Steve's Guide to Gold Nugget Detectors
This is my latest "Nugget Detector Guide", now published for over ten years, updated February 2016 with some of the latest model information. Each model has a short description, followed by a very PERSONAL OPINION. Copyright 2002-2016 Herschbach Enterprises - Please do not reuse or repost without my express permission.
This is offered as a simple guide for those wanting a general comparison of the various nugget detectors available new with warranty, along with some kind of real opinion about them. That's all it is, folks, so take it or leave it for what it is worth. It's just that listing specs is of little help to people, and so I take my best stab at providing some guidance for those newer to detecting. These are only my opinions based on my experience with various detectors over the years. While I do have a lot of experience, I must throw in the caveat that I have not used all detectors under all conditions. What may be considered a good detector at one location may not be so good at another location. Detector performance is site specific and so your mileage may vary. Never forget that when reading comparisons on the internet.
Although many detectors sold today can potentially find gold nuggets, I've chosen to only list new units from major manufacturers that have a dedicated prospecting mode. They are the ones most people will be considering, and I have personally used all these models. There are many used models made since 1990 that would also do well but that would make an already long list too long.
Please, if you own one of these detectors, and I call it like I see it, don't take offense. Any nugget detector made will find gold in capable hands, and the owner is far more important than the detector model. I'll put a good operator with ANY detector up against a novice with whatever is deemed "best" and bet on the experienced operator every time. The person using the detector finds the gold. The detector is actually one of the less important factors in nugget detecting success or failure.
A quick note to those who know nothing about these machines. These are metal detectors. There is no such thing as a "gold only" detector. These detectors will also find lead, copper, aluminum, and other metals. These units are best used to look for relatively larger pieces of gold at relatively shallow depths. Concentrations of gold dust are not detectable. Some of these units can hit gold that weighs as little as a grain (480 grains per ounce) or less but only at an inch or two. Only the larger nuggets can be found at depths exceeding a foot. Only world class nuggets weighing many ounces can be detected at over two feet. The vast majority of nuggets found are found at inches, not feet.
The detectors in order based on the lowest average price advertised on the internet as of the date below.
Steve's Guide to Gold Nugget Detectors - Updated February 2016
White's GMZ ($450, 50 kHz) - This detector from White's offers 50 kHz gold sensitivity at a very low price. Designed for the beginner with ease of operation in mind, the GMZ is tuned with only two controls and one switch. The weight including eight AA batteries is 3.4 lbs. The stock coil is a 6" x 10" DD elliptical or 4" x 6" DD elliptical - your choice. The GMZ can use the existing Goldmaster series coils and so has two accessory coils available.
Steve's Opinion - The GMZ sets a new low price point for a dedicated nugget detector at under $500 and also a new standard for ease of operation. The GMZ runs at 50 kHz and the GMT at 48 kHz so the two models do not interfere when used close to each other yet both models can share coils. The GMZ is rather unique in that it is designed to run silent (no threshold). The low price and ease of operation should appeal to some people. I much prefer myself to have a model that offers ferrous discrimination capability and that runs with a threshold sound and so for me the GMZ misses the mark.
Fisher Gold Bug ($499, 19 kHz) - Not to be confused with the Gold Bug from the 1980's, this new model runs hotter than that old model, and offers full LCD target identification. The target ID makes the Gold Bug good for more than just nugget hunting, and it will find favor with jewelry and relic hunters. This unit comes with a 5" round DD coil to enhance the sensitivity to small gold and features an easy to use ground balance "Grab" function. Weight including a single 9V battery is 2.5 lbs. Three accessory coils are available for the Gold Bug. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - Light weight, sensitive, and full target identification. The Gold Bug is a good choice for prospecting, relic, or jewelry detecting and does fine as a coin detector also. This is my recommended entry level unit as it is a bargain for the price. However, if you can afford the small difference in money get the Gold Bug Pro instead to have the option of manual ground balance.
Nokta FORS Gold ($595, 15 kHz) - The FORS Gold is a new detector from a relative newcomer to the US market, Nokta Engineering of Istanbul, Turkey. In business since 2001, this company is an up and comer in the metal detecting industry. The FORS Gold is their first model aimed at the prospecting market but it will serve most any detecting task well. The weight including four AA batteries is 4.3 lbs. The FORS Gold comes stock with an 11" DD elliptical coil. There are two accessory coils available. Note that a nearly identical model exists, the FORS CoRe. This is aimed at the general detecting market and includes a Beach detecting mode at no additional cost but otherwise is the same detector as the FORS Gold. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - I had an opportunity to use the new Nokta FORS Gold and was surprised to find it is one of the most full featured and capable VLF prospecting detectors on the market. It has the ability to display target id information while in all metal prospect mode and offers advanced ground handling capability. You have the choice of a button based ground grab method, true manual ground balance, of full automatic ground tracking. The Nokta FORS Gold is therefore able to handle ground conditions as well or better than any other VLF prospecting detector currently available. The discrimination options are excellent by prospecting standards but fairly basic for other uses. The features offered for the price are outstanding. However, having used both I do recommend that most people get the FORS CoRe for no additional cost as it is every bit as good for prospecting as the FORS Gold and includes a salt water Beach mode (called COG or Conductive Ground) for the same price. This mode could be useful for nugget detecting on salt or alkali flats.
