Metal Detectors vs. Gold Detectors: Is There A Difference?

Metal detecting can be a profitable venture for an aspiring treasure hunter or an engaging hobby
for a history enthusiast. If you are looking to get into the business of prospecting gold, you may
be wondering if any old metal detector will do or if you specifically need a gold detector to hunt
down the precious metal.

Though both are capable of detecting gold, there are meaningful differences between
metal detectors and gold detectors that affect your success with finding specific types of
metals. A metal detector is best for finding coins, artifacts, and jewelry, while a gold
detector excels at finding pure gold.

However, that is a very simplified explanation that barely scratches the surface of their
differences. If you want to make the most out of your time detecting, you will need to know a lot
more about the specifications and unique features of metal and gold detectors.

The Key Differences


The following table highlights the key differences between a metal detector and a gold detector:

Metal Detector

Gold Detector

Lower Frequency

Higher Frequency

Can detect larger nuggets or jewelry that contains gold mixed with other metals

Can detect smaller gold nuggets and gold flakes, as tiny as half a grain

Suitable for bedrock and low to medium mineralized ground

Ideal for highly mineralized ground

Better for discriminating trash

Not always compatible of discriminating trash

The remainder of the article will explain the differences and what to look for in greater detail.

How Metal Detectors Work

Before we get started exploring the differences between metal detectors and gold detectors, you
need to be aware of the fundamentals of how metal detectors work as well as the definitions of
some basic terminology.

To find objects, a metal detector transmits an electromagnetic (EM) field through a coil and into
the ground. When metal objects come into contact with the field, they become energized and
send a field of their own, which is picked up by the metal detector. Basically, you are playing a
game of Marco Polo using EM fields.

Why Does Frequency Matter?

A metal detector identifies metals by how well they conduct electricity, thus responding to
different frequencies. Low-frequency machines are best for detecting high conductivity metals
(like silver), while high-frequency devices find low conductivity metals (like iron and gold).

Regular metal detectors operate at frequencies around 5 to 15 kHz, whereas gold detectors can
reach frequencies of 45 kHz to 61 kHz. The following chart compares low and high frequencies and what they are useful for:

Low Frequency

High Frequency

Longer Wavelengths

Shorter Wavelengths

Penetrate the ground easier, achieving detection at greater depths

Adept at detecting small objects

Detect high conductivity targets

Detect low conductivity targets

Bad at finding smaller targets

Reaches less depth, better at detecting close to the surface

Bad at detecting low conductivity targets

Sensitive to ground interference

(Source: Metal Detector SA)

There are single frequency and multiple or dual-frequency machines. Entry-level machines
typically use single frequency, while more advanced detectors can use multiple frequencies
simultaneously, allowing greater depth and accuracy. Of course, these machines are more
expensive.

Digging Deeper: Metal Detector Frequency – Explained

Ground Balance Settings

No matter where you search, the ground contains naturally occurring minerals, such as salt or
fine iron, which respond to EM fields in a similar way to target metals. Since the ratio of ground
minerals is higher than that of the target metals, they can cover up the presence of desirable
metals, much like clouds on a sunny day.

Metal detectors come with ground balance settings that need to be adjusted to better filter out
ground noise to sense the target metal signals more clearly. There are three ways to deal with excessive ground noise:

  1. Adjust ground balance settings manually.
  2.  Use a metal detector that automatically determines the best ground balance setting.
  3. Purchase a metal detector that continuously adjusts the ground balance setting as you
    detect. This is known as tracking ground balance.

Frequency and ground balance are two key factors that influence whether you should use a
metal detector or a gold detector.

Types of Metal Detectors

Metal detectors typically fall under three categories:

1.Beat Frequency Oscillation: The most basic metal detector that you will usually find in
electronic shops. These are considered pretty weak and are unlikely to be useful in gold
detection.

