Well, maybe not the "Ultimate" review, but here are my findings/conclusions...
First of all, a little bit of history. My first Radar Detector(RD) was the big, black Escort box back in 1981, or thereabouts. It was a nice RD, state-of-the-art at the time. It came in a big molded plastic box. That was a heavy unit.
After some time I got a smaller Passport model. One day, however, the windshield mount broke and the unit got shelved. Eventually, it was thrown away. I went for many years without a radar detector.
I recently decided that it was time to look into getting a new RD. I had to do some research as I had no idea what is now state-of-the-art, here in 2006. I had to decide which units I wanted to consider. I had long been intrigued by Valentine Research's V1. So, I put that on my list. I also knew that I had to consider Escort's offerings. A number of reviews indicated that the Escort 8500 X50 and the Bel RX-65 were excellent units. I later learned that they were both made by the same company, Escort. (I believe that Escort purchased Bel some time back and is now the parent company of both.) While the Bel RX-65 was rated highly for some of its detection capabilities, vs. the X50 and others, there were various reports of the RX-65 having poor laser detection and a pretty poor reliability rating (i.e., lots of malfunctions). So, given these claims, I decided to go with the X50 for my test. The X50 was reported to have the better laser abilities between the two. So I decided to compare the V1 and the X50.
I did a lot of web research on the two detectors. I was surprised at how many reviews were placing the X50 above the V1. But alot of this seemed to come down more to VR's resistance to change along with the downsides of high-sensitivity in a detector (i.e. chattiness). Others indicated that there can be bias in the reviews due to "commercial" interests (i.e. the review sites had a financial interest in selling the detectors that they were rating so highly and the opposite for those they weren't selling.) Given all of these factors, the reviews are still interesting and do provide some useful info. They're just a starting point, however.
B. "Independent" Tests
Various sites show tests of sensitivity of and between the units. The V1 seems to be the hands-down leader in laser and X-band. The two units are closer in Ka and K, with more give and take. [RadarGurus... please correct/clarify if needed!]
[An interesting note: Valentine Research seems to like to go back to a comparison test in 2002. I believe it was by Car and Driver? I called VR and they told me that they don't believe any objective and qualified tests have occurred since then and that the tests that we do see floating around aren't really reliable. This may or may not be, but I don't think that all of the test results can simply be ignored. I'm very curious as to why an "objective" test hasn't occurred since 2002 and why the manufacturers aren't making one happen. They would certainly have a huge audience for the results, right?]
I wanted to get a "hands on" feel for the two units. I first ordered a V1 from VR. I made use of their 30-day tryout. After I returned that unit, I ordered an X50 8500 Blue from Escort for a 30 day-tryout. Here are some of my observations...
C. Price and Delivery
The V1 cost $399.00 plus $5.87 shipping. I also added the Concealed Display for $39. V1 total=$443.87.
The X50 cost $339.95 plus $13.00 shipping. X50 total=$352.95.
Though the cost difference was $90.92, there are some considerations. As I show in the next section, the V1 accessory package is, in my opinion, a stronger package. There are differences in the V1's concealed Display and the X50's SmartCord. This price difference may not be as large as it
seems when you actually compare what you get.
D. Package Contents
V1: windshield mount; visor mount;
lighter adapter; power cord, coiled;
straight power cord; direct-wire power adapter;
wiring-harness connector; owner's manual;
interlocking fastener; spare suction cups; spare fuse (Source: VR)
X50 8500: owner's manual, windshield mount,
a coiled power cord, quick reference card, and travel case (Source: EscortRadar)
The V1 had, in my view, a much better and thoughtful accessory kit. They give you both a windshield and a visor mount. The power cord is straight, which I prefer. You get spare suction cups and fuse, etc. The windshield mount is clever in that it has a little bar across the suction cups that helps in unsticking the suction cups from the window when removing.
The X50 came with a macaroni (is it fusilli?) power cord which I don't like because of their "pull" on the unit. My power outlet is down near the floor and so it puts the cord under tension. They only give you a windshield mount. Mine didn't always adhere to the window well. The X50 comes with a fancy hard case that you can use for storage. I found it to be a little big. The V1 had no case.
--- V1 Concealed Display Vs. X50 SmartCord.
The X50 package offers a simplified version of what would be the Concealed Display on the V1. V1's concealed display provides more "intelligence" than the X50's, showing band and directional arrow on the display. The X50's SmartCord just indicates whether an Alert is occurring and that the power is on. It doesn't show band, that I'm aware of.
In terms of accessories coming with the unit, I prefer V1's standard accessory kit.
E. Quality (Feel)
The V1 is a solid, metal encased unit. The X50 comes in a plastic case. I could feel something moving around in my X50 as I moved it around. Though I wouldn't want to drop either, I would have to place my bets on the V1 for surviving a fall better than the X50.
The X50 is narrower but longer than the V1. The V1 is, conversely, wider, but shorter, I believe.
F. Case and Interface Design
The V1 case and interface design can be described in several ways: industrial, military, serious, etc. One additional word that I would use is "dated." The design has changed very little since its initial design, though it has shrunk. It still uses primitive LEDs, etc. There's nothing high-resolution about the display at all. Because it is uses such old components, it is limited, in my opinion, in how much information it can communicate to the user. (For example, the bogey counter seems to be a single LED that's capable of displaying letters and 0 through 9. Put a high res display in there! It's almost embarassing, VR. A new high-res could show gads of info and not limit the counter to 9. Am I right about this?) That being said, a strong argument can be made that it communicates almost everything that it *needs* to (band, direction, strength).
The X50's design is far more up-to-date than the V1's. They actually use a slightly higher resolution display. It can actually display *words.* Oooh, ahhh.
