By Steve Herschbach
I have used the Minelab GPX 5000 since it was introduced, and in fact probably owned the first one in Alaska. I have used the Garrett ATX also since it came out with one of the first units off the production line. I have been putting this review off while I got to know the ATX. I now have over 100 hours on the detector in a variety of environments so the time has come.
This metal detector comparison review was very challenging for me to write. It pits two very different yet very similar detectors against each other. In a way it is almost like discussing three detectors instead of two, and there is the issue of a huge price difference. I apologize for the length but this is a case where I wanted to be as thorough as possible on the subject. This is the review you will never see published in a magazine!
In a way it is all about that price differential. If the two detectors were priced similarly there would be much less debate than is going to occur amongst people and a far easier buying decision for some to make. For me personally it really is a story of the Garrett ATX being two very different detectors at once and so I will start the review there.
I have been metal detecting over forty years now, and metal detecting is very important in my life. Not a day goes by that I do not think about, write about, or actually go out metal detecting. Luckily for me a large chunk of my income is derived from metal detecting and so I can justify a collection of metal detectors for what I do. I engage in quite a few detecting activities and I strive to have the very best detector possible at my disposal for whatever it is I am doing. Because of this I am constantly on the look for new detectors that might help me in some way.
However, now that the technology is maturing I have the bases pretty well covered. The only thing I was still looking for was a detector that satisfied me while water detecting in Hawaii. Every other detecting scenario I have covered to my satisfaction, but every time I hit the water in Hawaii I was left wanting something better than was available. The combination of salt water, volcanic rock, and military grade electrical interference is very challenging for any detector.
What I generally want is a combination of stability and power with good ergonomics. The perfect detector should only signal on desired targets and nothing else, at good depth, while feeling good on my arm. I obviously reject detectors that get poor depth - these are usually the lower price detectors. Most top tier models are very competitive in the depth department. Other detectors I have put aside solely due to an inability to handle electrical interference. Fine machines otherwise, but unstable in an urban environment. Other detectors are too noisy in mineralized ground or too chatty in dense trash. And finally, some detectors are holdovers from the old days of heavy and clunky. I do not like detectors that make my arm hurt!
I was therefore very excited when I heard the Garrett ATX was on the way. I was very familiar with its predecessor, the Garrett Infinium, which was tantalizingly close to my perfect Hawaii detector. Unfortunately the Infinium suffered in the stability department. I was also aware of the Garrett Recon Pro AML-1000 military demining detector. I was intrigued by its having a non-motion monotone search mode and wondered if that could be incorporated into a new improved "Infinium Pro" model. I not only had Hawaii in mind but started envisioning scenarios involving underwater sniping for gold employing a metal detector.
Add to this that neither Minelab nor White's seemed interested in putting a waterproof ground balancing pulse induction metal detector in my hands. I never expected it would be Garrett that would come out with a second generation model based on the Infinium before anyone else got to first base.
I have told you all this to explain what I was expecting and hoping for in the Garrett ATX. The fact is Garrett delivered with flying colors on my desires and the ATX is now one if the most important detectors in my collection. I have already paid for the detector with jewelry found and it is the Hawaii detector I always hoped for. Garrett ATX in Hawaii If we are talking about the Garrett ATX as a new waterproof detector for use on black sand or volcanic island beaches the review can end right here. The Garrett ATX is a superb detector for those conditions and well worth the money.
There is only one fly in the ointment. If you look at the full page ads for the Garrett ATX it is clearly being marketed as a prospecting detector, and one pretty clearly aimed at Minelab's top end models. Specifically "The ATX performs head-to-head with the most expensive prospecting detectors in the world."
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Interestingly enough this idea was not even on my radar. I had always thought it was a huge mistake for the Infinium to be set up as direct competition for the high end Minelabs. Anyone involved in that remembers the hype and resulting disappointment and backlash. The Infinium eventually found its place but more as a water and relic hunting machine than a prospecting detector, although it is a capable enough unit. My hope was to avoid a similar scenario with the ATX. I do not like hype and prefer things to be under sold so people are pleasantly surprised when their expectations are exceeded. Hype leads to disappointment when inflated claims cannot be met.
