Whether you are searching for some coins at the beach, looking for your lost ring in the backyard or hunting for a treasure in the ocean, using the right metal detector means the difference between finding a hidden relic or missing it completely. After doing some serious research on the best metal detectors available, we narrowed down our selection to the top seven models under the $250 price point.
Over a month and 30 hours of hands-on testing with seven products, we’ve found the best metal detector. We subjected them all to a handful of tests to determine which could reliably find more treasures in different situations, while avoiding garbage. There are a variety of modes that you can use on metal detectors, but we found that the Garrett – Ace 250 is the best metal detector overall in every category we tested.
This metal detector is superior when it comes to locating coins, relics and gold, both in the sand and water. Additionally, the Garrett – Ace 250 had no problems filtering out trash. It also has the best look and feel when it comes to ergonomics.
Top Pick: Garrett - Ace 250
Although it is the priciest unit we tested, Garrett's Ace 250 was the top performing metal detector in every category.
Table of contents
- How we selected finalists to test
- The seven best metal detectors
- Important features to consider
- How we tested
- The best metal detector: Garrett – Ace 250
- The runner up: Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV
- Budget pick: Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger
- Other finalists we tested
- The bottom line
How we selected finalists to test
In deciding which metal detectors to test, we did online research and found out what people are normally using metal detectors for. In particular, we combed through metal detecting subreddits to see what people are concerned with, read articles to learn from more experienced detectorists such as Michael and Daniel Bernzweig and also drew from other ‘real testing’ review sites.
We found that the top uses for metal detectors are coin shooting, relic hunting and gold prospecting, which we will describe below. We also found that the top areas people are concerned about while doing their detecting are beaches and water. We therefore looked for metal detectors that specialize in these areas.
Keeping this information in mind, we then went to Amazon.com and other online retailers, such as Walmart.com and Homedepot.com, in order to find which metal detectors not only met the above criteria, but were also reviewed positively by consumers. Of course, the more reviews each metal detector has, the more reliable the information will be. Because of this, we only tested those metal detectors which had a large number of reviews and a positive customer review rating.
Once our seven metal detectors arrived we headed off to the beach in order to begin our hands-on testing. Based on our research of what consumers are most interested in and concerned about, we tailored our tests accordingly. We engaged all seven metal detectors in five tests: a general detection test, a discrimination test, a depth test, an underwater test and an ergonomics test.
The seven best metal detectors
|Product||Price||Depth Indicator||Discrimination Feature||Overall Performance|
|1. Garret - Ace 250||$$$$||Yes||Yes||5/5|
|2. Bounty Hunter - Tracker IV||$$||No||Yes||4.5/5|
|3. Bounty Hunter - Gold Digger||$$||No||No||4.5/5|
|4. Treasure Cove - TC-3020||$$$$||Yes||Yes||4.5/5|
|5. New Home Innovations||$$||No||Yes||3.5/5|
|6. BARSKA - Winbest Pro||$$||No||Yes||3/5|
|7. Ground EFX - MC1 Youth||$||No||No||3/5|
What is a metal detector used for?
Coin shooting: The most common activity metal detectors are used for is searching for coins or ‘coin shooting.’ It is often mentioned that coin shooting, while fun in its own right, will also pay for your metal detector within several months of detecting. If you go to popular places, such as the beach, you are sure to find quarters, nickels, dimes and even one dollar coins. On the other hand, you can also go searching for more valuable vintage coins. If you would like to search for these, it is recommended to go coin shooting in less frequented places.
Relic hunting: Relic hunting or searching for treasures from a bygone era, is another popular activity you can do with your metal detector. Not only can relics be valuable antiques, but they are also interesting in that they provide insights into past times. When searching for a relic you need to consider the type of ground that you will be searching in. Often times, you will be searching in heavily mineralized areas and so you are going to want a detector that can filter out the minerals while searching.
Gold prospecting: Many people get into the hobby of metal detecting with the dreams of finding a big gold nugget. Searching for gold nuggets or flakes is called gold prospecting. The enthusiasm of the ‘gold rush’ is still alive and well for some people and if this is the case with you, you are going to want a detector that is especially well adept at locating gold.