Neither unit, when compared with truly modern devices like GPS units, can boast here. They're both behind the times.
--- Threat Counters.
Both units have the ability to display "bogeys" or potential threats. The V1 does this by showing a counter of detected signals along with simultaneously flashing band LEDs.
X50 has a very clever "threat counter" shown in "Expert" mode. It displays the different bands being detected along with a count of how many sources and their strength. It provides a nice profile for the different sources. If I'm understanding it correctly, it is limited to
detecting 8 simultaneous sources at a time, with a max of 2 Ka, 2 K and 4 X. I don't know if it could show 4 Ka and 3 K if there were no X. Just not sure. It's good though.
--- The Arrows.
The V1 has a patented technology which shows where it believes the radar source to be originating. Is it in front of you or behind? The V1 can point this out. After having tested the V1 first and then using the X50, I would get very "anxious" as the X50 would pick up a threat, but I couldn't tell if it was in front of or behind me. The arrows are super-duper. I don't think that you should blindly rely on them, but they provide critical information, IMO. Hard to live without once you've used them.
Now, I'm not sure as to the accuracy of this, but someone mentioned that V1's patent may be close to expiring on the arrow deal. If this is so, this will present a very interesting landscape when it happens. The other manufacturers would for sure integrate this technology.
[Edit] Volume: The V1 has an excellent high volume level. You will be able to hear it fine. I was a bit frustrated with the X50's maximum volume. It was a little hard to hear at times (hard to hear before it would go into automute). They really need to adjust this up a bit for those of us who went to even one Van Halen concert back in the day.
The V1 is known to have excellent sensitivity. As such, if you leave it in its native All-Bogeys mode, you will pick up all sorts of microwave signals. It can be a bit "chatty." But, it's a very reliable device. It also has a couple of filtering modes.
The X50 showed to be a quiet unit, in comparison. At times, I was concerned whether or not is was working. But it seemed to bark when it needed to. I would attribute its more "polite" behavior to its internal signal processing. But, on the other hand, perhaps it just wasn't able to detect the radar sources as the V1 could.
Either way, both units have their own personality which you would need to become accustomed to. The V1 can be a bit annoying when it's receiving too much input (shopping centers, etc.), however, on the open road, you want every bit of that sensitivity. And, the X50 might provide for a quieter ride through town, but may not give you the full distance detection you want on the open road.
My situation, driving more on open roads, points me towards the V1.
H. Tuning, Updating and Reliability
All RDs, it is my understanding, will require "tuning" at a point to bring the electronics back into compliance. Both will require a trip back to the manufacturer for tuning.
Both units will also require a trip back to the manufacturer for firmware updates. This shows that neither unit is really "up to date" in its overall technology. I am a big proponent of allowing user firmware updating like I can do with my other "toys."
I didn't have enough time with the units to give you much insight into the reliability of X50 vs. V1. You can read about the experiences of people on this forum.
I didn't alter the programming much on the units. The X50, however, is very simple to program. The V1, not so much.
J. Performance (My Test Drives)
As stated earlier, the "formal" tests show the strengths and weaknesses of both units for detecting certain bands/sources. In my "test" cases, I simply took the units out for some real world testing. I used the V1 on a 2,200 mile trip across the NE and Midwest. I used the X50 on about a 900 mile trip in the NE.
Unfortunately, I only came across a handful of LEOs (actually that's good news.. just not for testing/playing). The X50 was definitely quieter for the journey. Both gave me warning for the LEOs I did run into. The X50 just gave me a little blip before driving into an instant-on signal. I don't know if the terrain/angle was bad or whether the unit just couldn't pick up the signal earlier.
A note on the V1's laser performance. Though it is held as the best laser detector, I experienced a truck-load of laser falses. I could identify some as coming from neon signs, etc., but sometimes I would be in the middle of east Jabip (i.e. nowhere) and I'd get a laser alert. That's a bit annoying but again, for the sake of sensitivity, just something I'd have to deal with. Fortunately or unfortunately, I didn't have any real laser events.
Also, as I stated elsewhere on the forums, there was a very bad development with the X50. While I didn't run into many LEOs, I did encounter many construction signs with K-band radar emitters. The V1 would provide me with the expected gradual build up in the alert as I got closer and closer to the sign. The problem with the "quiet" X50 is that it rarely would build up the alert. Instead, as I got closer, it would go from silence to FULL ALERT, making me think I was being gunned with instant-on. This happened time and time again. (In case you're wondering... No. I never used the RDs together at the same time.)
After doing a bit of reading online, I found that this problem wasn't only mine. I don't know if it couldn't pick up the K-band well or if the signal processing inside the X50 shunted the signal, but either way, it was not good.
The Bottom Line:
When I first started the tests, I thought that I was simply going to end up with the V1. I had long been impressed by the unit. But, then once I saw the X50, I started thinking, well, this is pretty nice, it's modern, the Blue display is cool, it costs less and according to reports has good sensitivity. For 650 miles of the final leg of my trip, I was split between the two... probably leaning towards the X50 because of the aforementioned. I knew that the V1 had better detection in many aspects, but figured given all things, the X50 would be good enough. But then I started hitting the construction signs again and it occurred to me that this was surfacing a problem in the way the X50 was performing. I couldn't continue to have the false Full Alerts near these signs... I run into too many of them. I'd lose all of my hair. Was there an underlying signal processing problem that might impact me elsewhere?
At this point, my opinion shifted and I decided in favor of the the V1. It has great detection. It may be chatty, but that points to its sensitivity which is a good thing. And it has those Arrows. It's a little more expensive, but is a solid investment that should hold up to use.
I'll be repurchasing the V1 soon... (along with a modified concealed display from lifespeed! [My apologies for such a long review!]