The reality here however is that Garrett has chosen to make prospecting the battlefield of choice. There is a lot of money at stake here for a lot of people, and so I am going to do my best here to compare the two units as dry land prospecting detectors. I think we can all agree that if you are looking at both the Garrett ATX and Minelab GPX 5000 and need the detector to be waterproof the Garrett ATX wins hands down.
The funny thing here is that if Garrett was gunning for Minelab then in my opinion they went about it the wrong way. I get the distinct impression the design process was backwards. It was not a matter of "what do prospectors want in a metal detector?" I think it was "we have this housing on the shelf we developed at great expense to go after a military contract. We need to leverage our development cost by putting something in that housing we can sell to the public." In other words, I do not see any sign of design following function. All I see is a prospecting detector crammed in a box inappropriate for the desired end use. If Steve Jobs was into metal detectors he would be rolling in his grave. I will have to suffice instead by simply shaking my head at missed opportunity. I will explain more about that later.
Let's set ergonomics aside though for now and just talk about straight up prospecting performance. How does the Garrett ATX fare against the Minelab GPX 5000 on gold in mineralized ground? I have done fairly extensive tests but I do have to throw in the caveat that the world is a big place and when you discuss prospecting detectors one truth is paramount. It is all about the ground mineralization and hot rocks. What works well in one place fails in another, and for this reason alone I cannot offer 100% assurances. I have spent a month traveling Western Australia detecting every day and so I am quite familiar with what prospectors face there. I am not about to begin to offer more than an opinion about how these two detectors fare in the worst Australian ground but I do think my conclusions will prove to be true. I can tell anyone right now knowing detectors the way I do that either machine will prove superior at certain locations given their differing capabilities.
In a nutshell, the Garrett ATX has a ridiculously good circuit. The engineers at Garrett have done a superb job of producing a detector that out of box performs extremely well on a wide variety of gold in a wide variety of ground conditions. I tested both units in some very red mineralized soil, both outfitted with stock DD coils. The ATX comes with a 12" x 10" DD coil. The GPX 5000 comes with two coils, one of which is an 11" round DD coil and this is what I used. The nuggets ranged from 0.1 gram to 6.5 ounces.
The impression I was left with was definitely not how the GPX 5000 blows the ATX away but instead by how well the Garrett ATX does. It is impossible to not be impressed by how well the $2120 detector does when run head-to-head against a $5795 detector. Garrett has done a fantastic job and in my opinion their advertising claims are not off base. This is a serious prospecting circuit well worth consideration.
The two detectors basically differ in the range of gold they find best. The Garrett ATX skews towards the smaller more commonly found gold nuggets. The Minelab GPX 5000 skews towards larger gold nuggets that tend to be the goal of professional prospectors. Out of box with similar coils the ATX will find small gold nuggets the GPX 5000 would normally miss without special coils and tuning tricks. It does this simply and with no fuss. However, in mineralized ground with similar coils the GPX easily bests the ATX on large nuggets. By large I mean one ounce and larger and by easily I mean by a margin of 10-15%. The GPX 5000 does this using a coil that in my case had never been on the detector before. Most Minelab users would never consider hobbling the detector by putting the 11" round DD coil on if hunting large nuggets at depth. It is informative therefore that even doing this in the interest of "fairness" and with nothing more than stock Normal timing with Gain bumped to 16 (out of 20) the Minelab GPX 5000 easily outperformed the Garrett ATX on a 6.5 ounce nugget. The ATX was at max Gain of 13 for the test.
Now the depth differential here was only about two inches but I have to throw in the huge caution note again that it will vary depending on ground conditions. Absolute depth was about 17" ATX versus 19" GPX for good solid signals. The kind nobody can miss. Again, do not take these as some sort of magical numbers as ground conditions and even nugget shape and alloy could cause you to get some surprising differences. That is why I hate mentioning exact depths and differences in most cases and just stick to relative conclusions. But you are going to ask so there you go. For reference a Fisher Gold Bug Pro with 13" round DD coil and White's GMT with 14" elliptical DD both with settings jacked to the max were barely able to obtain this solid gold 6.5 ounce nugget at 12" in this ground and the GMT in particular would not really have been able to hunt maxed out the way it was.
Depending on who is reading this the response may be "really, only two inches?" or "wow, two whole inches!" Similarly, it is interesting to see the GPX with DD coil scrub a little nugget with no signal that the ATX easily detects at a couple inches.
