In general the transceiver market has crystalized into 2 distinct groups, Standard and Advanced Transceivers. This is a rather arbitrary division, it does not mean that advanced transceivers are always better than standard ones just that they have more features.
Depending on your experience level more features can be a good or bad thing. If you ski a couple of times a year and struggle to find the time to practice with your transceiver, then a standard transceiver will be more suitable for you as they more often than not focus on ease of use.
Standard Digital Transceivers
The models in this group have homogenized into a pretty standard set of features with corresponding technology. This is not a bad thing as standard transceivers offer all the features that most people will ever need or will have the skill to deploy. If you have used and become comfortable with one transceiver in this group you could easily use any other. You could see this as a lack of choice or you could see as being very clear on the features that the majority of people need. There are small differences in size, weight, battery life and of course cost but there are greater similarities than differences. I would be happy for my skiing partners to have any of the transceivers in this group. Get one and then get out there and practice with it.
Ease of use. The primary principal in this group. Standard transceivers are fully automatic when searching. Target selection, sensitivity adjustment and directional information is done by the transceiver with no input from the user.
Display. All the models have a very similar display. An LED or graphical arrow on the screen can be in one of 5 positions ranging from 45 degrees left, through straight ahead, to 45 degrees right. Below that is an estimation of distance to target. Orientate yourself and transceiver to get the indicator in the middle and walk in a direction where the distance goes down.
Tones. The transceiver will change tones at various points to alert the user to progress. The thresholds may differ very slightly but generally this happens at 10m and 3m.
Pinpointing. Below 3m all the transceivers stop giving you directional info and expect you to use the distance and sounds combined with the bracketing method to find your probing spot.
Transceiver Counting. Most models alert you if more than one signal is being received with the strongest signal being automatically selected. Generally there is a 2nd and 3rd victim icon and then a more than 3 icon.
Signal Suppression / Masking. Most transceivers in this group now offer some form of masking where once a victim is located, the signal can be ignored before the transceiver is actually dug up and turned off. This feature is not often used as it requires a minimum of 2 victims and 2 searchers before it can be used but it has definitely become an expected feature of the standard transceiver.
Triple Antenna and Smart Antenna Selection. All these units have 3 antenna. 2 long antenna for transmitting and a short upright antenna to improve depth estimation. The transceiver will decide which long antenna to transmit with based of it’s own analysis of the electromagnetic environment. This optimises your detection if you are buried. During search all 3 antenna are used.
Range. Also known as signal strip width. Currently varying from 40 to 60m. Longer is better but always err on the side of caution, better to have too much search overlap that miss an area.
Auto Revert. Protection from secondary avalanche by automatically switching back to transmit after a period of time with no input from the user. An optional feature with pros and cons.
The Ortovox Zoom+ is our most basic transceiver, but in an emergency 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.
Black Diamond Recon BT
The Recon BT is the entry level version of the Black Diamond Transceiver range. 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 Zoom 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 will 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.
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.
The Ortovox Diract is simpler version of the Ortovox Diract transceiver, without the voice instructions. Features and performance wise it is essentially the direct replacement of the old Ortovox 3+ transceiver. It has a good 50m elliptical range in search mode and a fast processor that translates the readings from a buried transceiver and your movements relatively quickly. The main innovation with the Ortovox Diract & Diract voice is the move away from AA or AAA battery cells to in integrated rechargeable Lithim Ion battery.
The brave move to a rechargeable battery makes sense in a world where most users are used to rechargeable batteries in phones. The battery will operate normally in temperatures down to -20 Degrees Celsius and will power the device for over 200 hours in SEND mode. The Diract uses a standard USB C cable in line with most new android phones. On multi day hut trips you will just need to carry this cable to charge up at huts should you need to or use a portable power pack that you will probably be also carrying for your phone.
In terms of usability the SEND SEARCH switch is nice and obvious in bright orange at the top of the device. The flip out switch prevents you putting the Diract back in its harness when in SEARCH mode and protects the on/off button from accidental press when in SEND mode. This nice bit of design makes things simple in a stressful rescue situation.
If you are new to the world of avalanche safety and want a simple to use transceiver and don’t like the idea of vocal commands then the Ortovox Diract is a good choice.
Ortovox Diract Voice
The Ortovox Diract Voice is a unique digital transceiver from Ortovox which gives the user voice instructions during the search. Recent studies have shown that people respond much more effectively to voice instructions during stressful situations. The idea is that voice instructions will improve companion rescue performance, especially in beginners. The voice instructions with the Diract voice are in addition to the regular visual display instructions which still need to be checked during a search.
