Radar detectors are useful helpers for avoiding speeding tickets. In many places, even going with the flow can get you nailed by a police radar speed trap, so a radar detector’s ability to sniff out ambushes from both hidden police and red-light cameras. Not only do they provide peace of mind, but they can also help you become a more attentive driver. The trick is that they need to be sensitive enough to detect the right signals but sophisticated enough to ignore the veritable sea of stray noise we’re bathed in.
To find the best of the best, we put six different radar detectors through the wringer. After hours of testing, the Uniden R7(available at Amazon) ended up snagging our top spot because of its outstanding performance and ability to track four sources at once. We also found some alternate choices that trade features for cost but don’t skimp out on performance.
These are the best radar detectors we tested ranked, in order:
Escort Max 360
Radenso Pro M
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This detector was our favorite in the test. Looks-wise, the R7 appears to deliberately copy the high-performing Valentine One. We weren’t able to test a V1, but this long-seeing Uniden put up a good showing on its own. Uniden bills this unit as an Extreme Long Range detector, all shown on its large display, sniffed out signals early and often. The R7 alerted sooner than any of the detectors we tested and its directional arrows and multiple-threat display capability provide you with all the information you could want with just a glance. The R7 can identify and track up to four sources at once. The outstanding range gives you plenty of time to react, and the incidence of false alarms from radars on other cars or non-enforcement sources was very low.
With antennas front and rear, user-selectable scanning options that let you choose to scan entire bands, or just portions of those frequencies, and built-in GPS with a location database, the suction cup-mounted R7 has been designed for users to customize it for optimal performance. It will keep you well-informed with its large OLED screen, multiple-threat detection, directional arrow display, and even customizable alert tones.
This detector is on the large side, but not as chunky as the Max 360. Its price is high, too. Its full suite of features and outstanding performance makes it feel worth it, but it’s not the best bang for the buck here. It is an outstanding performer and highly configurable for serious users without being confusing right out of the box.
I'm Dan Roth, and I drive a lot. I've been covering cars and the business of cars since 2006. When I'm not driving, I work in broadcast, and that's why I love things that modulate, oscillate, transmit, and receive. Radar detectors are closely related to broadcast equipment, so I understand how they work and I'm intrigued by the differences in performance among the brands.
To get the best sense of how a detector works, we used each model during the same commute. There were a couple of long highway trips away from ordinary locations as well to test the abilities of these units on the open road. The road conditions for each test included surface streets, residential and suburban areas, metro downtowns (NYC and Boston among them), and highways. Detectors were tested one-at-a-time to avoid any interference between units, and they were always mounted on the front windshield.
Most of the time, we were getting lit up by K-band. It’s a widely-used radar band for speed detection. X-band is old and mostly relegated to uses other than speed enforcement these days, though you may get a vintage surprise here and there. When the detectors alerted to Ka-band, it was a lot more likely that we’d come upon a cruiser soon after.
We used a fixed sign in town to test how early and consistently each unit could find and detect the radar, keeping speed and approach consistent, so we could make the test about detector sensitivity and capability, rather than other variables. Also on our daily route was a known and active speed trap, so we could get results out on the highway.
What is a Radar Detector?
The basic idea behind radar detectors is pretty simple. Because a radar or laser gun is generating and transmitting a signal–the units bounce a beam of microwave or laser energy off your car and measure how long it took to return–you can "tune in" to those signals. Think of a radar detector as a very sensitive radio that's always in "seek" mode, constantly scanning.
How Do Radar Detectors Work?
Modern radar detectors use GPS and location databases to expand their capabilities. This is now possible because storage, computing power, and GPS technology itself have all gotten much less expensive. Some detectors go a different way and rely on the smartphones we all usually have with us for those functions. Lots of detectors now let users select which frequencies to ignore. If they're not used in your area, you can reduce the amount of work the detector is doing, which can sometimes boost performance and lead to faster alerts for the frequencies you do care about.
Filtering out false warnings and range is what sets the best units apart. Getting a mile or more of warning lets you take calm corrective actions. And if the detector isn't always crying wolf, your ride will be more serene.
Are Radar Detectors Really Undetectable?
Several detectors we tried, including both winners, claim to be “Spectre Elite Immune.” The Stalker Radar Spectre Elite is a popular unit used to sniff out even "undetectable" radar detectors. You see, just as a radar detector listens for the signals a radar or laser gun gives off, the Spectre Elite listens for the radio hardware that makes a radar detector work. Essentially, they leak. That leaked signal is more or less strong depending on the brand. If this is a concern, look for units that say they're Spectore and VG-2 Immune. That means that they've been designed and built to minimize that signal leakage that could give them away.
