Garrett’s AT series of detectors are some of the most popular and recognizable machines on the market today. This article will discuss and compare the Garrett AT Pro with its more specialized counterpart, the AT Gold.
The main difference is that the AT Gold is more suited for gold prospecting with its higher 18 kHz frequency, smaller 5×8” DD coil, true all-metal mode, and other features. The AT Pro is best for the all-around hunter with it’s larger 8.5×11″ coil and audio options for beginners.
Which is better AT Pro or AT Gold?
Both the Garrett AT Pro and AT Gold are user-friendly, have been field-tested for a decade, and are worthy of the “All Terrain” designation of their series. Obviously, the AT Gold will probably be the better choice for those who live or plan to detect in regions where gold can be found in its natural state. For those not planning to prospect for gold, the AT Pro is somewhat more versatile and is also cheaper, though not by a large margin. You of course could still find gold nuggets or flakes with the AT Pro, but you will find chasing small targets more difficult than with the AT Gold, especially with the stock 8.5”x11” coil. One drawback that both machines share however is their poor performance in saltwater. If you plan on primarily detecting beaches, you will find other detectors better suited for the task.
Garrett AT Pro
Since its release more than ten years ago, the AT Pro has become a staple of the detecting world. The machine features numerical VDI, iron audio (enabling the user to choose to hear iron otherwise discriminated out), a waterproof coil and control box, ground balancing to adjust for soil conditions (adjusted automatically or manually), a native pinpointing function, and six different operational modes. It comes standard with a mid-size 8.5” x 11” DD coil, which can be substituted for different Garrett coils or those for the AT series from other manufacturers.
The six modes of the AT Pro bear some discussion. Three modes (“Custom”, “Coins”, and “Zero”) are “standard” modes, meaning that the audio in these settings is similar to that of machines in Garrett’s Ace series of detectors. Simply put, the beep the machine makes in these modes is the same regardless of a target’s size or depth. This mode is best for those who are new to the hobby or to the AT Pro, but experienced users will almost invariably prefer the Pro modes. These are the same as the modes previously mentioned (“Custom”, “Coins”, and “Zero”), but the audio in these modes is proportional, meaning that those beeps can provide more clues about an object’s size, depth, and shape to the experienced ear. Learning what the detector is telling you via proportional audio will take some investment of time and effort, however.
Versatile and packed with features, the AT Pro is no slouch even when compared with more recent machines and continues to be competitive in the metal detecting market. This is largely owed to its ease of use and flexibility – even a beginner will be able to start finding relics, coins, or jewelry not long after the AT Pro leaves the box.
Read my complete AT Pro review.
Garrett AT Gold
One of the perhaps less well-known niches in metal detecting is searching for naturally occurring gold. If one is fortunate enough to live in a gold-bearing region, such as many areas in the American West, Canada, Australia, and West Africa, this can be a fun and potentially profitable pastime. Most metal detecting companies manufacture at least one machine to cater to this form of metal detecting.
Garrett’s current offering in this niche is the AT Gold, which debuted in 2011. And while the AT Gold has features that make it better for prospecting than the AT Pro, it is not a one-trick pony: despite its name, the AT Gold has developed a positive reputation among relic hunters in addition to prospectors. The Gold still provides much of the versatility of the AT series, but with some enhanced capabilities and a few drawbacks. Like all of the AT series detectors, the AT Gold features proportional audio in all of its three available modes, including a dedicated all-metal mode. Some think that all-metal mode can provide greater depth compared to modes that incorporate discrimination, though this was more true of previous generations of metal detectors than today. Like the AT Pro, the Gold is also waterproof up to ten feet.
So what makes the AT Gold well-suited for gold prospecting? Firstly, it operates at a higher frequency (18 khz) than the other detectors in the AT series, which makes it more sensitive to small targets like flakes, nuggets, and pickers. Not all gold is so small, but you’ll have to be very lucky to find big nuggets! Secondly, the machine comes standard with a 5”x8” search coil (though these can be changed out), which is better for smaller targets and picking through trash and other undesirables. Aftermarket coils for the AT Pro and Gold are also generally interchangeable. Thirdly, its true all-metal mode, which the AT Pro does not include, is ideal for prospecting. Small gold targets will give sometimes faint and very low VDI readings on a metal detector compared to coins, rings, or some of the other typical targets of the detectorist and cranking up the discrimination is a sure way to miss the mark. Running one’s machine with no discrimination, getting good target separation from a small coil, and operating at a high frequency will all help to find naturally occurring gold.
One unique feature of the AT Gold is its ground balancing function. The detector can manually or automatically ground balance as the AT Pro does, but it also has what is called a Ground Balance Window. This is a feature designed to help the detectorist ferret out small targets that might otherwise be missed by spreading the ground balance over a range of values. The purpose of this feature is to lessen audio response from mineralization and make faint targets (hopefully gold!) more audible. This is a function for advanced users, but it can be a very useful one as gold-bearing soils are often heavily mineralized.
One of the functionalities that the AT Gold lacks is use in saltwater. Though the AT Pro also does poorly in wet sand and surf, the AT Gold is simply not designed for beach hunting. If it is pressed into use on the beach, it is probably best to stick to the dry sand and ground balance often. On the other hand, it has no performance issues in freshwater, making it ideal for hunting freshwater streams where you might come up with gold.
The AT Pro and AT Gold are rugged and reliable detectors that are both able to tackle most detecting conditions on land. The AT Gold unsurprisingly wins out on features for budding prospectors, but the AT Pro is cheaper and its lack of specialization may be a plus for some. Still can’t decide? Check out our other reviews on Garrett detectors.