Objective. In electrophysiology, microelectrodes are the primary source for recording neural data (single unit activity). These microelectrodes can be implanted individually or in the form of arrays containing dozens to hundreds of channels. Recordings of some channels contain neural activity, which are often contaminated with noise. Another fraction of channels does not record any neural data, but only noise. By noise, we mean physiological activities unrelated to spiking, including technical artifacts and neural activities of neurons that are too far away from the electrode to be usefully processed. For further analysis, an automatic identification and continuous tracking of channels containing neural data is of great significance for many applications, e.g. automated selection of neural channels during online and offline spike sorting. Automated spike detection and sorting is also critical for online decoding in brain–computer interface (BCI) applications, in which only simple threshold crossing events are often considered for feature extraction. To our knowledge, there is no method that can universally and automatically identify channels containing neural data. In this study, we aim to identify and track channels containing neural data from implanted electrodes, automatically and more importantly universally. By universally, we mean across different recording technologies, different subjects and different brain areas. Approach. We propose a novel algorithm based on a new way of feature vector extraction and a deep learning method, which we call SpikeDeeptector. SpikeDeeptector considers a batch of waveforms to construct a single feature vector and enables contextual learning. The feature vectors are then fed to a deep learning method, which learns contextualized, temporal and spatial patterns, and classifies them as channels containing neural spike data or only noise. Main results. We trained the model of SpikeDeeptector on data recorded from a single tetraplegic patient with two Utah arrays implanted in different areas of the brain. The trained model was then evaluated on data collected from six epileptic patients implanted with depth electrodes, unseen data from the tetraplegic patient and data from another tetraplegic patient implanted with two Utah arrays. The cumulative evaluation accuracy was 97.20% on 1.56 million hand labeled test inputs. Significance. The results demonstrate that SpikeDeeptector generalizes not only to the new data, but also to different brain areas, subjects, and electrode types not used for training. Clinical trial registration number. The clinical trial registration number for patients implanted with the Utah array is NCT 01849822. For the epilepsy patients, approval from the local ethics committee at the Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, was obtained prior to implantation.