Fisher is the oldest and one of the most reliable names in metal detecting. This article will review Fisher’s 1280x underwater metal detector, and compare it to the Fisher CZ-21 and the Garrett AT Pro. We will break down each detector’s main features, pros and cons, and conclude with a recommendation for which detector is best for underwater metal detecting.
And to better help you, please use our interactive guide below to see how the Fisher 1280X compares to other popular detectors on the market:
|Garrett AT Max||$$$||Waterproof to 10 feet|
|Fisher F22||$$||9″ Triangulated Concentric Coil|
|Garrett Ace 400||$$$||8.5 x 11" DD coil|
|Minelab Vanquish 540||$||Search Modes: Coin, Relic, Jewelry, Custom, All Metal|
Meet the Fisher 1280x
The Fisher 1280x Aquanaut (about $649 – $679; depending on coil size) is a rugged underwater metal detector with proven performance on land and in the water. This model is fully submersible up to 250 feet. The 1280x was first introduced in 1985 and is still in production. This says a lot about the machine! This is an easy to use model, designed to turn on and go. There is no need to fine tune the 1280x, no threshold tone, and no ground adjustments.
Just turn it on, set the volume, sensitivity, and trash discrimination controls, and the detector is ready to go. This machine will automatically tune itself to changing ground condition and saltwater and reject almost all small pieces of trash while detecting valuable targets. This unit comes with waterproof Piezo Electric headphones designed specifically for the 1280x.
This metal detector is quite rugged with quality injection molded enclosures for the electronic components. This model is designed to be one of the most rugged enclosures on any metal detector and features a collapsible pole assembly. Unlike a lot of underwater metal detectors, the 1280x is a very low frequency (VLF) machine.
This detector has 2 search modes: VLF-IB and Slow Motion. VLF-IB mode operates at 2.4 kHz and is quarts crystal controlled. This is a motion detector so the coil must be in motion to detect a target, but the coil can be almost completely still for accurate pinpointing.
This model offers a hip mount to reduce the weight on land or shallow water. The control box is detachable and can be moved to a belt clip. This takes half the weight off the handle. This can greatly reduce arm fatigue when detecting, allowing for more search time. A chest harness can also be used, instead of the mounting the control box on the hip. Fisher recommends not hip mounting the control box when underwater because it increases the risk of the cable running from the box to the search coil becoming tangled on something. For this reason, the detector should have the control box mounted on the pole assembly to ensure safety.
The 1280x does not have an LCD screen and is controlled by 3 knobs: Sensitivity, Discrimination, and Power/Volume. The Power/Volume button turns the unit on or off and allows target response volume to be set. Discrimination allows for a full range of trash rejection. All metals will be detected at zero, and most small trash pieces will be eliminated at 10 (max). Sweeping slowly or quickly with discrimination at 10 gives the minimum depth reading. Moderately sweeping at a discrimination of 5 gives good depth. Moderate sweep with discrimination set at 0 gives the best depth. Swings should be overlapped to avoid missing targets.
A clear plastic windows between Sensitivity and Volume features an LED which flashes red when a target is detected and is used for battery testing. The Sensitivity control is also the battery test. A setting of 10 gives maximum sensitivity. For the battery test, the knob should be turned to the Battery Test position of the Sensitivity knob. If batteries are fully charged, a loud tone will emit, and a bright red light will appear. Weak batteries will give a faint tone and a dim red light. Audio target ID is single tone on the 1280x.
Assembly is easy and requires no tools. Fisher recommends saving packing materials for later shipping if warranty issues arise or if the detector needs to be shipped for some reason. It is important to protect the knobs as the unit could collect water if the knobs are broken. The 1280x manual gives detailed instructions for setting the detector up for land, shallow water, and dive searching.
Pinpointing with the 1280x takes some practice. Once a target is found, continue moving the search coil side to side across the target area in a narrower and narrower search pattern. When the search pattern has been narrowed, stop the search coil. Move the coil slowly forward and straight back and right to left, noting where the loudest sound occurs. The target should be directly underneath the search coil at this point.
