Minelab first introduced their unique Full Band Spectrum (FBS) circuit on the Explorer in 1999 followed by the Quattro in 2004. Since that time, FBS-based detectors have earned the reputation of being able to handle the most adverse ground conditions around the world and locate targets that have been missed by hunters using other detectors. The latest model to feature FBS technology is the E-Trac and, while it might look like an Explorer at first glance, it was not designed to be an upgraded Explorer. And with a number of new features, it does not function like one in the field.
As I did with the field test of the Explorer SE Pro, I enlisted the help of Bill Paxton, a good friend and veteran Minelab user from Los Angles, to get his input on the E-Tracs performance under the challenges West Coast hunters face. Both of us were involved in the E-Tracs development project over the past several months and, as result, had a good deal of field time with the detector to use as a basis for this report.
Due to space limitation, I am not going to go into a long discussion on FBS-technology, which is the same as that found on the Explorers and Quattro. Their field tests (available online at LostTreasure.com) contain all the details you might want. Suffice it to say that, unlike other detectors that operate on one or two frequencies, the Explorers FBS circuitry transmits at 28 different frequencies simultaneously over a range of 1.5kHz to 100kHz, and adjustments are made automatically by the E-Trac based on the ground conditions seen beneath the coil. This provides maximum detection depth and improved target ID accuracy in even the most severe ground conditions.
The first thing that one notices after assembling the E-Trac, especially if you have used an Explorer before, is the improved ergonomics and balance resulting from the redesigned handgrip angle and new, lightweight 11 Double-D search coil. Based on feedback from Explorer and Quattro users, this seemingly simple change makes a big difference in the field! The next thing that stands out is the larger LCD screen, which also has a much higher resolution allowing for more information and crisper graphics to be displayed. The menu system has been totally rewritten and is very intuitive in terms of finding where a specific adjustment is made.
The biggest changes took place inside, with entirely new programming developed for how ground conditions are analyzed and targets identified. This is where the It is not an simply a new Explorer truly manifests itself. Due to issues inherent to the Explorer that the engineers wanted to address, these changes were made and fine-tuned over months of in-field testing.
Rather than trying to explain every control on the E-Trac in this report, I recommend downloading a copy of the user manual, available from the Minelab website if you are interested in whats now available.
The SmartFind screen unique to the Explorer and E-Trac provides a 2-dimensional depiction of a detected targets conductivity (CO) and ferrous (FE) composition. This provides users with additional information that helps to more accurately identify items even at depth. On the Explorer, some users opted for the Digital display which provides the coordinate values that are shown on the SmartFind screen graph. The E-Trac now combines both of these on a single screen which provides the user with even more information to help identify targets.
Minelab has provided four predefined collections of settings designed to allow you to start using the E-Trac immediately for applications, such as coin hunting, beach hunting and relic hunting, known as Modes. There are also four empty folders where you can save settings youve customized for the type of hunting you do and the conditions you face. This makes it easy to reload field-proven adjustments with a few simple keystrokes (as well as try new settings from other users thanks to the Xchange software described later).
The most notable change, especially if you have used an Explorer, is the remapping of target ID values on the SmartFind screen. The reprogramming straightened the old S-shaped curve on which good targets fell. Now, these keepers will ideally fall along a horizontal line with an FE value of 12. The different CO values allow you to identify targets accurately even at extreme depths. The CO values now are much more consistent, so, while there will be some variation on the FE side, even deep targets can be identified with a high degree of accuracy. Two new features added to the E-Trac worth noting are the Trash Density and Ground options. The Trash Density option alters the way the E-Trac processes signals in high trash areas and has proven to allow good targets to be detected in amongst trash that would be undetectable with other detectors. The Ground option offers to choices to maximize performance in a wide range of soil conditions from freshly plowed fields and white sand beaches to the most highly mineralized ground you might come across.
The final feature of the E-Trac worth noting is the addition of a USB port to the side of the control housing. This allows the detector to be connected to a Windows-based computer to save, share and manipulate specific settings. Minelab has posted a number of files on their website containing proven settings and discrimination patterns for specific types of hunting and, through the use of the Xchange software, users from around the world have started to share their settings via the Internet.
