In mid-1999 I received one of the first prototypes of a metal detector utilizing a new technology being developed by Minelab USA. Building on the well-proven and extremely effective BBS-circuitry used in the Sovereign and Excalibur models, the Explorer was intended to provide treasure hunters with level of performance not found in any other detector currently on the market.
As the number of users increased, Minelab received comments and suggestions from their customers on how to further improve the Explorer series and many of these were incorporated into the Explorer XS & S units since their inception. The purpose of this field test report actually two-fold first, to discuss how these improvements enhance the Explorers performance and second, to provide some additional information, tips and techniques gathered since my original field test report was published in the April 2000 issue of Lost Treasure.
When the Explorer XS was introduced, it featured an entirely new type of detection circuitry called Full Band Spectrum (FBS) using 28 different frequencies and a substantially higher upper range which was increased from 25 kHz to 100 kHz. As a result the Explorer is able to provide even greater detection depth and accuracy of target identification than other detectors. In addition to the FBS circuitry, Minelab found that with the aid of new microprocessors, additional characteristics regarding the composition of a target could be obtained and displayed on a LCD display panel. Now, by combining the conductivity value of a target used on all other detectors to provide target ID with the objects inductance value, the ability to differentiate similar targets such as a gold ring and a pull tab can be achieved. This 2-dimensional target identification circuit, called SmartFind (discrimination) is found only on the Minelab Explorer series.
With the SmartFind circuitry, a greater degree of target acceptance or rejection can be obtained than with conventional conductivity-only discrimination circuits. This allows users to select specific targets to either search for or eliminate which translates into more finds in less time when in the field. For example, if you are hunting a site where you know there are Indian Head pennies; however, it is also littered with screw caps and pull tabs, the SmartFind circuitry allows you to open a window where the Indian Heads will be accepted while ignoring most of the surrounding trash. And, once you have setup one of these discrimination patterns as they are called, it can be saved for use later on. Up to six different patterns can be created and saved on the Explorer XS which is convenient if you do different types of hunting; i.e., beach, coin, relic, etc., and want to create a pattern to locate specific types of targets.
The LCD display screen provides a wealth of information, both in terms of target ID and depth as well as when adjusting the detector and is easily visible at all times thanks to a contrast control and backlight for low or no-light conditions. All of the adjustments are made using the 6 touchpads surrounding the display screen and 8 touchpads below the screen on the control panel face. The controls are fairly self-explanatory; however, if you are not sure of the function of a control, pressing and holding the touchpad will cause a help box to pop-up on the display screen that explains most features. The display screen was one of the areas where enhancements were made based on user feedback. While the changes are subtle in nature, the screen is easier to read in varying light conditions and responds quicker to signals and adjustments. In addition, the internal software was changed to support the new screen capabilities.
Another extremely useful feature on the Explorer is the ability to select the degree of iron elimination through the Iron Mask circuit. Sovereign users may remember the Iron Mask toggle switch on the original Sovereign.
A small portion of the first batch of Explorers that came out were found to have an Achilles Heel in that the plastic housing in the area of where the shaft entered the control housing as well as where the adjustable arm rest connected to the battery pod assembly developed spider cracks with use. The factory replaced those that developed cracking and developed a new composite that was less susceptible to stress cracking. The fix has virtually eliminated the problem and is an example of how Minelab responds to both feedback and problems when they arise.
The Explorer XS comes with a 10.5 inch Double-D search coil. Double-D coils take a little practice to become proficient at pinpointing targets; however they do a more through job of covering the ground than a concentric coil. The depth indicator which appears on the display screen and registers depth in the motion search modes aids pinpointing.
The NiMh battery system has been designed to avoid developing a memory often associated with conventional Nicad batteries. It provides approximately 10 hours of use and can be recharged at home or in your vehicle using the cigarette charger that comes with the Explorer. The XS also comes with a coil cover, detector stand and a set of padded stereo headphones.
When I conduct a field test on a detector, I typically head for areas that have been well-hunted in the past as I feel this provides a better indication of how well the unit performs rather than hunting an un-touched site where any detector may have done well. Since the Explorer XS is a high-end detector, I wanted to try areas that I knew some of the better hunters in the area had been to before me to see what might still remain.
The first site I went to was a mid-sized public park located near downtown Wilkes Barre which was a 45 minute drive from my house. The area dated back to the late 1800s and had produced well in the past. As with most of the sites in central Pennsylvania, ground conditions are less than optimal since coal cinders have been dumped everywhere for more than 150 years and the park was no exception. The nice thing about using the Explorer with its FBS circuitry is that highly mineralized ground such as that in the park or salt water / black sand is literally ignored automatically and maximum detection depth is achieved with no complicated adjustments. I loaded in a custom pattern I had programmed in the night before designed to detect only silver or copper coins, pressed the NOISE CANCEL touchpad so the Explorer XS would select the optimal spread of operating frequencies and started searching along the path heading into the old park. Not even five minutes went by before I received a solid, repeatable signal that registered in the white area in the upper right portion of the SmartFind display. The DEPTH icon indicated mid-position which meant the target was approximately 6 inches deep. Cutting and removing a plug, I saw the tell-tale shine of a silver coin in the edge of the hole. Pulling it free, I put a nice 1937 Mercury dime in my pouch.
I spent the better part of the afternoon hunting portions of the park in no particular pattern trying out several patterns to see how they performed in the adverse conditions throughout the area. Checking my finds before I left, I was quite happy to see that I had come up with a Barber quarter, three Barber dimes, three Mercury dimes, two Roosevelt dimes, 11 wheat cents, more than 30 Memorial pennies, some clad coins and a toy car I found in the playground area when I reduced the amount of discrimination I was using. The Explorer XS had done quite well in an area that many other detectorists had been through before me.
The true benefit of the Explorer XS was evident not simply by the finds I had made but by the total lack of trash targets in my pouch. The ability to create up to 6 custom discrimination patterns, save them and then recall them for use later in the field is a feature found on no other detector. They can be as broad or specific as one wants as in my case where I opted to ignore everything except for copper and silver coins. This can be a great time saving feature if you have a limited amount of time to search a site and want to maximize what you find in the available time (I use this quite a bit while travelling when I see a promising site and can only spend a half hour or so).
I hunted a number of other sites most of which had been previously hunted and a few that I had the opportunity to be the first one to search and was able to make good finds in all of them. Some required additional adjustments in order to compensate for specific conditions; i.e., mineralization and/or trash, but they were made easily and the Explorer XS had the ability to find targets others could not even when side-by-side tests were conducted.
As with most field tests, space is at a premium in the magazine which keeps me from covering many of the features in more detail; however, the Lost Treasure web site does contain a longer version with additional information that should be useful in deciding if the Explorer XS is for you or mastering it if you already own one. I will say that the Explorer XS has been an exciting detector to use over the last two years and it has added many fine pieces to my collection from areas that I and many others had long considered worked-out!
The Explorer XS retails for $1,195 and comes with a two-year parts and labor warranty with service handled by a repair center located in the United States. When you look at the performance it provides as well as the additional accessories that come with the unit from the factory, the Explorer XS is an excellent value and definitely deserves a close look at your local dealer.
For the name of your nearest dealer or more information on any of the other detectors in the Minelab line, contact Minelab USA at 2700 E. Patrick Lane #11, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 89120, call them at 702-891-8809, or visit their web site at http://www.minelab.com and be sure to mention you read about the Explorer XS in Lost Treasure.