Bow Test 2014: OL Ranks and Reviews 10 New Compounds

Photo by Nick Ferrari

While none of them will admit it, manufacturers of hunting compound bows and crossbows are constantly at war with one another, keeping tabs as best as they can on who’s doing what. After all, the spoils of this war are the cash-laden bowhunters they can recruit—or convert—to their brand.

Of course, established brands hold several advantages over newcomers. Typically, the industry behemoths have bigger budgets and star-studded pro staffs, and they employ the most capable engineering minds in the industry.

Start-up companies, on the other hand, are hamstrung out of the gate, with limited intellectual resources and a shallower pool of research-and-development dollars to dip into. Breaking into the archery game is tough.

When the bowhunting history book is written, however, 2014 will be remembered as the year when several relative unknowns stepped onto the national stage in a big way. As consumers, we can only hope that this increase in competition continues to raise the bar of bow design for years to come.

Ratings Key:
★ ★ ★ ★ - Excellent
★ ★ ★ - Good
★ ★ - Fair
★ - Poor

1. Editor's Choice: Obsession Evolution

Photo by Nick Ferrari

Obsession Archery is the current home of BowTech co-founder and master bow designer Kevin Strother. His newest creation, the Evolution, is a near-perfect combination of speed, shootability, and nimble maneuverability.

The draw cycle is surprisingly manageable for a bow that fires arrows at 335 feet per second. As such, the visually arresting Evolution deftly navigates the thin line that separates speed bows and pure shooters.

At 32 inches axle-to-axle (and with a 5 ⁷⁄₈-inch brace height), the nimble bow will excel in any hunting environment, from the backcountry to the back 40. Weighing just over 4.5 pounds, the Evolution is the ­second-heaviest bow in the test; however, it is exceptionally well balanced, and the weight helps mitigate vibration and hand shock.

The bow’s machine work is immaculate, featuring rounded edges throughout and a stained glass–style truss system that stiffens the riser and cams. Pre-loaded split limbs cradle bulbous, mirrored hatchet cams, while exaggerated draw stops tame the harsh rotation of these aggressive workhorses. An acutely angled cable guard offers a torque-free glide path for the slide, limiting cam lean. The laminated-side-plate grip is neither too thick nor too thin, and stainless hardware will keep rust at bay.

When you consider that a package this complete costs less than $1,000, it’s easy to see why the Evolution was a standout and is deserving of our Editor’s Choice award.

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: A
Design: A
Price/Value: A+
Speed (FPS): A-
Vibration (M/S2): 334.51
Noise (DBA): 84.9
AD/40 (IN.): 14.2
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 79.07
Weight (LB.): 4.63
Length (IN.): 32
Brace Height (IN.): 5.875
Price: $899 / obsessionbows.com

2. Great Buy: Diamond Carbon Cure

Photo by Nick Ferrari

The construction of the Diamond Carbon Cure’s compression-molded, carbon-composite riser offers several advantages over traditional machined or cast aluminum risers. For starters, it makes for an incredibly lightweight bow (3.37 pounds), and given that, we fully expected it to rattle our fillings and bark like a rabid dog. Indeed, it was the loudest compound in the field (86.85 dBA). Yet, amazingly, it produced the least amount of vibration.

The single cam draws smoothly, turning on a quality Octane string-and-cable set, and propelling arrows at 313.42 fps—not head-turning fast, but a lethal pace nonetheless. With an adjustable draw length of 27 to 30 ½ inches, the Cure will appeal to shooters of all shapes and sizes. The abbreviated axle-to-axle length of 32 inches is perfect for women with longer draw lengths and younger hunters on a budget searching for a bow with which they can grow. A 7-inch brace height promises forgiveness for shooters with less-than-perfect form and mechanics. One gripe with the Carbon Cure is its lame side-plate bubble sticker grip, but that’s easily overlooked on a bow that represents such a tremendous value.

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: B-
Design: B
Price/Value: A
Speed (FPS): 313.42
Vibration (M/S2): 20.32
Noise (DBA): 86.85
AD/40 (IN.): 16.4
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 68.54
Weight (LB.): 3.37
Length (IN.): 31.875
Brace Height (IN.): 7
Price: $699 / diamondarchery.com

3. Elite Energy 35

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: B+
Design: A+
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 322.41
Vibration (M/S2): 23.65
Noise (DBA): 83.85
AD/40 (IN.): 15.5
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 72.63
Weight (LB.): 4.59
Length (IN.): 34.75
Brace Height (IN.): 7
Price: $899 / elitearchery.com

4. Bowtech RPM 360

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: A
Design: B
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 347.45
Vibration (M/S2): 41.28
Noise (DBA): 86.1
AD/40 (IN.): 13.2
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 84.86
Weight (LB.): 4.81
Length (IN.): 31
Brace Height (IN.): 5.75
Price: $999 / bowtecharchery.com

5. PSE DNA SP

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: A
Design: B+
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 340.51
Vibration (M/S2): 38.65
Noise (DBA): 85.5
AD/40 (IN.): 13.9
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 81.41
Weight (LB.): 3.99
Length (IN.): 31.25
Brace Height (IN.): 5.875
Price: $900 / pse-archery.com