With the new software that changed the way targets were identified on the E-Trac vs. the Explorer, I spent a good deal of time testing targets before heading into the field. It was clear that the E-Trac was processing signals differently; however, with a bit of practice, interpreting the results became second nature. The remainder of this portion of the report covers testing the E-Trac at sites on both sides of the U.S.
East Coast Results
When conducting a field test with a higher-end detector, I tend to stay clear of areas where the majority of targets are recently lost, as a pocketful of clad does not provide a true test of the detectors capabilities. Instead, I try to search sites that have been well hunted, where targets are known to be deep, or where concentrations of trash give any detector a real workout.
The first site was an older park near Charlotte that has seen more than its share of detectors over the years. To get a feel for what was in the ground, I opted to hunt in QuickMask with minimal discrimination (rejecting FE from 27 to 35). I also opted for conductive audio which allowed me to identify targets by sound and then confirm that the target was not iron based on the LCD screen. Auto sensitivity allowed the detector to run between 20 and 24 (out of 30) with no chatter or falsing. One section had been the site of a concession stand from the 1930s to the 1950s and had a high concentration of old bottle caps and nails in the ground.
Other detectors tended to null when used there and my first impression was that the E-Trac was no different, since it was also nulling. Suddenly, a solid signal came through and indicated a CO value of 44. While the FE value bounced around a bit, the CO value remained consistent and the depth indicated 8. From under a tree root at 8 came a 1926 Mercury dime. Over the next two hours, I recovered several coins from the area that was producing a nulled audio from the trash, including four more silver dimes and 11 wheat cents. The E-Tracs new see-through capabilities were clearly evident at this location!
The next site was near a local college and, while there was nowhere near the trash as at the park, the remaining targets were extremely deep and finding any would put the E-Trac to the test. Selecting the Recovery-Deep option, Difficult Ground, a modified coin discrimination pattern (designed to provide for a bit more acceptance than the factory pattern) and Conductive audio, I started off along the edge of the field. As expected, signals were few and far between, but, after about 20 minutes, a solid 14/42 came through.
The depth indication was almost bottomed out and, after several minutes of careful digging, I pulled out a 1919 wheat cent from almost 10. Several hours of hunting there over the next week netted 12 older coins, including one Standing Liberty quarter with no date, two Barber dimes and a mint 1944 Mercury dime. All had been at least 7 deep and more than half had been at an angle or on edge.
More test results and tips learned in the field are provided in the on-line version of this report.
West Coast Results
As I did with the Explorer SE Pro field test, I asked Bill Paxton to provide his perspective on the E-Trac. He is a straight-shooter who calls it like he sees it and has decades of experience using many different detectors. The rest of this section is Bills assessment of the E-Trac based on his using it at sites around Los Angles.
Since my favorite type of metal detecting is beach hunting, I was anxious to see how the E-Trac would fare at three of my favorite beaches. Ive hunted predominantly with Explorers at the beach since they first came out, so the E-Trac was going to have to do a pretty good job for me to give it a thumbs-up. Reaching the wet sand at my first beach, I noise cancelled and loaded my program, a combination of Beach Mode and the Jewelry Pattern which I found, through target testing, best fit my needs. The only change I made to the stock setup was to increase the variability from 25 to 30, because I prefer to maximize the difference between target tones.
Immediately I discovered that manual sensitivity, which is the Minelab preferred mode according to the manual, did not work for me. The E-Trac was noisy and falsing quite a bit at any manual setting over 14. Switching over to auto made the E-Trac rock solid with a steady threshold. The left sensitivity bar readings varied on all three beaches from 15 to 21, generally staying in the 18 20 range. I was able to go to +1 and +2 in auto; at +3 the E-Trac starting nulling more and target response become choppy (clearly sensitivity was too high).
An interesting side note: While experimenting with the Neutral and Difficult ground settings, I found that the sensitivity ran 2 to 3 points higher in Neutral than in Difficult, both in the wet and dry sand.
I did experience some falsing issues, with 01/29s & 01/32s coming up often in the wet sand. A simple touch of the reject button eliminated those falses which I knew did not correspond to any targets I would dig. I then saved this as one of my modes so I could go back to it again for future hunts.
