Winter 19/20 Transceiver review – Part 1

At Facewest we stock one of the most comprehensive range of Transceivers in the UK. In this article I’ll be running through our range in two parts. Part 1 will be entry level to intermediate devices, then Part 2 will focus on more advanced models.

In the world of Transceivers ‘entry level’ does not mean inferior to other devices, it just means simpler to use. There are no ‘bad’ transceivers in our range, just devices that are more or less suited to your level of experience. If you don’t get chance to train with them much, you do not want to be in a situation where you see your mate get buried, and then have to think about a range of options on your device. You just want to switch to receive mode and get to them as quickly as possible.

Part 1 will cover:

  • Ortovox Zoom+
  • BCA Tracker S
  • Ortovox 3+
  • Black Diamond Recon BT
  • Mammut Barryvox

Part 2 will cover:

  • Mammut Barryvox S
  • Black Diamond Guide BT
  • BCA Tracker 3

Ortovox Zoom+

The Ortovox Zoom+ is our most basic transceiver, but remember basic is good if you’ve never used one before. It has no additional modes or buttons, just the On/Off – Send – Search switch at the top. As with all modern transceivers it has three antennas and digital processing for accuracy in search mode. The display is very simple, just a numerical distance to the nearest transceiver in meters, and a five arrow indicator for direction. There’s also a light up icon indicating if the device has picked up multiple signals, but it will always take you to the nearest one, which you will then have to dig out before you can move on to another.

The Zoom+ runs on a single AA battery and will last for 150 hours in send mode (search mode does drain the battery more rapidly). It has a search range of 40m with does put it on the lower end of the scale but it is totally adequate for search scenarios.

While being a ‘basic’ unit the Zoom+ does have a couple of intelligent features which require no user input; In send mode the device will automatically interpret its orientation and transmit using the antenna which is orientate the optimum way. This optimizes it range no matter how it is buried. While in Search mode if it detects no movement for 2 minutes it will auto revert to send, in case you are caught in a secondary avalanche while searching.

If you are new to back country skiing and have little experience with transceivers, or little patience with electronics in general then the Zoom+ is the transceiver for you. Its simple and compact with no faff. Its also really good value. You can buy a Zoom+ rescue package which also includes a shovel and probe (essentials by the way) for the price of a more advanced transceiver on its own.

BCA Tracker S

BCA are a renowned North American snow safety brand who focus on simplicity. The Tracker S totally reflects this, as a plain black box with bright red display, and blue button for signal masking. The display is similar to the Ortovox Zoom+, just a numerical read out for distance and five light up arrows for direction.

The Tracker S features a special mode, which allows you to mask a signal in the case of multiple burials. In reality most non professional users will only really need the function when training in transceiver parks.

BCA’s unique selling point is their maximum compatibility. Their transceivers are the most backwards compatible with old analogue devices. Old analogue transceivers can drift outside the standard transceiver frequency, so BCA have decided rather than reduce bandwidth to increase overall range which would exclude these older transceivers they would leave the range alone and attempt to pick up as many old analogue transceivers as possible. This is quite a technical point but shows that BCA are committed to avalanche safety as a whole and not marketing driven performance figures. The search range of the Tracker S is still a respectable 55m which is in line with other brands except the new Mammut Barryvox.

The Tracker S is the ideal transceiver for those looking for something simple and compact. Also if you have mates still using old analogue devices, firstly have a word with them, but if they won’t upgrade then the Tracker S may give you some piece of mind.

Ortovox 3+

The Ortovox 3+ is a tried and tested intermediate level transceiver. It has all the functions of the Ortovox Zoom+ but with a more sophisticated display and the ability to mask signals in the case of multiple burials. Personally I find the LED type display on the 3+ a little more intuitive and faster responding than the light up arrows on the zoom. There is also a battery charge indicator on there. This is important as switching your transceiver from send to search on a low battery will give you a very limited search time. It allows you to anticipate this issue, and make sure you always use fully charged batteries.

Like the Tracker S, the Ortovox 3+ has a mask function, operated by the grey button on the front. This is only for multiple burial scenarios but it does give you the option to start a search for a second casualty while others dig out the first. It also has the same Smart Antenna as the Zoom+ so its always transmitting on the most optimal antenna, no matter which way it is orientated.

With a search range of 40m like the Zoom+ it is on the lower end of the scale, but it is very well priced. The 3+ is a great transceiver for those on a budget, and interested in familiarising themselves with some of the more advanced aspects of transceiver training.

Black Diamond Recon BT

The Recon BT is the entry level version of the Black Diamond Transceiver range released in Winter 18/19. It is essentially a Pieps Powder BT, but in a Black Diamond branded case. As a very modern transceiver it benefits from much more advance processing than the Ortovox transceiver, so while presenting a very straight forward user experience, there’s some pretty fancy stuff going on in the background, more on this later.

Functionality wise it has a basic, segmented LCD display. A rubberised outer strip to aid grip in gloved hands and a pretty self explanatory off/send/search switch with lock. It runs on 3 AAA batteries with a 200hr battery life in send. It also has the now standard mask signal function operated by the flag button on the front.

Where the Recon BT makes improvements over older equivalents is the 60m circular search range rather than the usual elliptical, this makes the Recon BT more likely to pick up burials at extreme range while conducting a search in strips. It also features interference protection, so with switch antennas if it picks up interference. In reality this does not mean that you can safely use your mobile phone close to the transceiver. Always turn your phone off. If the Recon BT picks up a signal from an older drifted analogue transceiver it will also indicate this, but will not take you to the signal, so its more useful for group checks.

The unique feature of the Black Diamond transceivers is that they are compatible with the Pieps App. This is a smart phone app which can be used to install updates onto a Recon or Guide device as well as adjust some setting on the device, but also offers some really excellent training programs and guides.

The Black Diamond Recon BT is a great transceiver for those wanting a straight forward device without lots of customisable options, but with plenty features to improve performance. The Peips App is also a really great resource for training if you are interested in ensuring you are as prepared as possible.

Mammut Barryvox

The Mammut Barryvox is the lower spec’d model of the new Mammut Barryvox transceiver range. However lower spec just means less customisable options, not lower performance. At 205g its a pretty compact unit with a clear segmented LCD screen similar to the Black Diamond models. The Off/Send/Search switch and button combo is the most intuitive of the brands that we stock. Its a chunky switch with solid feeling placements so you have little doubt about which mode you are in. Further to that the Barryvox will not actually go back in its harness if you still have it in search mode. The casing is rubberised on the back and sides for grip while wearing gloves.

Performance wise the Barryvox, and Barryvox S devices process information faster than the other brands that we stock. The speed at which they find a signal and direct you to it is impressive, even at extreme ranges between 60 to 70 meters the Barryvox displays impressive accuracy. Like the BD Recon it has a circular range.

Powered by 3 AAA batteries the Barryvox has the longest battery life of this group, at 300 hours in send. It also feature’s Mammut’s Unique W-Link system. This passes additional information to other Barryvox devices but its something only Barryvox S users will have to deal with if they choose to. One thing to note is that the W-Link frequency is reserved for emergency service use only in Japan so you will need to turn it off if you are skiing there.

The Barryvox transceiver is perfect if you want a simple device that requires little practice to use efficiently. Where it differs from other devices and is frankly worth the additional cost is the processing speed. It interprets signals, interference and your own most likely panicked movements so rapidly. Just follow what its telling you and it will take you straight to the victim.

Our product pages for each device also have videos of the units in search mode so you can get an idea of how they work in the real world. You can also find further reading on avalanche safety on our website here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *