When G3 let us test out its Scapegoat Splitboard (full review here!), it came with Spark R&D Magneto Bindings. We’ve tried previous iterations of the Spark R&D design, but not the latest. So, we took the opportunity! We’ve had plenty of experience with the Spark’s main rival, the Karakoram Split 30. Here’s a head to head comparison – Karakoram vs Spark.
The Magneto and the Split 30 are entry-level from both brands, though there is not much entry level about either of them. They are both very well built and capable of handling whatever you throw at them. (The Magneto is replaced by the newer Arc bindings. Check out our review here.)
Over the years, we have used Voile kits on standard snowboard bindings, Spark R&D Blaze bindings (with regular as well as LT pin systems), Karakoram Split 30 and now the Spark R&D Magneto system. So we have some good points to compare on the models. We also have a review of the newer Karakoram Prime bindings and comparison with the Split 30s.
One of the main differences between the two bindings is the mounting system. Spark opts to stay with the Voile plastic puck system (though they do have a metal puck system coming out). Some feel that the puck system is “tried and true” and is the industry standard. There are several pluses to the puck system: 1) it is pretty much the standard (for now); 2) its relatively inexpensive; 3) this is the best part – they are self-cleaning – meaning that as you slide the bindings on the pucks they discharge snow and ice, thereby cleaning the path and allowing for quicker transition time. The downside is that the pucks are plastic. Plastic moves, bends, and gives and is not as solid or responsive as metal.
The Magnetos feature Burton straps and buckles, so they are smooth and reliable. One cool feature of the Magnetos is that the climbing wires (both short and tall) are built in to the binding, so you can use your pole basket to engage or disengage them. We found them to be sturdy and easy to use, though we had to use our hands a few times as the bindings collected snow in them. To attach the Magnetos, you slide them onto the puck system and snap the front hinge down in front of the puck. This makes for easy and quick transitions. Same goes for tour mode: just line the two pins up and snap the hinge into place and you’re off touring. The highback is fully adjustable so you can have a nice forward lean or none at all for touring.
Karakoram approaches their binding mounts in a completely different way. They machine their own baseplates that create five contact points to connect the bindings to the base. This feels good! After years of trying out different interfaces and bindings, the Split 30s feel closer to a normal snowboard/binding interface than any other system we’ve tried. The metal set up gives the rider a better overall feel when riding as well as touring.
In tour mode, the Karakoram has a beefier axle than the Sparks. The Split 30s also have a more robust heel cup that extends out farther. We believe it offers a bit more lateral support, which is very nice for side stepping on sketchy skin tracks. When the heel lever is engaged on the Karakorams, three separate pins come out to engage with the baseplate. The other two contact points are at the axles when they engage into the front of the binding.
One cool feature we use is the adjustable highback. Karakoram has a simple mechanism to lock forward lean or allow range of motion. In the vertical position, you’re locked for riding. Rotate it 90 degrees to allow full motion during touring. It’s that easy – there’s no need to adjust anything. Just spin 1/4 turn to tour, then spin back to ride.
The Karakoram system isn’t all rainbows and unicorn farts, though. Snow, ice and grime can get stuck on the baseplates and bindings. It takes effort to clean up before getting the bindings will engage with the board. It’s not a deal breaker at all, but it does require more effort than just sliding onto pucks. Karakoram has redesigned the pin system for next season to eliminate this icing problem.
One other thing to consider is “heel lock down”. Spark offers a separate heel lock down kit for the Magneto, while the Karakoram heel lock comes standard. The heel lock down feature is very helpful for short downhill sections where you don’t want to reassemble the splitboard. The Magnetos we tested did not have the heel lock down mechanism, so we can’t comment on how well Sparks’ system works. Karakoram’s heel lock down on the Split 30 attaches to the high climbing wire. Karakoram has a new system this year – Prime – on which they have redesigned and improved heel lock down system.
Both Spark R&D and Karakoram bindings are top notch and will treat the user well. The Magnetos are cheaper, but you need to add on options to offer the same features as the Split 30. Karakoram has their own interface system that we think functions better.
So, you gotta ask yourself: do you want a puck-based system that costs a little less, and has Burton straps? If so, get Spark R&D. Or do you want a complete system with all features included and a better interface that costs a bit more? Then get the Karakoram.