This review follows on from the now dated Transceiver Review 2007. I will be doing the same basic comparisons for the transceivers that I am testing but I am not going to re test the models that I completely discounted in the 2007 test. I am going to retest the Ortovox S1 as although I was not a fan in 2007 I didn't completely discount it and the software has changed significantly. New to the test are the Barryvox Pulse and the Tracker 2. The Pulse has been around for a while but is new to us at Facewest and the BCA Tracker 2 has only just been released.
This review was updated in October 2010 to include the Ortovox 3+
This is a long and in depth review, please feel free to skip to the summary.
In the 2007 test we only looked at simple single victim searches. In this test we are going to do a secondary test of extra digital features. There is an argument that you do not need and could possibly be better off without these features, which is discussed in Avalanche Transceiver Technology & Multiple Burials, but more transceivers have them than don't and the market is heading that way so we will test them. This is not a test of a multiple burial transceiver against a simple one because I believe the outcome of that test depends heavily on the skill of the searcher and it is experience that will always win the day. Rather I will test the ease of use and reliability of the advanced features in search mode for the average user.
There will also be my, completely subjective, opinion of each transceiver and the little things that I did and did not like about it.
3 tests done with different orientations of target transceiver, in line (longest axis parallel), 90 degrees and 45 degrees. As in 2007 the transceivers placed in the same order for each test, proving that orientation affects reception range but is common to all transceivers. Remember that an increased range only shortens one phase of the search. The difference between the best (Ortovox F1) and worst (Pieps Freeride) in our test was 42m but if you take these extremes out all the others in the test were separated by only 16m.
|Max. Range (all distances in metres)|
|Tracker 1||Tracker 2||Freeride||Pieps DSP||Barryvox||F1||S1||3+|
For the 45 degree test we compared the actual distance to the estimated distance from the transceiver. Although this is only an estimate, and when searching all you are really interested in is that the number is decreasing during the search, we noted that the accuracy of this estimate has improved since 2007. All the transceivers except the Ortovox S1 and Pieps Freeride being plus or minus 10%.
|45° Range and Estimated Values (all distances in metres)|
|Tracker 1||Tracker 2||Freeride||Pieps DSP||Barryvox||F1||S1|
|45° estimated distance||45||55||27||53||66||75||53|
|Actual distance||49||55||39||58||64||No readout||39|
This is a single antenna digital unit. Rather than compare the signals from 2 or 3 antenna, the Freeride looks at the absolute strength of the signal for the distance reading and compares the current pulse with previous ones. The Freeride uses a pyramid graphic to help you decide on the best direction to head in. The Pyramid being full if you have the strongest signal in recent history. This strongest signal equates to being directly on a flux line. The Freeride relies on the user doing regular orientation sweeps to keep on target as there will be no left or right prompts during the search. If there is more than one signal the Freeride will lock onto the strongest signal but has a multiple burial indicator to alert the searcher. There are no other extra digital features, however the software on the Freeride can be updated so the performance could be improved in the future.
In use we found the Freeride to be very slow. You actually use it in the same way you would an Ortovox F1, moving in straight lines with regular orientations, but during orientations you had to move very slowly so the processor could keep up. This became very important during the pinpoint phase. In addition the Freeride has the shortest range, with search strip widths of 15m.
The Freeride is aimed at those on a budget and those who want a tiny transceiver, and you must accept it's limitations and use it carefully to get the most out of it. If you are not in one of those target groups it's not the right transceiver for you.
The DSP is a 4 antenna digital transceiver with full digital features. In search the DSP uses 3 antenna but it actually has a fourth antenna which it uses to test it's own reception during start up. The DSP compares the signals from its antenna during the search to give an approximate distance and best heading to the target. Add to this the audible tone which changes as the searcher gets closer and you have several pieces of information keeping you on track. In multiple burials the DSP can identify up to 3 distinct signals and after that just says more than 3. The DSP can mask located signals to simplify multiple burials. To do this it uses a digital patch. The DSP measures the timing of the received signal and puts a patch over the top so it is effectively 'hidden' from the transceiver. Then the transceiver will increase its sensitivity to look for signals that are further way. The DSP also has a scan function. The scan function gives an overview of the scenario by saying how many signals it receives with 5m, 20m and 50m, but more importantly in scan mode the DSP reduces its reception range but opens up its reception window outside the industry norm to look for frequency drifted analogue beacons. If any beacons outside the norm are detected then the transceivers remains in this reception mode. The DSP also receives whilst it is transmitting and if it detects that its signal is overlapping with another transceiver it will adjust its signal timing to eliminate the signal overlap. This makes life easier for the searcher regardless of which transceiver they are using. The DSP has updateable software so can be refined in the future.
