We’ve compared, reviewed, and rated the world’s most popular handheld Geiger counter. While best Geiger counter appear similar, the fact is there are important differences in features, performance, and functionality. Our focus is on personal geiger counters within the consumer/commercial mid-range, from $100-$600. We looked at functionality, construction, ease of use and of course, price – 6 dosimeters that illustrate the breadth of product offering now available.
At one time I was also looking for a Geiger counter to warn about potential radiation hazards, whether from radon laced granite countertops, contaminated scrap metal, nuclear plant discharge, depleted uranium waste, or even something as simple as in-flight atmospheric background radiation. I was shocked to learn how much low-level radiation we’re exposed to every day. Even at home there are unexpected sources I hadn’t ever considered. Now with the possibility of a dirty bomb attack even more apparent, it’s easy to see the benefits of owning a personal dosimeter to tell me if I’m being exposed to harmful levels of radioactivity, and to protect me in case the unthinkable becomes a reality.
Effective Use of a Best Geiger Counter
A Geiger counter is a device which can accurately measure the radiation being given off within a certain area or from a specific object. Based around a Geiger–Müller tube which responds to ionizing radiation, the Geiger counter provides a relatively inexpensive way to measure alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. There are good reasons to know exactly what kind of radiation is in the area around you. Some examples include mining, excavating, visiting known radioactive locations, and early detection of Radon related radiation in your home.
It is important to know what these different kinds of radiation are in order to understand the best uses of a Geiger counter.
Alpha radiation is when a radioactive atom ejects a particle consisting of two protons without neutrons or electrons. Alpha radiation changes the emitting nucleus into one with a lower atomic number. As an example, uranium-238 decays into thorium-236 by way of alpha radiation. Alpha particles are by far the largest of any radiation and can be blocked by a single piece of paper.
Beta radiation is when one of a radioactive atom’s neutrons ejects a particle consisting of a single electron. The result is that the neutron is converted into a proton, which increases the atomic number of the element. As an example, carbon-14 decays into nitrogen-14 by way of beta radiation. Beta particles are the second largest in radiation emissions, though still much smaller than alpha particles. These can be blocked by sufficiently thick wood or about 1/8″ thick aluminum.
Gamma radiation is electromagnetic radiation, as opposed to strict particle radiation. It does not change the mass or charge of the atom which emits it. Gamma radiation is often associated with alpha or beta radiation, as it results from an atom’s need to relieve stored energy from other types of radioactive decay. Gamma radiation and x-radiation are essentially the same thing and can be blocked by lead.
Radiation is quite literally all around us, forming a feature known as “background radiation.” The average global individual is exposed to about 2.4 millisieverts (mSv) per year from natural sources. By law in the US, the maximum allowable dose for radiation workers is 50 mSv. A person generally exhibits symptoms of radiation sickness when exposed to 400 mSv within a short time. For reference purposes, the observed radiation inside a nuclear power plant can be .130 microsieverts (µSv) per hour, culminating in an annual dosage of 1.13 mSv per year.
Geiger counters consist three major parts: the Geiger–Müller tube for detection, a visual display, and an audio readout. Different models will measure radiation in milli-Roentgens per hour or µSv per hour (depending on preference) via the visual display. The audio readout is the portion which makes the famous clicking sound that many people are familiar with. Slow, periodic clicking generally indicates safety. If the clicking increases to a rapid pace or sounds more like static fuzz there is likely a dangerous amount of radiation nearby.
In application, Geiger counters can provide a useful purpose. Improperly sealed basements can become home to deposits of radon gas. This can become dangerous over time if the concentration of radon builds. Higher concentrations will expose anyone living in the home to increased radiation levels. Mineral hobbyists can find out if their favorite digging site or pieces are giving them extra doses of radiation. This is of particular interest in areas with higher granite concentrations. Other collectors may find mild radiation in older items like jewelry, watches, and pottery.
An effective way of testing whether a given object is emitting radiation is to note the levels of background radiation in a given area, then move the counter closer to the source in question without pointing the detector at the supposed source. If the radiation levels increase, the source is likely emitting gamma or high energy beta radiation. Next, insert a 1/8″ piece of aluminum between the counter and source. If the reading decreases, it is beta radiation. If no radiation is noticed through the housing of the counter, use the detector to look for increases. By inserting foil or paper between the source and detector, you will be able to determine if the source is beta or alpha radiation respectively.