Fisher Gold Bug Pro ($649, 19 kHz) - Essentially the same as the Gold Bug above with the addition of manual ground balance. The target ID makes the Gold Bug Pro good for more than just nugget hunting, and it will find favor with jewelry and relic hunters. The manual ground balance gives expert operators the control they desire to get the best depth possible. This unit normally comes with a 5" round DD coil to enhance the sensitivity to small gold but other standard coil packages are available. Weight including a single 9V battery is 2.5 lbs. Three accessory coils are available for the Gold Bug Pro. Note - This model is also marketed as the Teknetics G2. The are the same detector except for the rod/handle assembly and coil. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The Pro is the final version in this series which saw several early variations including the Gold Bug above. It is a excellent choice for prospecting, relic, or jewelry detecting and does fine as a coin detector also. I particularly like the fact that the meter always runs in discriminate mode when the detector is in all metal prospect mode - like running two detectors at once. The weight at 2.5 lbs. with the 5" coil is a dream come true. Get the 5" coil version and the optional 10" x 5" DD coil for a great package. For a basic VLF prospecting detector the Gold Bug Pro is an excellent choice for most people. A Steve's Pick.
Tesoro Lobo Super TRAQ ($679, 17.8 kHz) - Automatic ground tracking and full-range discrimination make the Lobo versatile and easy to operate. The Lobo is primarily a nugget detector, but is also suitable for coin and jewelry detecting. The automatic ground balance makes this detector easier to operate than manual ground balance detectors. Weight including eight AA batteries 3.5 lbs. The stock coil is a 5" x 10" DD elliptical. Seven accessory coils are available for the Lobo. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The Lobo is a good nugget detector combined with a basic but capable coin detecting circuit. The discrimination mode is intended for coin detecting, but doubles as a decent iron ID nugget hunting mode, as long as the discrimination is not set too high (1.5-2). The Lobo wins points with me for its convertible design; it is one of few detectors left that can be hip or chest mounted and it has a good selection of accessory coils. The main thing lacking is a manual or "fixed" ground balance as it always runs in tracking while in all metal prospect mode. Conversely, you cannot ground balance the discrimination mode - it is preset at the factory. The main thing the Lobo has going for it is ease of operation and for this reason alone it is a great choice for beginners. For me personally the lack of manual ground balance or at least a "locked" mode is a deal breaker.
Garrett AT Gold ($679, 18 kHz) - A totally new concept in metal detecting from Garrett Electronics. This full featured detector has everything you would expect from a dry land detector - LCD display, full control set and functions, speaker, interchangeable coils, and light weight. But it is submersible to 10 feet! Even the speaker is waterproof. Note that the unit itself may be submerged but if you want to put your head underwater you will need optional submersible headphones. Weight including a four AA batteries is 3 lbs. The stock coil is a 5" x 8" DD elliptical. Four accessory coils are available for the AT Gold. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - Usually you are going to sacrifice a lot for an underwater machine but the AT Gold has all the features of an above water detector and is waterproof. It also weighs less than many dry land units. There are optional coils, a real rarity in underwater detectors. Garrett has above water and underwater headphones for the unit, but an optional adapter will let you use you old favorites. There is a speaker for above water use that can be safely submerged - a genuine first. And best of all, ground balancing 18 kHz operation with a true threshold based all metal mode. I have found gold nuggets with this detector and it would be an excellent choice for jewelry detecting in fresh water lakes. Note that the AT Gold is too hot for use on wet salt sand or in salt water. For salt water Garrett makes the AT Pro, a toned down version of the AT more geared to coin and jewelry detecting. My bottom line on the AT Gold is that for dry land use I prefer to forgo special o-ring coil and headphone connectors. They are silicone lubricated and want to collect dirt. But for detecting in and around fresh water streams or in heavy rain the unit is a no-brainer. If you want to mask and snorkel for gold with a VLF detector this is the unit to get. Just do not forget to get the waterproof headphones also. If hot rocks are a problem, look at the Garrett Infinium or ATX below.
