Cobra DSP 9200 BT Review: New Cobra Radar Detector is their Best Yet
Cobra DSP 9200 BT Review
Good things come in (very) small packages
By Veil Guy — August 20, 2015
Cobra DSP 9200 BT Review
2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the radar detector industry. We saw an old player (Uniden) re-emerge, after a long absence, with a series of all-new radar detectors and stay tuned for some new product announcements that are going to shake things up in a huge way.
But what’s especially fascinating happened this past June. Cobra Electronics, long a competitor to Escort, has been merged with Escort to form Cedar Electronics Holdings Corp. The merging of these two companies is the equivalent of the formal ending of hostilities between the Hatfields and McCoys. There’s been some “bad blood” between these companies over the years, broken agreements, claims of patent infringements, lawsuits, etc. All of this will be history now. I can only imagine the dynamics of the blending of the two corporate cultures. But, I am pleased to see that an appropriate “pecking-order” was chosen for Cedar’s executive management team, with Escort at the top. I wish this new team the best going forward.
The private equity firm, Monomoy Capital Partners first acquired Escort and Beltronics nearly two years ago, followed by Cobra Electronics sometime thereafter. With the acquisition of Cobra, MCP has essentially purchased two-thirds of the radar detector industry with some strokes of the pen (and a bunch of greenbacks). When the announcement was made public, I knew then that some of the advanced technology engineered and patented by Escort would eventually trickle down into the Cobra line, potentially putting other detector manufacturers at a greater competitive disadvantage long-term.
Cobra DSP 9200 BT Radar Detector Goes Digital
And so it has, with Cobra’s newest, most technologically advanced, and most expensive radar detector to date, the Cobra DSP 9200 BT. The letters DSP stand for “digital signal processing.” The BT, for bluetooth. The Cobra DSP 9200 BT is Cobra’s first detector to feature DSP which has the potential to bring noticeably higher levels of sensitivity and radar detection performance to the brand. DSP is not new. Far from it and Escort (known at the time as Cincinnati Microwave) introduced their first “digital” radar detector in the late 1980s, called the Escort DSP.
Even so, DSP is a big deal and the fact that the Cobra DSP 9200 BT now has that advanced signal processing technology incorporated into this radar detector bodes very well for the brand. Properly implemented, DSP may be able to add an additional 3db in effective sensitivity to an otherwise “analogue” radar detector. This can translate into an increase of radar detection range by as much as 50%. That’s a pretty big deal.
So does the Cobra DSP 9200 BT deliver the goods? Let’s see.
Appearance & Packaging
Cobra somehow manages to make their radar detectors smaller and smaller and the Cobra DSP 9200 BT is tiny even by Cobra’s recent standards, set by their Cobra SPX-7800BT radar detector. In comparison, other conventionally packaged radar detectors look behemoth by comparison. The tactile feel of the push buttons is quite solid. The configuration is all very nice and tidy and well put together. I would goes as far as to say the Cobra DSP 9200 BT radar detector is refined.
Cobra radar detectors have long been fitted with absolutely dazzling colored OLED displays that were easy to read in a wide variety of lighting conditions. In this regard, the Cobra DSP 9200 BT radar detector has taken a step backwards. (Note: Escort has also been suffering with lack-luster OLED display performance as evidenced by the Passport Max/Max2 and new Passport radar detectors.)
It doesn’t help that the front of the detector is quite angular which has the effect of creating lots of sun light reflections causing your eyes to constrict in response adding to the difficulty in viewing the screen in sunlight. The relatively low intensity light output of the display coupled with a very shiny plastic screen doesn’t help either. This is one aspect of the Cobra DSP 9200 BT that could be improved. I do very much like the automatic screen saver—a feature unique to Cobra—that engages after a finite amount of time. The display instantly comes back on, when the Cobra needs to get your attention.
Perhaps hampered by its diminutive size, the audio output isn’t as loud as it should be. Fitting the unit with a speaker system capable of increased volume without distortion would also be most welcomed. Those that are familiar with the female voice of Escort radar detectors, will find that she is now working for Cobra. The voice is clear, sounds very natural, and is very understandable.
