Beltronics/BEL STI Driver
Maximum STEALTH driving...Bel STI driver and VEIL!
Veil Guy's Beltronics STi Driver Video Review
Update 13 MAY 09: Read about the even more incredible custom installed version, the Beltronics STi-R
Update 20 SEP 08: Read about the new GPS-enabled Beltronics GX65 Pro
Its 4:30pm Friday afternoon one day following Ground Hog Day, 2006.
I am traveling eastbound on I-78 north eastern PA heading towards NJ in search of instant-on/pulsed X-band speed traps.
Two things make this particular trip most unusual - one, its currently in the low 60s which makes this one of the warmest days on record for February and two I am driving with what may be the most unique (and currently one of the rarest) detectors ever manufactured to date: the Beltronics STi Driver.
I had already driven a little more than 400 miles with this fascinating new Beltronics detector primarily from central Ohio to eastern PA, but I wanted to pit my new stealth companion against the adept hands of some of New Jersey's finest police radar operators - Warren Country state troopers during rush-hour.
With the Beltronics STI Driver, BEL has apparently done the "impossible." They have managed to fabricate a superhetrodyne detector which does not produce LO leakage - typical of such detectors - which current RDDs (radar detector detectors) such as the STALCAR/SPECTRE rely upon to alert proximate detector usage.
What does this mean in real-world everyday driving?
It means professional drivers (ie; truckers who are federally restricted from operating a detector because of some PC law) and drivers in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the District of Columbia, Canadian provinces, and certain other countries - where usage is banned - can drive with the peace of mind of knowing RDDs can not be used against them to locate/identify their usage.
Beltronics is the first and only manufacturer to produce such a detector.
It is our understanding the Bel STi Driver was a built on an entirely new platform than their existing detector lines although STi detector appears to share a good bit of DNA with the Beltronics RX-65 Pro - their top-of-the-line conventional radar detector - which is a good thing.
If you have read our previous radar detector review of the top three performing radar detectors (Bel RX-65 Pro, Escort 8500 X50, Valentine 1) you know we favored the Bel RX-65 in a number of circumstances.
Upon opening the BEL STi Driver package, we quickly came to the conclusion: this is no ordinary radar detector.
The packaging is the most impressive we have seen for any radar detector. The outer box is solidly constructed and the detector comes with its own Vaultz™-like carrying case and feels like a sturdy miniaturized professional camera case (we found sometimes opening the latch can present a mild challenge as it can interfere with the handle).
The detector also includes a direct-hardwire kit and an external amplified speaker system for noisier cabins (commercial 18-wheelers).
The BEL STi Driver improves upon the solid design of their Beltronics RX-65 in several significant ways.
While its shape and appearance is similar to the RX-65, it's external dimensions are slightly larger and its external black color matches the Valentine V1.
The Beltronics STi Driver is the heftiest radar detector by any metric.
To satisfy our curiosity we weighed the Beltronics STi Driver as well of the other top three detectors (without power cords!) and this is what we found:
In an age where consumer electronics tend to get lighter and lighter (and flimsy from inexpensive plastic construction), its a real pleasure handling a solid and hefty piece of precision electronic equipment like the BEL STi driver which, like the Valentine V1, has its external case constructed of magnesium which further enhances its stealth operation.
In our previous review we described the Valentine One as the Hummer (we actually borrowed that term) of radar detectors primarily for its sturdy construction and rugged appearance.
Upon handling the Beltronics STI Driver it's readily apparent this new Beltronics STi detector is the Peterbilt/Kenworth of radar detectors!
In a direct comparison of construction, externally the new Bel feels the most solid by a significant margin and we are pleased to see Beltronics "took out all the stops" on this important design aspect of the BEL STi driver.
For those already familiar with the operation of the RX-65, the operation of the STi Driver is similar with some notable exceptions. It retains all of the operational ergonomics as well as adding several nice improvements.
Ku band is currently not available with this detector. This is OK because Ku is not in operation in the US (and doesn't appear to be coming any time soon).
Unlike the RX-65 Pro, there is no setting for Ka International; what impact, if any, this has of Ka reception abroad is unknown at this time.
The Beltronics STi Driver retains the ability to auto mute and provides a quick reach mute button on the power adaptor plug as does the RX65.
