Escort Passport 9500ci vs. K40 Calibre
What's the best radar-laser-red light camera defense?
Last updated: 2015
Did You Know?
False alarms around town are the #1 consumer complaint about radar detectors.
The best detectors for city driving can eliminate these false alarms automatically. A few can also protect against red light and speed cameras.
Scroll to the right to see the four best-performing models.
Escort Passport 9500ix
Escort Passport Max2
Escort Passport 8500ci Plus
Escort Passport 9500ci
Did You Know?
For highway driving, long radar detection-range is crucial for avoiding tickets.
High performance doesn't come cheap, though. The most desirable models all cost over five C-notes.
Scroll to the right to see which ones perform the best.
Escort Redline XR
BEL STi Magnum
If you're looking for a custom-installed remote radar detector system--complete with laser jammers--the number of contenders is pretty small: three. That's the same number available at the time of my last remote test some years ago, and hardly an overabundance.
K40 had this rarefied segment to itself until Escort and Beltronics (BEL) joined the fray. Their current line-topping custom-installed remotes are the Escort Passport 9500ci and its electronic twin from a sister division, the BEL STiR Plus. Both are available with the test-winning Laser ShifterPro laser-jamming system. K40 offers the Calibre model with Defuser EX laser jammers that can also be linked to other K40 remote models.
The last K40 remote we tested, the K40 2000P, offered reasonable radar sensitivity (detection range) but wasn't a particularly good radar detector, particularly in light of its hefty price. We also found that its K40 Defuser laser jammer failed to jam any police laser guns. It did, however, overheat during testing and quit working.
The arrival of the Escort Passport 9500ci and its BEL clone, the BEL STiR Plus allowed an opportunity to see if K40's bold claims for the K40 Calibre and the new K40 Defuser EX would hold water. We were equally curious to see if the Escort Passport 9500ci and BEL STiR Plus could meet their manufacturer's claims for its new models. And not least, I hoped to learn why no one but K40 itself and a single manufacturer-sponsored shill have reviewed the Calibre, an anomaly almost without precedent in the radar detector industry.
To learn the truth about these high-end units, over a month-long period I field-tested both for performance and also logged 2,000 miles with each in a combination of city and highway driving. Here's what I found.
Escort Passport 9500ci
Escort Passport 9500ci radar antenna and laser-jamming transceivers mount in the grille area. Only tiny cockpit-mounted display and control modules are visible.
This Escort tops the lineup in remote models. (The Escort Passport 8500ci Plus offers fewer features, costs far less and has somewhat less performance.) The Escort Passport 9500ci is a departure from other remote systems since it uses GPS technology. It shares an electronic platform with the Escort RedlineXR, the best-performing windshield-mount model we've tested.
All operations are handled by a thumb-sized surface-mounted control unit. It's backlit, making the important buttons easy to find and use at night. The power switch is tough to find and tougher to operate. Fortunately, the system powers-up when the car is started and shuts off automatically as well.
A small LED display shows operating mode and other vital information. I mounted it on the lower edge of the instrument cluster, midway between the tach and speedo, making it easy to check at a glance. For an even lower-profile installation, a bi-color LED can be mounted in the instrument cluster, replacing the display. The K40 Caliber offers the same option although its LED is a single color.
Installing the Passport 9500CI in my car took eight hours. That included time spent fabricating and painting two mounting brackets for the front jammers, as the factory jobs were less than ideal for the miniscule mounting area offered by my mail box-sized Honda.
In contrast, it took 6.5 hours to install the K40 Calibre and its single front laser jammer, 45 minutes of that time spent diagnosing a bad connection. With no rear jammer and only one in front, fewer man-hours of labor were needed.
The Escort Passport 9500ci's quicker installation was partly due to its idiot-proof interface box adorned with labels such as "Rear Laser" and "Display." Another time-saver is Escort's use of modular connections, same as a landline telephone handset's. I've never seen one come loose or fail. Their unit also uses color-coded wires for the radar antenna, laser jammers, control/display unit, speaker, everything. If the installer isn't color blind, if he's sober and has an IQ higher than a tossed salad, he'll probably get it right the first time.
