This year speed takes a backseat as manufacturers aim to build a more shooter-friendly bow.
Score: 87.7 / Price $1,049 / Hoyt.com The Nitrum impressed our entire panel of testers, registering high marks in all subjective scoring categories and performing very well in our empirical tests. The first thing we noticed when we picked up the Nitrum is just how nimble its 30-inch axle-to-axle length feels in hand. Equally striking is the riser. While traditional compound risers are generally flat, the Nitrum’s has a noticeable offset on the upper part and a trussed tunnel in the lower part. These features reduce structural flexure while increasing overall mechanical efficiency, which translates to an imperceptible amount of vibration (17.06 m/s2) and very little noise (83.4 dBA). The Nitrum’s clever new cable guard also caught our eye. It captures the cables and holds them forward on the draw and throughout the shot cycle, thereby reducing torque. Combined, the unusual riser features and the cable guard help remedy the control challenges typically associated with such a short bow. The time-tested cam-and-a-half eccentric system features a very pleasant draw cycle, and sent arrows downrange at an honest IBO speed of 330 fps. The draw force curve is smartly weighted so that the heavy lifting occurs in the initial portion of the draw cycle, when you have the most leverage. The Hoyt Nitrum 30 represents a formidable combination of innovation and performance, and is well deserving of our Editor’s Choice award.
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Click here to see our reviews of 11 new crossbows for 2015. Wondering how we reached these results? Scroll down for the full score details, or click here to read about our testing methodology.
Bear Arena 34
The Arena 34 marks a quantum leap forward for Bear, which has long enjoyed a strong presence in the entry-level and mid-range markets, but rarely has been mentioned alongside the high-performance bow makers. The Arena 34, however, is a performer, generating plenty of speed (332.72 fps at 75 percent let-off) on a draw cycle that represents a significant improvement over those of previous offerings. That speed comes with some thump (25.46 m/s2 of vibration), but this was the quietest bow in the test (82.2 dBA)And with a 34.75-inch axle-to-axle length, this visually striking bow is very forgiving.
Ever the innovators, Bowtech engineers have introduced an all-new eccentric system feature, called Power?Shift, with the Prodigy. Fundamentally, it’s a rotatable cam module that modifies the bow’s draw force curve depending on where it’s positioned. The three settings are “performance,” “classic,” and “comfort.” We clocked the Prodigy at 323.45 fps (at 80 percent let-off) in the top-end performance setting. This feature is well suited for hunters who might want a friendlier draw cycle as temperatures drop, or for archers seeking a single bow with which they can both hunt and compete in tournaments.
CABELA’S Instinct Xcite
The Instinct Xcite, produced under Bowtech’s entry-level Diamond brand, is Cabela’s first foray into the high-end (read: expensive) bow arena. However, it misses the mark on several levels. At 325.31 fps, the Xcite is plenty fast, but that speed is the result of an unduly harsh draw cycle. In terms of aesthetics, the camo dip on our sample was oddly stretched and distorted over the riser. On release, the bow has a distinct crack (87.8 dBA, though the vibration is negligible at just 16.9 m/s2). We liked the Xcite’s compactness (32.25 inches), but we had a hard time justifying the Bowtech price on a Diamond bow.
Score: 76.9 / Price: $900 / Darton.com
Rex Darlington, the man behind Darton, holds some 30 U.S. patents and is arguably the most influential compound bow innovator alive. His latest design, the DS-3800, is sure to please ardent Darton fans, as it performed well across the board (321 fps, 19.54 m/s2 of vibration, and 82.5 dBA). Design-wise, we liked the rubberized grip, which will provide a sure grab in wet conditions. Darton’s stepped riser design gives the DS-3800 rigidity and strength. Like most Darton bows, this one accommodates tall shooters well (I’m 6 feet 5 inches) by shooting longer than its axle-to-axle length (34 inches) would suggest.
The Provider fits Diamond’s m.o. to a T: It’s a good choice for entry-level archers or those on a tight budget. Its adjustability is impressive. The draw weight can be set from 20 to 70 pounds, and draw length adjusts from 25.5 to 31 inches. This is a bow that can be handed down—or up—time and again. To no one’s surprise, it performed like the budget-priced package bow it is (it comes with an arrow rest, a D-loop, a peep sight, and a 3-pin sight). At 302.07 fps, it was the slowest bow in the field, and set at 70 pounds the draw cycle is very rough. Then again, few users of this bow will draw that much weight anyway.