It seems that gold prospecting is the most difficult of all types of detecting and experienced detectorists suggest that you master coin shooting before searching for gold. From our tests, we found that the Garrett – Ace 250 was best at locating gold, while the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV, Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger and Treasure Cove – TC-3020 all tied for a close second place.
Beach and water hunting: While coin shooting, relic hunting and gold prospecting are the most popular activities for metal detectorists, the beach and ocean are the most popular locations for detecting. There are of course two main terrains to consider here: the sand and underwater.
Of course, you can expect to find valuables left behind by beachgoers on the sand, but don’t forget that there will be things in the water too. If you plan on using your detector underwater, make sure that the coil will be waterproof. We made sure that all of the models we tested were advertised as having waterproof coils.
Important features to consider
Calibration: Often, you will be using your metal detector in soil full of metallic minerals. When this is the case, you are going to want a good calibration feature, also known as a ground balancing feature, on your metal detector. Why? The ground balancing feature is responsible for sensing the various metallic minerals in the soil and in turn clearing out any possible interference from these. If the calibration strength is too low on your metal detector, you may experience frustrating interference from the minerals in the soil.
There are three different types of calibration features that each metal detector may have, including preset, automatic or manual:
- If your detector has a preset calibration, it has been set to a particular range and will not change.
- Detectors with auto-calibration automatically adjust their sensors as they read the minerals in the ground.
- Detectors with manual calibration allow the user to adjust their ground balancing setting as they choose.
Coil: The coil is the flat sphere at the end of the detector that you hold above the ground. It comes in many different styles and shapes, including the double-D, concentric and spider designs. Each type of coil excels at certain things and struggles with others, so be sure to think about what you will be using your detector for before choosing your coil.
Double-D coils have an excellent range of coverage, but cannot read objects buried very deep. Concentric coils, on the other hand, do not have as good of a range, but read buried objects better. Spider coils are the most consistent of all coil shapes and can be used amid bushes and grass.
Depth indicator: The depth indicator is a rare feature on metal detectors. However, this feature is handy. It will let you know how deep you need to dig in order to pull up your object from the ground. Normally, depth indicators will display how deep the object is on the LCD screen, giving you a range from anywhere between one and twelve inches.
Discrimination: The discrimination feature on metal detectors is used to specify what objects you do and do not want your detector to locate. Most detectors will have this feature, but the options of this mode will vary greatly.
Different types of metal produce different types of magnetic responses and the discrimination feature on detectors is able to hone in on only those magnetic responses which you choose. This allows you not only to search for the types of metals you are after, but also allows you to ignore other types of trash metals you are not interested in.
Pinpoint mode: Pinpoint mode is an option found on a few metal detectors. It is used to help hone in on the object you are detecting. Whereas all detectors give you a rough idea where the object is to be found, the pinpoint mode helps you determine its exact location. The sensor is placed at the center of the coil, while the button to activate the mode is normally up by the hand. Once you know there is an object in the vicinity, push the pinpoint button and you should be able to precisely locate the object.
Radar type: While many metal detectors come with a radar that can penetrate the ground, the quality of the radar can vary. Indeed, the quality of the radar technology has a large impact on the total cost of the unit, so if you want high-end technology here, expect to pay top dollar for your metal detector. The better radars can read the density and size of the buried object accurately, so if this is what you are concerned with, be sure to get a detector with a high-quality radar.
Sensitivity meter: The sensitivity feature on a metal detector is used for two different reasons. First, it is used to find objects of varying sizes. When the sensitivity is set to high, you will be able to find smaller metal items, while when it is set to low you will be able to find larger items. Second, the sensitivity feature is used to find objects buried at varying depths. Setting the sensitivity to high will allow you to find objects toward the top of the ground, while setting it to low allows you to find objects that are buried deeper. While nearly all metal detectors have an adjustable sensitivity meter, the sensitivity range of each detector will vary.
How we tested
The most popular location for metal detecting is the beach, so this is where we tested our seven finalists. At the beach, we put all seven metal detectors through five tests. First, we set up a general detection test in which we searched for relics, coins and gold that we scattered on the sand. Second, we did a similar test in which we scattered metallic trash around our test items to see if that trash would confuse the detector.