In use the DSP is very reliable. Excellent performance for single victim searches. The directional arrows are steady and reliable. Arrows removed and tone change at 2m to prompt using into pinpoint search which is done using just the numerical display. Good update speed during pinpoint phase.
In a multiple burial the DSP was good at locking onto the first signal and getting there but the signal masking was not as reliable as the Ortovox S1 or Barryvox. Signal masking problems are caused by variance in the signal period (gap between signals) which causes the signal to emerge from the side of the patch temporarily and then slip back underneath. This confuses inexperienced searchers. In our tests the masked transceivers often popped into view temporarily and the DSP did not seem to be able to successfully mask 3 signals at once. In real life this will begin to matter when you have 4 people buried and at least 4 left to search, which is probably never but the masking software on the DSP is not the best out there.
The Pieps DSP is a good multiple antenna transceiver. It has a good range and was on a par with the others for single burials. For multiple burials a bit more training may be needed to overcome the masking software short comings but none of the masking transceivers were 100% reliable and we did like the scan function.
The Tracker 1 is completely unchanged from 2007 and there is nothing wrong with that. The Tracker 1 is a 2 antenna digital unit with no extra features. This is a deliberate decision by BCA who wanted to make the Tracker 1 as simple as possible for stressed untrained users. The usefulness of extra features like digital masking and target selection in actual rescues was not bourne out by BCA's research. This topic is covered in more detail in Avalanche Transceiver Technology & Mulitiple Burials.
The Tracker 1 compares the signals from its 2 antenna and gives an approximate distance and best heading to the transceiver. In multiple burials the Tracker 1 locks onto the strongest signal it has or if the signals are of equal strength it will display them both. As soon as the searcher moves towards one of them it will lock onto that and the other will fade away. The Tracker 1 was the simplest of all the transceivers to use although that title has now gone to the Tracker 2. There is a special mode for multiple burials which means the Tracker will only display signals that are in front or behind it and not to either side. If the user stands next to the located transceiver it is effectively hidden from the Tracker and allows him to search for other signals before the first signal is turned off.
In use the Tracker 1 is as simple and reliable as it was designed to be. The range is shorter than the current crop of full featured digital units but again this is a conscious decision by BCA. To increase reception range, the reception window must be narrowed as discussed with the Pieps DSP above. BCA choose not to do this with the Tracker 1 but to make it as backwards compatible as possible with frequency drifted analogue transceivers. It is still possible to do effective multiple burials with the Tracker 1, but more practice is required. The Tracker 1 allows you to shield a signal from your receiving transceiver by standing right next to it and using special mode, but there is no digital signal masking available.
The Tracker 1 is a good choice for just about everybody and probably the best value transceiver overall.
In making the Tracker 2, BCA have stuck to their guns as much as possible regarding multiple burial and digital features whilst still responding to market demands. The Tracker 2 has 3 antenna ,rather than the 2 on the original, which increases the accuracy of the distance estimation when closer in and eliminates the signal spike at around 2m. The design concept of only one control has been kept but the search button has been replaced by a glove friendly push/pull switch. The Special Mode button has been de-emphasised (now black button on black background) as it's only for people who understand what it does and know it's there rather than as a "help I'm stuck" button. A multiple burial light has been added, which also flashes if the signals are in close proximity to each other and therefore tricky to sort out.
In use I found the Tracker 2 to be very much like the Tracker 1, and exactly the same search techniques are used. The range has been increased to be comparable with the latest digital transceivers. Inevitably this has led to a narrowing of the reception window but the issue is more complicated with 3 antenna beacons and the narrowing has been offset by an auto tuning routine of the antenna. The directional lights are now removed under 2m to trigger the pinpoint search which is a change from the Tracker 1 but similar to the other digital units. The one criticism we noted was that the direction LEDs on the Tracker 2 were more jumpy than on the original. It was common to go from the left most light to the centre without stopping at the one inbetween even whilst moving slowly. This did not actually affect the search and the Tracker 2 never jumped from the left most light to the right most light without stopping in the centre but it is noticeable from the Tracker 1. The Tracker 2 does excel in the pinpoint search phase. The time taken from the reception of the pulse to the update of the screen in the Tracker 2 is just about 'real time' which leads to no overshoot in the pinpoint search. This was very noticeable in use, and although a good searcher will be moving very slowly during this phase, research has shown that inexperience and stress mean many people move too quickly and begin digging in the wrong place. Since digging is by far the longest phase in the overall rescue any improvement in the pinpointing of the victim is hugely beneficial. In multiple burial there was no difference between the Tracker 1 and 2 apart from the multiple burial light, which was always pretty obvious from the double beep anyway. The flashing multiple burial light indicates that the signals are close together and difficult to distinguish between. Nice to know I suppose but no real help.
