Wild Snow Beacon Reviews — Mammut Barryvox Pulse

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Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

Firmware v3.2 Update for Fall 2011
A v3.2 firmware update will be available for the Pulse as of November 2011. Rather than attempt to integrate all this into what is already a very long and complicated review, the new v3.2 features are posted in a comment, and then in November 2011 an entirely new review will be published for the v3.2 Pulse (omitting all of the historical notes about exactly which features were introduces in which versions).

REVIEW UPDATED DECEMBER 31, 2009
(Mammut Barryvox Pulse: Firmware 3.0 Update)

Barryvox Pulse is an amazing technological tour de force and now with a “Basic” user profile option under the 3.0 firmware to harness those capabilities in a more idiot-proof manner for the user who is, well, I’ll let you the dear reader complete that sentence as you wish!

The Pulse in its “Advanced” user profile continues to offer a high degree of customization. Both user profiles have a host of various improvements sprinkled throughout their various functions, as summarized here. Also, for the institutional user, Barryvox offers some interesting options you can check out here.

Mammut Barryvox Pulse

Mammut Barryvox Pulse

Interface and Controls

To switch Barryvox Pulse to Transmit mode, depress and then slide the three-position switch on the top edge of the beacon so that it is flush with the housing. How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Look for the three-position switch to be the flush with the housing and look for the blinking light.

To switch over to Search, depress and then slide (which is possible with one reasonably dexterous hand) that same switch even further (i.e., so that it protrudes from the other end of the housing). To revert to Transmit, bump the end of the switch. The Pulse will also revert to Transmit within a programmable length of time if it detects no large movements of the unit.

New with version 3.0 firmware, upon switching back into Transmit, the Pulse will hold off while counting down from 5, and then emit a warning signal once it starts transmitting again.

Take care to avoid letting any water drip into, and then freeze, the switch at the top edge of the beacon. My Pulse once froze so firmly that back at the trailhead at the end of our tour I was unable to switch over into either Search or Off until after a minute or so of bare-hand warming. I have also replicated this with a few drops of water and a short amount of time in a home freezer. (By contrast, the assertion that the Pulse can be turned into Transmit without truly being locked into Transmit is misleading: This requires a delicate action to achieve such a fine balancing point, plus the feel of the switch when locked into Transmit is so unmistakable that anyone who mistakes this small no-man’s-land for being locked into Transmit is probably so otherwise incompetent as to be incapable of using the Pulse in a search anyway.)

Previously I had written that the search interface could be interpreted as either elegant or potentially confusing: a full-text LCD screen flanked by two soft keys that perform many (many) different functions depending on the context and user programming. For those who viewed it as potentially confusing, the 3.0 firmware’s “Basic” user profile is configured such that the two soft keys always perform identical functions (so don’t worry if you get your left and right mixed up), and so that all programming options are locked out.

Upon start-up the Pulse has an optional group check mode in which the search range is radically shortened. Furthermore, and new for the 3.0 firmware, like the DSP and S1, the Pulse will report an error for a transmitting beacon whose frequency has drifted out of spec. (And during an actual search, upon initial analog signal acquisition, the Pulse will alert you to a drifted signal so as to shorten your search strip width in order to not go past the burial without picking up the digital signal.)

How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing

In the “Advanced” profile, initial signal acquisition is via analog acoustics only, although almost immediately full digital processing kicks in. With the 3.0 firmware, upon initial signal acquisition, the Pulse emits a distinct warning tone to get your attention. The Pulse combines analog acoustics with an LCD distance readout and a single LCD 360-degree rotating arrow. Within 3m (as measured by the distance readout), the Pulse can be programmed to switch over its acoustics to a digitized tone and/or to stop displaying its rotating arrow. (In other words, with two different options each for two different aspects of pinpointing, the Pulse has four distinctly different patterns of pinpointing behavior.) Note that Barryvox recommends keeping the default of losing the rotating arrow within three meters for pinpointing. Previously, the rotating arrow was replaced by a static cross: with the 3.0 firmware, the cross’s size is proportional to the distance readout (i.e., somewhat similar to the S1’s descending circle graphic).

Under the “Basic” profile, the sound is always digital throughout the entire search, and the directional indicators shut down at 3m.

Alternatively, under the “Advanced” profile, the Pulse can be switched over into an “Analog” backup mode, whose exact behavior depends on user programming. I put “Analog” in quotes because with a 180-degree rotating arrow and no spikes/nulls in the pinpointing phase, the Pulse is still using all three of its antennas and digital processing: the difference is that the signal separation and hence marking/masking is turned off, as well as the forward/backwards capability of the rotating arrow. Combined with full sensitivity control and even a multiple-burial indicator, even if the Pulse had only this backup mode and not its regular mode, its design would be an impressive technological accomplishment. The Pulse can also be switched into a pure analog mode that shuts down the display entirely and receives on only one antenna.

If the preceding paragraph is completely overwhelming to you, then rest assured that you need never use “Analog” mode or ever be concerned about it.

How It Works: Multiple Burials

The Pulse automatically locks onto the strongest signal, but displays a list of other victims. When a beacon is found, the user can then mark/mask it, and the Pulse will automatically switch the search to the next-strongest signal. Under the “Advanced” profile, the user can scroll through the list and choose a different order of searching. By contrast, under the “Basic” profile the order of searching cannot be overridden by the user, and neither can a previously found beacon be unmarked/unmasked by the user. (The benefit is that the “Basic” user does not have to worry about an inadvertent key press switching to a different beacon or unmarking/unmasking a previously found beacon.) Also under the “Advanced” profile, the user can switch into backup mode, which (as noted earlier) displays only a symbol for the presence of a multiple burial, with no marking/masking.

Under the “Advanced” profile, a heart symbol next to a victim indicates a fellow Pulse unit that is detecting minute vibrations from the victim, hence the model name. (A “Basic” user will transmit vitals data, but will not receive it.) The goal behind this feature is to aid in triage decisions, i.e., shift rescue priorities to victims who are likely to still be alive. However, if a multiple burial occurs in a party with a mix of Pulse and other beacons, a searcher with a Pulse can give preference — or not! — to victims who are known to have a Pulse, setting up some interesting ethical decisions.

