The Prox Reader Shootout

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Aug 27, 2015

In this report, we put eight readers of the popular 125 kHz contactless format head to head and see which one rises to the top.

Over a third of integrators call 125 kHz 'favorite', and tens of thousands of systems use them every day. So we picked readers from Allegion, HID, and Honeywell and others to see how they stacked up.  We also tested the cheapest options we could find, just to see how much price plays a role in better performance:

Inside, see the full report that includes our findings for each reader.

Key Findings

In alphabetical order, here are the pros and cons for the eight models we tested:

  • Allegion (XceedID) Aptiq PR10: Build quality for this Allegion reader was high, which features a detachable mount bracket that fixes to the reader with no discernable gaps. Until the other rectangle 'brick' shaped units, the unit features a rounded, bean-shaped housing with no sharp edges. This reader was the only until to feature a detachable pigtail that could assist wiring in the field.  However, while the performance and design of this reader is high, it was also the highest price.  In terms of most doors, less expensive readers would be more economical and perform just as well in service. 
  • Honeywell OP10HON: Overall, this reader is a functional and design match for the HID ProxPoint 6005, but costs about $25 more. Performance was equal to the HID. However, the pro for this Honeywell version is it also includes three swappable color bezel options for blending into surrounding rooms. 
  • Farpointe Data P-300HA: This reader provided the best read range in the smallest size. However, the front LED only slightly blinks when a card is read (On/Off, not color changing), and the beeper sounder was quieter than most other readers.  During reads, a user might have some doubt whether or not a card was actually read in a noisy environment. 
  • AWID SR-2400 Prox: While this reader was one of the largest, this reader also offered the longest read range of all units. It is also essentially equal in price to the HID ProxPoint, but the large (full mullion) size could be too large for thin frame doors or tight spaces.
  • HID ProxPoint 6005: Identically sized to The Honeywell and Rosslare readers, this reader offered the best mix of performance, HID format support, and lowest price.  If HID credentials are already in use, the 6005 offers solid build quality, loud beeper, and good weatherproofing design.
  • Rosslare AY-KR12B: Designwise, this unit was also the same as the HID 6005 and Honeywell OP10, but it is not licensed to work with HID formats. Instead, it can only be used with generic 125 kHz (EW) format credentials.  This is a showstopper for many existing installed systems.
  • Generic 26 bit 125kHz Keypad RFID: While this reader added a keypad option to a 125 kHz reader for less than $20, the biggest weakness of this unit is that it only worked with unlicescened credentials. Also, while the reader housing is watertight, the keypad buttons are not, and direct exposure to water or normal wear would likely ruin the unit.
  • Generic 26 bit 125kHz RFID: Another sub-$20 unit, this reader was the biggest and bulkiest, but it barely read cards more than 1" away.  This unit also had a poorly fitted enclosure and despite being a new reader had multiple cosmetic blemishes and scratches. Despite the low-cost appeal, this unit is not suitable for most access systems due to lack of HID format support and poor build quality.

Overall, our testing raised three primary findings:

  • HID Compatability Costs More: Even though 125 kHz are common, readers are selectively licensed to work with certian credentials. For example, HID credentials can only be read by HID readers, and the cheapest reader examples will only work with generic cards and not common 'HID licensed' formats.
  • Credential Form Factors Equal: In terms of read range and read quickness, the shape of the credential did not impact performance. We tested a variety of 125 kHz credentials that include CR-80 sized cards, clamshells, and keyfobs.  In no case did a reader pickup or have longer/shorter range due to the shape of the credential.
  • Unequal Weatherproofing: In general, the more expensive readers offered more rugged construction and better water proofing than the cheaper alternatives.

We expand on those keys in the sections below.

Our Recommendation

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In our test, the best reader overall was the HID ProxPoint 6005.

While essentially the same reader as the Rosslare AY-KR12B and the Honeywell OP10HON, it offered the best mix of small size, read range, cost, and credential format support.  With it's mini-mullion size it offers the best mounting flexibility, and cost ~$55 (or less) online. However, given that pricing for 125 kHz readers can fluxuate from week to week, the price advantage may change if other similar readers (ie: Honeywell OP10HON) are 'on sale' at distributor's counters. 

Other notable models include the Farpointe Data P-300HA that performed equal or better in all categories but price, at ~$20 more per reader, and the AWID SR-2400 that was near equal on price and construction, but was one of the largest units - not ideal for mounting in tight spaces.  The AWID unit also offered the longest read range of the units tested, often exceeding 6".

For systems where non-HID MIFARE formats are used, 125 kHz reader options are not a practical issue, since the most common DESFire formats use 13.56 MHz credentials. 

Reader Form Factor

For our test, we selected six 'mini-mullion' sized readers that all cost less than $80 each and read 125 kHz 'proximity-style' contactless credentials.  In all cases, units were available direct (via online resellers) or through national security distribution.

Unit sizes of all units are small enough so mounting directly on door mullions or frames is possible, and external fixtures like single-gang boxes or wall mounting brackets are not needed.  Of all reader sizes, the mini-mullion form factor is most commonly used in commercial access control.

Price Comparison 

In terms of cost, our test readers ranged from a high of ~$80 to less than $17. The chart below shows cost, and illustrates a key factor: HID credential formats support costs more.

While HID Prox, ISOProx, and ProxII is a 125 kHz based credential format, readers must be licensed to read it. 'Generic' 125 kHz readers typically cost 2X - 4X less, but will not work with HID cards.

In our test, equivalent sized CR-80 credentials were used, but Generic readers would not read HID cards, nor would HID readers read Generic cards.  Of note, non-HID credentials typically cost less per unit than their HID equivalents - in our example, the HID ProxII cards cost $0.45 each, while non-HID generics cost $0.27 each.

Surprisingly, the lowest cost HID liscened reader was also HID branded, the 'ProxPoint' 6005 that costs ~$50. However, that price was almost 3X greater than the ~$17 'Generic' branded reader that is not HID licensed, nor works with HID credentials.

Cost Often Determines Winner

Our testing shows how important price is in unit selection. For the mainstream security offerings, performance was close enough that the top six selections would be satisfactory in basic systems if variables like read range and unit size were not a factor.

This emphasizes the importance of unit price in selection. As price fluxuates between models, the 'best' selection may be reordered.  We recommend price shopping more than just the most familiar reader part number to see if pricing offers a better deal for the same basic device.

Performance Summary

The key performance factor for readers is typically how far away they can detect and energize a card, a variable called 'read range'.  Our test revealed a strong correlation between unit size (in cubic inches) and their read range (in inches), with one notable exception:

Read Range Test

We tested read range by measuring the distance between the face of the reader and a card presented flush, which is the most typical position in field use.  Our chart measures this gap, with the longest range being nearly 6 inches and the worst performer averaging just over 1 inch.

In general, larger units have greater range (see overall volume values for comparasion) due to more space for antenna assemblies. However, the exception to this trend was the largest overall reader, one of the non-HID Generic models. Despite having a large footprint, its range was the shortest at under 1.5 inches.

The longest read range belonged to the AWID SR-2400 that routinely read over 6 inches, with the typical range being about 2.25 inches.

In general, readers will need to be mounted on or very near the controlled opening and allow the card holder easy access to present a card. The only exception to this constraint is the AWID unit, whose ~6 inch range make it suitable to mount on an adjacent wall or bollard if needed.

Controller Compatability

For our test we connected all readers to an Axis A1001 using standard Weigand protocol and controller pass-through power. In all cases, readers communicated card details without error and with no bad reads.

Outdoor Use

All of the readers we purchased were rated for outdoor use, although the method of weatherizing the devices varied by manufacturer.  

  • Sonic Welded: With the exception of the Allegion PR10, the higher priced units featured a sonic-welded sealed housing with the pigtail sealed or gasketed through the body. This method of weather proofing is more resilient to damage in the field, although is available on the more costly readers.
  • Resin Potted: The two cheapest (Generic) readers use a liquid-resin potted seal, where the electronic components are encased in a poured epoxy and hardened to seal the unit. While this method generally is sufficient for most locations, the epoxy can become brittle or break over time (especially during freeze/thaw cycles) and leave the unit vulnerable to water damage.

The image below shows both weatherproofing types side by side for contrast:

Other Factors

We also checked the readers in our test on the following parameters, and found they all tested similarly with no differentiation:

  • LED/Beeper Support: All units featured both an audible beeper and status LED.  In all cases, these elements functioned as expected.  
  • Tamper Support: The readers in our test included an IR type anti-tampering sensor that is normally closed and alarms if the reader is knocked off the wall.  In all cases, this sensor worked.
  • Multiple Card Reads: No unit permitted more than one 125 kHz card to be read at one time. The risk of errantly reading multiple cards in a purse, wallet, or lanyard is low, and only card deliberatly presented to the reader are likely to be processed.
  • Read Speed: In all cases, readers were quickly responsive (1 second or less) on successive reads. Read lag or latency issues did not appear to be a factor, and would not likely be an issue in production systems.

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