I've been playing fiddle for about 7 months now. I broke my Revelle Raven bow when a lack of concentration caused me to drop it, tip first, on a tile floor. A friend of mine loaned me an inexpensive Chinese bow to keep me fiddling, but it didn't take long for me to realize that bow was quite a bit slower and had less tone than the Raven. I didn't want to spend another $150 on something like the Raven, but was pretty sure I couldn't afford a wooden bow of better than entry level quality, and since I jam outside a lot at camps and such, I was pretty set on a carbon fiber bow.
After reading a lot of the posts on here and other places on the internet, I was pretty sure I wanted a Codabow Diamond NX. I couldn't justify the SX at this point, and I knew I wanted something a little better than the Prodigy. I was so sure that the NX would fit my needs that I almost ordered one without even trying it (I know, I know). But then I found Shar's website. For those that don't know, Shar will send you up to four bows of your choice to try for a week. The cost is $20, and it includes return shipping.
I called Shar to order some bows. I spoke with Aaron and told him I was interested in the NX. I asked what others he thought I should try. After asking me what style of music I played and what my experience level was, he had some suggestions. After some back and forth we settled on four bows. The Codabow Diamond NX ($360), Codabow Luma ($490), Presto Encore ($189), and Presto Ovation ($289). The Presto bows are Shar's in-house brand.
The bows arrived in a nice, four-bow case in about three days. They were primed with a rosin powder which allowed me to get them playing quickly, but use my rosin so I could use the same on all four.
I quickly (day 1) eliminated the Presto Encore. It didn't sound much better than the Raven I had been using, and that wasn't what I was looking for.
The NX was very good. It was heavy - probably around 61 grams - but had a balance point about 7.5 inches up from the frog. This was at least an inch lower than the Chinese bow I was using and made for a very balanced feel to the bow.
The Luma had a little better tone than the NX, with the same balance point as the NX. It was much lighter at around 58 grams or so. As a fairly new player, it was a little harder for me to control, but when I got it right it was very responsive and played better when trying to play softly than any of the others.
The Presto Ovation was 59.5 grams, and had a balance point a full half inch lower than the Codabows. It's tone was much better than the cheaper Encore, but not quite as open, woody, whatever as the Luma. Very similar to the NX. With it's lower balance point and middle weight, the Ovation tracked very well for me and I played it most confidently.
I made recordings of the three bows for some friends who are all very good musicians, but not fiddlers. In general, they picked the NX overall, but liked the tone of the Luma. None of them ranked the Ovation first when reviewing the audio files. So with their input, the overall cost of the bows, and my general feel, I was leaning heavily toward the NX with the Ovation a close second. Then, I decided to take them to my lesson and let my teacher try them out. He played all three of them on my fiddle and his. When using his fiddle, he liked the Ovation best, the Luma second, and NX third. On my fiddle, he liked the Ovation best, the NX second, and the Luma third. The reason he liked the Ovation was because of what he called the "starts and stops". The NX and Luma had good tone in the middle of the stroke, but seemed to be mushy at the ends/transitions. The Ovation seemed to pop more when changing from up strokes to downstrokes and vice versa. The harder you dug in, the more obvious the difference was. That's something I wouldn't have even known to listen for without an educated fiddler's insight.
Feeling a little conflicted, I took them home and played them for another day. I eliminated the Luma because, while it sounded better than the NX, it didn't sound or feel $130 better to me. After another day, I decided to buy the Ovation based on the responsiveness and handling noted above, and that left me with $80 to buy strings and stuff!
I've been playing the Ovation for about a week now, and it has really improved my tone and my speed. It handles really well, and with the snakewood frog against the black carbon weave, it looks kind of cool too.
if you are in the market for a new bow, I highly recommend the Shar trial. They are really easy to work with, offer great products, and I think it was the best $20 I've spent in music.