With the BEL STi driver, Beltronics has the added capability of auto dimming its display (as does the Valentine V1) in different lighting conditions - a most welcomed feature - in addition to providing manual display settings of bright, medium, dim. The Beltronics STi also has the ability to go completely dark. The only indication the unit is on is the LED remains illuminated within the lighter adaptor.
The detector also has illuminated push buttons on the front, which really appeals to our visual senses although we would like to see an increase in the adjustment time to changing light conditions with its auto dimming feature enabled, because we tended to notice a pulsating effect in the evening when traveling between street lights.
The BEL STi driver has the unique ability to have its display inverted to maximize flexibility in detector mounting.
From a radar detection performance standpoint it appears the BEL STi is at least on par with the RX65 and V1 across all radar bands (X, K, and Ka) from ahead and almost equal to the Valentine 1 from the rear (even though the Valentine has an additional dedicated rear-facing antenna).
From a laser detection standpoint it appears to exceed the performance of the RX65 Pro with frontal laser. The V1 is still, by far, the class leader and the Escort 8500 X50 appears to still retain an edge. However, the Beltronics STi driver has improved its rear laser detection ability although this is academic to truckers as the detector will likely have no rear line-of-sight from within the cabin.
We will refrain from a more formal judgment until Beltronics steps up the production of the BEL STi driver (only about 100 or so made at this time), things settle down, and we get more time with a later version of the BEL STi Driver behind the wheel.
For truckers, an important thing to remember: when pulling into weigh stations, don't forget to make sure your Beltronics STi driver is out of sight and can not be visually spotted.
We understand Beltronics has some accessories for the BEL STi Driver which will help with stealth in-cabin installs.
For other drivers, realize really astute officers will likely still be able to determine detector usage when your vehicle is targeted by their radar gun if you quickly decelerate (the normal response to an alert) which can be done visually - either by an abrupt drop of your vehicle's front-end under heavy breaking, a rapid decrease in speed readings on the radar gun, or from the rear by observing brake lights or by audio - listening to the rapid decrease in the RADAR's Doppler tone at point of trigger pull.
At any rate, be prepared with a good explanation as to how you "visually spotted" the officer at the same time he/she pulled the trigger of their police radar gun.
Already, it's very clear to us Beltronics has a winner on its hand - with the BEL STI driver - and they achieved their design goal to create a most effective radar detector tailored to the "professional driver."
The fact this radar detector can not be detected by any current radar detector detector or RDD (including the SPECTRE III) is a real boon to truckers and drivers in VA, Washington, DC, and certain Canadian provinces.
We'll have to wait and see if the boys from OZ can devise an RDD actually capable of detecting the Beltronics STi Driver in the future (Bel claims they will not be able to do so). Indeed, these blokes from down-under are very resourceful, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them eventually develop a method for doing so.
The retail cost of $449 USD means the BEL STi radar detector is not for everyone and for those not requiring a completely undetectable radar detector (most of us) the RX-65 ($329 USD) remains the viable alternative from Beltronics.
However for professional/commercial drivers (its intended market) - where time is money - the Beltronics STi Driver will more than pay for itself in very short order and is highly recommended.
After living with this radar detector for two years, it is our opinion that it's performance is so good, that it would be a fine choice for general use, even if you don't require a stealth radar detector.
UPDATE: As of 1/31/08 in a recent test (conducted by Craig Peterson, author of the new book Driver's Guide to Police Radar) of the BEL STi versus the newest Spectre RDDs, the Spectre Mk. IV and Spectre Mk. IV +, the BEL STi did, indeed, remain undetectable by both of the newest Spectre RDDs!
Happy and safe motoring!
The Veil GuyPurchase with Confidence at these Trustworthy Purchasing Sources for:
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More STi Driver Reading:STi vs. Spectre RDD Mk. IV, IV +
How to achieve 'jaw dropping' performance from your STi Driver
'Jaw dropping' performance, Round II
Why the STi may Occasionally Outperform a V1 with RADAR
A Closer Examination of AutoScan versus Highway Mode
Related Reading:Escort Redline (RDD-Immune Dash-Mount Radar Detector from Escort)
Escort Passport 9500i
How to Avoid Speeding Tickets with your Radar Detector
The Ultimate Radar Detector Review
The Ultimate Laser Detector Review
Summary Radar Detectors Buyers Guide
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