Affordable Radar Detector Testing - 3/15/2015

Vortex

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This weekend @joehemi and I went out to test out some of the more affordable radar detectors. Lots of testing has been done with the typical higher end contenders, but I'm curious how some of the more budget friendly detectors ~$200 compare to the higher end detectors. For this test we ran 9 detectors. (A huge thank you to everyone who sent in units for testing!!! This is only possible thanks to you guys and your generosity.) :)

Here's the contenders:

Whistler CR85 (retail $230, online $150)
Uniden LRD950 1.35 (retail $400, online $193)
Cobra SPX 7800BT (retail for $260, online $180)
Beltronics RX65 S7 (discontinued, $200 refurb from Escort's eBay store)
Escort SmartRadar (discontinued, originally $450, now $160)
Escort Passport (retail $350, online $290)

Then to set our baselines for context, we have the typical contenders. (They can sometimes be found with a bit of a discount, maybe $50'ish or so.)

Escort Redline (retail $500)
Escort Max2 (retail $600)
Valentine One 3.8945 (retail $400)

We tested 33.8, 34.7, 35.5, and K band. Every detector was set up for maximum sensitivity. Basically segmented 2,5,8 when applicable, RDR off, TSR off, X off, K and Ka on, Highway mode, etc.

The course we used was mostly a straightaway (very rare to find here in western Washington) less than a mile long to test more on-axis performance against C/O. This is not an off-axis or I/O test, and as we know detectors may do well in on-axis tests but not in off-axis or I/O.

There were also several big hills and so what we found was there were different detection "zones" where we would crest a hill and the signal would go from nothing to "Oh look there's radar! Alert!" and so many detectors would all go off right around the same zones within 2-3 sec of each other.

It was also raining all day (yay Seattle!) which definitely reduced performance of both the detectors and the radar guns. Fortunately the rain was pretty consistent all day long so every run was affected about equally.

Ideally I'd like to test everything 2-3 times to average out any outliers good or bad, but we didn't have time, so almost everything was measured with just one run. In fact there was a nosy neighbor who started causing problems for us so we left before completing all our K band testing. I would have loved to have had ideal weather conditions, absolutely no traffic, and all the time in the world, but we gotta test with what we got! :D I'll explain how these factors impact our testing results as we go into them more deeply.

Every run was recorded on multiple cameras, but I'll only be showing some of the highlights and more interesting encounters while explaining some of the results and things we saw. With that said, let's jump right into the results and start looking at how the detectors fare.

35.5 Results

355 results.jpg


35.5 returned the most expected results and so we're going to start with it.

See how all of the higher end detectors are all bundled up in the same area? That's the first main hill that we crest and so it's where many detectors would alert. They didn't all alert in the same exact area. You had about a 100 foot zone from the top of the hill to the front of the hill where they'd go off. I didn't show it in the chart b/c it'd get a little sloppy looking, but the Redline, V1, Max2, and Passport all alerted in the front of the pack and the SmartRadar, Uniden, and RX65 S7 all alerted in the latter half of the pack. I wouldn't take this split too too seriously because of the weather conditions and light traffic which did vary some stuff up (I'll talk about that a little more in the 34.7 section next.)

The Whistler CR85 dropped down below the pack and the Cobra rounded out the bottom. One very important thing to mention that's not labeled on the chart. See how I mention that the kill zone is really close to the actual radar vehicle? Well there's actually a second detection point right where the Cobra is located that the radar gun can pick up for just a few seconds or so at most. It's not long, but in this case, the Kustom Golden Eagle actually picked up my vehicle's speed before the Cobra alerted to Ka band. Thus in this case, the Cobra actually got owned against C/O!! Fail... Here's a video of the Cobra run showing you this, along with a Redline run afterwards for context. (You'll also see it get owned a second time. When I turn around to head back, the Cobra actually stops alerting while the gun is still actively clocking me from behind! It was the only detector to do that.)


Since the Whistler was a bit of an oddball too, alerting later than most everyone else but still before the earlier killzone, here's a video of its run.


You'll also see the Whistler alert to laser near the end of the test course. (From a minivan, either a Honda or a Toyota.) Fortunately it can actually lock out different ranges of pulse frequencies and so since the ~590pps range isn't used by any legit lidar gun, you can press a button on the unit to effectively lock out all signals in that frequency from alerting again. A very cool feature.

Something else to note, sometimes the KGE would have issues clocking vehicles in the earlier kill zone due to the rain. It was also sometimes tough to visually ID who's who when all you can see is headlights for a few seconds over 2000 feet away, particularly when there were multiple vehicles on the road which is great for RD users.

33.8 Results

338 results.jpg


33.8 was actually very similar to 35.5. The main difference was that the Cobra and Whistler swapped places. Very strange and I had to go back and double and triple check to verify that this was the case. Yes, indeed, the Cobra actually beat the Whistler on 33.8. Not only that, you'll also notice (it's not marked on the graph) that the Whistler actually alerted after the earlier kill zone by an even greater degree. :( I wasn't the radar operator for this run so joehemi will have to comment on it, but I believe he found that the Bee III was even better than the Kustom Golden Eagle at acquiring speeds at this earlier kill zone. Anyways, here's videos of the two runs so you can see as well.



I've left in the return drive heading back to the start of the course with the Whistler and you'll see it actually throw two Ka9 false alerts (Whistler-speak for a full strength signal). If you look at the beginning of the run, you'll see it actually initially starts out by saying "Ka 1." A short period of time later it switches to "33.8 Ka 1." The way Whistler's MaxID works (their frequency display), they only display a simple frequency when it's most likely a legit frequency, ie. 33.8, 34.7, or 35.5. If it's some really weird random frequency like 33.6, it will display a strength but no frequency as a sort of indication of a false alert I presume. Therefore I'm starting to treat frequency-less alerts as falses but it's really hard to tell. Given that it likes to false on Ka band and not always report a frequency at all, it makes it harder to trust. (You'll see some additional alerting problems with the Whistler when we get to the K band section.) Because of these issues, along with its poor performance here, I'm not too impressed with the Whistler either.

34.7 Results

347 results.jpg


Okay now here's where things start to get a little weird. Almost every detector performed worse on 34.7 and I'm not entirely sure why this is the case. I'm thinking that Stalker II might have been aimed just slightly up or down, but when we were looking at it, it didn't look especially off. It was pretty much resting upside down (orientation doesn't matter with circularly polarized antennas) with the battery handle leaning against the A-pillar of the radar vehicle to the left of the steering wheel dash hump. The other antennas were on the right side of the dash hump so it's possible that had something to do with it, but I don't necessarily think so. Rain was also about the same. Either way, whatever the explanation, it was definitely tougher for the detectors on 34.7. The Stalker II wasn't able to detect cars farther away. Only at the hill right before the radar vehicle where it's marked kill zone.

If you look at the chart, you'll even notice the Redline falling behind the V1 and even the Uniden!!? What in the world?

Rewatching the Redline run, it dawned on me why. There's thick tree cover on either side and even over some of the road along the course, creating an almost tunnel-like corridor in places. When we did the Redline run (our very first run of the day), there was a big hummer which would have been right in that tunnel area, effectively blocking much of the signal and reducing range. This would explain the results that we're seeing and why, if I had a magic wand, I'd have no traffic at all to help keep things consistent. :D That said, it's really great to see this in action because when things go "wrong" in testing, assuming we've done everything we can right, that just means that we're about to learn something new! The Redline consistently wins in every other test and pass I've done and so I'm considering this to be an outlier and it's one of the reasons why it's important to do multiple passes with the same setup in testing if possible.

Now the two winners of this test were the Uniden and the V1. In fact the Uniden actually beat the V1 by about 10-15 feet!! Now given what we saw with the Redline, I'm not going to say this is an unquestionably accurate result, but it is a very interesting observation nonetheless and is very promising for the Uniden. Again, I'll post a video of its run in just a bit so you can see its performance, how heavy the rain and traffic is, and so on. It helps you to see what I saw (and and didn't see until I rewatched the video).