The Escort Passport 9500ci has self-diagnostic capability. Its text display shows error messages like "No rear shifter" or "Check receiver wiring" to pinpoint the problem. In contrast, isolating an installation issue in the Calibre meant laboriously checking each circuit with a multimeter before finally spotting a poorly-crimped connector.
The advantage of using GPS to limit false alarms was illustrated when we tested the Escort Passport 9500ci along with the Passport 9500ix and Valentine One: It hardly ever false-alarms. The Escort Passport 9500ci (also the Passport Max and Passport 9500ix) has a feature called Auto Learn. Drive three times past a roadside source of false alarms and the Escort Passport 9500ci automatically locks it out.
This use of GPS and some clever programming make the Escort Passport 9500ci the quietest remote radar detector we've tested. The Escort Passport 9500ci also warns of red light cameras and speed cameras. Its Defender camera database proved to be the most accurate and it can be updated online with a USB cord.
The GPS Advantage
I experienced no difficulty in testing the value of GPS in a radar detector. En route to a friend's place early on a Sunday, I was driving over familiar roads, nearly deserted at that hour. I was late and making up time. Suddenly the Escort barked an audible and visible warning: Red light camera ahead.
Gatso red light camera stands watch at a Phoenix intersection
I ignored it at first, knowing that the last time I'd driven this road, less than two months previously, there were no red light cameras anywhere along its 7-mile length. But the Escort Passport 9500ci continued to alert as it counted down the distance. At an indicated 600 feet, out of habit I scanned the intersection ahead. Bingo! There was a brand-spanking-new red light camera on the opposite side of the intersection, awaiting my arrival.
The city of Mesa, Arizona experienced a budget shortfall a few years ago and to swell city coffers, it dramatically expanded the network of red light cameras from 13 to 30--with many of them set to Speed-On-Green. With this unpublicized new capability added, each red light camera also serves as a 24-hours-per-day speed cop. And like other towns using cameras, Mesa's were generating far more speeding tickets than red light violations.
A brisk application of the brakes scrubbed off excess speed and I crossed the intersection without drama. My saving: $198. That should have been the end of the story. It wasn't.
Unbelievably, in less than a mile the identical situation occurred: Another new red light camera. This time I didn't wait to react. The instant the Escort 9500CI sounded a warning I slowed in reaction, saving myself from another $198 ticket.
Later, when I totaled the court costs, additional court-mandated kickbacks and so-called diversion fees, not to mention three years of insurance surcharges, the Escort Passport 9500ci had saved me nearly a grand and four points on my record. Had we been in nearby California, with its $400-plus camera tickets, the Escort Passport 9500ci would have paid for itself in this ten-minute period.
To download an updated location database you'll need to log-on to the Escort Web site and register, supplying serial number and key code and then download their Detector Tools application. Once that's installed on your hard drive you can download the revised database. The directions caution that the 9500ci must be attached to the computer before beginning the download.
There are three ways of accomplishing this, all requiring a USB cable to link computer to detector. One is to spend a day removing the complete system and carrying it inside next to your PC. Then it must be powered with an inverter, converting household 120-volt power to a vehicle's 12 volts. Another option is to link the car and PC with a 50-foot USB cable--as if you can find one. The third, most practical, is to use a laptop. Download the tools and new database, carry it to the vehicle and once the two are connected, you're in business.
Performance was easy to quantify. At both test locations it hammered the K40 and easily kept pace with or outperformed the Valentine One, making it the best-performing remote detector I've tested.
K40 trades heavily on the myth that a rear antenna is necessary to spot radar coming from behind. Yet the Escort Passport 9500ci outperformed it at both test sites using its forward-facing antenna--while driving away from the radar guns. For example, at the Straightaway Test Site the Escort Passport 9500ci detected the 34.7 (GHz) Ka-band radar coming from behind at 7,240 feet. The K40 Calibre, using its rear antenna, spotted it at 5,160 feet. At the Curve Test Site it was Escort Passport 9500ci: 1,655 feet, K40 Calibre (rear antenna): 867 feet.
