It's hard to miss with the Pulse. It has great range and although there are several customizations you can make, the factory settings are clear, easy to understand, and impressively optimized. Whether you're looking for one, or more than one, knowing where to dig with the Pulse won't be a big issue. The digging, however, remains in your court.
The Pulse doesn’t just up the ante from two to three antennas, but four. However, truth be told the value of this fourth antenna is as obvious as an appendix. To even mention the availability of this perhaps detracts from the value of the Pulse. The fourth antenna does nothing to help you find a victim, it only exists to transmit motion information in the extremely rare event that you are searching for multiple victims in an avalanche, locate more than three quickly, and need to decide who to dig for last ('cuz one has no pulse and the others do).
Yeah, TMI! In that situation it may matter, but are you really going to be thinking that rationally then? I'm afraid it will just confuse an already soul-racking experience. If you must know about this feature, read the manual.
Now that we have the pulse feature of the Pulse discarded from the conversation we can focus on what Barryvox's Pulse does well, which is find buried beacons with alacrity—fast and easy. Pieps DSP yields greater range for first obtaining a signal, but not by much. If you dig into the available menu system, you can do all kinds of customizations to adjust what sort of clues the Pulse gives you. Again, if you want to know more, read the manual. For most the factory settings are just fine.
Turning the beacon on is done by holding down the red button on top and moving a slider to the 'On' position for transmit, then one more notch to switch it to search mode. When you first turn it on, it asks you a few questions like, 'Do you want to calibrate the beacon?', then it gives you the option to do a group check, and if you ignore the question or don't respond it assumes you meant 'No' or you don't care and it simply begins transmitting.
When you switch to search mode the Pulse begins listening with an analog, real-time echo of the signal it picks up. Within a meter of first detecting an audible beep, and usually faster, the digital processor kicks in by giving a loud, double-beat beep and the LCD display begins showing distance and direction. It usually first picks up signals in the 48 meter range give or take a few meters, depending on how well the long axis of the transmitting and receiving beacons are parallel. When orthogonal, range drops to 40 meters, a nice improvement over earlier versions which had a more elliptical receive pattern.
Once the Pulse locks on to a signal you're pretty much on easy street—just go the way the arrow points and make sure the distance numbers are dropping. As you get closer the beeps will get louder until you are within 3 meters.
At this point the directional arrow disappears to be replaced by four arrows forming a cross. And the audio changes to a digital beep that becomes louder and more rapid as you get closer. Simultaneously the cross shrinks the closer you get. It's a good combination of signals to see and hear your proximity.
The default settings are well thought out as are some of the less appreciated features such as the harness and tether. The harness holds the beacon securely without restricting your movement, with a fairly easy to understand strap system. My only beef with it is wrapping up those straps for storage. Which is part of why I've joined my brethren in the Alps and I just stash the beacon in a cargo pocket, sans harness with the tether latched to a belt loop. Frankly, chest harnesses get in the way, and it's much easier to reach down and pull it out of a thigh pocket.
Should you be in the unlucky position to be dealing with more than one victim, the Pulse does a good job of recognizing the number of victims within 30 meters, and reliably marks each one as found by pressing either of the side buttons. The number of victims detected will appear on the left side of the display.
As mentioned above, there are several customizations you can make, but the factory settings are clear, easy to understand, and impressively optimized. Unless you're a snow geek, there's no need to fiddle with those and if you are, the Pulse gives you plenty to nerd out about.
Is there anything to not like about the Pulse? Certainly the price. But if you're content to not nerd out, you can get Barryvox's Element for $350. It's the Pulse without the vestigial fourth antenna and motion sensors with the default search settings for about 20 percent less. If you want to play with menus and other such avy beacon minutia, or you're the 'leader', pony up and get the Pulse.
How We Tested It
All beacons are tested by running them through a series of 'standard' routines to determine criteria like maximum range, orthogonal range, and then reactions to single, double, and triple victim scenarios. The range is marked every 5 meters with stakes for calibrating distances. Detecting nuances in the software and response times comes from experience and reluctantly reading the manuals.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.