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Best AR-15 Complete Upper Receivers [2021]

Getting overwhelmed with all the upper receivers out there?

Find out the best AR-15 complete upper receiver for you depending on your end use, such as precision shooting, general use, or close quarters combat.

A Few Of Our Personal AR-15 Uppers
A Few Of Our Personal AR-15 Uppers

Let’s talk budget…are you looking for the best bang for the buck or are you fully loaded?  We’ll have recommendations at all different price points.

Table of Contents


Now let’s get started!

What is an AR-15 Upper Receiver Assembly?

Quick refresher on AR-15 uppers and lowers.  

Chances are you already have a complete AR-15 rifle or at least the serialized complete lower.  By pushing out two pins, you can connect a new upper to your lower and have basically a new gun.

AR-15 Complete Lowers
AR-15 Complete Lowers

We’ll be going over completed AR-15 upper assemblies or groups, instead of just the stripped upper.  But don’t worry, here’s our guide for the best stripped uppers for your build.  And how to put it all together: Upper Guide & Lower Guide.

Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver
Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver

Why Not Just Get a New AR?

This question comes up a lot…why not just buy a new complete AR instead of just buying a upper.  Here’s some of the reasons:

  • Saving money: If you’re not looking to get two guns and just want a different AR, getting the upper will save you at least $100-200 if not more.
  • Saving time/paperwork: Since only the lower is serialized, you don’t need to go to a FFL and file paperwork.
  • Like the current loadout: You’ve already modified your trigger, buttstock, or grip to your liking and don’t want to do it again.
Lots of AR-15 Uppers
Lots of AR-15 Uppers…Yeup We Love Them

Background and Brands

Still with me?

Technical Background

We’re going to presuppose that you already know some stuff about AR-15’s, such as the different barrel lengths, gas systems, and BCGs.  If you’d like a refresher, check out our Guide to AR-15’s.

We’re also sticking with direct impingement guns (normal).  If you’re looking for Piston uppers…check out Best Piston Uppers & Kits.

Direct Impingement
Direct Impingement


These are our perceived top tier brands that don’t skimp anywhere and cost a little bit more.  If you’re looking to trust your rifle with your life, we recommend going to these proven brands.

  • Bravo Company (BCM)
  • Colt
  • Daniel Defense (DD)
  • Larue
  • Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT)
  • LWRC
  • Noveske
  • Yankee Hill Machine

And these are our mid-tier brands.  There’s nothing wrong with them and we own a couple ourselves for plinking and competitions.  But we recommend testing them thoroughly before you decide to use them for defensive purposes.  These will typically cost less than the top tier brands.

  • Anderson
  • Aero Precision
  • FNH
  • Palmetto State Armory (PSA)
  • Rainier Arms
  • Ruger
  • Sig Sauer
  • Smith & Wesson
  • Spike’s

While these are the budget tier brands.  Cheapest of the bunch but great for a starter build.  Probably missing some accessories such as a free-floating barrel.

  • Bushmaster
  • Delton
  • DPMS
  • Olympic
  • Rock River Arms (RRA)
  • Stag

Now the good stuff!

Best 16″ AR-15 Upper Receiver Assemblies

These are the most popular upper receivers since they are in the sweet spot of 16″ barrels that is the minimum barrel length for a rifle under the National Firearms Act (NFA).

However, we’ll still include some 14.5″ barrel uppers that have muzzle devices pinned and welded to meet the length.

We prefer mid-length gas systems for 16″ barrels since they allow a little more space for pressures to drop and therefore give a slightly softer shooting impulse.

Other things such as handguard, front sight block (FSB), and barrel profile are user preference.

Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 16″

Our go-to high-end upper with top notch just about everything is the DDM4 V7.

Daniel Defense DDM4V7 Handguard, Muzzle Brake
Daniel Defense DDM4V7 Handguard, Muzzle Brake

16″ cold hammer forged mid-length with pinned gas block. Gold-standard DD BCG, nice M-LOK rail, and all the fixins.

Daniel Defense DDM4V7
Daniel Defense DDM4V7, Complete

See it in action:

And in our complete review with tons more video.

at Daniel Defense

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Yankee Hill Machine Black Diamond 16″

Free floated quad rail with a mid-length gas system, 1:9 barrel twist for common 55gr bullets, flip sights, and a flash suppressor.  ($950)

Bravo Company (BCM) 16″

Another favorite top tier brand that we’ve been testing extensively (review coming soon).

