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Gold and Silver with the New Garrett ATX - 11/16/13

Steve Herschbach

I have all my various metal detecting requirements pretty well covered. I like to do a lot of different things with detectors so that takes a collection of models all with specific purposes. Most of these purposes have to do with gold in one form or another. One thing I have been lacking for some time however is a waterproof pulse induction detector. I have used several, most recently the White's Surf PI Pro and Garrett Infinium. The Infinium in particular served me well - see my previous story on the Garrett Infinium in Hawaii.

I really liked the Infinium but had two main issues with it. When I recently became aware of a new detector in the works I sent word to Brent Weaver, the engineer at Garrett working on the unit (I am sure with the help of others) to please, please, please work on the EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference) and salt water stability issues. These two problems dogged my use of the Infinium, particularly in Hawaii. The Infinium is perhaps the best detector I ever used in Hawaii on one level - on another it drove me nuts. It was near impossible to get the detector to quiet down and run smoothly, so although it worked it was a tiring exercise. The Infinium is a classic first generation detector. Very good but very rough around the edges. Well, I am not going to take credit for harping on the subject for over ten years but for whatever reason Brent and company really appear to have got it right in the new Garrett ATX model. This detector screams next generation product. It is hands down one of the best pulse induction metal detectors I have ever used. I am amazed at how refined it is. The ATX in many ways acts and sounds more like a VLF than what I have come to expect from a PI detector. I suspect the Recon was the second generation and the ATX is now the third generation product as it is just so much better than the Infinium. Bravo and congratulations Brent and whoever works with you, job well done!!

The first thing that got me was the EMI rejection. This is not the frankly rather horrible process used on the Infinium. The Infinium has 32 discrete unmarked settings in a single turn knob. You are supposed to guess at 1/32 of a turn, wait and listen, turn another 1/32, wait and listen, and after doing this 32 times remember what unmarked setting was better than the rest and go back to it, except basically they all sort of were only a little better or worse. The ATX, push the tune button, wait a couple minutes while the detector cycles, and then the detector is quiet. Really quiet. VLF quiet. Better than some high gain VLF quiet. In my house, in the middle of the city - quiet. I have no idea what they did but oh my gosh this machine tunes out EMI and does it so well it is amazing. Want to use your Garrett pinpointer with the ATX? Turn the Pro Pointer on and toss it a couple feet away. Let the ATX cycle to find the best operating frequency. Now not only no EMI but you can use the Pro Pointer with the ATX on and get not a peep. No interference.

Now there has got to be a catch and urban locations where there is interference but so far I have been using the ATX around Reno like it is a VLF going coin detecting in parks and getting no interference.

Now add in a rock solid stable threshold. Good VLF stable. Minelab GPX 5000 stable. Clean and clear at stock settings, a little noise at higher than stock gain levels, again, in the middle of a city!

Garrett ATX Waterproof Pulse Induction metal detector

I am sure this is not at all what anyone expected from me. I was supposed to go out and go nugget detecting, right? Well, for personal reasons that was not an option when I got the ATX. I have been experimenting with coin detecting with ground balancing PI (GBPI) detectors in the past and have written several articles on the subject. I have found piles of coins with the Minelabs, Infinium, and TDI. Coins from depths VLFs cannot hit except in all metal mode, but with better discrimination than a VLF in all metal mode. But I had lots of issues with EMI in particular, and the relative crudeness of the detectors I was using - crudeness now only apparent because I am running the ATX.

Item three - a very well modulated audio target response. Shallow targets sound shallow, deep target sound deep, and lots of nuance to go around. There is a ton of information in the audio of the ATX, much like in a very good VLF for those that hunt by ear. All the sudden Garrett has dropped the best urban pulse induction detector in my hands that I have ever had. I went coin detecting!

One thing I found on moving to Reno was the ground is mineralized and pretty well detected. I was doing some coin detecting looking for my first Reno silver, but finding depth not what I expected at all. Coins deeper than about 6" were giving weak and erratic signals on the best VLF units made. I was finding coins, but more recent stuff, and nothing beyond about 6". The ground here is not very easy on VLF detectors and what is detectable has been hit pretty well over the years. But I knew it had to be there.

I took the ATX and used the old Infinium trick of concentrating on just low/high targets. The signals break depending on the ground balance setting, so it varies, but in general the tone break is right around zinc penny. Zinc penny and higher coins (silver, clad coins, nails) give a low/high tone. Zinc penny and lower (nickels, most trash, gold) give a high/low tone. The high/lows are very common since all aluminum and small ferrous trash gives a high/low tone, plus nickels, and gold jewelry. Low/high tones are much rarer, basically silver and clad coins and larger ferrous items like nails. The ratio of coins to trash basically depends on the amount of nails in the ground. Old cabin sites would be impossible to hunt. But many parks have few nails, and in the past my ration has run about 50/50 coins versus ferrous trash digging just good sounding low/high tone targets (or just low tone on the TDI). It helps immensely to dig isolated low/high tones as opposed to double blip type tones, which usually indicate a nail. Zinc and screw caps can go either way depending on the ground balance but usually are a much louder signal since they tend to be shallow.

