Cobra makes many affordable radar detectors. You can easily find them in the $50 range or so on Amazon. However, are they any good? Are they worth the money? and perhaps most importantly, will a Cobra radar detector help protect you from speeding tickets?
Spoiler: Cobra makes some pretty terrible radar detectors. As in seriously bad. Yes they’re inexpensive and of course they’re not going to have the features and performance of a $400 radar detector, but the performance is often unacceptably poor as you’ll see in a moment, the false alert filtering is mediocre, and they even “leak” radar in a way that causes problems and false alerts for other radar detector users nearby.
Cobra radar detectors don’t offer adequate protection for the user running them and also they don’t play well with others nearby as well. Cobra tries to make up for it with misleading marketing about being able to detect over 9,000 (non-existent) bands and whatnot. Fortunately there are better options.
Best Affordable Radar Detectors
Inexpensive and affordable radar detectors are always super popular, so before we dive into the world of Cobra, here’s my picks for the very best affordable radar detectors.
Generally my top pick for an inexpensive radar detector is the Uniden DFR6. It offers the performance and filtering (but not all the features) of detectors that cost hundreds of dollars more and hits that sweet spot of being a good performing yet still moderately priced radar detector.
For even more affordable options, buy the Uniden DFR5 or buy the Uniden DFR3. They offer less performance, but will still do a reasonable job of keeping you protected while filtering out many annoying false alerts without breaking the bank. You’re not going to find a better detector at this price point. They’re the hidden gems of the budget radar detector world.
Cobra Radar Detectors
Let’s look at a few key aspects of Cobra’s radar detectors and learn a little more about them.
Cobra Radar Detector Performance
Starting with the most important attribute, radar detection performance. What we find is that in ideal situations, ie. flat terrain, no trees, no curves, no hills, and nothing to block the radar signal, Cobra radar detectors can indeed provide some advanced warning and help you slow down in time to avoid a speeding ticket.
However, when the terrain gets even slightly more difficult, that’s when things start to fall apart. For example, take a look at this test below. There are some curves and trees here between the radar gun and radar detectors and even the top of the line radar detectors are only able to provide about a third of a mile of advanced warning. However, that’s plenty of time to slow down by the time you reach the “‘kill zone” (the spot where the radar gun has a visual on the target vehicle and is first able to acquire its speed).
Cobra SPX 7800BT Performance
The Cobra SPX7800BT that I tested (a feature packed higher end Cobra radar detector that originally retailed for $259, so we’re talking a higher end unit here, not even the super cheapy ones) alerted only just before I reached the kill zone. With this detector, I’d have to slam on the brakes immediately when it goes off in order to avoid a ticket. Take a look.
Here’s another test with the SPX 7800BT. Instead of curves, this time we have some slight hills. These hills were enough to block the signal enough to the point that the detector didn’t even alert until I crested the top of the hill, after the radar gun had already acquired my speed.
Against a constant on radar source (the easiest type of radar to detect), the SPX 7800BT fell flat on its face and failed to provide any advanced warning. If I was running this detector, I would have gotten a speeding ticket.
Note: The SPX 7800BT is the worst radar detector I have ever tested. See my complete Cobra SPX 7800BT review for more info. In short, it has not just poor performance, but also poor filtering, poor design, and so on. It was a higher end unit with more bells and whistles. Cobra makes simpler detectors without some of the same bells and whistles and other lines of radar detectors such as the XRS and ESD line of radar detectors with even less sensitivity, but given the unacceptability of how even their higher end units perform, you can already see where this is going…
Cobra RAD450 Performance
Since then Cobra has come out with newer radar detectors such as the Cobra RAD450 (retail $169). The TXCTG tested one out in the flat straightaways in Texas, creating a pretty easy testing scenario for the different radar detectors. The higher end radar detectors were typically able to detect the radar signal 2 miles away or more.
The RAD450 (in blue at the very right) turned in last place results with detections of about 0.7 miles, or roughly 3,700 feet. The kill zone in this test course was about 1,100 feet away, so fortunately the RAD450 was still able to provide sufficient advanced warning for a save. In these ideal conditions, it was able to do the job and help the driver avoid a speeding ticket.
However, when you encounter something more challenging such as trickier terrain or instant on radar, that’s when things start to really fall short for the Cobras. For example, here’s another test, also with a nice long and flat straightaway, except that the radar car was hiding just on the other side of an overpass.
Take a look at the results on the far right. Second to last you’ll see the RAD450. Like the Whistler CR93, another inexpensive radar detector, it provided zero advanced warning and if you were running the RAD450, you would have gotten owned.
Cobra DSP 9200BT Performance
Now you may be saying wow, Cobras can’t be all that bad, and with one notable exception, you’d be right. A few years ago Cobra merged with Escort, a company that actually does sell good performing radar detectors. After the merger, some of Escort’s DSP (digital signal processing) technology started to trickle down into Cobra’s radar detectors and we started seeing surprisingly capable Cobra radar detectors.
The Cobra DSP9200BT was a perfect example of that. When this detector came out (original retail price of $399), the performance shocked us all. Take a look at the following test results featuring both the Cobra SPX 7800BT which I talked about above, as well as the new Cobra DSP9200BT. The older (and previous top of the line) SPX 7800BT continued turning in bottom of the barrel results, but the newer DSP9200BT had no problem holding its own against other quality radar detectors.
