If there's a subject that generates an instant argument among diehard radar detector mavens it's this question: What's the best radar detector? To the knowledgeable, there's a litany of qualities that defines the word best, but the one that generally seems to garner the most attention is detection range, the distance at which a radar detector can ferret out police radar. According to its fans, the Valentine One is the world's best radar detector.
Naturally we were curious to see if the Escort Redline can outperform the Valentine One. But we took our time in making a determination. New models frequently have teething issues that are addressed during the early production run. So after an initial test with a factory-supplied
early-production unit, we logged 3,900 miles with that and a second one later acquired anonymously at retail. We acquired a third Escort Redline and field-tested the latter two in parallel. Go directly to Test Results
In all, our test and review of the contestants—two Escort Redlines and a pair of Valentine One radar detectors—took place on four occasions over a nine-month period. Of the
Valentine One units, one was a 2006 model that we'd had upgraded to software Rev. 3.864 prior to testing; the other had Rev 3.872
Escort unabashedly markets the Redline as the ultimate defense against police radar, a lofty mission statement. And its fresh design with the latest in technology certainly doesn't hurt its chances. Our previous comparison tests proved that in performance, the Valentine One has powerful competition from the feature-laden and GPS-enabled Escort Passport Max, which is the best protection you can get from red light and speed cameras. In other reviews and comparisons with the Escort Passport 9500ix, Escort Passport 8500 X50, BEL (Beltronics) STi Magnum and the first-gen Escort Passport 8500, the 1991-vintage V1 is showing its age. It has received a few updates since our first test in 1992—laser detection in the mid-nineties and a revised circuit board in 2007—but it offers few of the features found on modern designs. But there's no question that it's an extremely sensitive unit. To stake its claim as the world's long-range champion, the Redline would need to show us something special.
Features and Attributes
Sometimes it's what's missing from a radar detector that is most telling about its intended mission in life. For example, the Redline's matte
black housing lacks any stylish chrome trim or switchgear. The upper case has no eye-catching graphics at all, just a small Escort logo and the Redline model name displayed in muted hues of gray and dark red, respectively.
There's more; or perhaps more accurately, less to see. Rather than a trendy OLED display (looks like a miniature 3D color TV screen) used by some models, this Escort makes do with a conventional high-resolution, red dot-matrix display. There's no GPS feature; it can't warn in advance
of red light or speed cameras unlike its sibling, the Escort Passport 9500ix. And the directionally-challenged will have to remain lost: there's no digital compass in the Redline to assist the confused.
It's likely that none of this is coincidental. The chrome-free, matte-black housing is highly resistant to reflecting sunlight and generates hardly any windshield glare. (This is also an attribute of the Valentine One that we've always appreciated.) The red text display is recessed into the case and shielded from the sun, allowing it to be read under any lighting conditions. Display brightness is multi-step adjustable or it will do the job automatically. It can also be set for stealthy nighttime running with only a discrete status light showing. In contrast, to conceal the considerable glow from the Valentine One's directional arrows, an optional concealed display ($39) is required.
Controls are minimalist: a trio of buttons arrayed horizontally along the edge of the thin lower case lip. This positioning allows the use of a thumb and forefinger, steadying the unit while squeezing gently to activate a switch. In contrast, vertically-positioned buttons must be pushed, not a particularly difficult task on home stereo gear. But it's not always the ultimate solution for operating a device that's dangling from suction cups an arm's length away on the windshield, a task sometimes performed in total darkness at high speed.
Escort Redline has dual front antennas to optimize radar detection range. Even without a rear-facing antenna, it spotted radar behind us from up to four miles away.
The Redline's buttons are widely spaced and differently shaped, making them easy to ID by location and touch alone. Mode changes are quick,
averaging 0.21 second. Changing one of the user-selectable menu items is fast as well. After a couple of tries, deactivating a radar band takes about 15 seconds, for instance.
With guidance via voice and confirmation tones, this can be done without having to take your eyes off the road.