Nokta FORS Gold+ ($679, 19 kHz) - The FORS Gold+ is a new detector from a relative newcomer to the US market, Nokta Engineering of Istanbul, Turkey. In business since 2001, this company is an up and comer in the metal detecting industry. The FORS Gold+ is a newer version of the FORS Gold model described above. The weight including four AA batteries is 3.9 lbs. The FORS Gold+ comes stock with an 10" x 5" DD elliptical coil and a 5" round DD coil. There are two additional accessory coils available. The FORS Gold+ is more focused on being just a gold prospecting detector but could serve well for relic hunting as well.
Steve's Opinion -This new model from Nokta is focused more on just gold prospecting than the previous FORS Gold model. The slightly higher 19 kHz frequency is slightly hotter on small gold and the addition of the new iSAT control allows the threshold retune rate to be customized for ground conditions. The stock coil is now the industry standard 10" x 5" elliptical used on many nugget detectors with a smaller 5" round coil included for work in tight quarters. I recommend anyone whose main goal is prospecting only chose this model over the other two previous FORS models.
Makro Gold Racer ($699, 56 kHz) - A new model from a company rather unknown in the United States. Makro is the sister company of Nokta, the manufacturer of the Nokta FORS Gold listed above. The new Gold Racer will be available in January 2016 and is based on the Racer model released in February 2015. The Gold Racer at 56 kHz is of particular interest to nugget hunters as the first really new high frequency nugget detector released in some time. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - I am very excited by the Gold Racer as it really is something new instead of just another mid-frequency do-it-all detector. The compact light weight design appeals to me very much as does the high frequency sensitivity to small gold nuggets. It is the only machine in it's class that can run a large (15" x 13.5" DD) high frequency coil and as well as having a concentric coil option. Best of all it offers a full range of discrimination features not seen in other high frequency nugget detectors, all at a very aggressive price. Keep an eye on this one.
Minelab X-Terra 705 Gold ($729, 3, 7.5, 18.75 kHz) – This detector has a unique design feature. The standard unit comes with a 5" x 10" DD 18.75 kHz coil. Accessory coils are available not only at 18.75 kHz, but also at 3 kHz and 7.55 kHz. You can literally change the frequency of the detector by changing the coil! The X-Terra 705 has a large number of features and operating modes making it suitable for almost any type of metal detecting, be it for coins, jewelry, relics, or gold nuggets. Weight including four AA batteries 2.9 lbs. Ten accessory coils are available for the X-Terra 705 (Minelab, Coiltek). Details here.
Steve's Opinion - I like the X-Terra 705 very much indeed. It has a very powerful all-metal Prospecting Mode. The X-Terra 705 offers both ground tracking and manual ground balance; I like having both options. I particularly like its very compact and lightweight design. What really sets the X-Terra 705 apart however is all its other features. The X-Terra 705 is a good choice for somebody who wants all the coin and jewelry detecting options important to urban detectorists. It has discrimination and tone options equaling far more expensive detectors. This is the machine for somebody who really wants all the features a top end detector offers and still have a good prospecting detector.
White’s MXT ($729, 14.7 kHz) – The MXT units are general purpose detectors with a proven history of finding gold nuggets. The 14.7 kHz frequency makes it more sensitive to gold and jewelry than most coin detectors. The MXT has full-range target ID circuitry with LCD readout. This makes the MXT a very good coin, relic, and jewelry detector. Weight including eight AA batteries 4.3 lbs. The stock coil is a 9.5" round concentric. Sixteen accessory coils are available for the MXT (White's, Detech, Sun-Ray). The MXT All Pro has a 10" DD coil and adds tone ID, ground grab, and backlight. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - What can I say? The MXT has found many hundreds of ounces of gold at Ganes Creek, Alaska. While not as hot on tiny gold as it's cousin, the GMT, the MXT actually is smoother operating in mixed hot rocks than the GMT, allowing faint signals from large, deep nuggets to be more easily discerned. For hunting hot ground the 6" x 10" DD coil is a better choice than the stock concentric coil while the 4" x 6" Shooter DD coil is the way to go to enhance the MXTs small gold capability. The MXT All Pro is the best option as the Ground Grab button alone is worth the few extra dollars but the standard MXT is every bit as good as a nugget detector. Bottom line is if you want a safe choice in a general purpose (nuggets, coins, beach, relics, etc.) machine you need look no farther than the MXT. My only complaint with the MXT is White's has not kept up with the times and the 4.3 lb. MXT is considerably heavier than other options now available.
