Before I begin, I have to apologize to Minelab for the limited time I had for this field test. Although time was restricted to begin with, a near fatal accident involving a close family member further reduced my time to search.
With that out of the way, I can say I did have time to fully evaluate all the features of this new detector, but as any serious nugget hunter knows, time and luck are two great assets necessary in finding gold. Unfortunately, I didnt find any gold, but did find more than enough similar targets to do a fair evaluation.
First of all, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with prospecting for gold with a metal detector, Minelab is one of the most popular machines for this type of treasure hunting.
The simple reason for their popularity is they work and work well. The Golden Hawk is no exception. It is one of Minelabs top line machines.
Working on the same fundamental principles as the popular XT 18000, the Golden Hawk is a VLF instrument that can be set to 3 different operating frequencies, 6.4Khz, 20Khz, and 60Khz. If an analogy can be drawn, the best way to describe the differences between an XT 18000 and a Golden Hawk is to think of XT 18000 as a Ford or a Chevy and the Golden Hawk as a Cadillac or Lincoln.
The differences between the Golden Hawk and other similar Minelabs lie in both physical layout and operating features. Physically, the Golden Hawk more closely resembles Minelabs SD series of detectors than their other machines, but with enhancements.
Unique to this gold detector and its sister machine, the Relic Hawk, is the design of the shaft/stem and coil cabling. Like the Relic Hawk, but unlike most detectors where the search coil lead is of straight design that is wrapped around the detector shaft, the coil lead on the Golden Hawk is straight where it goes up inside the stem and coiled where it attaches to the control housing.
Physically, the main control housing of the Golden Hawk looks more like the SD 2000 housing than any of Minelabs other gold machines. Like other Minelabs, the controls are very well laid out and clearly marked on this detector.
It is clear Minelab put a lot of thought process and engineering into this detector. Subtle features in the overall design make any adjustment quick and easy. For example, lengthening or shortening the shaft or moving the handle is easily done by flipping a lever, making the adjustment, and then easily locking everything in place with the same lever. The control housing can be carried three different ways, mounted on the stem, or it can be chest or belt mounted using the control bag.
Unlike the XT series of detectors that come with an elliptical coil, the Golden Hawk is supplied with an 8 inch round coil, and, at the present time, is the only coil available. Somewhat different in appearance than previous models, this new coil has a great built in feature a gold trapping tray.
The natural curved indentation in the top of the coil works great when trying to recover very small targets. One can grab a handful of dirt, hopefully with the nugget, and slowly drop the dirt onto the top of the coil. The natural trap will help keep any target from sliding off.
Power for the Golden Hawk is supplied from a 12 V battery-pack and comes with its own charger. The pack is designed to be belt mounted. Power for the Golden Hawk is supplied from a 12 V battery-pack and comes with its own charger.
The pack is designed to be belt mounted. Like the SD series of detectors, the Golden Hawk does not have a speaker. However, Minelab does supply a very respectable set of earphones.
General Features And Initial Testing
After quickly reviewing the owners manual and the one page instruction guide I began testing. However, later I did sit down with the manual and carefully re-read it before doing any serious testing in the field. This is something I strongly recommend to all owners.
With basic knowledge of the instrument, I took the Golden Hawk outside along with a few gold nuggets ranging in size from about 2 grains to a quarter ounce. Testing consisted of evaluating each control and its functions on the overall actions of the detector.
Initially, the large number of controls (7 toggle switches and 4 knob adjustable controls) found on the Golden Hawk might seem somewhat intimidating. Fortunately, a new owner or perspective buyer can relax, the layout of the controls is such that initial setup is a snap. Also, the detector works extremely well at those settings.
I set all the controls to their recommended settings (top 6 toggle switches up, the Sensitivity and Volume at maximum, and the Threshold for a slight audio). Then I re-adjusted various controls and re-checked the gold targets.
