Last updated 4/4/2011
BEL STiR-Plus review
Escort 9500ci review
Escort Qi45 review
Decatur Genesis II Select Ka-band radar can target any of the vehicles ahead of the cruiser. This includes the distant Harley-Davidson. With its rear
antenna, it can track opposite-lane vehicles after they've passed by.|
Remote radar detectors are a niche market, higher in price ($400 - $1,600)
and too specialized in design to enjoy a wide following in a market
where the typical mass-market radar detector sells for barely over a hundred bucks.
But for those who feel the need for a built-in detector, highly
resistant to theft and, equally important, to official notice by
uniformed gents packing guns and badges, there's no substitute for
a quality remote model.
This has traditionally been a small market, usually consisting
of no more than three models from as many manufacturers. But competition
has been heating up of late and today the field is made up of several models.
One newer model remote is the Escort Passport SR7 that slots in between their entry-level
SR1 [now discontinued - Ed.] and the high-end Escort Passport SRX. This entry prompted us to take
another look at remote models and we gathered up all five of the
available candidates for a field test. They vary so widely in features,
performance and price that customers now have an exceptionally wide
choice. One thing to keep in mind is that a remote isn't a plug-n-play
device, it's delivered as a kit and three of the four manufacturers,
Whistler being the exception, insist on professional installation.
Having installed each of these on our test vehicle, we can say that
in some cases they're not exaggerating the difficulty.
Presented below, listed by price, low to high, here's what we found.
($350 retail, $275 street price)
Editor's note: The Whistler DE 3300 has been replaced by the Whistler DE 3450, identical save for a few new features.
The Whistler DE3300's considerable array of features allows it to be
extensively customized to the user's preferences. For example, there
are three separate sets of audio tones and a tutorial mode that
speeds the task of learning the audio alerts. There's also a trio
of City modes: City operates conventionally, raising the threshold
at which an X-band alert is sounded and helping to limit urban falses,
City 1 decreases X-band sensitivity to further reduce falsing and
City 2 disables that band completely.
The Whistler 3300 monitors the health of your vehicle's electrical system
with a digital voltage readout, giving early indication of a failing
alternator or battery. Even more useful, it also shows outside temperature
in your choice of centigrade or Fahrenheit and issues an audible
warning at freezing. With the optional rear radar antenna (SWRA-33,
$150) the Whistler indicates whether the threat is to the front
or rear. Combining the external speaker ($20) and Voice Box ($50)
creates a powerful remote speaker that supplies a real human voice
to identify threats, announce SWS messages and confirm feature selections.
This frees the driver from having to scan the display for information
and remain focused on the task of driving instead.
One unique feature designed to test the driver's alertness is
dubbed Stay Alert. Once engaged, it periodically delivers an audible
and visual alert and the driver must respond by pressing a button
within five seconds. Fail to react fast enough and the message Get
Rest is displayed, followed by an ear-splitting alarm. It's supremely irritating; I'd suggest using it only if you're seriously in
danger of nodding off.
The Whistler 3300's audio tones were commendably distinct and equal
to the Passports' as best-in-class. The text display denotes band
ID and signal strength with large alphanumeric characters and a
five-segment bar graph. It's wonderful in low light but the
pale green display washes out in the sun, making it a wise idea
to mount the unit where it's shielded from direct sunlight.
The Whistler turned in consistently superior performance, scoring
within a few feet of the leader in every test. It also ranked second-quietest
on the urban loop with only two falses. Unfortunately, like the
BEL its windshield-mounted module was unable to detect the laser's
narrow beam at our standard 1000-foot target range although it easily
spotted it from as far away as 3600 feet, a distance at which the
greater beam width made it easier to detect. Trouble is, the typical laser attack takes place at distances under 1,000 feet.
Those caveats aside, we found the Whistler 3300 a very pleasant
driving companion, definitely worth considering if you're
shopping for a sensitive, full-featured remote that's also the industry's
least-expensive (unlike the others, this one and its accessories
are available at very attractive discounts).
Beltronics (BEL) Vector LR Remote
($600 retail, $400 street)
The BEL remote (model 975R) occupies the middle ground in price
and its compact control module--smallest of the bunch--gives
it an edge in fitting tight cockpits. For those who demand the ultimate
in low-profile operation it can also be built-in to the dash. (With some artful sculpting and a fair bit of installation expertise.
