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Pieps DSP Sport Avalanche Beacon – Review

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

This post comes from Shaun Nauman, a blogger (snowboardmountaineer.com) and Boulder, CO resident. When Shaun isn’t studying snow hydrology and forecasting avalanches, the AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Instructor is finding new adventures in the backcountry on his splitboard. Watch for more gear reviews and fun reading from Shaun and other Ambassadors of Tahoe Mountain Sports.

ShaunNauman

Shaun Nauman

*What:  Pieps DSP Sport Avalanche Beacon
*Where:  We put this beacon through multiple scenarios on the snow, including signal search, course search, and fine search. The Pieps DSP Sport locked on to the ‘victim’ transmitting beacon at remarkable distances. The beacon was put through the paces with various flux lines as well. Beacons transmit a signal on flux lines as shown in the graphics below. This beacon was tested side-by-side with the Pieps DSP Classic and numerous other beacons at AIARE ITC (American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Instructor Training Course) and numerous trials in the backcountry at Rocky Mountain National Park.

pieps_coverAs someone who consistently takes people in to the backcountry for recreational touring, I frequently receive questions asking which avalanche beacon is the best, any why. I will preface this by saying this: the best avalanche beacon is the one with which you are the most practiced. I advocate spending the money on quality safety equipment. For beginner and intermediate recreational users, I have found the Pieps DSP Sport avalanche beacon not only the best value, but for the price point, the best entry-level beacon out there…and this beacon was put to the test!

fluxlines

search

Beacons come in many flavors, with a variety different features, functions, sounds, ranges, and so on. The bottom line however, is that equipment is only as good as you are practiced with it. An advanced complex model will do absolutely nothing for a person who doesn’t spend copious hours in the field practicing use of the complex features.

I often tell people that unless you are a guide, or have extensive training in multiple burial scenarios, keep it simple and go for quality. Additionally, if you are venturing in to the backcountry in avalanche terrain I strongly recommend taking an AIARE Level 1 course.

pieps_on_the_snow

An avalanche transceiver is one of the three vital pieces of gear: an avalanche transceiver (also called an avalanche beacon), a probe and a shovel. A transceiver in the hands of a trained and practiced user can make the difference between life or death if an avalanche strikes. They are not a substitute for thorough understanding of snow conditions, smart route-finding and a willingness to turn back if necessary.

*Pros: The Pieps DSP Sport is the more basic version of the Pieps DSP Pro and it replaces the Pieps DSP Tour with a number of upgrades and improvements. Black Diamond took over Pieps in 2012 and made some significant upgrades. Simplicity is a hallmark of this beacon. Out of the box includes the beacon with three AAA alkaline batteries, neoprene harness, wrist strap, manual, and extended 5-year warranty papers.

pieps_usb

The Sport is roughly $200 less than the former classic DSP and $100 less than the current Pieps DSP Pro. Noticeable upgrades that the DSP Sport has over the previous model are an improved processor speed, better flagging function, and larger display. If you liked the classic Pieps, you will be stoked by all the new features in the new one!

The new features include:

• New housing with a slightly smoother shape which makes it easier to stow in the harness or pocket.
• Upgraded slider switch that is easier to operate.
• New display is larger and now made of glass instead of plastic.
• Battery life of the Sport was improved to 200 hours.
• New harness which is amazingly intuitive and comfortable. When unlatched the beacon is essentially ejected from the harness with a shock-cord leash attached.
• Audible pitch increases from signal search as you draw closer in to fine search.
• Faster processing for multiple burials, and you can quickly un-flag the same signal by holding the flagging button a few seconds.
• Antenna selection is also a new feature described in more detail below.
• Firmware can be upgraded via the USB port.

*Cons: The battery indicator will show 3/3, 2/3, 1/3, empty, and empty flashing, which personally I do not care for. I prefer the exact measurement of a percentage indicator. Battery percentage is critical, and the fractional display is hard for me to adjust to. Given all the other advanced features this beacon is equipped with, this is a minor complaint.

battery

Pieps DSP Battery information

Remember to use only LR03/AAA alkaline batteries in any beacon. NEVER use lithium or rechargeable batteries in an avalanche beacon. The circuitry in beacons that detects how much battery life remains, is tuned for this kind of cell. The capacity of alkalines degrades gracefully whereas lithium and rechargeable cells have a relatively flat discharge curve. Meaning, one minute your beacon is saying 99% full, the next it is on zero. Do not store batteries long-term (i.e. over the summer) in the beacon. The battery compartment on the backside of the housing has a safety screw, which can easily be accessed using a coin, knife or zipper-pull.

pieps_rear

The weight with harness and batteries comes in at 10.8 ounces. 7.4 ounces without the harness.

pieps_weights

The Pieps DSP Sport has a three-position slider switch with three options; power, send, and search. It also has a flagging button center. The first thing I noticed was the speed of the processor on start-up. From the off position to ready on send, the startup is exactly two seconds, compared to the classic Pieps DSP which is 12 seconds. That is a much faster processor speed!