This however does end up being my basic and not new finding by any means. Others have reported similar results. The ATX does better on small gold and the GPX on large straight out of box with stock DD coils.
I do believe the GPX has more ability to handle more varied and more intense ground conditions and hot rocks due to its many adjustments. However, this is more a belief than a fact as so far the ATX has easily handled everything I have thrown at it, including salt water, basalt rocks, and electrical interference in Hawaii. Garrett does make use of a salient fact in its advertising. The ATX handles a wide range of conditions with deceptively few settings. This makes it very easy to set up and it avoids a common complaint with the GPX detectors. They are so complex people are often left wondering if they have the optimum settings for the conditions. I know for a fact from observation that many people tend to use timings that are too aggressive for the actual conditions when using a GPX. The tendency often is to find something that seems to work well and then to just default to that way if doing things, even if conditions change. To get the best performance out of a GPX does require that a person be somewhat of a tuning wizard.
The bottom line for many more casual prospectors in the United States especially is that the Garrett ATX represents a fantastic value. It is truly impossible to say but in my case at least most of the gold I find in the US with my GPX an ATX would have found it also. In particular when hunting areas where bedrock is a foot or less the ground would have to be extremely hot indeed for the ATX to not only find what the GPX will but to have an edge on the more common small gold. Even in deeper ground as long as the gold is measured in grams and not ounces and the ground not extremely mineralized the ATX is going to be a close match with the GPX. Again, out of box with stock DD coils.
Where the ATX is going to clearly come up short is on large nuggets, especially those sought after 1 ounce and larger nuggets at depth and on gold in the worst mineralized ground and hot rock locations. To be perfectly honest I feel my putting an 11" inch round DD coil on my GPX 5000 in the interest of being fair does not reflect for one second how I look for gold. I am not out there being fair, I am out there looking for gold. I will be running a larger mono coil with settings optimized for larger gold and then the difference in large gold performance between the ATX and GPX is even more pronounced. I would consider a 10-15% to be a bare minimum advantage gained while in effect running the GPX with its hands tied.
I have not done comparisons on the iron discrimination systems but I find the method used by the ATX to be inherently more reassuring. The GPX reacts to shallow ferrous targets by blanking out, a sort of non response. The ATX has a momentary ferrous check that kicks in at the touch of a button, and that gives a low tone growl on iron, which provides a more nuanced and natural response expected by most detector users. I am not a big fan of using discrimination on either unit but I did find the ATX method more to my liking for confirming shallow ferrous stuff as trash that I already thought was trash due to the response. Note that on either detector the ferrous rejection only works on shallow items and only with a DD coil. The amount of rejection is adjustable on the GPX and preset on the ATX so more tests really need to be done in this regard to determine which is the more accurate and useful system.
Minelab GPX 5000 and Garrett ATX (Minelab outfitted with optional Nugget Finder coil)
I do own both detectors and there is a simple reality here. If I am going looking for gold in the water, be it jewelry or nuggets in a creek, I will grab the ATX. For any other prospecting, the vast majority of it, I will be using the GPX 5000. I am not sure where the line between casual and serious is, but I am way, way over on the serious side. I spend a great deal of time targeting and hunting deep ground looking in areas where very large nuggets have been found historically. Most of the ground I detect I am hunting because it has produced nuggets weighing a pound or more in the past. I hunt tailing piles a lot so bedrock is tens of feet down, and the gold can be at any depth from shallow to extremely deep.
I think most professionals would tell you that small gold is what happens along the way while looking for the big stuff, and at the end of the day it is the big stuff or the lack of it that makes the difference. I found over thirteen ounces of nuggets metal detecting in 2013 which is no great sum of gold in my book, but well over half of it was in the form of two nuggets, one weighing 6.5 ounces and the other 2.37 ounces. Now in this case the ATX would have found both these nuggets. Yet I would not use anything but a Minelab GPX for what I am doing. I am spending a lot of valuable time going over ground that I may only get one shot at. I plan these things well in advance and not only time but good money is invested in taking my best shot at getting good results. I basically cannot afford to be running anything that I feel does not give me the best chance of delivering that make or break it big nugget. One nugget can make all the difference between a month of lackluster results and fantastic success.
