Minelab Safari Field Test Report
By: Andy Sabisch
Minelab Electronics has been building detectors for just a little more than 20 years and in that time they have earned the reputation of a company that continually pushes the envelope in terms of technology when it comes to metal detecting equipment. Rather than simply tweaking existing circuit designs, they have pioneered several advancements that have resulted in countless finds coming from areas long considered worked out.
One of the most dramatic & effective designs in Minelab's history has been the Full Band Spectrum circuit or FBS for short. First introduced in 2000 on the Explorer S & XS, it operated on the principle of transmitting 28 different frequencies simultaneously over a range of 1.5kHz to 100kHz. The specific frequencies selected automatically by the detector based on ground conditions and outside electrical interference. This resulted in more accurate target identification even at extreme depths as well as increased detection depth when compared to conventional detectors that operated on a single set frequency.
The new Safari utilizes FBS technology and does so in a package that simplifies the adjustments that may have caused some treasure hunters looking for more performance to shy away from the Explorer series or even the new E-Trac. Having worked on the development team of the Explorer, Quattro and E-Trac as well as the new Safari, I knew the potential of an FBS-detector and was looking forward to putting the production version of the newest Minelab through its paces.
As word of the Explorer's performance spread, there were some people that felt a bit overwhelmed by the various adjustments provided on the menu screens and opted for something simpler to operate. Minelab listened to the feedback and worked on developing an FBS-detector that could be used with a just a few keystrokes. The result was the Quattro which was introduced in 2004 and featured a totally redesigned menu that put all of the adjustments on a single-layer menu screen. Detectorists voiced approval of the new menu and the FBS performance; however, the Quattro had one notable performance weakness when operated in high trash. The time needed for the circuitry to reset and then detect the next target was longer than most detectors and required a very slow sweep speed to be effective under these conditions. Unfortunately this point spread throughout the detecting community and sales suffered as a result. In hindsight, the Quattro was an excellent detector as long as one understood how it needed to be used under different conditions, but Minelab's engineers took up the challenge to dramatically improve the way it functioned. The result is the Safari which shares the simple-to-use menu and the control housing faceplate of the Quattro but under the hood, things are notably different when you get in the field.
To make any adjustments to the Safari, simply press the MENU/SELECT touchpad on the control housing to bring the menu screen. You can scroll through the six options using the [-] and [+] touchpads below the screen.
The options you can adjust include:
Sensitivity: You can either select a value manually or allow the Safari to automatically adjust the sensitivity based on ground conditions, trash concentration and electrical interference. While a tad more detection depth can be obtained in manual, there is some sacrifice in terms of stability so the final choice may very well vary from site to site and from day to day.
Threshold: Selecting a value which produces a slight hum in the background is preferred to ensure weaker signals are not missed.
Noise Cancel: This sets the channel which in turn dictates what the individual frequencies are between the lower and upper limits (NOTE: this is better adjusted through the touchpad on the housing face as the detector will select the best channel automatically)
Volume: Self explanatory
Contrast: Used to adjust the contrast on the LCD screen depending on the outside lighting
Trash Density. This has two choices: LOW and HIGH, and is discussed further in the following paragraph.
The Trash Density option is a piece of computer code written by Minelab's engineers to help users find valuable targets masked by nearby trash as well as provide enhanced performance in highly mineralized soil. In HIGH, it allows the circuitry to reset faster and pick out a good target from nearby unwanted targets; however, the target ID accuracy is not as precise as in the LOW setting. Targets may cause the ID value on the screen to bounce around a number or two but the improved separation of targets and the clearly discernable audio will alert you to a good target worth recovering.
The HIGH setting is now the factory preset value and unless you are searching very clean sites or those with low levels of mineralization, HIGH will result in better performance.
The Noise Cancel feature is really the key to the FBS's performance in the field. The detector automatically determines the group of frequencies that will provide the best performance for the specific area being searched based on ground conditions and outside electrical interference. There are no longer any complicated manual adjustments needed to get the most out of your detector!
The LCD screen is easy to read and very intuitive to interpret. The information it provides includes:
What search mode you are in (one of the 4 preset modes or one of the 4 custom modes that you can customize and then save for later use)
Target depth (up to 12" deep)
Target ID (in the form of a number ranging from -10 to +40, a picture icon for various targets if desired, and a cursor on the bottom of the screen)
Audio mode (signal based on a either the target's ferrous or conductive content)
When in the pinpoint mode, a unique visual aid to help you accurately center the coil over the target.
The Safari's circuitry analyzes targets and classifies than as either ferrous (iron) or non-ferrous. It then assigns a number to the target based on its composition. Ferrous targets register from -10 to -1, while non-ferrous targets register from 0 to +40. The number produced for specific targets is very consistent, even at the fringe of detection depth, so once you have practiced with samples of the type of targets you are looking for (or want to reject); you will be able to accurately identify targets before recovering them.
Targets can also identified by the pitch of the audio signal they produce based on either their Ferrous or Conductive composition. Switching between the two types of audio response is quite simple and with a little practice on known targets, you can easily identify targets that other detectors would have a tough time differentiating such as gold rings & pull-tabs or brass buttons & shotgun casings.