On power-up the beacon does a self-check sequence. First a firmware update (i.e. the display will show “1.0” indicating the firmware). Then the self-check will either display “OK” or an error code such as “E” followed by a number. If the error code is shown, in an interference free zone, you will need to take it in to an authorized Pieps service center for service.

All beacons are sensitive to electronic interference. Beacon manufacturers recommend a minimum distance from electronic interference (cell phones, GoPro’s, etc) of 15cm in ‘send’ mode, and 50cm in ‘search’ mode.
In ‘send’ mode the beacon will transmit a continuous signal at 457kHz. The Pieps DSP Sport has a built in Intelligent Antenna working in the background. If the transmitting antenna is negatively influenced through external devices (such as a mobile phone) the range of the receiving beacons is influenced by up to 30% or more. The DSP will always transmit on the strongest antenna for the maximum range to the receiving beacons.

pieps_displaysThe audible harmonics increase as you draw closer on a course search, and repetitive incrementally higher chirps as you draw in to fine search. I was able to flag the signal by pushing the flagging button, and release the signal by holding the flagging button for a few seconds. I was impressed with the speed of the processor switching from send to search. It locked immediately. I also ran a few scenarios with flux lines at different angles. The results were consistent and I didn’t notice any spikes.

pieps_xantenna

I did notice that the antenna selection of the Pieps DSP Sport was transmitting on the shorter x-axis. This is noted on the display of the Sport. Apparently with the Intelligent Processor, if the beacon senses interference with other electronics such as a cell phone, or if there is damage to the y-axis antenna — the beacon will automatically switch to the shorter x-axis antenna. This is an amazing feature often only found in higher-end beacons.

A quick note about flagging: be very careful using the flagging feature on any beacon in the unlikely event of a multiple burial situation. You can inadvertently silence another signal with a ‘signal overlap’ phenomenon. This can occur if two beacons are transmitting on the same pulse at the same time. By flagging an intended beacon, you can essentially flag an unintended one.

*Summary: The Pieps DSP Sport packs a punch for the price! If you do not require the advanced features of the Pro I would save the $100 and go with the Sport. For the price point this is by far the best beacon in this range, and has some of the powerful features packed in to the more advanced and higher price point Ortovox and Mammut beacons.

Pieps Checker
Pieps Checker
MSRP: $29.95

Pieps Vector Beacon to Hit U.S. Market Soon

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

We just got the confirmed word from Pieps with details about their soon-to-be-released Pieps Vector, the world’s first maintenance-free, 4-antenna avalanche beacon with GPS support and rechargeable batteries. We’ll dig up some more info at its official unveiling at Outdoor Retailer later this month, but for now, here’s what we know:

The Pieps Vector opens up an entirely new dimension in terms of range and search-strip-width thanks to its GPS technology. It utilizes 3 antennas / Dual Sampling Technology, and features a self-checking, fourth reference antenna that’s maintenance free. Its lithium-ion battery is rechargeable, eco friendly and economical. As far as looks go, it’s the traditional Pieps yellow with a snazzy fold-out antenna that quickly transitions it into search mode and improve its range.

GPS: Three letters, but such a big impact! The Vector’s GPS capabilities provide support during the primary search phase to maximize the search strip width and give you coordinates for alerting mountain rescue. A GPS map gives you a complete overview of all areas covered in the search, including MARK and SCAN functions and signal reception. Just imagine having access to GPS tracking during your entire tour or search! Plus, it’s all downloadable to your PC or MAC via a USB.

RANGE: The Pieps Vector has a revolutionary 80-meter, circular, digital range. The fold-out antenna enables simultaneous operation of both main antennas (Dual-Sampling Technology). Its doubled sensitivity gives you maximum search-strip-width and faster signal reception. Plus, it’s ultra-fast when time counts; just fold out the antenna and it switches to search mode automatically.

POWER: The Pieps Vector uses lithium-ion technology so it’s rechargeable with a USB interface. This means high performance at extremely low temperatures and permanent display of remaining battery power (transmit and receive). An additional adapter will be available for use with regular alkaline batteries.

We can’t wait to get our hands on the new Pieps Vector and test all these amazing features out for ourselves. Look for our update after Outdoor Retailer later this month.

UPDATE 1/25/11:
We’re back from Outdoor Retailer and experienced the Pieps Vector for ourselves. Surprise #1 was the Vector’s price tag. Retailing at $599.95, the Vector came in a bit more affordable than we thought it’d be. There’s something satisfying as well about the fold-out antenna that switches it lightning fast to search mode. Here are some specs:
Weight: 200 grams, including batteries
Dimensions (inches): 4.5 L x 2.9 W x 1 H

Check out our Pieps Vector videos taken at the OR Winter Market:

Pieps also unveiled the Pieps DSP Tour, a pared down version of the DSP, the Pieps TX600, a mini-transmitter that runs on a different frequency for dogs and equipment like snowmobiles, and the Pieps Backup Transmitter for secondary avalanches.  But certainly the brand’s top honors now go to the new Pieps Vector.

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