The AEM X-Series vs Ballenger AFR500 Wideband

The AEM X-Series vs Ballenger AFR500 Wideband

If ever there was a subject that was the cause of great debate, Wideband O2 sensors would be right at the top of that list.  In fact, while writing this article I stopped and made a quick post on Facebook to ask my friend group (mostly experienced tuners and calibrators) what they thought of the AEM vs Ballenger widebands.  Not surprisingly, I got back a wide range of answers supporting both brands, each with their own reasons and experiences, some of which I  reference here.  When deciding between these two brands, I found there are just a few important factors that distinguish between AEM and Ballenger Widebands, since both brands make excellent products.  

Let’s start the discussion with the obvious - Price.

When comparing, the AEM X-Series comes in at just $258 (with CANBUS support, for vehicles built after 2007).  This includes everything you need - a digital gauge, Wideband O2 sensor, OBD2 interface connector, and a built-in O2 controller inside the gauge.  The plug and play kit put together by The Tuning School includes the cigarette lighter adapter so no wiring is necessary to power and use this in any vehicle you choose.     

aem x series

When pricinging the Ballenger, there are currently two versions I would consider.  The AFR500 (priced at $364, no CANBUS) or the AFR500C which includes CANBUS support (for vehicles built after 2007) for an additional $100, making it $464.  This also is a complete kit, provided by The Tuning School with  a cigarette lighter adapter included to make it a plug and play solution.  I would recommend the AFR500C if you ever plan to tune any vehicles made from 2007 and newer  using HP Tuners, SCT or other OEM tuning solutions.  If not, you can buy the AFR500 and just use Analog outputs for your favorite tuning software (also perfect for aftermarket EFI systems).

  ballenger afr500

 Both versions of the Ballenger are still very affordable, and given that neither brand is exceedingly expensive, we don’t see a need to eliminate one brand just based on price.

The next deciding factor is accuracy and repeatability.  

While AEM publishes this chart showing their system’s response times, Ballenger is not on this list.  However, the consensus among our group of tuning experts is that the average tuner would not notice any discernible difference between the two brands during most tuning situations.  Meaning, both systems would report the same AFR (within one decimal place) at the same time. 

afr sensors ranked 

However, there is more of a debate regarding repeatability, where most tuners and calibrators I asked leaned towards the Ballenger - citing the superior electronics and sensors, with optional O2 sensors ranging from production grade to lab grade.  The Ballenger is the closest unit you can buy to a full lab-grade unit without significantly increasing price (typically more than triple the cost of a Ballenger unit).  

My opinion is that if you are an enthusiast or the average aftermarket performance shop tuning a modified vehicle, you probably aren’t too worried if your Wideband reports 11.70:1 vs 11.75:1… making this factor a wash between both brands.  If you are more of the engineering and product development oriented company, or even a seasoned tuner who considers themselves more of a calibrator and you value the most accuracy and repeatability possible, you would typically lean toward the Ballenger, especially considering the added cost over the AEM is small.  

The last factor - How do you plan to use it?

aem wideband

Usage and Quality Needs

AEM’s X-Series is very easy to move from vehicle to vehicle, or even permanently mount to your favorite vehicle in a gauge pod.  As such, it is a favorite for many tuners.  The CANBUS feature is easy to integrate into your favorite tuning software, such as HP Tuners or SCT.    The quality is great and it has a great range of operation that supports most tuning needs - including Gasoline, E85 and more.  The range of the AEM display is 8.0:1 - 20.0:1 AFR for Gasoline, 5.7:1 - 12.0:1 (E85 tuning) and 0.55 - 2.0 Lambda, for tuners who prefer using Lambda.  It has multiple analog outputs (0-5V), to input into HP Tuners Pro Link or any other software with Analog inputs, including Aftermarket EFI systems.  Most of the tuners I discussed this unit with had no problems and enjoyed it’s low entry cost and CANBUS use, and portability.  For the low entry price, it’s a great unit with a lot of features.   

Ballenger’s AFR500 is also easy to move from vehicle to vehicle, but is not an ideal candidate for permanently mounting in a single vehicle.  The electronics and lab grade sensors make this superior, according to most tuners I discussed this unit with.  If you are considering a professional career in a performance shop or tuning environment, this would be a favorite.  Durability, quality and performance are the hallmarks of this device, making it the go-to favorite for seasoned tuners and calibrators.  It can easily be permanently installed with your favorite Dynamometer and also integrated with HP Tuners, SCT or any aftermarket EFI system, with either CANBUS or Analog outputs.  The system is compatible with Gasoline, E85, Flex and all variations in between including Propane, CNG and more.   It has multiple analog outputs (0-5V), to input into HP Tuners Pro Link or any other software with Analog inputs, including Aftermarket EFI systems.  

ballenger wideband

In conclusion - the decision should not be made on price alone, since both are closely priced and inexpensive for the features they provide.  I’d recommend looking at how portable or permanent you want your wideband to be, as well as your long term plan.  Both units are portable, accurate and easy to use.  Both are easily integrated with HP Tuners, SCT, Holley or any aftermarket system you desire.  The choice depends largely on your preference for price, accuracy, repeatability and longevity. 

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