In the middle of the pack were the M4/M5/S7 units.

The Whistler was down just below that. I actually did rerun the Whistler a second time on 34.7 due to traffic I noticed and such poor results and it alerted in the same area, just 2-3 sec earlier without a vehicle in the way... so basically same location.

The Cobra was absolutely the worst of the bunch. It alerted a mere 6 seconds before my speed was registered (maybe sooner than that by about 2-3 seconds, but that's roughly what it looks like when reviewing the dashcam footage.)

It's from these 34.7 runs that I created the following video showing a comparison between the V1 and the Cobra. The video's a bit longer because I talk a little bit how important range is when detecting I/O shots on traffic ahead of you and whatnot, but it shows these two runs. I'll also show them individually so you can jump right into it.


Here's some of the important runs in the group:

Sorry for the camera placement on some of these. I aimed it primarily at the camera and didn't realize at first on the little screen that sometimes the suction cup mounts would actually block the road ahead. It's not too big of a deal and it all still works. :)

Uniden LRD950:


V1:


Redline:


Whistler CR85:


Cobra SPX 7800BT:


(I have all the rest of the videos available too if anyone wants to see any, but these are the main ones relevant to the results.)

K band Results

K results.jpg


K band was a bit of an oddball for many reasons.

Number one because every detector alerted near the start of the course in that first detection zone. This includes the Whistler which alerted farther downrange for all the 34.7 units. (It did incorrectly alert to Ka band for a moment during the K band run. Not sure what's up with that but you'll see it when I post the video.)

The second reason the K band run was odd was because we didn't get a chance to complete it. There was a nosy neighbor nearby who I think was getting afraid that we were scoping out her house and that we were going to break in when she left or something. (One of the reasons I prefer testing in private locations when possible... Again, sometimes you just gotta test with whatever's available around you.) She started getting really weird and without getting into too much detail, we decided to leave before anything happened. It was a bit of a bummer because I didn't get a chance to run the Cobra or Uniden on K band and I was really hoping to see how they fared. (I didn't test the V1 either for the same reason, but I'm not concerned with the V1 for this test.)

All of the detectors tested alerted within the same sort of area. Not precisely on the nose in the same exact location, but all within a hundred feet of each other or so. In this case, the Redline, SmartRadar, Whistler, and RX65 S7 were towards the front of the pack and the Max2 and the Passport were towards the end of the pack, but I wouldn't take those results too too seriously because of the issues we saw earlier. They're not hard, fast numbers. Alerting anywhere in that zone is a great result. Since the Whistler is the main detector of interest in this round, here's a video of its run with both great performance and a false to Ka.


Conclusion

In this test, we definitely had some detectors that did better than others.

The best performing affordable detectors were the Uniden, the M4's, and the S7.

The Uniden actually did very well, alerting at the first main hill every single time tested. Very impressive. We didn't get to run it on K band, but it seems to do pretty well on K band as well in some of my earlier testing. Plus its K band filtering options seem to work pretty well without huge penalties like we see with TSR. It's also *very* reactive, especially on Ka band, so this detector definely looks like a pretty viable option from what I'm seeing so far, especially if you can buy one around the $200 pricepoint rather than $400. I'm going to review this detector in more detail when I get more seat time with it. It's not all sunshine and roses with it. It falses other detectors the way Cobras do, for example, and its RLC alerts suck, but from a radar detection standpoint, this unit actually looks quite promising so far.

The M4's did very well too. It's good to note that this is a situation where the newer M4's really shine: on-axis against C/O. Against I/O and off-axis, they don't perform so well so this test definitely shouldn't be taken on its own and some sort of end-all-be-all of which detector is best. Not by any means. It's also good to note that the SmartRadar, and now the 8500 x50 Black which should have the same performance, has been discontinued and is no longer available from most manufacturers. They're being sold cheap on closeout sales for a period of time which is why they're in this pricepoint.

