Metal detector technology has come so far since I started treasure hunting in the 1960s that sometimes it amazes me that any of us in the hobby back then were actually able to find anything. Features such as discrimination, ground balance, target ID, depth reading and even turn-on-and-go operation were not even on the drawing boards.
Well, over the years, metal detector manufacturers have spent countless hours and $1,000s of dollars developing the technology that has produced new and improved detectors year after year. When I got word of a new detector from Minelab Electronics which had some revolutionary new circuitry and features, I was anxious to see if a new chapter in detector technology had been written.
The first thing I noticed when I received the Explorer XS was the wealth of accessories that came standard with the detector. Rather than having to buy them separately, the Explorer XS comes with a coil cover, NiMh rechargeable batteries, car and home chargers, detector stand and a set of padded stereo headphones.
The Explorer is the result of more than two years of research and development using input from treasure hunters worldwide. The Sovereign and Excalibur models, utilizing Broad Band Spectrum (BBS) technology, had developed the reputation of being able to handle extreme ground conditions and provide top-notch detection depth. Capitalizing on the processing power of todays micro-processors, Minelab engineers were able to develop an enhanced detection circuit as well as extract additional information from the target signal to more accurately identify it in the ground.
Full Band Spectrum (FBS) is the newest detection circuitry from Minelab found on the Explorer. Increasing the number of frequencies used by the detector from 17 in BBS to 28 in FBS and the upper range of the frequencies from 25 kHz to 100 kHz, the Explorer is able to provide even greater detection depth and accuracy of target identification than the BBS models that have become so popular. 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 an 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 silver 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. Combine that with the 100 plus spiral-bound manual and pocket-sized menu short-cut sheet, it is apparent that the factory has put more effort into the manual than typically found on metal detectors today.
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. On subsequent models, this switch was removed as 99 percent of all hunters left it in the ON position. This was the right setting for most applications; however, it was not ideal for relic or beach hunters who may have wanted to find ferrous artifacts. Well, the Explorer has restored this control and now allows users to select any degree of iron-rejection ranging from none to full. Again, depending the type of hunting you do, you now have the ability to define precisely what type of target will produce a positive response thanks to the SmartFind and Iron Mask circuitry.
The Explorer has multiple display options which aid in identifying objects. The Digital mode depicts target ID with a numerical value ranging from 1 to 32 and a corresponding picture icon; i.e., coin, nail, pull tab, etc. The Digital mode is best suited for basic coinhunting. The increased target differentiation of the SmartFind and Iron Mask display modes make them more suited for most forms of treasure hunting. In the SmartFind and Iron Mask modes, the unique Conductivity and Inductance value for each target will define a point on the display screen and this point will be indicated with a cross-hair icon that can move around the screen.
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. Pinpointing is aided by the depth indicator which appears on the display screen and registers depth in the motion search modes. At first glance, one may question the ability of the Explorer to operate in trash-filled sites due to the large coil size; however, there are advanced settings that allow it to handle all but the trashiest sites after one has some experience with the detector.
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 Explorer XS is a detector that requires some time in order to become proficient with in the field and fully exploit the advanced features and capabilities it offers. Rather than start out with some of my initial forays in the field which were somewhat disappointing, I will jump ahead to some of the sites I searched once I had some time using the Explorer under my belt.
Civil War relic hunting is extremely popular where I live in north Georgia and many of the less-obscure sites have been hunted continuously since the 1960s. These are ideal areas to test out new detectors as any remaining targets are either extremely deep or masked by trash. I took my son to a site where a small skirmish had taken place during the siege of Kennesaw Mountain. Much of the area has been developed, so we started in the last remaining stand of trees adjacent to the road. Setting the Explorer in the Iron Mask mode, I began scrubbing the ground. Signals were few and far between as I would have expected; however a repeatable signal did come through near a section of barbed wire fence that was laying on the ground. It registered in the center area of the display screen, so moving the fence away, I started to recover the target. Removing several inches of dirt, I rechecked the hole and saw it was deeper still. Finally, after cutting through some tree roots, I saw a .58 caliber Minnie Ball resting in the bottom of the 9 plus-inch deep hole. As I approached the road, the number of trash signals increased significantly. In order to reject the trash and still try to detect some relics, I switched to the Advanced SmartFind mode and recalled a discrimination pattern I had created at home which was done using a number of Minnie Balls of varying calibers. The Explorer ran quiet as I re-hunted the area I had just passed over now ignoring all the more recent trash that littered the area. Less than 5 feet from the road I received a signal that registered near the bottom of the depth indication scale (12). Another Minnie Ball came to light from just over 8 inches. We spent almost an hour hunting the area near the road and thanks to the Civil War Bullet Pattern I was using, recovered 9 more Minnie Balls from an area that would have otherwise been virtually un-huntable due to all of the trash that had been deposited over the years from traffic passing by on the road.
Another site I hunted was a small beach on a nearby lake. Lake levels here in Georgia vary widely as the Corps of Engineers often lower the water 20 plus feet in the winter for spring flood control and this beach was now high and dry. Two fellow treasure hunters Bill Pfautz and Keith Utz accompanied me to see how the Explorer worked in the field. Leaving it in the QuickStart mode, we started hunting the beach. Pull tabs were everywhere, so I switched to the Advanced Learn mode and taught the Explorer what targets to ignore. With most of the trash now being eliminated, we continued down the beach. It was obvious from the open holes and trash laying about that others had hunted the site before we did; however, we were still able to find some coins at depths of up to 9 inches. I re-visited this site a few more times over the next week and found a total of 26 coins, one gold ring, some keys and miscellaneous items that other detectorists had missed. All were deep and most were adjacent to trash including a large anchor chain which was where the gold ring was found.
Several old home sites that I and others have hunted repeatedly also gave up numerous targets dating back to the mid-1800s including coins, artifacts and at one, an 18KT gold cufflink. The ability to create and save customized discrimination patterns at home for specific targets such as old coins or relics and then quickly recall them for use in the field made hunting these worked-out, trash-filled sites seem like hunting virgin sites again. I was amazed at the number of good targets that came out of sites that most of us had long since given up on.
Unfortunately due to the space limitations of this field test, I am not able to delve in detail into many of the unique features found on the Explorer. It is a detector that really must be seen in order to appreciate all of its capabilities. The new FBS technology and SmartFind target analysis circuitry in the Explorer has taken metal detecting technology to a new level. The ability to hunt in even the most adverse conditions and obtain information to aid in identifying targets with accuracy not found on other detectors make the Explorer XS a detector of choice for a wide range of applications. The Explorer is a detector that requires time to master all of the inherent capabilities and, as one gets more experience under their belt, the detector will become even more powerful in terms of what it can do in the field. However, even the Quick Start mode will provide treasure hunters with above-average performance right out of the box.
The Explorer XS retails for $1,195. However, when you consider the performance it provides, it is well worth the price in terms of what it can find even in sites that have been heavily hunted for years. The fact that the Explorer XS comes with all the accessories one typically is forced to purchase separately shows that Minelab has checked to see what consumers look for when buying a detector. The unit comes with a two-year parts and labor warranty with service handled by a repair center located in the United States.
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.au and be sure to mention you read about the exciting new Explorer XS in Lost Treasure.