How To Choose A Detector That's Right For You

By Jay Pastor
From page 16 of the April, 1999 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © April, 1999 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

"In the choice of a horse and a wife, a man must please himself." George Whyte-Melville

Have you ever seen a detector advertisement that said something like this:

Our machines don't really find the deeper coins; they use obsolete components; they're not all that comfortable to handle or read; they miss a fair number of targets, and they tend to break down every so often, but we love them anyway and feel you ought to buy one from us. However, if for some reason, you don't want one of our machines, we urge you to try our competitors. Call us and we'll send you a list of them."

Until the time comes when Macy's willingly sends us to Gimbals, we have to rely on our own judgment when buying a detector.

Let's begin by restricting this discussion to detectors used normally for coinshooting, and by admitting that most of us are not experts (and therefore have to rely, at least partly, on the judgment of those who know more). Let's also be fair and recognize that manufacturers in general are honest and know whereof they speak. In addition, we have to face the fact that most of our purchases are emotional rather than logical. Most important is the need to understand there are some significant capabilities that simply can't be tested readily before purchase.

Now, no one can or should tell you which machine to buy, but a few intelligent precautions can stop you from making a purchase on an impulse that you'll kick yourself about later for having indulged.

How do you go about choosing a few detectors to consider from among all the competing instruments screaming at you from advertisements, displays, dealers' recommendations, and the urging of friends? At the risk of sounding simple-minded, I suggest that a major consideration should be whether or not you like the machine - its appearance, the general feel of it, the sound it makes when it finds a coin, the heft, the color, the style of coil it has, the charisma of the control panel, and the kind of cells it uses - even the look of the manufacturer's decals. None of these things are particularly important to the number of good finds you'll make. but if that appeal is missing, you'll know it, and you'll deprive yourself of a lot of pleasure in what is, after all, primarily an enjoyable hobby. Besides, this emotional appeal is going to affect your decision, even if you don't admit it to yourself, so you might as well bring it right out into the open at the start.

Begin by establishing a price range that fits your pocketbook (possibly up it a bit to create a contingency fund, in case you come across a real bargain for a few dollars more). Look at the ads and scan the manufacturers' specification sheets. Read the applicable field tests in your treasure hunting magazines. Go to a few stores, if they're nearby, and inspect some of the models, or examine a few owned by friends. You might even be able to rent one or two for a reasonable price. Pick out about half a dozen that seem to be in the ballpark. Then ask yourself what you really want to do with the detector when you get it.

Make a list: Let's see, I'll want headphones, probably stereo with a quarter-inch plug; I don't care about a speaker; I'd like some kind of notch discrimination with pictures or words that tell me what targets are being accepted; I'd rather not have a lot of adjustments to make - I can tolerate one or two, but would rather have a turn on and go machine; It'd be nice to hear different tones for different coin denominations; I'd like to be able to pinpoint; I really would like to be able to use it in the rain, etc. The more such realistic requirements you can list, the simpler and better your eventual choice will become.

Some of these desires might lead to tradeoffs, where you would be willing to forgo a particular feature in order to get something else that is equally important, or more important. Other features will probably be non-negotiable, because, no matter what anyone else says, only you know what you really want. There's nothing wrong with listening to, or even asking for, advice from others, but the final decision must be yours and it must be solid. Reject any features that don't seem to fit your needs, even if someone else swears by them. You'll probably be doing the right thing. If not, you can always upgrade later on, and you'll know that you're your own man (or woman).

Once you've limited yourself to, say, three machines, there are a few tests you can make to help you pick the winner:
1. Handle the detector without applying power. See if you like the weight, the balance, the locations of the controls, the feel of the grip, the ease with which you can scan. Remember that you'll be holding the detector for hours at a time and would like it to remain comfortable.

Check that you can access and manipulate the controls, push buttons, and pads readily (and that you like the feel of operating them). Shake the machine lightly, and verify there's little vibration or looseness in the frame members or from the mounts for the search coil, control housing, and battery housing.

Adjust the search coil angle and see if you like the mechanism. Disconnect the search coil cable from the control housing bulkhead (if the machine uses this system, as most machines do), and judge how easy it is to re-connect it without cross-threading; don't over tighten the connector, but verify that it isn't loose).

Check the ease with which cells or batteries can be removed and installed. Also, determine that the batteries used are conventional (unless a good reason is given for such deviation) and are readily available. If there's a meter, ask yourself if the markings are clearly readable and are understandable.

2. Check that any accessories you might want later on can be easily obtained and are sensibly priced. Find out how to implement any warranties. Will the dealer handle the job for you, or do you have to take care of any packing, shipping costs, and insurance yourself?

3. Apply power to the detector and decide if you like the way it turns on. Does it let you know if batteries are charged, what mode you're in, and the status of any prior settings? If the display is electronic (i.e., LCD, LED), decide if you like its appearance, functional layout, and legibility.

4. Change the settings and determine how easy it is to restore the original ones. Bump the search coil lightly against your shoe and see if you get a lot of noise, and if the noise continues. Wiggle the search coil cable and check for noise (verify first that the cable connection at the control housing is tightened properly).

5. Perform an air test using a real coin, preferably a dime (quarters are too large). Check the sound from the speaker and from a set of phones (assuming the detector uses both). Decide if you like the timbre of the detection signal, the volume (adjustable?), the pitch (adjustable?), any threshold tone (adjustable?), and stability of the signals. Is there any interference from fluorescent lamps or other electrical equipment?

If you go to a lot of group hunts, is there a provision for changing the operating frequency to prevent interference from other detectors? (The last two are fairly sophisticated requirements and may not matter much.) Although you can't make an accurate judgment this way, try to see how far away from the search coil you can move the test coin and still get a solid indication.

6. Try to get permission to take the detector outside for a few simple tests. Check operation of any manual ground balance control. Is it easy to use and is its purpose understandable by the signals you get when you set it up? Find and mark a spot that gives you a strong signal; check if the signal remains fairly constant. Try to pinpoint the target. If you can, dig up the target and check the accuracy of detection.

7. One of the machines will normally appeal to you more than the others. If not, don't make the selection by tossing the coin you just dug up. Tell the dealer that you're interested and will return after you've made up your mind, but that you definitely intend to buy one from him (if it's true). Then mull over what you've experienced until you get a winner. It will happen, and you'll wind up with the machine that's right for you now.