ECCTG October 2012 Radar Detector Test
It’s been a long time since we rock-n-rolled… or should we say, had a good Radar Detector comparison test! It was 2009 when the Guys of LIDAR held their last test, and quite a bit has changed since then.
Most of the new developments came from Escort’s end with the release of multiple detectors – a high performance windshield mount deemed the RedLine, a GPS navigator and radar detector hybrid called the Passport IQ, and the SmartRadar which has Escort Live capabilities built in and combines some aspects of a remote installed detector and windshield units. Although not an entirely new detector, the Escort 8500 X50 got a performance boost when it was upgraded to the 8500 X50 Black Edition. Beltronics released the STi-R Plus, a much anticipated offering since the original STi-R was discontinued. The STi-Driver got an upgrade to the STi-Magnum which was supposed to bring Beltronics’s windshield mount M3 into a similar performance tier as the Escort RedLine. Beltronics also renamed many of their windshield mounts with the Pro 300 replacing the RX65, the Pro 500 replacing the GX65, and the Vector series all adopting new monikers. Valentine Research updated the Valentine One from the firmware revision 3.872 released in 2008 to revision 3.893. Whistler released an installed remote detector based on the SE platform, the Whistler PRO-3600, which includes GPS features and an optional rear antenna.
With all the new changes in the radar detector industry, the East Coast Countermeasure Testing Group (ECCTG) decided it was time to get their feet wet with some heavy duty radar testing. We have an extensive background with LIDAR testing and small scale radar testing; however, it was clear a much bigger radar test was needed to flush out where all these new and upgraded detectors fit in the performance spectra. Gathering the equipment wasn’t all that hard being the fanatics that we are, we had all the radar guns (X, K, and all three Ka Bands) and quite a few of the radar detectors themselves.
We gathered 5 people, 21 radar detectors, 4 radar guns, and headed out for what would be an action packed and learning filled experience.
Current production radar detectors owned by members were only used in testing if we felt their performance was a good representation of what one could expect buying the detector new. The other detectors were graciously provided to us for testing by SoundConcepts. These were pulled from stock at random and were received in unopened new condition.
All detectors were run in the settings most commonly used by members of the forum unless otherwise indicated. This means Highway Mode, TSR-Off, and POP-off for Escort and Beltronics units. The V1s were run in “A Mode” with POP-Off and Ka-Guard on. The Whistler units were put in the lowest filter setting, POP-Off, and the Cobra was in “Highway Mode.” All detectors were mounted level on the windshield in the same location with no other detectors or mounts on the windshield at the time of testing.
The test car was kept consistent for each band eliminating any differences in windshield composition as a variable. Remote units were tested in the cars of their owners as they have no windshield obstructing their view. The data connections on all cell phones in the test car were disabled since certain 4G networks can cause falsing and potentially interference as well.
Radar Car and Guns
The radars used in this test were modern digital dash mounts including models from all (4) police radar manufacturers here in the US. We prefer using dash mounts because they provide a stable platform for a consistent signal to test detector performance.
Once positioned, the radar and vehicle it was installed in remained fixed until all detectors completed their test runs. K-Band testing was done in one session and we returned the following day for Ka testing. To provide a good comparison of each detector’s performance between bands, we used the same parking position and landmark (telephone pole on the horizon) for targeting the radars on both days.
How did the radars themselves perform? They all read targets just as soon as they came into view or 2,663 feet from the radar car. Therefore we can conclude that the effective warning distance of any detector in this test began after that 2,663 foot mark… under that, any of these radars had you. The MPH, Stalker and Kustom units included FAST target displays capable of reading both the Strongest as well as the Fastest targets within their range. The Decatur Genesis only read the Strongest target (usually the closest vehicle) being a more basic type of moving/stationary radar.
We noticed in this test that determining WHO was responsible for our speed readings was not always easy with multiple targets in the radar’s pattern. This is how mistakes can and do happen with radar and the wrong person sometimes gets a ticket. It’s also why you should never count yourself out if you unwittingly come into the target range of an Instant On radar… it may take the officer more time than you think to sort things out.
