Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Escort Passport 9500i AutoSensitivity Mode Beats a Tylenol

It's just what the doctor ordered.

No, I am not talking about an aspirin, I am talking about Escort's innovative new speed-sensitive sensitivity mode that has premiered with the Passport 9500i.

Maybe, its just me - perhaps, in my later years, I am going soft. I find myself driving automatics more than I am driving stick. I am favoring 'luxury' cars more than hot sports cars at the rental counter. I am listening more to Rachmaninoff than Rush.

...Or, maybe it's the world around me - I find myself among more strip malls, more stop lights, more traffic jams, more SUVs with distracting TV screens in front of me, more drivers on cel phones, more automated door openers.

Either way, I am finding driving more stressful around town than I remember 26 years ago when I first started tooling around with my very first (the original) Escort radar detector. Back in the day, things were simpler - only X & K radar to worry about and in steady-state mode; Instant-on (technically called RF Hold), while available, wasn't readily deployed. And the occasional door openers that were found operated strictly on X-band.

Enough romanticizing about the past, we live in a different world today...Which brings me to the Escort Passport 9500i and headache relief.

For those of you who have read The Ultimate Radar Detector Review 2005, you know that I continue to use the Valentine 1 as our reference radar detector. Its consistently stellar detection performance across all police RADAR and police LIDAR signals justifies it place at the top of the radar detector hierarchy.

However, all the extreme sensitivity and philosophical tendencies to report all X & K signals - a strong asset on the open-highways - can quickly become a liability when driving in more densely populated areas around town. This is not the fault of the V1. If anyone is to blame, its the FCC which allows for all those automated door openers to operate on both X & K-band. If you want to know how many door openers and their approximate locations within any given strip mall, the V1 is the most capable radar detector for doing so.

These 'falses' aren't really falses at all. They are bona fide radar sources. They just happen not to be police radar sources.

Radar detector manufacturers have had to deal with this dilemma for some time...and I would imagine it is one of the most challenging things a high-end radar detector must do - provide extreme sensitivity to legitimate radar threats while at the same time rejecting/not reporting every signal which they receive. It's a complex task of signal processing that takes place to help make that determination and it happens in a milliseconds time. Both Beltronics and Escort have arguably the most advanced 'filtering' algorithms of all radar detectors - manifested in the Passport 8500 X50, Beltronics STI-Driver, and Beltronics RX-65 Pro detectors.

This dilemma is not entirely unlike the one that tire manufacturers have to constantly struggle with in their design of high performance all-season tires which need to provide stellar adhesion in the dry and wet, while at the same time maximizing traction in the winter (by balancing two opposing means of doing so).

Escort has devised an even more elegant and effective solution to addressing this long-standing conundrum. By dialing back the 'sensitivity' automatically when your vehicle is traveling at a sedate pace that is common on todays crowded secondary roads, Escort enables its owner to have the best of both worlds automatically - extreme performance when you need it on the highways and a less performance when you don't. In the latter case, less is more.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand.
Emerging from central Florida into the more populated and congested south west coast, the V1 quickly became tiring as did the 9500i to a lesser extent. To quiet down the 9500i, all I had to do was push one button and 'voila' the detector went into its speed-sensitive AutoSensitivity mode. When sitting at long traffic lights in a traffic between two shopping centers, I had to repeatedly reach towards the windshield to hit the manual mute button on the V1. This didn't always work out since the detector would identify additional radar sources (up to a displayed count 9) which would require additional muting. It gets old very quickly, I must say. Most of the time I simply unplug the unit in those cases - you long-time V1 owners probably know what I am talking about.

With the 9500i, all I hit was one button and only once. Sweet.

When I was approaching the cape I was stuck in traffic on the bridge. The V1 rightly alerted to a weak K-band source that was ahead. It turned out the a patrol vehicle was on the center median facing perpendicular (north) to my west-bound approach around and to the left on the road. The Passport 9500i was silent. Aaaah, relief - the sound of silence. When switching the detector back to highway mode, the 9500i alert to K-band. Desiring peace and quiet, I returned the 9500i to AutoSensitivity mode. It remained quiet at even 30 feet away and facing directly at the patrol car. It wasn't until I crossed a 15 foot threshold that the 9500i alerted at a full strength. My approach speed was about 3-4 miles an hour. It feels to me that detector is not actually less sensitive in this mode, but uses a variable squelch mechanism to obtain its silence.

The more I moved at a snail's pace toward my final destination for the evening, the more I appreciated the Passport 9500i's new innovative feature as the detector remained silent with every signal to which the V1 alerted. No need for aspirin with this one.

I am warming-up to this detector more every day, I drive with it.

Veil Guy

Don't stop using the 'radar detector' between your ears

As part of continuing series of road adventures with the latest and greatest radar detectors, we are currently doing a driving circuit in the state of Florida to examine the performance of the top performing radar detectors when pitted against the hands of Florida traffic enforcement. Unlike Pennsylvania, Ka-band seems to be the preferred form of police radar. Today we encountered Ka at 34.7Ghz (Stalker) and 35.5 (Kustom,Decatur) operated in both stationery and moving pulsed-modes.

Both the Passport 9500i and Valentine 1 served our interests well, however while cruising at a steady 85mph on West SR80, south of lake Okeechobee in the center of the state we noticed a white car approaching us from the opposite direction. At about 2000 feet I scrutinized the profile of the car. It was a late model Ford Crown Victoria.