Third, we performed a depth test in which we buried the coins, relics and gold several inches deep and then tested how well the detectors sensed them. Fourth, we submitted each detector to an underwater test in which we tested how well the detectors sensed the coins, relics and gold when they were submerged several inches. Finally, while doing all of the above tests, we also considered the ergonomic look and feel of each metal detector.
Basic detection test
For the general detection test, we scattered 12 different objects on top of the sand, separated from one another by several feet. Here, we wanted to test the ability of each detector to find all types of metal. So, we used a wide variety of coins, relics and gold. In total, we used one yellow-gold ring, two white-gold rings, a silver bracelet relic, a silver belt buckle relic, a silver pocket watch relic, three one dollar coins and three quarters.
Once the objects were placed in the sand, we then tested each detector by walking steadily forward, sweeping the detector back and forth over each object one time. We wanted this test to capture realistic results, so we did not pause over any object. Instead,we simply passed over each one time, testing if the detector would alert us to its presence.
All of the finalists had good results for this test, and a few of them had excellent results. The Garrett – Ace 250 and the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV each perfectly located 12 out of the 12 objects. The Ground EFX – MC1 Youth had the worst showing, but still managed to locate nine out of the 12 objects.
Next, we wanted to test the discrimination ability of each of the metal detectors — that is, we wanted to test how well each detector can filter out metallic trash while still being able to locate coins, relics and gold.
For the discrimination test, we used the above-mentioned general detection test, but first we scattered several nails and soda can pull tabs throughout the area. We chose these trash items because they seem to be the most common to confuse detectors. We placed these trash objects both next to several of the coins, relics and gold and in the spaces between them.
We wanted to determine whether each detector was able to accurately locate the coins, relics and gold even when metal trash was next to them. Moreover, we wanted to ensure that the detectors would not erroneously pick up a trash item by itself as if it were one of the coins, relics or gold. As we did with the general detection test, for this test we simply walked forward in a steady motion, sweeping each detector back and forth.
All of the detectors that we tested had an adjustable discrimination feature, which we set according to their respective manuals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results of this test were very similar to the above general detection test. The Garrett – Ace 250 had the highest score, failing to find only one object. The Ground EFX – MC1 Youth had the lowest score, failing to find several objects and actually erroneously alerting us of one trash item.
For the depth test we wanted to test how accurately each detector could locate coins, relics and gold that were buried under the sand from between four and six inches deep. We chose this range since we learned that under normal conditions you can expect your detector to read objects with consistency up to six inches underground.
Here we dug six holes, each one between four and six inches. Then, we buried the six following items: a yellow-gold ring, a white-gold ring, a silver bracelet relic, a silver belt buckle relic, a one dollar coin, and a quarter. We then filled each of the holes up to the top with sand. Once all of the items were buried, we scanned the area with each detector, just as we did in the first two tests: walking steadily forward, sweeping the detector back and forth
Again, the results were very similar to the first two tests, so we knew that a pattern was forming. The Garrett – Ace 250 and the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV each achieved a perfect score, each detector locating all six of the items that we buried. Meanwhile, the Ground EFX – MC1 Youth earned the worst score with a three out of six.
In general, we found that the rings were the hardest for the detectors to locate, which makes sense considering how small they are. Also, we noted that the Garrett – Ace 250 not only achieved the highest score here, but that it was also the most intuitive. It clearly and accurately marked on its LCD screen the depth of each object that it located.
Next, we tested how well each metal detector worked when attempting to locate an object that was submerged in water. Here we placed various coins, relics and gold underwater, each one submerged anywhere from four to 12 inches deep. We chose this range in an attempt to mimic what you would normally experience while detecting in the shallow water at the beach.
In total we placed six objects underwater, the same ones we used during the depth test: a yellow-gold ring, a white-gold ring, a silver bracelet relic, a silver belt buckle relic, a one dollar coin, and a quarter. We then tested each of the metal detectors by submerging their coils under the water and moving steadily forward over each object one time.
We should note here that all seven of the metal detectors that we tested are advertised as having waterproof coils and indeed we did not have any problems in this regard. However, you should note that some consumers have had their units malfunction when placed in water. Notably, consumers have complained that both of the Bounty Hunters on this list, as well as the BARSKA, have malfunctioned when submerged. We did not have this problem with any of the units.
