Gear Review: Pieps DSP Pro Ice Avalanche Beacon
Weight: 198 grams with batteries
Frequency: 457 kHz (International Standard)
Batteries: 3 AAA for 400 hours in send mode
Range: 60 m circular receiving range
Dimensions: 115x75x28 centimeters
Warranty: 2 Years
Summary: The Pieps DSP Pro Avalanche Beacon is an efficient and effective avalanche beacon that performs fast in single and multiple burial situations, but it has one potential major downfall.
After 5 winters with the Mammut Pulse Barryvox beacon, it was time to upgrade to a new beacon. After doing a fair bit of research, I chose the Pieps DSP Pro Ice Avalanche Beacon. From everything we can tell, the DSP Pro Ice is the DSP Pro except it has a clear casing and a higher price tag.
The DSP Pro is designed for ski mountaineers and backcountry skiers who rely on their beacons day in and day out all season long. After extensive testing we found the DSP Pro to be an intuitive and easy to use beacon with an array of useful functions. It’s quick processor makes locating buried beacons a smooth process. It does it’s job really well.
Let’s take a look at specific functions of the Pieps DSP Pro Ice Avalanche Beacon:
- Range: The DSP Pro has a 60 meter circular receiving range. In our tests we were regularly picking up buried beacons at over 50 meters and multiple beacons at roughly the same distance – a greater distance that other beacons we have tried.
- Smart Transmitter Technology: Designed to eliminate signal overlap, this works well with close burial situations. Close burials are always challenging and both this technology and the mark function made it easy to find beacons that were buried closer than 2 meters.
- Mark And Scan Function: It’s never a good idea to fully rely on mark functions because beacons can drop a mark causing confusion during a rescue situation. That being said, it’s a fantastic feature to have on your beacon. The mark function is simple to use and throughout multiple burial and close burial situations, we never dropped a mark. The scan functions helps to locate the beacon closest to you.
- Antenna: The DSP Pro features a 3 antenna system, plus a self-checking reference antenna allowing you to accurately locate buried beacons.
- Updateable Firmware: The latest and greatest software is essential if you want your beacon to perform well. Pieps allows you update the software at any Pieps Service Center.
- Battery Life: The Pieps DSP uses 3 AAA batteries that will last 400 hours in send mode, but much less in search mode. An 3-section icon on the screen indicates battery power. I’d prefer to have a percentage instead of the icon for accuracy and better decision making on when to replace batteries. The batteries are easy to change with your multitool.
- Warning Codes: Let’s hope your beacon never displays warning codes, but if it does there are are 8 you need to be aware of – all indicated with a E# on the display. You can learn about these in the manual.
- Frequency Measurement: With a simple push of a button, you can check the frequency of the closest beacon to you: +/- 30kHz is a the maximum deviation. After checking numerous older beacons, we found a handful that were outside that range. Time for an upgrade!
- Inclinometer: While it’s nice to have a built in inclinometer, it’s not something that we used. Our compass/inclinometer is always handy. It’s easier to grab it from the pocket vs pulling out a beacon from underneath layers.
- Support Functions: The DSP Pro works with both the TX600 mini-transmitter for your dog and the iProbe. We don’t have those tools so cannot comment on the compatibility. See also: Should You Take Dogs Backcountry Skiing?.
- Carrying Systems: The DSP Pro comes with a formed neoprene harness for easy carrying on your torso. The harness is hard to adjust and is not the most comfortable beacon harness on the market. One nice feature of the harness is that when you unclick it and pull, the beacon will project out of the harness. As long as you are ready for this, it makes it a glove friendly feature. If you’re not ready, the beacon will dangle. A lanyard for carrying in your laser welded pocket is also included in the box. Since I prefer my beacon on my body, I did not use the lanyard.
- Value: For the features, the Pieps DSP Pro is an affordable and worthwhile beacon. It comes in significantly less than comparable beacons like the Mammut Pulse or BCA Tracker 3.
We wish we could only say good things about the Pieps DSP Pro, but there is one controversial issue that we must highlight about the big sliding yellow Off/Send/Search Switch. To switch from one mode to the next you press the unlock button and slide the lever up or down to select Off, Send, or Search. It’s logical and seems to work well, until it doesn’t.
Now we will preface this with the fact that the following situation has never happened to us, but we have heard similar stories from multiple reliable sources with both harnesses and pocket carries and it is definitely something to be aware of. In very rare situations in the event of a fall, burial, or bump it is possible to hit the unlock button and subsequently slide the yellow lever into off or search mode, meaning that your beacon is no longer sending a signal. This may have been the issue in the Hanging Lake avalanche accident in 2017.
According to Page 34 in the DSP Pro Ice manual, the Auto-Search-To-Send function is disabled by default, but can be enabled at a PIEPS Service Center. Here is a short video highlighting this issue:
Now this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker on buying a Pieps DSP Pro Ice. It is very important to be aware that this is a possibility.
Overall, the Pieps DSP Pro Ice Avalanche Beacon is an affordable high end beacon with all the bells and whistles that either a professional or recreational enthusiast could want. It’s cool to be able to see through the Ice model, but the DSP Pro is essentially the same beacon. Is this the right beacon for you? That’s for you to decide.
Here’s a quick look at Pieps DSP Pro Ice stats from Black Diamond:
- Three antennas, plus self-checking reference antenna
- Smart transmitter adjusts signal to allow for the easiest solution in a multiple burial scenario
- Circular range for extended, symmetrical search area
- Mark and scan function for multiple burial scenarios
- Digital Signal Processor to pick up beacons transmitting drifted signals
- Integrated inclinometer for easy slope angle assessment
- Continuous carrier mode for use with older, analog beacons
- Direction and distance from initial detection
- Compatible with TX600 mini-transmitter and iProbe for added search capabilities
- Frequency measurement for extended transceiver check
- Updateable software via USB (sold separately)
- Harness-style carrying pouch included with beacon
- Translucent housing