This was really exciting to see. Finally we had a Cobra radar detector that offered very capable performance! The blind spot filtering capability was surprisingly good too. The issue was that it was $399 and at that price point you have other top end radar detectors that offered more key features (such as GPS lockouts) that still made them a better buy.
Eventually the price of the DSP9200BT started falling and you could find it online for less than $200 and it became an incredible bargain, yet another one of those hidden gems.
However, Cobra radar detectors are supposed to slot below Escort radar detectors in terms of performance so that there’s clear differentiation between the brands so Escort/Cobra has since discontinued the DSP9200BT and that same platform is no longer available in any Cobra radar detector.
Cobra’s Questionable Marketing Practices
As you can see, the performance of Cobra’s radar detectors just isn’t there and it’s one of the primary reasons that I feel like recommending one of their products to you would be doing you a disservice. Sure they’re inexpensive detectors and I totally understand the appeal of that, but you deserve a reasonable level of protection and IMHO, Cobra doesn’t clear the bar.
Another issue that you’ll see with their detectors is that because the performance isn’t there, they try and build up the value of their products in another way: They advertise being able to detect lots of different bands.
15 Band Detection?
Take a look at this. You’ll see different model Cobra radar detectors that can detect 9 bands, 12 bands, 14 bands, or even 15 bands. How many bands of detection do you need? Is a 15 band detector better than a 9 band detector?
What’s the story here? Honestly this is simply intentionally misleading advertising.
There are only 3 bands of radar in use here in the United States: X band, K band, and Ka band. There’s also Ku band, but there are no radar guns here that actually use Ku band. Laser is in use, but different laser guns aren’t different bands. Every decent radar detector can detect different laser guns (not that that helps you avoid a speeding ticket), but other manufacturers don’t follow that up by saying that they’re detecting different bands.
Cobra sometimes also likes to try and differentiate themselves from the competition by detecting unnecessary things such as railroad crossings. Here’s an example of when the SPX 7800BT picked one up. It was actually just a false alert, but it’s a good example of another “band” that Cobra may claim it can detect.
Basically Cobra likes to make up its own “bands” and then claim that they can detect more “bands” than other brands of radar detectors. It is both confusing and deceptive.
For more detailed information about Cobra’s take on different bands, read my in depth article covering how many bands a Cobra radar detector can detect.
False Alert Filtering
Another area where Cobra radar detectors generally lag behind the competition is in false alert filtering.
There are many sources of non-police radar including speed signs, automatic door openers in front of shopping centers and drugstores, as well as other cars nearby with radar-based collision avoidance systems such as blind spot monitoring systems or smart cruise control. For us, these are considered false alerts and so you’ll want a radar detector that does a good job of filtering these out so that when it does go off, you pay attention.
Unfortunately Cobra’s radar detectors do a poor job of filtering out these annoying sources of false alerts. Even if we were to ignore the poor performance and even if you drive exclusively in ideal conditions (long, flat straightaways where you encounter only constant on), the poor filtering will likely make you want to throw your radar detector out the window.
One of the most annoying attributes of Cobra radar detectors is that they are designed in a way where they not only detect radar, but they also “leak” radar… radar that happens to be on in a frequency range that triggers false alerts on other nearby radar detectors.
The false alerts that Cobras trigger are on Ka band, a band that’s frequently used by police all around the country. There are very few sources of false alerts on Ka band, fortunately, but leaky Cobras are one of the biggest ones.
It’s for this reason that many radar detectors have filters on Ka band specifically designed to filter out false alerts from poorly designed radar detectors such as leaky Cobras nearby. The filter comes in different names depending on the brand of radar detector. For example, Escort calls it Radar Detector Rejection (RDR), the Valentine One calls is Ka Guard, and Uniden calls it Ka Filter, but they’re all designed specifically to filter out false alerts from nearby leaky Cobras.
Unfortunately Ka Filters typically diminish performance so many of us opt to disable the Ka Filters and use other techniques such as band segmentation to both optimize the performance of our radar detectors while simultaneously cutting out these annoying false alerts. (This is the sort of thing I explain in my radar detector tutorials.)
The issues that Cobra radar detectors cause for other nearby radar detector users are another reason why I don’t recommend running a Cobra radar detector in your own vehicle.
There’s so much more I could say, but I think you’re getting the gist of it.
Cobra Radar Detector Conclusion
As you can see, there’s quite a few issues with Cobra radar detectors including poor performance, poor filtering, leakage inducing false alerts in other radar detectors, and misleading marketing.
I would love it if these were at least reasonably effective so that you guys would have a reasonable level of protection. You definitely deserve that.
If you’re looking for a good inexpensive detector, check out the Uniden DFR3. It’s the best radar detector under $100. In my opinion I do feel that you’re better off investing in one of the best radar detectors on the market because it really does make a difference in practice. The sweet spot for price/performance seems to be the Uniden DFR6 and Uniden DFR7 (read my DFR6 and DFR7 review).
Whistler makes some budget radar detectors too, but they have similar issues with performance and filtering. Escort makes good radar detectors, but they tend to be in the upper end of the price spectrum. The same is true with Radenso. (The recently discontinued Radenso SP is now more affordable too for those of you who want a high quality radar detector at a lower price.)
There’s not a lot of companies out there that make good inexpensive radar detectors. If you’re looking for an acceptable radar detector and are considering a Cobra radar detector, my personal recommendation to you is to keep looking…