Nothing gets the heart pumping like the sight of gold! When you are trying to find the rare yellow metal, it takes a metal detector with excellent sensitivity and ground balancing features to find it! If you are using a metal detector without these key performance features, you could be missing out on gold right below your feet.
Lump of a gold mine
Depending on your situation and budget, there are several excellent gold detectors to choose from. Among the favorites are the Minelab CTX-3030, Garrett AT Gold, the Fisher Gold Bug, and many other detectors covering all price ranges and features offered.
Continue reading this guide from the experts at Kellyco to find out how you can pick out the best metal detector for gold for your situation!
Not sure where to start? Take a look at our Buyer’s Guide at the bottom of this article and then come back to the top to review our favorite gold detectors.
Our Gold Metal Detector Reviews
Best Overall Metal Detector for Gold
Weight: 5.2 lbs.
Frequency: 1.5 kHz – 100 kHz
Waterproof: Up to 10 feet
Warranty: 3 Year Limited
The best overall gold metal detector on the market today is the Minelab CTX-3030. This detector is loaded with all of the features that are important for finding gold. The CTX can run in virtually any ground mineralization environment, thanks to its excellent ground balancing features. Picking out only gold targets to dig can save you valuable time from digging up old iron and other metals, and Minelab’s FeCo Discrimination is a powerful tool to use for this task. When you are hunting for gold, you want a metal detector with high sensitivity, as gold nuggets can get pretty small. Deeper detection depth is also an excellent feature to have in a gold detector.
One of the best parts about the CTX-3030 is that not only can you use it with great effectiveness for gold, but it also excels at all other types of metal detecting as well! Many preset search modes and the ability to switch search coils for your needs give this metal detector excellent versatility, putting it ahead of many other gold metal detectors on the market today. When gold prospecting, we detectorists often have to get into the water. The CTX-3030 is set apart from other gold detectors in that it is waterproof to up to 10 feet. I find it very comforting to know that my detector will run rain or shine.
I have found that one of the most difficult aspects of gold hunting is staying out all day, but the ergonomic, fatigue-saving design of the Minelab CTX-3030 prevents this from being an issue. In terms of ergonomics, Minelab developed a metal detector that will help keep you out in the field longer, with less fatigue.
As an added bonus, the wireless headphones offered are a great addition. In my opinion, there is nothing more irritating than getting tangled up in corded headphones while detecting.
For such a powerful and versatile machine, the weight is really quite excellent for the average detectorist. With that being said, the one “con” I might say here is that the weight might not be suitable for some detectorists of smaller stature. Some women, children, and elderly detectorists might consider other, lighter options such as the Fisher Gold Bug or Garrett AT Gold (more on those below).
To learn more about this detector, read our Minelab CTX-3030 Field Test.
Best Budget Gold Detector
Weight: 2.5 lbs.
Frequency: 19 kHz
Warranty: 5 Year Limited
The Fisher Gold Bug is one of the powerful and effective gold metal detectors, yet it sports a modest price. If you are looking for an entry-level metal detector for gold prospecting, or you don’t want to make a large initial investment, the Gold Bug will be the perfect metal detector for you.
This Fisher Gold Bug comes with a 5″ DD search coil that can sniff out the smallest of gold nuggets. Compared to some competing metal detectors, this search coil choice can be good or bad for each detectorist, depending on their hunting environment.
Luckily, there are other search coil options should you opt for a larger coil. Side note: in areas where I typically metal detect for gold, I often use the largest search coil I can find, as there is minimal trash.
The sensitivity on this gold detector is best-in-class and when paired with the large LCD screen and lightweight design, it really is a joy to use. In fact, the one-touch hunting that is made possible with this detector might be one of its most user-friendly features! This is a perfect feature for those of us who do not like to play around with many buttons.
As is common with metal detectors meant for gold prospecting, the Fisher Gold Bug features a variety of ground balancing options, giving you ultimate control over your detector no matter what the ground mineralization is like. Depending on the area I’m in, sometimes I prefer making manual adjustments to ground balance. In terms of competition from other similarly priced gold detectors, the ground mineralization performance of the Fisher Gold Bug is the middle of the road. There is no better value for the ground balance features you receive!