Once again, in line with our above tests, the Garrett – Ace 250 had the best score in the underwater test, locating with perfect accuracy all six of the underwater items. Surprisingly, here the Ground EFX – MC1 Youth did not score the lowest. Instead, the Treasure Cove – TC-3020, New Home Innovations – Starter Kit and BARSKA – Winbest Pro Edition all tied for the worst score, locating four out of the six underwater items.
While we were engaged with the general detection test, discrimination test, depth test and underwater test, we were also taking notes on the ergonomics of each of the seven metal detectors. We considered the feel and function of each detector in our hands, along with the quality of the display for each unit. Here are our observations:
First, we found that when the different components on a detector snapped together, this provided a sturdier frame than those which were screwed together. Also, the component of the metal detector that rests on your forearm should be large and comfortable, as we found that much of the weight of the detector rests on this spot. Those detectors that had a small forearm rest often slipped off our arm and were harder to control.
Second, we found that the displays of metal detectors come in a wide array of options, some better than others. In general, an LCD display is preferable over the old knobs and meter layout, as it gives much more information along with more options for customization.
Garrett - Ace 250
Thick padding and Velcro-strapped forearm rest make this the comfiest metal detector.
Keeping the above pointers in mind, we found during our testing that the Garrett – Ace 250 had the best ergonomics. The thick padding all over the detector, the secure forearm rest with a Velcro strap and the fact that the different parts of the shaft connected by clicking together in pre-made grooves, made this Garrett the most comfortable unit. This model also had the best display of any of the detectors. The LCD display on this unit was very easy to read and had the most buttons, options and customization of all the units.
Interestingly, the Treasure Cove – TC-3020 was a close second place here, as it is built sturdily and also has an excellent LCD display. We found the BARSKA – Winbest Pro Edition to have the worst ergonomics. Not only was the forearm rest on the BARSKA very small and flimsy, but the unit itself kept falling apart due its weak screw support.
The best metal detector: Garrett – Ace 250
After we completed our above five tests, a clear winner emerged: the Garrett – Ace 250. It is really no surprise that this detector is also the top pick for other review sites such as on Top Ten Reviews. This metal detector was at the top of our charts for all five of our tests. Indeed, for five out of six tests, it received a perfect score.
The Garrett’s automatic ground balancing feature worked excellently, adjusting itself to the mineral content perfectly. It found every coin, relic and piece of gold — in sand, underwater and even buried a few inches deep. It only missed one item during the discrimination test, so it is safe to say that this metal detector is your best bet when it comes to finding those treasures.
Garrett - Ace 250
The Garrett - Ace 250 is on the pricey side, but is packed with features and outperformed every other unit we tested.
As far as the ergonomics on this unit go, we can’t say enough positive things about it. It is definitely the most comfortable of any of the detectors we got our hands on. The model is built very solidly and is extremely sturdy. The foam on the handle and arm rest, along with the Velcro strap on the armrest, provide a very secure feel.
The LCD display is also in a class of its own. Along with the standard discrimination, sensitivity features and headphone jack, this unit comes with a pinpoint feature (which is also found on the New Home Innovations – Starter Kit) and many other pre-programmed modes for searching for different types of metals. The screen is easy to read and also displays the estimated depth of the metal it finds. No other detector can compare to this Garrett – Ace 250 in terms of ergonomics.
The only downside to this unit is the relatively high price tag. While there are much more expensive models out there, this one does cost the most of the seven we’ve tested.
- The Garrett – Ace 250 is the most reliable metal detector when it comes to locating coins, relics and gold.
- It’s solid frame, padded handle and Velcro-strapped forearm rest make this metal detector the most comfortable model.
- The LCD screen is top of the line, clearly displaying a wide range of options and data.
- With a depth meter, pinpoint feature and various other features, the Garrett – Ace 250 has the widest variety of modes.
The runner-up: Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV
Coming in second place is the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV metal detector. In two of our tests, this metal detector actually tied with the Garrett – Ace 250 for top place. That is, in both the general detection test and the depth test the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV found every single item. As for the discrimination test and underwater test, this metal detector came up only behind the Garrett. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Tracker IV has also been voted as one of the best beginner metal detectors on some other review sites.