White’s GMT ($729, 48 kHz) – The GMT has exceptional small gold capabilities with its high 48 kHz frequency. The GMT features automatic ground tracking for ease of operation, and also has manual ground balance for those wishing full control of their detector. The GMT also has one of the most advanced iron discrimination systems available in a dedicated nugget detector. Weight including eight AA batteries 3.9 lbs. Two accessory coils are available for the GMT. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The GMT features both automatic ground tracking or fully adjustable manual ground balance, your choice and a real plus on the GMT. One of the most common problems people have with detectors is in getting the ground balance right. There are also areas where wildly varying ground mineralization makes constant manual retuning a chore. The automatic ground balance on the GMT lets a beginner get up and running quickly. It offers the pro the ability to deal with rapidly varying ground. And yet for those times when you need manual ground balance to really tweak the detector, the GMT has it also. The GMT always tracks the ground conditions, even when in manual mode, and so while in manual adjusting the ground balance can be as simple as hitting the "Grab" button. The LCD based "iron probability" readout offers more subtle iron discrimination than the all or nothing audio id on other units. The GMT rivals the Gold Bug 2 on small gold, and clearly outperforms it for depth on larger gold in highly mineralized ground. If you are looking for a combination of superb small gold capability combined with good depth on larger gold plus ease of operation the GMT is an excellent choice.
Fisher F19 ($749, 19 kHz) - Essentially the same as the Gold Bug Pro above with the addition of extra features intended to enhance the detector for use relic hunting. There is a backlight for the display for use in low light conditions, and enhanced discrimination capability in the form of a notch discrimination setting. There is also now an adjustable volume for both overall volume and a separate volume for ferrous trash responses. Finally, most important settings are now saved when the detector is powered off. This unit comes with a 5" x 10" elliptical DD coil. Weight including a single 9V battery is 2.8 lbs. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The Fisher F19 is basically an improved Fisher Gold Bug Pro. The backlight and extra ferrous trash handling capability are pluses, as it the volume control and ability to save settings when shut off. For me however the main attraction is the stock coil. The 5" x 10" DD is the coil that in my opinion should be stock on a Gold Bug Pro but is not. It is the coil most people would prefer for general prospecting use but the only way to get it with a Gold Bug Pro is as part of a two coil package that costs as much as the F19. I think getting the F19 with the proper coil plus extra features may be a better option for some people and so I recommend it as an alternative the Gold Bug Pro.
Fisher Gold Bug 2 ($764, 71 kHz) – The Gold Bug 2 is the highest frequency detector on the market, for extreme sensitivity to the smallest gold nuggets. In moderate to low mineral conditions, no detector will pick up a smaller nugget than the Gold Bug 2, especially if it is paired with its 6.5” accessory coil. The lightweight and tough hip mountable design is great for rough terrain. The Gold Bug 2 is a manual ground balance unit. Weight including two 9V batteries 2.9 lbs. The unit can be purchased stock with either the 10" elliptical coil or 6.5" elliptical coil, or both. Two accessory coils are available for the Gold Bug 2. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - An excellent example of a niche machine that excels at one task. The Gold Bug 2 has extreme sensitivity to small gold combined with what I feel is the best physical design of any nugget detector on the market. Lightweight, tough, and convertible from rod mount to chest or hip mount. Its main drawback is that it gets poor depth on larger gold in mineralized ground. As in poorer than any other nugget detector listed here. It is also a harder for beginners to learn than newer units since it has no automatic ground tracking or ground "grab" options. The GMT above is a better choice for all around performance. But if mastered and paired with the small 6" coil no detector will hit smaller gold. The Gold Bug 2 has a particularly effective "Iron ID" mode that not only rejects iron targets but many iron hot rocks. I consider my Gold Bug 2 my "go to" detector if I simply want to find some gold. I can hit tiny pieces weighing less than 1/10th grain with the 6" coil. A Steve's Pick.
Fisher F75 ($949, 13 kHz) - The F75 has been updated for 2015 and is a true multi-purpose machine well suited for prospecting. The F75 has a discrimination mode plus a motion all-metal and static all-metal mode. Its outstanding feature is an extremely fast response time and superb depth. The weight including four AA batteries is 3.5 lbs. The F75 comes stock with an 11" DD elliptical coil. There are seven accessory coils available (Fisher and Detech). The Limited Edition version adds three hunting modes and comes with two coils for a price of $1099.00. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - I have used the F75 Special Edition for several years and found quite a few ounces of gold with it. I like that is light in weight and superbly balanced. The F75 is closely related to the Teknetics T2, another product by First Texas (Fisher's parent company). The T2 has been one of the most popular prospecting detectors sold overseas. The bottom line is that the F75 and T2 are both very capable prospecting detectors but you are paying for a lot of features that go unused when prospecting. If you need the extra features these detectors may be worth the extra money but otherwise less expensive options above, like the Gold Bug Pro, will serve most prospectors better.
