Beltronics (BEL) 975, Escort SRX and Whistler DE3300 radar detectors reviewed
Which is the best built-in (remote) radar detector?
By Charles Bauer
Last updated: 2016
Discontinued models replaced by:
Escort Passport 9500ci
Escort Passport 8500ci Plus
Remote (built-in) radar detectors are a niche market, higher in price ($800 - $1,999) and too specialized to enjoy a wide following in a market where the typical detector sells for barely 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 the entry-level SR1 [now discontinued] 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.
Whistler DE 3300
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).
BEL Vector 975
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.
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 unnoticed.
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
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 holes.
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 stand-alone 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.
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.
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.
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 frequency of radar signals encountered.
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 enthusiast.
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