Otherwise we'd take a pass on the in-dash escutcheon.)
The bite-sized packaging does entail some compromises. For example,
its four front-mounted switches are small and closely spaced, making
them hard to find at speed or at night. Its status indicators--pale
green and amber--proved extremely hard to see in sunlight although the
four red signal-strength LEDs were always legible. Fortunately,
the control module weighs only 1.6 ounces, allowing us to mount
it under-dash using Velcro, shielding it from both sunlight and
inquisitive eyes. Audio alerts were less distinctive than those
of the Escort Passport SR7, Escort Passport SRX or Whistler 3300 (although they're far better than the
K40's) but arrive with an ear-shattering
96 dB of authority, making it a good choice for noisy vehicles.
The BEL 975R offers a full complement of features including auto
mute, an abbreviated power-up self-test sequence, three-step dim/dark
mode and memory for preferred user settings. It also has user-selectable
features: auto mute, SWS and selectable band defeat. The latter
permits the disabling of X or K bands for drivers who live in areas
where one or another of those frequencies isn't used. To further
limit false alarms the unit can be set to monitor one or more of
four specific Ka-band frequencies while ignoring everything else.
We liked this feature, finding that we could disable 34.36 Gigahertz,
used only by European photo radar, and instruct the BEL to listen
only for the three US-spec Ka frequencies. This served to eliminate
many of the sources of false alarms common to the ultra-wide Ka
band, keeping things much quieter in the process.
Like its forebears, the Vector LR Remote weighed in with excellent
radar performance, scoring within feet of the leader on two of the
three radar bands and lagging only slightly behind on the third
band. On the urban loop the BEL barked three false alarms, an acceptable
if unexceptional number. Its laser detection range was good
but like other remotes whose laser detection modules mount high
on the windshield, laser attacks at close range frequently went entirely
That aside, with its superior sensitivity and good overall utility
we'd call the BEL a good choice for performance-minded shoppers.
Escort Passport SR-7
$1,099 (now discontinued)
Escort's entry-level remote model is essentially an SRX
that does without a few standard features. Unlike its big brother,
the SR7 comes without the twin laser shifters, resulting in a significant
reduction in price, although it does have two detection-only modules,
one each in front and rear. But those who won't leave home without
active laser countermeasures will be pleased to learn that Escort Passport's
ZR3 laser shifter package--twin front and single rear laser
receiver/transmittters--simply plugs-in to the system.
Also optional are the SRX's powered remote speaker, a good idea
for noisy cockpits and top-down convertibles, and dual-color LED
that can be built-in to the dash. This allows the control/display
unit to be tucked away out of sight while continuing to deliver
visual status and alert information. Coupled with the remote speaker,
this option can make the system so difficult to spot that you'd
almost have to know it's there to be able to detect it.
Instead of twin laser jammers that have combined detection and
laser-jamming capabilities, the SR7 makes do with front and rear
laser-detection modules that simply bolt to the license plate mounting
Like the Escort Passport SRX, the new Escort Passport SR7 remote radar detector is a paragon of simple operation
and also proved the faster of the two to install, a one-hour process
compared to three-plus for the more complex SRX and three hours each
for the BEL and Whistler. Credit that to careful attention to detail.
For example, the two Escorts are the only models to use a
junction box and flat cables with telephone-style RJ-7 connectors,
eliminating loose connections and speeding the installation.
The Escort Passport SR7's front radar antenna was a snap to install although the mile-long laser receiver cable was a nuisance to install and
find space to stow the extra wire in the cockpit. The standalone
front laser receiver was the only one other than the Escort Passport SRX's
that proved truly effective in spotting lasers.
The red text display, like that of the Escort Passport SRX, was the class of the
field and the only one to be very impervious to direct sunlight. And
the thumbwheel switch for power and audio volume is far faster and
simpler to operate than the multi-function switches of the others.
The only additional controls are a pair of front-mounted momentary-on
switches for mode selection and muting. They're cleverly positioned
to allow them to be depressed together with one finger to enter
programming mode, the easiest and most intuitive method I've
seen. Also standard is a remote muting switch that can be mounted
anywhere within convenient reach. One tap and the audio alerts are
silenced for the duration of the encounter.
The Escort Passport SR7's extensive menu of user-programmable options allows a
high degree of customization.
