FIELD TEST

Minelab Electronics Sovereign
By Andy Sabish
From Page 24
September, 1991 issue of Lost Treasure

The Minelab name has been associated with electronic prospecting for a number of years, and a considerable amount of gold and other precious metal has been found with their detectors. Since gold hunting is by far the most popular form of treasure hunting in Australia (where Minelab is headquartered), they had not manufactured a model designed especially for coin or relic hunting until recently. After extensive research and development efforts, they have produced a metal detector they call a "true all-rounder" that operates like no other detector on the market.

FEATURES

The Sovereign is a fully automatic notch discriminator with ALL METAL pinpoint and search modes. The most innovative feature of the Sovereign is that, unlike other detectors that operate at a set frequency, the Sovereign actually sends out a number of different frequencies ranging from 1.5 KHZ to 25.5 KHZ in 1.5 KHZ intervals. This feature was developed to allow the Sovereign to penetrate deeper and discriminate more accurately than the standard VLF circuit design under even the most adverse soil conditions. This unique patented circuitry is called Broad Band Spectrum, or BBS for short.

The control housing is constructed of high-impact ABS plastic which is virtually unbreakable and can be either rod-mounted or hip-mounted with the nylon carrying bag included with the detector. The armrest has three positions which allows it to be adjusted for the comfort of different size users and doubles as a stand to keep the detector upright when retrieving a target.

The weight of the Sovereign when used in the rod-mounted configuration is four pounds one ounce with the batteries and the standard searchcoil. By removing the control housing and operating it as a hipmount unit, the weight is reduced to two pounds one ounce.

The Sovereign comes with an eight-inch double-D searchcoil with a seven-foot cable to allow for hipmounting the control housing without the need for an extension. The cable is quite sturdy to eliminate the problem of insulation breakdown often experienced with cables found on hip-mount units.

The Sovereign has three toggle switches and four knobs that control the detector's operation. There are PRESET marks on each of the controls to aid in initial operation. On the left side of the front face plate are two knobs labeled DISC and NOTCH. These controls are used to set the level of discrimination and where the notch-reject "window" is to be positioned. The knob just to the right of the NOTCH control is the SENSITIVITY control.

Unlike the sensitivity control on most detectors, the sensitivity level is decreased as the knob is turned clockwise. By turning the knob fully counterclockwise, it will click into a setting marked AUTO which automatically selects the highest sensitivity setting that can be used effectively in the area you are searching to give even a beginner maximum detection depth. Experienced treasure hunters have the option of overriding the AUTO circuit and manually selecting the sensitivity level to be used.

The next knob to the right is marked THRESHOLD which sets the audio threshold and its use will be discussed later. One feature that apparently was not intentionally designed into the Sovereign is that if the knobs are pressed in slightly, once they have been adjusted, they will "lock" in place and reduce the possibility of inadvertently moving the control if it is bumped. To change the setting, pull it out slightly, move it, and press it back in.

The toggle directly above the THRESHOLD knob is used to switch the Sovereign between the ALL METAL and DISCRIMINATE modes of operation. There are actually two distinct ALL-METAL modes built into the Sovereign, and the three-position toggle switch to the left of the MODE SELECT toggle will determine which of the two modes is activated. The lower position is labeled PINPOINT and will allow the user to accurately center the coil over the target prior to recovery. The other ALL-METAL mode should be selected if the Sovereign is to be used for electronic prospecting or some types of relic hunting.

By placing the toggle in the SET position and sweeping the coil across the ground, the built-in microprocessor will sense the amount of mineralization present and compensate for it. After a few seconds, the toggle switch can be placed in the FIX position and the detector will remain ground balanced for the mineralization in the immediate area.

Below the upper two toggle switches is a switch labeled NORMAL/IRON MASK. When the IRON MASK mode is selected while in the DISCRIMINATE mode, the Sovereign can locate non-ferrous targets in close proximity to ferrous targets such as a coin buried amongst several rusted nails. Some large ferrous objects may produce a nonrepeatable signal as the coil moves past it; however, with a little practice, these types of signals can be identified and ignored.

When operating in the NORMAL mode, the Sovereign will only produce a signal when the coil passes over a non-ferrous, target above the discriminate setting. While even large, rusted objects will be rejected with no back-reading or chattering, the detection depth will be slightly less in this mode and some good targets may be masked by trash.

Despite these drawbacks, in areas heavily littered with large pieces of iron this may be the only way to hunt. While the names of the two modes may be somewhat confusing, the preferred mode to search in is IRON MASK.

All of the toggle switches are covered by a replaceable rubber boot which has been designed to keep dirt out of the switch.

There are two adjustments which can be made by authorized dealers to 11 customize" the Sovereign to your personal preference. The first adjustment will cause the detector to operate either silently or with a slight threshold present in the DISCRIMINATE mode. The second adjustment will select the audio target tone identification circuitry or the singletone response mode.

In the lower right comer of the face plate is a standard 1/4-inch jack which will accept any stereo headphones. The use of headphones is recommended to increase the battery life and to ensure even the faintest signals will be detected.

