SE in Three Flavors means MAX(imum) Ka Performance!
Whistler XTR-695SE, Whistler XTR-690SE, Whistler Pro-78SE Detector Review
Whistler XTR-695SE Helps Prevent this from Happening to You.
I first took serious notice of Whistler several years ago when I witnessed one of their earlier models outperform a certain blue-tooth enabled remote radar detector that, at the time, retailed for more than 10 times Whistler's price.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of owning (and reviewing) newer and improved Whistler radar detectors including the Whistler Pro 78/Whistler XTR-690 (both introduced two years ago) and the Whistler XTR-695 (introduced nearly a year ago).
Whistler has continued with its recent tradition of affording me the privilege of an advanced look at their new (and much anticipated) flagship production models that are currently making their way to retailers and specialized Internet dealers.
For 2009, three related Whistler radar detector models are especially noteworthy, the Whistler Pro-78SE ($229), Whistler XTR-690SE ($229), and Whistler XTR-695SE ($269) MSRP.
As the new model names suggest, each of these new radar detectors appear to represent an evolutionary design improvement over its previous model and hence have not merited an entirely new model number designation. Instead, these new Whistlers end with an SE designation, which may stand for Special Edition. That is, of course, not to say that these new radar detectors don't represent significant improvement (over their predecessors) simply because the underlying model numbers haven't changed, they do.
Performance Improvements (Experienced in the Real-World of Driving)
Even in Ka Max and Highway modes, the Whistler Pro 78SE is Easy to Live with Around Town.
Performance-wise, the new Whistler Pro-78SE, Whistler XTR-690SE, and Whistler XTR-695SE appear identical to each other. But now Whistler provides three distinct flavors to their flagship detector line (more on this later).
All three share the same hardware platform which is based on the long-established and highly regarded Rev C platform, first introduced on the Whistler Pro 78/XTR-690 several years ago.
I like to think that the Rev C is to Whistler as the HEMI® was to early NASCAR stock-car racing.
Building upon the success of the Rev C models, Whistler has upped the performance envelope even further and Whistler now refers to this embodiment of enhancements as Rev C+, which again, suggests an evolutionary improvement.
So, let's get right to it. What is so special about the new Whistler Pro 78SE, Whistler XTR-690SE, and Whistler XTR-695SE?
Ka-band radar reception performance, that's what. Whistler calls it Ka Max. I call it, incredible.
While K band is still in considerable use (and X-band in certain areas), Ka band has become the standard radar of traffic enforcement. Industry experts estimate that 90% of all radar guns currently sold utilize Ka band.
When we originally reviewed Whistler Pro 78/XTR-690 Rev C. models, we observed them to occasionally out-alert a Beltronics STi Driver on Ka-band, a high-end windshield-mount radar detector from Beltronics that retails at nearly $500. To be sure, the Beltronics STi Driver is [still] one of the very best performing radar detectors available, so to see Whistler occasionally give it a run for its money (on Ka-band) was most impressive.
I believed this effectively established these Whistlers as some of the best values available in radar detectors, as their Ka performance was in some cases on par with other top detectors of the time.
The good news is that Whistler has obviously decided not to rest on their laurels for this new model year as Whistler's engineering team has obviously set their sites on further increasing performance.
Whistler XTR-690SE Turns in Impressive Ka Performance vs. Notorious Hammonton Police
For those that may not be aware, driving with two conventionally-designed radar detectors in close proximity on the dashboard is generally frowned upon as the leakage from one could potentially cause both of them to behave erratically—causing false alerts or, in some cases, poor performance and response times.
It is for purposes like these that I rely on my Escort Passport 9500ci and Beltronics STi-R remotes—two detectors that I have come to accept as the best performance detectors, I have owned—to serve as my reference to allow me the opportunity to gauge [another] model on the dash.
It's important to put the observations that follow into their proper context.
The Passport 9500ci and Beltronics STi-R share a similar radar receiver as the dash model Beltronics STi Driver($499), but because they are waterproof remotes, offer additional capabilities such as the ZR4 shifter, GPS photo-enforcement detection (Passport 9500ci), and come with more components, their retails are justifiably higher than their dashboard counterpart.
Well boys and girls, after driving some extensive miles through a number of states with them, I was pleasantly surprised to observe that these three new Whistlers can flirt with (and on occasion exceed) the Ka performance of my Beltronics STi-R and Escort Passport 9500ci remotes in certain circumstances.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that Whistler has created budget-priced radar detectors that equal or exceed the sensitivities/capabilities of these high-end remotes. I am merely indicating, with our real-world encounters, that they were capable of alerting to Ka radar sources at about the same time and (every once in a while) before they did. How they have done it, I imagine, will and should remain somewhat of a mystery only known to the engineering wizards squirreled away by Whistler in some remote cave, no doubt.
