I first got a glimpse of the performance capabilities of the Beltronics STi-R several years ago when I began driving with a pre-release Beltronics STi Driver, the Beltronics STi-R's genetic parent, in its original dash-mount form.
On more than one occasion, I observed my Beltronics STi Driver alert to additional trigger pulls—to both instant-on X-band (still used in New Jersey) and K-band (exclusively used in Pennsylvania and heavily used in other states)—over my Valentine One which I still regard as one of the very best at alerting to these particular kinds of speed traps.
At first, I didn't believe what I was witnessing, but after additional encounters where the Beltronics STi Driver occasionally out-alerted the venerable Valentine One in this critically important way, I soon realized this was no accident. I concluded that the Beltronics engineers were, indeed, on to something great.
So it goes without saying that I was giddy when I first saw the remote installed version of the Beltronics STi Driver several years later when Beltronics announced the introduction of the Beltronics STi-R remote (with its stablemate, the Escort Passport 9500ci) at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.
Although, the Escort Passport 9500ci is based-upon the same undetectable platform developed by Beltronics as the dash-mount Beltronics STi Driver and the Beltronics STi-R remote, the Passport 9500ci is sufficiently different to merit its own dedicated review in the future.
For now, I am going to focus on the attributes of the Beltronics STi-R custom installed radar detector.
I once owned a remote, a K40 SS3000 (based upon an earlier generation Beltronics detector), which had been installed in my personal BMW 5 Series for a number of years, but frankly, its performance didn't really charm my boots off, as the SS3000 was easily outclassed by any of the three leading windshield-mount radar detectors of the day, the Valentine One, Beltronics Pro RX-65, and Escort Passport 8500 X50. When it experienced an untimely death, replacement parts were not available, leaving me no choice but to remove it from my vehicle.
In some respects the timing could not have been much better because soon after its removal when I was introduced to the two new remotes, soon to be released by Beltronics and Escort, I got the itch to finally own a custom installed radar detector that would be commensurate with the caliber of my high-performance, Teutonic sports sedan.
Several months later, Beltronics was kind enough to scratch my itch, when they shipped me one of the very first Beltronics STi-R (and Escort Passport 9500ci) remotes for a formal evaluation and review, just weeks in advance of the Memorial Day holiday and the official start of Spring, 2008.
Given the caliber of these two new remotes and the kind of car they were going into, I didn't want to fool around with attempting the install, myself.
I opted, instead, to pay a professional installer, one not only accustomed to installing high-end aftermarket mobile electronics, but one that was also familiar with particulars of my BMW. Having the installation performed by a competent installer can potentially enhance the resale value of one's vehicle.
After two days, and $1500 of additional expense (for two high-end custom installations), both remote radar detectors were ready to "serve and protect."
Beltronics STi-R Features
Even though the Beltronics STi-R and Passport 9500ci are related, they really are two separate kinds of systems which do not directly "compete" with one another.
The Escort Passport 9500ci is a combination radar/laser detector, laser jammer (Escort calls it "laser shifting"), and an advanced GPS detector which alerts to the ever growing presence of photo-enforcement systems.
On the other hand, the Beltronics STi-R is a dedicated radar/laser detector, one specifically tailored to those driving enthusiasts who can appreciate its virtues and specialized feature-set.
Like most Escort and Beltronics radar detectors, each brand has does have its own subtle and distinct personality.
For those of your not familiar with the Beltronics STi Driver's vaunted M3 platform, which first appeared on the Beltronics STi Driver, it is the first and only production radar reception platform that is completely undetectable by radar detector detectors (RDDs for short)—devices that are used by certain traffic enforcement departments to identify vehicles on the roadway that are actively using radar detectors.
RDDs are extremely sensitive devices designed to electronically sniff-out the residual RF from the LOs (local oscillations) of all conventionally designed super-hetrodyne radar detectors.
In the U.S., radar detector usage is banned in the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Virginia, all Military installations, and nationally for commercial vehicles (ie; trucks). Radar detectors are also banned in parts of Canada and in an increasing number of other countries. Penalties for being "caught" using one where they are restricted can range from confiscation to serious financial penalty.
Obviously the undetectable platform provides a terrific technological solution to drivers facing this long-standing snafu. For many years, it was even thought technologically impossible by arguably some of the most respected minds in this industry. Fortunately for all of our sakes, the brilliance of Beltronics engineers did not lookup the meaning of the word "impossible."