The Valentine One, in comparison, has one rotary multi-function switch to handle everything. Mode changes take 10 times longer, averaging 2.1
seconds, a noticeable delay if you're moving fast and otherwise engaged in the task of driving. And there's no auto mute, no user-selectable preferences, no multi-step display brightness—there's one-step auto dimming only—or alternate visual displays, for instance.
One Redline display option is vehicle voltage, something we've long dismissed as mostly marketing hype. But due to a friend's experience—a recovering V1 Zombie at that—we're forced to admit that voltage-display mode can be useful.
Here's what happened. My friend called to say that a warning light on the dash of his BMW 540i Sport suggested an alternator failure and the battery's charge-indicator was black, denoting a discharged condition. The BMW dealer was some 35 minutes' drive away. He wanted an opinion: If he could get it jump-started, would it run long enough to reach his dealer?
With no other data and from 2,000 miles away, a quick consultation with some Tarot cards would be equally as useful as a diagnosis over the phone. I suggested that he buy a multimeter and check battery voltage and alternator output, and then returned to work.
Ten minutes later, another call: "Engine-off, battery voltage is 12.2 and with the engine running, it's 11.25," he chirped. Definitely a charging problem. But how had he grabbed these numbers, I inquired. "No-brainer," he said. "I plugged-in my Redline and read the voltage display." Thus the change of heart on the voltage display feature.
Valentine stalwarts, including my friend with the BMW, swear that they're unconcerned about a minimalist feature set, saying that any lack is more
than compensated for by the V1's extreme sensitivity. Perhaps, but despite his continued public tub-thumping for the Valentine One, I've noticed that his V1 sits in the closet lately, replaced in the BMW by either a BEL (Beltronics) STi Magnum or an Escort Redline.
Study these features and the initial price gap between the $399 Valentine One and the $499 Escort Redline evaporates. When the V1 is equipped with options that are standard equipment on the Redline, it's actually more expensive. The carrying case ($29), concealed display ($39) and the $49 remote audio adapter (an earphone audio output jack) bring the Valentine One's tariff to $516. But price is less of an issue than performance in this market segment.
On the road, the Redline was noticeably more resistant to false alarms than the V1. With the Redline in unfiltered, maximum-sensitivity highway
mode and the Valentine One in all-bogeys mode, the Escort issued, on average, one false alarm for every four uttered by the Valentine One.
We also found the Escort Redline much better at helping the driver to react appropriately to alerts. With Spec Display—and inside tips from our exclusive Escort Redline Performance Tips, provided free with every Redline we sell—
it's possible to tell at a glance if a Ka-band alert is really police radar. Particularly in urban areas, there's at least a 50/50 chance that a Ka alert is nothing to worry about. A visual indication saves wear and tear on brakes and tires, not to mention peace of mind.
That false-alarm gap widened further in town, when the Redline was set to Auto NoX mode, a task accomplished with two brief button-presses, and
with the Valentine One set to L (advanced logic or maximum-filtered, mode). In city centers, where radar-operated automatic door openers abound, the V1 incessantly alerted on X and K bands. (In a later test we compared the V1 to the Escort Redline and three GPS-enabled models with some eye-opening results.)
There is one other method of quelling false alarms: the Redline is compatible with Escort Live, the clever smartphone-Internet-based real-time ticket-prevention system. Escort Live lends the advantages of GPS to the Redline, allowing users to lock out nuisance signals and cut false alarms dramatically.
To cut down on bogus alerts we'd have liked to have disabled the Valentine One's X-band detection, safe to do since we haven't seen X-band around these parts
in 13 years. But the Valentine One manual makes no mention of how to disable X band. Do some searching, though, and buried on the Valentine Web
site there's a page of instructions on how to accomplish this, along with several more paragraphs devoted to how to effect K-band auto muting. But we
were hampered by the lack of the necessary laptop with Internet access and really couldn't spare the required 10 minutes anyway. We were driving solo at the
time while taking notes, so prudence dictated that the Valentine One be left as it was shipped from the factory.
