Minelab Electronics has developed the reputation of producing detectors featuring innovative technology and has garnered a loyal following of successful treasure hunters worldwide. While their high-end detectors have been well embraced by the treasure hunting community, Minelab's presence in the lower-priced, entry-level market has been less pronounced. Minelab's management & sales teams recognized this and actively embarked on a project to develop a detector new from the ground up that would provide performance not found on other detectors in this market segment. Having used most of the Minelab models produced since the mid-1980s, I've looked forward to seeing how their latest addition fared when I was told I would be doing this field test report. Features
The Musketeer Advantage is not simply a cosmetic change to the line of Musketeer models that the company has produced over the years. Minelab's engineers started with a list of requested features from treasure hunters and dealers and were given a clean slate to develop a detector that met as many of the items on the list while keeping the price at an affordable level. Well, the efforts paid off and after extensive field-testing at sites around the world, the Advantage was released.
The Advantage is a VLF-discriminator that operates at kHz --a frequency selected for its overall sensitivity to a wide range of commonly detected targets as well as its ability to accurately identify and discriminate out unwanted targets. It has two search modes - DISCRIMINATE & ALL-METAL - in addition to a non-motion pinpoint mode. Pinpointing with the Double-D coils used on the Advantage take a little practice if you have experience with other detectors using concentric coils; however, once you understand how targets respond, accurate pinpointing is a snap! Another feature of the Advantage is its sharp, crisp response to targets that make it easy to identify and pinpoint targets even in the motion discriminate mode.
Three knobs and two toggle switches control the Advantage's operation. The Sensitivity control serves a dual purpose - it turns the unit on/off & varies the power output from the coil. The Ground Adjust knob has a FIX(ed) setting and a variable range. For ease of use, the FIX setting turns the Advantage into a fixed-ground balance detector and should handle most ground conditions a user might experience. If you come across an area where the ground is extremely mineralized such as old mining camps, saltwater beaches or areas littered with hot rocks or a detectorist that wants to squeeze the most performance possible out of their detector, then the manual ground balance circuit will let you handle even the most adverse conditions. I know a lot of treasure hunters cringe when they hear MANUAL ground balance, but the adjustment on the Advantage takes less than 60 seconds in the even most adverse ground conditions.
The two toggle switches - THRESHOLD RESET/PINPOINT/GROUND ADJUST and ALL METALS/DISCRIMINATE are used to switch operating modes and activate the non-motion pinpoint mode to zero-in on targets once they have been detected. An odd characteristic about the Advantage is that it actually gets more depth when operating in the Discriminate mode than in the All-Metal mode - a difference some relic & beach hunters will have to get used to. The knob labeled LEVEL ADJUST is the discrimination control. At the lowest setting; i.e., fully counter clockwise, most ferrous items will still be rejected which is fine for general treasure hunting; however, if you are a relic hunter and want to find small ferrous targets, you will need to hunt in the All-Metal mode to do so.
The control housing has been resigned and is quite striking in its appearance. The battery pack is a new snap-in design and has eliminated any wires that might have broken in the field. The standard battery pack that comes with the base Advantage holds 8 AA batteries. A set of alkaline batteries will provide 25-30 hours of use. When the batteries get low, the detector will start to produce a short chirp every 30 seconds to alert the user. A rechargeable battery system is available from Minelab. The use of headphones (via the standard 1/4" stereo jack) will provide even better battery life and ensure faint signals are not missed. The coils are waterproof up to the connector and when the control housing is hip mounted, allows the Advantage to be used as an effective shallow-water detector.
Additional design features worth mentioning include a unique padded armrest cuff, new Slimline coils which are 25% lighter than the coils on other Musketeers and Sovereigns, an innovative 'snap-in' bracket to hold the housing on the shaft and a comprehensive optional "Pro-Pack" filled with accessories that make the new Musketeer Advantage an even-more versatile machine.
I received the Musketeer Advantage the day before my 12-year old son Paul and I left to attend a 2-day treasure hunt in Lewisburg, Penn. hosted by the Susquehanna Valley Metal Detecting Club. I had planned on taking it along to try in the time between hunts or demonstrate to people attending the hunt, but my son would soon have other plans for it.
Recently Paul had upgraded to a top-of-the-line target ID detector from a different manufacturer and felt he knew how to use it. What he found was that the 'cross-talk' from similar detectors on the hunt field as well as the time required to pinpoint each signal made the first two hunts he participated in frustrating at best - netting him a total of 14 coins. Paul has been actively competing in hunts since he was 6 years old - and in most hunts, he competes alongside the adults and normally does quite well. This time he was quite dejected and several of us tried to come up with an alternative solution. Well, the solution was under our noses and fellow TH'er Sam DiFillipo suggested he try the new Musketeer. We quickly set it up for Paul's height, strapped the hip mount pouch to his waist and gave him a crash course on pinpointing signals. All of us were immediately impressed at the crisp signal response and the ability to easily pinpoint with the Double-D coil.
