Mammut Barryvox S beacon review

November 16, 2017

I just bought the new Mammut Barryvox S beacon and as people have asked me about it, here's a review from a knowledgeable source that's hopefully impartial and helpful. Firstly if you don't know me, I've been a pro snowboarder for 20 years, am a CSGA level 2 and ACMG apprentice splitboard guide and an engineer who likes shiny new tech. While I'm a sponsored athlete I have no relation to Mammut and don't even know anyone who works there. So hopefully that checks off the impartial and knowledgeable source for a review on a beacon.

 

I've been primarily using the Barryvox Pulse beacon for the last handful of seasons, but have also used the majority of beacons available on the market. The Pulse has been really good except it doesn't play well with older beacons and the dreaded "stop and wait" displayed during multiple burials, which is a bit annoying. I was about to get a new beacon last year and heard of the upcoming Barryvox release so decided to wait. 

 

Physically, the S is very similar in size and function to the Pulse. The On/send/Search switch is very similar but maybe a little easier now since you're sliding just one button rather than two buttons. Going from send to search (as with the Pulse) extends a tab from the body of the beacon. Switching from search to send is again very quick. Push the tab in and your sending. The on/send/search button on the Barryvox is my personal favorite of all the available beacons. Really simple, bomber and easy to use with gloves. 

 

The menu buttons have been pushed to one side with an 'up' and a 'down' button, and the 'mark' has been put on the main face of the beacon. The mark (or flag) button also functions as the 'select' while in the menu. Overall the changes make the beacon more intuitive to use and easy to use with one hand. The harness has been updated from the Pulse but overall is fairly similar. 

 

Same as the Pulse, when you turn the 'S' on you can access the options menu and change a multitude of options. Mine is set to 'Pro' with analog sounds. This has become my favorite setting on a beacon. It's a more advanced feature but having access to analog sound is a big bonus in multiple search scenarios as you can hear other beacons while searching which really helps with your mental map of the search area. Group search is also an option right as the beacon is turned on. Distance options for the group search are adjustable in the options menu. 

 

Again same as the Pulse the 'S' transmits vital data to other users of similar beacons. I'm not overly sure if this is a needed feature or not. You're going to find and dig everybody up anyways. Only in a very rare case (if ever) would i make a triage/rescue decision based on the vital signs coming from a beacon. This is not a feature that would sway me to buy a beacon. 

 

Onto the meat. Search tests. I used my Pulse and a Pieps DPS for multiple beacon searches and threw in a Ortovox f1 Focus to have a 3rd beacon and to test with an older beacon. The beacons were simply tested in a field with the searching beacon held at waist level during the pinpoint phase to simulate searching for a buried beacon. This has been my typical valley practice setup for years. 

 

Switching to search, the 'S' does seem to take a hair longer getting the first signal. But once acquired it performs very fast and efficiently. The new icons help push you along the search. While searching for a signal a little guy is 'running' on the screen, then he slows down as the signal is acquired and honed in on. Search range is quite far. Range testing against the Pulse delivered similar and/or slightly better results. I didn't manage to get any signals from beyond 50m, but maybe out of town you could as there'd be less interference. There's also an option to extend the range from 70m to 100m. As with the vital data feature above, it's seems debatable if this is a needed feature as you shouldn't be searching at the limits of a beacon's search range anyway. Maybe useful, but I'll probably never think to use it in a rescue.  

 

Once the signal is acquired and you're following the flux lines, the new direction arrows 'curve' along the flux line instead of being straight and pointing you 'hard' left or right. Super minor change but it does help your movement. If you're walking away from the buried beacon, the display now presents a U-turn icon. The beacon very quickly guides you to the closest beacon. Distance readings seem to be fairly accurate but of more importance they seem to jump less when approaching the 'buried' beacon. With 2 beacons transmitting the S happily went about it's search with no hesitation. In the same test (and layout), the Pulse did briefly give me the dreaded 'stop and wait' message so it could separate the signals.

UPDATED: Having gone through a great many practice scenarios (typically 4 buried beacons) in the past month I've learned the S extrapolates the incoming data and keeps you moving roughly in the right direction. The arrows on screen will flip from left to right creating the 'swimming trout' as you walk but it generally lasts for 4-5 meters prior to settling in. When this happens you are wandering around a bit but it does seem to follow the correct flux line overall. So better than the 'stop and wait' from the Pulse but requires some getting used to.  

 

When you enter the pinpoint phase of the search the icons again guide you through the search. The new pinpoint graphic does take some getting used to. It seems the beacon 'wants' you to go fully 2 m past the target prior to prompting you back to the low point, then 2m to the side again before returning and presenting you with a 'probe here' icon.  It's easy to ignore and go about your search just based off distance, but it does seem a little funny that even as you back up the arrow keeps pushing you forward. However, 2m crosshairs is pretty typical in a pinpoint search and the S does a nice job in coming to the logical low point for the 'probe here' icon. This icon now presents a proper spiral and layout for probing, which is a nice reminder. There's also the option for the more classic icons of the pulse. 

 

Once the first beacon is found it's easy to mark and it's off to the next one with no hiccups. As with the pulse you can toggle from one signal to another if needed, as well as seeing on the screen which signal has been marked. You can also unmark signals. 

 

This is of particular importance. The F1 Focus is 20 years old but it does run on the same frequency and some people still feel the need to use it. I do not recommend using the F1 (or any other analogue beacon, single or double antennae beacon). In normal search mode, as with the Pulse, the S will find the F1 last every time. If it finds it at all!! You will hear the analog beeps from the F1 (if those sounds are activated), but it may or may not appear on your screen as the 3rd beacon and you can literally walk right over it and not have it's signal picked up. it's not just the F1, I've had this issue with the Pulse searching for other older beacons, particularly during a multiple search scenario. If you switch the S (and the Pulse) to analog (or 'alternate') search mode, which is easy to do using the side buttons, it's no problem to find the F1. Note, I would suggest learning how to do advanced search methods with any beacon ( micro box, 3 circle, micro circle, etc). The signal overlap from the multiple beacons (the F1 in particular) causes the issue.  If you're using an older beacon my question is why? I can almost guarantee the phone in your pocket is less than a year old while that old beacon, that's supposed to save your life, is 10+ years old. If you have a single or double antenna beacon, it's time for you to buy a new beacon. But this is an important fact to know if a touring partner shows up with an old beacon, they will most likely be found last in a multiple burial situation. 

 

A new feature to this beacon is the rescue/send mode. This mode is for the rescuers who are not actively searching and it effectively puts your beacon to 'search' but does not present any graphics or sounds. Leaving the main searcher distraction free and rescuers can assemble probes and shovels with less incessant beeping. If a secondary avalanche comes (or you stop moving) the beacon will switch back to 'send' after 4 minutes of no motion. The auto revert time is adjustable down to 2 minutes on the S, which is nice if another avalanche does occur but you need to remember not to sit down on the rescue.

 

Overall the Barryvox S is really nice and what you would expect from the most expensive beacon on the market, very fast and very efficient. It was a little faster than the Pulse with less interference and waiting in challenging search scenarios. Even with 'stacked' beacons the S easily seperated the signals.

Every beacon requires practice to optimize your searching, but from my practice so far, the S is surpassing all the other beacons I've used. 

 

Should you buy it? Most 3 antennae beacons work really well and if yours is less than 5 or so years old, I wouldn't run out and buy the S. If you have an older beacon or are looking to upgrade and the S fits your budget, I would definitely recommend it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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