The S7 did pretty well too. This is an older platform and the RX65 S7 tested is no longer in production either. It's only being sold as refurbished models. They also lack some of the new false filtering technology like TSR that's really really important these days, but if you're running a detector and only need Ka band, and you don't mind a shiny reflective silver shell on your dash, it's another great option.

The Whistler I'm not too impressed with. Same thing with the Cobra.

Even though the Whistler beat out the Cobra on most runs and even ran neck-and-neck with the top tier detectors on this particular course on K band, the fact that it got owned on C/O too on 33.8 is just bad news. You can't fail against C/O where other detectors fare much better and be recommendable... The false alerts were also somewhat problematic.

The Cobra performed pretty much as expected. This is Cobra's top-of-the-line, best performing unit. All of the SPX series detectors have the same horn and same performance. Just different bells and whistles like RLC alerts, a fancy display, bluetooth, etc. Cobra's false alerts are even worse than Whistler's (though not shown in this test) and its performance is generally even worse as well. In fact its performance is sometimes so hilariously bad, I'm even creating a playlist of encounters and testing showing Cobras getting owned. :p

This course definitely isn't one of those nice long flat straightaways that some of you guys out in the midwest and open flat deserts experience. It's got hills and curves, rain and trees... a lot of variables that change up the flavor of the results and show us different aspects of RD's so we get a better understanding of the big picture in a variety of different conditions and situation. It'd be great if we had time to complete our testing, do multiple runs, test with K band filtering enabled, run against X band, didn't have rain, had no traffic, etc. So there's always things that could be improved, but here's the results we saw in a relatively realworld testing scenario. :)

Finally, a HUGE thank you to everyone who provided detectors for testing! Here's the owners of each unit:

Uniden LRD950: @joehemi
Whistler CR85: @jdong
Cobra SPX 7800BT: @BestRadarDetectors (brand new retail unit)
Beltronics RX65 S7: @colloyd00
Valentine One: @Vortex
Escort Passport Max2: @Vortex
Escort Passport: @hiddencam
Escort SmartRadar: @ykobzar2
Escort Redline: @ykobzar2
 
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easyE

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That uniden seems like a pretty solid detector for the money. Nice work guys!
 

ykobzar2

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Good job testing these units guys. The weather definitely wasn't the best. It seems that in our area here (with hills and trees), most detectors perform similar on-axis (excluding Cobra and Whisler). I would be curious if we can do an off-axis test to see what the differences are between those units.
 

Vortex

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Good job testing these units guys. The weather definitely wasn't the best. It seems that in our area here (with hills and trees), most detectors perform similar on-axis (excluding Cobra and Whisler). I would be curious if we can do an off-axis test to see what the differences are between those units.
heh, it's funny you mention that. I actually tested that out a few days ago too while scouting out different possible locations. Here's the results from that:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZSZeBnJ7YA

The results turned out quite promising so I'm thinking about going back with more detectors and more guns. :)
 
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joehemi

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I wasn't the radar operator for this run so joehemi will have to comment on it, but I believe he found that the Bee III was even better than the Kustom Golden Eagle at acquiring speeds at this earlier kill zone.
Thanks to [MENTION=2404]Vortex[/MENTION] for putting this together! For those of us in the PNW, you can't get more real world than this.

Yes, the Bee III was much more consistent than all the other radar guns at acquiring speeds in the very small window of time the vehicle crested the far away hill before dipping down again. The Bee III is no joke, I have a lot more respect for that unit now. Wish I would have had a camera on it.


And how about that Uniden? Little guy keeps surprising me with how awesome it is in dense radar absorbing environments.
 

hiddencam

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Fascinating! Uniden sales about to spike! Haha

M3s can see through hills and trees....but not Hummers! :laugh:

Outstanding testing Vortex and johemi! Props for braving the weather!
 

drewdownkali

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Fascinating! Uniden sales about to spike! Haha

M3s can see through hills and trees....but not Hummers! :laugh:

Outstanding testing Vortex and johemi! Props for braving the weather!
Weather is like that majority of the year up here.
 