2.Very Low Frequency (VLF): Highly accurate and sensitive detectors that are ideal for
multi-purpose detecting. They are good at finding small to medium gold nuggets at
depths less than 8 feet.

3.Pulse Induction (PI) Detectors: Specialty detectors designed for reaching maximum
depth in highly mineralized ground. PI detectors work a bit differently than other
detectors. Instead of sending and receiving a signal, they simply send a signal, which
bounces back to the machine when it comes into contact with metals.

Technically, gold detectors are just metal detectors that are especially attuned to picking
up gold signals. The most advanced (and expensive!) gold detectors are PI detectors and excel at distinguishing gold from other metals.

Digging Deeper: Different Types of Metal Detectors – Which One is Right For You?


Distinguishing Factors in Metal Detectors

When figuring out whether to use a metal detector or a gold detector for the job, you will need to
evaluate how well they deal with certain conditions.

Understanding Depth

Larger gold nuggets are typically found further underground. As you penetrate deeper into the
ground, the likelihood of finding larger nuggets increases. The standard for depth versus gold
expectations is as follows:

Depth

Size of Gold Found

Under 12 inches

Single grains of gold flakes

Less than 35 inches

Nuggets the size of a match hea

Upto 911 inches

Nuggets as big as a half dollar

(Source: Kelly Co Detectors)

Working Around Trash

Unfortunately, most gold detecting areas have unavoidable trash that will interfere with your
search for valuables. While many metal detectors can tune out common “trash” metals, such as
steel and iron, the best gold detectors lack trash discrimination skills.

Here are a few tips for weeding out the trash:

  • Before using a high-frequency gold detector, use a VLF to weed out junk, such as nails,
    wire, and cans.
  • In high trash areas, you can likely ignore signals within the top two inches of soil as they
    will probably be junk.
  • High-quality, expensive gold detector models can have up to twice the sensitivity for gold
    jewelry.

The Function of the Coil

search coil in the grass.

Search coils are paramount in determining the range of your metal detector and are one way
you can modify a metal detector to excel at specific types of searches. Coils come in a wide
variety of sizes and dimensions.

In general, a larger coil will search a wider area, but with less sensitivity. A smaller coil will be more thorough, but cover less area, resulting in a lower detection rate.

There are two coil aspects that you should be aware of:

  1. Round vs. Elliptical: Round coils penetrate more in-depth and are the go-to coil.
    Elliptical coils are suitable for narrow spaces in between rocks and scrubby terrain. Use
    round coils whenever you can and elliptical coils if it will allow you to get closer to the
    ground.
  2. Double-D (DD) vs. Concentric (mono): DD coils consist of two winding coils shaped
    like a D. One coil transmits EM fields while the other acts as the receiver. Mono coils
    have one coil that does both jobs. A mono coil detects metals around the coil’s edge
    (rather than down the center), making it ideal for tight spots.

Typically, you will pick your coil to match the terrain of your hunting ground. However, you can
also, change the coil based on what objects (or metals) you are hoping to find.

Other Features to Consider When Purchasing a Detector

As always, when making a purchase, you should consider convenience and ease of use. Here
are a couple of things to think about:

    •  Depending on how quickly and for how long you are looking to detect, you might want to
      consider the weight of your metal detector.
    • You may need a waterproof detector for certain environments.
    • Similarly, it is crucial to know the terrain beforehand. Do your research so you can bring
      the proper gear and avoid wasting time.

Can You Find Gold with a Metal Detector?

Gold Nugget Prospecting

Gold is a metal, which means that a metal detector can, indeed, find gold. As long as the nugget
is big enough, most metal detectors will detect gold. The catch is that it picks up all kinds of
metals and will struggle in three crucial aspects:

1. Isolating gold from other metals
2. Picking up smaller pieces of gold or gold at greater depths
3. Finding gold in the mineralized ground (which is especially unfortunate considering gold is
typically found in the highly mineralized ground)

So while you technically can detect gold with most metal detectors, it will not do it very
effectively or efficiently. If your goal is to find gold, then a basic metal detector is not the
best use of your time, and you should invest in a gold detector.