Be advised that certain other remotes are being touted by their manufacturers and paid 'reviewers' as being 'undetectable.' Being 'hidden' from view, like most remotes, is not the same as being undetectable. To be sure, this is a false marketing claim targeted at the nescient.
Currently, there are only three production radar detectors that are truly undetectable: the Beltronics STi Driver, the Beltronics STi-R, and the Escort Passport 9500ci.
Every other radar detector leaves an RF fingerprint of some sort (no matter how small) that can be located by the today's sophisticated Spectre RDDs.
Mind you, the significance of this engineering breakthrough wouldn't really have mattered much had Beltronics not achieved one other important operating characteristic, extreme performance.
Beltronics STi-R Performance
Given the Beltronics STi-R's primary intended market, international uses, Beltronics has endowed the Beltronics STi-R with user-selectable Ka-band segmentation.
Ka segmentation picks up where the Beltronics Pro RX-65's Ka International feature, left off.
Without going into too much detail here, Ka-band is a police radar band that is a relatively very-wide frequency band, unlike X-band which is centered at 10.5Ghz or K-band which is centered at 24.1Ghz.
In the U.S. three specific Ka frequencies are generally utilized centering on 33.8Ghz, 34.7Ghz, and 35.5Ghz.
Internationally other Ka-bands of 34.0Ghz and 34.3Ghz or also utilized. To make matters even more challenging for radar detectors used abroad, some internationally-used speed measuring devices use very low-powered, (horizontally) polarized, and very tight-dispersing radar often facing away from approaching vehicles and positioned to cross a very narrow section of the highway.
The majority of radar detectors produced have an extremely difficult time in providing adequate advanced warning to such speed traps, like the feared Multanova 6F.
To counter such devices, astute radar detector owners often rotate their radar detectors 90 degrees to maximize reception to these polarized forms of traffic radar. Beyond polarization, these radar sources are often extremely low-powered close-range devices used as radar-based photo enforcement. To have the best chances of detection this nefarious form of police radar, radar detectors have to be especially sensitive and responsive.
To help maximize reception performance, Beltronics has given drivers, exposed to such threats abroad, the ability to selectively turn-off portions of the Ka-band that they will never encounter.
So, if you think of a radar detector as a very specialized radio scanner, the Beltronics STi-R enables you to reduce the Ka-band scanning times, by allowing you to customize your radar detectors sweep pattern, thereby maximizing its performance to the particular portion(s) of Ka that you will actually encounter and not to waste time looking at frequencies that you won't.
The upshot of this is even further levels of increased Ka-band reception performance. While both the Escort Passport 9500ci and the Beltronics STi-R share the same hardware platform, Escort currently does not provide for Ka-band segmentation, as the 9500ci is primarily intended for the U.S domestic marketplace where such forms of traffic radar are extremely rare.
Ka-Radar Rejection Filtering
Another less described and consequently less understood feature unique to the Beltronics STi-R, but no less important, is the STi-R's ability to have some nominal Ka-filter processing, turned OFF. Even in highway mode, which reduces filtering, some nominal Ka-filtering often takes place in all radar detectors. Beltronics allows its owners to selectively disable some of this nominal Ka-filtering which could otherwise add a finite amount of additional processing time before alerting and/or potentially slow a detector's reaction to received brief and weak Ka signals.
When coupled with the appropriate Ka-band segmentation for your driving area, the performance of the Beltronics STi-R can be raised from merely spectacular to the sublime.
Sometimes, less is more.
For the U.S., the magic settings are 2-5-8: ON and RDR: OFF, and TEC (display): ON
The "penalty" of a slightly higher Ka-falsing rate is far more than offset with even higher performance than is achievable in the Escort Passport 9500ci which does not specifically provide this minimalist feature. This is really saying something because the Passport 9500ci is already a supremely capable radar detector in its own right.
By using these settings with the TEC display mode, which displays the actual frequency of the detected band, any potentially additional falses can be quickly identified (and discounted) with a quick glance of the STI-R's display module.
Without a doubt, these two unique features when used in tandem (Ka-band segmentation and the ability to turn off some filtering overhead) make the Beltronics STI-R one of my few all-time favorite radar detectors.
Even though the STi-R is primarily aimed at an international clientele, I find it especially adept at protecting my interests at home, in the U.S.