In addition to manual ground balance adjustments, you can utilize the Computerized Ground Grab feature, which is an automatic ground balancing ability the Gold Bug possesses. It is easily one of the nicest features on the detector, setting it apart from similarly priced competitors. In my eyes, the Ground Grab feature is absolutely vital when I’m trying to cover lots of ground quickly.
Weighing in at 2.5 pounds, this gold metal detector is one of the lightest on the market while retaining all of the important features hobbyists need. This feature-to-weight ratio is something I put great value into, particularly for gold prospecting. It is not an exaggeration to say that the 2.5-pound weight of this machine is best-in-class for gold detectors!
Best Mid-Level Gold Detector
Weight: 2.8 lbs.
Frequency: 18 kHz
Waterproof: Up to 10 feet
Warranty: 2 Year Limited
The Garrett AT Gold is built to be one of the most effective metal detectors for gold while remaining within the price range of most hobbyists. One of the AT Gold’s most venerable features is the high operating frequency it runs at, picking up even the smallest gold nuggets you may stumble across. This feature alone puts the Garrett AT Gold a cut above other mid-level metal detectors designed for gold prospecting.
Side note: I value high operating frequencies when hunting for gold so that I can find the smallest gold nuggets.
In addition, the AT Gold has an All Metal Mode which gives the detector its incredible search depth and sensitivity. A downside to All Metal Mode is that there will be a learning curve to understanding the various tones of different metals. Luckily, the learning curve isn’t too steep and it even gives us an excuse to go detecting more.
The Garrett AT Gold is fully submersible up to 10 feet in depth and can withstand a beating. This is a favorite aspect of the AT Gold, as many metal detectorists, myself included, can be quite rough on their equipment. It also relaxes me knowing that should I accidentally dip my detector in water, it will be just fine.
When running this Garrett metal detector in highly mineralized soils, you can let the machine perform automatic ground balancing, or you can take control and manually adjust your settings. This ultimate ground balance control requires practice and experience, but it is a nice feature once you have it mastered.
Tone Roll Audio, Iron Audio, and easy-to-use target ID features have evolved from years of previous Garrett metal detector designs, and have been perfected in the AT Gold. Many fans of Garrett metal detectors cannot get enough of these user-friendly features.
The AT Gold comes stocked with a 5″ x 8″ search coil, but you can get a variety of other search coils for your various treasure hunting needs. I like the middle of the road 5″ x 8″ for many scenarios I encounter.
Finally, the lack of weight of this gold detector is one of its strongest selling points, as it packs a ton of gold-finding performance into a lightweight, compact machine. Again, the weight to features ratio of this detector is astounding!
Best High-End Gold Metal Detector
Weight: 7.32 lbs.
Frequency: Zero Voltage Transmission (ZVT)
Waterproof: No; Weatherproof
Warranty: 3 Year
If budget isn’t an issue for you then I’d grab the Minelab GPZ 7000. It is loaded with features to help you find the smallest gold nuggets at the deepest depths! Proven to locate gold nuggets up to 40% deeper than the incredibly deep-searching Minelab GPX 5000, the Minelab GPZ 7000 is in a class of its own, and is widely considered a gold hunting top pick. But again, this comes with a high price tag.
This excellent performance is due to Minelab’s breakthrough ZVT (Zero Voltage Transmission) technology. ZVT technology sets the GPZ 7000 apart from other gold detectors in that it does not allow signal interference. This means that all gold signals will come back clean and crystal clear, allowing the machine and your ears to pick up the smallest gold nuggets.
Another related key feature of the Minelab GPZ 7000 is its Enhanced Noise Immunity feature. This feature all but cancels the various forms of noise interference that metal detectorists come across quite frequently, enabling you to listen for gold more effectively. Nothing is worse than getting false signals when you are trying to find gold.
The Super-D search coil found on the GPZ 7000 is ultra-sensitive and very discerning between the different metals it picks up and transmits to the target ID indicator. This means the benefits to you are massive in that you can find small gold nuggets tucked into the most iron-filled places imaginable! As we all know, hunting in iron-filled areas can be a pain with lower-end metal detectors.