The performance of the Diract Voice is the same as the standard Diract. It has the same 50m range which does a good job of picking up signals even at long range in favorable conditions. It has the same rechargeable lithium ion batter discussed in the Diract review above which makes sense in a world of almost ubiquitous smart phone usage.
The device itself is compact with rubberised sides to aid grip. The harness that comes with the Diract and Diract voice is worth a special mention. Its slim, easy to fit and has a pull out tab that makes the transceiver very easy to remove with gloved hands. It also has a RECCO reflector stitched in.
The SEND/SEARCH switch is very obvious and straight forward and doubles as a protector for the on/off switch on the back of the device.
Both the Diract Voice and Diract are Bluetooth compatible so they can communicate with the Ortovox smartphone app which will be used to update the transceiver as Ortovox release updates for the device. This removes the need to send your transceiver to us for updates.
The Diract Voice marks the next step in improving transceiver usability. I think you could genuinely give it to someone who has never heard of a transceiver before and they could quite happily get going straight away. If you are new to the world of back country skiing and have the budget then the Diract Voice should be on your short list.
Advanced Digital Transceivers
The devices covered in this part all have some common features so I’ll get them out of the way here;
Signal mask. A Standard feature of advanced transceivers, they all have a function to mark or un-mark a signal should you want to start the search for a second victim while other dig out the first. Most users will only use this feature while training in a transceiver park where it does come in very handy.
Big Picture mode. In the case of multiple burials this feature will display usually up to four of the nearest signals and their distances so you can get an idea of where each casualty is located. This feature is in our opinion for professionals only, and is most likely just too much information for a beginner or intermediate user in a very stressful situation. It can be turned off on most devices.
Group check. The transceiver will check multiple other transceivers that are within range to ensure they are transmitting correctly. This function is usually used by guides at the start of the day, but its best practice for everyone to do it too.
Mammut Barryvox S
The Mammut Barryvox S is probably the most powerful transceiver currently on the market. It has an effective digital search range of 70 meters, and it really does work at those sorts of ranges, rather than giving confusing readings as can often be the case. For intermediate users all the advanced functions can be turned off to turn it into essentially a regular Barryvox, but with a more advanced screen. Even in basic mode the Barryvox S has some very clever functionality. The Auto Guidance will continue to guide the user to a buried device in the event of a signal failure
In Pro Search mode all the features that an advanced user will want are enabled. Big Picture mode is combined with vital data transmitted from other Barryvox devices by W-Link. This data is essentially movement data picked up by a buried Barryvox allowing an experienced user to prioritise a search for casualties most likely to survive. A true analogue search mode allows you to hear the actual audio signal from transmitting transceivers, allowing experienced users to filter out ‘false positive’ signals.
The W-Link also allows you to perform firmware updates on other Barryvox S transceivers should you already have it installed on your device. Mammut release fairly regular updates as they analyse feedback from users. At Facewest we offer an update service for free if you purchase your device from us.
The Barryvox S is the transceiver of choice for most professional mountain guides and mountain rescue teams. If you are looking to upgrade your existing transceiver and want something fast, with plenty of features then the Barryvox S is for you. I would also say that if you are looking for your first transceiver and you have the budget then get a Barryvox S, in basic mode its a very intuitive device to use.
Black Diamond Guide BT
The Black Diamond Guide BT is developed with Pieps so is basically a Pieps Pro BT in Black Diamond clothing. Its a powerful transceiver with a lot of advanced features, presented in a straight forward manner. It has a 60m circular range.
For more advanced searchers the Scan function will tell you how many victims are within 5 meters, 20 meters and 60 meters. This helps to build up an important mental map of the situation. From this mode you can then select which signal you would like to follow. These features are for advanced users only and most likely to just confuse less experienced users.
There is also an analogue mode so you can hear the actual audio form transmitting transceivers, like the Barryvox S to help manually filter out false positives. Its also a useful training aid when demonstrating the fundamentals of transceiver use to others. A built in Inclinometer is a nice addition for measuring slope angles for avalanche risk assessment.
Like the Recon BT the Guide BT is compatible with the Pieps app, to allow you to manage the settings on your device and play with the training features. The Guide BT will also receive signals from Pieps’ TX600 mini transmitter for dogs and equipment.
The Guide BT is an excellent advanced transceiver with some great functionality that enables it to be used as a pretty comprehensive training aid. If you are a professional user or very interested in some of the more advanced aspects of avalanche safety with a desire to educate yourself and others then the Guide BT is an excellent choice for you.