This is my latest "Nugget Detector Guide", now published for over fifteen years, updated January 2019 with some of the latest model information. Each model has a short description, followed by a very PERSONAL OPINION. Copyright 2002-2019 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 due to differences in ground mineralization and the gold itself. 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 current models from major manufacturers that are sold and marketed primarily as prospecting detectors or that at least have a specific prospecting mode. I no longer list general purpose VLF detectors running under 17 khz because they are just too common and that being the case they offer nothing special to the potential gold prospector. If you are interested in other general purpose detectors that might make good prospecting machine but are not listed here, look at my more comprehensive reviews list. Many discontinued prospecting detectors are also listed there.
The list below has over twenty models listed and still may be too much for some people. In recognition of this I have made my best shot at picking three possible options I am calling Steve's Picks. Click the link to jump there at the end of this page.
Various popular gold nugget prospecting metal detectors
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 almost any detector on this list 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 are listed in order based on the lowest price normally advertised on the internet as of the date below.
Steve's Guide to Gold Nugget Detectors - Updated January 2019
Fisher Gold Bug ($449, 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 finds favor also with jewelry and relic hunters. This model normally comes with a 5" round DD coil to enhance the sensitivity to small gold but other stock coil options are available. The Gold Bug features an easy to use ground balance "Grab" function. Weight including a single 9V battery is 2.5 lbs. Many accessory coils are available for the Gold Bug.
Steve's Opinion - Lightweight, 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 a decent entry level detector for the price. It does not have nearly the features of the Minelab X-Terra 705 below but for a person who wants to keep it simple that may be an advantage. The main drawback is the model at $449 comes with a 5" round coil that is too small for general use. See the Gold Bug Pro below for more options.
Minelab X-Terra 705 Gold ($499, 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. Over ten accessory coils are available for the X-Terra 705 (Minelab, Coiltek).
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. 2019 Note - a new lower internet price of $499 (down from $699) makes this detector a real bargain alternative to the Gold Bug Pro below for those wanting a full featured do-it-all detector.
Fisher Gold Bug Pro ($549, 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. Many accessory coils are available for the Gold Bug Pro. Note - This model is also marketed as the Teknetics G2. They are the same detector except for the rod/handle assembly and coil.
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.
Makro Gold Racer ($599, 56 kHz) - A model from a company rather new in the United States. Makro is the sister company of Nokta, the manufacturer of the Nokta FORS Gold listed above. The new Gold Racer is based on the original Racer model released in February 2015. The Gold Racer at 56 kHz is rather unique in having all the features normally associated with coin and relic detectors yet it's running at a very high nugget detecting frequency. This makes it more of a general purpose detector than a dedicated nugget detector. The Gold Racer comes with a 10" x 5" DD coil and has three accessory coil options. The weight including four AA batteries is 3.0 lbs.
Steve's Opinion - I like the Gold Racer as it really is something new instead of just another mid-frequency do-it-all detector. The compact lightweight design appeals to me 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.
Garrett AT Gold ($638, 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. Many accessory coils are available for the AT Gold.
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.
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Minelab SDC 2300 ($3750, Pulse) - 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.
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 little better performance on small gold. Still, for novices in hot ground that can afford the price, the SDC 2300 is almost impossible to beat if the goal is just to go find some gold, any gold at all.
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.
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 the even lower price GPX 4500 above should also be considered. A Steve's Pick.
Minelab GPZ 7000 ($7999, 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 is one accessory coil available at this time.
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. The only weakness the machine seems to have at this time is an inability to deal quietly with wet saturated salt or alkali ground and certain volcanic hot rocks. 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 in my ground and on my gold.
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 offers the best performance on all targets. They do not. Note 2018 - the jury is out but the new Minelab Equinox 800 may be the first detector that excels at nugget detecting in multifrequency mode.
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 when it comes to my recommendations for others. It is very wise to wait about 6 months to a year after any new detector is introduced to see how others fare with it in the field before committing your hard won dollars.
I also lean to detectors that are designed just for gold prospecting as opposed to "do-it-all" detectors that may offer nice features, but those features can also get in the way of a person who only needs a gold prospecting detector. And that is the focus here. Widespread dealer support and service options are also very important.
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, Makro Gold Racer at 56 kHz, Makro Gold Kruzer at 61 kHz, Minelab Gold Monster at 45 kHz, and White's GMT and Goldmaster 24K at 48 kHz. This is a tough one because so many of these detectors get the job done so well. My pick at this time is the Minelab Gold Monster 1000. This detector has proven itself with prospectors both new and old around the world and if all I need to do is find tiny gold, the GM1000 is the detector I grab.
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 remains the Fisher Gold Bug Pro although the Minelab X-Terra 705 Gold offers more features for less due to a dramatic drop in price. I am recommending the Gold Bug Pro more for its simplicity - all the extra X-Terra features can get in the way if what you mostly want is a prospecting detector.
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 (for me anyway) 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 the 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 2019
1. Minelab Gold Monster 1000 (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 Monster 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 hesitate recommending it over the GPX 5000 to just anyone because of the high price tag, weight, and lack of coil options. The GPX 5000 in my opinion is the safer choice for overall versatility.
So there you are. Hopefully this helps some people out. I can be found daily on the Detector Prospector Forums 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 Herschbach Steve's Mining Journal
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Herschbach Enterprises - Please do not reuse or repost without my express permission.