Given the small size of the Cobra DSP 9200 BT, the choice of a mini-D power connector is a good one. An RJ11 jack—that is often found to power radar detectors from Escort and Beltronics—would simply take up too much real-estate. Speaking of the power cord, I was pleased to see that it also provided a USB connector to power your smartphone. This is especially important because this detector can wirelessly interface to Cobra’s GPS-enabled crowd-sourcing app called, iRadar, iRadar adds GPS capabilities to the detector and also includes a photo enforcement database. Unlike Escort Live (Escort’s equivalent), iRadar doesn’t require a paid subscription to use. It’s going to be interesting to see if the iRadar app eventually leverages Escort’s superior “Defender” database. Why manage two separate back-ends?
The Cobra DSP 9200 BT screen is tough to read in many lighting conditions
Finally! After years of abuse, the ridiculous marketing terms describing Cobra ostensibly increasing band detection prowess (topping out at a whopping 16) is so very welcome. Remember folks, there remain only four police radar (and police laser) detection “bands” used by police today.
Like all radar detectors, the Cobra offers a Highway (most unfiltered) and a City mode (for reduced sensitivity to X-band). The Cobra also offers a City mode (similar to Whistler) which doesn’t reduce sensitivity to X-band, but merely reduces the initial volume to X-band detections.
The Cobra DSP 9200 BT offers a feature called “Quietdrive” which provides reduced alert volumes when vehicle occupants wish to talk without much distraction. Personally I find this feature somewhat superfluous given the generally muted volume levels of this detector.
Noticeably missing is POP detection and police laser detection disabling. While I don’t miss seeing POP detection, not being able to disable detection to police laser can present an issue for drivers whose vehicles are equipped with laser-based parking sensors, adaptive cruise control systems, laser shifters, or laser jammers. It is an oversight, in my opinion, and should be incorporated into the menu system with a future firmware revision.
After some extended real-world testing of the new Cobra DSP 9200 BT, I am pleased to share with you that the incorporation of DSP into this detector has indeed made a improvement on alerting distances, especially with Ka. My encounters with both 33.8Ghz and 34.7Ghz Ka-band police radar left me impressed not only with its sensitivity but also with a noticeably increased ability to see “off-axis” radar, something that can really help when not in directly line of sight of the officer. The increased ability to alert to off-axis radar may also come from the new use of a “phase-correcting” convex lens that sits in front of the detector’s radar horn antenna.
An important note as it relates to Ka detections. There is a particular area of a town that I drive through where I can occasionally detect some stationery weak Ka (perhaps as a harmonic of another radar band). The only radar detectors historically capable of alerting had been the Escort/Beltronics M3s like the Redline and the Valentine 1. But, I was absolutely floored one night to see that the 9200 BT caught a brief glimpse of it and alerted. Simply amazing, meaning this is no typical Cobra. Not surprisingly, the Cobra is beginning to feel a little more like an Escort.
Cobra DSP 9200 BT versus 34.7 Ghz Ka Run I
Cobra DSP 9200 BT versus 34.7 Ghz Ka Run II
Cobra DSP 9200 BT versus 33.8 Ghz Ka
Cobra DSP 9200 BT versus Off-Axis 33.8 Ghz Ka
Reception to K-band also appears nicely improved over the 9200’s predecessors. X-band still seems to lag a bit, but even in the state of NJ, where X ruled for decades, we are seeing less and less of it in use. Overall, on the sensitivity front, this Cobra appears to raise the bar for the brand.
The ability of Cobras to detect police laser, still impresses me, however the unit is not quite as capable of alerting to as many varied police laser gun as some other higher-end radar detectors, such as the Passport, Redline, Valentine 1, and the value-priced Whistler CR90 and CR85 detectors. Still, the 9200 BT makes a very good pairing with the Veil G5 Stealth Coating.
Audio alerting and signal ramp
I continue to be pleased that Cobra has gotten their detectors’ dynamic ranges under control. In the past, Cobras had far too wide dynamic range. This prevented their detectors from alerting at full-strength even when at point-blank range to the radar source. Beyond simply alerting, a good radar detector must accurately convey the urgency of the threat and in a “linear” gradual way. The Cobra DSP 9200 BT does well in this regard.