The 1280x runs on 8 AA batteries and comes with quartz crystal circuitry to give users up to 75 hours of battery life and are sealed off from the electronics in case of accidental water leakage. When replacing the batteries, it is important to ensure the O-ring and sealing surfaces are all clean before reinstalling battery cover. Fisher recommends testing the unit after replacing batteries by submerging the detector in water for 30 minutes. Dry the unit off and ensure water did not seep into the battery compartment.
The unit weighs 5.1 pounds. This model is available with either an 8” concentric Spider coil or a 10.5” concentric Spider coil. The 8” coil is best for small areas, quick moving surf, and areas with a lot of trash. The 10.5” coil covers more ground and each sweep will give more depth. Coils are not interchangeable on this model as each metal detector must be factory tuned to a specific coil. It can be retrofitted by the factory if a user wants to change coils.
This detector has been reported to behave erratically in constantly moving sand and saltwater environments but works very well in freshwater or dry conditions. This is not uncommon when detecting in the surf. Most detectors will have chatter if hit by waves. If the discrimination control is used in wet, saltwater environments, the unit performs much better. Sensitivity should be set around 8 or 9 and discrimination around 3. This gives a much better performance in saltwater. On dry land, changing the discrimination to 2 for more depth gives a great performance. If detecting in the surf, the waves hitting the coil will cause noise. To prevent this, the coil should be fully submerged or kept dry.
Fisher recommends divers keeping the search coil at least 2 feet from their bodies to avoid interference with metal diving equipment. They state that false signals can be caused by not only moving sand and saltwater, but highly mineralized ground, trashy areas, large or irregularly shaped trash, bumping the search coil, or raising the coil too quickly. If using the 1280x on land, keep digging tools behind your back or above the waist to avoid interference as the detector is sensitive enough to sound off each time you sweep your coil under your digging tool.
The 1280x, and all metal detectors, should be cleaned with fresh water after detecting in a saltwater or freshwater environment. It is important to keep the detector clean and free of debris. The headphones should have the earpads removed, rinsed, and squeezed out to avoid seawater buildup. It should be noted that headphone vent holes MUST be kept clear when diving to equalize ear pressure. Fisher recommends keeping the headphones off until you’ve reached your diving depth and removing them before surfacing. It is also recommended to remove the batteries before storing the 1280x, and to avoid leaving the detector inside a car or trunk in high temperatures as temperatures above 120° can damage electronic components and ruin batteries.
Overall, the Fisher 1280x is a great underwater, shallow water, and land all-around metal detector. Most VLF metal detectors struggle with saltwater metal detecting, but the 1280x’s 35-year reputation speaks for itself. This is a great option for deep water detecting at a reasonable price. Remember, if you are planning to use this metal detector to its full depth of 250 feet, you should be very experienced in diving and Scuba certified.
Fisher offers a 2-year warranty on the 1280x.
- 35 years of continuous manufacture and use
- Great depth (250 feet)
- Great performance if coil is fully submerged
- Easy to use as it’s turn on and go and has only 3 knob controls
- Easy to use on dry land
- Specially engineered headphones for maximum performance
- Hip mount
- Fantastic battery life
- Single frequency
- Hardwired coils and headphones reduce options
Fisher 1280X vs Fisher CZ 21
Fisher’s CZ-21 Quicksilver ($1799) is an all-purpose waterproof (to 250 feet) VLF metal detector introduced in 2009 that is perfect for land, beaches, saltwater, and freshwater treasure hunting. This model has patented Fourier domain signal analysis with 2 deep seeking, ground compensating VLF signals (5 kHz and 15 kHz), providing twice the information for accurate target identification.
This technology also helps cancel out the conductivity of saltwater, making the detector better for saltwater conditions. The CZ-21 has 2 search modes: a silent running, slow motion Target ID mode, and an Auto Tune mode. The CZ-21 weighs 5.7 pounds, slightly heavier than the 1280x’s 5.1 pounds.
