This is my latest "Nugget Detector Guide", now published for over fifteen years, updated September 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.
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 September 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, especially considering that it comes with the preferred 5" x 10" coil.
Nokta/Makro Gold Racer ($509, 56 kHz) - The Gold Racer is based on the original Racer model released in February 2015. The Gold Racer at 56 kHz was unique when released 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 Nokta/Makro 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. Worth a very close look, especially if a large coil option is important.
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. In theory the Minelab 705 and Nokta/Makro Gold Racer above offers more features for less money and may therefore be a better option for many people. However, more options can get in the way, especially for beginners, and the Gold Bug Pro is a far more focused, simpler operating detector. For a basic VLF prospecting detector the Gold Bug Pro is an excellent entry level choice for most people. A Steve's Pick.
Nokta/Makro Gold Kruzer ($636, 61 kHz) - Nokta/Makro started shipping the new Gold Kruzer model in June 2018. The Nokta/Makro Gold Kruzer is a variant of the Nokta/Makro Gold Racer above that has been boosted to 61 kHz from 56 kHz and put in a waterproof housing good to 5 meters (16.4 ft). The Gold Kruzer comes with a 10" x 5" concentric coil and a 4" x 7.5" DD coil. The weight including LiPo batteries is 3.0 lbs. There are four coils available for the Gold Kruzer.
Steve's Opinion - The Nokta/Makro Gold Racer has been one of my favorite detectors because until recently there was nothing running in this frequency class that had full target id and other options normally seen only in coin detectors. The Gold Kruzer takes it all to the next step by being waterproof in excess of ten feet. There are no other detectors running at a frequency this high that are fully submersible with built in wireless capability and therefore this detector may find favor with freshwater jewelry hunters as well as prospectors. The Gold Kruzer is worth keeping an eye on and is a better value than it appears at first glance due to the dual coil packaging. Note Sept 2019: the Nokta/Makro Gold Kruzer package has been reduced from $749 to $636, dropping it just under the AT Gold in price. This aggressive price drop in a waterproof 61 kHz dual coil package makes this model very hard to resist. I would not even consider a Garrett AT Gold personally compared to the Gold Kruzer at this 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 - The Garrett AT Gold was an innovative option when it was introduced, and the only waterproof nugget detector option at the time. The industry has caught up and even surpassed Garrett now and unless the AT Gold comes down in price it's hard to recommend for somebody interested primarily in a nugget detecting VLF. For Garrett fans really, otherwise newer models like the Nokta/Makro Gold Kruzer above are better deals.
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Nokta/Makro AU Gold Finder ($679, 56 kHz) - The Nokta/Makro AU Gold Finder came out in 2016 and is basically a Nokta/Makro Gold Racer (see above) put into a different housing that emphasizes simple knob controls. The housing is IP56 dust and water resistant. The AU Gold Finder comes with a 10" x 5" DD coil plus a 5" round DD coil. The weight including four AA batteries is 3.1 lbs.
Steve's Opinion - The AU Gold Finder is an interesting option in that it specifically is made to look and handle more like older style analog detectors for those who prefer such things. The simple knob design is intuitive and putting everything in a sealed box allows the detector to be chest or hip mounted, a rarity in today's detectors. Since the AU Gold Finder is basically a Nokta/Makro Gold Racer in a different housing they can actually share the same coils. However, the coils that come with the AU Gold Finder have much longer cables to allow for use when the control box is hip or chest mounted. Gold Racer coils work but the shorter cables only make them suitable for use on the Gold Finder when it is rod mounted. Bottom line, a good prospecting detector and a good value with two coils, overlooked by many due to a very limited number of dealers stocking the unit.
Fisher Gold Bug 2 ($699, 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.
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.
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. Four accessory coils are available for the GMT.
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.
White's Goldmaster 24K ($729, 48 kHz) - The new White's Goldmaster 24K was announced for 2018 and started shipping to customers in September of that year. This followup to the popular White's GMT adds increased power, advanced ground tracking (patent pending), target id information and more. The Goldmaster 24K will come with the 6" x 10" DD search coil. Weight including eight AA batteries 3.5 lbs. One accessory coils is available for the Goldmaster 24K.
Steve's Opinion - Too early to tell but this is a very hot detector, with voltage to the coil boosted by 54% over the GMT. This makes the Goldmaster 24K a little bit more sensitive to small gold than the GMT while the new XGB ground tracking system helps offset the extra sensitivity with multi-point ground balancing. I ran the Goldmaster 24K and particularly liked how it felt and performed with the 6" round concentric coil. Other reviews are appearing now and all are very positive - looks like White's has a winner! When more coil options become available the 24K will likely end up replacing the GMT. The 24K is a very viable option to the Minelab Gold Monster at a lower price - it really depends on whether you are looking for simplicity (Monster) or more tuning options (24K).
XP ORX ($795, 14, 28, 56, 80 kHz) - XP has just released this new product for general sales. The new XP ORX emphasizes gold prospecting and coin detecting in the promotional material. The XP ORX appears to be a version of the "Africa only" Depar DPR 600 made for sales in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere. The Orx has been refined from that early effort by the addition of the ability to use the new X35 coils.