Without going into too much detail, I suspect what Whistler's engineering team has done was essentially re-tune their firmware to extract the maximum KA reception performance out of their hardware platform (something akin to "chipping" a motor for improved performance).
For now this KaMax performance mode will be selectable by the user most likely until such time as many miles have been logged before it becomes the mainstay for Ka band.
I intentionally included a portion of high-density traffic on my driving route in and-around the cities of Newark, New Jersey and New York City as well as immersed myself into the week-end-Jersey-shore-traffic-congested Garden State Parkway.
I am pleased to report that these Whistlers were very well behaved in Ka-Max mode and did not excessively false to Ka (from other proximate cheap radar detectors). I personally never felt the need to resort to weaning back their performance by selecting Ka Norm.
Whistler appears to have, indeed, successfully designed the Ka Max feature to extract the most performance out of their existing hardware platform. As with all electronics, given that slight production variances are inevitable, the amount of improvement may vary from one model to the next.
I've been expecting about an average of about 20% or about 2 dBs in effective sensitivity. To put this improvement into some practical context, a pick-up of 6 dBs in sensitivity equates to a potential of doubling the alerting range.
Like the Rev C. models that preceded, leaving POP reception OFF maximizes the performance envelope of Ka Max of the Rev C+.
Beyond improved Ka reception, Whistler has also put some energy into markedly improving reception to close-range police laser/lidar.
Relative to traffic radar, police laser beam-divergence is very small and is on average 3ft in diameter at a distance of 1000ft. The same beam diameter is reduced to approximately 18 inches at a distance of just 500ft and merely 9 inches at 250ft. When targeting our your license plate at 500ft, an 18 inch diameter beam may not reach the lowest part of your windshield, making it especially hard for a laser detector to actually see it and alert to it.
After some detailed measurements with one of the more difficult to detect LTI police lasers, I can attest to about a 20% improvement over their predecessors. This equates to several hundred feet improvement, in close-range detection.
For the most part, this puts these new Whistlers very nearly on par with the latest Beltronics and Escort dash-mount detectors along with certain Cobra models. Whistler has definitely made some nice strides in this very important aspect of radar/laser detection performance.
X-band and K-band performance appears to be on par with the Rev C models. This is to say, that it is good, but certainly not exceptional nor consistently close to the levels of some other top-rated radar detectors nor these two high-end remotes from Beltronics and Escort.
Frankly, given KaMax's awesome reception capability, the performance of the PRO-78SE, XTR-695SE, and XTR-690SE feels a bit lopsided.
I think of Whistler's Ka reception performance as the Superman to the Clark Kent of Whistler's X-band and K-band reception performance.
The "upshot" of this reduced X and K sensitivity is that these detectors are especially quiet around town (even in highway mode) and do not excessively alert to the ubiquitous X-band and K-band door openers of roadway-adjacent shopping centers.
While X-band (and to a lesser extent K-band) performance continues to be deprioritized in the majority of windshield-mount radar detectors by most manufacturers (notable exceptions being the Valentine One and the Beltronics STi Driver), performance of both X-band and K-band are still generally more consistently high relative to their respective levels of Ka performance.
Going forward, I certainly hope Whistler will continue to work on extracting higher levels of performance to these other police radar bands (if only K-band) even if it comes at an added expense to the consumer. Call it, K Max.
Fortunately for us, each of these new Whistlers maintain their quickness in alerting to all radar bands—something that we observed on previous Whistlers and we have repeatedly emphasized the importance of this performance attribute in our earlier Whistler reviews or real-world videos from the road.
Not only do these models occasionally alert before otherwise higher-sensitivity detectors, but their quickness also does a good job at conveying the texture to approaching instant-on police radar traps, something that generally gets lost in translation from other radar detectors' trailing alerts, which continue alarming for a finite period of time after the radar signal is no-longer present (trigger-released). These Whistlers behave more like the Valentine One in this regard, which is something that I personally much prefer.
Better Texture to Approaching Instant-on Threats
And yes, as evidenced in these videos, Whistler does an exceptional job managing their dynamic range (signal ramp) at converying the actual threat level at any time during these encounters.
I believe Whistler has struck a nearly perfect balance of four key elements of sensitivity, selectivity, quickness, and dynamic range (signal ramp) to convey the nature of approaching instant-on encounters.
I believe that, although Whistler has made an evolutionary improvement to their brand, it is significant enough that it represents a true milestone of achievement for any windshield mounted radar detector, let alone one that retails at less than half of the other manufacturers' flagship dash models.