There is an aspect of alerting behavior that I believe should be improved and that is when the detector sees multiple radar frequencies. In one encounter the Cobra was alerting to a 33.8Ghz Ka source but then switched to K-band when it began detecting the additional frequency. This should not happen. The alerting priorities for radar/laser bands when detected concurrently should always be (in decreasing order of importance): laser, Ka-band, K-band, followed by X-band.
False rejection, reactivity, and signal sweep
Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that Cobra has taken some different approaches to reducing falsing, one that I believe may cost less than implementing advanced filtering techniques found in other higher-end radar detectors. The Cobra appears somewhat “lethargic” requiring transmission durations of radar of about a second before alerting and seems pretty consistently slow across all of the radar bands of X, K, and Ka.
Certainly such delays in alerting would reduce the propensity of alerting to K-band traffic flow sensors and automotive lane-departure systems and cruise control systems utilizing FMCW (frequency-modulated continuous waveform) K-band. But such delays in alerting can put a driver at risk of missing an instant-on (IO) shot of police radar.
It also appeared to me that the sweeping ranges of the Cobra may be somewhat narrowed. A detector can not false to a signal that it doesn’t look at. It certainly can reduce the false alerting potential from automobiles’ K-band transmissions that may appear outside the typical margins of police radar and anything that can reduce the alerts to these obnoxious signal polluters, I welcome. The question is, however, can ignoring some frequencies put you at risk at missing real police radar? Fortunately for us drivers in the US, the market for which this detector is designed, these potential sweeping “constraints” should be just fine.
The DSP 9200 BT is the first Cobra radar detector to borrow from Escort, a true frequency counter. From my experiences, it appears accurate. The benefit of displaying the actual frequencies of detected police radar is that it can help you ascertain if certain Ka detections are likely real police radar versus Ka-band detections that are not. In the USA, the three Ka frequencies that we need to be concerned with are 33.8Ghz, 34.7Ghz, and 35.5Ghz.
Despite the advanced processing that a digital back-end brings to this detector, the 9200 BT still falses a good bit more than the ultra-premium detectors from Escort and Beltronics. On the other hand, it’s not unbearable either. Overall I found the Cobra to be pretty livable on this score.
It is not uncommon to see improper bands being reported with the 9200 BT. I will sometimes see Ka being reported when I know the actual source is K-band. The sources that tend to create these alerts are the K-band safety systems used by many automobiles. It is also interesting to note that even if Ka-band is disabled, the Cobra will still alert to Ka-band. This should be corrected in an improved version of firmware.
Wrapping Things Up
This new Cobra is the most expensive and most technologically advanced radar detector that has appeared in snakeskin. It comes at a price of $400. That’s $50 more than the suggested retail price of the Escort Passport, equal to the Beltronics Pro 500 (that has built-in GPS), equal to the Valentine 1, and more than double the street price of a Whistler CR90.
At the moment, Cobra is holding its dealers to MAP pricing of this detector. That’s the real challenge this Cobra is facing, in my opinion. It’s not one of performance, per se, but positioning. If the street price of this detector was more in the realm of $299, I would say it would be worthy of serious consideration. But, at $400, unless you are a die-hard Cobra fan or specifically prefer other attributes of this detector like its diminutive size, I feel there are other radar detectors with greater feature-sets and overall capabilities to be found for that amount of money, like other detectors from Beltronics or Escort.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like about this model and I absolutely love its size—everything else seems too large by comparison—and this model is clearly Cobra’s best radar detector yet. Perhaps in terms of positioning, taking a cue from BMW may be in order. Cobras could be the equivalent of the 3 series, Beltronics, the 5 series, and Escort, the 7 series. My suggestion would be to set the MSRP at $349, but allow the unit to sell for a somewhat lower cost.
In any event, I think this detector represents a seminal moment in this industry for Cobra and I fully expect to see more good things to continue coming from this brand. As a corollary to this, I am fully expecting both Escort and Beltronics brands to become even more distinguished going forward as they will continue to represent the high-end in this industry.
Remember, to always drive safely and ticket free.
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