Vortex

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Weather is like that majority of the year up here.
It's been the sunniest, rain-free winter ever, and it rains the weekend we test. :p

I'm glad to get some rain testing in though since we do get a lot of that, and grateful that the rain was consistent too.
 

crm

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Thanks for the testing @Vortex very informative and appreciated!
 

kdo2milger

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Thank you for a Very detailed and informative review! I had the Whistler cr85 for a few weeks and was very let down as well, I had high expectations based off reviews and YouTube vids. I returned it and purchased the Bel rx65 m4 for the same price as the cr85 (still waiting to see if it ships). I sold my 2004 V1 and purchased a 0315 RL and couldn't be happier with its results thus far. The Uniden has some real potential for its price point, I am going to look into it further.
 

alloy00

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Great job [MENTION=2404]Vortex[/MENTION] and [MENTION=4336]joehemi[/MENTION]. My three takeaways:

1) Cobras still really suck
2) Whistlers still suck
3) Gotta say - Uniden seems like a solid detector. Its detection capabilities seem to be comparable to the RX65 S7; better display; SOME K-filtering; SOME GPS capability. Hmmm. If a friend said "I want a detector for as little $$$ as possible" - the Uniden might have to be the choice. Interested to see what Vortex and others find when they run it full-time for awhile.
 

Edwv30

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Thanks for the testing [MENTION=2404]Vortex[/MENTION] and [MENTION=4336]joehemi[/MENTION]! The Uniden is really peaking my interest. It looks like it kept up with the top dogs in everything thrown at it. The maps don't show exact distances from the source but I am wondering how close it alerted to the V1 and Redline? It definitely sounds like a great detector for the money.
 

Vortex

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Thanks for the testing @Vortex and @joehemi! The Uniden is really peaking my interest. It looks like it kept up with the top dogs in everything thrown at it. The maps don't show exact distances from the source but I am wondering how close it alerted to the V1 and Redline? It definitely sounds like a great detector for the money.
If you look at the elevation profiles at the bottom, you'll see the distances to the source marked next to the vertical black lines.

When multiple detectors would alert in the same area, I left some comments in the text below saying which ones would generally alert sooner or later, but they'd all alert within about 100 feet of each other. Due to things like the rain or traffic, there is some fudge factor built into the results so this test isn't really ideal for saying "this detector alerted 26 feet earlier so therefore it's better." Look at the Redline results on 34.7, for example, and how much of an impact a single vehicle had. I reran the Whistler on one of the courses as well due to traffic and without one vehicle, it alerted about 3 seconds earlier as well.

So while I technically could say how close it was to the V1 or Redline, I can't guarantee a super precise level of accuracy in this test so I opted against going into crazy detail about *exactly* where each detector alerted. :)
 
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chasmanz28

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Vortex has anyone ever tested the RL VS Sti Mag, i mean a test like the one you did here? My Mag is coming in today and im going to run my little test in the city myself.
 

Vortex

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Vortex has anyone ever tested the RL VS Sti Mag, i mean a test like the one you did here? My Mag is coming in today and im going to run my little test in the city myself.
I'm sure it's been done, but I don't know off the top of my head. You could always search around or maybe someone else can chime in. Either way, if you've got both available, it'd be cool to see you test them as well. It's amazing how much you learn by testing. :)
 
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chasmanz28

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I'm sure it's been done, but I don't know off the top of my head. You could always search around or maybe someone else can chime in. Either way, if you've got both available, it'd be cool to see you test them as well. It's amazing how much you learn by testing. :)
Yeah im no expert like yourself, but it should be interesting how close they really are with the kind of conditions i see. I have three RD's. The RL, Max, and the MAG, but ill be more interested in the RL - MAG test.
 
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Vortex

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Yeah im no expert like yourself, but it should be interesting how close they really are with the kind of conditions i see.
I don't consider myself an expert either. I just goof around a lot and keep looking for new things to learn and discover and then share with all you guys. :)
 

chasmanz28

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I don't consider myself an expert either. I just goof around a lot and keep looking for new things to learn and discover and then share with all you guys. :)
Yeah but to me it looks professional.:thumbsup:
 

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