gold detectors

9 Differences Between Generic Detectors and Gold Detectors

Difference between multipurpose and gold detectors

When you will start practicing Metal Detecting you will always start by a regular multi-purpose machine. You may want to start with a costly detector but it, most likely, will still be designed mainly for coins, relics and some other valuable metals …

… After a while, you will discover that there are some other kinds of machines, commonly called Gold detectors specifically designed for highly valuable items such as Gold. Actually, that’s what happened with me, thus I’ve started wondering on the differences between the two!

So, What is the Difference between metal detector and gold detector? A typical detector is generally designed to operate on a low frequency to collect coins, relics and metals with a significant size and conductivity. Gold detectors can operate on high frequencies in difficult ground conditions by picking up gold even in small sizes; it can also do a great job of discrimination.

In this post I will give you all the details you need to know about the differences between the 2 machines. I will also give you some practical examples of detectors that are commonly used by some hobbyist who have had dozens of years of consistent experience. Thus, you will have a complete idea, on the topic, that many people who already practice this hobby don’t really have.

9 main Differences Between a Regular Metal Detector and Gold Detector …

I’ve found that there are many differences between the two machines, some of them are obvious. But some others are pretty much obscure and need to be explained! I’ve chosen to list main 9 differences that seems to me relevant and that you should be aware of …

1. Technical name

Gold and multipurpose metal detector are pretty much marketing names! I mean the names remain meaningful, but they are generally used facilitate the understanding of the general use of each one of them.

If you ask detecting experts they will immediately tell you that there are 2 different types of devices:

I think when we say gold machine; it still remains a generic term to differentiate a good prospecting machine from a typical coin/jewelry type detector. Sure all metal detectors detect all metal, but some do a better job than others for certain types of detecting/prospecting.

2. Frequency and target Size

Gold detectors operate on a higher frequency than their counterparts. Such high frequencies are the ones that gold is most responsive to .This allow the detector to pick up those very small low conductor targets with ease.

Generally all detectors can pick up gold, but not as well as those that are specifically designed for gold. The higher the frequency, the better for finding smaller targets with higher conductivity this includes also iron.

Better yet, gold/prospecting detectors have a higher frequency around 18khz, sometimes much higher. This could even reach 70khz for some monster crazily expensive machines!

Few examples:

  • The AT Gold operates on 18Khz: very effective for gold (BTW, this is My favorite Gold machine, you can Learn About it Here on Amazon!)
  • The At Pro operates on 15Khz: multi-purpose, it could do a fine job finding gold with the proper settings.
  • The At Max operates on 13Khz: adapted for coins and relic (It is more of an upgraded version of the AT Pro, you can Check it Here on Amazon)
  • The ACE 400: that everyone confirms to be a silver magnet is 10Khz.

Keep in mind that a regular metal detector generally operates somewhere in 5 to 15khz.

You can learn more about the right frequencies to use within a metal detector!

3. Targeted Metals

Most gold detectors will filter out iron, but they really sound off on any other low conductor. They’ll detect high conductors as well.

Gold detectors often use a slightly different technology than standard detectors. This makes them great for gold detecting, but not so good for non-gold items. However, since gold is highly valuable many people are happy to focus solely on it, especially in known gold hotspots.

It’s not that it can’t find the other metals. AT Gold for example will help you to find tons of metals for sure. It’s just what it’s better suited for.

On the other hand, regular machines will be useful for those interested in history. Those who want to detect coins made out of silver and bronze. Also, if you are interested in detecting things like bullets, ww2 ammunition, copper wire …

I would like to add that Gold Machines can even help you collect highly valuable gemstones! This includes Diamond, Peridot, Sapphire, Garnet as well as other gems. You won’t find them directly because they are minerals and not metals with electrical conductivity. But the trick is that any place in which you will find gold nuggets in its pure form will likely hold gemstones.

For more helpful info, you can check this list of targets that detectors can detect!

4. Coil Size

Generally, the coil size for a gold detector is smaller than average! This allows it to be sensitive to smaller targets which is excellent for gold. The latter is usually sub-gram in weight.

Indeed, the smaller the coil, the smaller the metal that it will detect!

The only problem with a small coil in general is the depth ! As this won’t allow you to find targets very deep underground … Fair enough, this doesn’t completely apply for gold machines and I will explain that in the next paragraph …

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use bigger coils. Indeed, many PI machines will accept many different coil sizes, making them pretty versatile.

On the other hand, for relic/coin machines, it is a different story. These kinds of targets have generally a considerable size. This allows them to emit lower frequency signals to detect targets with significant size.

5. Depth

Gold detectors don’t have very high depth, especially if it is equipped with a monoloop coil. But for those that have DD (Double-D) coil the depth could be a bit higher. For example:

  • Garrett AT Gold: can barely reach 9 inches with a monoloop coil and about 12 inches with a Double-B one.
  • Garrett AT Pro (This Model is extremely Popular amongst detectorists, you can Learn More About it Here on Amazon!): has the same depth with a monoloop, yet with a Double-D it can perform better by reaching 14 inches.

The good news is that this depth is stable and won’t change even on the worst ground conditions.

For entry machines, this is not valid at all! When the ground is highly mineralized the depth is impacted by minerals and junk metals that the ground could hold.

Highly encourage you to check this Guide on How deep can metal detector reach!

6. Ground Conditions & Ground Balance

Ground balancing is the most important adjustment on any detector! But it is even more critical where searching for gold, because it is found in highly mineralized soils.

And this is what’s great about gold machines. Their ability to ground balance to high mineralization while maintaining extreme sensitivity to find the smallest gold nuggets.