Top Selling Geiger Counters:
1.) Mazur PRM-9000
Made in America, the PRM-9000 is the latest addition to Mazur Instrument’s line of handheld Geiger counters. It features a large 2”, pancake-style Geiger-Mueller tube, the industry benchmark for low-level radiation detection. Indeed, the improved sensitivity of the PRM-9000 combined with its real-time data collection, make it a superior choice for measuring environmental contamination levels.
Data collection is the focus with this unit. Users can set the instrument to “Always On” mode to continually monitor average, current, minimum and maximum radiation levels, and with a single key can scroll through several screens to access specific data.
The timed count or timed measurement mode is key to record low level contamination that would otherwise be missed by a momentary scan. The PRM-9000 will record and date/time stamp this data to help users pin down spikes or anomalies in radiation levels. Generous memory is another reason the PRM-9000 is our first choice with capacity for 91,466 logging data points uploadable in standard CSV format.
From a construction and usability perspective, the PRM-9000 portable Geiger counter has a robust build and streamlined design that includes two ports, one for audio connectivity (headphones or speakers) with pulse output, which when mated with the optional software is able to graph and record the radiation levels in real time. The other port is used for uploading logged data when connected by optional data cable.
The counter is fitted with a two-line, alphanumeric backlit display which works well in low light and provides support in both Japanese and English.
With regard to battery life, the PRM-9000 Geiger counter is a notch above its competitors with a single, replaceable 9-volt lithium battery that delivers impressive 2-years continuous service under normal conditions.
I’d like to mention the plastic hard cases Mazur offers with the PRM-9000. In yellow or black, these padded carrying cases are great for field work; you can throw them in the trunk, or even drop them from a building and your detector won’t feel a thing. Plus they’re watertight with a pressure equalization valve to compensate for any internal/external differentials. Mazur is one of the few mid-range Geiger counter manufacturers to offer true high-impact protection.
Suggestions for Improvement
Although we stand wholeheartedly behind our decision to rank the Mazur PRM-9000 portable Geiger counter as our #1 detector, we do have some concerns starting with the pancake tube. This type of component can be more fragile than other variants, and the unit comes with only a 120-day warranty. I don’t have the return rates for this device so I don’t know the reason for the tight warranty. It just seems insufficient for a best-of-class handheld Geiger counter. Another small annoyance is the battery mount, which to access requires you remove all four screws on the face of the unit. And while we’re on the subject of the battery, USB charging would be nice upgrade. And finally, easier transfer of logged data to MAC or Windows is definitely something to include in the next redesign, for example, via a USB PnP data interface.
Summary: Despite some minor complaints the PRM-9000 is a great handheld Geiger counter. It’s professionally engineered, clean looking, ruggedly built with advanced features that give it the edge over its competitors – the PRM-9000, a superior choice and our #1 pick.
Ukrainian built (Western part), the Ecotest Terra Pro MKS-05 is a simple pocket Geiger counter housed in a minimalistic, modern case. The face has two control pads, one for adjusting the threshold setting and the other for setting the detection mode. It features a dual tone audio alarm combined with pulse count ticker to warn against levels that exceed a user configured threshold.
The unit has 4 modes of operation – Dose Rate, Gamma Dose, Time of Day and Alarm Time, and is designed to measure Gamma, X-ray, and Beta dose equivalents. The counter will alert the user to unsafe radiation levels via both visual display and audio alarm, at a default settings of 0.30µSv/h or 0.007 mSv /24 hour. The alarm levels are user-configurable, and if exceeded, will automatically switch to a live counting mode.
The MKS-05 is built for field use with a shock resistant body, an extra long G-M tube Geiger Muller tube offering quick response time when measuring discrete objects. The Pro version has a Bluetooth link for real time data monitoring, which is a great improvement over previous versions.
The standard package includes 2- AA batteries, 1 English language user manual, leather case and is backed by a 1 year manufacturer’s warranty. For a mid-level detector the Ecotest Terra Pro MKS-05 offers good functionality although it could use a few enhancements that would quickly to bring it up to a higher price level.
Suggestions for Improvement
The LCD backlit digital display is a bit power hungry and reduces continuous operating life to under 90 days. This is not competitive in today’s market environment. The other problem is the G-M tube mount is not fully secure and the tube may detach.