However, the directional capability of the Stalker DSR 2x made correct target identification much easier. It was the only radar in this test with the ability to indicate the direction of travel of all targets being read. Providing more information and less doubt, we found the DSR 2x was overall more effective at longer distances than the other radar units used in this test. Be advised that MPH, Kustom and Decatur also have their own versions of “Directional” radars out on the market.
To anyone planning to do their own radar testing in the future, finding a good course is the most difficult part. Our original plan was a good one if only a little (ok, maybe very) optimistic. That was, to test all the most popular radar detectors (16 models) against all five radar bands in (3) separate scenarios.
- Straight line range test (what we call on-axis detection).
- Around the bend range test (what we call off-axis detection).
- Instant On / Response testing.
The plan also included testing multiple copies of the elite detectors (to check for consistency) as well as testing out advanced programming options on the models that have the ability to turn Ka filtering off.
Well… you’ve heard of the best laid plans of mice and men right? Unfortunately, we spent too much time on course #2 (the off-axis course) trying to get it to work and it just wasn’t happening. What we ended up discovering was that there was a dead zone on this course due to a dip right in the middle. This resulted in bunching of the better detectors at the far end with the less capable detectors grouping on the near side. This was not the type of progressive separation we were looking for. After repositioning the radar car numerous times (with that many more adjustments on targeting the radar) we finally gave up on that course.
The good news was that course #1 was a fantastic “live course” for testing on-axis range! In a straight line the radars themselves were consistently reading targets at 2,663 feet, beyond that a slight knoll in the road and trees picketing the course on either side were screening approaching traffic. For the detectors, the same obstacles (as well as a few slight turns) worked to bleed off some of that signal strength, but the better detectors were still sniffing it out a full mile away or further. Of course, the further from the source the more challenging the course becomes for the detectors, but there were no apparent dead zones here. It was a live course with traffic but keep in mind the slogan of ECCTG – Real world testing, real world results. In most real world encounters you’re not the only car on the road.
In the end, we never did get to the off-axis testing let alone the Instant On portion. X-Band testing was nixed and we even had to abbreviate the 33.8 and 35.5 Ka long range tests to include just the top (7) performers that were still available at the end of the 2nd day. Yes, some folks had a long drive and a paying job to get back to the next morning so we fell far short on the plan. But what we did get accomplished is likely one of the better and most comprehensive long range detector tests done in some time, and we’ve got the perfect excuse to come back for more later. The results speak volumes and validated our selection of course #1 for long range testing.
Any concerns one could have with the light traffic were clearly alleviated after completing the K-Band tests. The (3) Bels (RX65, STi-R, STi-R Plus) finished beside themselves with or without the Ka filtering options applied in this test. This stands to reason as Ka filtering would have little to no affect on K-Band performance (later, in the Ka testing, that would change). The (3) RedLines also finished together as well as the (2) 9500ix detectors on this band. The consistency between units of the same model indicates the traffic wasn’t having a negative impact on our results due to the position of the radar and the course layout.
The majority of M3s and the venerable S7 horn in the old RX65 gave impressive results on K; however, the Valentine One is clearly no longer the “King of K Band” as it was once known. The results may have been different if Pop had been turned on but while the 3.892 held its own, the other two units didn’t live up to Valentine’s reputation. The SmartRadar, X50 Black and Pro 300, all new M4 based models, managed some very respectable numbers; however, the Pro 500, Passport IQ, and 9500ix did not fare as well, which makes sense considering they’re made to be “quiet.” In the end, the Whistlers wrapped up last place on K-Band (no surprise here either) but even so, provided more than adequate warning for our trap.
34.7 Ka Band
Now onto one of the scariest radars on the planet today, the Stalker DSR 2x in 34.7 Ka! Well, maybe not so scary in a straight line constant on test, but in any case, the Stalker 34.7 units are the best selling radars on the planet and by far the most common here in North America. So it stands to reason that this was the first Ka band that we attacked in our test.