Target ID mode is used when the Discrimination control is set in a position from 0 to 6, giving the CZ-21 the ability to identify small targets and reject most of them. Auto Tune mode is best used in non-trashy areas as it has a wider scan than Target ID mode. It is also best used in areas with highly mineralized soil or sandy areas, and for all metal searching.
Unlike the 1280x, this model comes with a pinpoint mode. It also has a large target alert. Some shallow, large targets may cause the metal detector to overload, producing a distinctive bell tone. This alerts the user that the target is too large to identify. The unit is very quiet overall, allowing divers to hear boats and other water hazards when submerged.
Another great feature of the CZ-21 is Faint Target Audio Boost. As volume is increased past 5, strong target sounds remain at a fixed volume while faint, deep target sounds continue to get louder. As with the 1280x, the CZ-21 comes with a hardwired 8” or 10” search coil and hardwired Piezo Electric headphones. The control box is removable and can be hip mounted to reduce arm fatigue on land.
The battery compartment is separated from the electronics and completely sealed, as with the 1280x. This model uses 4 9-volt batteries. The CZ-21 doesn’t have an LCD screen and is set up similarly to the 1280x. This model has 4 knobs, plus the pinpoint button: Power/Volume, Sensitivity (also the battery test knob), Discrimination, Ground (used to cancel the effects of ground mineralization). Fisher states that starting all controls to the red marks (Ground at 5, Discrimination at 4, Sensitivity at 3, and Volume at 5) puts the detector into preset “Turn-On-and-Go” mode.
Assembly is easy with this model, just like the 1280x. The CZ-21 manual gives great information for setting the detector up for land or shallow water and diving. This model does not have an LED light to indicate battery strength or indicate a target. For a battery test, a low-pitched tone or ticking sound indicates weak batteries, whereas a high pitched, loud tone indicates good batteries. This model has a collapsible pole assembly, like the 1280x.
Ground balancing with the CZ-21 is done with the Ground button. Properly ground balancing the detector will help eliminate feedback from ground mineralization and saltwater, which is highly conductive. It is recommended to ground balance the CZ-21 on land or in the water. This model also has a 3-tone audio target ID: Low, Medium, and High.
Some users report that the Sensitivity knob may accidentally get turned up or down when hip mounted without the user’s knowledge. This could potentially hinder the target detection process. It also has a slight positive buoyancy, meaning it could potentially float away if the headphones slip off.
Fisher offers a 2-year warranty on the CZ-21.
- Dual frequency
- Faint Target Audio Boost
- Ground balancing knob
- Great depth (250 feet)
- Hip mount
- 3-Tone audio target ID
- Much more expensive than the 1280x
- Slightly heavier than the 1280x
- Slight positive buoyancy
Fisher 1280X vs Garrett AT Pro
Garrett’s AT Pro ($650) is one of the company’s most popular metal detectors first released in 2010. This is an all-terrain, all-purpose VLF metal detector. It is a well-built, rugged metal detector suitable for almost any condition. It has adjustable ground balancing, Discrimination, Sensitivity, Notch, Pinpoint mode, and numerical target ID. Unlike the Fisher 1280x and CZ-21, the AT Pro has an LCD screen, but it does not have a backlight.
This is a single frequency metal detector, operating at 15 kHz. It is designed to find cons, relics, and jewelry, but can also find some gold nuggets because of the higher operating frequency. Small gold nuggets or flakes will be difficult if not impossible to detect with the AT Pro as gold prospecting requires a higher frequency metal detector.
This metal detector works well in most conditions. It is waterproof up to 10 feet, much shallower than the Fisher 1280x, which is waterproof up to 250 feet, so it would not be suitable for use in deep water or for diving. It comes standard with an 11” Double-D search coil and MS-2 headphones (which are not waterproof). Small adjustments to the operating frequency can be done on the AT Pro to compensate for electromagnetic interference.