The Ecotest Terra Pro MKS-05 is a useful low-cost detector within an attractive case. It contains all the required features for basic consumer radiation safety detection. While not designed for the serious science professional or hobbyist, it is quite useful for general environmental security applications and is fairly priced at around $400.
Another Russian contender in the Geiger counter sweepstakes, the Model 1706 has been around for a while and found a comfortable place at the lower end due to simplicity and price (under $300). Of course, simplicity can sometimes be all that’s needed and the 1706 is nothing if not simple.
Featuring an unobtrusive and compact footprint, the RD1706 Radiation Detector offers three operator functions, plus personal controls such as threshold alarm activation and battery charge indicator. . It’s powered by two AAA batteries that return an ample 500+ hours of continuous runtime.
It is designed two Geiger-Muller radiation sensors to reduce observation and improve precision. The Radex 1706 is designed to detect Gamma, Beta and X-Ray radiation and features an enhanced detection range of up to 999.0 µSv/h with accurate real time readings in as little as 1 second.
Fitted with a 42mm LCD backlit display, the Radex 1706 Geiger counter updates readings every 10 seconds and measures dosage in both µSv/h and µRem/h. Radiations levels in excess of 3.5 µSv/h are determined almost instantly. The “Background” mode enables users determine the difference between indoor and outdoor background radiation values and display an excess above a pre-configured background level, its value is saved automatically when the device is turned off.
Suggestions for Improvement
While the RD 1706 is pretty straightforward, at times the manual is a bit hard to decipher. Also, the RD 1706 offers no option to record data via USB or offer any other data logging option.
The Quarta RD 1706 is a compact and easy to use Geiger counter that simply does what it’s designed to do and nothing more. If you don’t need data logging and just want a low cost pocket Geiger counter this is a good choice. Readings are reasonably accurate with this pocket counter that is probably the best you can get at this price point.
Being a little older, when I learned the new Soeks Quantum Geiger counter was designed and built in Russia, I was a little skeptical. However, after 15 years the Soviet Union is long gone and in its place exists a flat tax entrepreneurial economy fully capable of turning legacy technology into modern world-class products. The Quantum detector is clearly one such product. It’s an advanced Geiger Counter that earns its share of respect and can easily compete with any radiation detector on the market.
The Soeks designers took their time putting together a Geiger counter that balances attractive aesthetics with precision measurement. For starters, the Soeks Quantum is fitted with the industry’s first and only TFT color display that presents an easy-to-read text/graphical data display. Numeric readout and bar graph are combined with advisory text alerting the user to the level of background radiation: normal, high or dangerous.
To enhance its accuracy and precision, the Quantum is fitted with two Russian SBM-20-01 Geiger Muller tubes offering a maximum exposure level of 1,000 μS/hr. And to keep those tubes charged with requisite high voltage, the Soeks Quantum is shipped with two rechargeable AA batteries that will last for up to 700 hours. After that, recharging is a snap via USB cable.
Mechanically, the Soeks Quantum Geiger counter is slender, light, and compact arriving with
everything you need to get started including a 24-page User Guide. For data logging applications, the Quantum starts saving data from its first measurement, and continues up to 3 years or until the memory is full. The device can then be synchronized with a MAC or PC via USB for data download and memory purge/reset. Also included is an audio visual alarm and alarm clock. Data capture software is automatically updated via Internet. And finally, the Soeks Quantum Geiger counter is backed by a two year warranty.
Suggestions for Improvement
While I really like the Soeks detector I can’t give it my highest rating for a number of reasons. First, is has a limited track record so the longevity question is still open. Second, I’m concerned about shock resistance and robustness. And third while I like the color display, it’s still a basic detector that can’t perform more sophisticated data calculations you expect at this price point.
The Soeks Quantum features a new body design, graphical interface, and a powerful processor. It has the first and only TFT color display, and can quickly render highly accurate measurements. The Soeks Quantum is a basic home use Geiger counter, comes with a lot more than one would expect, and is a good value at under $400.
For the past several years the S.E. International Alert Inspector was our top rated Geiger counter. While this year it’s slipped to the #2 position, it’s still an excellent detector that’s head and shoulders above most of its competition and remains one of the most popular portable Geiger counters ever built.
