April, 2014

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Escort Passport Max – Review

 passport-max_main_article3

 

Introduction

In the summer of 2013, Escort introduced the Passport Max as a successor to the Passport 9500ix. The Passport Max was Escort’s first radar detector with a “digital horn”, which was a new technological improvement since much more of the signal processing logic had transitioned from analog circuitry to digital electronics, hence the acclaimed digital signal processing announcement from the company.  Before the Passport Max, the Passport 9500ix was one of Escort’s top-selling radar detectors.  One feature that made the 9500ix popular among radar detector buyers was the fact that it had a GPS module which allowed users to lock-out false alerts.  However, the 9500ix did not have the range of the Escort Redline and sometimes the detector did not have the finesse of filtering out false alerts effectively.

 

Escort Passport Max – Cost, Features and Contents

Cost: $549.95

Retailer: Amazon or Escort Incorporated, and our Preferred Vendors.

 

Components Description
Sticky Cup Replaces the standard windshield mount with a large suction cup similar to those used by navigation devices
User Modes A feature that allows for changes in Novice or Advanced detector settings
Mini USB Jack USB to min-USB jack to allow users to update the detector’s firmware via Escort Detector Tools PC/ program
Multi-Color OLED Display Display features an OLED display for rich colored alerts on the screen; blue/amber/red/green themes
Speed Display On-board GPS module allows the detector to show vehicle speed
Cruise Alert A double-tone for alerts encountered while traveling below a user-defined speed
Over-Speed Alert An alert that signals the driver when the vehicle’s speed is above the posted speed limit (req. Escort Live)
Signal Strength Meter 4 different display templates for alerts: Signal-strength, SpecDisplay, ExpertMeter, and Simple
Alert Tones Users can select either Standard beep tones or Mild chimes; voice alerts to specific threats are also available
AutoMute Radar detector will sound an alert at the set volume level, but every subsequent alert is only at 50% of that level
AutoLearn Radar detector will monitor the signals in the area and after certain conditions are met will automatically filter that source out based on location and frequency; alerts are still displayed but shown in a gray-color
AutoPower Radar detector will automatically power itself off after 30 minutes of non-movement and restart after movement regains past 10 mph
TSR (Traffic Sensor Rejection)  Radar detector filters false K-band alerts caused by Traffic Flow Sensors mounted on streets and highways
POP Alert Radar detector alerts to POP sources in the K-band range from MPH Industries detectors
LIVE Compatible Radar detector is Escort Live Compatible and supports the detectors functions such as Over Speed Alert, Red Light Camera locations, and other threat areas found in the Escort Defender database

 

Escort Passport Max: Internal Components

The following pictures were taken by members of our forum to show the internal components of the Passport Max.

 

Horn

 Technical information: the signal from the horn is digitized early on by a 10-bit Analog to Digital Converter (ADC), then fed into a Xilinx FPGA.

Passport Max M5 Radar Horn, courtesy of CJR238

Passport Max M5 Radar Horn, courtesy of CJR238

Passport Max LIDAR Receiver, courtesy of CJR238

Passport Max LIDAR Receiver, courtesy of CJR238

 

Microcontrollers

 A 100MHz 32-bit Freescale microcontroller based off a ARM Cortex-M4 architecture then further processes this signal, supported by 64MB of flash memory and 64MB of DDR2 RAM.

Passport Max - underside view

Passport Max – underside view

Passport Max - underside view closeup

Passport Max – underside view closeup

Passport Max - Spartan Chip

Passport Max – Spartan Chip

Passport Max - daughter board

Passport Max – daughter board (top side)

Passport Max - daughter board (bottom side)

Passport Max – daughter board (bottom side)

Passport Max - Big Chip

Passport Max – Big Chip

 

DSP: What it does for the Passport Max

Currently, the Passport Max’s digital technology gives it the ability to:

  • Give excellent instant-on protection while sweeping and filtering all bands. The RedLine and V1 are only able to compete with the Max on response time after turning off filtering and setting up segmentation or custom sweeps. As a result, the MAX is more immune to false alerts caused by leaks of signals from Cobra radar detectors.  Additionally, this technology also provides protection against out-of-tune radar guns, since the detector can determine the likelihood that the signal is a threat or not based on the signal’s radar frequency and its form of repetition based on the surrounding environment. The MAX has demonstrated its ability to maintain fast response times in scenarios where it is tracking multiple signals.
      • Video of Passport Max responding to Instant-On

  • Identify frequencies more accurately, including TrueLock to a much finer granularity. The 9500ix splits K band into segments of 30MHz, while the Max is able to split K band into segments of 10MHz. This 3x finer granularity of lockouts should increase the Max’s ability to detect police radar operated in a lockout zone.
  • Perform more aggressive K-band filtering in Auto mode. This filtering has shown to help minimize (but not totally solve) the K-band false alerts from cars using lane-assist technology.
  • Allow Escort to dramatically tune and filter radar detection algorithms via firmware updates. For example, even though the 9500ix supports “firmware updates”, which TSR came out, it had to be sent back to Escort. The Max has seen quite a bit of tuning to the Ka RDR algorithm since its launch. Because more is handled digitally by firmware-controlled components (like the FPGA and DSP), more can be updated without hardware changes.
  • The entire spectrum of police radar is divided into over 500 individual segments which can be swept in any order. Switching from segment to segment takes merely milliseconds. In Escort’s patent application, two key advantages were described to this approach: (1) A randomized sweep pattern can reduce leakage emissions, making detection by the Spectre more difficult. (2) By repeatedly sweeping and averaging over a segment, the Max can effectively lower the noise floor and increase its sensitivity.