Closely spaced targets are easily separated with the AT Pro’s Pro Mode Fast Recovery feature. In areas with high mineralization, this model will emit more chatter, so it may not work as well on saltwater beaches or high mineralization soils as the 1280x does. The AT Pro is known for its impressive recovery speed.
The AT Pro has 6 search modes: 3 Standard modes and 3 Proportional (Pro) modes. With 40 discrimination settings and Pro Audio with Tone Roll, users can find more subtle target responses and properties than some other VLF detectors. Ground balancing is manual or automatic, whereas the 1280x has no ground balancing. Fast Track automatic ground balancing allows the user to balance the soil conditions quickly and works well in highly mineralized soil conditions. Standard Audio on the AT Pro is for users who prefer a single tone rather than different tones.
Buttons on the control box are: Iron Discrimination, Sensitivity, Notch Discrimination, Mode, Iron Audio, Pinpoint, Elimination, and Ground Balance. Built-in search modes include Custom, Coins, and Zero, which is a true all metal mode. The LCD screen shows depth from 2” to 10”, numerical Target ID, signal strength, and has a handy chart above the screen showing what range valuable targets are most likely to be.
Iron Audio allows users to hear discriminated iron, which is typically silenced, to avoid digging undesirable flattened iron targets like bottle caps and washers. Discrimination must be used to use the Iron Audio feature. Without Iron Audio, a bottle cap and silver coin both sound the same. With Iron Audio, a bottle cap will have an iron grunt in its response indicating it may be a trashy target. The AT Pro has electronic pinpointing, which is a non-motion, All Metal mode function that helps users precisely locate a target’s position.
The AT Pro weighs 3.03 pounds, much lighter than the 1280x or the CZ-21, which are both over 5 pounds. It runs on 4 AA batteries, meaning it will have a lower operating cost than the 1280x, which requires 8 AA batteries. The AT Pro is easy to use in Standard mode, and suitable for beginning detectorists. But in Pro mode, with all the possible customizations, it will be confusing for new detectorists. This model is great for anyone wanting to upgrade from an entry level metal detector into a more advanced machine. Garrett’s website provide some great instructional videos on the AT Pro.
Garrett offers a 2-year warranty with the AT Pro.
- Much lighter than the 1280x
- Manual/Automatic ground balancing
- Pro and Standard search modes
- Pro Audio
- Not great in saltwater or highly mineralized areas
- Single frequency operation
- Pro mode can be confusing for new detectorists
- Headphones are not waterproof
- Only waterproof up to 10 feet; not suitable for deep water searches
Each of these detectors is great for a variety of reasons. The CZ-21 is a fantastic underwater detector with great features not found on the 1280x. But the price is over $1,000 more than the 1280x. The Garrett AT Pro is one of my favorite metal detectors but is not the best choice when looking for a detector to use at saltwater beaches or in saltwater. It also does not have the submergibility of the 1280x, as the AT Pro is only waterproof to 10 feet and the 1280x is waterproof to 250 feet.
The 1280x does not have an LCD screen, making the controls slightly easier to understand than a model with a confusing menu or slew of options. This is truly a turn on and go detector, especially since it comes ground balanced. Each detector has a 2-year warranty, so they are all equal in that regard. They all come from respectable manufacturers, too, meaning each machine is a quality metal detector.
Another plus, besides price and features for the 1280x, is its long reputation. This metal detector has been manufactured for 35 years and is still going strong. That says volumes about its reliability and quality. Plus, Fisher is the oldest metal detector business in the world, which also says volumes about their products. This model is easy to use and simple to master and works exceptionally well, especially in freshwater settings.
While I would happily recommend any of these detectors to anyone looking for a waterproof metal detector, the 1280x is my first choice from this list for a quality, well-tested waterproof detector. While I love the AT Pro and the CZ-21 is an amazing machine, the 1280x has the depth, features, and reliability I look for when purchasing a metal detector, and a great price to boot!
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