Minelab Eureka Gold (List $1049, 6.4, 20, 60 kHz) – This is the only nugget detector that allows you to change frequencies with the flick of a switch; 6.4, 20, and 60 kHz, all using the same coil, unlike the X-Terra units. This makes the Eureka Gold one of the most versatile VLF detectors available for handling different ground conditions. The 20 kHz mode is used for most detecting for great all-around performance. The 60 kHz mode is used in low mineral soil looking for extra small nuggets. The 6.4 kHz mode is used in extreme mineralized soil that would overwhelm most VLF detectors. The Eureka Gold is a good choice for someone hunting areas with widely varying mineral conditions. Weight including rechargeable battery pack 5.3 lbs. It comes stock with a 5" x 10" elliptical DD coil. Four accessory coils are available for the Eureka (Minelab and Coiltek).
Steve's Opinion - The Eureka Gold with its three selectable frequencies will handle a wider range of ground conditions than most other VLF detectors. For a 60 kHz detector, it for some reason lacks the edge of the Gold Bug 2 or GMT when it comes to the smallest nuggets. Its best setting is the 20 kHz mode, as the detector seems optimized for this frequency. You will lose depth in the 60 kHz mode and so this mode should only be used for small shallow gold. The Eureka is a good detector, but lighter and less expensive detectors will do just as well for most people. The weight and high price is making the Eureka hard to recommend.
White's TDI SL ($1189, Pulse) – This detector from White's Electronics is a variation on the original TDI. Nugget detecting was a main focus of its design although it has other uses as well. Weight including battery is only 3.5 lbs. with the 12" coil. It uses industry standard coils. Over 100 accessory coils are available for the TDI SL (White's, Minelab, Coiltek, Nugget Finder, Razorback)! And more coils are being released every year. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The TDI SL has a unique set of features and performance at a very reasonable price point. The fact that it is compatible with the large base of existing Minelab PI prospecting coils is a huge plus. The extra adjustability and coil options gives the TDI a leg up on its direct competitor, the Garrett Infinium. The less expensive SL is much lighter than the Pro version and although it lacks a bit of depth compared to the TDI Pro model it has a smoother threshold. For that extra inch get the TDI Pro listed below but the SL gets you most of the bang for $500 less. I honestly like the TDI SL a lot because of its weight but I wish it had more horsepower. Be aware that a good VLF may serve as well for less money - see the note above.
A note on PI detectors. It is important to note the TDI is a pulse induction (PI) unit, like the Garrett ATX and the Minelabs below. This means it has rudimentary discrimination compared to VLF units. It is best to view PI units as all-metal, dig-it-all detectors. They do have some limited discrimination capability, but it is not why you get a PI unit. Depth in extreme mineralized ground and an ability to ignore difficult hot rocks are the selling points. In addition, some PI units have poor sensitivity to small gold compared to VLF units, and so someone with less expensive VLF unit can run circles around someone with a PI unit at low mineral locations. I tend to consider PI units as elephant hunting guns, best used when larger nuggets are known to be lurking in an area. New PI detectors are challenging my perception in that regard however. Some areas demand PI detectors regardless of gold size due to extreme mineralization and/or hot rocks. My basic recommendation for most people is use a VLF when you can, and use a PI when you have to. You first clue to when this will be is when you basically can't get your VLF to work properly due to ground and hot rock conditions. In much of the US a good VLF is perfectly suitable and often a better choice than a PI. However the western US and most of Australia has places where a PI is an absolute necessity.
XP DEUS ($1250, 4 kHz, 8 kHz, 12 kHz & 18 kHz) – The XP DEUS is a new detector from France that is seeing rapid adoption in the U.S. It can be operated in any one of four different frequencies and has perhaps the fastest recovery time between targets of any detector made today. The DEUS is noted for being completely wireless with the coil independent from the control units and headphones. The detector is exceptionally light at only 2.2 lbs. and with the wireless control box dismounted the rod and coil only weighs 1.96 lbs. The stock coil is a 9" DD round. Two accessory coils are available. Several versions of the detector are available from $949.00 to $1899.00. Price listed here is for DEUS with FX-02 wired headphones + remote + 9" coil. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The XP DEUS like the V3i below has a dedicated prospecting mode called the Goldfield Program. Also like the V3i the XP DEUS is a fantastic piece of technology, programmable for many detecting tasks, and ground breaking in its use of wireless technology. The XP DEUS is currently regarded as one of the best detectors available for working exceptionally trashy locations and for this reason it may be good from extracting gold nuggets around old camp sites and other locations littered with nails and other junk. The extreme light weight certainly appeals. Still, this is not a detector I would buy specifically for prospecting. The Goldfield program is not exceptional and the entire detector being incorporated in the coil makes extra coils very expensive. There are no nook and cranny small coil options. If all you want is a prospecting detector there are better options for less. This may however all change in 2016 with the promised Version 4 update.
