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Single Frequency vs Multi-Frequency Metal Detectors: What's the Difference?

frequency waves in different colors

If you're in the market for a new metal detector, you've probably come across the terms "single frequency" and "multi-frequency." But what do these terms actually mean, and more importantly, which type is right for you? Let's take a look.

What is a Single Frequency Metal Detector?

Single frequency detectors, as the name suggests, operate on just one frequency, which is typically somewhere between 5 kHz and 15 kHz. These detectors send out a signal at this single frequency and analyze the return signal to detect metal objects.

Single frequency detectors have been around for a long time and are still widely used today. They're generally simpler in design, which often makes them more affordable. And if you're curious about the cost of metal detectors, you'll find that single frequency models are usually on the lower end of the price range.

What is a Multi-Frequency Metal Detector?

Multi-frequency detectors, on the other hand, can operate on several frequencies simultaneously, with these frequencies typically ranging from very low (3 kHz or less) to very high (up to 100 kHz in some cases). By using multiple frequencies, these detectors can gather more information about buried objects.

Multi-frequency detectors are a more recent innovation in the metal detecting world, and are generally more complex and sophisticated, which often translates to a higher price tag. However, they offer some significant advantages that many detectorists find worth the extra cost.

Key Differences Between Single Frequency and Multi-Frequency Detectors

Now that we've covered the basics, let's look at how these two types of detectors stack up against each other in key areas.

Sensitivity and Depth

Single frequency detectors can be very sensitive and achieve good depth, especially when they're tuned to the right frequency for the targets you're seeking. However, multi-frequency detectors generally have an edge here. In using multiple frequencies, they can often detect smaller objects and reach greater depths, especially in challenging soil conditions.

Target Identification and Discrimination

This is an area where multi-frequency detectors really shine; by analyzing how an object responds to different frequencies, these detectors can provide more accurate information about what the target might be, meaning you spend less time digging up bottle caps and more time finding interesting objects

Performance in Different Ground Conditions

Single frequency detectors can struggle in areas with high mineral content in the soil, like beaches or highly mineralized inland areas, while multi-frequency detectors generally handle these conditions better. They can even be used as a water detector machine in some cases, as they're often better at distinguishing between water and other targets.

Overall Versatility and Adaptability

Multi-frequency detectors are generally more versatile, and can adapt to different environments and target types more easily than single frequency detectors. However, this versatility comes with a steeper learning curve and a higher price tag.

Pros and Cons Comparison

pros and cons word balancing on a wooden see saw

Let's break it down into a simple pros and cons list:

Single Frequency Detectors:


  • Generally more affordable
  • Simpler to use, great for beginners
  • Can be very effective when matched to the right targets and conditions


  • Less versatile
  • Can struggle in challenging soil conditions
  • Less accurate target identification

Multi-Frequency Detectors:


  • More versatile and adaptable
  • Better performance in challenging conditions
  • More accurate target identification
  • Often achieve better depth


  • More expensive
  • Can be more complex to use
  • May offer features that beginners don't need

Choosing the Right Detector for Your Needs

So, which type of detector should you choose? Here are some factors to consider:

Detecting Goals and Applications

If you're primarily interested in coin shooting in parks or relic hunting in relatively "clean" soil, a single frequency detector might be all you need. If you want to detect in a variety of environments, including beaches or highly mineralized areas, a multi-frequency detector might be worth the investment.

Operating Frequency

If you know you're mainly looking for a specific type of target (like gold nuggets, which respond well to high frequencies), a single frequency detector operating at the right frequency might be perfect. If you want to hunt for a variety of targets, multi-frequency is the way to go.

Sensitivity and Depth

If you're hunting in areas where targets are likely to be deep, or if you're looking for very small objects, a multi-frequency detector will generally perform better.

Ground Balance and Mineralization Handling

If you'll be detecting in areas with highly mineralized soil or on saltwater beaches, a multi-frequency detector will usually handle these conditions better.

Target Identification and Discrimination

If accurate target ID is important to you (for example, if you want to avoid digging trash), multi-frequency detectors generally have an edge here.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, both single frequency and multi-frequency detectors have their place in the metal detecting world; while single frequency detectors are great for beginners or those with specific detecting goals, multi-frequency detectors offer more versatility and performance for those willing to invest in them.

Remember, the best detector is the one that fits your needs, budget, and skill level. Don't be afraid to start with a simpler single frequency model as you learn the ropes. You can always upgrade to a multi-frequency detector as your skills and interests grow.

Previous article How to Properly Maintain Your Metal Detectors
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