But wait, as is often the case with the Pulse, there’s even more! A victim’s beacon will display how long the victim was buried (i.e., no large movements) and for what portion of the burial time the victim was most likely still alive (i.e., minute vibrations). Barryvox claims this information can be important for the medical team and was based on input from International Commission for Alpine Rescue. But if you disagree, the “Advanced” user profile offers you the option of just turning it all off. (And for the “Basic” user profile, the vitals data is transmitted only, not received.)

How Well It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing

I’ve recorded some very confusing range test results for the Pulse over the last three years. But I’ll cut to the chase and report here only the latest results, for my Fall 2006 Pulse units upgraded to the 2.6/2.7 firmware in Fall 2008 and then to 3.0 in Fall 2009, combined with rotating the beacon throughout a 90-degree arc during a worst-case coupling test. (In prior years I kept the search beacon aligned with my direction of travel.) And the results are . . . just fine, thanks, sometimes even rivaling (and in some trials besting) the range-champ DSP for full directional indicators. (So ignore any older test results you see from me, whether published on-line or by the American Avalanche Association.)

The initial acoustics though usually add almost essentially nothing noticeable to the range. I suspect that the typical searcher–focusing on visual cues on the snow surface and digital indicators on the screen-– would not even catch the faint acoustical signal that in my latest tests becomes audible only a meter or so before digital processing commences.

But wait, even for range results, there’s more! Under the “Advanced” user profile, you can go into “Analog” backup mode, then max out the sensitivity (which is possible only if the “Manual” option is selected for “Analog” from the menu) so that the display shuts off (as does all but one receiving antenna). Now the Pulse rivals and sometimes exceeds *any* beacon on the market, directional or otherwise. I even had one Pulse acquisition at 112 meters (with optimal alignment of both target and searching beacons). That’s an entire football field, plus both end zones, and another eight feet. (And the actual acquisition range might have even longer, but I had run out of room at my testing site!) But if switching the Pulse over to Search then into “Analog” backup mode and finally maxing out the sensitivity so that the display shuts off all sounds complicated and potentially confusing in a panic-prone lift-or-death rescue situation . . . well, it might be.

If the preceding paragraph is completely overwhelming to you (hmm, did I write that before?), then rest assured that you need never go through this procedure. (And indeed, in the “Basic” profile, you can’t.) But for a professional rescuer searching a large debris field with an unknown number of victims, this can be a highly valuable feature.

Once the signal is acquired, the Pulse works best if you keep moving. Why? The answer is in how the 360-degree rotating arrow behaves. Although I am no electrical engineer, I did spent lots of time puzzling over the ahead-versus-behind detection of both the Pulse and S1 with a fellow avalanche instructor who is also an electrical engineer. He concluded that the only way these beacons are able to detect ahead versus behind is the way you do with your own sense: whether the signal is becoming stronger or weaker. Keep moving and all is well. Stand still, and then any small drop-off in the signal strength (often caused by tilting the beacon slightly) will cause the Pulse or S1 to direct you (incorrectly) to turn around. So if in doubt, move!

Two situations in particular cause the ahead/behind function to become confused. First is the tricky perpendicular search, where initial signal acquisition occurs with the searching beacon pointing at a 90-degree angle to the target, and with the target pointing straight at the searcher. Any “traditional” directional beacon has a furthest-off-center directional indicator at about a 45-degree angle. What then happens is that either:
- The correct furthest-off-center directional indicator appears, and once the searcher starts following it, the beacon will lead the searcher in a direct path to the target.
- The correct and incorrect (i.e., essentially backwards) indicators trade back and forth, but the correct indicator wins out the searcher hesitates a bit.
- The incorrect indicator appears, and following causes the distance readout to increase rapidly, which should be an obvious indicator for a searcher to turn around.

Okay, so that’s with a “traditional” directional beacon. What happens with the Pulse? For my latest testing with the 3.0 firmware, out of 10 trials, the Pulse performed perfectly seven times, pointing straight at the target (i.e., 90 degrees to the housing’s long axis). On the other three trials, the Pulse pointed in the incorrect direction. Of those three trials, twice the arrow flipped around (i.e., pointing to the correction direction), yet one time the arrow kept leading me in the correct direction until I went out of range.

With additional trials, the exact proportions might shift, but I suspect the overall conclusion will stand: the 3.0 Pulse will usually perform flawlessly in this test, but will sometimes behave in a manner that might cause confusion (and hence searching delays).

The other confusing behind/ahead situation is during a multiple burial, when once the first beacon is marked/masked, the next beacon might be behind or ahead of the searcher. During many multiple beacon searches, after the behind/ahead function performed flawlessly for the first beacon, I suffered from some turnarounds for the second beacon when I faithfully followed the rotating arrow’s behind/ahead distinction.

So even though the Pulse does have a behind/ahead function, remember to think for yourself, i.e., pay attention to whether the distance readout is getting smaller or larger. And once again, keep moving.

Oh, but don’t move too dramatically: the Pulse will chastise you to “Hold device horizontally!” if you tilt too far away from level.

For pinpointing, I like being able to keep rotating arrow on past the 3.0m mark, but if you don’t (and Barryvox advises against doing so), well, program it as you wish if you’re using the “Advanced” user profile. Ditto for retaining analog acoustics or switching to a digitized tone that increases in intensity. Under either profile, once the rotating arrow disappears, the cross graphic now increases or decreases in size in proportion to the distance indicator. This seems inspired by the Ortovox S1, and although I didn’t find it quite as helpful as the S1’s descending/ascending circle-with-arrows graphic, the 3.0 firmware’s dynamic cross is definitely a helpful improvement upon the previous firmware’s static cross. And as before, however you program it, the “box size” is very small.

