Field Test - The Minelab CTX 3030

By Chris Gholson
From page 44 of the August, 2012 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2012 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


I stared at my open laptop in amazement. There it was plain as day. The meandering blue line that snaked its way across the screen was the path I had detected the day before. All the twists and turns were there, even where I had doubled-back to retrieve sunglasses.
This digital trail of mine was also marked with icons called WayPoints and FindPoints. I had created these in the field to record some of my finds. When clicked, they provided valuable data such as time, date, and GPS coordinates. Some were even able to tell me what settings were being used on the detector when an object was found!
As if this wasn’t amazing enough, the excursion had been integrated into Google Maps. With a simple roll of the mouse I could zoom in for a close up of the field I had hunted. I spotted the dilapidated corral and even the tree I had eaten lunch under. I didn’t know I was shaking my head until my wife asked, “Is something the matter?”
My head sprang up from the glowing LCD. “Huh?” I was so absorbed in my mapping adventure I had nearly forgotten she was in the room. She laughed, “Are you okay?”
“No…I mean yes. Everything is good. Actually, better than good - this thing is amazing!” I replied with a big smile. “I think the next few months are going to be very interesting.”
It is always a pleasure getting to field test new equipment, especially when that equipment contains significant technological improvements. I have tested many makes and models over the years and, while all have been quality products, I would only consider a fraction to be ground breaking. Minelab’s new CTX 3030 definitely falls into that category. This machine is sure to have treasure hunters singing praises for the Australian based company.
The militaristic-styled unit boasts a number of features new to the consumer metal detection market. For starters, it offers integrated GPS functions and wireless audio and advanced target discrimination, all housed in a sleek, waterproof design.
With the improved XChange 2 application, you can download, upload, edit and store detector settings and GPS data using your PC. This machine performs above average in harshly mineralized conditions and is capable of locating metal objects in extremely salty soils, seawater, wet beach sand and highly magnetic, iron-rich ground.
A full color 3.5” LCD, Li-Ion battery and set of KOSS headphones are also part of the package. About the only thing you won’t find on the CTX 3030 is a beverage holder.
Straight out of the box I was impressed with the styling and overall “feel” of the machine. The CTX 3030 is supplied with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack that will provide enough power for 13 hours of detection. Since this pack actually snaps onto the detector itself, it eliminates the need for a cumbersome power cable and serves as a perfect counterweight for the coil. Its placement behind the operator’s elbow gives the detector a nice balance. The inclusion of a full carbon fiber shaft was also a definite bonus.
I use a similar product on my GPX 5000 because carbon fiber is both stronger and lighter than aluminum. It also eliminates the potential for any interference between a metal shaft and coil.
The familiar 11” DD open-style coil has been a favorite size of mine for a few years. It is a good compromise for depth and sensitivity, and a smart choice for the standard coil. An optional waterproof 6-inch DD coil is available for high trash areas and, if more depth and coverage are needed, there is a 17x13-inch elliptical DD as well. 
The CTX 3030 looks great on the outside, but what about internally? The electronics make use of four key technologies: FBS 2, Smartfind 2, GPSi, and Wi-Stream. The first two are aimed at improving the detector’s ability to locate and identify targets, and the last two deal with the XChange 2 software, GPS related features, and audio.
FBS 2 combines Minelab’s FBS multiple frequency (1.5 kHz – 100 kHz) transmission with advanced digital coil-to-detector communications. The precisely calibrated smart coil and detector electronics allow advanced signal analysis for more accurate detection.
Smartfind 2 enhances Minelab’s FeCo Discrimination to analyze and display a target’s Ferrous (Fe) and Conductive (Co) properties. This improves target separation, which is invaluable when working trash-ridden sites.
With the CTX 3030, a separate handheld GPS is no longer required. Because the detector is equipped with its own integrated GPS, detectorists can easily navigate to a specific location and mark points of interest along the way by means of the GPSi technology and the XChange 2 application.
The Wireless Audio Module (WM 10), which is available on the CTX Standard pack, is something totally new for Minelab. This device, coupled with Wi-Stream technology, works to deliver clear, wireless sound with no perceivable time delay.
The WM 10 contains an internal loudspeaker and 1/4” headphone jack. It includes a rechargeable battery that can be charged using the detector’s battery charger or through a standard USB port.