Depth on the E-Trac was excellent, on par with best machines I have used at the beach. Clad was plentiful at all three beaches, but, unfortunately gold was not. I dug several quarters at depths better than 12 in the wet sand. Target ID was rock solid even at depth. I also discovered that the E-Trac is a nickel magnet; CO values of 12 or 13 were always nickels and it was only fooled by one bent square tab. Tabs typically came with a CO value of 25 and sounded different.
Total take for the day in what I would call poor conditions (translation: no storms, beach sanded in) was nearly $9 and a heartbreaker platinum earring with diamonds that turned out to be junk. Verdict for the beach: I would definitely consider the E-Trac.
Next I picked out a portion of one of our older Los Angeles parks that has been hunted hard by almost every person with a metal detector. There was a small, long forgotten corner of this park that a buddy and I had hunted for months last year with our Explorers. We had done well, but, after gridding the entire area and hunting it with a variety of different coils, we had finally written it off as hunted out. This would be a good test for the E-Trac.
Experimenting with Neutral and Difficult resulted in Difficult being the preferred setting, as it made the machine run much quieter. I chose Auto sensitivity and the sensitivity gauge varied during the course of the hunt from a low of 14 to a high of 20, staying mostly in the 16 to 18 range.
To my surprise, the E-Trac started hitting coins immediately. Not just shallow, surface clad, but also deep, older clad that we had obviously missed. This park is very trashy and my Explorers nulled frequently when I hunted here in the past; however, the E-Trac didnt.
Many of the coins produced solid target readings with repeatable audio with trash readings all around them. The E-Trac did better seeing through the trash than any other machine I had used in the past.
Searching around an old tree I had hunted many times, I was surprised to get a nice, solid high tone that gave a CO value of 46. It sounded deep and out of the hole at 6 popped a 1954 Roosevelt dime!
As I was getting ready to leave, I received another CO-46 that indicated it was deep on the depth meter. After digging down over 10, I was surprised to find, on edge, a half dollar-sized token for the Westinghouse 1936 Golden Jubilee! It turns out that celebration was held in Cleveland, Ohio my home town and somehow found its way to Los Angles only to be found 72 years later.
The E-Trac has taken FBS-technology in a new direction and is not simply a new Explorer. It has combined many of the features that made the Explorer so successful with new ones developed by Minelabs engineers after 100s of hours of in field and lab testing. On the outside, the greatly improved weight / balance aspect along with the new LCD screen and coil are immediately noticeable. The performance in the field where it really matters is first rate based on the improvements made to the software and accessed via the options available on the new menu system.
My keeper count has definitely gone up since using the E-Trac at many sites that I and others had long since given up on. Bills verdict? The E-Trac is an impressive addition to the Minelab line of metal detectors. Speaking as a beach and coin hunter, I can say that it is definitely worth consideration if you are looking for a multipurpose, high-end metal detector.
If you are looking at upgrading your current detector for 2009, the E-Trac deserves a serious look, as it will meet the demands of even the most critical detectorist. If you are already an Explorer user, stop by your local dealer and compare the two side-by-side. See if what the E-Trac offers in terms of performance and features can help you be more successful in the type of hunting you do. Remember, the E-Trac was not designed to be a replacement for the Explorer, but rather offer new features that may enhance your overall success. The Explorer is still one of the strongest treasure detectors on the market.
The E-Trac lists for $1,895 and comes with a two-year parts and labor warranty, with service handled by Minelab USA in Las Vegas. It comes standard with a NiMH battery, charger, alkaline battery holder, set of collapsible Koss headphones, and the E-Trac Xchange software on CD.
Any of the optional accessories available from Minelab or third parties designed for the Explorer or Quattro will also work on the E-Trac.
For the name of your nearest dealer, more information on the E-Trac or any of the other detectors in the Minelab line, contact Minelab USA at 871 Grier Drive, Suite B1, Las Vegas, NV, 89119, (702) 891-8809, or visit their web site at www.minelab.com. Be sure to mention you read about the new E-Trac in Lost Treasure Magazine.