How Well It Works: Multiple Burials

In my testing, I have found the Pulse (and S1) to be more reliable in both victim count and marking/masking than other beacons I’ve tested. With numerous victims (I’ve tested up to eight, and then I ran out of beacons), the Pulse is more likely to display “STOP” (displayed within a traffic-style octagon) combined with “Stand Still!” if it needs to sit and think a bit. (I switched the Pulse into German in the hope that any of this might be translated into a chilling “Achtung!” but no such luck.) This is somewhat disarming the first time it appears (e.g., “my beacon is telling me to do stuff?”), but after some familiarity sets in, the messages become not much more than a mildly annoying and very brief interruption. Firmware upgrades are supposed to have reduced the frequency of these interruptions, and my experience has confirmed this, although it is difficult to quantify. (Still though, I greatly enjoyed the reaction of the lead instructor at a course I was teaching at when he started talking back to his Pulse: “Stand still, who are you telling to tell me to stand still?”)

The Pulse (as well as the S1) essentially substitutes model-specific familiarity for more general beacon searching skills. In other words, hand a Pulse with no prior explanation to a user highly skilled in resolving multiple-burial searches on a beacon that has no special features, and the user (especially with no prior cell phone usage) might be confused with manipulating the soft keys correctly. By contrast, a user familiar with the Pulse can usually solve multiple-burial searches as if with x-ray vision. The analogy that comes to mind is the difference between a driver in an entirely unfamiliar city yet skilled with the latest vehicle GPS system versus a driver with a good map and a general sense of a city’s layout trying to navigate through an unfamiliar neighborhood.

But the Pulse is still not perfect. Why? For the very same reason that your own human ear can have trouble discerning the presence of more than one beacon signal as the different signals can overlap. Eventually, the signals’ different timing will cause them to diverge from another, and the Pulse will correctly identify the number of beacons. In my testing with modern digital beacons as the target, this resolution is usually very fast, usually before I even reach the first beacon. For a dissenting view from a conceptual perspective, you can read this.

This becomes a more significant problem when searching for older F1 beacons, which can cause more persistent ghosting and (more typically) undercounting. (And many F1 beacons -– once the popular beacon world-wide — are still out there in use.) However, when the Pulse is uncertain, it will helpfully (from my perspective at least) display a “+” symbol next to the number of beacons. For example, when searching for three beacons, often I will at first have two victim symbols, with a “+” to indicate that the Pulse is working on determining what it suspects is a third signal. And the relatively rare ghosting incidents are almost always denoted with a “+” instead of an additional victim count. Personally, I like seeing the “+” symbol to indicate possible uncertainty or “working on it . . . ” status as opposed to the “either/or” nature of the victim count on the DSP and S1.

I have also heard the claim that the excellent reliability of the Pulse’s marking/masking function comes with a drawback: namely that the focus on the strongest signal causes the Pulse to effectively reduce its range for other beacons. Here is an interesting account that could be a manifestation of that drawback (scroll to post #9 by “khyber.pass”):

When I ran some tests in Fall 2008 to investigate this issue under the previous firmware, sometimes the Pulse performed perfectly fine but other times it was unable to find a beacon within its typical range, seemingly because it was so focused on the first beacon it had found. This year’s tests with the 3.0 firmware found no such problems, even with repeated trials. (Ditto for the Ortovox S1.) Perhaps something was different this year with my testing protocol, but I suspect Barryvox has largely fixed this pervious problem.

Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?

Previously I’d felt the Pulse’s biggest problem was its being named after a relatively minor (yet still potentially useful) feature (i.e., vitals transmission) and that it should instead be named the Whoah beacon, since that summarized the polar-opposite reactions users are likely to have to it, i.e., either:
- “Whoah, this beacon is amazing!” or,
- “Whoah, what is going on with this beacon??

But if you fall into the latter category, now you can just select the “Basic” user profile upon initial start-up.

Either way, like with any beacon, you should definitely read the Pulse’s user manual before purchasing, and then again once you buy it, and then yet again at the start of any season. If you plan to use the Pulse under the “Advanced” profile, you’ll probably have to read it a few times at each stage. Carefully. Very. By contrast, the “Basic” user profile really is much more idiot-proof, while still retaining the essentials of the Pulse’s advanced capabilities. (Remember, this review would be only a fraction of its length were it covering only the Pulse under its “Basic” profile.)

Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon?

“My partner had better be prepared to second-guess the forward/backward indicator if the distance readout is increasing (instead of decreasing as it should).”

“My partner will be a whiz at solving a close-proximity multiple burial.”

For the Advanced profile:
“My partner better be good as matching up left and right soft key presses with what the screen indicates.”

(Note, the Ortovox S1 shares most of the Pulse’s impressive capabilities, albeit with a radically different user interface. So if you’re potentially interested in the Pulse, you should also look into the S1, and vice versa.)

Manual

Shop for Mammut Barryvox Pulse avalanche beacon.

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)

Comments

39 Responses to “Wild Snow Beacon Reviews — Mammut Barryvox Pulse”

  1. Clyde April 14th, 2009 9:35 am

    I was raked over the coals by Mammut for calling the Pulse feature a gimmick when the beacon was first introduced. They were screaming all the way from Switzerland that I didn’t understand it and missed the point. No, I got it just fine. It’s still a silly feature they still push while barely mentioning other key selling points.

    Decent review Jonathan but you overlook a lot of important details such as price, weight, harness system functionality, etc. There’s more to buying a beacon than just the electronics.

  2. Italia skiroll April 14th, 2009 10:35 am

    I know it is not exactly a suitable comment to this post, but the season is the right one: does anybody of you is interested inrollerski (summer cross-country ski)?

  3. Lou April 14th, 2009 11:01 am

    Yeah Clyde, I for one am certainly not impressed by the Pulse feature. Have yet to feel the heat of the coals, but I’m sure it’ll come. But Nomex works well for such things and we’ve got plenty around here. BTW we don’t always mention MSRPs because they vary so much, instead we just stick a shopping link at the end of the review, one click for the price is all it takes. Good point about the weight and harness. Additions like that are what blog comments are great for. Jonathan?