The Escort laser jammer system worked equally well, jamming some of the guns down to point-blank range and doing almost as well against the rest. See the latest laser jammer test.
On the road, it's almost supernaturally quiet. On daily commutes it rarely goes off and is nearly as quiet on highway trips. In all, a remarkable performance from what may be the best radar detector in the custom-installed remote segment.
Get world-best radar and laser protection now with the Escort Passport 9500ci
Professional installation only
"...the Ferrari Enzo of radar detectors"
K40 calls the Calibre an "undetectable" radar detector. The words "stealthy" and "stealth" also appear prominently in promotional material and on the company Web site. True, it's immune to the 1990-vintage Technisonics Interceptor VG-2. But that was obsolete by the mid-nineties and it has rapidly been supplanted by the vastly superior, continually-updated Spectre (aka Stalcar) RDD detector detector. The Spectre RDD can sniff out the K40 Calibre at a considerable distance. But no matter, forget about advertising hyperbole and let's look at the product.
The K40 Calibre's major components look pretty much like those of the K40 2000P model. The radar antenna looks the same, but now has an extra module on one end to accommodate its Bluetooth gadgetry. There's no control/display unit (one's available as a no-cost option). Power, manual mute, audio volume and three operating modes, city, highway and mute, are controlled by a small wireless transmitter that measures about one-inch-square.
According to the installation instructions, the remote can be mounted using the supplied double-sided tape or left loose. I couldn't find a suitable, perfectly-flat mounting spot and left it in a cubby hole at the top of the center stack. The first time I went to change the audio volume, it had already disappeared. I later found it under the passenger seat.
Unlike most consumer electronics with remote controls, televisions for example, there are no backup controls. Without its remote the K40 Calibre is helpless. But permanently mounting it in an easily-reached spot can also make it visible to curious eyes.
Mode changes take awhile, averaging four seconds. Then it issues a voice or tone confirmation. Get it wrong and there will be another long pause to see if you've pressed the correct button. In comparison, I timed the mode changes in the Escort Passport 9500ci at 0.24 second.
I can live with the slow response. But not with the auto-mute strategy. The typical delay before most radar detectors automatically chop full-volume audible alerts is around five seconds. On the K40 Calibre it's 60 seconds.
That's a long time to be blasted by either an alert tone or a male voice shouting "Rear, Ka-band!" And I heard this particular radar alert often when driving in highway mode, as the K40 Calibre routinely issues Ka-band false alarms of phantom attacks coming from behind.
The alternatives are to hit the mute button on the remote or to place the unit in full-time mute mode. In this mode there are no audible alerts at all, only a flashing blue LED. On dual-antenna systems like my test unit, a second LED is furnished. With the K40 Defuser EX2 added to the system, the front and rear laser jammers also report via the same two LEDs.
These tiny LEDs can be mounted in a flat surface, the instrument cluster being a favorite spot. Or the K40 Calibre DL-P or SL-P versions can be ordered that supply two surface-mounted pods instead. These are about one inch in diameter and each has one LED.
It's worth noting that when the LED flashes, it's only warning that a microwave-frequency signal or a near-infrared laser light has been detected. But without the audible alerts there's no clue to what it's hearing. This gives the driver two choices: stand on the brakes each time or simply ignore the alerts. I suspect that many K40 owners may choose the latter.
There's no visual indication of the K40 Calibre's operating mode or volume level or whether it's set to voice or tone alerts. To gain that information you'll need to press a button on the remote to see which LED lights momentarily, then press the button again to change the setting. If it's in mute mode, only the LED will confirm a selection. This process can take up to 20 seconds.
K40's Web site and product literature appear to imply that Bluetooth eliminates the need for many of the dozens of thin wires used by its earler remote models, resulting in a faster installation. This will be of interest to new-car dealers and high-end 12-volt retailers who sell most of these custom-installed remotes, since labor is the bulk of their overhead.