BCM 16" Mid-Length MCMR Handguard
BCM 16″ Mid-Length MCMR Handguard

This upper utilizes their 15″ MCMR handrail in M-LOK to give you tons of space to mount anything your heart desires.  ($684).

Check out full review with video.

at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Aero M4E1 16″

Softer shooting mid-length gas system, 16″ CMV barrel, choice of free-floating rail, but you will need to add a BCG and charging handle for about $120 more (use the “Finish Your Build” tab). ($429)

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil
Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil

Probably the best deal for a quality nicely-finished free-floating mid-length upper.  Check out my in-depth review of the previous generation with thicker rails.

A new version has thinner ATLAS rails that are easier for gripping.  Also comes in Pencil Barrel (shown above) which I just received.

Palmetto State Armory 16″

Tons of options from PSA but here’s our list of 16″ mid-lengths sporting a M-LOK free floating handguard.  You can still choose BCG, sights, and barrel profile (~$300).

at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

From raw materials to finished product…PSA does it all in-house so that’s why their prices are so low.

You’ll hear the occasional complaint about finish and shipping time…but they are well known online for reliability.  At the end of the day that counts the most.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde Uppers

I got a few of their uppers in-hand, so check out my full review.  So far…100% reliability.

What’s your take on PSA uppers?

Readers' Ratings

4.93/5 (1253)

Your Rating?

Best Precision/Varmint/3-Gun AR-15 Upper Receiver Assemblies

These types of builds have longer barrels such as 18″ or 20″ for increased bullet velocity and may even use stainless steel barrels barrel for better accuracy.  Their handguards will likely be free-floated for enhanced accuracy too.

.223 Wylde chambering adds additional accuracy by having a smaller chamber throat compared to 5.56 but will still shoot both .223 and 5.56 NATO.

Daniel Defense MK12 18″ Upper

Reach out and touch something with this upper in soft-shooting rifle gas length configuration.  1:7 twist stainless steel barrel is perfect for precision shooting with heavier bullets.  Comes with flash suppressor.  ($1300)

Bravo Company (BCM) 18″ Upper

This BCM sports a stainless 18″ barrel with a rifle-length gas system for soft-shooting and accuracy.  Also comes with the 15″ Alpha KMR KeyMod rail.

at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Palmetto State Armory 18″ Wylde Upper

Working with a budget but need something that will always go bang and hit its target?  I’m liking PSA’s 18″ rifle-length gas system for extra velocity and reduced recoil.  Again, tons of options but I’ve selected M-LOK handguards for you to be future-proof.  If you’re shooting mostly bench…you can opt for the 20″ barrel.  (~$350)

Hands-on review here!

at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Aero M4E1 18″ Wylde Upper

Rifle-length gas system for the softest shooting and with the more accurate Wylde .223 chamber that still works for both 5.56 and .223 rounds.  Different thin free-floating handguards and colors available.

Need to purchase BCG and charging handle ($120 in the “Finish Your Build” tab) but still makes it a great deal.  ($479)

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best AR-15 Short Barrel Uppers

These barreled uppers are for Short Barrel Rifle (SBR) applications or the easier to do AR-15 pistol configuration.  Make sure you follow all laws such as having a pistol lower already before purchasing.

I like the minimum length to be at least 10″ if not 11.5″ because of increased dwell time.  I’ve heard too many reliability issues with barrels and gas systems shorter than that.

Daniel Defense MK18

Current rifle being provided to USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command).  10.3″ government profile, 1:7 twist, carbine length gas system, and flash suppressor.  ($1100)

Bushmaster 11.5″

11.5″ M4 contour barrel with 1:9 barrel twist, FSB, and A2 flash hider.  Easy entrance into the SBR or AR pistol world.  ($450)

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Bravo Company BCM 11.5″

Great combo of the 11.5″ barrel for extra dwell plus carbine gas length.  Comes with a 10″ KMR Alpha KeyMod rail for enough space and grip for most jobs.

at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Palmetto State Armory 10.5″

Not wanting to have much barrel length AND out of pocket expense?  Again…it’s PSA to the rescue.  Normally short AR’s have reliability issues but so far so good with PSA.  (~$350)

We conducted a full-review with their 10.5″ and 7.5″ (for those who want to go ultra-short).

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers

Complete with videos of both so you can see the difference in recoil impulse…plus shot groups.  And there’s a BIG difference.

Which length is the best for you?

at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Aero M4E1 10.5″

Carbine length gas system and A2 flash hider.  Comes in a variety of free-floating handguards and colors.  Need to purchase a BCG and charging handle ($120 in the “Finish Your Build” tab).  ($399)

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Lightweight AR-15 Uppers

We’re working on adding more lightweight uppers…but here’s our favorite so far.

Faxon ION Upper

The flagship rifle/upper from the renown barrel manufacturer is the Faxon ION.

Faxon Ion Rifle
Faxon Ion Rifle

Lightweight barrel with integrated brake, carbon fiber handguard, lightweight BCG, and more bring the entire gun to under 5 lbs.

If quick movement between targets and minimizing weight is your goal…you can’t go wrong.

Check out our full review here with more video.

at Faxon Firearms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Non-Traditional Caliber Uppers

The beauty of the AR-15 is that you can slap on a different upper and gain a whole new barrel length and even caliber.

One of my favorites is the .300 Blackout which gives you a much bigger and heavier round that’s perfect for short barrels and suppressed systems.

Wilson combat Suppressed .300 Blackout
Wilson Combat Suppressed .300 Blackout

Check out our favorite picks in Best .300 Blackout Uppers.

And of the newest flavors of this year is the .224 Valkyrie which slings ~90 gr bullets up to 1300 yards…in an AR-15 lower platform!

PSA .224 Valkyrie At High Bar Homestead
PSA .224 Valkyrie At High Bar Homestead

I go in-depth with this round in .224 Valkyrie [Complete Guide] and do a full-review of PSA’s budget platform here.

Best Long-Range AR-15 Budget Upper
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Left-Handed AR-15 Uppers

Stag Arms 15L Tactical Upper

Stag has been in the left-handed game for years and offers a transferable owner and infinite round-count guarantee.  I like this model for the super cool rails although there are other options if you want a front-sight block.  Although, there are other options here.

at Stag Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing


So there you have it…our recommendations for the best AR-15 complete upper receivers out there.  Please check out the rest of our AR-15 Definitive Guide for upgrades, best optics, cleaning, and more.

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146 Leave a Reply

  • Silvius Sirbu

    Larue is amazing. And interesting that KAC isn't mentioned....

    August 6, 2021 1:12 pm
  • Tony Rossi

    Not sure why everyone thinks Colt products
    Are so great. They lost military contracts for a reason. I was involved in DoD testing of Colt against 2 other competitors (that is all there was at the time). Colt came in last in
    Every category we tested. Even today, they log more complaints about their uppers over
    Everyone else. The QC is lacking.

    July 9, 2021 3:26 am
  • Francis

    Centurion Arms is god tier

    May 18, 2021 2:54 pm
  • M

    Great article but imo if you’re putting Colt in the top tier, FNH should be there as well. I believe FNH is actually superior to Colt, but definitely not in a lower tier.

    April 6, 2021 9:26 am
  • Horji

    When did PSA and Aero move up from budget-tier to mid-tier? Rock River Arms cost more than both. How much are they paying you?

    April 1, 2021 11:26 am
  • Dave

    "But we recommend testing them thoroughly before you decide to use them for defensive purposes." Proceeds to mention FNH and SIG, two companies that have been making AR-15s for USDOD since the '90s.

    March 8, 2021 1:00 pm
  • vbirddogs

    You left out Premier Weapons Systems.

    December 15, 2020 10:54 am
    • Moose

      Primary weapon systems*
      And yes great company

      June 18, 2021 8:09 pm
  • Tim

    You people are crooks or very dishonest. You show a PSA upper for $230.00 , then you are directed to PSA site and the upper is 3 times as much. Very bad for your rep.

    October 26, 2020 3:41 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      Prices are not automatically updated and our staff isn't big enough to update thousands of prices in real-time across the site. A global health event combined with a US election year and civil unrest caused massive stockpiling, shortages in production, and panic buying that resulted in prices rising across the industry as supply plummeted and demand skyrocketed.

      October 26, 2020 5:16 pm
    • Nick

      This article was posted prior to covid and the election. For example a 200 round box of 5.56 used to cost around $50, now it could be several hundred depending on the brand and availability

      November 6, 2020 5:56 am
    • I Pew Pew too

      Under every link tab is the disclaimer: “Prices accurate at time of writing”

      December 20, 2020 8:32 am
    • Annie Lopez

      Did you actually read the article in its entirety? With every item the article talks about, there is a disclaimer that says "Prices accurate at time of writing." Your reading comprehension is horrible and you have zero clue about supply and demand.

