The Bräuniger IQ Sonic Miniature Vario
-a product review
by Mark "Forger" Stucky
Im a budget minimalist kind
of guy and dont fly with a fancy GPS-integrated flight deck, relying
instead on a miniature variometer and altimeter watch. Little has changed
in the five years since I reviewed the then-current crop of miniature
audio varios the Mallettec Mini Vario and the now-discontinued
Flytec Micro Vario. Recently, Bräuniger entered the market with the
futuristic-looking IQ Sonic, a vario that has one feature the others lack
a sink alarm. The $199 Sonic, like the other miniature variometers,
is marketed as a minimalist instrument or as a back-up vario for cross-country
The Sonic stands out with its slender
curving translucent purple housing which is more reminiscent of an iMac
than the black boxy mini varios of yesteryear. It is larger than
the other minis, measuring 3.5 long, 1.5 tall, and 0.75
thick ( 8.9cm x 3.8cm x 1.9cm ). The Sonic is molded into a slight
concave curve and the banana shape helps match the compound curves of
modern helmets. The vario comes with a small patch of velcro for
fastening to the helmet and the latest models also include a short safety
You power up the Sonic with a small three-position
toggle switch giving you the ability to select up audio or up audio with a sink alarm.
Like the Mallettec, the Sonic advertises 200 hours of battery life but achieves it with
a single $5.95 nickel-sized lithium watch battery.
With the older varios, to have a better
understanding of their sink rate, pilots adjusted the audio threshold
so the varios beeped slowly at their normal minimum sink rate. In the
presence of sinking air the vario would be quiet and with any lifting
air the vario would increase its beep rate and/or tone. This makes it
more difficult to judge if you are gaining altitude in weak conditions
and also makes adhering to speed-to-fly theory in sink a bit problematic.
A sink alarm with an adjustable threshold helps mitigate both of these
By virtue of having a sink alarm,
the Sonic up audio beeps not in the presence of lift but
in the presence of climb. The sink alarm is user adjustable from
20 to 1000 fpm. The pitch of the solid tone increases
in depth as the sink rate increases above the threshold.
Unlike previous minis, the Sonic
has the nice feature of adjustable volume. At maximum volume it
is not quite as loud as the Flytec but sufficiently loud so that it can
be mounted away from your ear. The faint Mallettec requires an in
the helmet mounting which is aerodynamically clean but also attenuates
the sound of the wind and other pilots voices. I mounted the
Sonic to my harness and the volume was more than adequate.
The volume, sink alarm, and zero-point
thresholds are adjusted using a jewelers screwdriver and making
these adjustments requires unscrewing the back of the case. The
Sonic is factory calibrated and warns the user not to attempt to change
the zero-point setting. I found the Sonic zero-point was stable
and, in fact, never had the requirement to change any of the factory settings.
For reference, the Mallettec also retains its zero-point setting for extended
periods (months and months).
There is a fine line between quick
response time and false indications. You want a vario to register
minute changes in climb rate but filter out false indications that can
occur from momentary changes in air pressure. The Sonic walked the
line beautifully; responding quickly to real lift or sink but remaining
silent while the Mallettec gave an occasional erratic beep. When
climbing, the beep frequency and tone increase as the climb rate increases.
There is also an audible step at +260 fpm to make it easier
to discern a thermal worth spending time in.
Helmet-mounted miniature varios can
suffer from a problem that is not seen with conventional control bar mounted
varios, namely the appearance of phantom lift and sink caused by pitot
pressure (ram air) changes due to swiveling your head. This was a real
problem with the Mallettec, any "wind in the ear" entered the
static port and caused the vario to go silent (false sink). Conversely,
the moment I straightened my head I would be greeted with a sharp lift
indication. These false readings only lasted a few seconds but I found
them irritating, especially while scratching in weak lift with other gliders
nearby. Due to head orientation, this problem is more prevalent for seated
or paraglider pilots than prone hang glider pilots. Regardless, the Sonic
does a very good job of shielding the inner workings from momentary changes
in pitot pressure and is thus, much more useable in this situation.
I found the Sonic audio very adequate
but not as good as the Flytec which uses not only changes in pitch but
also changes in the way it groups the beeps together. This Flytec Morse
code makes it amazingly easy for a pilot to figure his climb rate
to within 100 fpm. I dont have the gift of a discerning musical
ear and with the Sonic and the Mallettec I can only judge short-term relative
changes in climb rates.
Overall, the Sonic offers a nice total
package for a mini vario responsive and accurate lift and
sink audio, good volume, and modern looks. For me, the adjustable
sink alarm is enough to give the Sonic the award for choice miniature
audio variometer. I do, however, have a couple of recommendations
for enhancements to give the Sonic even more appeal. First, I would
build upon the beep group idea used by Flytec so pilots could
better discern their true climb rate as well as identify light, medium,
and high sink rates. Lastly, the inner workings are not as tightly
packed as those of their competitors. Bräuniger could
bundle up the electronics tighter and reduce unnecessary dead space, resulting
in a significantly smaller housing. A smaller, less obtrusive profile
would make it easier to mount on a helmet as well as increase its resistance
to getting knocked off.