The Sovereign comes with a rechargeable ni -cad battery pack which provides 10- 12 hours per charge. Two battery holders which hold four cells apiece are also included to allow regular AA batteries to be used in the event the ni-cads cannot be recharged in the field. When either type of battery approaches the point at which they will no longer function properly, a short tone will be heard every 30 seconds indicating that there's about 15 minutes of use remaining. The batteries are located in a compartment underneath the control housing which is sealed from the electronics to avoid damaging the circuit board in the event they leak.

While I did not have a chance to try it, Minelab stated that they will have a target ID meter available for the Sovereign in the second half of 1991. This can be purchased either with the detector or at a later date.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

Due to some of the unique features of the Sovereign, I read over the detailed instruction manual several times to familiarize myself with its operation. Per discussions with Down Under Treasures, the importer for Minelab in the United States, the unit I received for testing was set up for silent search in the Discriminate mode and audio tone-target identification.

I set the controls to the PRESET marks with the exception of the SENSITIVITY knob which I set to maximum and checked the response of the Sovereign to various items. (NOTE: the AUTO setting cannot be used when performing an air test since, with no mineralization underneath the loop, the microprocessor is unable to select an optimum sensitivity setting at which to operate). To properly set the Sovereign, first place the MODE switch in ALL-METAL, turn the THRESHOLD knob clockwise until a faint signal is heard, and then place the MODE switch into the DISC mode.

As I passed the test items under the loop, I was surprised at the broad response that the Sovereign produced. A quarter gave a signal that sounded as large as a tin can would on most other detectors. By switching to the PINPOINT mode, the signal was much more defined and the size of the target was easily determined. By adjusting the NOTCH control, I found that the notch width was just wide enough to reject a pull tab yet still respond to the majority of gold rings I tested.

After 15-20 minutes of checking different targets, I found that I was able to tell if the target w as a nickel, pull tab, penny, or silver coin by listening to the slight variation in the signal produced by the audio tone target identification circuitry.

All of the targets in my test garden produced solid signals, including a quarter at 7 inches and a Civil War minnie ball at almost 9 inches. By leaving the SENSITIVITY control in AUTO, I was able to detect all of the targets with no chattering from the highly mineralized ground of nearby ferrous trash items.

FIELD TEST

After familiarizing myself with the rather unique way the Sovereign responded to targets, I headed to a nearby elementary school that has been well searched by nearly every local treasure hunter. If any targets still remained at this site, they would be either masked by trash or deeply buried, so I felt it would be a good test of the Sovereign's capabilities.

Not expecting to find any large iron objects in the playground area, I selected IRON MASK so that I would find any target buried near smaller trash and put the other controls to the PRESET marks. I started searching around the jungle gym equipment and quickly began finding recently lost coins within an inch or two of the surface. After recovering a few targets, it was quite simple to distinguish a nickel from a penny or a rectangular pull tab based on the signal each produced. Near the swing sets I started to find a number of pull tabs, so I increased the NOTCH control to the point at which they were rejected and continued searching.

One impressive point was that with the DISC control set at the upper edge of the FOIL range and NOTCH control set at the center of the PULL TAB range, the Sovereign did not even chatter when the loop was passed over the trash that was laying on the surface. Near a large oak tree on the edge of the playground I received a solid signal that appeared to be fairly small and deep when checking it in the PINPOINT mode.

At 5 inches I hit a large tree root, and it took over 10 minutes to get at the target beneath it-if this had not been a field test, I'd have been half tempted to leave it and move on. Sifting through the pile, of dirt, I found what appeared to be a brass disc about one-inch across. After knocking some of the dirt off, I saw that it was a WWI U. S. army collar insignia. Since the school had only been built in the 1940s, I was surprised to find an artifact that old.

The next several deep targets produced a few wheat cents, two Mercury dimes, and a 1957 nickel-all from 5 to 7 inches deep. With the sun dropping behind the trees, I started to head back to the car. Less than 10 feet from the oak tree, I received another signal that was quite weak when checked in the PINPOINT mode. Digging carefully, I found a WWI Eagle hat insignia with the backing bolt intact. It was about 6-1/2 inches deep and buried nearly on edge.

I tried the Sovereign at this site a few more times, and was able to find a number of coins ranging from recently lost clad coins to older wheat pennies and silver dimes. To prove the old adage "there is no such thing as a worked-out site," I searched around the old tree after 3 or 4 trips and found a small watch fob from the Kellogg Cereal Company that dates back to the 1930s at nearly 7 inches.

The next site I took the Sovereign to was an old foundation that was being cleared for a new office building. The house had been built in the mid- 1 800s, and I was hoping to find a few coins from that time period. I set the DISCRIMINATE control to the 10 o'clock position (above foil), the NOTCH control fully counterclockwise (disabled), the SENSITIVITY control to AUTO, and the MODE toggle to IRON MASK.