You can hunt in virtually any weather condition, as it is a weatherproof metal detector, and the search coil provided is waterproof up to three feet deep. One downside to the GPZ 7000 is that the control box is not waterproof, meaning that it cannot be submerged underwater. The reason the control box is not waterproof is because of the enhanced gold-finding features contained within itself. If you are looking for a submersible, waterproof detector for gold, take a look at the Garrett AT Gold which I mentioned above.
One common concern with the Minelab GPZ 7000 is the bulky weight. It is important to realize how advanced and powerful this gold detector is before judging its weight too harshly. Many metal detectorists could swing this machine all day, but there are many who could not. This is a personal aspect you will have to think about before making a decision on the GPZ 7000. If you are looking for an ultra-lightweight gold detector, check out the Fisher Gold Bug.
All in all, the Minelab GPZ 7000 is the most advanced, powerful, and effective gold metal detector on the market today!
Best Gold-Specific Metal Detector
Weight: 3.1 lbs.
Frequency: 56 kHz
Waterproof: No; Rain Resistant
Warranty: 2 Year Limited
The Nokta Makro AU Gold Finder is a metal detector built with only one purpose in mind: gold prospecting. Looking at the control box of the Gold Finder, you will see a variety of knobs and switches, each with its own gold-finding purpose! While the Gold Finder lacks an LCD display, it does not lack gold-specific features!
The Gold Finder features a 56 kHz frequency, this VLF (Very Low Frequency) detector excels at finding tiny gold nuggets. The high operating frequency of the Nokta detector gives prospectors better luck with finding tiny gold nuggets, as the 56 kHz frequency will really scan the ground hard. Since it scans the ground at such a high frequency, it slightly lessens the effective detection depth, but that tradeoff is present with virtually every metal detector on the market today. As previously stated, I prefer higher operating frequency so that I can pick out small gold targets better!
In addition to a great gold frequency, the Nokta Makro detector features excellent ground balancing features that will take care of the most heavily mineralized of soils. This leads us to not encountering false signals as often.
You can prospect for gold with the Nokta Makro AU Gold Finder come rain or shine, as the detector features an IP54 rating, which means dust and water spray do not harm the device. The Gold Finder cannot be put underwater though, and this is one area in which the Nokta detector does not shine for some detectorists. I’d recommend the Minelab CTX 3030 for a rugged, underwater detector.
The Gold Finder features ferrous vs. non-ferrous metal discrimination, but it does not have a digital target ID indicator, which is bothersome to some detectorists. It does have a light-up ferrous/non-ferrous metal indicator though!
Two search coils are provided with the Gold Finder, one a 5″ DD and the other a 10 x 5.5″ DD, providing you with a variety of options for different metal detecting locations. The 5″ DD would work great in tight areas or in high trash areas. The 10 x 5.5″ DD would be best suited to prospecting wide open spaces or areas where you want a little more detection depth.
At the end of the day, the Gold Finder was built to find gold, and it excels at that.
What Makes a Metal Detector the “Best” for Gold?
There are a variety of factors that affect a metal detector’s performance, particularly when you are looking for a gold-specific metal detector. Among these factors is the environment you are prospecting in, the frequency of the detector, the ground balancing features, and a smattering of other metal detector specifications. Continue reading for an in-depth explanation of how these factors contribute to a gold detector’s effectiveness.
Red Dirt and Ground Mineralization
One of the most challenging aspects of gold prospecting with a metal detector is contending with ground mineralization. Simply put, ground mineralization is when the soil has higher iron content than other soils, particularly in red-colored dirt or sandy soil. Ground mineralization leads to signal interference, intermittent signals, and reduced detection depth. This can create big headaches for hobbyists, especially if they have a lower-end metal detector.
Luckily, many metal detectors come with ground balancing features that minimize the mineralization issues. Many detectors have an automatic ground balance feature, and many others also have a manual option you can adjust, depending on the ground conditions you encounter. Having the ability to manually adjust the ground balance of your detector is very important. Since gold seems to reside in many iron-rich ground conditions, you would be well advised to pick a gold detector that allows you to filter out more iron.