If both the Garrett ATX and Minelab GPX 5000 detectors had exactly identical electronic performance I would still be swinging the GPX. I am on one hand very impressed with the ATX as a nugget detector and on the other hand very disappointed by it. The up front decision to use the Recon AML-1000 housing is an automatic fail from a nugget detecting perspective in my opinion. It adds not only needless weight but weight that is very much an impediment in rough, uneven terrain. This is accentuated by a stock coil that is sensitive to knocks and bumps. It requires an extra level of coil control to manipulate the detector in such a way as to not produce excessive false signals. This differs from Minelab coils that basically do not false at all unless something is wrong with them. I would caution anyone using a detector the way I do that the ATX requires extra care as regards the possibility of repetitive motion injury. Trust me as somebody who detected too much one year and ignored the signs this is something to regard seriously. A harness is a must for weeks of long daily use of the ATX. I shudder to think about how the detector feels with the 20" long rear mounted mono coil hanging off the front. That is an ergonomic nightmare.
The ATX features silicone lubricated battery door o-rings that collect dirt. The coil connectors also have o-ring seals and even worse delicate pin connectors subject to damage if not carefully lined up. The headphone connector is similar to the coil connectors. All these are required to make the detector waterproof and not only unneeded for normal dry land use but an impediment as regards serviceability in the field.
The coils are sold as a unit with the telescoping rod assembly adding needless expense and weight and making carrying an extra coil around something to be avoided. The rear mount enables the ability of the detector to fold up but is another weak point from a serviceability aspect and ergonomically the worst way to mount a coil.
I always considered ergonomics to be the easy low hanging fruit for anyone considering manufacture of a detector to compete with the Minelab PI series, and I am frankly amazed anyone could make something even heavier I am less excited about handling. It is an absolute fact I would put the GPX aside for an alternative, even if that alternative was next best in overall gold ability, if it offered a big advantage ergonomically. I in fact often do decline to "harness up" and set the GPX aside in favor of a lightweight VLF at times because I am just too tired or not in the mood. More importantly, in steep terrain bedrock is often shallow and so when hunting hillsides and slopes there really is no advantage to using a GPX in ground only inches deep.
I would very gladly use a properly designed Garrett ATX instead of a Minelab GPX in many situations that I currently encounter. In particular areas where bedrock is less than a foot deep or in areas where large nuggets have historically never been seen. The only reason right now that is not going to happen is I do not want the ATX on my arm. Yes, the ATX has an inherent advantage on small gold but nothing I can't negate by putting on a small mono coil and running the GPX hot. No, in my opinion Garrett missed a major opportunity to wow somebody like me by putting a fantastic prospecting circuit in a package very inappropriate for the target audience.
Metal detectors are tools. Now the fact is that for the average person Craftsman tools do just fine and represent good value. But the guy making his living with his toolbox is probably going to be investing in Snap-on tools. It is an apt analogy accentuated by the real performance difference that exists between the Garrett ATX and Minelab GPX detectors on the kind of gold most pros are looking for. The vast number of accessory coils and other aftermarket options on top of a well proven platform makes it an easy decision for the serious prospector. Minelab makes a tool designed specifically for a certain job. The Garrett ATX unfortunately I feel is a duck out of water when employed for normal prospecting uses.
I do have to say my hat is off to Garrett for producing a detector that is the first to really give Minelab a run for the money. I hope they do follow up and produce a model expressly designed from the ground up as a dry land prospecting machine. It may well become my primary prospecting detector if they do so. If you have read this review carefully you should understand the issues involved. For many people wanting maximum bang for the buck a Garrett ATX straight up and used properly is a real bargain in a PI prospecting machine. It can and will find gold and find it very well. The guys like me (you know who you are) that probably already have a Minelab PI plus extra coils, batteries and so forth can continue waiting for the next big thing in nugget detecting. You may also consider the Garrett for exactly the reason I did. It is waterproof, and currently is the closest thing you can get to a Minelab PI in a waterproof package.