Two other internal changes worth noting include the pinpoint & depth reading circuits. The Pinpoint circuit was reworked and no longer saturates before reaching the center of the target. The audio is "crisper" and the graphic reacts faster than the Quattro's did. The Depth indication now updates the indicated depth real time as the coil is swept over a target unlike on the Quattro where the depth indication would only update once the coil went past the target. This helps pinpoint targets and separate adjacent signals.
Another notable change on the Safari is the addition of the new 11" Pro Double-D search coil that was first introduced on the E-Trac and Explorer SE Pro. More than a year in development, it is lightweight, well-balanced and performs notably better than the coil that had come standard with past FBS-detectors under a wide range of conditions.
The Safari is powered by eight AA batteries that provide up to 14 hours of use. A rechargeable pack is available from Minelab or you can use 1600+mAh NiMH batteries available locally with no adverse impact on performance.
The first few sites I hit were older sections of Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC. I had been to these before and while there were old coins and valuables left, they were masked by the 100+ years of trash that had been left behind. These sites would put the faster recovery time and Trash Density circuitry to the test. I decided to dial in a higher level of discrimination than I might otherwise have opted for in order to see how the changes made to the Safari affected target ID accuracy and how well one could pick keepers from amongst trash. Accepting only "12" to "15 (nickels) and "31" to "38" (copper, silver & clad coins), selecting Trash Density = HIGH and Auto Sensitivity, I hit the Noise Cancel touchpad and within seconds was off in search of my first good target. As with all FBS-detectors, I found that when I passed over a target that fell in the rejected area the threshold disappeared or nulled. It was also quickly apparent that the threshold recovered noticeably faster than on the Quattro and as I found over the next few weeks, the Safari was even able to detect good targets when the threshold had nulled from a rejected target. I recovered more than 25 older coins from these sites with most coming from depths of 6"+. Slowing down the sweep speed just a little when searching areas where the nulled threshold told me that there was a good deal of trash present helped considerably and made identifying targets amongst trash quite simple.
To see how a smaller coil would help in these conditions, I swapped out the stock 11" Pro coil with a 8" Minelab coil. The combination of the smaller coil and a slightly slower sweep speed when the threshold nulled out seemed to really open up some of the trash-infested sites. At one old home site in Charlotte, I found 6 coins with the stock coil and when reworking it with the smaller coil, turned up an additional 8 that were hidden amongst the trash. The beauty of a Double-D coil is that in general , you do not really loose much depth going with a smaller coil the way you do with concentric coils but you do get better target separation which helps in trashy sites. At a few areas I moved down to a 5" aftermarket coil (Detech / Excellerator) which did even better ferreting out valuables in areas other hunters had clearly avoided over the years.
During my stay in Charleston, I spent a few hours hunting the ocean beach near Kiawah Island even through it was off-season in terms of beachgoers. Here I opted for the factory preset Coin / Jewelry mode to ensure I did not miss any small pieces of jewelry as well as Trash Density = HIGH & AUTO sensitivity due to the high concentration of black sand on this stretch of coastline. Coins were more plentiful than I had expected and many showed signs of having been there for months if not years with some reaching double-digit depths. The Safari handled the wet salt-laden black sand with ease...something I have come to expect from FBS-detectors. Just before calling it a day I did turn up a small 14KT pendant with the initials "D.T.L" engraved on it from several inches deep in the surf line. I switched over to All-Metal to see if that gave me an edge but received more falsing and chatter than I had in the preset Coins / Jewelry mode. There are some detectorists that prefer to hunt in All-Metal all the time but as long as you understand the impact discrimination has on your detector, use the technology that has been provided.
The last few sites I hunted were foundations dating back to the late 1700's that are common to the low country region of South Carolina. Since much of this area had been ocean bottom eons ago, the soil consists primarily of sand. So while mineralization is not a concern, targets tend to sink to extreme depths making them hard to detect. I choose to hunt in All Metal at these sites and determine what targets to recover based on their audio & visual response. I also switched to manual sensitivity and pushed it to "18" for maximum detection depth before the Safari started to chatter. The first two locations produced little expect for modern items such as bullets, shotgun shells and surprisingly, pull tabs. The 3rd one was a different story. Approaching the foundation, I recovered three large 18th century flat buttons from more than 8" deep. These were followed by a pair of musketballs, an old spoon and the best find of the day - a well-worn dateless large cent that I could date between 1816 and 1839 based on the outline of the head that was barely visible. The Safari had been very stable even in manual sensitivity and by obtaining real-time target ID in All Metal, I had been able to separate good targets from unwanted ferrous targets such as old square nails based on their indication and audio response.
Minelab's engineers took a solid detector and made it work even better under the wide range of conditions one could come up against. The improved performance in trash-filled or highly-mineralized sites is evident based on the finds I made during the field test as well as what others have posted recently on the forums. Overall the Safari more than had held its own at a wide range of sites I used it at. The Safari is what it was designed to be...an all-purpose detector that can be used right out of the box by anyone, novice or seasoned pro, with first-rate results. If you are looking for an FBS-based detector designed to get you hunting with very little adjustment, then the Safari deserves a closer look.
The Safari retails for $1,295. It comes with the 11" Pro coil, coil cover and a two-year warranty with service handled at the Las Vegas office. Minelab options include an 8" coil, rechargeable battery system and environmental cover. There are a number of after-market accessories that are worth looking at to further improve the capabilities and versatility of the Safari including coils (smaller and larger than the stock coil), rechargeable battery packs, environmental covers, headphones and even an in-line pinpointing probe.