Metal detecting is a thrilling hobby that can be educational and entertaining for people of all ages. However, it isn’t always affordable, with some high-end metal detectors costing thousands of dollars. There are cheaper metal detectors available on the market, but are they worth it?
Cheap metal detectors are worth it for beginners because they can try the activity without making a huge financial investment, make finds, and enjoy some metal detecting benefits. However, a cheap detector isn’t worth it for experts or gold prospectors.
In this article, I’ll discuss everything you should know about cheap metal detectors so you can decide whether it is worth purchasing one or if you should splurge on a more expensive model.
Things To Know Before Purchasing One
If you’re a metal detector newbie and you’re not sure whether or not you’ll become an enthusiast or an expert, you may not want to drop a lot of money on a metal detector only to have it sitting in your home, unused. If this is the case, your best option may be to get a cheap metal detector.
However, cheap metal detectors still aren’t that cheap, and they might not be worth it, depending on your metal detecting goals. Here’s everything you need to consider:
1. You Can Make Great Finds
Many people assume that cheap metal detectors are essentially toys and that you won’t be able to find anything with them. While it is true that you might not have as much success as often with a cheap metal detector compared to a more expensive and advanced tool, you can still make discoveries with a cheap metal detector.
As long as the detector has a coil and can use electromagnetism, it can sense metallic objects in the ground. Therefore, you will be able to find metallic objects, including coins and relics. For more information about how metal detectors use electromagnetism to sense metallic objects in the ground, check out my article on electromagnetic induction in metal detectors: Do Metal Detectors Have Magnets in Them?
However, cheap metal detectors may not be able to sense as many types of metal. Less conductive and non-ferrous metals, like stainless steel and lead, are difficult for even the best metal detectors to find, so you may struggle to make these discoveries with a less advanced model.
Additionally, cheap metal detectors are unlikely to be able to reach as deep as higher-quality metal detectors. Some extremely advanced (and extremely expensive) metal detectors can sense objects as far as twenty inches (51 centimeters) underground. There’s no way a metal detector less than a thousand dollars could reach that far.
Still, even with these limitations, you can make exciting finds with a cheap metal detector, so they aren’t completely worthless toys, as some believe. You probably won’t find anything that will make you rich (but you never know!), but you’ll be able to find some coins and other little treasures.
My favorite metal detector under $100 is the Bounty Hunter TK4 Tracker IV Metal Detector from Amazon.com because it has three modes of operation, two-tone audio discrimination, motion all-metal mode, and a waterproof search coil, which are all difficult features to find in cheap metal detectors. I also appreciate that it has a quarter-inch headphone jack into which you can plug your metal detecting headphones, which will help you know when you make a discovery.
2. They’re Great for Beginners
If you’re new to metal detecting, you might be excited about the activity now but unsure if that initial excitement will last. Many people are unsure when they first start a new hobby, and it would be a pity to invest a lot of money in an expensive metal detector only for it to go unused.
Therefore, I recommend that beginners start with a cheap metal detector before they invest in a more expensive one. While they may miss out on some finds and advanced features with the cheap detector, they’ll be able to try metal detecting without putting themselves in financial ruin.
The process of metal detecting is largely the same with a cheap detector as with an expensive one, so beginners can try it out and see if they like it first.
After spending some time using a cheap metal detector, users will have a better idea of whether their interest in metal detecting will last and whether a more expensive detector is a good purchase. If they decide to keep going, they’re on their way to becoming a metal detection expert!
3. You Can Enjoy the Benefits of Detecting With a Cheap Model
Metal detecting isn’t all about finding valuable items (although that’s certainly fun and part of the draw), there are many other benefits to metal detecting that you can still enjoy with a cheap metal detector.
For example, there’s no rule against joining a local metal detecting club if you only have a cheap detector. By joining the club, you can enjoy the socialization benefits of metal detecting, and you can even ask people in your group for advice if you ever want to upgrade to a more expensive detector!
Another benefit you can enjoy is the fresh air and exercise that comes with detecting. Metal detecting is a great way to encourage yourself and others to get outside and enjoy nature, which comes with benefits of its own, including the following:
- Being outside improves your mood. Being outside reduces anxiety. When you’re outside, you get more oxygen, increasing the serotonin your body produces. When your serotonin is at a healthy level, you naturally feel more emotionally stable and calm.
- Walking requires healthy physical activity. Walking around as you metal detect is exercising, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re exerting a lot of energy. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you happy, and movement strengthens your muscles and bones and improves your stability and balance.
- You get more vitamin D. You probably won’t be metal detecting in the sun all the time, but chances are, now and then, you’ll get out and soak up some rays as you metal detect. Your body requires sunlight to make vitamin D, which regulates how much calcium and phosphate are in your body.
- You’ll feel less stressed. Getting outside, even if it’s just for a short period, reduces stress levels because it reduces cortisol levels and because many people find it soothing to be surrounded by the beauty of nature.
- Being outside lowers your blood pressure. Being outside for just thirty minutes can lower your blood pressure.
While you probably won’t get financially rich using a cheap metal detector, you can still reap many of the benefits of metal detecting without spending a lot of money on an expensive metal detector.
4. Some Products Have Good Depth
One of the primary sacrifices you make when you decide to purchase a cheap metal detector over a more expensive model is depth. The cheaper models don’t have the technology necessary to get readings very far underground, which means you won’t be able to discover everything around you, only the things that are right underneath the first layer of soil.