We would definitely recommend this unit to anyone looking for an excellent all-around unit that is inexpensive. Like the Garrett, the calibration feature on this model is automatic and it had no problems adjusting itself to the soil we were searching. Bounty Hunter is perhaps the most trusted name in the business when it comes to metal detectors and this Tracker IV is our pick for their best model, all things considered.
Bounty Hunter - Tracker IV
The Tracker IV is one of the best when it comes to locating treasures, both on the surface and buried several inches deep.
If you are deliberating between getting this model or the Garrett – Ace 250, there are two main points you should consider. On one hand, the price of the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV is much lower than the Garrett: around 50% cheaper. On the other hand, this Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV does not compete with the Garrett when it comes to ergonomics.
The sensitivity feature, discrimination feature, headphone jack, target indicator, and three-position toggle on this Tracker IV are more than enough to detect most items. However, the lack of an LCD screen is worth noting. We think that the variety of extra options which come with an LCD screen would have helped this Tracker IV in the trickier underwater and discrimination tests.
If you plan on detecting in places where there will be metallic trash which might interfere or plan on searching for items underwater and you want the absolute best performance under these conditions, you may want to spend the extra cash and go with the Garrett.
- The Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV received our top score for finding metals, both on the surface and buried.
- It was second best when testing amid metallic trash and underwater, only to be beat out by the Garrett.
- Considering how well it functions, the price tag for the Tracker is relatively low.
- The four adjustable modes on its display are enough to suit any type of treasure hunting you might engage in.
Budget pick: Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger
If you are more budget-minded and are still looking for an excellent metal detector, we have got the answer for you: the Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger. Bounty Hunter dominates the market of metal detectors and with this brand you are sure to receive a quality product. While other review sites picked the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV as their top budget pick, we think the Gold Digger deserves this honor, as it is priced lower than the Tracker IV and functions almost as well.
In our general detection test, the Gold Digger missed only one item. Likewise, in the depth test and underwater test this detector failed to locate only one item per test. This Gold Digger is therefore very reliable when it comes to locating treasures – both above ground as well as underground and underwater.
Like the top two detectors, the Gold Digger’s calibration feature is automatic and performed well self-adjusting as needed. Also, this detector comes with a pair of headphones which can be plugged into the jack, but we must note that they are on the small side and the quality is not great.
Bounty Hunter - Gold Digger
Scoring near the top in all of our tests and yet having a very low price tag makes this detector our budget pick.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that, overall, the Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger came in third place in our test results and yet it is the second cheapest model out of all seven detectors we tested. This is the perfect formula for making this model our budget pick. We will admit that this detector does not look special (with only a power level, trash eliminator and sensitivity meter on the display) but it gets the job done. When all features are adjusted properly, this budget unit finds treasures with the best of them.
- The Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger received an overall third place score on our five tests and can reliably find treasures in most conditions.
- Though it excelled on our tests, this metal detector is actually the second cheapest model that we tested.
- Power level, trash eliminator and sensitivity meter features work very well together on the Gold Digger, and it was the only one to come with headphones.
Other finalists we tested
Treasure Cove – TC-3020
The Treasure Cove – TC-3020 had an all-around good score on our five tests, making it worth considering. When we first got our hands on this unit we were excited about the sheer number of options and features on the LCD display. We have to note that this is the second best display of all our seven models, only behind the Garrett – Ace 250.
The options on the LCD screen include a sensitivity meter, discrimination meter, notch adjuster and metal adjuster. Besides these, the display also has a meter displaying what type of metal it has found (such as gold or silver) and even attempts to specify what it is that it has located (such as a nickel, quarter or trash). It is also noteworthy that this metal detector came with high quality headphones to plug into the jack.
Because this detector came with such an excellent range of options and features on the display, we were a bit disappointed that it did not score more highly on some of our tests. In particular, this Treasure Cove struggled a bit on our depth and underwater test, so it might not be the greatest at finding metals that are several inches below the surface.