Playing it on the safe side, I got off the gas and slowed to about 65mph. Sure enough as the vehicle passed me, I could clearly see that it was a Sheriff's vehicle with a radar unit mounted inside the vehicle.

The entire time of this encounter, neither detector went off. Rest assured, if I had not been paying attention, my expensive detectors would have more the likely sounded off a full alert of instant-on Ka and I would have been handed a nice fat ticket.

Continuing along my route, I reminded myself that there is no substitute for situational awareness and that no matter how good radar detectors get, they are only a tool. The most important 'radar detector' remains the one between your ears.

Veil Guy

Monday, March 26, 2007

Beltronics (BEL) RX-65 Pro Aging Extremely Well

The more I drive with the BEL RX65-Pro from Beltronics, the more I appreciate this sleek radar detector. This detector is thoroughly sorted out, in my opinion.

It consistently provides Valentine-like performance across all the radar bands I encounter on the highways while providing superior ergonomic qualities at the same time. The diminutive RX-65 Pro remains one of my favorite radar detectors of all time.

Veil Guy

Some Gen III (3rd Generation) Police LIDAR (Laser) Guns Present Durability Issues in the Field

For any of you who have read my radar detector reviews, you already know that one of the areas that I like to test radar detectors for X-Band police radar detection performance is on I-78 through Warren Country, NJ during the first 20 miles east of the Pennsylvania border.

Traffic enforcement is consistently pretty fierce on that stretch of highway. This past Saturday afternoon I was examining the real-world performance of Escort's new Passport 9500i when I came upon a state trooper parked strategically in the center median facing the opposite direction of travel.

Knowing that I had just encroached upon a real speedtrap, I proceeded to the following exit and made a u-turn to drive back west into it to see how the 9500i would do. As I made my approach in the fast-lane, I spotted him again and this time he was perpendicular to the road. To my surprise the 9500i alerted to police LASER, not the X-band I was expecting. Curious as to which gun the officer was using I went down the highway a ways and once again made another u-turn to make what would be my third pass.

I pulled over on the shoulder, got out of my vehicle and approached the officer's vehicle. He was busy operating the laser gun and was not initially cognizant of my presence. To my shock and surprise it appeared that the officer was using an older LTI (Laser Technology) Marksman 20/20! These older models have been out of production for a good number of years as they have given away to smaller, lighter LTI Ultralyte, Kustom Pro III, Stalker LZ-1, Laser Atlanta S models.

Eventually I managed to get the officer's attention and after a brief introduction, he explained to me why he was using the older model. Apparently the newer lighter GEN III laser guns (many of whom are comprised of hard plastic casings) are failing in the field from the abusive duty cycles that these devices oftentime see.

The department has found that the older and more solidly constructed police laser equipment is actually lasting longer in the field and providing a longer duty cycle than the newer, smaller, (ie; cheaper) models.

I showed him some of my tricks, including VEIL, which he got a real kick out of. He knew all too well the nature of this cat and mouse game we play!

After an informative and enjoyable discussion, we parted ways and I continued on eastward in search of new speedtraps to "crash" while he returned to his job of "shooting fish in a barrel."

Veil Guy

750 miles put on a production Escort Passport 9500i in one weekend.

I've been so anxious to drive with the latest production version of Escort Passport 9500i, that when I received one this past Friday, I couldn't wait to start putting some serious miles on it so I took my wife (aka Veil Gal) on a two day driving circuit that included PA, NJ, and DE. All in all, we put on about 750 miles these last two days, encountered a combination of seven pulsed X-band/K-band Police RADAR/Police Laser speedtraps, and have some updates for you guys. Lisa and I were lucky to have been able to hook up with Mike (aka thestaton from the forum) and some friends for a quick bite at TJIFs at Dover.

First. The 127mph real-time speed display limitation has been resolved. We were able to briefly achieve an indicated 130mph on the 9500i before we had to back off.

Second. The Passport 9500i still appears to have signal ramp issues with both X & K band that occur between about 3/10-4/10 strength to 10/10 strength levels - there seems to be little mid-level strength indication during an approach to an X/K RADAR source.

Third. Ergonomically, the 9500i is superior to both BEL STi Driver and Escort Passport 8500 X50 in my opinion. We found little/no pulsating effect of the auto-dimmed LEDs and buttons as we have on the Beltronics STi Driver. The 9500i's audio is vastly improved over the Escort Passport 8500 X50 in fullness, loudness, and distinct tonal quality.

Fourth. The Passport 9500i feels much more like an 8500 than a BEL RX65 Pro, even though a number of ergonomic features have been incorporated into the 9500i from both the BEL RX-65 Pro and the BEL STi Driver. Despite the oft misconception, Escort radar detectors have a distinctly different personality than Beltronics radar detectors in operational performance.

I will continue to post updates about the Escort Passport 9500i when appropriate.

Veil Guy

Friday, March 23, 2007

Production Escort Passport 9500i Received

We are please to report that we have received a current production model of the newest and high-tech radar detector from Escort. The Passport 9500i arrived today and after a brief spin around town, it appears that the early X and K-band reception/ramp-up idiosyncrasies have not been excised. We will be taking our new 9500i with us on a trip to the Florida highway system next week and will be incorporating this model into our up-and-coming Ultimate Radar Detector Review 2007 (back by popular demand) which will include the latest versions of the Beltronics STI Driver and Valentine 1 radar detectors.

In the meantime, I can't wait to face-off against the FHP with this new radar detector!

We'll continue to keep you apprised of our experiences behind the wheel with this fascinating new detector.