Technologically, this Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is a big improvement over the Redline and 9500ix architecture, which use a largely analog front-end that gets fed into a medley of 8-bit micro-controllers peaking at 16MHz. The end result of this newer technology is what Escort has touted as “HD Performance” or “DNA technology.”  These terms are quite controversial within the community, as it was not clear what they actually meant in terms of detection performance. However, the Max’s all-digital technology has resulted in both real-world and theoretical future-looking benefits.

 

Escort Passport Max Videos

Display Options and Menu

In addition to the major performance benefits, the Passport Max also has Escort’s first-ever OLED high-resolution display that has rich colors and can also be customized to match a user’s vehicle interior gauge color (red/amber/blue/green). This display is capable of providing much more information than the old dot matrix displays. One neat feature is its ability to show the frequency and the signal strength bar graph of threats on one screen. Secondly, the bar graphs for each threat in Expert Meter mode are very easy to read which allows drivers to quickly glance at the screen for all the relevant information. Lastly, for Escort Live alerts, the new OLED display shows the same smartphone graphics on the screen as well as same distance data for the threat provided by Escort Live.

Escort Passport – Menu Settings

 

Escort Passport – Display

 

 

Escort Passport – AutoLearn

 

 

Escort Passport Max – Ka-band Encounter

 

Escort Passport Max – Radar Detector Range

 

Escort Passport Max – Max beats 9500ci

 

Escort Passport Max – Max vs Redline on Instant-On Radar 34.7

 

Escort Passport Max – Max vs Redline on Instant-On Radar 35.5

 

 

Escort Passport Max – Testing by jdong

The following tests were conducted by jdong, one of our Advanced forum members who has contributed a substantial amount of testing information regarding the performance of radar detectors.  Since the Passport Max has undergone several firmware updates since the time it was released in the summer of 2013, you will note that these tests annotate the firmware of the detector at that particular point in time of the test.

Sensitivity and Response Test – Ka-band (34.7 GHz)

Notes: “Basically, almost every shot that produced Doppler and a reading set off the MAX. I was able to flick the trigger a few times and sneak it past the MAX but those shots would not produce valid readings on my Stalker II. I’d estimate the cutoff at around .2-.25 seconds.”  Click here for the forum discussion on this test.

Comparison Test: Redline BS/RDR vs Passport Max 1.8

Test Course

Test Course

 Notes: View the discussion of this test here.

1) Test Setup: I set up a forward facing Stalker II MDR in my garage. It readily clocks both directions of traffic outside my driveway. There’s enough shrubbery that it’d make it almost impossible to visually identify the threat before being in the kill zone.

2) Detector Setup:

    • 3 month old Passport Max, FW 1.8, just sent to Larry to fix a squeaky mount. Paperwork shows that they calibrated/tuned/verified that it is performing to specs.
    • 9 month old RedLine BS/RDR. Configured for Segment 5, X OFF / K OFF / RDR OFF.

3) Results: Both detectors provided more than adequate alert to the pending threat, but the Redline won by a HUGE margin — almost 3x the range! The graphic depicts the best run out of 3, but there were no cars or wind, and all 3 runs were very consistent.

 Radar Detector Test Shootout: Valentine One, Escort Redline, Escort Passport Max

Radar Detector Shootout - Valentine One, Escort Redline, Escort Passport Max

Radar Detector Shootout – Valentine One, Escort Redline, and Escort Passport Max

 Notes: View the discussion of this test here.

1) Course: flat and curved road; approximately 2700 feet long

2) Results: Basically, the Passport Max alerted 1700 feet to the forward threat.  The Escort Redline, without band segmentation, alerted 1800 feet prior to the threat, and the Valentine One, without the V1Connection, alerted about 1600 feet prior to the threat.  We can conclude from this test that at default settings, the Passport Max is slightly more sensitive at detection than a Valentine One, but not as sensitive to a Redline.

Escort Passport Max: Veil Guy’s Review

In December 2013, another key member of our forum, and developer of Laser Veil, did a review of the Passport Max.  His review of this detector also illustrated similar findings like those found by jdong and the community.  An important note for readers to keep in mind while reading Veil Guy’s review is to understand that the firmware used at the time for the radar detector was an early version, which disappointed many buyers initially.  Since that time, Escort has released multiple versions to resolve several problem areas with respect to sensitivity and filtering false sources of K and Ka-band.  For a discussion of this review you can visit the thread here.