In closing I am curious to see how both detectors do for me this year. The ATX has the lead with about 2.5 ounces of gold and platinum jewelry found so far. I plan on using it often to hunt jewelry every chance I get in 2014. The GPX I will once again be taking to Alaska for a couple months of nugget detecting which may or may not pay off with a large nugget found. I will be hunting the right places but large gold is rare almost anywhere you go. Given the lead the ATX already has the GPX has its work cut out for it so it should make for an interesting year. For those of you trying to decide between these two very fine metal detectors I can only sympathize and count my blessings for not having to make such decisions. However, I hope this helps you with your decision because I have done my best to try and do just that. Good luck and good hunting!
2020 Note: Since this review was written in 2014 the price for the ATX was remained the same, while the price for the Minelab GPX 4500 and GPX 5000 have both come down considerably. This does change the value proposition offered by the Garrett ATX, especially as regards the Minelab GPX 4500, which can now be had for only a few hundred dollars more than an ATX.
Detailed information on the Garrett ATX
Detailed information on the Minelab GPX 5000
Great video by another party (a Garrett dealer) confirming the above results at another location with a different large nugget....
By tim Fara
I'm killing myself trying to determine the best rout to go with PI detector. I just moved to Tennessee and with red clay mineralized soil would the White's TDI SL be a good choice or the Garrett ATX? I am new to PI detecting and thinking the TDI would be a good beginner's but should I jump all in with the ATX? I've heard the TDI is under powered but the ATX has a steep learning curve.
Your input is welcome!!!!
By Steve Herschbach
I did a bit of Google searching for posts in the last year to see if I could get a feel for how much use the Garrett ATX gets and what people are finding with it. Not much to see though. The Garrett Australia Facebook page has some gold nugget finds https://www.facebook.com/GarrettAustralia/
The Findmall ATX Forum would have you thinking the ATX is strictly a beach detector Link deleted since Findmall Forum update broke all old links and other than that a few relic hunters out there using it.
The ATX is one of my favorite detectors and quite a capable nugget detector, but after some early nugget detecting it now only gets used seriously as a beach and water detector. The problem is with ATX at $2120 and 6.9 lbs, limited coil selection, it is a tough machine to recommend for prospecting with a Minelab GPX 4500 running only $2699 at this time. I still consider the ATX to have been a missed opportunity. At $1699 in a lighter weight dry land package and sporting less expensive dry land coils the machine could have made a real impact on the prospecting world. Instead it is a rare sight on the goldfields.
By Steve Herschbach
I consider myself fortunate to have met Garrett's Senior Design Engineer, Brent Weaver, many years ago during prototype testing of the Garrett Infinium. I think Brent deserves a great deal of credit in making Garrett the leader it is today with a series of incredible innovative bang-for-the-buck metal detectors, first and foremost being the AT series. Brent is just a real nice guy - comes across as a regular Joe not a head in the clouds engineer. I think this video shows that. It also has an extremely interesting discussion of pulse inductions detectors, ground balancing methods, and the dreaded "hole" that occurs when ground balancing. There is explanation of why the holes occur and how some designs try to alleviate but not eliminate the problem. Good stuff, starts around the 3:40 minute mark.
The audio quality in this video truly sucks. However, this is important information, and so repeated listens, typing, and listening again on my part produced the following transcript. Again, this is from Brent Weaver, Senior Design Engineer, Garrett Metal Detectors
Transcript starting at 3:40 mark:
"If you look at the various pulse detectors that exist on the market, you have your simplest pulse machines, which are single pulse machines that are non-ground balancing. Those are detectors that are typically exclusively used for the beach, for example, the Sea Hunter or something like this.
The next step in advancement there is to have a ground balancing pulse machine, those can still be a single pulse detector. This pulse channel is able to ground balance, which means it can neutralize the ground. The problem with that sort of technology is when you ground balance out the ground, you can also balance out any target that has a decay characteristic that is similar to the ground. We call this the "detection hole". Essentially, it is a hole in the conductivity... when you look at the conductivity of gold or any material, you look at a conductivity spectrum. The decay rate of that... pulse decay is a function of the conductivity of the material and also the thickness and shape of the material. It all factors into effective conductivity.
For a ground balancing pulse detector, again, if the conductivity of the ground is similar to the conductivity of the target, when you ground balance out the ground you also ground balance out the target. To eliminate that problem, you create a second pulse which is substantially different than the first pulse, such that when you ground balance out the ground on the second pulse, its conductivity decay as far as the target is concerned, the conductivity decay on the first pulse and that on the on the second pulse do not match each other. As a result, as you ground balance out the ground on the first pulse, you create a hole, and you ground balance out the ground on the second pulse, it also creates a hole, but it is in a different location.