White's Spectra V3i ($1349, 2.5 kHz, 7.5 kHz & 22 kHz) – The V3i is White's flagship unit. Coins, jewelry, relics, beach hunting, prospecting, the V3i does it all. Every possible tuning variable can be custom programmed and multiple programs saved. And although this means the V3i can be complex it comes with several preset programs that can get anyone up and running immediately, including a Prospecting mode. Unique in the Vi3 is the ability to run in either the 2.5 kHz mode, 7.5 kHz mode or 22 kHz mode or all at the same time. The weight including rechargeable battery pack is 4.0 lbs. The stock coil is a 12" DD round. It shares the same coil collection as the MXT and so there are sixteen accessory coils available. Also available with wireless headphones. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The V3i has a dedicated Prospecting Mode and can be run at a relatively hot 22 kHz. Because it costs more, many people assume it must be even better than the MXT for prospecting. That, however, is not the case. The V3i was designed first and foremost as a powerful coin detecting machine. The MXT is based on the GMT circuit therefore has a superior ground tracking system. The bottom line is the V3i is a fantastic piece of technology, but the vast majority of the features you are paying for are not needed for nugget detecting. The V3i can certainly find gold nuggets but if prospecting is going to be one of the main goals then many of the other detectors mentioned here would serve as well or better for less money.
White's PulseScan TDI Pro ($1555, Pulse) – This unit from White's Electronics is based on a design by Eric Foster, the father of pulse induction detector. Nugget detecting was a main focus of its design although it has other uses as well. A main feature compared to the TDI SL is a dual ground balance control for finer ground tuning. The control box may be rod, hip, or chest mounted. Weight including Li-Ion battery is 5.6 lbs. It uses industry standard coils. The TDI Pro comes stock with a 12" round dual field coil. Over 100 accessory coils are available for the PulseScan TDI (White's, Minelab, Coiltek, Nugget Finder, Razorback). More coils are being released every year. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The TDI Pro is better suited for extreme mineral conditions than the TDI SL and offers better battery life as it comes with rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries. It also comes set up for hip or chest mounting, which is good because it weighs much more than the SL. I have a TDI and it is a very good detector. It is very hard for me to decide at this point which detector offers the best alternative at a lower price than a Minelab GPX 5000, the TDI or the newer Garrett ATX below. My take at the moment is if you do not need waterproof the TDI weighs less and costs less and has the better coil selection. The ATX below is waterproof and easier to operate with an edge in performance overall.
Garrett ATX (List $2120, Pulse) - This new model takes the AT series to a new level with pulse induction. It features an extremely compact military grade housing submersible to 10 feet. Even the built-in speaker is waterproof. Note that the unit itself may be submerged but if you want to put your head underwater you will need optional submersible headphones. The ATX features a unique collapsible/folding design for stowing and backpacking. It is powered by eight AA batteries. The ATX comes with a newly designed 10" x 12" DD coil and weighs 6.9 lbs. Two accessory coils are available. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The ATX is a great addition to my working collection of detectors. It is a substantial step up from the Infinium in features and performance. The ATX is a very versatile detector and fully capable of almost any task a person wants to use it for. In my case that will be mostly in water and underwater use as like most waterproof detectors it weighs more than normal. At 6.9 lbs. it is one of the heaviest detectors I have ever used and the included sling is a must for any above water use for more than a few hours. The ATX is a superior beach and water detector and one of the best pulse induction nugget detectors currently available. It is sensitive to gold nuggets weighing as little as 0.1 gram and yet has very respectable depth on larger gold nuggets. As I note above with the TDI it is a tough call overall but based on my use of the ATX so far I would have to call it the best value going in a ground balancing PI at the moment, especially in the United States. I just wish a lighter weight version made specifically for prospecting was available.