What Makes a Gold Detector Special?

You may be wondering, “If gold detectors are just metal detectors, then what makes them good
at finding gold?” A fair question. Gold detectors stand out from the crowd due to several key
features:

Higher Frequencies

High and low frequency screenshot.

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of gold detectors is that they have notably high
frequencies. The higher the frequency, the more capable the machine will be at detecting gold.
Top high-frequency metal detectors can find the smallest of gold nuggets or flakes. Considering
that about 95 percent of goldfields contain small nuggets, machines that are capable of high
frequencies are invaluable for finding gold.

Better Ground Balancing Circuits

High-frequency machines allow you to find the smallest pieces of gold; however, that does not
fundamentally make it easier. High frequencies are also particularly sensitive to iron, which can
lead to more false alerts in areas with high iron content.

Gold is commonly found in areas with high ground mineralization. This is why the best gold
detectors must have decent ground balance settings that allow you to adjust and filter out
minerals, particularly iron. Ideally, a gold detector can sort through high mineralization content
while also maintaining keen sensitivity for smaller chunks of gold.

Manual ground balancing settings are preferable for filtering out undesirable metals like iron.
Furthermore, manual options give you a lot of control, which will let you adjust depending on the
ratio of iron content in the area.

In an area where the iron content is constantly changing, you may want to opt for automatic
ground balancing. Automatic ground balancing will end up being more convenient and allow you
to move quicker.

Special Coils

minelab-equinox-15-inch-double-d-smart-coil-minelab

Gold detectors typically come with special coils that are optimized for highly mineralized soil.
The two types of coils are:

1. Concentric search coils: Best at soil discrimination and often used when there is a lot
of trash to sort through.
2. Wide scan search coils: Best for navigating harsh soil conditions due to ground
mineralization.

Keep in mind that while larger coils detect deeper, they also lose sensitivity to smaller objects. If
you are looking for larger gold nuggets at more depth, a larger coil will serve you well. If you are
looking for smaller, surface pieces or gold flakes, then a smaller coil might be better.

PI detectors will often allow you to use different sized coils to accommodate searching for
specific types of gold.

VLF or PI?

While low frequencies have better ground penetration, they are less than ideal for finding low-
conductivity metals, such as gold. VLF detectors can be useful for filtering trash and finding
smaller surface-level gold nuggets. When it comes to larger and deeper pieces, however, they
may struggle to be effective.

PI detectors are unique because they allow for deep penetration while using high-
frequency pulses that are suitable for detecting gold. This combination is what makes
them the ultimate gold finding machines. They can penetrate deep to find large gold nuggets
while having ultra-high frequencies that can detect the smallest bits of gold.

Both units attempt to deal with ground mineralization. Most VLF detectors use DD coils to help
deal with mineralization. On PI units, DD coils are also better at handling mineralization but
come with the cost of 20 percent less depth detection.

PI units are by far more expensive, which is essential to factor in your decision. If you are
operating under budget constraints, you can still find gold with a VLF detector using the “scrape
and detect” method, which involves going over the same ground in layers.

 

When to Use a Metal Detector

An ordinary metal detector is great for finding all kinds of objects made from standard metals,
such as coins, jewelry, and historical artifacts. For a hobbyist looking for interesting and unique
acquisitions, a metal detector will do the trick.

If you are new to metal detecting, it is probably best to start with a budget metal detector. Gold
detectors can be very pricey and are not the most ideal for learning the basics of treasure
hunting.

When to Use a Gold Detector

Fisher Gold Bug metal detector

As the saying goes, time is money. Though gold detectors are typically more expensive, it is
probably worth spending a bit more if you are looking to turn a profit by finding gold, specifically.
Think of it as a more costly short-term expense for a higher chance at a long-term gain.