Steve's Opinion - With XP switching the old low frequency coil models over to the newer X35 coil series it appears that XP intends for the ORX to be the high frequency option with an emphasis on gold prospecting, and for a lower price than the Deus model. The coils are the same as those used by the Deus and I expect the performance on gold nuggets to be identical also to what the Deus offers with the high frequency coil option. This machine is available with wired headphones for $649 and well worth considering at that price, but I have listed it here with the popular wireless headphone option. I think the ORX is a great little nugget hunter personally (I love the compact design), but it seems to be overlooked my most serious prospectors and getting more attention as a low cost alternative to the XP Deus for coin and relic detecting.
Minelab Gold Monster 1000 ($849, 45 kHz) – The Minelab Gold Monster 1000 came out in 2017. The model is replaces the Minelab Eureka Gold as a much lighter and less expensive detector. Main features are a hot 45 kHz frequency combined with automatic ground tracking and even an automatic sensitivity option. The Minelab Gold Monster comes with both 10" elliptical and 5" round DD coil plus rechargeable and standard AA battery packs (AA batteries not included).
Steve's Opinion - I have been a little surprised how I took to the Gold Monster 1000. This has been based more on its grab and go simplicity than anything else. The excellent sensitivity to small gold and and dual coil package for a great price mean I could hardly be more pleased with the Minelab Gold Monster. I was as shocked as anyone when I found myself selling my prized Gold Bug 2 and keeping the Gold Monster. The main issue for beginners is to resist over-driving the sensitivity which can lead to false signals. Minelab raised the price of this detector in 2019 making it a little less attractive price but this is still a very good option for a person wanting an easy machine to start with. A Steve's Pick still for that reason.
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Minelab Equinox 800 ($899, 5, 10, 15, 20, 40 kHz plus Multifrequency) – The Minelab Equinox 800 has just been released and is only now becoming available in quantity. It includes a dedicated Gold Mode with up to 40 kHz operation and offers the first true multifrequency nugget detecting capability.
Steve's Opinion - The Minelab Equinox 800 and the Equinox 600 to a lesser degree are proving to have some major sensitivity to gold nuggets in mineralized ground. I have been very impressed with what I have been able to make the Equinox do as a gold prospecting detector. The stock 11" coil is less than ideal for nugget detecting, but the new 6" coil is proving to be very stable and have extreme sensitivity to very small gold. I am not recommending all prospectors run out and get an Equinox. It is primarily a general purpose detector. However, if you want a capable general purpose detector that is quite capable of finding gold nuggets, the Minelab Equinox has serious possibilities. It's actually my go to machine for VLF gold prospecting at this time as I enjoy exploring all the options the machine offers. Equinox nugget detecting tips.
White's TDI SL ($1049, 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. See the new TDI Special Edition variant.
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. I honestly like the TDI SL a lot because of its light weight and aggressively low price but I wish it had more horsepower. In moderate to low mineral ground I think the White's GMT is the better option, with the TDI SL only really showing its stuff under severe ground conditions. Be aware that a good VLF may serve as well for less money than a PI detector - see the note below.
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 ($1299, 4 kHz, 8 kHz, 12 kHz, 18 kHz plus 14 kHz, 30 kHz, 55 kHz, 80 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 $1069.00 to $1899.00. Price listed here is for DEUS with FX-02 wired headphones + remote + 9" coil.
Steve's Opinion - The XP DEUS has a dedicated prospecting mode called the Gold Field Program. It is a fantastic piece of technology, programmable for many detecting tasks, and groundbreaking 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. The Version 4 update added improvements to the Gold Field program and the option of two additional High Frequency (HF) coils running at 14 kHz, 30 kHz, 55 kHz, and 80 kHz. The DEUS outfitted with one of these new coils will give the best VLF prospecting detectors a run for the money. Unfortunately adding one of these coils also adds about $400 to the price above. The DEUS is not a detector I would buy specifically for gold prospecting - If all you want is a prospecting detector there are other VLF options for far less money. If you want a DEUS anyway however (for coin, jewelry, and relic detecting) and want to use the new HF coils to search for gold, rest assured the DEUS can do the job as a VLF prospecting detector. My real hope has been for a version sold specifically as a gold prospecting detector with the HF coil as stock at a much lower price - see the new XP ORX above.
Garrett ATX ($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.
Steve's Opinion - The ATX is a great addition to my working collection of detectors. The ATX is a very versatile detector and fully capable of almost any task a person wants to use it for. The ATX is a superior beach detector and one of the better 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. I think the ATX has a performance edge over the TDI SL but at twice the price and twice the weight it has not set the prospecting world on fire. The main problem is the heavy waterproof housing driving the price up so high that in Australia the ATX does not compare favorably to the much more popular Minelab models. In the U.S. it has settled into being most used for beach and relic detecting. Mine goes along as a backup for my GPZ 7000 while gold prospecting but it actually sees more use with me as a beach detector. I have tried for years to convince Garrett to make a light weight less expensive dry land version of the ATX but so far to no avail. At this point unless having a waterproof detector is critical to your needs, spending the little more money to get a Minelab GPX 4500 makes more sense.
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.
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. Sept 2019 note: it appears Minelab is discontinuing the GPX 4500. There are plenty available still and Minelab still lists them on their website as a current model, but dealers are saying it's going away. That would remove an great value choice for prospectors and I for one hate to see it happen.
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Minelab SDC 2300 ($3799, 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
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
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Edited by Steve Herschbach