And so, those two pulses working together in unison, working simultaneously, one will always fill in the hole of the other, they overlap such that you never have a detection hole. If you only have a single pulse detector, and it ground balances, it will have a detection hole. There are various products on the market, some are less expensive than the ATX, some are more expensive than the ATX, but if they are a single pulse detector, they are going to have a hole in their detection, period. You are going to miss gold. You are absolutely going to miss gold.
Now where that hole falls depends on the mineralization conditions, and where the ground balance is set for the detector. As the ground balance shifts, the hole shifts with it. If you have a detector that has continuous ground tracking, such that you cannot switch it off, as that ground track moves around for the various ground conditions, the hole moves around with it and the targets are disappearing into that hole. You never know where the hole is at any time.
Again, to eliminate that problem, the more advanced, the most advanced detectors, like the ATX, use multiple pulse technology. They don't just have one single pulse that repeats, they have different kinds of pulses, and those pairs repeat. That is one of the differences in a true high end performance product like the ATX, versus some of the other products on the market. They are good products, and they are ground balancing pulse detectors, but if they are a single pulse technology, they have a hole in their detection that will miss targets."
Now, for me listening to that it is obvious that Garrett was clearly gunning for the White's TDI. How do I know that? Because it was Minelab that originally put multi period pulse detection into the consumers hands, via their MPS (multi period sensing) technology beginning with the ground breaking SD 2000. The White's TDI on the other hand is an older design, and in fact is basically just an Eric Foster Goldscan stuck in a White's labeled box. The Goldscan and the TDI are a single channel ground balancing pulse detector with the problem that Brent outlines in the video. Bruce Candy of Minelab saw the same issue and the SD 2000 was specifically developed as a multi channel or multi period device for this very reason.
MPS was patented, and so I am not sure if it was the patent expiring or Garrett simply using a method that got around the patent, but the ATX is using a similar multi period design as the SD Minelabs. Having used the Minelabs and the TDI plus the ATX I can vouch for the electronics in the ATX as being very capable and I do believe superior to that in the TDI. My ATX in fact tested favorably compared to my GPX 5000 with the 5000 having the edge, but not as much as I expected. I think in large part that is simply due to the Minelab using a much more powerful battery pumping far more power into the ground than the ATX with its eight AA batteries.
Unfortunately in my opinion Garrett made a huge mistake in taking these excellent electronics and hobbling them with a housing that did not take advantage of one of Minelabs biggest weaknesses - ergonomics. The TDI had and still has a distinct edge in that regard, and at a lower price than the ATX. Ironically, it is also that detection hole and the ability to manipulate it via a manual ground balance that has become, not the big problem as laid out in this video, but a feature of sorts in favor of the TDI. People have learned how to manipulate the hole to help identify targets by using the ground balance control as a sort of reverse discrimination control. Combined with the unique conductivity switch on the TDI knowledgeable users can become very proficient at identifying various target classes, and this has made it very popular with relic hunters in particular.
What history in hindsight reveals, in my opinion, is that Garrett missed the boat with the ATX as regards Minelab. The ATX hit the market before the SDC 2300 and had a window of opportunity to really make inroads if it had been in a lighter weight dry land package with a light dry land coil set designed specifically for desert prospecting. The electronics are there; it is the heavy housing, and heavy knock sensitive coils overpriced by an attached telescoping rod assembly that really hurt the machine. On the flip side, I don't think they did too much damage to the TDI also with the TDI being a less expensive more ergonomically friendly unit. Like the Garrett Infinium before it, the ATX has settled into being more a beach detector than a prospecting detector.
I have of course been making hay over this since day one and continue to make an issue of it at every opportunity in hopes that we may see a Garrett LTX some day. Dry land design only for the absolute lightest weight possible machine with light weight knock resistant coils to match, it would be a winner. There is a market still I believe for a $1500 -$2000 ground balancing PI detector that clearly has more power than a TDI in an all in one package lighter than anything Minelab currently markets. The only question in my mind is whether Garrett will finally get it right or will it finally be a moot point when new Fisher, White's, and Nokta/Makro machines waiting in the wings finally arrive.