As I started searching near the foundation, it quickly became apparent that there was a great deal of large ferrous trash nearby because the chopped signals produced as the coil passed over them were obviously not the response I had come to expect from a good target. I switched the MODE toggle to NORMAL and these signals disappeared completely. I threw a coin on the ground and was still able to pick it up fairly close to the large trash objects in the ground.

After nearly 20 minutes I had still not received a good signal and I began to wonder if the people who had lived here had any money to lose. Starting to search the side of the foundation finally produced a solid signal that appeared to be fairly small when checking it in the PINPOINT mode. Cutting a plug and removing some loose dirt from the bottom of the hole, I recovered an old two piece copper button from the late 1800s. Further searching in the immediate area produced a crushed button and a 1912 wheat penny.

As I continued around to the back of the house I received a good signal that sounded larger than a coin when pinpointed. After removing dirt and rechecking the hole several times, I finally found the target-a brass belt buckle at nearly 15 inches.

I spent another 45 minutes at this site and was able to find 2 more wheat pennies (1918 and 1921), a well-worn Mercury dime dated 1916 (of course, no U), a skeleton key and a few other interesting odds and ends from the early 1900s. I had not dug any of the iron trash that was buried throughout the site and the Sovereign had not falsed when the coil passed over it when hunting in the NORMAL mode.

. To see how the Sovereign worked for -relic hunting, I went to a small wooded site late one afternoon that I had given up on due to the amount of nails and bits of barbed wire present as well. as the diminishing number of finds made recently. I set the DISCRIMINATE control to the 12 o'clock position to reject the iron and non-ferrous items such as tin foil, placed the SENSITIVITY control to maximum (fully counterclockwise), and selected the IRON MASK mode.

Almost immediately, I got a solid signal near the old fence line that gave an audio tone similar to that of a penny. Clearing away the leaves and using my mattock to unearth the target, I found a.577 caliber Confederate minnie ball at just over 8 inches (there was a strand of rusted barbed wire that ran through the edge of the hole and the Sovereign had still produced a clear signal from the bullet!).

With less than an hour of daylight left, I was only able to cover a small section of this site; however, I recovered 4 more CSA bullets, the back of a period button, and a shapeless piece of lead all from depths ranging from 7 to 10 inches deep and, more importantly, had not dug any trash.

I went to the second annual treasure hunt put on by the Weekend Gold Miners Prospecting Club in Ellijay, Georgia, and ran into George Van Fossen, a metal detector dealer from Aiken, South Carolina. He is a multi-line dealer and had recently started using the Sovereign with a great deal of success and was planning on using it in the hunt.

The first hunt was a penny hunt in which most of the targets were either wheat or Indian head, with a few foreign coins and tokens mixed in. When time was called he had found a total of 62 wheat pennies and 1 foreign coin. His success continued throughout the other hunts and his finds included nearly 30 silver dimes, a number of silver quarters and, halves, and 3 prize tokens. He also found a Towers brand button, circa 1900, at just over 7 inches that had not been planted as part of the hunt.

He said that he had not experienced any interference from the other brands of detectors on the field, and was able to run in the AUTO sensitivity setting to ensure that even the deeply buried targets would be located.

While other hunters were forced to stay away from models that operated on the same frequency, George had been able to hunt anywhere on the field with no interference. Another feature that proved useful was the top of the nylon hip-mount bag; when the rain started during the first afternoon hunt, George simply closed it to keep the control housing dry and continued searching.

I used the Sovereign at several other sites around Atlanta and, in all cases, I was able to find a number of older coins and other items in sites that had been heavily hunted at impressive depths while recovering almost no trash.

SUMMARY

The Sovereign's operation and response is unlike any other detector on the market and, as such, takes some practice to become familiar with. Several treasure hunters I spoke with said that initially they were disappointed in the detector's performance; however, after a few hours of use, they were amazed at what they were starting to find in their old sites.

The broad signal that the Sovereign produces when passing over even coin-sized objects will help even a novice locate small, deeply buried targets. The PINPOINT, mode enables the user to determine the approximate size and depth of the target before recovering it and I found it to be quite accurate when centering the coil over the target.

The depth of detection, even in highly mineralized ground, was impressive and I found a number of targets at depths equal to or greater than any I had found in similar areas before.

For extended searches, the hipmount configuration is recommended as the Sovereign is heavier than other detectors mounted on an S-shaped handle. It converts easily from a shaft-mount to a hip-mount and the nylon bag supplied with the detector is quite comfortable to use.

The Sovereign should fit the needs of virtually any TH'er for applications ranging from coin hunting to beach hunting and relic hunting. Adding the optional target identification meter when available will add an extra dimension to the Sovereign.

The Sovereign sells for $729 and has a 2-year warranty with service done in the United States. For more information on the Sovereign or any of the other metal detectors produced by Minelab and the name of your nearest factory- authorized dealer, contact Down Under Treasures at (702)5 65 -135 3 or write them at P. 0. Box 91538, Henderson, NV 89009 and mention that you read about it in Lost Treasure.



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