New Home Innovations – Starter Kit
The New Home Innovations – Starter Kit metal detector was a bit low on the overall score for our tests, but the cheap price tag on this unit does offset that a bit. If you are looking for a budget metal detector outside of the Bounty Hunter name brand, this one will treat you well. There were no glaring defects on this metal detector, but on the other hand there were no amazing qualities about it either.
Overall, we consider this a nice middle of the road unit. It scored somewhere near the mid-range in most of our tests. This means that while using this detector you will be able to find most treasures, including those buried underwater and amid trash, but will likely miss out on a few that other higher-rated detectors would find.
The features on the display include the standard discrimination, sensitivity and target indicator, along with a headphone jack. Beyond this, the display also includes a pinpoint feature, which is a nice touch on such a budget friendly model. We do have to note that ergonomically this unit feels a bit on the cheap side due to the non-sturdy build and the flimsy forearm rest.
BARSKA – Winbest Pro
As far as functionality goes, the BARSKA – Winbest Pro metal detector operated about on par with the New Home Innovations. In our tests to locate metals, this unit scored around the middle of the road, not doing too poorly or too well on any test. It is comparable to the New Home Innovations in this regard: it will find most treasures, but will miss out on a few that other higher rated detectors would have located. Therefore, if your only concern is finding a decent amount of treasures, this unit will be alright and will save you a bit of cash as well.
Again, as far as ergonomics go, this metal detector did struggle. The display only includes a discrimination feature, sensitivity feature, headphone jack and target indicator — leaving a bit to be desired here. Moreover, the feel of the unit was below our expectations. The forearm rest is small and flimsy, making it feel loose in the hands. The unit itself would also fall apart on us during testing, since it did not screw together very securely.
Ground EFX – MC1 Youth
The Ground EFX – MC1 Youth metal detector was the only youth detector that we got our hands on. This detector has been rated as one of the best youth detectors in other review sites. Being made for children, it is shorter and lighter than the others. This detector weighs in at only two pounds and can be adjusted to be 26 to 36 inches in length. This detector will be perfect for pre-teens and early teenagers. All of the other detectors weighed anywhere between two and a half and four and a half pounds, with a normal length of 40 to 50 inches.
While this Ground EFX detector does have the weight and length to match a child treasure seeker, the functionality of this unit was unfortunately rather poor. This model scored last on four out of our six tests and when it did not finish last it came in second to last place. In our general detection test, discrimination test and depth test this metal detector had the poorest performance, which suggests that it just cannot find those relics, coins and gold with any consistency.
Its display only offers the most basic features: a power knob, eliminator knob and target indicator meter. Also, there does not seem to be a headphone jack, while all of our other detectors had the option to plug in headphones. Moreover, we were not able to verify whether the calibration feature on this unit was automatic, but we suspect that it comes preset, which might explain why it was not able to locate treasures very well.
If your child is very small, then this metal detector may be the only one to fit them, but you might want to consider looking for a non-youth unit that is lightweight and can be shortened down to size. The BARSKA – Winbest Pro will be your best bet here, as this detector weighs only two and a half pounds and can be adjusted to be as short as the Ground EFX.
The bottom line
Treasure hunters out there know that those coins, relics and gold can be hiding in a wide variety of places: in the sand, buried several inches, in the water or hidden alongside trash. Finding that treasure or passing it over may very well depend on the model of the metal detector that you are using.
We subjected the seven best metal detectors to five detailed tests and found that the Garrett – Ace 250 is the king of detectors. Not only did this model come in first place in all five of our tests, but its bright LCD screen also boasts a wide array of features and options. In terms of performance, the Garrett – Ace 250 simply cannot be beat.
The only downside to the Garrett is the relatively high price tag and so our runner up, the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV, is also worth considering. Coming in at about half the cost as the Garrett, we found that the Bounty Hunter – Tracker IV works almost as well, making it a great option.
But if you want to save as much money as possible while still making sure that you get a great unit, we found that the Bounty Hunter – Gold Digger is the way to go. With great performance, a very low price tag and the Bounty Hunter name, the Gold Digger is our top budget pick.
Top Pick: Garrett - Ace 250
A pricier unit that justifies the price tag, the Garrett - Ace 250 outshined others in all tests and was an easy choice for us.