Features and Aesthetics
Initially only available in their Whistler XTR-695 detector, the Whistler Pro-78SE, Whistler XTR-690SE, and Whistler XTR-695SE each provide Whistler's laser signature ID (LSID) which not only identifies pulse rates of various police lasers, but also serves to filter out the pulse-rates of lidar-based adaptive cruise control and lane departure systems which are appearing in greater frequency on newer vehicles featuring enhanced "driver-safety" electronics.
The pulse rates of these newfangled systems are outside those of today's police lasers, but can wreak havoc on sensitive laser detectors and laser jammers which can be set off when in close proximity to vehicles equipped with such systems.
Having Whistler's exclusive LSID feature, reduces the annoyance of false laser alerts from these kinds of sources whether or not the LSID feature is specifically enabled or not.
The Pro-78SE, XTR-690SE, and XTR-695SE also share Whistler's Ka radar signature ID (Ka RSID) feature. While not a true frequency counter, RSID does display the five established Ka frequencies used in traffic enforcement around the world (33.8 Ghz, 34.0 Ghz, 34.3 Ghz,34.7 Ghz, 35.5 Ghz) which can assist drivers in quickly identifying bona fide sources of Ka radar traps.
During our extended time behind the wheel, we observed that Whistler's Ka RSID did a very nice job at separating out alerts attributed to other junk-radar detector emissions from legitimate police radar, although we did encounter one cruiser operating constant-on 35.5Ghz Ka radar where it appeared to have mis-identified the 35.5 Ghz source as 34.0 Ghz.
Note: We have since shared this observation with Whistler's engineering team and I am pleased to report that Whistler has already addressed this so no production SE models will exhibit this quirk. Again, I am simply amazed at Whistler's dedication and commitment to ensuring customer satisfaction. They obviously care about and take great pride in their products.
The multi-colored back-lit display of the Whistler XTR-695SE operates in the identical fashion to that of its predecessor, the Whistler XTR-695 allowing for the custom tailoring of display alerts with seven different colors to visually assist drivers in rapid threat assessment. The Whistler XTR-695 SE also includes a speaker port which allows connection to an external speaker or a potential interface into a third party device, like Cheetah's GPS detectors, the Cheetah GPS Mirror or Cheetah C100.
The XTR-695SE is the first Whistler to provide illuminated buttons. While it is a very nice upscale touch, we would welcome the ability to change the button color illumination with the same choice of user-selectable background colors (and potentially top-mounted flashing alert LEDs) in a future models, as the current fixed blue color may appear to some to "clash" with other user-selected frontal-display colors. (This feature can be set to on/off/or flashing with an alert)
Of course, this has nothing to do with performance, but this added capability could allow for a more personalized mix-or-match color scheming.
Unlike the older LCD-based Whistler XTR-690, the new Whistler XTR-690SE features a very bright and readable red LED display.
Like the preceding Whistler Pro 78, the new Whistler Pro 78 SE includes a high-intensity blue LED display and auto-dimming capability.
All three new models feature two new streamlined-appearing rectangular blue LEDs which can be configured to blink during an alert to further grab your immediate attention.
Each of these three Whistlers feature a newly designed black plastic casing which feels even more solid than previous models. Although I have been told that it is the same material, perhaps because of the revised shape, they look and feel more substantial (if not a bit bulky in appearance) than previous Whistlers.
I do feel that the appearance of the blue or red LED plastic outer display panel strikes me as a bit large and both models could potentially benefit from the use of a framed front fascia as used on the XTR-695SE LCD model. Not only would it reduce the glare factor in certain lighting conditions, but I believe it would make the 690SE and Pro 78SE look smaller and more proportional from the front, as does the XTR-695SE. The XTR-695SE, as with the original XTR-695, is adorned with a low-reflection flat black chassis.
What Whistler has accomplished with the Pro 78 SE, XTR 695 SE, and XTR 690 SE in improved reception to Ka radar is nothing short of remarkable, especially when one considers that the retail price points have not increased as a consequence.
With the introduction of these three new detectors, Whistler has fortified their position as the provider of the greatest values in radar detector ownership.
I am going to continue keeping my eye on Whistler, as they have demonstrated to me that they are striving to build honest, trustworthy, and continually improved radar detectors —that deliver way more than their price points would otherwise suggest—while at the same time providing some of the best customer service in our entire industry.
If Whistler's subsequent full production-run models live up to the performance(s) I observed with these initial SE models, then Whistler certainly has another winner on its hands.
Whistler is definitely on the ball and on the move!
Happy and safe motoring!
The Veil Guy
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Related Reading/Reviews:Beltronics STi Driver
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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