When looking at the control panel we notice there are 11 individual push-button controls. Each can be pushed once for an action, or held down for more options. The rear of the control panel is outfitted with a speaker, a screw-cap sealed USB connection, and a Pinpoint Trigger.
The new trigger has been strategically placed on the handle within easy reach. This simple design change has made pinpointing incredibly convenient. I find myself using it much more often on the CTX 3030.
The exterior of this futuristic detector is sure to turn heads, but it’s inside the control box where the magic happens. With so many features and functions it is impossible to cover them all in this article, so we will discuss those most important to coin, relic and treasure hunters.
I would like to reassure everyone reading that the CTX 3030 is not beyond your skill level. I know when I first read through a list of the features I found it a bit overwhelming. Even though I know how to run a computer reasonably well, phrases like “rectangular-wave transmission” and “u-blox GPS positioning” are definitely not part of my daily vocabulary.
Although I had initial reservations, in the end I found there had been nothing to sweat. The CTX 3030 is an incredibly complex detector, but the engineers have designed it in such a way that it is easy to interact with. If you have experience with either an E-Trac or Explorer, I guarantee the learning curve will be nil. Even those who have never held a Minelab before have no need to worry.
The true beauty of this machine is that it can be as simple or complex as a person wants it to be. There are advanced capabilities for the seasoned hunter, and for newcomers to the hobby there are pre-set programs that will have them detecting in seconds!
The user interacts with the CTX 3030 via three main screens. These are the Detect, Map, and Menu Screens. The Detect Screen is the first a person will see when they turn on the detector. It is also where they will spend a majority of their time. This screen is important because it graphically displays the discrimination patterns and target information.
The Map screen allows us to view FindPoints, WayPoints, GeoHunts and GeoTrails. The Menu Screen is used to access all the detector settings grouped into four categories: Modes, Geostore, Display, and Options. A Status Bar will be shown at the top of the LCD, regardless of which Screen a person is viewing. The Status Bar provides a variety of data including current search mode, current pattern, time, battery strength, etc.
The CTX 3030 has up to 10 customizable Search Modes, five of which have been preset from the factory. Search Modes are a collection of functions that can be optimized for different target types, amounts of junk, and levels of ground mineralization. The preset modes are: Coins, Beach, Relic, Silver and High Trash. New modes can be created by copying and modifying existing modes.
I highly encourage all new owners to spend a few days operating in one of the five preset modes. This is what I did. After assembling the machine, I decided to visit a park a few blocks from my home. I hadn’t read the instruction manual, so I selected the factory Coins Mode, performed a Noise Cancel, and started detecting. If anyone tells you factory modes are no good, I can promise you they are mistaken.
In a very short period of time I accumulated at least 20 coins. All were modern, but it proved nicely that this factory mode was fully capable of ignoring most trash while still sounding off on valuable targets. These modes do have their limitations, but until you have familiarized yourself with the various sounds and Target ID’s, they are a great place to start.
The way in which the CTX 3030 reacts to a buried piece of metal is fairly straightforward. Whenever the coil passes over a metallic object, the machine simultaneously analyses its ferrous (FE) and conductive (CO) properties. The different FE-CO properties are displayed numerically and graphically on the Detect Screen, as well as being heard as distinctive audio tones.
The horizontal axis of the screen rates the target on its size and conductivity, ranging from 1 to 50. A CO value of 1 represents low conductivity and 50 represents high conductivity. The vertical axis rates the target’s ferrous characteristics, ranging from 1 to 35. An FE value of 1 represents low ferrous characteristics and a value of 35 represents high ferrous characteristics.
Here are some FE-CO examples of common targets: US quarter (12-47), penny (12-37), dime (12-43), nickel (12-13), large rusty nail (32-48), lead bullet (12-30), and pull-tab (12-18).
These numbers are called Target ID’s and are what treasure hunters use to determine the identity of a buried object. By memorizing the Target ID’s associated with different targets, it becomes relatively easy for the operator to know at a glance whether a target warrants digging or not.
I should mention that not all targets will produce either a Target ID or audio signal, especially if an aggressive discrimination pattern is being used. These patterns are shown on the Detect Screen as white and shaded regions. If a target falls within the Accepted (white) region, an audio signal will be heard and a Target ID will appear. If a target falls within the Rejected (shaded) region, the Threshold will blank and no Target ID will be given. This is called masking and it will happen with all targets that do not have FE-CO numbers within the accepted regions of the current discrimination pattern.