    P.S., MSRP info is also on our summary/intro chart:

    http://www.wildsnow.com/1476/avalanche-beacon-review-intro/#comment-15419

  4. Peter April 14th, 2009 11:25 am

    Jonathan,

    I think there’s one more feature (that I didn’t see mentioned here) that the Pulse has in a multiple victim&rescuer scenario.
    I *think* the rescuers’ Pulses will communicate with each other and delegate victims, i.e. you won’t have two rescuers (with Pulses) looking for the same victim. If one rescuer’s beacon picks the strongest signal, the other rescuers’ beacons will chose the next beacon down the list and send them off after victim #2 right away.

    True? Or did I get bad info?

  5. Eric April 14th, 2009 1:07 pm

    Jonathan,

    How do you update the firmware? I have one that I’d like to update. Thanks.

    I too agree about the Pulse feature. I don’t ever expect to make use of it, but it wasn’t a decision when purchasing it anyway, so no big deal

    Eric

  6. Scruppo April 14th, 2009 3:27 pm

    When I bought my Pulse, it came with a little piece of paper addendum that stated that the frequency needed for the actual pulse (heartbeat) functionality was not approved in North America (FCC?) and that it was disabled. I still like it quite a bit, but unless you go to Europe and get it re-enabled, it doesn’t work.

    Maybe it has been approved since I bought mine (early adopter – Feb 08)?

  7. Scruppo April 14th, 2009 3:28 pm

    Has anyone ever had two of these together and “seen” a pulse?

  8. Lou April 14th, 2009 3:38 pm

    I don’t think it actually measures your pulse, but rather your body’s micro movements from breathing etc., and just indicates if you are alive or not based on that. If that’s the case then the name is misleading and one more strike against the thing, in my opinion. If it’s actually a pulse meter than well…!

  9. David April 14th, 2009 3:48 pm

    I use and like the Pulse. A couple more thoughts to contribute.

    I have also found the marking function to be a little better/more reliable than the Pieps DSP. I also prefer changing preferences so that the rotating arrow remains for the pinpoint search (and it is pretty simple to make this switch).

    I am not a fan of harnesses in general, and the Pulse harness in particular could do a much better job staying in position.

    Personally I have observed Pulses inadvertently turning on, when the switch is bumped in a pack or pocket (I hope this doesn’t make me incompetent). It does not have to slide all the way to turn the device on. Then you pull out your Pulse and find it on and completely out of batteries. I know of others who have experienced this as well. While occasionally annoying this is not a huge deal and should be a simple fix in the manufacturing process, it’s just a matter of making the off position more solid. The potential for this occurring just makes me remember spare batteries.

    I have observed problems finding and marking old F1′s, but I think this is a problem with the decrepit F1′s more than the Pulse.

    Overall, I really like this tranceiver. I think it is on par with the Pieps DSP and S1.

  10. Scruppo April 14th, 2009 4:05 pm

    Pulses (heartbeats), micromovements, alive, dead – it does not transmit this info in North America according to the addendum that came with mine. This is very misleading as most of their literature extols the virtues of this technology. Don’t get me wrong – I knew this going in and still think it’s a great beacon. Just verify this feature if that’s why you are considering purchasing it. If I can find the addendum when I go home, I’ll post it here.

    Also, I really like the harness. My friend with a tracker has borrowed it and liked it better as well. Chalk that one up to personal preference.

  11. Jonathan Shefftz April 14th, 2009 4:10 pm

    “Decent review Jonathan but you overlook a lot of important details such as price, weight, harness system functionality, etc.”
    - Price is here:
    http://tinyurl.com/54we7l
    - Weights were previously included in my comparison chart published in TAR two seasons ago. But to quote myself:
    http://tinyurl.com/54we7l
    “Likewise I’ll not make a big deal out of weight (sorry Lou), as all beacons heft within three-and-half ounces from lightest to heaviest.”
    For the record though, the Pulse is 11.6 (with batteries and harness), while the S1 is 12.9, and the DSP with the newly redesigned harness is 12.2 oz.
    - Harness system functionality I comment on when it’s linked to any beacon operations, but otherwise, harness comfort and convenience are in the eye of the beholder (or rather, the fumbling fingers and chest of the wearer). For example, during several hours of beacon practice today with my future sister-in-law, the Pulse’s harness fit me perfectly and in exactly the same place as designed, but with her, uh, differently configured chest, it didn’t fit as well as on me. (She also had trouble figuring out at first how to tighten up the harness straps, since the triple layering of the webbing and the buckles is a bit confusing until you realize what’s going on.)
    - “Etc,” well, what do you have in mind?

    “I *think* the rescuers’ Pulses will communicate with each other and delegate victims, i.e. you won’t have two rescuers (with Pulses) looking for the same victim. If one rescuer’s beacon picks the strongest signal, the other rescuers’ beacons will chose the next beacon down the list and send them off after victim #2 right away.”
    - The original PR said once a Pulse unit marked a beacon, then that Pulse unit would communicate that mark to other nearby Pulse units. In other words, once a beacon was marked for one Pulse searcher, it would be marked for other Pulse searchers.
    - But that has not yet made it into the firmware. (My communications with the U.S. distributor confirmed that this was originally envisioned, but I don’t know if it’s still be contemplated.)

    “How do you update the firmware? I have one that I’d like to update.”
    - The U.S. distributor is in Vermont:
    http://tinyurl.com/dnfcvn
    (I don’t what the fee is, since I got my units upgraded gratis while I was in touch with them about these reviews.)

    “When I bought my Pulse, it came with a little piece of paper addendum that stated that the frequency needed for the actual pulse (heartbeat) functionality was not approved in North America (FCC?) and that it was disabled. I still like it quite a bit, but unless you go to Europe and get it re-enabled, it doesn’t work.”
    - Sounds like you bought a unit intended for Asia, where the Pulse has no approved frequency for its vitals data. Europe and North America use different Pulse frequencies. If you buy a unit in N.A. and want to use the Pulse transmission in Europe, a Euro service center can modify the firmware to include the Euro frequency. Furthermore, such modified units (as well as those sold in Europe), can simply switch back and forth between the Euro & N.A. frequencies (via the setup menu). Now, the North American frequency will work in Europe with other Pulse units that are set to the N.A. frequency (i.e., your U.S. partners joining you on your Euro hut trip), but you might be violating some Euro FCC rule.
    - Either way, send it to the U.S. service center will fix that.

