Gearbox: Ortovox Diract Voice

As an avalanche instructor, I spend a lot of time calling out directions to my students: “Zig-zag until you find a signal! Follow the arrows! Make sure the numbers are going down! Get lower to the snow! Now pull out your probe!” Well, imagine a world in which I don’t have to yell those things, because your beacon is doing that for you.

That’s exactly what Ortovox was imagining when they designed the newest member of their avalanche safety family: the Diract Voice. Built with input from avalanche experts and psychologists alike, the Diract Voice is designed to keep the user on the right track while decreasing stress during a search. And while another avalanche instructor/ski guide and I weren’t expecting the need for a Siri-like voice in a beacon, we also didn’t have many complaints while testing it in January.

Even though the sample Diract Voice that we tested didn’t come with a user manual, its interface was still easy to figure out. A small power button on the back is protected by the search/send trigger. We both found the power button to be hard to get to while wearing gloves, but flipping the giant, orange switch to send mode was easy while still remaining almost impossible to do on accident. The harness is designed with a Velcro pull-tab instead of a zipper or buckle. This tab allowed me to grab the beacon even while wearing the thickest mittens I could find.

At first we both had some apprehension about the voice feature. I worried that it would be distracting or stressful, like listening to your phone’s GPS directions while exiting a complicated interstate. But the talking feature is designed to only step into action when the user makes a mistake, such as wandering off the signal, coming in on the longer flux line or not dropping to the snow for the fine search. I even decided to blindfold myself to try out the accuracy of following just the voice commands and was able to find the buried beacon without any issues.

The voice command is by far the most unique attribute, but the Diract Voice comes with a handful of other features and functions. Ortovox doesn’t report a maximum range on the Diract Voice, but instead recommends a 50-meter search strip, which is based on findings and guidelines from the International Committee of Avalanche Rescue. In a range test, we found the actual range to be closer to 30 meters when the beacons were aligned in positive coupling and 15 when the beacons were facing different directions in negative coupling. The range of the beacon also drops if there is electronic interference, which we found happened when a cell phone was placed at around six inches from the beacon.

During the searches, both the other tester and I were impressed by the fast-processing speed and accuracy of the Diract Voice. In multiple burials, we both experienced only a split second of lag time before displaying how many burials the beacon was detecting and locking onto the strongest signal. While other beacons slow down during the fine search and take a moment to process the low numbers, the Diract Voice quickly updated its screen to find an accurate low point.

While most beacon manufacturers market a professional and recreational model, Ortovox is taking a different approach. The rec model’s usability combined with pro-level functionality—including marking and a group check mode—make the Diract Voice an everyperson’s beacon. And for those who would prefer the beeping noises to a voice giving instructions, a Diract model without the speaking function will also be available. Both models will hit the market in September 2021.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly labeled the Diract Voice’s max range as 50 meters.

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