However, some cheap metal detectors (under $100) can reach an underground depth of eight inches (20 centimeters). This is a solid depth, even for more expensive detectors. I don’t recommend buying a metal detector that can’t reach a depth of at least six inches. You won’t be able to find very much if you’re only detecting just underneath the surface.
Before you purchase a metal detector, try to figure out its maximum depth. Knowing how deep you can expect the metal detector to register metallic objects is a good way to manage your expectations and avoid heartache later.
5. You Probably Won’t Find Gold
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if your dream is to find gold using a metal detector, you’ll probably need to use a highly specialized and expensive detector, not a cheap one. Of course, never say never, but it is highly unlikely that you’ll find gold, gold nuggets, or gold flakes because detecting gold requires a metal detector that operates at high frequencies.
Most cheap metal detectors can’t reach high frequencies. For example, the Bounty Hunter linked above; a great cheap metal detector, can only reach 7 kHz. Gold is typically present in highly mineralized areas, and if you’re in that area with a cheap metal detector, it’ll constantly chatter instead of being useful.
Most metal detectorists can only find gold if they use a prospecting detector. These detectors are specialized tools that measure inductance and conductivity, which helps them avoid chattering and, more specifically, identify a target as gold or not gold.
You probably won’t be able to find a high-quality and effective gold metal detector for less than five hundred dollars. Gold metal detectors are available for less than that, but they often don’t have the advanced technology and depth ability to reach gold.
6. Some Low-Cost Metal Detectors Don’t Have Discrimination
Higher-end metal detectors almost always empower the user to discriminate or eliminate certain targets so you can limit the number of signals you get and only focus on getting your desired finds.
This is an extremely useful setting, especially when you’re metal detecting in an area with lots of trash. These areas often have iron objects in the ground, such as nails, that you don’t want to waste your time or energy digging up. If your metal detector has discrimination, you can set it up so that the detector doesn’t give a signal for iron or that the tone is different, so you can choose to ignore it.
Some cheap metal detectors have a discrimination option, but many don’t. You may struggle to have an enjoyable time in some areas, especially places like playgrounds or beaches where there tends to be a lot of trash.
7. You’ll Have To Deal With False Signals
All metal detectors, even the expensive ones, sometimes give a false signal. Unfortunately, no machine is perfect, and these signals are just par for the course. However, you’ll probably notice even more false signals with a cheap metal detector, especially if you are wearing something with metal in it or if you’re detecting something near another metal detector.
I’ve written an in-depth article on how metal detector signals may overlap and how you can prevent interference. Click on the link to learn more: Do Metal Detectors Interfere with Each Other?
8. They Have Fewer Advanced Features
Some expensive metal detectors go above and beyond with the features available to the user. For example, a cheap metal detector probably won’t have multi-frequency capability.
Multi-frequency metal detectors can put out three to five frequencies at the same time. This feature typically means that you miss out on fewer objects because if one frequency cannot reach the object, chances are the other one will be successful. Multi-frequency detectors are especially useful for metal detecting on the beach.
Another advanced feature you’ll be missing out on with a cheap metal detector is ground balancing. Ground balance is a feature that allows you to increase your depth in mineralized ground, which is especially helpful if you’re searching for more valuable finds, such as gold. The most expensive models even have automatic ground balance, in which the detector automatically determines the best balance setting for your terrain.
Finally, some expensive metal detectors, specifically Minelab models, have an iron bias filter that allows the user to change the way iron sounds impact the visual display indicator. Adjusting the iron bias to “high” suggests to the detector that you favor targets being identified as iron, whereas a “low” iron bias setting indicates that you want to target iron as non-ferrous.
When it comes to metal detectors, you get what you pay for. In this case, paying less for the detector results in fewer advanced features to play around with.
9. They Don’t Last As Long
One of the primary ways a metal detector manufacturer can cut costs is by using lower-quality materials to construct the tool. Expensive metal detectors are usually made from aircraft-grade aluminum, which is expensive to purchase and work with. This extra expense will reflect in the product’s overall price.
Cheap metal detectors are usually made with plastic. Plastic breaks more easily than aluminum, so your cheap metal detector is unlikely to last as long as a more expensive one. If you were to drop your cheap metal detector or accidentally hit it against something as you’re swinging it, it’s likely to break, and you’ll need to buy a replacement.
10. Most Products Don’t Work Underwater
If you’re planning on doing a lot of underwater metal detecting, I recommend going for a more expensive metal detector instead of a cheap one. Some cheap metal detectors are waterproof, but even the waterproof models don’t work as well underwater. Many cheap detectors aren’t waterproof, so you’ll ruin your detector if you try to submerge it.
If you have a cheap metal detector that is waterproof, it’s probably only waterproof up to the control box. I recommend getting a control box cover before detecting wet conditions or rain. These covers often also protect the control box from dirt and other debris, which increases its longevity.
Cheap metal detectors are worth it for beginners who want to try metal detecting before investing in a higher-tech detector. Cheap metal detectors don’t work as well as more expensive and advanced models, and you probably won’t be able to sense highly valuable finds such as gold.
Still, you’ll be able to find other items, including relics and coins. You’ll be able to practice using a metal detector and determine if it’s something you want to pursue.