    “Has anyone ever had two of these together and “seen” a pulse?”
    - Yes, it’s pretty neat-o: the Pulse victim in the scrollable list has a little heart symbol adjacent to it, indicating the victim has ever-so-slight vibrations that are indicative of a victim who is still alive. (But as Lou notes, it’s not really an HRM at all.) But when I bury a Pulse target or put it on the floor, no such heart symbol shows up.

  12. Lou April 14th, 2009 4:48 pm

    Jeez, Jonathan is the only blogger we have who can write a comment that’s longer than his blog post (grin), or have I done that before? Even so, good clarification and additional info Jonathan! Thanks!

    I’ll try for a lengthy comment myself — can’t let you have all the fun!

    I’d like to add that using the word Pulse in the name of the beacon is disingenuous. Truly bogus, actually, if not downright fraud. It strongly implies that the thing has a HRM built into it, and that’s exactly what I was led to believe when I first got the PR story at an OR show when the product was introduced.

    What’s more, as Jonathan writes about, what a way to obfuscate the real issues with such a technical piece. In a multiple burial situation you should just be digging people up as quickly as is humanly possible, not fiddling around with skipping burials when a crude beacon accelerometer says they might be close to dying or perhaps dead. In point of fact, once a person goes into cardiac and resperatory arrest and has no heart beat or movement, many are still revivable for a short time with CPR. In that view, the Pulse feature could actually cause one to skip digging up the person who needed to be dug up the soonest!!!

    For example, say a person had their mouth and nose plugged with snow and they were only a few inches below the surface. As you fiddle with your Pulse Beacon and ponder which person to dig up, they go into arrest. The Pulse Beacon says they’re perhaps dead, but actually, if you just kicked away the snow from their face and administered CPR, they’d come back to life. Instead, you end up digging for 20 minutes to recover someone who’s also hanging on by a thread, but dies of their trauma as you wait for the rescue chopper.

    In other words, for the Pulse feature to have any use, it would have to be a LOT more sophisticated. Close to artificial intelligence, using factors such as burial depth, actual heart rate and respiration, blood pressure, body temperature, and perhaps even a microphone and speaker system to allow communication if the person who’s buried could possibly talk.

    In the end, all this talk mostly does is make me a LOT more careful to avoid multiple avalanche burial. Even so, life is imperfect and a multiple could certainly be something any of us have to deal with. So good we’ve got features for that. But this “Pulse” feature? It’s gotta improve or get buried in the menus.

  13. Robie April 15th, 2009 7:28 am

    Jonathan,
    “Take care to avoid letting any water drip into, and then freeze, the switch at the top edge of the beacon. My Pulse once froze so firmly that back at the trailhead at the end of our tour I was unable to switch over into either Search or Off until after a minute or so of bare-hand warming. I have also replicated this with a few drops of water and a short amount of time in a home freezer.”
    That alone kills it for me here in the cascades.

  14. Steve April 15th, 2009 9:08 am

    KNOW HOW EVERY FUNCTION OF YOUR BEACON WORKS. THE MORE FUNCTIONS THE MORE THINKING REQUIRED.

    Some experienced ski tourers had a fatality in the Wallowas recently and in the accident report it was stated that their beacons were going back to transmit after 8 minutes and it hindered their beacon search. Eight minutes is the auto revert time of the Barryvox Opto 3000, possibly the Pulse as well, and it will go off if you’re not prepared. I believe it can also be turned off but I’m not sure about this.

  15. al April 15th, 2009 9:27 am

    How easy is the display to read,how big are the characters ,could a person who needs reading glasses read it out in the field when they don’t have their reading glasses handy ?

  16. Clyde April 15th, 2009 9:57 am

    “- “Etc,” well, what do you have in mind?”

    I’ve been out of the gear review business for a while but I still like to read thorough ones. None of the outdoor magazines print serious product reviews anymore so it’s up to the blogs to pick up the slack. Consider this constructive criticism not an attack. For starters, keep all the info about a product in one place. MSRP and MAP do not change except once a year (with rare exceptions) and are set by the company or distributor not stores.

    Questions that come to mind about any beacon: how easy is viewing in direct sunlight with polarized glasses? how easy is viewing at night? could i read the screen if i lost my glasses in a tumble? is audio adequate when the wind is howling? can older ears hear the pitch? are all the features easily reached while wearing gloves? can large hands hold and operate the beacon easily? how hard is changing batteries in the field? is the harness easy to get on and off? can the beacon be repositioned on your body? is the harness padded and ventilated next to your body? can you get the beacon in and out of the harness easily? does the harness protect the beacon from impacts? does the beacon come with an instructional dvd and how good is the info? is the manual actually useful and educational or a bad translation of an engineering document? how much is a firmware upgrade including shipping? are local stores equipped to do upgrades?

    Okay, so I’m anal. But little details make a difference and are all part of the buying process. As an example, the DSP comes with a crappy harness IMHO. Wish Osprey or some other good pack company would make a decent universal harness.

  17. Lou April 15th, 2009 10:34 am

    Good feedback Clyde, thanks. Dang, I guess Jonathan’s reviews have now doubled in size! Perhaps we’ll publish them in two parts? In all fairness, what Jonathan tried to do with his reviews was to cover the more technical and search performance side, rather than the basic “hands on user” point of view (which is of course important as well). But we can do better by covering both areas more, perhaps by using more charting and perhaps dividing the reviews into two parts.

    Good idea about the more basic factoids such as readability of screen. That stuff could all be put in a grid chart.

