picked a frequency and worked within it, but not so here. The Equinox is one of the most versatile machines out there. With multiple simultaneous frequency responses from 5 – 40 kHz, this detector is as capable of nosing into a patch of gold as it is turning up ancient coins, spearheads, and jewelry—all without committing to a mode in advance. That picture is completed with solid target ID’s that keep you from digging up nails when you’re looking for pieces of eight.
The Equinox offers a great combination of automatic settings and options for manual tuning. With its four distinct detection modes, it’s as easy to set it for beach hunting, as it is for the mineralized mountain soils where gold is usually found. It also comes with 8 custom search profiles and allows you to save the settings you most frequently use. Advanced settings allow you to tweak how much target audio you hear. The LCD display sums it all up concisely with simple controls that let you instantaneously adjust detect modes and frequency. Special accessory coils for specific situations are also available to expand your range.
Best for beginners: Fisher Labs Gold Bug
Why it made the cut: This simple prospector’s detector is easy to use and provides great value in mountainous areas where gold is found.
- Operating frequency: 19 kHz
- Waterproofing: Search coil is waterproof
- Detect modes: All metal, discriminate
- Weight: 2.5 pounds
- Easy to get started
- Solid auto ground balance
- Viable for other targets beyond gold
- Not great for beach hunting
- Not as much manual control as some would like
- Doesn’t offer the same depth as more premium detectors
Head for the hills without draining your savings with the Fisher Labs Gold Bug. Optimal for new prospectors, the Gold Bug is easy to use and tuned for gold. With simple controls you won’t need to stay up late with the owner’s manual before you get out sweeping.
The two tone detector uses a fixed frequency of 19 kHZ, and offers an all-metal mode, as well as a discriminatory mode for when the searching gets serious. It uses two tones to differentiate metals: a lower tone for ferrous metals like iron and a higher tone for gold. It also features simple, automatic grounding that’s easy to use for new prospectors without constant fiddling. The pro version, on the other hand, allows you to customize grounding and may have slightly better sensitivity.
Because of this instrument’s tight focus on gold, it works best in the rocky natural environments where gold is found and less well in some other types of environments. It’s not a great option for those who might be searching the beach and, for this reason, it might not be as appealing to budding detectorists who want more versatility. Its waterproofing is also only so-so, with a submersible head but no waterproofing above that. Still, for such a moderate price point, this is a good deal for those who’ve newly got the gold bug.
Best waterproof: XP Deus 2
Why it made the cut: A multi-frequency high end detector with up to 49 individual frequency settings, simultaneous-frequency mode, wireless headphones and pointer, and impressive waterproofing down to 60+ feet.
- Operating frequency: 4 kHz – 45 kHz, and simultaneous multi-frequency
- Waterproofing: Waterproof up to 66 feet
- Detect modes: Wide discrimination, precise disicrimination
- Weight: 1.65 pounds
- Top-notch waterproofing
- Generous frequency controls
- Good wireless headphone and pointer functions
- Multiple tones for different metals in pulse width modulation (PWM) and square wave
- Complex menu system and overall steep learning curve
Choose your adventure: Snorkel down to a lost shipwreck that’s potentially full of doubloons or scour the mouth of a Canadian basin while your friends sweep the forested banks? Either way, there’s one clear detector for the job. The XP Deus 2 is a formidable submersible detector for serious prospectors that can function up to 60 feet below the surface of the water.
The XP Deus isn’t just waterproof, however. This high-end multi-frequency detector is capable of 49 individual frequency settings, as well as an impressive simultaneous mode. The 4 – 45 kHz range offers more than enough room for gold. Wide and precise discrimination modes help you further narrow the field and the machine reports back on the findings with three different tones for ferrous, low conductor, and high conductor metals, in PWM or SQUARE wave.
The Deus also delivers with some impressive modern touches. The system uses a wireless headset, and can pair wirelessly with a pointer. The monitor is IP68 certified for water and dust resistance.
The Deus II is not a beginners system (at least not without a lot of work); with so many features packed into one, the detector’s controls aren’t exactly intuitive. Still the steep learning curve will pay off. With such a wide swath of frequencies available, and with such excellent waterproofing, this is one of the most versatile detectors around.
Best professional: Garrett ATX
Why it made the cut: With superior sensitivity even for deeply buried objects, salt water immunity, and great resistance to interference, this is a PI detector that’s perfect for rugged environments and mineralized soils.
- Operating frequency: Unspecified
- Waterproofing: Waterproof up to 10 feet
- Detect modes: All metal mode, pinpoint, motion, non-motion
- Weight: 6.9 pounds
- Pulse induction detects metals deeper
- Very rugged build
- Multi frequency modes for multiple depths and metals
- Wide sensitivity scale
A draft-horse of the metal detection world, the pulse induction Garrett ATX is a powerful instrument built for deep discoveries in rough environments. Using PI tech, the ATX is built for going deeper and finding gold in rougher locales.
