Barryvox S Review

We’ve had a couple of the new Barryvox ‘S’ transceivers on long term test from Mammut UK over the last three months. Mammut’s new range of beacons are the direct replacements for both the very successful Element and Pulse models. Here are our initial thoughts and impressions of using the new beacon this winter so far.

Both of us have used the Mammut Pulse unit for several years, and it has been our go to transceiver, especially when working with groups. The Pulse’s multiple marking function was an industry leader. So, it was interesting to see what Mammut would bring out to fill these big shoes.

Firstly, the names of the new transceivers have changed. The Element is now just simply called the Barryvox. The Pulse is now the Barryvox ‘S’. Both look quite similar to their predecessors including the base colours used to differentiate the two models. They retain their rugged rubberized grip, solid construction and the size is virtually the same. The excellent elasticated tether remains and is well suited to those who prefer to carry their transceiver in a trouser pocket.

When asked by people what is the best transceiver to buy when they come to upgrade, we generally tell them to stay with the manufacturer of their current beacon. All of the manufacturers have their own individual ‘feel’ and quirks that is easier to come to grips with when upgrading. Conversely, it’s quite a jump move from a Pieps DSP to a BCA Tracker 3, even though they’re both good modern 3 antennae beacons. Whereas going from a BCA 2 to a BCA 3 is a breeze. This was the case with the Barryvox S when compared to the Pulse. Familiar but different.

Mammut are keen to point out that the ‘S’ isn’t just for professional avalanche workers such as ski patrol and mountain guides, but offers benefits for regular recreational users of avalanche transceivers. Compared to the Barryvox, the ‘S’ model has a lot more going on in the background with its software that tries to even out poor searching techniques and offers a smoother initial course and flux line search. The enhanced firmware is also designed to eliminate the “Stop Stand Still” error message that would sometimes bother the older Pulse and Element with signal overlap from multiple burials. Good stuff. That said, the students we’ve had on our rescue courses who have turned up with the new standard Barryvox have been extremely pleased with their beacons and from what we could see they’ve performed every bit as well as the ‘S’ units in the scenario’s we’ve set up.

The intuitive screen layout of the old mmmut beacons is still there but is improved with a larger and brighter screen with additional dynamic screen icons that move – animations, that are designed as a visual cue to keep the user moving through the earlier search phases when people may often freeze from information overload and stress. For us the biggest improvements over the older Pulse and Element are the greatly extended search distance and processor speed. On early testing, albeit in optimal conditions we were receiving a steady directed signal at an impressive range as a party of French ski tourers skied past us then carried on into the distance. This is a powerful improvement over the older units. As with the Pulse the final pin point search remains very intuitive, without anything ‘weird’ happening.

Mammut has once again partnered with the Swiss Avalanche expert Manuel Geswein in the development of their transceivers. As avalanche educators we can see the efforts made by Mammut to design out human error when using the beacon, attempting to address heuristics through good design. The idea is to negate some of our own mental shortcuts that can be prone to error in high stress situations such as an avalanche incident. This error combating design process will become more prevalent within the avalanche industry in coming years and Mammut should be applauded for the effort made here. Everything from the colour of the buttons, the deliberate simplification of how information is displayed and the ‘one way streets’ of operation that annoy old geezers like us are done with purpose and design.

These heuristic design features made their first significant appearance in the final firmware upgrade on the Pulse (v3.20). In this  version the final search phase search screen moved away from a decreasing number to forcefully directing the user with a series of harsh bleeps and unambiguous arrow directions. Personally, we’re not so keen on this as it removes some of the feedback skilled users can get from the beacon.  But the overall principle that Mammut is trying to achieve is sensible, and observing students using this firmware upgrade in high stress scenario’s it’s clearly effective. Another example of this designing out error principle on the ‘S’ is the inability to toggle back to a marked victim in multiple burial scenario in basic function setup. Presumably the accidental re-acquisition of a previously marked victim is a common error that has been encountered by the Barryvox engineers. With the ‘S’ more experienced users can still choose to disable these heuristic limiters as they see fit by entering Pro settings.

The Barryvox and Barryvox S are top end, high quality transceivers. As with their predecessors, the Element and Pulse, they are two of our recommended beacons to buy.

Mike & Bruce

AvalancheGeeks