Minelab GPX 4500 ($2699, Pulse) - This Pulse Induction (PI) unit essentially ignores ground mineralization and most hot rocks. The GPX 4500 is designed specifically for nugget detecting and so it has many adjustments for mineralized ground not available on other PI detectors. The 4500 weighs 5.3 lbs. not including the harness mounted battery, which weighs another 1.7 lbs. The detector comes with both an 11" round DD coil and 15" x 12" mono coil. Over 100 accessory coils are available for the GPX 5000 (Minelab, Coiltek, Nugget Finder)! And more coils are being released every year. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - Minelab just reintroduced the GPX 4500, a prior model to the GPX 5000 below. Currently it is being offered with two coils for only $2699 which represents a fantastic amount of performance for less than half the price of the GPX 5000. The main thing lacking on the GPX 4500 that the GPX 5000 offers is the Fine Gold timing. This is a setting that eliminates the most troublesome hot rocks and ground while still getting most of the gold. You also get the Salt Gold and Coin/Relic timings plus the Enhanced timing has been improved on the 5000. However, $3000 more for these differences is a bit much and in my opinion the GPX 4500 now represents the best "bang-for-the-buck" option available for those wanting a powerful pulse induction prospecting detector.
Minelab SDC 2300 ($3750, Pulse) - New for 2014 this model is unique as Minelabs first waterproof pulse induction metal detector. A key feature is that the detector is physically packaged in the proven F3 Compact military housing that is waterproof to ten feet and folds down into an incredibly compact package only 15.7" long and weighing 5.7 pounds including four C cell batteries. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - I have used the Minelab SDC 2300 for a over a year now and I must say I am very impressed. The waterproof compact design is perfect for hardcore backpack style prospecting. The main thing however is that the SDC 2300 comes as close to VLF type performance on small gold as you can get while being almost impervious to the ground mineralization and hot rock issues that plague said VLF detectors. In fact, the SDC 2300 will find gold nuggets smaller than most good VLF detectors can detect even under favorable conditions. The SDC 2300 is also one of the simplest detectors to use and master on the market. The main caveat is that the detector is optimized for small gold with the hardwired coil and so other ground balancing PI detectors are a better option for large nuggets at depth. It is also nearly twice the price of the Garrett ATX above and so you are paying quite a premium for a bit better performance on small gold.
Minelab GPX 5000 ($3999, Pulse) - This Pulse Induction (PI) unit essentially ignores ground mineralization and most hot rocks. The GPX 5000 is designed specifically for nugget detecting and so it has many adjustments for mineralized ground not available on other PI detectors. The GPX 5000 is the culmination of over 10 years of innovation in pulse induction technology. The GPX weighs 5.3 lbs. not including the harness mounted battery, which weighs another 1.7 lbs. The detector comes with both an 11" round mono coil and 11" round DD coil. Over 100 accessory coils are available for the GPX 5000 (Minelab, Coiltek, Nugget Finder)! And more coils are being released every year. Minelab also sells a slightly less expensive model, the GPX 4800 ($4095). Details here.
Steve's Opinion - It is simple. The Minelab GPX 5000 is the safe choice for best all around pulse induction gold prospecting performance. It has been out for many years, is well proven and reliable, and has a vast selection of coils and accessories to cover almost any situation. Despite the new GPZ 7000 below this is still the unit most people should be looking at though at less than half the price the GPX 4500 above should also be considered. A Steve's Pick.
Minelab GPZ 7000 ($9999, ZVT) - The new Zero Voltage Transmission technology from Minelab promises to take gold prospecting to the next level. The new platform represents a break from the past SD/GP/GPX series in more ways than one, with a new weatherproof housing design based on the Minelab CTX 3030. The GPZ 7000 weighs 7.32 lbs. and comes with a waterproof 14" x 13" coil. There are no accessory coils available at this time. Details here.
Steve's Opinion - The GPZ 7000 represents the future and I am convinced it offers a performance edge when compared to the earlier Minelab PI detectors. For this reason I have sold my GPX 5000 and switched fully to the GPZ 7000. However, the very high price and the fact it is so new to market make it more a machine for those who can afford the risks involved in being an early adopter. Most people would probably be best off waiting until more reports come from users around the world before making the leap. However, as of October 2015 many serious prospectors are turning to the GPZ 7000. The only weakness the machine seems to have at this time is an inability to deal quietly with wet saturated salt or alkali ground. That said I have not regretted for one second selling my GPX 5000 due to the overall advantage I feel I get with the GPZ 7000.
A note on multi-frequency detectors: Most VLF detectors process a single frequency which is quoted as a key specification on gold nugget detectors. In general, higher frequencies are more sensitive to small gold. There are detectors on the market that process multiple frequencies, most notably a number of Minelab models (ETRAC, CTX 3030) but also a few other manufacturer models such as the Fisher CZ-3D or White's V3i. There is an assumption made that these units will detect gold nuggets as well as single frequency detectors because they do process some higher frequency signals. For various reasons this does not prove to be the case. Although these models can certainly find gold items none of them are any better than most general purpose coin detectors at finding gold nuggets. In fact, they are usually a poorer choice. The V3i is a special instance because unlike the Minelab or Fisher multi-frequency detectors it can also be run on any single frequency, in this case the 22 kHz frequency for gold. The lesson here is do not fall for marketing hype and believe that multi-frequency offer the best performance on all targets. They do not.