We have always recommended the Tracker 1 as the best transceiver for most people and now we have no hesitation in recommending the Tracker 2. It offers increased range, better pinpointing and better ergonomics and is a tiny bit easier to use.
The F1 is another transceiver that is unchanged from the 2007 review. The F1 is a single antenna analogue beacon. The received signal strength is displayed using a traffic light system and a change in tone volume. As the user moves around , he/she compares the current signal strength with the previous ones and decides whether he/she is moving in the correct direction or not. Essentially the F1 is a hotter/colder device. The beauty of the F1 is its simplicity. Since there is no processing done, the information is real time and a single long antenna gives great range, although as said before, range is not everything.
There is a important consideration if you already own an F1. When the F1 was originally designed there was an advantage to a transceiver having a long pulse with a decent gap between pulses, allowing the user enough time to compare pulses, now digital transceivers like a short pulse with a short-ish pulse interval so they can update their information more often, basically they can think faster than the user. Another big problem with long pulses is that there is a greater chance of the pulses overlapping in multiple burials, which confuses digital processors in modern transceivers. Hence the Pieps DSP monitoring other pulses and adjusting itself into the gaps. In 2007 Ortovox updated the F1 and drastically shortened the pulse duration to reduce overlap problems in multiple burials. In a rescue done with a digital transceiver (which every year becomes a greater percentage) the less long slow pulses involved the better, so in an ideal world these would become a thing of the past. If you think the F1 is the right transceiver for you then there is nothing wrong with a new F1 but there is a strong argument for updating a pre 2007 F1 even if you buy a new F1. The date of manufacture can be found inside the battery compartment.
In use the F1 can be very effective, with a little practise, but does have more steps to remember other transceivers. It really does come down to practise, a good searcher with an F1 will beat a poor searcher with any other transceiver but that's no good if in reality you will not do the required practise.
The F1 is perfectly functional but uses dated technology. If you have a post 2007 F1 and can use it then there is no compelling reason to change it, but if you are buying a new transceiver I think there are better options for about the same money.
The S1 is another 3 antenna full featured digital transceiver. It is set apart by its graphical display. The use of a large LCD screen allows a map of the S1's reception area to be displayed and all signals being received are displayed on this map at once. Next to the symbol, the approximate distance is displayed. When two signals were very close together the S1 interprets them as a single signal until it gets close enough to split them into 2. If there is more than one signal the S1 will choose the strongest signal and give that signal a larger icon. The user is kept in the right direction by keeping the icon on the centre of the screen, as the distance decreases the icon moves down the screen. This is very effective and best understood by watching the video below. Below 3m the display switches to a circle which gets smaller as get closer and larger as you move away, again very effective for the pinpoint phase. For multiple burials the S1 uses digital masking in exactly the same way as the Pieps DSP (described above) and the Pulse Barryvox. The S1 is unique in guiding you to a single signal and giving you an overview of the complete search scenario at the same time. The S1 has another couple of nice touches, when you enter search mode, a mobile telephone graphic is displayed to remind you to remove sources of interference and there are prompts for you to do an orientation sweep with the S1 or to warn you that you are not holding the S1 level. There is also an electronic compass but not really sure why you would want that.
The S1 was a nice surprise to test, as in 2007 it was sometimes really good and in certain situations not very good at all. Happily with a couple of software updates under its belt these problems seem to have been smoothed out and I found it to search consistently well and the digital masking features to be on a par with the Barryvox and better than the DSP. The software can be updated by any dealer with the appropriate equipment or by Ortovox themselves. The S1 is the most expensive transceiver in the test but the multiple victim display does set it apart from the others, although I am not sure about the flip phone style design which I found difficult to open even without gloves on. Overall a good transceiver but not offering £100 more value than the other digital units in the test.
The Mammut Barryvox PULSE is another 3 antenna digital transceiver with updateable software. The Barryvox Pulse shares a lot in common with the Peips DSP in both its single and multiple victim searches. Directional arrows, tone and a distance figure combine to guide the searcher in. Below 2m a pinpoint search is instigated by a change in display and tone. The user has the option to digitally mask a signal in order to search for another before retrieval. Two things are unique about the Barryvox Pulse, first it has 2 operating modes, basic and advanced. In basic mode there are no user definable options, just the fully automatic digital search with digital masking option. In advanced mode the transceiver can be configured to how the user likes it, including choice of digital or analogue tones, automatic or manual signal selection or even a fully analogue mode if you wish. Although most people will not take the time to explore this feature it's nice to be able to. The second unique feature is the 'Pulse' part. If both the victim and searcher have a Barryvox Pulse then vital signs data is received by the searcher. This means any small motions in the victim like heart beats or breathing are detected and transmitted. So in theory the searcher may prioritise a victim with this data over one without, in a multiple burial situation. This does no harm but I can not really see it being that useful. Another nice feature is the group test prompt on start up which reminds everyone to test their transceivers before heading out, a step often over looked.