When you are deciding on a metal detector you specifically want to use to prospect for gold, take careful note of the ground balancing features of each metal detector. Since a lot of gold is found in very heavily mineralized soil, this is a very important feature you need to pay attention to. Look for detectors that offer a high level of ground balance, both manual and automatic, and you will be well served in your efforts of finding gold.
VLF or PI?
Metal detectors feature either a Very Low Frequency or a Pulse Induction operating system. Very Low Frequency (VLF) machines operate by sending a continuous wave into the ground and receiving any return signals from metal objects. Pulse Induction (PI) machines send singular pulses into the ground and receive any return signals from metal objects. Both machines operate differently, but they achieve the same goal of signaling metal that is in the ground.
VLF machines are the most common metal detectors used, as they can be used across a wide range of soils and ground conditions. In areas that do not have incredibly high mineralization, they generally perform very well. With proper ground balancing features set to the proper settings, very low-frequency detectors can perform well even in high-ground mineralization areas. In addition, VLF detectors are very good at discriminating against iron and other targets you might not want to find.
PI metal detectors can be used in a wide variety of soils and ground conditions as well. PI machines are commonly used in heavily mineralized soils and saltwater as they provide a consistent, highly capable detection depth and limited ground interference. Pulse induction detectors are also commonly used when searching for underwater treasure, as the sand and ocean floor are often very mineralized. PI detectors do not have great discrimination features, meaning that you might be digging many pieces of old iron or other metals you do not wish to find.
Deciding between a VLF or PI detector can seem like a challenging decision, but in many cases, either will work admirably. If you decide to purchase a very low-frequency metal detector for gold prospecting, be sure to pick one out that has good ground balance features.
When it comes to very low frequency (VLF) metal detectors, the operating frequency of your detector plays a key role in determining how your machine performs in various circumstances. In general, many metal detectors come standard with only one operating frequency set from the factory. Some models of detectors have adjustable frequencies, allowing you to change the frequency you are using to suit your needs for a particular prospecting voyage.
In general, a low frequency is going to provide you with the most depth possible, but it might not pick up very small gold nuggets, which can present a problem. On the other hand, a high frequency will not give you as much depth, but they should be able to find smaller gold nuggets a lower frequency would have missed. Clearly, this is a challenge when you are comparing detectors, as greater depth and sensitivity are both desirable, but they are inversely related to one another.
How can you possibly decide whether you want a higher or lower frequency for your VLF metal detector? This actually depends pretty heavily on the area you are gold prospecting in. Some areas are known to have many small nuggets, whereas other areas may have larger nuggets that may be deeper in the ground. One of the best ways to bridge the gap between lower and higher frequencies is to purchase a multi-frequency metal detector. Adjustable frequencies allow you to program the gold metal detector to the best possible combination of strengths for your needs.
An oft-overlooked aspect of determining which gold detector is right for you is comparing the various discrimination features offered by each machine. While many metal detectors offer at least some basic iron discrimination, there are many detectors that really take this to the next level. When you want to be purely prospecting for gold, having a very low-frequency metal detector with good discrimination capabilities can save you time. And, with gold prospecting, time is money!
One of the best ways to ensure that you are getting a metal detector with excellent discrimination features is to carefully read the description about how the detector discriminates targets. Many entry-level detectors utilize only a few notches of discrimination, which often means that you do not have great control over what metals are discriminated against and what is not. One of the best discrimination features you can have is many available notches of discrimination, allowing you to be precise about which types of metal you wish to ignore.
One important fact to note is that sometimes, using too much of a discrimination feature can actually block certain gold signals from showing up on your metal detector. Since every ground condition presents new challenges, gold can register on your detector differently at any given time. If you use lower levels of discrimination, you will be much less likely to accidentally discriminate gold out!
Waterproof metal detectors can be a great asset sometimes, particularly when your prospecting or treasure hunting takes you into freshwater rivers, creeks, lakes, or even oceans. While purchasing a waterproof metal detector with a waterproof search coil might cost more upfront, it has the potential to make you serious sums of money in the future. Deciding whether or not you are in the market for a waterproof metal detector can be a tough question.