6. Hoyt Carbon Spyder 30

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: B+
Design: A
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 319.46
Vibration (M/S2): 30.24
Noise (DBA): 85.5
AD/40 (IN.): 15.8
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 71.37
Weight (LB.): 3.95
Length (IN.): 30
Brace Height (IN.): 6.875
Price: $1,499 / hoyt.com

7. Prime Alloy

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: B+
Design: B+
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 320.21
Vibration (M/S2): 47.22
Noise (DBA): 85.55
AD/40 (IN.): 15.5
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 72.14
Weight (LB.): 4.37
Length (IN.): 33.5
Brace Height (IN.): 6.625
Price: $949 / g5prime.com

8. Bear Agenda 6

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: A-
Design: B-
Price/Value: B-
Speed (FPS): 340.27
Vibration (M/S2): 31.88
Noise (DBA): 87
AD/40 (IN.): 13.8
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 81.71
Weight (LB.): 4.3
Length (IN.): 31.75
Brace Height (IN.): 5.875
Price: $900 / beararcheryproducts.com

9. New Breed Eclipse

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: B-
Design: B
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 307.5
Vibration (M/S2): 48.42
Noise (DBA): 84.1
AD/40 (IN.): 16.9
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 66.48
Weight (LB.): 3.95
Length (IN.): 34.875
Brace Height (IN.): 7
Price: $820 / newbreedarchery.com

10. Darton DS700

Overall: ★ ★ ★
Performance: B
Design: B
Price/Value: B
Speed (FPS): 328.71
Vibration (M/S2): 28.44
Noise (DBA): 85.9
AD/40 (IN.): 14.7
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 76.32
Weight (LB.): 4.21
Length (IN.): 30.75
Brace Height (IN.): 7.125
Price: $730 / dartonarchery.com

How We Test

Photo by John Taranto

We employ a number of different instruments in our data-gathering process. Compounds are triggered via a shutter release while mounted to a Spot Hogg Hooter Shooter (right), and crossbow triggers are tripped remotely as they sit in a Caldwell Lead Sled. A sound-level meter measures peak noise in decibels at the shot, while two accelerometers (mounted to the compounds’ risers and near the pistol grip on crossbows) measure vibration in meters per second squared. The Velocitip Ballistic System (velocitip.com) is tasked with measuring arrow velocity, arrow drop at 40 yards (AD/40), and kinetic energy at 20 yards (KE/20).

Once all of the data is gathered, our test team spends time shooting every bow. Performance scores reflect both the testers’ opinions of the bows’ mechanical functionality and ease of use, as well as the speed figures. Design scores represent tester grades for workmanship, ergonomics, and aesthetics, plus the noise and vibration data. The compound and crossbow with the highest overall scores get our Editor’s Choice award, while the bows that score highest in Price/Value are annointed as Great Buys.

Trends: Pure Speed Takes a Backseat

Compound-bow design tends to vacillate between two extremes. For the past few years, brute speed has dominated, as manufacturers chased the holy grail of velocity. However, at the annual Archery Trade Association (ATA) Show in Nashville, Tenn., in January, the buzzword was “shootability.”

[See our in-depth feature on the future of hunting bow design.]

As mechanical efficiencies of two-cam compound bows have neared their theoretical limits, speeds have seemingly topped out for the time being. Current metallurgical, lubricant, and composite technologies restrict further speed gains, unless engineers devise a design that utilizes more than two cams. Most manufacturers now have bows in their lineups that shoot between 320 and 340 feet per second, and engineers are being tasked with taming these speed freaks and making them a joy to shoot. Here’s a look at a few of the notable bows from this year’s field.

Hoyt’s Carbon Spyder 30, with its redesigned helical carbon riser, was easily the most impressively engineered bow in the test. As expected, the Spyder is light, and at a stubby 30 inches axle-to-axle, it’s exceptionally compact. Priced at an eye-popping $1,500, the Carbon Spyder 30 will appeal to hunters who desire the best money can buy.

BowTech’s new flagship, the RPM 360, is an exception to 2014’s shootability rule. It turned heads on the test range with its blazing speed, topping out at 347.45 fps. The valley of its draw cycle is more aptly described as a canyon, but the bow shoots surprisingly well for that speed. Fit and finish is top of the line, and the balance is uncanny.

Elite is a relative newcomer, and its Energy 35 represents its best offering to date. Top-end accessories include a Winner’s Choice string and cables, and a Cerakote ceramic-based coating on the cams, modules, and cable and suppressor rods. The Energy 35 peaked at 322.41 fps on a very tame draw cycle.

Prime’s Alloy, with its parallel cams to reduce cam lean, and forged riser, which makes it very stiff and efficient, is a relatively long bow by today’s standards (33 ½ inches). With a 6 5⁄8-inch brace height, the Alloy will appeal to those searching for a crossover bow for both target archery and hunting.

Finally, the PSE DNA SP is a refined version of the original DNA bow that won our test last year. The 2014 iteration is just as good, with an even smoother draw cycle. At about 4 pounds, the SP is very light, making it a great carry for any hunting style.