The Test Program
We conducted five series of tests on these two contenders. First we measured maximum range on an unlimited-range test course. Next, on an empty two-lane state highway we set up a common radar trap, hiding the radar vehicle over the crest of a hill where it picked off targets as they popped
into view about 800 feet away. Later we returned to our standard around-the-curve test site that replicates another common—and worst-case—speed trap scenario. We also tested their ability to spot radar coming from behind. And last, we measured their talent at sniffing out photo radar.
How We Tested Them
Testing for maximum range isn't easy. In fact, in most areas of the country it's impossible. The longest straight stretch of road we found in New England was 0.4 mile, one reason, as I told writer Eric Sofge in a recent interview with MSN.com, that static speed traps remain far more common east of the Mississippi: moving radar simply doesn't work well there. In the Midwest, a straight stretch may reach perhaps one mile at most. Nor are there many suitable areas out west. We evaluated the Bonneville Salt Flats as a
possible testing venue. But the longest publicly-accessible portion of Bonneville is barely nine miles long. And after our 2007 test of the
Valentine One versus the BEL (Beltronics) STi Magnum, we knew we'd need more than 12 miles of running room.
After some weeks spent poking about the desert southwest, ranging as far west as California and north into Nevada, evaluating possible sites, we
found what we were looking for. It's an almost perfectly level two-lane highway that runs die-straight for 14.27 miles. We verified that it's about as flat as
nature will allow, using both vehicular and hand-held GPS units to measure and record elevations at 1,000-foot intervals along its entire length. Then we
compared these data to those of Google Earth (we found that Google is somewhat less accurate).
We noted a 240-foot difference in elevation from the beginning of the course to the end. There were three tiny rises along its length averaging 27 feet in
height, only two of which were deemed significant enough that the Arizona DOT was motivated to slap down brief no-passing zones. But since microwave
radar detection is line-of-sight, to no one's surprise, these mini-hills blocked just enough of the radar signal to affect detection range.
We parked the radar vehicle on the crest of the tiny hill that marked the terminus of the course, some 14.2 miles from the staging area for our target vehicle, a Volkswagen CC Sport. As is always the case when we're testing, our marked police vehicle's dark monochromatic color and lack of a light bar elicited hardly any
notice by detector-less drivers until they'd closed to within a few hundred feet. But by that time their speed had been clocked by the radar for at least
1,200 feet, sometimes far longer (we were reading 18-wheelers at well beyond one mile). The surprise of seeing a police vehicle was accompanied by the
target-speed tumbling as they belatedly spiked the brakes.
Those packing radar detectors were uniform in their behavior, however; nearly all were at or below the speed limit as they approached. (The few
exceptions most likely were driving with detectors that false-alarm so frequently they had to visually confirm the radar car before finally trust in the alert and reacting. This is why the Escort Passport Max, best in performance among the GPS-enabled radar detectors, along with a select few other non-GPS premium models offer far superior protection: they seldom false-alarm.)
At each test site we tested two Valentine Ones and both of the Escort Redlines. The pairs performed almost identically but to be fair, we averaged the scores for each model.
The Valentine One has always excelled at detecting X-band radar. That doesn't have quite the cachet it once did; you can expect to
routinely encounter X-band radar in only two states today. And one of those has nearly replaced all of its X-band units with Ka-band.
It didn't take long to separate puffery from fact. The Escort Redline equaled the Valentine One on X-band sensitivity, spotting it from the maximum distance. On K band, the Redline gave an initial alert at 11.73 miles, one-half mile before the Valentine One. More important, it began alerting continuously at 7.15 miles, two miles earlier than the V1.
There was a much smaller performance gap on the commonly-used 34.7 GHz Ka-band radar frequency. The Escort Redline alerted at 14.17
miles—the maximum allowed by this test site—and continued to alert all the way to the radar gun. The Valentine One showed equally stellar performance, alerting at 13.52 miles and also continuing to alert right up to the source.
We noted a significant variance on the other most commonly used Ka-band frequency, 35.5 GHz. The Escort Redline spotted it from the staging area before the target car began rolling. In contrast, there was a three-mile wait before the Valentine One first chirped an alert. We also noted that the Redline alerted at a signal strength level of 3 or greater over nearly the entire 14-mile distance, with a few momentary gaps when the road dipped below line-of-sight. It began alerting continuously from over seven miles away.