The Sensitivity and Threshold controls perform typical tasks of increasing or reducing the sensitivity and initial audio level. The Volume control on the Golden Hawk, like on other Minelabs, only sets the maximum volume level. In other words, reducing the Volume level does not effect weak signals, but rather limits the overall loudness.
Next it was time to try adjusting the 7 toggle switches located across the top, one at a time, and comparing the results with what the manual had to say. The results were as follows:
Top left switch, labeled Recovery, determined the autotune speed, slow (up position) and fast (down position). Selecting the fast mode reduced the sensitivity ever so slightly but did smooth out many of the minor ground variations.
The second switch, labeled Balance, adjusted the rate the ground balance adjusted to the ground conditions. Track 2 (up) is the normal speed. Options include the center position where ground tracking is off or fixed, and Track 1, the down position tracks about twice as fast as Track 2. The Track 1 speed is very fast and very effective. However, both tracking modes will reduce the signal strength somewhat from a gold target after multiple passes.
The third switch, labeled Signal, is basically a modified or specialized sensitivity control. Up is normal operation, the middle position labeled Fine filters the signal to enhance signals from small targets near the surface, while the down position labeled Boost, amplifies all signals. Testing indicated that Normal and Boost seem to work better on all targets tested.
The fourth switch is labeled Soil and can be best thought of as another modified sensitivity control that allows the operator to switch between Normal (up) and Difficult (down). Difficult mode also seemed to smooth out some of the small audio variations but did reduce the sensitivity slightly. This mode is useful in areas having concentrations of blacksand.
The fifth switch labeled Discriminate selects between All Metals (up), and Discriminate (down). When down, the Discriminate control directly below is activated. Increasing the discrimination level increases the probably of rejection of small iron objects. Unlike other Minelab instruments where the audio changes to a stuttering sound on iron objects, the Golden Hawks discrimination feature mutes the audio on iron objects.
Finally, the last top switch labeled Freq selects between three different operating frequencies, 20 (up), 60 (mid), and 6.4 Khz (down position). Concentrating on smaller targets, I found the two higher frequencies to give a better response, especially on the extremely small ones.
Actual field tests included multiple trips to known gold producing sites in the Colorado mountains. The first site searched was at an operating placer operation. With permission, I was able to search a range of soils from the surface to depths of about 30 feet. Ground conditions changed from typical surface vegetation to rocky terrain of a river bottom.
Throughout this area the Golden Hawk adjusted to the varying ground quickly and easily. Unfortunately, no gold was found but various metal targets were recovered from depths up to a foot or so. Those included everything from lead bullets to metal shavings from the blade of the digging equipment.
I initially set the controls as recommended in the quick setup. All top selector switches up, volume near maximum, and the threshold for a very low threshold signal. I also set the discrimination to on and at maximum.
Metal targets were very sparse, so every one brought excitement. I typically found extremely small slivers from the blade of the caterpillar, none of which was rejected by the discrimination. Two larger metal objects, a bolt and a nut were rejected.
At another site, I elected to vary the controls more than normal. For example, I decided to use the ground tracking to initially adjust to the negative rocks and then turn it off.
Although this site has proven to be very difficult for other detectors, the Golden Hawk tackled it with ease. Even with the tracking off, I had very few false signals. Furthermore, I found it easier to hear very weak signals.
Overall I found the Golden Hawk works and works well. Built with a large number of great features, this detector adds subtle but distinct increases in sensitivity and conveniences not found on the XT line of detectors. However, it is more expensive, and presently no elliptical coil is available. It is also somewhat heavier than the XT 18000.
This is a great machine that comes complete with almost everything except a digging tool. It is easy to recommend the Golden Hawk to those who are willing to pay top dollar for a top machine.
For more information, one can contact Minelab at: Minelab U.S.A., Inc., 2700 E. Patrick Ln. Ste. 11, Las Vegas, NV 89120, phone 1-888-517-2066, Website:www.minelab. com.au