Another unique feature certain to impress the serious road warrior
is the ExpertMeter which tracks up to eight simultaneous radar threats,
displaying the frequency and signal strength of each. Of even greater
importance, at least to high-value targets, is Spec Display.
This will digitally display the exact frequency of radar signals,
invaluable information to the knowledgeable.
In performance the Escort Passport SR7 is virtually indistinguishable from the
SRX. Sensitivity was the best I've
seen from a remote detector. At our Straightaway/Hills
test site, for example, the SR7 delivered an additional 9,395 feet
of range on K band and an extra 15,894 feet on Ka band over the
SRX, only a few feet shy of 7.6 miles versus the SRX's 4.6 miles. (I have no idea why; the two are electronic twins.)
I was impressed by the Passport's superb audio, its informative
and easily interpreted visual alerts and not least, by its uniformly
excellent performance. Like the Escort Passport SRX, the new Escort Passport SR7 was the class
of the field in radar and laser detection and it sets a new standard
in straightforward, intuitive operation. If you can't afford an Escort Passport
SRX, I'd advise giving this one a close look.
Escort Passport SRX
At first glance this Passport remote appears identical to
the Passport SR7, understandable since it shares the latter's control/display
unit, interface box and rear laser antenna housing. And while
it's true they both detect radar and lasers, the Escort Passport SRX has a special
capability that's certain to please drivers pestered by laser attacks:
it has built-in laser jammers.
Escort doesn't use the J word, instead calling them "shifters",
possibly because their function is to shift the return lidar beam
in a direction other than where the laser gun designers had in mind.
Directly into the pavement, for example, rather than back to the
laser gun. (The unit is shipped with laser detection engaged but
shifters deactivated, making them a menu-selectable option.)
The Escort Passport SRX incorporates a trio of detector/shifter (transceiver)
modules, two grille-mounted, the third affixed to the rear license
plate. Using a single module at each end of the vehicle would have
been a cheaper solution and taking an approach like that of the
K40 Defuser Plus jammer--a one-piece polycarbonate license plate
frame with integral transceiver--would have made the SRX far simpler
to install. But my tests of single-transceiver systems reveal a
common--and potentially very embarrassing--weakness: If the officer
shifts his aim from the front plate, the preferred target, to a
headlight, bumper or grille area, the jammer simply doesn't have
enough power to defeat the laser. The only approach capable of delivering
failsafe protection is to use two modules, one mounted midway between
plate and headlight on each side, providing total coverage.
And having tested the Escort Passport SRX laser shifters extensively, installed on both
cars, trucks and SUVs, I can attest to their effectiveness in most situations. Pitted
against all five of the most popular models of police laser gun,
the Escort Passport SRX executed its laser-shifting duties efficiently enough that few
had any clue that our target vehicles were in the neighborhood. In nearly every
test, the laser's target-speed display remained blank from the
1,250-foot limit of our test site down to our 450-foot threshold--sometimes
to point-blank range--a fairly good feat of electronic wizardry. (The upmarket Escort Passport 9500ci uses the newer ZR4 laser shifters which my tests show are more effective.)
I also noted that the dual-transceiver design dramatically increases
this detector's laser field of view, the crucial ability to detect
off-axis laser beams. At our standard 1,000-foot FOV test range,
we measured the SRX's field of view at an average of 118 inches
from the vehicle centerline, almost triple that of the second-best
unit and the best performance we've ever recorded.
In addition to offering all of the Escort Passport SR-7 features, this one also
comes with Spec Display and will show the exact frequency of each
radar signal encountered.
Also standard are selectable band defeat, also found on the Beltronics (BEL) 975R, and a remote mute/volume control. It can remotely adjust the
audio volume and, if tapped twice while the laser shifters are transmitting,
it will silence them. (After checking your speed in response to
a laser attack, we'd recommend doing so to prevent the officer from
taking a heightened interest in your inexplicably invisible vehicle.)
Optional is a powered remote speaker with voice alerts that's so
powerful I could hear it clearly in a top-down Camaro SS convertible
at 90 mph.
Blessed with this tantalizing combination of features and unique
capabilities, I'd hesitate to call the new Escort Passport SRX
a radar/laser detector. More accurately it's an integrated radar/laser
protection system and an effective tool for the driving
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