At the beginning of the third hunt, Paul lined up on the perimeter of the field along with 71 other adults waiting for the signal to start. Watching from the sidelines, I could see he was spending a good portion of his time on his knees digging and I hoped he was doing better than he had in the earlier hunts. When the signal was given marking the end of the hunt, he walked off the field grinning from ear-to-ear. In the 45-minute hunt, he recovered 75 silver dimes and a prize token that he redeemed for a silver half dollar. He received a number of compliments from other hunters who had found less than he, even with years more experience under their belts. Considering the only thing that had changed was the detector he was using, the Musketeer Advantage's capabilities were becoming obvious.
Paul continued to use the Advantage throughout the remainder of the weekend and his success continued. His final count Sunday afternoon was 173 silver dimes, a silver 3c piece, 2 silver quarters, a Franklin half and a 2002 Silver Eagle. All I heard on the ride home was how he was going to enjoy using his new detector.
An interesting side note, regarding the hunt was that several comparison tests of the Musketeer Advantage vs. other detectors, some costing hundreds more, were done by hunt attendees interested in anything new and the results were quite impressive. The Advantage had held it's own against other detectors in both air & in-ground tests. Even deep signals came through clearly and it did an above-average job in locating good targets in amongst ferrous trash (which littered an area near the large pavilion where the local fire company practiced cutting up wrecked vehicles). Many of the people that had tried the Advantage walked away with plans to add one to their arsenal swirling through their heads.
The next site I took the Advantage to was an old coal-mining town long since abandoned just south of Wilkes Barre, Penn. As with most coal region sites, it was littered with cinders that played havoc with most detectors in the form of false signals. I opted for the manual ground balance circuit and easily made the necessary adjustment to compensate for the mineralized ground. To ensure the cinders did not cause me any problems I adjusted the ground balance slightly positive; i.e., the threshold increased slightly as the coil was lowered to the ground, and started hunting near one of the foundations visible in the underbrush. Not wanting to miss out on any interesting relics, I had the Discrimination set at the Ǝ o'clock' position. The first few targets turned out to be undistinguishable objects from a time long ago; however, as I approached the rear of the foundation, I received a nice soft, repeatable signal. Digging down close to 8 inches, I pulled a 1918 Walking Liberty half from its resting place and put it in my pouch. I hunted this site for almost 4 hours and recovered more than 20 coins including 4 more silver coins & several interesting artifacts such as keys, silverware, part of a miners carbide lamp, and a ladies brooch.
I was able to get to the New Jersey coast for a day to see how it performed on saltwater beaches. Unfortunately it was late April when I got down there and no crowds had been there for more than 7 months nor had there been any storms recently to remove some of the sand, but I wanted to see how the Advantage handled wet sand. The dry sand was no problem and I actually found a few coins near the boardwalk at depths of up to 11 inches using the 10" coil. Walking down to the wet sand, I switched to the manual ground balance mode and quickly made the necessary adjustments to null out the salt. Switching back to Discriminate, I was able to hunt the wet sand with less chatter or falsing than I have ever been able to get out of a detector other than a pulse or multi-frequency model. The hip mount configuration was ideal for hunting the surf line and I recovered 32 coins over a four-hour period hunting the wet sand area along the section of beach where I had parked.
Minelab Electronics has obviously listened to the requests from their dealers and customers worldwide to come out with a high-quality detector without some of the 'bells and whistles" of their high-end models at an affordable price. I doubt however that any of them expected to get the performance of the Musketeer Advantage for under $400.
I initially looked at the Advantage as a good starter or backup unit; however, after seeing what it was capable of in a wide range of ground conditions, I can see even seasoned detectorists using this as their primary detector. It offers above-average depth and discrimination, is quite simple to operate and extremely accurate in pinpointing detected targets.
Minelab picked a fitting name for their new detector, as it will definitely give treasure hunters an advantage in the field when using it.
The Musketeer Advantage lists for $399 and comes with the standard 2-year Minelab warranty. The Pro-Pack which contains a 10" coil, NiMH rechargeable battery, home & car chargers and deluxe hip mount pouch that greatly enhances the versatility of the Advantage in tackling any type of treasure hunting you may be interested in and sells for $190.
For more information on the Advantage or other models in the Minelab line or the name of your nearest Minelab dealer, contact the US office at Suite 11, 2700 East Patrick Lane, Las Vegas, NV 89120, call them at (702) 891-8809 / (888) 517-2066 or visit their website at http://www.minelab.com and be sure to mention that you read about the new Advantage in Lost Treasure.