Gold detectors are best for hunters on a mission and who are already experienced with metal detecting.

If you are looking for gold coins or jewelry at shallower depths, try using a VLF gold
detector. If you are looking for large gold nuggets at greater depth or small gold nuggets
and flakes, try a PI gold detector.

Gold detectors are also useful for finding gemstones, such as diamonds since places with gold
nuggets in pure form also have conditions that are ideal for the formation of gems.

In Conclusion

Deciding between a metal detector and a gold detector is like looking at tools in a toolbox that
has similar functions. Wrenches and screwdrivers come in varying types and sizes, but they
seek to accomplish the same tasks while approaching the situation in slightly different ways. All
you have to do is find the best tool for the job.

At the core of the matter, gold detectors are simply metal detectors that particularly excel
at finding gold. When looking at specific metal detector parts, manufacturers essentially pick
all the options that favor gold identification. The higher frequency that a metal detector has and
the better it is at dealing with ground mineralization, the more likely it is to be considered a gold
detector.

Since gold detectors tend to be significantly more expensive than standard detectors, we
recommend that you purchase one provided that you are an expert detector looking for one
thing: chunks of pure gold. If you are a hobbyist on a budget, new to detecting, or searching for
coins, jewelry, or other artifacts, a regular metal detector should suit your needs just fine.

As technology advances, detection techniques evolve and become more sophisticated. Using
updated technology on old ground may even yield new finds. Though gold values can fluctuate,
gold prices have been increasing steadily and are nearing an all-time high.

Not to mention, it is pretty safe to say that gold will always be worth something to someone. Now might be just the right time to start tracking down some precious metal!

14 thoughts on “Metal Detectors vs. Gold Detectors: Is There A Difference?”

  1. Interesting topic you have written about. I haven´t tried using metal detectors, but I have wanted one out of curiosity. In the respect, I should probably have a look at the VLF variants. From your article, you have explained well the difference between VLF and PI detectors. The most important factor is, of course, the price tag. As a newbie, I should be on the lookout for a used VLF detector as I am not an experienced user.

    Fascinating knowledge about the composure of the soil and how that affects the detector as well as what kind of gold you can expect to find. It think I have gotten a new item on my wishlist for Christmas

    -Roy-

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Roy. If your new to metal detecting one way to go is a used metal detector but then you run the risk of not knowing if it works properly unless you can get one from a reliable company that backs their products.

      There is a company that has used metal detectors from time to time you can check out High Plains Prospectors
      This is a very reliable company that I recommend for all your metal detecting and gold prospecting supplies.

      Good luck with your future treasure hunting adventures! I know you will love this hobby!!

      Reply
  2. Ah, this is a good one and I have to say that it is very helpful that you explain the difference between these two good detectors and the metal detector too. I have learned a great deal from this list even though you used some terms that were way beyond me. All the same, it’s nice to really learn something new. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Glad I could help you learn the difference between a metal detector and a gold detector. Now you have the information you need to select the right detector for what you are searching for. Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading! Happy treasure hunting!!

      Reply
  3. Well! Depending on the needs and wants of an individual treasure hunter, it is actually better to have the two of them. A metal detector has the advantage that I can actually cover a lot and can be used to diversify but a godldetector has hit the jackpot with the post immediately after the gold detector is used.  Thanks

    Reply
    • Having both kinds of detectors is a plus if you can afford it. You would be able to really hone your detecting skills and find more treasure.

      Reply
  4. Coming to this article and learning a lot about Metal detectors and Gold detectors has really made my day. The fact that i have learnt something really tangible from this post is very satisfying. and i can use this information properly and also teach to others. thank you very much for your time.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for your informative page!

    One question, suppose I’m searching for some gold hidden in a iron/steel box just under the surface. There’s a lot of big scrap iron pieces in the area so I can’t just check all big metal hits. Which detector should I use?

    Reply

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