Besides mineralized ground, you also have to contend with the hot rocks. They are pretty common in these kinds of areas!

Not all PI machines are equal, some perform better than others. But the best performing ones are seriously expensive.

On the other hand, entry detectors offer no ground balancing and the more costly ones have a geared ground balance more for beach, parks and lightly mineralized types of ground.

One little thing I would like you to know are the kinds of mineralized soils you may encounter. Indeed there are 3 types that you should be aware of:

  • Ferrous ground: It is rich in particles with magnetic properties. You will notice this if you throw something made out of iron in it. The soil particles will attach to the iron peace.
  • Salt with conductivity: these kinds of soils have the ability to conduct electricity. Thus, it reacts well with magnetic fields coming from non-gold machines. Which generate tons of false signals.
  • Both types combined: That’s probably the worst kind of soil for a multipurpose metal detector. It just can’t go through it to detect valuable stuff unless you’ve got the expertise to discriminate or to recognize the false sounds.

For more in-depth info, you can check these different types of soil conditions! You will learn the whole list and how to deal with each one of them …

7. Price

The answer to that is quick and pretty obvious, gold detectors are much more expensive than VLF or entry detectors. I don’t really want to talk some specific prices because they vary a lot depending on the country, the retailer and the ongoing season.

If you are looking for a cheap machine, you can Check this Cheap Detector Here on Amazon …

Or you can check my favourite list of recommended cheap detectors.

8. Weight

Gold machines are generally heavier than regular detectors! But there is not a huge difference … For example a Bounty Hunter is less than 2 pounds but for Minelab Gold Monster 1000 it weights around 6 pounds.

I could say generally that PI detectors are generally 2 up to 3 times heavier than VLF ones.

You can learn more on about metal detectors weight!

9. Detectorists experience

Just by buying a dedicated gold machines ‘does not’ mean you will find gold right away. That is when the experience comes in and this can take years to learn the techniques of nugget hunting.. Nugget hunting and skill is in a total different league in metal detecting.

As far as the learning curve is concerned, this depends on how advanced the machine is. There are some VLF detectors with a challenging learning curve.

When to aim for a multi-purpose Detector?

There are some cases in which such a machine would be the best pick for you:

  • As a beginner: If you are in your first days in this journey, or you didn’t really start yet just go with an entry regular detector. The learning curve is not difficult and you will have the chance to learn more things
  • On a budget: As I’ve said before this category is cheaper, so if you are on budget, it is Ok to start with that.
  • Interested in history: old coins, ww2 ammunition, relic bottles and targets like that are great for those who are interested and passionate about history and old stuff. If this is your case just go for this kind of device.
  • For some specific tasks: If you want to do some plumbery in your backyard, you will need to metal detect for things like septic tank underground. You may also want to find property stakes if you are a farmer for example. A generic detector is good for such tasks.
  • No Gold: A gold detector would be unnecessary where I live for example. No natural gold here. If you are in such an area with natural gold, it would be more worthwhile having a gold detector.

You can check my favourite Multi-Purpose Detector Here on Amazon!

When to aim for a Gold Detector?

There 3 main reasons, among others, why you should aim for such a machine:

  • Gold hotspots: If you live close to Nevada Gold Mines or in Western Australia or any other gold rich ground you should definitely invest in a gold prospecting machine. It is totally worth it.
  • Difficult Ground Conditions: If you live in a location with difficult ground conditions, a multi-purpose machine could be useless. Instead a specialized device with high frequency will look right through such a ground and will let you know if there is something interesting.
  • After years of experience: it would be great to try to enter the big league after you’ve gained enough experience detecting coins and relics.

For More information about this Topic, I seriously invite you to check this Gold detection Guide! You will learn some solid and reliable info to have more chances to come up with gold …

An example of a decent generic metal detector …

Bounty hunter quicksilver is an excellent example for this category. Adapted for newbies and for those who are interested in several types of metals at the same time.

The price is low for such a good and easy to use product. The screen shows up a depth indicator that facilitates the task for you.

It has also several identification segments to help you identify the type of target you are about to dig for. The only thing you could have difficulty with is mineralized soil as the device doesn’t offer enough ground balance for such conditions.

One of my favourite generic detectors is the Nokta Makro Simplex+!

An example of a decent gold detector …

All quality metal detectors can and will find gold…. some just make the task MUCH easier.

For example most recent is ZVT in the Minelab GPZ7000 …. the king of them all in Price, depth and sensitivity. Without a doubt, it is definitely the Gold Prospectors biggest dream!

An example of a machine that can do both …

With the advances in technology detectors are becoming more and more able to do both. For example there are some people who use the Xp ORX, it is capable of gold prospecting and also coin/relic hunting.

Excellent machine for a good price, it’s the little brother to the XP Deus.


I didn’t want to make this post longue at beginning; I just wanted to let you know about some differences between the 2 detectors! But while writing, I felt I really should put on much more depth in term of information, so when you will complete reading this post you will have a much complete idea. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded to answer all of your questions …

… Now, I wish to hear a little bit from you! Do you own a multi-purpose or a gold metal detector? Which brand/machine exactly? If not, what type of machine you would like to own in the near future? And why? Let me know in the comment section below …

… Finally, knowing the difference between those 2 machines in not enough! You also need to know the Right Places Where you Should Use Your Machine! That’s key to be successful and pick up as much finds as possible.

About the Author

Carissa Harmer

Carissa is the huge metal detecting enthusiast that loves collecting coins. She is also highly interested in other treasure hunting activities like magnet fishing and gold prospecting/panning.