    Regarding harnesses, a large number of folks I ski with don’t use a harness but instead carry the beacon in a pocket. That’s what I do. To me the harness seems like overkill, extra weight, and extra fiddle. But then, I’m the guy who doesn’t always carry a dedicated probe…

  18. Jonathan Shefftz April 15th, 2009 11:17 am

    “Personally I have observed Pulses inadvertently turning on, when the switch is bumped in a pack or pocket (I hope this doesn’t make me incompetent). It does not have to slide all the way to turn the device on. Then you pull out your Pulse and find it on and completely out of batteries.”
    - The incompetence remark refers to a user trying to put the beacon in On/Send and instead putting it in the no-man’s land between Off and On/Send.
    - By contrast, if a Pulse were stored in a pack, an inadvertent bump could indeed put it into On/Send, draining the batteries.
    - Although this indeed could be improved/fixed, I don’t think it’s a major problem. Yes, I agree on the potential for pointless battery drawdown if the beacon is, say, sitting in a pack in a car and the switch gets bumped, but with a minimum battery life of 200 hours (after which the beacon is still suppose to be able to search for half an hour), and I agree that a user should be aware of this potential problem, but just another reason to keep a spare set of 3xAAA in the car.

    “I have observed problems finding and marking old F1’s, but I think this is a problem with the decrepit F1’s more than the Pulse.”
    - This is a problem with all beacons attempting to perform signal separation in a multiple burial because of the F1′s continuous carrier background signal. (So Pulse, S1, DSP, 3 Axes, they all have more trouble trying to differentiated among multiple F1 beacons.)

    “Pulses (heartbeats), micromovements, alive, dead – it does not transmit this info in North America according to the addendum that came with mine. [...] If I can find the addendum when I go home, I’ll post it here.
    - Yes, I’d definitely be interesting in seeing that, since it’s at odds with my experience in Firmware versions 2.0 and 2.6, as well as page 32 of the current user’s manual:
    http://tinyurl.com/czqmta

    “Eight minutes is the auto revert time of the Barryvox Opto 3000, possibly the Pulse as well, and it will go off if you’re not prepared. I believe it can also be turned off but I’m not sure about this.”
    - Both models are programmable: 8 minutes (Opto 3000 default), 4 minutes (Pulse default), or no revert.
    - Both models provide warning in advance of the auto-revert, and the revert will be aborted if the user then presses any buttons.
    - Furthermore, the Pulse will begin the auto-revert if and only if the user has not pressed any buttons *AND* has made no major motions. In other words, the Pulse is going to auto-revert only if you’ve been lying still not doing anything (with neither your torso nor the beacon) and then ignore the auto-revert warning.

    “How easy is the display to read,how big are the characters ,could a person who needs reading glasses read it out in the field when they don’t have their reading glasses handy?”
    - All depends on your own vision and ability to squint, etc.

    “Questions that come to mind about any beacon: how easy is viewing in direct sunlight with polarized glasses? how easy is viewing at night? could I read the screen if I lost my glasses in a tumble? is audio adequate when the wind is howling? can older ears hear the pitch? are all the features easily reached while wearing gloves? can large hands hold and operate the beacon easily?
    - These are all question for you to answer, not me. Otherwise, you’re just receiving answers that depend on my personal preferences, vision, and hearing.
    - Now okay, I could assemble dozens of testers a la Consumer Reports and average out individual preferences, vision, and hearing. But obviously that isn’t going to happen.

    “how hard is changing batteries in the field?”
    - All beacons are fairly easy in this regard. For those beacons that have a screw closure, just about any kind of flathead driver or a knife or anything really is enough to get it going if it’s been cranked too tight for a fingernail to start it unscrewing.

    “is the harness easy to get on and off?”
    - Except for the all-strap system on the X1/Patroller (as noted in that review), all beacons (which now have tether & pouch systems) are easy to get on and off.

    “can the beacon be repositioned on your body?”
    - Depends on your body. (Seriously. Quite a big difference yesterday while using our Pulse units between me and my future sister-in-law.)

    “is the harness padded and ventilated next to your body?”
    - A ventilated beacon harness?!?

    “can you get the beacon in and out of the harness easily?”
    - I commented on my difficult with the ARVA 3 Axes. Otherwise, they’re all fine.

    “does the harness protect the beacon from impacts?”
    - All harness protect the beacon to some extent, but probably only a very minor extent.
    - The question can be answered in a meaningful way only with very expensive (i.e., destructive) testing. Otherwise, it’s purely speculative.

    “does the beacon come with an instructional dvd and how good is the info?”
    - Uh oh, full confession time: I’ve never bothered watching any of the DVDs or CDs or whatever disks have come with any of these beacons.

    “is the manual actually useful and educational or a bad translation of an engineering document?”
    - As with any tech product, I highly recommend downloading the pdf from the company’s website (already provided in the overview blog) before purchase.

    “how much is a firmware upgrade including shipping?”
    - For Pieps, see LibertyMountain.com; for Ortovox and Barryvox, this feature hasn’t been promoted much, and although I’ve received upgraded, it’s been gratis as part of my discussion with them about these guest blogs.

    “are local stores equipped to do upgrades?”
    - Pieps has some service centers:
    http://tinyurl.com/deq85j
    - I haven’t heard of any stores in the U.S. that can upgrade S1 or Pulse.

  19. Lou April 15th, 2009 11:37 am

    Regarding the auto-revert messing up a search: I’ve been noticing a recent trend in avalanche accident reportage, that of picking apart small details that might be construed to have caused the injury or death (ski bindings, helmet use, Avalung or not, etc.), rather than blaming the avalanche and faulty decision making that led up to being caught in it. If revert to transmit messed up a search, then the folks searching were perhaps so un-skilled that all bets were off anyway. That said, if several people are beacon searching, and a couple of them are so incompetent or freaked that their beacon reverts and they don’t do anything to switch it back, that could very well mess up the search that their ONE competent party member was doing, especially if they were far enough away from the victim so as to cause the other signals to take priority.

    Thus, I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED IF REVERT TO TRANSMIT WAS A GOOD THING! Perhaps more of my contrarian view, but I’d actually prefer to turn that function OFF in my groups beacons, especially in a larger group. Just imagine what it would be like if you were skiing with 9 people, started doing a beacon search, and every so often one or two of the beacons is reverting to transmit and not being immediately switched back to receive. Ridiculous cluster F… would be putting it mildly.

    I’m really wondering if all this fancy stuff is doing us any good whatsoever. FEATURITIS IS A DANGEROUS ILLNESS suffered by designers all over the world, and sometimes the cure is difficult.

