Best Radar Detector Under $179
Review: BEL Vector 955, Cobra XRS 9955 and Whistler Pro 78SE
by Charles Bauer
Last updated 2015
|Drive Ticket-Free with a BEL Pro 200|
In the radar detector industry, a 20 percent improvement in sensitivity (radar detection range) will generate a major buzz around the office water cooler. When a carryover model delivers twice the range it has shown in one of our previous tests, that's page one news.
Last year Cobra's range-topping XRS 9950 dash-mount model was inexplicably struck blind by three of the four radars we tested against. Yet its electronic twin, the XRS 9940, turned in a stellar performance in the same test. A mechanical mishap, no question, but that's the luck of the draw. [In a later test, a second Cobra XRS 9950 performed admirably. -Ed.]
One year later the Cobra XRS 9950's successor, the XRS 9955 -- same platform, nearly identical features -- turned in outstanding scores. In fact, the Cobra and two competing carryover models recently reviewed each registered gains in excess of 100 percent against one or more of our radars.
BEL (Beltronics) Pro 100
That's a significant achievement for Cobra and Whistler. Not to be left out, the BEL (Beltronics) Vector 955, which of late has dominated this segment in performance, showed evidence of further refinement against the sole radar frequency where it wasn't already the front runner.
The trend is clear: After perennially trailing high-end models like the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 300, Escort Passport 8500 X50 and Escort Passport 9500ix, mass-marketers Cobra and Whistler continue trying to whittle away at the performance gap. Along with two BEL (Beltronics) Pro Series models, each manufacturer now has one or more models consistently showing 70 to 80 percent -- at least when conditions are ideal -- of the range of the big dogs, and this at attractively lower prices.
In particular, the Cobra XRS 9955 and the Whistler Pro 78SE demonstrated significantly amped-up performance compared to their predecessors, the Cobra XRS 9950 and Whistler Pro 78. Bargain shoppers can rejoice in the fact that since each detector shares a platform with companion models (differing only in features and price), the enhanced performance comes in a variety of packages. Here's a look at these new models and their test scores.
The perennial front runner in this price class, the discontinued BEL Vector 955 was replaced by the BEL Pro 100. Although the Pro 100 has a new housing and a different feature set, it's a near twin of its forebear in performance.
In the Curve/Hill Test the V955 led the pack against three of the four radars and effectively tied with the Whistler Pro 78SE for first place honors against the remaining radar frequency.
Cobra XRS 9955
At the Straightaway Test it detected all four radar frequencies at 5.7 miles, the maximum distance. The BEL Vector 955 again displayed class-leading performance against all of the common radar threats.
Keep in mind that the latter test site is a no-brainer, a perfectly flat desert road with no obstructions to block the radar signal. In more typical terrain, that stellar range drops considerably. For that reason we'd suggest taking heed of the Hill/Curve test scores which, while a worst-case situation, is more reflective of how these low-priced radar detectors can be expected to perform in less-than-perfect conditions. Learn more about the BEL Pro 100
The Cobra XRS 9955 and XRS 9960 ($290 street price) are the same unit; the latter comes with a GPS antenna that plugs in to a USB port on the left side of the housing. This created some head-scratching when I unpacked the box, as both bear the same XRS 9955 label. The presence of the GPS module packed inside is the difference.
The module itself is a bit problematic. This design was used in order to avoid infringing on GPS technology owned by Escort. Korean manufacturer BG Tech, Cobra's source for radar detectors, was forced to mount the GPS antenna externally. And it tends to fall off when the detector is handled. But that's another story.
The Cobra XRS 9955 scored within a few hundred feet of the leaders in every test save for X-band, for which it showed less enthusiasm in detecting. But for those unconcerned about X band, admittedly a fast-fading threat in most states, the XRS 9955 has performance to spare. Learn more...
I've tested the Whistler Pro 78SE's predecessor, the Whistler Pro 78 ($189) and while the two appear identical, the new guy's performance is substantially better.
Whistler Pro 78SE
The Whistler Pro 78SE's LED display is blue while the Whistler XTR-690SE's is red. (The XTR-695SE's display is multicolor, enabling the user to assign one of several hues to each radar band and laser, helping to ID them.)
Most notable about the Whistler Pro 78SE's performance is its consistency on Ka band, the most-used band by highway patrols nationwide. At the fiendishly difficult Curve/Hill Test site it's the first to equal the BEL (Beltronics) Vector 955 in range on 34.7 GHz Ka-band. It scored nearly as well on 35.5 GHz Ka-band. At the maximum-range Straightaway Site the two were dead equal save for on city-mode X band.
For those who expect to encounter that oldest of radar frequencies, the Whistler Pro 78SE had the best all-around X-band detection range of the group. For this reason it would be the better choice when driving in Ohio or New Jersey, the only remaining states where X band is still commonly found.
Unlike with the BEL, the Whistler Pro 78SE and its siblings, the Whistler XTR-690SE and XTR-695SE, has additional filters for city driving. These allow some fine-tuning to further reduce urban false alarms, most of them caused by X- and K-band automatic door openers. The difference in behavior isn't huge, but in extra-noisy cities it can sometimes be an edge.