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Facewest Transceiver Review 2018/19

Please find below information on all the avalanche transceivers that Facewest sell at the start of the 2018/19 winter. Since our Transceiver Review 17/18 the most noticeable thing is 3 new transceivers from Pieps. Two of which are double badged as Black Diamond Transceivers. The old Pieps DSP Pro and Tour are replaced by the Black Diamond Guide BT snd Recon BT and the addition of the Pieps Micro.

In general I feel that the transceiver market has crystalized into 2 distinct groups, Standard and Advanced Transceivers.

Standard Digital Transceivers.

Click through from the transceiver name for full information, feature video and search demo video.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Signal Suppression / Masking. Most transceivers in this group 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Included in the standard transceiver group is the Ortovox Zoom+. This transceiver differs from others in the standard group as it lacks signal suppression / masking and has firmware that cannot be updated. Ortovox have cut every corner to keep the cost of the Zoom+ down without compromising safety in order to make transceivers as accessible as possible. For example the Zoom+ has a very simple LED display but it does the job. The Zoom+ does use smart antenna selection to optimise detection even though that feature is invisible to the user. The build quality might feel a little cheaper than other models but we haven't had any returned to Facewest yet as not functioning. Ortovox have chosen to put money into features that matter and not into frills. A transceiver with updatable software might be a better long term investment but I am just as happy to ski with someone with a Zoom+ as with any other model.

Advanced Digital Transceivers.

These 3 transceivers offer a selection of advanced modes which may be useful in the rare event of the multiple close burial. The user must be skillful for these features to be of benefit and not recommended to the once or twice a year user. Honestly will you do the practise required?

Mammut Barryvox S - Just about all the features can be customised by the user. The distances are which the displays change, an analogue mode for using micro strips, target selection based on movement (if search Barryvox S to Barryvox S),the distance at which masking can be activated and the auto revert timing. The Barryvox S can be used as fully automatic with factory defaults in which case it would be the same as the Mammut Barryvox in use.

Black Diamond Guide BT - Very similar to the Barryvox S above in terms of the available extras and ability to use with factory defaults, making it like a standard transceiver. The Guide BT also has 2 scan functions which could potentially help with multiple burials and older transceivers suffering from frequency drift.

Ortovox S1+ - Fundamentally different from the two above. The S1+ is the only transceiver which will show the distance and direction to more than the strongest signal. The strongest signal gets a larger bold icon whilst other signals are smaller on the screen. This gives a great overview if you understand it but very confusing if not. The S1+ also has a micro strip mode and the ability to configure when search modes/ displays change.