Real-World Driving Impressions
Immediately after our installation videos were shot and in the can, I took the Beltronics STi-R (and its sister Escort Passport 9500ci) out for my first "test-drive" through parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, even though it was late in the day. I just had to find out what each were like in the real-world.
To give me a point of reference, I took one of my four Valentine One's along for the ride as comparative reference.
I needed to know if the STi-R was actually going to live up to my high expectations, because in just a few short days, I would be going on an extended drive to go Speed Trap Hunting with Steve in Ohio during what was sure to be some of the most intensive radar and laser enforcement that I had ever experienced (and I wasn't disappointed).
My extended trip also included the states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and parts of Canada.
All told, I accumulated a little more than 6200 miles in span of just nearly two weeks behind the wheel with both the Beltronics STi-R and the Escort Passport 9500ci. If you consider at the time, the price of petrol in the U.S. was more than $4.00/gallon and in Canada it was even more! This extended road-trip was certainly not inexpensive to be sure, but it did provide me plenty of opportunities to experience the sheer performance of both of these über radar detectors.
Within the first couple of police radar encounters, I knew my past experiences with my windshield-mount Beltronics STI Driver were no flukes—the STi Driver had afforded me an advanced look at the future definition of high-end radar detector performance.
I got my first real dose of this performance one late evening traveling west-bound from Lexington to Louisville Kentucky on I-64.
I had been driving at a considerable clip when the Beltronics STi-R alerted alone, nearly 15 seconds before my Passport 9500ci then alerted, which again was nearly 15 seconds before my Valentine One then alerted!
Never before have I encountered such a disparity from one detector to another, not at the top-performance tier of windshield-mount radar detectors. Initially when the STI-R's alert went to Ka and at the signal strength level it did*, I first thought that I may have been toast. That was before, of course, another 35 seconds, or so, elapsed before I ultimately encountered the hidden parked-cruiser on the shoulder of the highway operating instant-on Ka radar under the cover of night.
Another remarkable attribute of the Beltronics STi-R (as well of the Escort Passport 9500ci), is that it occasionally was the first to alert to a radar source from the rear, even though my Valentine One with its rear-facing antenna had a distinct placement advantage on the middle of my windshield, having a clear line of sight to the rear, something the Beltronics STi-R did not have (instead it has the entire vehicle blocking its rear-view). No matter, even with its "disadvantaged mounting position" in-front of my vehicle's radiator and under the hood, the Beltronics STi-R had no trouble alerting to distant or weak radar sources emanating from behind.
Like the Passport 9500ci, the Beltronics STi-R doesn't appear to suffer from any weaning of X or K band reception, a wonderful thing for us drivers who routinely encounter either band in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and North Carolina.
Sensitivity to laser is equally formidable as the placement of the remote antenna housing (which includes the laser detector) is naturally closer to the headlights and license plate areas only serves to enhance its laser reception performance.
I would categorize the STi-R as being effectively equal to the Valentine One in laser reception (when installed on the front of the vehicle). Of course, laser reception from the rear is non-existent as the STi-R is only intended to look forward. If rear detection is required, either a dedicated laser jammer/shifter like the Laser Shifter ZR4 or the Passport 9500ci would be a better choice (as it includes front and rear ZR4 detectors/shifters).
The performances of the Beltronics STi-R and the Escort Passport 9500ci are truly in a class by themselves and absolutely have to be experienced to be appreciated.
For a period of time, I drove with the Valentine One as my reference detector along with the externally mounted STi-R, but I have since severed the umbilical-cord to the V1 as the intrinsic value of having arrows are diminished somewhat as the mighty Valentine One generally alerts well after either remote, by which time I have already made any necessary speed adjustments.
A silent V1 means an arrowless V1. To be clear, I am not taking anything away from the Valentine One. Valentine Research remains a class-leading radar detector manufacturer that has been building honest, trustworthy, and continually improved radar detectors over its long and respected history and the V1 currently retails at less than half the cost of the STi-R (before installation).
The performances of the Beltronics STi-R (and the Passport 9500ci) though are so outrageously high, though, that I must share with you words of extreme caution.
You may initially feel that the extra safety margin of time you will often receive with either the STi-R or 9500ci can be used-up with increased levels of spirited driving. If you ever have driven on dedicated winter/ice tires in a winter storm as compared to conventional all-seasons, you probably know what I am talking about.