      January 8, 2021 1:39 am
  • Joe Buerlen

    Word of caution. EVERY rifle from EVERY manufacture should be tested at length before you trust your life to it!

    October 12, 2020 3:20 pm
  • Ken

    Want someone who stands behind what they sell? CMMG.

    September 9, 2020 7:40 pm
  • michael

    PSA prices are all wrong. Plus they say they have in stock then don't ship for three weeks then say they have inventory problems.....

    August 20, 2020 6:52 pm
    • jonathan mcgowen

      The article is 6 months old, and the small print says "prices accurate at time of writing".

      August 26, 2020 1:34 pm
  • Pup

    Anyone else own a Radical Firearms upper? I got one in 300 Blackout for hunting, and love it.

    August 14, 2020 6:18 am
  • Michael Fischer

    Did not read all the comments. But didn't see any listing about White Oak Armament or Odin. Which both list complete uppers. Seen the Noveske and was understand these 3 to be some what in the same class. Of coarse it like Ford and Chevrolet!!!!!!!

    August 3, 2020 9:52 am
  • ted shockey

    I've built a few ar15s and an ar10 and have bought a few of them fully assembled. The Diamondback,2- DPMS, and Spikes Tactical were fully assembled The ar10 I built with a polymer lower with a Delta Team Tactical upper and an ar15 polymer lower with Ar15Tac.com upper. Each has different trigger assemblies and optics, Not to take away from your experience with ar15s but I'm not a list person and I buy what I like and can afford. Just because someone spends a bunch of money on a "top tier" rifle doesn't mean their not gonna have problems or accuracy issues. A lot depends on the person that owns the rifle, how they take care of it, the optics, the trigger, etc. My friend bought an aero precision cause he seen a list somewhere that they were better than one of the DPMSs I own. He found out that lists of high dollar rifles aren't all that when my DPMS out shot his. Out of all my ARs my first DPMS is by far my go to gun for hunting, range shooting, etc. I've shot more deer, varmints, hogs, with that rifle and have never had an issue of any kind and no, you didn't hurt my feelings by putting DPMS at the bottom tier my point is that people shouldn't be afraid to purchase any of the bottom tier rifles cause a list says you have to spend crazy money to have a dependable and accurate rifle. Its just not true.

    August 2, 2020 8:51 pm
    • Michael

      Ted, what do you think of the AR15Tac.com upper? You didn't criticize it so I am assuming good?

      August 22, 2020 6:08 am

    Eric when you were in the military did you ever get told that if the round won't chamber hit the assist to make the problem worse. I didn't see any comments on manual assists. Don't have any now and didn't use them in the service.

    July 19, 2020 12:49 pm
  • conel

    I just got into shooting ar-15 and having fun with it. Any suggestion on how I can build a good rifle with sight with a budget of 2k. I already have a AR-15 colt with a 16 inch barrel.

    June 9, 2020 12:47 am
    • Sean

      Oh my, you could build a pair of beautiful AR's with 2 grand. I've owned many, a couple of Delton 16"s, a Olympic Arms in x39, a few other piece meal ones, Bear Creek Arsenal, PSA (kit where I built the lower, SUPER simple and easy BTW) 10.5" pistol by far my favorite go to since putting it together AND can carry it on my passenger seat loaded since I live in a Constitutional Carry state, and I had a couple of other AR's through the years too..
      I'd say for building something, Delton and PSA would be my first 2 choices. Anyway, just pick barrel length, what it's for, and go for it!

      September 22, 2020 2:02 pm
  • The Barber

    I know your pushing the larger length 14” uppers, but you may consider highlighting the smaller uppers I.E. BCM 11.5, Daniel Defense, and others- If you put a suppressor on a 11.5” upper the barrel size increases to 14-16”. A suppressed m4 is ideal for home defense since Your not blowing out your neighbors eardrums —ohh and the Katt with the super beard on Your Staff you may consider a charity Shave off and the proceeds go to shaving his beard. Besides that beard can get stuck in machine tools, burned up by hot objects or firearms of open bolt designs -can be a liability-even for ‘Pew Pew’.
    Good Luck

    April 27, 2020 7:31 pm
    • M

      Hurting your neighbors’ eardrums should be your last concern in a defensive gun use. Even the concept of wearing ear protections yourself is debatable and imo a bit unrealistic in a stuff is hitting the fan situation.

