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What is the best underground cable locator?


How to Choose the Best Underground Cable Locator

Finding your underground cables can be a challenge, but with the right cable locator tool, you can get it done fairly quickly. Locating the path of underground wires and their depth requires a special device that can identify conductive material and measure distance.

But how do you know which is the right one for you? Read below to learn about factors to consider. We'll help you find what you need.


Several Important Factors to Consider

When you're deciding which cable locator is right for you, think about the transmitters and receivers, safety, accuracy, speed, connection types, and cost.

Transmitters and Receivers

Before you start digging, you need to find an underground utility locator that can efficiently transmit signal and receive it back. A transmitter is an AC generator that supplies the electrical current (signal) to the underground cable you're looking for. A receiver is what lets you know you've found the cable or not, using an electrical signal on the cable you're tracing, using a particular frequency set by the transmitter.


Many products have a software system built in that allows you to get video support, alerts about unusual usage, and specialized diagnostics to protect both your workers and your worksite property. No one should come into contact with high voltage electricity or exposed wires. These features deter harm and add peace of mind.


Your underground pipe locator also needs to be accurate. You want to minimize the amount of digging needed and leave the cement, asphalt, or lawn intact as much as possible. Sometimes, a weaker or older device requires that you conduct multiple sweeps before a match is found underground.

Newer products should provide an accurate reading on the first or second sweep, saving you time and frustration. The last thing you need is a false negative, indicating that there is no pipe or cable, only to be uncomfortably surprised once you've already broken ground.

Connection Types

You want to be able to move around your worksite with flexible and reliable components. Bluetooth technology allows you to avoid the use of cords or wires for mobile devices and field controllers. Information that you gather can be downloaded and saved to your dashboard, to reduce the need for additional paperwork or apps.

With GPS positioning, your location data can also be saved and shared with those back at your home base or company headquarters. All of your data should be auto-synced with all necessary users so that communication and decision-making can be efficiently streamlined.

Products and Costs

Some of the top-of-the-line products may cost a few thousand dollars. For example, the Leica DD 220/230 SMART Locator  is one of the most powerful and reliable products out there. Its digital signal processing performs deeper, faster, and more accurately than any other product on the market. This item is usually around $3,600-$4,000 for the 230 version.

The 220 version of the Leica is a few hundred dollars less, with all the same features, just not quite as much accuracy. The same company also has its DD 130 product which does not have the same SMART software features but performs a similar function for approximately $2,500 - $3,000.

Other products can get the job done for a fraction of the cost. If you don't need a robust series of transmitters, software systems, and data-sharing networks, you may consider a simpler magnetic locator. These usually cost in the $500 - $700 range and operate more like metal detectors that reveal anything ferrous (iron-based) up to 10 feet of depth.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Best Features of a Cable Locator?


Some features in high-demand include "strike alert" technology (which is activated when you reach something at a shallow depth), depth estimate readouts on your digital screen, and GPS so you can easily trace where you and your team have been.

What Are Some Recommended Models of Cable Detectors?

The most popular models include Pipehorn, Leica, and Schonstedt. These come in single-frequency, dual-frequency, and multi-frequency versions.

What Types of Accessories Will I Need?

There are some add-ons that may help with the process, including signal generators, signal clamps, flexitrace (useful for nonmetal pipes), carry bags, and sondes.

How Do I Find Out Where My Cables Are Buried?

The first step is to call 811. They will come out and place flags or paint the area where there may be an underground wire. Then you can use your device to figure out exactly how deep it is, before you dig.

How Do You Trace a Wire With No Power?

This is a more tricky one but it can usually be accomplished with a combination of circuit breakers, stud finders, voltage detectors, and tone generators.

Place Your Order Today

Follow these steps to make a quick and easy purchase. We are an authorized seller of all 100+ brands we sell, which allows you to receive factory-fresh merchandise with a USA warranty. We also offer fast delivery and free or subsidized shipping costs on most of our items. Contact us at 800-591-8907.

Best Pipe Locators

#1: Pipehorn 800HL Dual-Frequency Pipe & Cable Locator

best pipe locator PI Pipehorn 800HL MD840

This dual-frequency underground utility locator is always recommended over Pipehorn’s single-frequency model. Because it has the 9kHz frequency that’s needed to find utility lines buried deeper underground, it has the range you need to find a number of underground pipes and cables. With its superior high-frequency performance, it's one of the best utility location tools in the industry when direct connect isn’t possible. And for the toughest conductors (such as coated iron pipes with insulated joints or street and parking lot lights), nothing else will sweep an area for unmarked utility lines than this utility locator.

#2: Schonstedt REX - Multi-Frequency Pipe & Cable Locator

best pipe locator PI Schonstedt REX Multi-Frequency

This multi-frequency pipe locator by Schonstedt is a great choice for the working professional, because it has the following features:

  • The transmitter is less than 2 inches thick and weighs less than 4 pounds.
  • The entire unit fits easily into a custom storage bag.
  • The receiver and transmitter together weigh under 7 pounds for an ultralight design.
  • The receiver can retract for easier carrying.
  • Capable of 512 Hz, 33 kHz, and 82 kHz frequency detection.
  • Capable of 50/60 Hz passive and 512 Hz sonde detection.
  • The transmitter comes with rechargeable batteries.
This unit is built for utility professionals in the water, sewer, gas, electric, and telecommunication industries.

#3: Pipehorn 800H Single-Frequency Pipe & Cable Locator

best pipe locator PI Pipehorn 800H MD820

With the ability to detect frequencies of up to 480 kHz, this pipe locator can find utility lines that are buried down to 18 feet deep (depending on the type of connection, the condition of the soil, and how well it can conduct the signal). It also has a fast-response signal strength and a sharp audio tone that allows for precision pinpointing. And with a watertight reinforced receiver wand, it's incredibly durable. The transmitter has a high-impact ABS housing that’s bright yellow, so it’s easier to see.

#4: Schonstedt Loki Utilities Multi-Frequency Pipe and Cable Locator

best pipe locator PI Schonstedt LOKI U

This utility locator is perfect for “sweeping” a large area to find buried assets quickly and easily. The Schonstedt Loki has a number of features that support the quick and easy detection of underground utility lines. Some of them include but may not be limited to:

  • The 512 Hz frequency can be used to trace metallic pipes, while the 82 kHz frequency can find hard-to-locate jointed pipes.
  • The simple mode selection matches the device to the signal type you need to locate.
  • The Sonde Mode can find a signal being transmitted by a compatible sonde.
  • The Transmitter Mode can find transmitter signals being imposed on buried utilities.
  • The Power Mode can find the electromagnetic fields being generated by loaded power cables.
  • The Dual Mode simultaneously searches for and identifies transmitter and power signals for quicker sweeps.
  • The ShallowAlert feature will warn you of the possible presence of shallow cables and utility lines in every mode.
  • The NoiseProtect feature allows you to use the device in areas that are electrically noisy.
Be sure to pick yours up at Engineer Supply today!

#5: Schonstedt Loki Contractor Multi-Frequency Pipe and Cable Locator

best pipe locator PI Schonstedt LOKI C

With a receiver that weighs 4.9 pounds and a transmitter that weighs 4.0 pounds, this unit is a lightweight tool that’s perfect for finding pipes, cables, and underground utility lines in large areas. It also has a IP54 rating, which makes it resistant to water and dust. The transmitter has a built-in speaker that generates an audio signal, which can be heard over road traffic. The receiver also has a detachable speaker that can double as an earpiece.

If you’re looking for an underground utility locator to help you find buried pipes and cables, be sure to look at what we have at Engineer Supply.

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