One of the few detectors still manufactured in the U.S., the Inspector offers great performance in a rugged field tested case. It can detect alpha, beta, gamma and x-rays and includes a backlit 4-digit liquid crystal display that indicates readings in your choice of counts per minute, mR/hr, counts per second, uSv/hr or accumulated counts. The digital readouts are highlighted with a red count light and beeper sound for each count detected. Other features include configurable alerts, external calibration controls and an adjustable timer.
Unlike other Geiger counters with board mounted tube, the Inspector uses an external halogen quenched Geiger-Müller tube with a thin mica window 1.75″ across. It detects alpha particles down to 2 MeV, Beta to .16 MeV and Gamma to 10 KeV.
User configurable alerts can be set for µSv, mR, and CPM, and are audible in the Timer Mode when the programmed alarm threshold is reached. The display updates every 3 seconds, with each update being a 30 second rolling average at ambient background. This average time period decreases as the radiation level increases.
Operating life with one 9 volt alkaline battery is an impressive 2160 hours. The internal memory is able to store 1356 data points, which works out to 226 hours (9+ days) at 10 minute intervals and 1356 hours (56+ days) at one hour intervals. The device has a standard mini USB plug and can be connected to a Win/Mac for data download to proprietary software.
Suggestions for Improvement
My major complaint is larger form factor. The unit has not been redesigned in many years and looks a bit clunky and primitive when compared with the newer European models. I also think it’s about time to add some more firmware enhancements to display data in multiple formats.
The S.E.I. Alert Inspector is a Geiger Counter for both the serious hobbyist or security minded professional who needs accurate and reliable radiation detection at home or in the field. It offers enough professional features combined with simple operation to fit nicely in the market niche of high-end consumer or low-end professional applications. At $450+, you can’t go wrong with the Alert Inspector.
As you would expect with a German made Geiger counter, or “Geigerzähler” as they call it in Frankfurt, the Gamma-Scout Online version is a feature rich, well designed radiation detector that’s compact, ergonomic, and light, weighing in at just 6 ounces. It is a bit more complex than the competition so be prepared to spend some time with the user manual to fully understand the intricacies of this device.
It offers a 10-button control panel and large LCD display that can display measured radiation as counts per second, dosage rate and cumulative counts. In addition, the Gamma-Scout can be toggled between either digital or analog readouts, with these set to either µSv or mRems.
It is also equipped with a consumer friendly and highly useful analog scale that indicates maximum permitted human exposure per dosage level. The Gamma-Scout can measure gamma, x-rays, alpha and beta levels of radiation, and with a low range atmospheric sensitivity to high (0.01 up to 5,000.00 µSv/h), this Geiger device works well in a wide range of possible exposure scenarios.
Like most modern counters, it has a ticker feature which sets off an audible click whenever a particle or ray of radiation is detected. The ticker can be muted in silent mode with the LED readout your only radiation level indicator.
The Gamma-Scout arrives on without a power switch and stays on until the battery dies. But don’t worry.
The unit is factory installed with its Lithium Ion battery. Battery life is approximately 10 years under normal use, and for a small nominal charge, is factory replaced when it runs down.
The Gamma-Scout Online counter is outfitted with all the features of the Alert version model, but can also send real time detected pulses at specific time intervals via USB to a connected Windows PC.
For passive data logging, the device can store an impressive 32,000 data points, which at one per week, works out to over 600 years of memory capacity.
Suggestions for Improvement
One of the criticisms of the device is that it is fitted with a small LND tube, which may compromise its sensitivity. There is an additional problem with the tube – it is board soldered and is prone to detach if the unit is dropped. That’s why it should always be used with a case. The plastic case isn’t fragile. The problem is that the device isn’t shock resistant. Any small drop onto a hard surface can dislodge the components and render the Gamma-Scout useless. The recessed display is large, but not so easy to read with important text and icons located on the the top part of the display. This creates a shadow that makes it hard without any backlight. And finally, the plastic case, while difficult to break, does seem a bit flimsy.
Made in Germany, the Gamma-Scout Online comes standard with nearly all the bells and whistles you’d expect for low to high level radiation detection. Adding to this, it can store an abundance of data, and it can monitor real-time to a PC. If you’re looking for a high quality and versatile Geiger counter where environmental monitoring is important, the Gamma-Scout Online Geiger counter is a unit worth considering.