This is a stacked instrument with lots of modes and capabilities that will become second nature with time. The ATX leverages a multi-frequency mode to cut deeper into the ground and uncover more metal. It features 13 sensitivity modes, a capable ground-balance function that takes mere seconds to calibrate to the soil you’re working with, as well as ground tracking. Together, the ATX easily cuts through salty soil, seawater, and mineralized crusts. The iron check feature is another nice capability that audibly checks whether an item is iron, and the pinpoint feature helps you lock onto and find nuggets that you’d like to investigate.
The ATX is indisputably rugged but it’s also heavy—three times as heavy as some of the other leading detectors we follow. However, it’s also sturdier than most. It’s submersible up to 10 feet and won’t be affected by salt water or dust. All in all, if you want a rugged detector that leads the pack in terms of detection depth, this PI detector is it. You’d have to spend considerably more on something like the ultra-premium Minelab GPZ series with its ZVT tech to exceed it.
Best budget: Bounty Hunter 3410001
Why it made the cut: For a budget price, this easy detector can still find gold.
- Operating frequency: 6.6 kHz
- Waterproofing: Waterproof coil
- Detect modes: Discrimination, all-metal, tone
- Weight: 3.7 pounds
- Budget price
- Easy automatic ground presets
- Two-tone audio discrimination
- Easy interface for different modes and discrimination dial
- Frequency isn’t optimal for gold
- Finicky in difficult soil and shallow
It is possible to find gold without spending thousands. The Bounty Hunter 3410001 is an affordable metal detector that’s loved by many. While this VLF detector isn’t optimal for hunting gold in deep bush settings, deeply mineralized soils, or salt-water, it’s still a great choice for scanning for gold lost near the surface or small gold nuggets in gravel pits or tailings ponds.
The Bounty Hunter might be inexpensive but it doesn’t lack for features. Its control array is simple to use, whether you’re throwing a switch to cycle modes, adjusting sensitivity with a dial, or dialing in the disc/notch control to tune to gold. It features simple automatic grounding presets, three search modes, and a nice target strength meter that won’t make your brow furrow. Its frequency response is lower than optimal for gold but, with the right sensitivity setting and patience, that hasn’t stopped hundreds of users from finding lost wedding rings, gold jewelry, and undiscovered nuggets near the surface.
With a waterproof coil, this 4-pound detector is capable of following you into multiple environments—even while its build might not be the definition of rugged. Still, at such a great price, it’s one of the most affordable metal detectors out there and a great place to start. Its frequency might not be optimal and its grounding leaves a little to be desired, but you can still hit the jackpot with the Bounty Hunter by your side.
Q: How much do the best metal detectors for gold cost?
Metal detectors for gold vary substantially in price. The cheapest metal detector for gold that we think is worth your time will cost about $100, while the highest-end prospector’s detectors can cost close to $10,000.
Q: Will any metal detector find gold?
Yes. Most metal detectors are capable of finding gold but some will do a much better job than others. Since gold has rather low conductivity, metal detectors that use higher frequencies will spot gold better than low frequency detectors. For this reason, most metal detectors for gold have variable frequencies, or are tuned for frequencies above 14 kHz. This isn’t an absolute requirement, however, and some lower frequency models are still certainly capable of hitting that jackpot.
Q: How deep do metal detectors go?
The depth that metal detectors go can vary substantially. Most cheaper metal detectors only find metal that’s a few inches beneath the dirt. Some of the most powerful detectors can find metal and gold that’s 2 feet underground. Larger nuggets are easier to find at greater depth.
Q: How do I look for gold with a metal detector?
It can be quite hard to find gold. If you’re just starting out it’s a good idea to look for gold in places where gold is known to have been found before. Pick your spot and search systematically. When you find a grain of gold, extend your search in that area, traveling in a grid pattern to ensure you cover the entire area. If the gold is naturally occurring then there’s usually more in the area.
Q: Can you make a metal detector for gold?
For a good DIY engineer, a simple metal detector isn’t actually all that hard to make. There are lots of helpful YouTube videos like this one that will help you design your own metal detector with common household items. It should be noted, however, that metal detectors made specifically for finding gold may be considerably harder to make, as the best metal detectors for gold run at higher frequencies than regular metal detectors.
Maybe you lost an engagement ring in the backyard ivy and you need a simple detector to help you get it back. Or maybe you’re a dedicated prospector looking to hit the jackpot in the Canadian Northwest Territories. Whatever your motivation, the best metal detectors for gold give you the tool you need to find gold, whether it’s in the wild, or out on the lawn. Great metal detectors for gold use high frequencies that help you pinpoint low-conductivity metals embedded deep in the dirt, easily filter noise from mineralized-dirt, and are rugged enough to work in lots of environments.
For one of the deepest piercing detectors out there, consider the pulse induction Garrett ATX, which is rugged enough to rely on anywhere. If you’ve got an eye for tracking some shekels in the surf, the XP Deus 2 not only has some of the best waterproofing out there, it’ll do a great job in lots of different environments. If you’re just getting your feet wet detecting gold, the Bounty Hunter 3410001 is both affordable and easy to use; it’s a great instrument for those who want to learn the ropes, or dig up jewelry from the yard. Finally, the Minelab Equinox is a metal detector that no one can afford to ignore. With superior tech, the Minelab’s completely customizable controls allow you to tune it to excel in any gold-bearing environment.