One day some years ago, I was walking around the automotive section of Best Buy. (This was way back before I got into radar detectors.) I was checking out the different models they had on display, mostly different Cobra brand radar detectors, and wondering what the differences were between models. Some were more expensive. Some claimed to detect more bands than others. How many bands of detection did I need? With nothing else to go on, I figured that the best ones were the ones that detected the most amount of bands and had the highest price tags.
If you look online, you’ll see Cobra still advertising their detectors (particularly the older ones) as being able to detect lots of different bands, maybe 9 bands, 12 bands, 14 bands, 15 bands, etc.
What the heck is a “band” though? Is a model that more bands going to do a better job of protecting you? Why don’t other brands of radar detectors also advertise being able to detect so many bands? Why isn’t Cobra advertising how many bands their newer detectors can pick up? Let’s take a look at what all this means.
Cobra Radar Detector Bands
So in short, this is a bunch of misleading marketing nonsense designed to make otherwise crappy radar detectors sound very capable. There aren’t 9 bands of police radar to detect. There aren’t 12 or 14 or 15 bands. Cobra’s marketing team likes to incorrectly refer to “things we can detect” as different “bands” to make their products seem like they can detect more “things” than other manufacturer’s radar detectors. It’s actually misleading and deceptive and means absolutely nothing. What “things” can it detect? Does detecting them actually help us avoid speeding tickets in any way? and what are “bands” in the first place?
What Is A Band?
You know how the stereo in your car can tune to different radio stations by changing what frequency it’s listening to? Well radio waves (including radar) can operate on a variety of different frequencies. The entire range of radar frequencies are broken up into smaller sections called bands. Here’s a look at all the different radar bands, thanks to Wikipedia:
Police Radar Bands
When it comes to police radar, the FCC has allocated frequencies within just 4 different bands for police to transmit within.
- X Band: 10.525 GHz (10.5 – 10.55 GHz)
- Ku Band: 13.45 GHz
- K Band: 24.150 GHz (24.125 +/- 100 MHz or 24.150 +/- 100 MHz)
- Ka Band: 33.4 – 36.0 GHz
However, of these 4 bands, only 3 bands are actually in use: X, K, and Ka band. (Ku band is allowed, but no manufacturer produces or sells Ku band radar guns in the US. Some Ku band guns are in use in Europe, however.) Here’s what we have here in the US:
If you’d like to see X, K, and Ka band antennas, you can watch the video below. Or just look at the video thumbnail. X band is the biggest one on the left, there’s two different types of K band antennas to the right of it, and a Ka band antenna is right underneath my hand.
So really all we care about are X, K, and Ka band. Ku detection is completely irrelevant in the States. When Ku band was first introduced, some radar detector manufacturers added support for it and made a big deal for it saying “Ku band isn’t here yet, but buy our detector so that when it does arrive, you’re prepared!” However, that turned out to be nothing and so now it’s primarily a marketing ploy.
X band has been mostly phased out of the country. It’s actively in use in OH and NJ and a few other small cities around the US, but by and large the only two radar bands that are actively in use all across the US are K band and Ka band.
What Are the Extra Bands Cobra Is Talking About?
So Cobra likes to refer as “things it can detect” besides legitimate radar bands also as “bands.” What else can it detect? Here’s a look at some technical specifications from the manual of the XRS9370:
So let’s see… it can detect the 4 different radar bands we talked about.
It can also detect several different antiquated radar detector detectors which is of very limited usefulness. (See here for RDD info.)
It can detect laser guns with a variety of different pulse rates (just like every other radar detector).
and it can detect Safety Warning System (SWS) alerts which are messages that some K band speed signs can transmit to say things like “construction ahead” or “road closed ahead” but the feature never actually took off and it’s virtually unused. Most people actually shut this feature off because it’s of little to no practical value, it isn’t used much at all, and you get better performance with it disabled.
Cobra’s Transition to More Honest Marketing
The whole point of claiming a detector can detect more “bands” is just to make a detector seem more capable, even it’s not adding anything of value. All things being equal, a person would want a detector that detects more “bands” because it would offer more protection, or at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately that whole approach is misleading, deceptive, and in my opinion not the best way to advertise.
Now to Cobra’s credit, they’re actually moving away from this type of nonsensical marketing. Here’s a list of the specs for the newer RAD450:
So it looks like Cobra is moving away from their misleading marketing methods and I hope this trend continues. Instead of saying how many “bands” they can detect, here’s what they’re now saying instead:
Their newer detectors detect X, K, Ka, and Laser which is all you really need. VG-2 detection, whatever. I’m just glad that they’re simplifying things and saying that they detect all types of radar signals because that’s what customers really care about and that’s a way Cobra can be truthful in their advertising.
All the nonsense about how many bands this cobra radar detector it can detect, adding more and more random things to the list of bands to try and make the detector sound more capable and impressive, I’m glad this is all going away.
Keep it up Cobra. This honesty is refreshing. You’re heading in the right direction. 🙂
Finally, for those of you looking for a good quality radar detector, take a look at my Radar Detector Buyer’s Guide.
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