Other Radar Detectors We Tested
Escort Max 360
The most curious thing we noticed with this detector was that the laser headlights in some cars put it in a constant state of alert. In a car with regular old incandescents, this detector displayed very good range. It’s versatile, with front and rear-facing antennas, which help the unit point to the location of the threat. Its display uses directional arrows to let you know where you’re getting lit up from. Voice alerts and different alert tones for each band help you keep your eyes on the road, instead of peering at the detector to see which frequency it has detected.
This detector performed quite well, but its large physical size means that it blocks some of your windshield view. On-board GPS and phone-enabled features such as the Defender Database and Escort Live app work together with Bluetooth. These enhancements may not be useful to you unless your phone is compatible with the app, which may be an issue with some older models. Additionally, the Defender Database is a subscription service. Getting live alerts may be valuable enough to you that it’s worth it. The GPS helps the Max 360 keep false alarms to a minimum, and you can add your own marked locations. Because it’s large, the controls on top are easy to manipulate. This is a nice detector with good performance, but its high price and ongoing subscription costs are downsides.
This premium detector is small but mighty. In fact, all of the Radenso units we tried provided outstanding false alarm filtering and excellent detection with plenty of warning. This unit was so effective at ignoring false alarms that we sometimes questioned whether it was working at all. It was, but it’s just great at ignoring those stray signals and other radar sources that freak out other units, and it does it without having to play with buttons all the time. Just stick it on the windshield and go. AutoCity mode knowns when you’re in-town and keeps quiet. You can manually select Highway or City modes, as well.
Detection was just about as early and reliable as the longest-range standouts in the test, and it also has smart GPS features. You’d expect to be able to mark locations that set off false alerts, and you can, but the Pro M also keeps quiet if it detects you’re traveling below the speed limit. Voice alerts and multiple threat tracking provide important information in an easy fashion, and this detector turned out to be the strong, mostly-silent type. It’s great right out of the box, and there are lots of fine-tuning you can do to make it perform most effectively for you. We did miss the directional arrows and more graphical displays of some of the other units, at least at first, but you’ll spend hundreds more to get the eye candy without any attendant increase in performance. The Radenso Pro M works like a charm when it’s important, and stays out of the way with its small size and outstanding filtering.
This detector was the angriest to test. Blindspot detection, cruise control, and stray K-band triggered the X80 often. It’s good that the unit provided alerts, but it made for a busy time behind the wheel, muting warnings in stop-and-go traffic and around town. The OLED display is attractive. With Bluetooth onboard and the Escort Live app, you get the benefit of GPS and crowd-sourced alerts. Again, though, the app may not work with all phones, but it’s a nice way to extend the capabilities of what is Escort’s lowest-priced detector.
The buttons to operate volume, sensitivity, and dimming are small and on the top of the unit, so you have to operate them by feel when it’s installed. It takes some fumbling to get the function you want. The display will show you a voltmeter readout unless you’re connected to Escort Live. Then it displays your speed and the current speed limit at your location, which is much more useful information. The X80 does have voice announcements and four independently switchable segments of the KA band, so you can switch off the ones that aren’t used in your area and reduce false alarms. That’s not as many segments and you’ll get from other brands we tried, either. It’s disappointing that you really need to pair the X80 with a phone to get the most out of it, and its false alarm filtering isn’t as good as the others, so it may quickly wear out its welcome.
This is the middle of the Radenso windshield-mount detector line. Like the SP, the detection is very sensitive, and the XP adds GPS with location memory. In keeping with the “quiet detector” theme, the XP will automatically mute itself based on your speed. It knows what roads you’re on and what the speed limit is thanks to GPS and a built-in database of locations including red light and speed cameras.
Radenso offers free firmware and database updates forever, too. That’s a feature that other brands charge for. With the raw detection charms of its SP brother, plus GPS, the XP makes quite the case for itself, especially given its performance, which was equal in practice to the most expensive and sensitive units we tried.
Not as sensitive as other detectors, though it still found the threats. The question is whether it found them with enough time to react, or not. While this unit is a lower-priced detector, it has a lot of features. There’s built-in GPS and an internal location database of speed and red-light cameras that can be user-updated. The CR93 also includes Field Disturbance Sensor Rejection and Traffic Flow Sensor Rejection, two features that help ignore the driver assistance systems that may be in nearby cars.
In our testing, the CR 93 alerted later than other detectors we tried, meaning you’ve got less time to make adjustments. Sometimes a lot less, depending on the situation. With a clear road and a radar or laser gun pointed directly at you, the CR 93 is probably fairly reliable at detecting and warning. Other independent testing, however, found that it has considerable blind spots, including situations where vehicles are being clocked stealthily from behind or when exiting a curve. Given the amount of performance for the dollar we found from other detectors, you’re better off skipping the Whistler CR93. The built-in GPS database is a nice feature for the price, but in terms of raw detection capability, it comes up short.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.