One of the best ways to figure out whether you should purchase a waterproof metal detector or just a weatherproof metal detector is to think about where you normally prospect. Make a list of all the places you have gone hunting in the past few years. If many of these involve situations where you are near bodies of water, you should definitely consider purchasing a waterproof machine. Just think, if you are finding a lot of gold right next to a creek, the logical next step is to hunt the creek. If you don’t have a waterproof metal detector, this will not be possible.
On the topic of weatherproof metal detectors, many modern metal detectors come with varying degrees of weatherproofing in general. You can figure out the exact waterproof or weatherproof ratings in the descriptions of the metal detectors, so always pay close attention to this.
Search Coil Choices
When it comes to search coils, the number of options can be dizzying at times. Not only are there different shapes and sizes of search coils, but each one of them serves a different purpose in regards to performance, target type, and ground coverage. There are many choices to work through before deciding on the perfect search coil for your needs.
The first big decision you must make when picking out a search coil for a VLF detector is whether you want a DD search coil or a concentric search coil. DD search coils are named this because they resemble two D’s back to back. DD coils are excellent at cutting through high mineralization in the ground, as the interference is spread out over the whole surface of the coil. In addition, DD coils are excellent for covering a lot of ground, as their large surface area can help you search much more ground much more quickly.
The other option you have if you do not want a DD coil is a concentric coil. Concentric coils are often better at discriminating than comparatively sized DD coils. Concentric coils come in either round or elliptical shapes, each with its own specific use. The only real difference between round and elliptical concentric coils is their search styles. The elliptical coil will be able to cover more ground and can also be easier to hunt in areas where you do not have much room to swing the search coil, as the narrow front might allow for more access.
Once you have decided between a DD search coil and a concentric search coil, you need to determine the size of the search coil you want. Large search coils are the best choice when you are trying to cover as much ground as possible. They also provide for greater depth. Large search coils can lack in the sensitivity department, meaning that smaller targets may be skipped over by larger coil. On the flip side, a smaller search coil can have increased sensitivity, allowing you to find smaller objects.
Additionally, small search coils are very effective in areas where trash targets abound. Small coils do not allow for as much ground to be covered and also do not give quite the detection depth you could get from a larger coil. Keep in mind that smaller search coils are generally easier to use the detectors pinpoint mode with, though pinpointing with larger search coils is easily doable, it just takes some practice.
No matter what coil you decide on, be sure to buy a coil cover, as search coils can be easily damaged, and search coil covers will help keep your investment safe!
What buyer’s guide would be complete without one of the most important factors, that being the price of the detector? Like most objects, you certainly get what you pay for when it comes to metal detectors. While you may be able to find all kinds of great metal objects and gold with a cheaper metal detector, stepping up in price range can give you some amazing features that will allow you to find much more!
Entry-level machines are a great way to get into the hobby and become a real treasure hunter with minimal investment. You can actually find some really cool and valuable items with an entry-level detector. Entry-level gold detectors often feature some amount of ground balancing, target ID, depth indicators, pinpointing capabilities, and some decent ferrous metal discrimination features.
Mid-level machines are a sweet spot for hobbyists who are not looking to spend a fortune but still want a machine with more features and better performance. Ground balancing is often adjustable, there are a variety of more powerful discrimination features, and some of these machines even feature adjustable frequencies. Not to mention, many mid-level detectors are waterproof to a certain degree!
High-end machines are the cream of the crop when it comes to metal detectors. Powerful performance, a myriad of features, and excellent fit and finish make these metal detectors a must-have for anyone who is a die-hard treasure hunter. The high-end metal detectors provide excellent ground balance features, professional-grade discrimination levels, and powerful depth and sensitivity. These detectors might cost a bit more, but the amount of treasure you can find with these machines can more than pay for it!
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As can be seen, there are a lot of factors that come into play when you are picking out the best metal detector for gold hunting. Follow this guide when you are picking out a gold detector and you will be well-served by your choice. Once you have picked out the best gold detector for you, be sure to check out our guide on metal detecting for gold to find out where to look for gold and how to go about finding gold!
Be sure to check out our overall best metal detectors guide as well!