If I can offer one final word of advice, it would be to pay particular attention to what experienced nugget hunters are using in any particular region. Do not assume you are going to outsmart them and find some model they have not already tried and set aside as less than optimum. Serious prospectors in any particular location will end up focusing on certain units that do the job. In areas of extreme mineralization this is usually a PI detector. In areas with less mineralization and lots of ferrous trash VLF units often are preferred. If you can discover what models the locals prefer it will give you a head start in knowing what to use yourself. Above all, whatever detector you finally choose, dedicate yourself to mastering it. It takes at least 100 hours of detecting to become proficient with a detector model. Any less, and you are still practicing. Knowing your detector well is more important than what particular model of nugget detector you own.
I decided to add something new to this page. The list above has grown so much over the years that even it is really too long for some people. So I have decided to just pick my favorites in the three essential categories that I think every serious prospector should consider:
1. The super hot VLF
2. The medium frequency VLF
3. The ground balancing pulse induction (GBPI).
The explanation that follows gives some rationale for my picks, but a huge factor is a good proven history in the field by many people under a wide range of conditions. Just being the latest new thing does not do it for me as much as being tried and true.
Category one is the hot induction balance detector for finding tiny gold nuggets no other detector can find. These would be detectors running over 30 kHz. Contenders are the Fisher Gold Bug 2 at 71 kHz, Minelab Eureka Gold at 60 kHz, and White's GMT at 48 kHz. My pick is the Fisher Gold Bug 2 with 6" coil. It is lightweight, tough, and gets the job done like no other. The new Makro Gold Racer has a shot at this once it gets into enough peoples hands to prove itself.
Category two is the medium frequency VLF. The main goal here is to have a detector that can punch deeper on large nuggets in bad ground than the super hot VLF detectors and do a good job of discriminating out ferrous trash. These would be the good detectors for working trashy campsites and tailing piles. They are also the detector for a person wanting more versatility for other detecting tasks than offered by the dedicated high frequency detectors. The potential contenders list is very long - see above. For now my pick for this category is the Fisher Gold Bug Pro but the new Nokta FORS Gold+ bears close study as a possible alternative.
Category three is a detector to handle the worst hot rocks and bad ground. For many serious prospectors this will be the primary unit, the one to find gold with. The obvious choice here is a Minelab GPX 5000. This detector is the culmination of years of development by Minelab and it has incredible aftermarket support in the form of coils and other accessories. For those with the money and a desire to be on the cutting edge of new technology the Minelab GPZ 7000 is an alternative but for now a GPX 5000 is a safer choice for a wider range of conditions. Those who want a GPX 5000 and who can't quite afford it should instead consider the GPX 4500 at half the price. If a GPX is too intimidating, then the Minelab SDC 2300 may be just the ticket.
Steve's Short List of The Prospecting Metal Detectors January 2016
Fisher Gold Bug 2 with 6" Coil (category 1, small gold sniper)
2. Fisher Gold Bug Pro (category 2, basic general purpose prospecting)
3. Minelab GPX 5000 (category 3, ground balancing pulse induction)
In my opinion a well equipped prospector needs two detectors. One a high power GBPI for most nugget detecting and a VLF for trashy areas and as a backup. A GPX 5000 plus a Gold Bug Pro or Gold Bug 2 would be a hard combination to beat.
A special note of the Minelab GPZ 7000. This detector represents a fourth category, the "hybrid" detector that uses continuous wave technology like a VLF but also employing time constants much like a PI detector. These detectors act like a "Super VLF" with the ability to detect gold missed by GBPI detectors but with the ability to get depths on par or exceeding those previously seen only with GBPI detectors. I believe this technology represents the future of metal detecting and so have gone all in with it myself. The GPZ 7000 is my personal choice for nearly all nugget detecting. It overall is the most powerful metal detector I have ever used for nearly all types of gold a person may be after. I only hesitate recommending it overall because of the high price tag and teething pains evident in all new technology. Still, it is cutting edge technology which is where I want to be, so for me at this time I am using the GPZ 7000 with a VLF for backup/trashy areas.
So there you are. Hopefully this helps some people out. I can be found daily on the Detector Prospector Forum and would be pleased to answer any questions you have on metal detecting and prospecting. Also check out Steve's Guide to Metal Detecting for Gold Nuggets.
Steve's Mining Journal
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