And, if you are like me, you may feel the impulse, the need to take advantage of these astounding new levels of performance by raising your comfort level of higher velocity travel.
However, I strongly caution against this, as even these very best radar detectors can not guarantee you immunity from speeding tickets.
There are still other plenty of other forms of speed enforcement (some old-school, like pacing and VASCAR which don't use RADAR and some new-school, like police lidar which often requires the use of specific laser countermeasures) or other types of speed enforcement methods that can still get you into a heap of trouble.
So trust me, don't let the extreme performance nature go to your head (or your foot).
Several items worth mentioning.
First, while the signal ramp (management of its dynamic range) has been improved and is now more progessive, it is my opinion that there may exist some room for further refinement.
Given the STi-R's extreme sensitivities across all conventional radar bands, I believe the signal strength level indicators (particularly with Ka-band) should not reach their maximum or near maximum level until one is actually very near the "red-zone," the range in which your speed can actually be clocked by radar, which I estimate would not exceed the 1500ft/450m mark.
By alerting with a higher signal strength level farther out, the STi-R can, at times, make it harder to gauge or determine the actual severity of the threat even when far-out of speed clocking range.
It is my belief that earlier Beltronics and Escort detectors (Escort 8500, Beltronics Pro RX-65) did a better job of conveying the actual severity of the threat with their signal ramp (something that both the Valentine One and Whistlers have better managed over time as radar detectors' overall detector sensitivities have increased)*.
Second, given the sensitivity, to both laser and radar, coupled with its external placement around your vehicle's bumper area, the STi-R has a higher propensity to false to laser, than other windshield-mounted radar detectors, as one drives in the recurring shadows of trees and branches on the highway when the sun is lower in the sky. Be prepared for this potential, before it takes you by surprise.
Third, be prepared for laser falsing from other vehicles' lidar-based adaptive cruise control and lane departure systems that are making their way onto newer vehicles.
Until Beltronics effectively filters out the pulse rates from these sources (as Whistler has managed), it is better to be prepared for a sudden laser alert at the exact moment you are overtaking certain vehicles. It is startling at first, but you will eventually get acclimated to it.
Lidar/Laser-based Lane Departure Systems set off Certain Laser Detectors & Jammers
On an especially positive note, I believe that Beltronics has effectively filtered the pop-like profile emanating from K-band based lane departure systems like Audi's side assist. So alerts from such annoying and potentially "hazardous" interfering sources, have been excised from their systems.
Every once in a great while, a product comes along that is so special, so outside the established norms of the time, that its very existence redefines its own category.
For high-end audio, in 1984 the SME V tone-arm was such a product. For computing, in 1981, the first IBM PC was another.
For radar detectors, certainly, the Original Escort, introduced in the 1980s followed by the Valentine One, introduced in the early 1990s, could make that claim.
To this short list I would add the Beltronics STi-R.
The overall performance level obtained with this radar detector, was simply inconceivable, just a year ago.
I intentionally waited a full-year to accumulate an obscene amount of miles—through more states than I could have imagined a year ago when I started—before writing this article.
While I have never assigned a ubiquitous star rating in any of my former articles, I am going to make an exception, in this instance.
Most star rating systems are based on a either 4-stars or 5-stars.
Like Dubai's Burj Al Arab, to rate the STi-R using only 5-stars would not aptly attribute the greatness of its towering achievement over all others.
At $1099, the STi-R is the most expensive dedicated high-end radar/laser detector produced, today.
It lacks the laser jamming ("shifting") features and GPS capabilities of the more feature-laden and more expensive sister, the Escort Passport 9500ci ($1599), and the STi-R does not currently support the direct integration of the Cincinnati Microwave Shifter ZR4 (which can easily run as an independent system).
However, as purely the radar detector it is, the Beltronics STi-R is an absolute bargain, one deserving my rating of 7-stars.
My sincerest congratulations to the Beltronics engineers who had the vision and craftmanship to make it possible and the management that allowed them to do so.
It's been your team that has been the realdriving force of your organization's success.
The Beltronics STi-R is simply, the ultimate remote radar detector.
Happy and safe motoring!
The Veil Guy
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*Note: With regard to recent Beltronics/Escort audio signal ramp "issues," being the first to point this behavior out in my Passport 9500i article several years ago, I have formulated a theory which I will reveal in an upcoming blog post.