The K40 Calibre radar receiver does employ Bluetooth technology, but only to transmit signals from radar antenna to the central interface. It still has wires that must be routed through the firewall to a central interface box inside the car. More wires link the system's other components. In total, I counted 21 wires while installing the kit, a number that would have gone up much higher had we chosen to install a rear laser jamming system. That's an improvement over older K40s but perhaps a bit short of the "unrivaled accomplishment" claimed by the ad copy.
And using Bluetooth isn't without risk. Owners of BMW M3 models, among others, discovered this almost immediately after the unit went on sale. They began complaining about dropped calls and low signal strength when using their vehicle's integrated Telematics Control Unit (TCU) system for connecting cellphones, PDAs and similar gear for hands-free operation.
According to a June 2006 BMW TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) the problem was traced to "Another Bluetooth enabled device is installed in the vehicle or is within close proximity to the vehicle. E.g. Calibre K40 (Bluetooth enabled) radar detector."
On the street I found the K40 Calibre to be a model of civilized behavior. In two days of driving about town it never issued a single false alarm. That made me curious. Any radar detector that's claimed to have high performance inevitably false-alarms. This one didn't.
En route to field-test the units I got one clue to what might be behind this unusual - if exemplary - behavior. When I switched to highway mode, the false alarms started, many of them caused by other radar detectors. As we began testing we found one reason for the lack of falses in town: The Calibre doesn't detect X-band radar in city mode, even from four feet away.
At the difficult Hill/Curve test site, this time in X-band highway mode it did somewhat better, scoring about half of the rival Escort Passport 9500ci's range. It scored reasonably well on K band and on 34.7 GHz Ka-band, delivering about 70 percent as much range as the Escort Passport 9500ci. But at this location it belatedly alerted to the most commonly used Ka-band radar frequency, 35.5 GHz, only after the radar had already locked-in a speed.
At the no-brainer Straightaway Test Site it again remained mute on X band city. In X band highway it eked out 2,619 feet of range, compared to the Escort Passport 9500ci's 28,204 feet. In contrast its K-band and 34.7 GHz Ka-band scores were excellent. However, it again wasn't enthusiastic about listening for 35.5 GHz radar, finally alerting when we'd closed to 3,965 feet, a few hundred feet before the radar spotted us and 4.6 miles after the Escort Passport 9500ci had sounded a warning.
K40 touts the advantage of using a rear radar antenna, so I tested that as well. Although it looks identical to the front antenna, the two performed quite a bit differently. At the Hill/Curve Test Site, detection range on X, K and 34.7 GHz Ka band were cut by 40 percent each, in comparison to the front antenna. At that site Ka 35.5 GHz detection range improved by 20 percent over the front antenna, to 829 feet, still too little to be of help except at parade speed.
At the Straightaway Test Site, in highway mode the rear antenna delivered 93 percent less range on X band, 41 percent less on K band and 79 percent less on 34.7 GHz Ka band. Just as at the Curve Test Site, the rear antenna was slightly better at spotting 35.5 GHz radar, by some 11 percent in this instance. The consistency of their respective performances would seem to suggest that the rear antenna has been detuned.
X band isn't a widespread threat these days, with only two states using X-band radar in any numbers. And I've noticed that most companies are lowering sensitivity on X band to limit urban false alarms. The Escort Passport 9500ci, for instance, reduces X-band sensitivity enough that at the Straightaway Test Site its range was 2,058 feet in city mode and 8,572 feet in Auto mode. The former number is barely adequate, the latter is more than enough, probably the reason behind Escort's recommendation to use Auto in town except in unusually noisy environments.
Laser Jammer Performance
K40 product literature says a single Defuser EX is adequate to protect an average-sized passenger car. Larger vehicles, with their greater mass, are better targets for lasers. For those K40 suggests adding a second K40 Defuser EX. Up to two jammers can be used for the rear of the car. Had I used two front and one rear K40 Defuser EX, emulating the standard Passport 9500ci configuration, it would have pushed up the K40 Calibre's price to a lofty $2,652.
The K40 Defuser EX is enclosed in the top of a polycarbonate license plate frame. This makes it easy to mount on a vehicle with a front license plate. But if there's no plate, the installer must fabricate a bracket and figure out where to mount the jammer.