What did we learn here? First and foremost… it’s official… disabling Ka filtering on detectors with these options IMPROVES RANGE! The STi-R, STi-R Plus, V1s and RX65(S7) all had a significant improvement in detection range with their Ka filtering options turned off. Not only did their range improve but so did their consistency between runs, another important characteristic which is often overlooked. The Bel Pro 300 had only a marginal improvement in USA mode, but then we already knew that RDR is not disabled on this detector as part of the USA “package” (unlike the old RX65/S7 which shuts it down). We were hoping for a better show from the Pro 300 with its redesigned lens, but no dice there; its possible there are some quality control issues with this new unit as we’ve been told by a dealer that they’ve gotten an unusual number of returns.
Secondly the Escort 8500/X50 Black is a MONSTER on 34.7 Ka! Both copies finished right behind the King and his cousin… the STi-R and STi-R Plus on this band. Incredible that an M4 has been tweaked to this level that it whoops up on RedLines and V1s with Ka Guard turned off! Whatever changes Escort made in the Black Edition appear to be getting the job done.
Last but certainly not least, we saw an old bug creep back into the spotlight. Happya$$ was the first to call Escort’s windshield mount M3 the “sleeping beauty” and it would have eclipsed the segmented/RDR-of STi-R Plus and possibly matched the King himself, segmented/RDR-off OG STi-R, on 34.7 Ka if not for one of it’s characteristic moments. Yep… a random late alert starting with full blown rampup struck on one of it’s three runs and cut it back to 6th place. Hopefully Escort will take a second look at this issue.
33.8 and 35.5 Ka Band
As stated earlier, the 33.8 and 35.5 tests were run on an abbreviated subset of detectors due to time constraints. We also only achieved one pass only with each detector tested. Three runs and an average would have been preferred, but in the real world you only get one chance against that cop hiding in the weeds!
The final contestants were all good on these bands, but the King… the OG STi-R… retained his title as the undefeated heavy weight long range champ. The Plus stayed close but the 3.893 Valentine One grabbed 2nd place on 35.5 which again makes us think that some tweaking has gone on at Valentine to improve on this band. The surprise performer from Ka 34.7, the 8500X50 Black, did not do as well on 33.8 but it still managed to nix the best RedLine on 35.5 which had another outbreak of the sleeping beauty bug.
We can tell you it ain’t easy putting on a good test! Due diligence requires about $15K in equipment… good planning… plenty of preparation… lots of man hours… and (perhaps most difficult) finding the right course and getting everyone there. It didn’t all work out as planned. The off-axis course proved to be inadequate for our purposes, but the long range course was everything we were looking for: progressive separation between units and consistent measurements between runs. There were some big surprises and probably a lot of what you expected in these results. If your favorite detector did well in our testing, that’s great, but if it did not place as well as you would have liked, don’t sweat it. After all, many radar detectors can provide ample range for most encounters and work fine even if they’re not a top performer.
We as a community have a lot of individual experience to share when comparing various RD’s; even though a big radar test is a good benchmark, everyone’s encounters are unique and each RD will perform differently due to many variables such as variance in an individual RD sensitivity, variations in terrain which greatly alter detection range like desert vs heavy tree coverage, and even the weather. Everyone wants a top performer, but you can clearly see in this scenario any of these RD’s would have given a save; it really comes down to personal preference and the type of radar encounters you have.
This unfortunately was not the all encompassing performance test we had planned. We missed two very important elements of what makes a detector great (although you may have caught glimpses here). That is the response characteristics of the detector against short duration Instant On, and the off-axis performance (think around the bend) tuning of the horn antenna inside the detector. On any given day, one or both of these aspects can outweigh the straight line detection performance (range) of your detector.
For those of you who would like to take a more in depth look at the results check out the link below:
We’d like to thank the nearby Hooters for serving us some great food afterwards!