The Valentine One behaved differently on this frequency. After an initial five-second alert at 11.27 miles and four equally brief and weak,
signal-strength-1 alerts over the next two miles, it then remained silent until coming into line-of-sight of the radar at less than five miles of range.
Regardless of some hiccups, for both detectors all of these numbers are superb. Testing two overachievers like these is like evaluating F1 drivers. Fewer than two dozen people on the planet are front-rank and even the back-markers have world-class talent.
At our next venue, the over-the-hill test, we noted similar performance: The Escort Redline had parity on X- and K-band with the Valentine One, with the V1 trailing marginally on 34.7 GHz Ka-band. But the Valentine was reluctant to spot the hidden 35.5 GHz Kustom Signals Directional Golden Eagle radar, finally alerting at 1,432 feet. This gave the driver about 600 feet in which to react, not a lot when you're covering 120 feet per second. In contrast, the Escort Redline delivered 3,244 feet of detection range against this radar, 226 percent of the range of the Valentine One.
The two units' relative performance remained consistent at the around-the-curve test. They were nearly dead equal on X band with the Valentine One trailing the Escort Redline by about 5 percent on K- and 34.7 GHz Ka-band. The gap again widened on 35.5 GHz Ka-band. Surprisingly, the older Valentine One performed slightly better than the latest model against 35.5 GHz radar.
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There's one test the Valentine One always dominates: rear radar-detection range. Its rear-facing extra antenna sees to that. But the Redline also has a second antenna. This one faces forward and is used for X-band detection. Its other antenna looks for K- and Ka-band signals. By separating these tasks it eases the microprocessor's workload and improves performance on all three bands.
Judging from the results, the second antenna and a hard-working little microchip have gone far toward catching up to the V1 in spotting radar coming from behind. As expected, the Valentine One was the clear winner on X band, delivering 2.1 miles of range to the Redline's 1.4 miles. The gap narrowed on K- and 34.7 GHz Ka-band and nearly disappeared on 35.5 GHz Ka-band.
This test was conducted on a desolate stretch of Interstate 10 southeast of Phoenix. There were no roadside structures to reflect the signal into the Redline's antenna but a modestly-sized road sign or another vehicle is always enough to do the job.
It's worth noting that radar from behind is largely a non-issue, a subject well documented in Radar from Behind: The Real Story. Although some radar models offer Same Lane mode and can read targets traveling in the same direction as
the rolling cruiser, the feature is only effective at fairly short range and then only in the near absence of other traffic. This makes detecting radar to the rear more of a novelty than a useful feature.
With all of its limitations, this type of radar can easily be spotted by a
failsafe, non-electronic countermeasure: the human eye. But those who can't be bothered to monitor their mirrors need more help than a radar detector
Photo Radar Test
The last test measured the contenders' ability to defend against photo radar. This stuff is proliferating like the swine flu and cash-starved municipalities are lining up to deploy their own roving cash generators. So we used some of the Phoenix area's unlimited supply of photo radar vans for our own tests. These are extremely tough to detect—many detectors won't alert until you're abreast of one and under some conditions, even some high-end models won't spot them at all.
The Escort Redline led the Valentine One in detecting both the K-band Redflex photo radar and the Ka-band used by American Traffic Solutions
(ATS). The margin wasn't huge, less than 125 feet in each case, although at freeway speeds the extra time to react can make a difference.
Nine months' worth of testing revealed some truths about the Escort Redline. It can equal the Valentine One on X band and has a slim performance
edge on K and 34.7 Ka bands. But it's significantly better at spotting the most commonly used Ka band—35.5 GHz—particularly when the radar beam is off-axis.
Beyond that it remains up to individual preferences to decide which radar detector gets the nod. The Valentine One is a classic design that still
delivers commendable performance against most types of radar. The Escort Redline is a state-of-the-art radar detector whose high performance and unique features give the serious road warrior a demonstrable edge in combating police radar. And it likely doesn't hurt that the Escort Redline has the longest range of any radar detector we've tested in the past 23 years.