The CTX 3030’s discrimination capabilities are second to none, but even a machine as advanced as this is not infallible. Soil conditions, depth, target size, and proximity to other metal objects will greatly affect a target’s ID numbers.
A quarter may read 12-47 in the air, but put that same quarter down in mineralized dirt next to a pull-tab and you may get a reading of 10-42. This can happen with all types of targets, not just coins. Therefore, if you get a mixed response and have any doubt at all, you should dig the target!
Another phenomenon called “target masking” can occur when the detector blanks out a bad target, but also inadvertently blanks out a good target nearby. This is very common in places with lots of junk and is the main reason why no site is ever completely hunted out.
The only way you can be absolutely sure you will not miss any good targets is to use no discrimination at all. This sounds good in theory, but in the real world it isn’t always practical.
For instance, another of my test sites was an old drive-in movie theater built in the early 1950’s. As I expected, after 60 years of use the area had been thoroughly trashed.
My initial attempt to run with zero discrimination, or All Metal, did not last long. With so many targets singing out, my ears were overwhelmed. I decided I could either run a discrimination pattern that would reject the most common trash, or pop a handful of Advil and prepare to dig 1,000 holes.
I opted for the former and by the end of the weekend my tenacity was rewarded with a decent amount of silver, a small handful of Wheat cent pennies, clad coins, several rings with faux gemstones, and an assortment of do-dads. 
Considering I was not the first person to detect the site, I was a little surprised at the quality of finds that had been left. The Wheats were certainly worth digging, but they told me nothing of the CTX 3030’s performance. They were easy targets on the outskirts of the main trash zones and I think most any quality detector would have found them. It is likely they were intentionally skipped over by previous hunters.
The silver on the other hand, was a different story. None of these coins had been easy. It felt as if each had been encapsulated within a protective layer of junk. It was not uncommon to pull nails and other trash from the same hole that held a silver coin. It was time-consuming work, but it taught me a lot about the target separation power of the CTX 3030.
Two features I found especially useful were Target Trace and FE Coins. Target Trace is another first from Minelab. This high-tech feature shows a real time animation of the many detections that occur per second while the detector is determining a Target’s ID. It essentially “paints” a digital, color-coded picture of the objects beneath the ground. With practice, it can be useful for identifying individual targets when they are cluttered together.
The Ferrous-Coin option is another bonus addition. This feature improves the Target ID stability of coin-like objects in areas with low mineralization and abundant ferrous trash. Using advanced signal processing, this feature can minimize the blending of ferrous and coin-like targets even when they are on top of each other. Many of the coins currently hidden beneath iron trash will be fair game for the CTX 3030.
It's probably no surprise I’ve become a fan of the CTX 3030. I tried to come up with complaints, but the best I could manage was an irritation during assembly. Getting the shaft to connect with the box required lots of twisting and turning. I found it not well explained in the manual.
I guess I could also grumble that none of my E-Trac/Explorer aftermarket coils are compatible, but that isn’t a fault of the CTX. Other than that, I have nothing but praise for this product.
Some of the highlights for me were its user friendly control panel, large color LCD, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, its ability to be submerged up to 10 feet, and the fact that it did not require frequent Ground Balancing.
I found the discrimination capabilities and Target ID accuracy of the CTX 3030 superb, but perhaps the most innovative additions were its GPS and Mapping capabilities. Competing manufacturers should take notice here.
The CTX 3030’s onboard GPS receiver will pinpoint a person’s location anywhere on the globe and give them access to those coordinates with a push of a button. That info can later be downloaded to a PC and integrated into Google Maps.
Visual data that shows which areas have been hunted and which have not are invaluable. I have a hunch once people get a taste of this technology it will be difficult for them to go back to a conventional detector.
The hobby of metal detection is changing and much of that change is being fueled by Minelab. The release of the CTX 3030 is proof that a new era of metal detectors has begun, and the platform it is pioneering will be the springboard for more exciting products down the road.
If you are in the market for a new detector or looking to upgrade, consider the CTX 3030. It offers the pinnacle of treasure finding technology, while still having the turn-on-and-go simplicity hunters of all experience levels will appreciate.
Although firm prices weren't established at press time, it will likely retail for around $2,499. For more info, visit www.minelab.com or call 1-888-949-6522. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The WM 10 Wireless Module eliminates the need for headphone cables.
The first silver coin found with the new CTX 3030.
Using the XChange 2 application 
on a laptop in the field.