  20. justin April 15th, 2009 12:32 pm

    “Take care to avoid letting any water drip into, and then freeze, the switch at the top edge of the beacon. My Pulse once froze so firmly that back at the trailhead at the end of our tour I was unable to switch over into either Search or Off until after a minute or so of bare-hand warming. I have also replicated this with a few drops of water and a short amount of time in a home freezer.”

    That’s scary.

  21. Chris April 15th, 2009 8:16 pm

    It seems like everyone is down on this unit. but hasn’t used it. I decided on a pulse after using all the current brands because it flat out finds other beacons/victims faster. Everyone always raves about their Tracker as they try to get within 25 meters of the victim so they can follow a flux line and try to go in the right direction. Then another guy pulls out his relic and states how it’s not the beacon but the user but clips into his dynafit bindings and new 4 buckle boots.

  22. Lou April 16th, 2009 5:40 am

    Chris, so we’re just talking a bunch of issues with various features. Normal stuff for a blog and quite a bit of valuable discussion in my opinion. Thanks for speaking up, and good to hear you’re happy with your purchase.

  23. Eric April 16th, 2009 9:32 am

    Lou, you would agree that it is best to plan on NOT having to do a beacon search .Spend less time on technology but a whole more on BEHAVIOR AND DECISIONS.
    Thanks for a great blog

  24. Jonathan Shefftz April 16th, 2009 2:39 pm

    A few more thoughts:

    Featuritis:
    - Yes, the Pulse is a highly feature-laden beacon (roughly on a par with the S1). But remember, unless you’re a trained avy rescue dog with a sensitive nose, you’re relying on technology and related features for your searching. Even if you have an F1 Focus that’s a decade-and-a-half old, you have a series of lights and a volume dial in addition to the analog sound.
    - Exactly where to drawn the line of the optimum level of feature set is a tricky decision. But the Pulse is unique among feature-laden beacons in that for many of the advanced features, if you don’t like them, you can simply turn them off.

    Vitals Transmission:
    - I’m not aware of anyone who has been stressing or emphasizing the potential benefits of the vitals transmission feature. Yes, the pre-production press played it up, and the beacon is misleadingly named after it, but the Pulse has so many other truly useful breakthrough features that the extended discussion here regarding the vitals transmission is unfortunate (although interesting I have to admit).
    - Barryvox now has informed me that the vitals transmit will continue for a specified time period *after* the Pulse no longer senses minute vibrations, so that the heart symbol is essentially signalling a victim who is either still alive *or* is potentially capable of being revived, i.e., “I’m not dead yet,” to quote Monty Python. (This explains a lag I noticed in my testing, which at the time I incorrectly chaulked up to placing the beacon on a floor with lots of potential vibrating sources, or just inaccurate record keeping on my part.)
    - Barryvox has also confirmed my prior explanation on the different North American and European frequencies for the vitals transmit (and that the vitals transmit is indeed allowed in North America, in contrast to what a commenter here claimed). And remember, the extra frequency is *only* for the vitals transmit.
    - And once again, if you think any potential benefits of the vitals tranmission are outweighed by potential drawbacks, you can just turn it off.

    Firmware Upgrades (updated info from Barryvox):
    - Firmware upgrades are $30.
    - In addition to the U.S. service center in Vermont that I previously noted, Barryvox has a service center in Kamloops BC.
    - Starting in Fall 2009 about a dozen shops in North America will be able to upgrade Pulse firmware.
    - Also starting in Fall 2009, firmware version 3.0 will be available. This is the first major firmware revision (and hence the expanded availability of service centers). Most importantly, upon the first startup after changing batteries, in addition to the current prompt of asking to calibrate the internal compass, the Pulse will offer the choice of an Advanced mode that is essentially the current beacon or a more Basic mode that will lock out some of the more obscure features and optional settings. Other anticipated changes include more consistent functionality between Left and Right soft keys (i.e., so more like Tab vs Enter), readout changes to better distinguish “X.X” from “XX” (I’ve noticed this problem with many different beacons among many different students at avy courses I’ve taught), a dynamic arrow in pinpointing mode that will grow or shrink in sync with changes in distance readout (i.e., like the S1′s descending or ascending circle and inward- vs outward-pointing arrows), range tweaks, and less-frequent messages.

  25. Lou April 16th, 2009 3:55 pm

    Indeed, being able to turn features on and off is a huge plus. Probably next gen is to be able to hook the unit up to your computer and have a nice easy interface that uses mouse clicks instead of messing with soft keys squinting at an LCD.

  26. Clyde May 1st, 2009 2:36 pm

    Scary multi-burial story in Italy today. http://blog.patitucciphoto.com/

    Cases like this will make you want the smartest beacons available.

  27. Jonathan Shefftz October 21st, 2009 10:47 am

    Fall 2009 update: new 3.0 firmware is available for the Pulse. I played around with it a few weeks ago when I got mine upgraded. More detailed testing to follow in November. But for now, let’s just say the new “Basic” profile will definitely be a huge attraction for many users. Essentially keeps the core functionality of searching, but locks out the advanced configuration options (although this could be done previously just by never visiting that menu) and more importantly streamlines multiburial searching (e.g., left & right buttons have the same features, and potentially confusing scrolling through the list is locked out).
    Overall, I think with the 3.0 firmware that Barryvox has widened the range of appeal for this beacon.
    Details from Mammut here:
    http://tinyurl.com/yzm3ysf
    More detailed blog review to follow eventually…

  28. Jonathan Shefftz December 31st, 2009 12:47 pm

    Just wanted to stick in this comment here to note that any comments preceding (i.e., above) this comment are on the earlier review of the earlier firmware, and any comments following (i.e., below) this comment are on the updated review of the 3.0 firmware.