Such a mounting position wouldn't be practical on most cars since you'd need to saw a hole in the bumper fascia to make room for the jammer--two holes if using dual jammers. Otherwise, the first time you got a little too friendly with the car ahead, they'd be smashed as flat as a Kleenex, assuming that some kid hadn't snatched them already or they'd been confiscated by a curious cop. (A laser jammer is illegal in some states, a criminal misdemeanor in a couple of those, reasons enough to hide it.)
Most laser ambushes occur at 700 feet or closer. But as distance increases, a laser receives less return signal and the jammer's job gets easier. At our 1,500-foot starting point, it's difficult just to see my Honda CRX target car, much less hit it with a laser beam barely 4.5 feet in diameter at that range.
The target car's dark color makes it a poor laser target, improving a jammer's effectiveness. To further assist the jammers, no front plate was used. Instead, I fabricated a clear plexiglas license plate-sized test fixture with horizontal adjustment to keep it perfectly level. To the top, using the car's license plate bolt holes, I mounted the K40 Defuser EX, having removed it from its molded plastic license plate frame. Detaching the K40 Defuser EX from the frame is a mounting option and I'd recommend it. Leaving it in the plate cover leaves it vulnerable to damage and it's too easy to spot it as a laser jammer. (Just make certain the installer doesn't put it behind plastic or something else it can't see through. I've seen a number of installations like this.)
We made multiple passes against each laser gun, aiming at different points on the car. We found that for the K40 Defuser EX to have an effect on lasers they must be aimed only at the front plate, i.e., at the jammer itself. If the point of aim is shifted even by two feet, to a headlight, all but one of our five laser guns could get a speed almost instantly. The Laser Atlanta Speed Laser found its mark the moment the point of aim was shifted to a headlight at 1,182 feet. In Stealth Mode, the same laser could nail the K40 Defuser EX-equipped target car almost from the moment it began rolling at the 1,500-foot mark.
The K40 Defuser EX performed similarly against the popular Kustom Signals Pro Laser III and had no appreciable effect on the new Kustom Signals Pro Lite laser when that gun was headlight-aimed. The widely-used LTI Ultralyte was equally unfazed by the K40 Defuser EX.
The only laser gun against which the K40 Defuser EX had a measurable effect was the first-generation Stalker, jamming it to an average of 422 feet. That's a useful reduction in target range but nowhere near the performance of the Escort system.
The results of our laser jammer test are the opposite of those displayed on K40's website. In a test paid for by K40 and using jammers supplied by the company, a contractor equipped a mid-sized target vehicle with double the number of jammers K40 claims are needed. The two jammers were installed alongside the front plate, leaving the rest of the target unprotected. To make their job easy, only the jammers themselves were targeted. Other areas of the vehicle and especially the headlights, a favorite target, were ignored.
A pseudo-test like this is far from realistic. In the real world, an officer holds down the trigger and transmits continuously until a speed is acquired. (Firing a speed laser in single shots is like firing an MG 42 machine gun, capable of firing 1,200 rounds per minute, as a single shot weapon--it gives any jammer an insurmountable advantage which, a skeptic might reasonably conclude, may have been the intention.)
And unlike in the K40 test, officers routinely shift their aim to a headlight if the first few tries at the front plate area don't get results. Another hint of impropriety: not only were the laser guns fired in single-shot mode, they were triggered briefly at only two extremely close distances--1,000 feet and 500 feet--where the jammers' effectiveness can be expected to be optimal. To further tilt the scales, if a speed didn't appear instantly K40's contractor claimed that the laser guns had been jammed.
In any event, the K40 laser jammers were incapable of protecting us against modern laser guns. Unfortunately, we noted no difference in the firm's latest jammer, the K40 Defuser G5, which performed similarly in our most recent laser jammer test.
I was hoping to like the K40 Calibre remote radar detector and was intrigued by the promise of wireless operation. Instead, I was disappointed to find that it has some major gaps in its performance envelope--zero X-band protection in City mode and ineffective laser jammers, among others. This, plus a litany of ergonomic miscues and missing features, dampened my enthusiasm for this hyper-expensive remote system.