The combination of EMI being non-existent, clean steady threshold, and well modulated audio made using the ATX more like using a VLF than using a PI in the Reno park setting. The big, big difference is the sounds are totally PI and must be learned from scratch but any decent VLF hunt by ear types should get the knack pretty quickly with the ATX. I know I did. Next thing you know I am digging wheat back pennies and my first silver dime in Reno. Only as 1954 silver but silver nonetheless.

My brief foray into coin hunting with the ATX had this result:

Nails and coins found park detecting with Garrett ATX - including silver dime!
Nails and coins found park detecting with Garrett ATX - including silver dime!

Three clad quarters, three clad dimes, four copper pennies, two zinc pennies, 1954 dime, 1920 penny, 1942 penny, 1949 penny, 1956 penny, 14 nails, and a screw cap. There were a few large iron items I did not get out of the hole, so about a 50/50 trash to coin ration, plenty good for me. The old coins were all nice mellow low/high tones, the quarters and more recent stuff much louder shallower targets. I could have left them and just gone for the older deeper targets but they were too easy to retrieve and hard to resist so I got them. A few of the nails are square nails which makes me feel good about the age, as does that 1920 penny. I think I am going to nab some good silver soon!

One thing I learned was take a pair of pliers. The nails tend to come up one end or the other in the hole and if you can grab it with pliers you can pull it out and get rid of it so it is not there to be detected in the future. Otherwise they stick pretty hard in the hole. My holes are always filled and invisible when I get done so this can be a bit more work than nugget detecting, where I just blast a pit into the ground. We have to protect the hobby so use care in parks to never leave a mark.

Which leads to item number four. Superb pinpointing. The 12" coil pinpoints dead center, backed up by an honest to gosh no motion on demand pinpointing mode. The coins were in the middle of my plugs. Or one end of the nail. Excellent pinpointing capability, better than a VLF DD coil. This DD acts more like a mono than a DD, with the inner coil area doing the heavy lifting. For small targets treat the inner coil as the only coil for overlapping purposes as that is the hot zone for small gold nuggets, etc.

Garrett ATX outfitted with 8" round mono accessory coil

I am not trying to sell anyone on coin detecting with a PI. I repeat, I am not doing anything here but telling you what I am doing and my results. Urban PI detecting is not for the faint of heart or those who detest digging junk. Most of you reading, just don't go there. Those of you who see what I am up to, well, this is for you. More later as I get more time under my belt but for now I will say this. The Garrett ATX is the best urban PI I have ever used. For me it (urban PI detecting) just went from a curiosity sideshow thing to something I am going to pursue more in the future.

My main issue with the ATX is hand in hand with it being waterproof - it is a heavy detector. It weighs 6.9 lbs with the stock 12" coil and rechargeable batteries loaded ready to run. Big boys will have no issue but I am of slighter build and so can feel the weight. The good news is the sling included is simple and surprisingly effective. If like me weight is an issue do yourself a favor and use the included sling right off the bat. I went without awhile and once I tried the sling was pleasantly surprised. It just slips over your arm and over the handle, very easy to just slide off the handle when digging. Do keep the rod assembly short for best balance.

OK, the Infinium was the best waterproof GBPI I ever used but it had issues and I have been waiting for over ten years for something better, Frankly, I thought it would be somebody else, not Garrett, that would do the deed. So the ATX first and foremost in my mind is the potential successor to the Infinium that I have been waiting for. I had to get this baby in the water, and fast. So I made a run up to Lake Tahoe, where water meets black sand hot rock infested beaches. I had my water hunting gear from Alaska, chest waders and long handle scoop, so hit it day before yesterday, both on the beach and in the water. I got the usual beach suspects, various trash items, a handful of coins, two earrings (looked good but fake diamonds) and a 14K gold ring with five little 1/10th carat diamonds.

Gold and diamond ring found with Garrett ATX at Lake Tahoe

I could see the black sand lines in the sand. There were hot rocks aplenty, all of which I just ground balanced out with the simple push button method and then just locked. I do not generally use automatic ground tracking and have not needed to on the ATX yet in my limited experience. Again, no EMI. I ran gain up high for awhile and the machine was well behaved but it did introduce a bit of noise. I decided to opt for a quiet stable threshold which was a notch above the stock setting of 10 at the 11 setting. I think you are better off setting the ATX to run quiet so that even a peep is a target. Too much gain leads to false peeps so resist the urge to max it out.

 I am looking forward to getting out and doing some prospecting with the ATX but first and foremost for me it is a water detector. I have plenty of prospecting detectors, and the ATX is a bit heavier than I like for dry land use. I can't wait to get the ATX into the water in Hawaii and see how it does in locations I previously hunted with the Infinium. I think the Garrett ATX is really going to perform for me there.

~ Steve Herschbach
Copyright © 2013 Herschbach Enterprises

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