Score: 83.5 / Price: $950 / EliteArchery.com
The attention to detail in the Synergy is astounding. While most bows today are either film-dipped or powder-coated, the Synergy’s riser is finished with a dye-transfer process called sublimation that is longer lasting. In addition to that, the eccentrics and other components feature a non-reflective, ceramic-based finish, which lowers the coefficient of friction of the moving parts that are treated with it. As such, the Synergy’s draw cycle loads gently and transitions to the back wall smoothly. Our entire panel fell in love with the way this bow shot—we just wished it shot faster than the 308.22 fps at which we clocked it.
You might have noticed that a certain 800-pound gorilla is missing from our compound bow review for the second year in a row. Please note that our bow test is an invitational, and while we’d love to be able to tell you what we think of the new No-Cam bow, Mathews and sister-brand Mission once again declined our invitation.
New Breed Blade
While New Breed has made inroads in the compound market in recent years, gaining followers looking for a no-nonsense bow with a bit of an edge, this is by far its best effort to date. Attention to manufacturing detail can be seen throughout, including the titanium bolts, stainless-steel fasteners, and rigid, precision-machined aluminum alloy riser. The bow is clean and crisp, with minimal frills or distractions. On the downside, we felt the draw cycle could use some smoothing, especially considering its meager top end (314.68 fps). But the Blade produced less vibration than any other bow in the field.
Score: 81.8 / Price: $999 / ObsessionBows.com
The Fusion 7 is full of surprises. First and foremost, the draw cycle is super smooth for a bow that produces speeds north of 330 fps. And that speed is just as surprising, given it’s produced by a bow with a 7-inch brace height. At 31.75 inches axle-to-axle, it features supreme balance and handling, and should be capable of producing tight groups at any range. Only two bows were louder than the Fusion, and it tied the Prime Rival for most vibration. But given its short stature and ample oomph (77.67 foot-pounds of kinetic energy at 20 yards), we feel the bow will be applicable for ground blind and treestand hunts alike.
Score: 83.6 / Price: $999 / g5Prime.com
At 35.5 inches axle-to-axle, the Rival is the longest compound in the field. In a world of increasingly shorter bows, we appreciate this bucker of trends for its inherent accuracy and user-friendliness. The Rival draws easily yet generates plenty of speed (327.3 fps). Its dual-track cam system might be unorthodox, but after shooting this bow, we feel there is merit to the claim that it minimizes cam lean. The contrasting gray eccentrics and riser are sharp, evidence of Prime’s eye for aesthetics. The Rival does rattle a bit on the shot (27.5 m/s2), but this is a minor concern in an otherwise outstanding compound.
Score: 85.6 / Price: $950 / PSE-Archery.com
PSE has built its reputation on producing some of the fastest bows on the market, and the Decree IC follows in that tradition. Not only is it silly fast (347.11 fps), it’s also a joy to handle and aim, thanks to its narrow, two-piece grip and slender riser. With a sub-4-pound mass weight and substantial top end, the Decree will be a natural fit for spot-and-stalkers who might face longer shot distances (arrows drop just 13.2 inches at 40 yards). The bow’s geometry and near-neutral balance make it a good choice for treestands, too. It finished ahead of the middle of the pack for both noise and vibration.
Score: 71.7 / Price: $799 / WinchesterArchery.com
Winchester has made dramatic improvements in its compound bows of late. The Varmint struck us as a bow that’s almost ready for prime time, doing most things fairly well. However, it requires a few refinements. The odd limb pocket—sort of a fluid turnbuckle—is purported to reduce vibration, but we found that it had quite the opposite effect (see chart below). On the bright side, the draw cycle is quite reasonable. A very generous 7.375-inch brace height, combined with a 31-inch length, makes for a solid shooting platform that will help keep less-experienced shooters on target.
Bow Test Results
LOOKING FOR CROSSBOWS?
Click here to see our reviews of 11 new crossbows for 2015
Edited by John Taranto, product photographs by Nick Ferrari, video by Natalie Krebs. Got comments? Leave them below or email email@example.com. Special thanks to Lancaster Archery Supply in Lancaster, Penn., for hosting our test.