To summarize Veil Guy’s initial findings of the Escort Passport Max upon its release, we have categorized them into three categories:

“The Good Stuff”

      • Excellent X-band sensitivity
      • Excellent Ka-band sensitivity (“occasionally exceeding my reference Beltronics STi-R, STi-R+, and Passport 9500ci remote mount detectors
      • Excellent GPS accuracy
      • Excellent response time comparable to “band-segmented detectors and top-of-the-line Whistlers”
      • “Ramp-up” alerting and reaction to lane-assist technology systems is better than the Redline and other M3-horned detectors, which begin blaring the full-level alerts

“The Not So Good”

      • K-band sensitivity tends to wane; early firmware versions would fail to alert to Ka-band 34.7 GHz
      • Less sensitive than M3 detectors like the STi-R Plus and Redline
      • Appears more prone to alert to false sources than more sensitive detectors like the STi-R Plus and Redline
      • What is the “HD” technology?

“The Bad Stuff”

      • Average performance on filtering out false sources of X and K band; false alerts were present on moving sources like the K-band emitted from vehicles with lane-assisted technology
      • Gradual alert to real threat sources (“[it] presents a more constant and gentle alert that waxes and wanes gradually when one approaches and overtakes a radar-equipped vehicle.”)
      • Poor LIDAR (laser) sensitivity
      • Packaging is poor, cheap, and lacking in materials (such as a mini-D USB cord for updating)

“The Bad Stuff”

      • Average performance on filtering out false sources of X and K band; false alerts were present on moving sources like the K-band emitted from vehicles with lane-assisted technology
      • Gradual alert to real threat sources (“[it] presents a more constant and gentle alert that waxes and wanes gradually when one approaches and overtakes a radar-equipped vehicle.”)
      • Poor LIDAR (laser) sensitivity
      • Packaging is poor, cheap, and lacking in materials (such as a mini-D USB cord for updating)

“The Ugly Stuff”

      • Erratic behavior – “performs like world-class champ … at other times it [ran]“
      • Quality control – “70% of enthusiast users reported one issue or another requiring one or more service returns”

Summary

      • Perhaps the saving grace to the Max is the back-end “all digital” platform. If that processing technology continues to evolve, absent the QA issues described above, it’s coupling to future M4s, M5s, and especially M3s has the potential to project the Passport Max to a solid winner as  long-range and quiet radar detector in the future.

 

Escort Passport Max Firmware Versions

Version Release Date Information
1.2 July 2013 Initial shipping firmware
1.3 August 01, 2013 - Fixed voice alerts for LASER- Corrected metric units for Overspeed alert
1.4 September 06, 2013 - Reduced the holding time for alerts- Improved voice quality (made them quieter, which is a complaint for some users now); improved the Mild alert tones- Made Cruise Alert un-mute above the set speed / PSL- Fixed Escort Live connectivity issues- Added the ability to put Escort Shifter ZR4s in Shift Only mode- Reduced the number of Stored alerts (STORED is no longer displayed when widening an existing lockout radius)- Shows “–” on the speed limit display rather than OSP when connected to Escort Live
1.5 N/A – Internal to the company N/A
1.6 October 08, 2013 - Ability to disable the Knight Rider display when Pilot mode is enabled with Full Word- RDR improvement for response times, and reducing false alerts- Improved upper K-band lockout performance- Escort Live alerting distance improved to a mile- Ability to detect Laser Atlanta Stealth mode after some reports and videos of the Max not alerting to all Laser Atlanta Stealth mode direct shots- Improved sensitivity for all radar bands
1.7 December 11, 2013 - No user viewable changes- “Improved the protection and testing processes at Escort Manufacturing”
1.8 January 09, 2013 - Greatly improved false alert rejection: Solved Ka-band false alert issues for the majority of customers- Improved identification of K-band false alerts from land-assist technology found in some cars- Improved Pilot mode settings adjustments through Escort Live

 

Controversy Surrounding the Passport Max

One of the big controversies surrounding this detector was that the company seemed to market it as a detector to replace the Redline and 9500ix.  Escort announced the Max with much fanfare, boasting that it was going to be a maximum range detector on all bands. Escort provided some members of this community with pre-production testing units, but they were limited on what they were allowed to say about their prototypes, and provided largely positive reviews while not commenting on performance. Due to production issues and high demand, there was a long preorder and wait period before the detector was available.  Shortly after this detector’s release, many of our members were discovering that the Passport Max did not have the same detection range as the Redline.  Also, a few other members discovered that the detector had sensitivity issues.

By the fall of 2013, Escort began issuing firmware updates to resolve some of these concerns and fine tune the detector.  As a result of these developments, we waited to do a small review until now in order to grade this detector in a greater refined state than when it first appeared for sale.

Special Thanks

Many Thanks go to jdong , CJR238, Nine_C1, and Veil Guy for their contributions to this article, and to FireMedic343 for his pictures of the Escort Passport Max internal components.  The data and media obtained from these two members has furthered the knowledge base of the community with regard to radar detector performance testing and tutorial information for members at all levels.