  29. Lou December 31st, 2009 3:15 pm

    Good job Jonathan, tricky to keep these reviews updated, but I think this is the way to do it. We can always do something with the comments, like appending a note to each of the older ones…

  30. Rick Boebel January 3rd, 2010 6:38 pm

    Great review, any recommendations for who/where to send my Barryvox to for the firmware update. I live far away from any of them.
    Thanks, Rick Boebel

  31. Jonathan Shefftz January 3rd, 2010 8:09 pm

    I’ve posted a copy of their ad with the shops that can upgrade Pulse firmware:
    http://tinyurl.com/ycmq8nu
    At least two of these shops even have the $30 fee (usually includes returning shipping) payable on their websites:
    http://tinyurl.com/yzd9ml6
    http://tinyurl.com/ygrrey4
    In addition, firmware upgrades are available from Runner Up Sports in Montana (apparently it didn’t make the cutoff time for the ad copy), as well as the company-owned service centers in Shelburne VT and Kamloops BC. You can also call up the VT service center 802-985-5056 if you need additional guidance.
    Note that if you mail in your beacon, you should *include* the batteries in the shipment but *remove* them from the beacon. Also consider insurance.
    The procedure is done via the wireless communication frequency the beacon uses, includes some diagnostic tests, and takes only about five minutes.

  32. John January 6th, 2010 10:21 pm

    Since the US service center will no longer enable the European W-link frequency to be modified, has anyone sent theirs to Europe for modification? Was it a fairly quick turnaround?

  33. Jonathan Shefftz January 7th, 2010 9:58 am

    I don’t know the answer to the question as posed, but two alternatives are:
    1. See if a dealer is near where you’ll be in Europe (use filter for “PULSE Barryvox Firmware Update”)
    http://tinyurl.com/yd49kxb
    2. Just turn off the vitals transmit feature when you’re in Europe. (The American frequency won’t communicate with any Pulses on the Euro frequency, plus you’d be violating Euro telecomm regs by transmitting on the U.S. frequency.)

    (BTW, all of this is not a recent change – well, except for the slick new Mammut dealer app – but rather has always been this way b/c of different Euro vs U.S. frequencies, and also the prohibition in the U.S. of even just having a device that can transmit on a banned frequency.)

  34. Forest November 27th, 2010 3:40 pm

    Good work everybody on the good review and extensive follow up conversations. I just ordered a Pulse and after reading all the comments and the .pdf user manual, I feel well informed about which features I will use or not use. Thanks

  35. James October 4th, 2011 2:16 pm

    Having read the review, I was impressed by the functionality but somewhat put off by it all. To quote Lou, “I’m really wondering if all this fancy stuff is doing us any good whatsoever.”
    As someone who has always used a tracker I have grown to love the simplicity of it. With this in mind I have two questions:
    1) I bought my tracker in 2002 (ish) and it still seems to work fine when I practice with it. Apparently it should be replaced, agree, disagree?

    2) Is there a half way house tranceiver that has the most useful of the Pulse’s features whilst keeping the simplicity of the Tracker? I wonder whether BCA missed a trick by not including a masking function for multiple burials. Even if they claim it is rarely helpful, it migh be useful one day and to me that is enough of a reason to include it in my book.

    Thanks for all the advice.
    James

  36. Jonathan Shefftz October 4th, 2011 2:21 pm

    1. “I bought my tracker in 2002 (ish) and it still seems to work fine when I practice with it. Apparently it should be replaced, agree, disagree?”
    Two issues here:
    – Improved functionality of newer models = all depends on your personal priorities.
    – Does an old beacon still work well = there are some tests that you can run, and that reminds me, I should write another post about that…

    2. “Is there a half way house tranceiver that has the most useful of the Pulse’s features whilst keeping the simplicity of the Tracker?” Stayed tuned for the review this coming Nov/Dec of the new Element: http://www.wildsnow.com/3982/element-avalanche-beacon-from-barryvox-preview/
    Also check out the similar competition from Ortovox (3+: http://www.wildsnow.com/2345/ortovox-3-avalanche-beacon-review/) and Pieps (DSP Tour – just arrived here, so review coming up in a week or so).

  37. Jonathan Shefftz October 12th, 2011 9:10 am

    Firmware v 3.2 will be available for the Pulse in November.
    Sometime in November, I’ll publish a completely new review of the Pulse, starting from scratch (i.e., without all of the historical info on what’s changed with each version). Also in November will be reviews of the new Element (also from Barryvox) and new Pieps DSP Tour.
    For now though, a quick summary of what’s new with the 3.2 Pulse:
    - The 3.2 Pulse is the first and only beacon to be fully compatible with the use of [non-rechargeable] lithium batteries.
    - The digitized Acoustics option will change its tones not only in response to signal strength but also in response to flux line alignment. (The new Element’s digitized-only Acoustics will also have this.)
    - The Pulse already offered many options specific to the final search phase for both sound and display. Now yet another display option is the “Landing Strip” (details forthcoming) instead of the dynamic cross (or even keeping on the directional indicators).
    - If switched from Search to Transmit, the Pulse will prompt you for “Rescue Send” which if chosen will take you out of Search but forego transmission until seven minutes pass or lack of large body movements are sense (whichever comes first).

  38. Joe November 25th, 2011 2:26 pm

    Does anyone hav an opinion regarding purchasing a used Pulse. I have an opportunity to get one from what I believe is a reputable source. They are taking care of the updating the firmware before shipping it. This will be my first beacon and probably more than I need but I can’t pass up the deal (although I’ve also considered the Tracker 2).

    Also, does is there anyplace to practice in New England or a group I can get in touch with? I’m new to touring and want to start right.

  39. Jonathan Shefftz November 26th, 2011 6:58 pm

    As with any used beacon, good to check it out thoroughly:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/6031/older-beacon-test-how-to/
    … although with the Pulse (and some competitors), the firmware upgrade also includes some diagnostics tests.
    If you’re not interested in all of the Pulse’s features, and just want a good deal on the general design, then consider its sibling the Element:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/3982/element-avalanche-beacon-from-barryvox-preview/
    This place even has it sale for $280 through tomorrow:
    http://www.basegear.com/mammut-element-barryvox-avalanche-beacon.html
    For NE beacon practice, I’ll post some ideas in this more general thread:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/5734/avalanche-beacon-overview-2011-2012/

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