In search I found the Barryvox Pulse to be reliable and stable for both single and multiple burials. Directional arrows down to 2m and then a pinpoint icon with no directional arrows after that. The signal masking seems to have improved since I last played with one, a trait shared by all the software updateable units. The directional arrows were stable and the distance approximation was the most accurate in our test. I found the combination of digital information on the screen combined with unprocessed analogue audio to be a powerful combination when using the Pulse in advanced mode for multiple burial searches.
The Barryvox Pulse is a good digital transceiver, maybe the best of the advanced models. In basic profile it is nice and simple but there are some good options in advanced profile if you have the time and expertise to get to grips with it. Seems better value than its competitors.
In search mode the 3+ uses essentially the same system as the Trackers, DSP and Pulse. Once it has acquired a signal the distance to target is displayed with a arrow in the middle of the screen to follow. Course corrections for the searcher are given by the arrow changing to the left or right and the searcher changing direction to bring the arrow back into the middle of the screen. Tone changes and the distance decreasing confirm that the user is closing in. Below 2 metres the direction arrows are switched off and the unit enters proximity search with a concentric ring search graphic and numerical read out very similar to the S1. Below 5m it is possible to mask the nearest signal so that the transceiver will look for another signal further away, this is done with a single press of the button.
In use I found the range of the 3+ to be similar to that of the Tracker 1 but less than the other digital units available. Once a signal was acquired the 3+ seemed pretty sure footed until about 6m from target. On several searches (out of about 10) at this point the transceiver gave conflicting directional information or temporarily lost the signal. It seemed to be a narrow band as if I took a large step forward the problem just disappeared. The majority of times I just walked straight through this zone and nothing happened but occasionally it did. I have tried to capture this in the search video. Once past this point and into pin point search the transceiver was again pretty good. The processing time of the 3+ was noticeably slower than the Pulse and Tracker 2, you had to do the orientation sweeps slowly to make sure you did not over shoot and have to go back a bit, the same when doing the final pin pointing. As a good searcher you should be doing these things slowly but the 3+ struggled a bit if you didn't.
The 3+ is the cheapest of the 3 antenna digital models but not I think the best value. If signal masking is for you then I think the Barryvox is worth the extra and if not then the Tracker 2 is faster and more sure footed. I think a software update for the 3+ will not be far away which could iron out these wrinkles.
We have tested the transceivers currently sold by Facewest, which were mainly pre-selected in 2007 by our own personal use and by the transceiver Review 2007. We are happy to report that we are completely satisfied with the transceiver range we offer. We looked at features like reception range and ease of use during single victim burials for all the transceivers and then at multible burial scenarios for the latest crop of digital units.
We found the Ortovox F1 to be as dependable as ever for the experienced analogue searcher. We found the Pieps Freeride to be quite similar to the F1 in use with the main drawback being the speed of the processor and short reception range, the main advantages being price and weight. The Tracker 1 and Tracker 2 are very similar, both fast and simple with the Tracker 2 doing everything that the Tracker 1 does just a bit better. The Tracker 2 now takes the title of 'easiest transceiver to use' from the Tracker 1. Lastly we have the group of advanced processing transceivers; Pieps DSP, Barryvox Pulse, Ortovox 3+ and Ortovox S1. Of these we found the digital features more reliable on the S1 & Barryvox than on the DSP. The Barryvox had the ability to be customised by the user and even be completely analogue if required whilst the unique LCD display on the S1 gave a great overview of the complete rescue situation. The Ortovox 3+ almost offers a great blend of ease of use and one useful feature but is not as easy to use as it should be.
At this point I am often asked which one is best? Or which one I would buy? Actually a better question is 'Which one I would want my mate to have?' Personally I favour the Tracker 2 and the Barryvox Pulse. I would have the Barryvox Pulse, because I do hours and hours of testing and practise each season and I know I will remember how to get the best out of the advanced features plus it can be made almost as simple as the Tracker 2 but I would want all my mates to have the Tracker 2 because I want it to be as simple as possible for them.
That said I think all the models Facewest sell are 'fit for purpose' and we are using some of the more minor features to choose between them. I am happy for someone to have any of the models we sell because I believe we have chosen the best of what's out there.