      April 6, 2021 9:39 am
  • Morgan

    I guess Geissele gets left out for fairly obvious reasons. I'd like to see a response to this message.

    February 15, 2020 8:41 am
  • BigMikeU

    I beg too differ about the Stag Arms Brand being a lower tier brand!!! I own a few and they are far from lower tier and make a damn good product!!! getting them on a sale is even better and cheaper dosnt mean cheaply maid!

    December 14, 2019 3:08 pm
    • frank

      Stag is a lower tier brand. Nothing wrong with them, they shoot fine, but it is silly to suggest they are on the same level as god tier DD, LMT, BCM, Noveske, LaRue, etc...

      December 23, 2019 4:12 pm
      • M

        Frank must have missed the mid tier section and he never said Stag was as good as BCM, DD etc

        April 6, 2021 9:40 am
  • Daniel Worthington

    Just wanted to thank you for all the thorough and objective content you guys put out there. It is really appreciated.

    December 7, 2019 5:06 am
    • David, PPT Editor

      Thanks! :D Glad you're enjoying it!

      December 7, 2019 10:45 am
  • John

    Any thoughts on Fortis uppers? Just wondering if they're any good.

    November 25, 2019 9:42 am
  • Ted Shockey

    There is a lot of other factors involved in reliability and accuracy besides the design of a rifle. You don't have to spend crazy money to have a reliable and accurate AR either. I guess some people have to justify what They paid to buy or build their AR. BTW my 2 DPMS rifles have put some of those high dollar ones to shame at the range and in the field. If I miss that quarter at 200 yards I have 29 more rounds and my rifles not jamming.

    November 20, 2019 4:45 pm
  • Mike

    Can believe I just read all this... and then the comments. Anyone who says anything about “Price doesn’t equal quality” is a complete dolt. It means they don’t understand the firearm, the different manufacturers or their designs or end goals (reliability/ accuracy). Any $500 AR can throw a bullet a hundred yards, but few can cover a quarter at 200+. Those who understands this, understands the build process, the ammunition and the reason for the higher cost.... It’s not just laser etching on a pot metal.

    September 26, 2019 1:36 am
    • sam

      Anyone who thinks Price equals quality is a dolt. Just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's good.

      August 14, 2020 4:12 pm
    • M

      Mike I don’t disagree, but most shooters won’t notice the difference at the range in terms of accuracy. You have to be a great shooter or you have to put optic and go for targets at a longer range. Most lower end manufacturers are also good to go nowadays, you’re not going to have the fit and finish, and nice features such as the more durable barrel, better treatment on the BCG etc but for most situations and most people it will do it’s job

      April 6, 2021 9:43 am
  • Erik Massie

    I can't believe you have FN in the same tier as Palmetto and Aero (which is not knocking PSA and Aero)...

    I'll take an FN rifle over an equivalent Colt any day.

    March 9, 2019 8:40 am
  • James J Murphy II

    What are your thoughts on Bear Claw Arsenal
    Uppers .. Midsouth has advertised them
    Thanks in advance

    February 20, 2019 6:39 pm
    • Bill

      If your talking about Bear Creek Arsenal, I have two uppers 300 Blackout and 458 Socom,. Both perform as expected
      without problems. They are not top of the line so your mileage will/may vary. Check with other who have them, see if they
      have issues. I am happy with mine.

      April 28, 2019 7:05 pm
  • Louie Laneaux

    The listed retailers are the end result of parts tree of life. The higher the price, the more middle men. Not necessarily, the higher the quality. You want to look for a combination of high quality individual parts, absolutely NOT mil-spec, the lowest quality, and performance tier; Combined with assemblers exhibiting high quality assurance (you're way past the quality control stage), and extreme attention to detail. So if you buy a rifle with a flag engraved on both sides, They should conform to either, official flag flying specs, like on a jeep, or aircraft; Or to your specific order specs. If you bring up quality control, or attention to detail, and the seller says- that costs money! Go someplace else, because the first three steps in making anything are, attention to detail, quality control, and quality assurance, before you charge penny one. I don't want to list my favorites after going through M's, AR's, and M's again since 1970! Luckily, with all officially supplied ammo. I want you, the future buyer, to become a well educated, well informed, conscious, buyer, so you can pay it forward.
    To review- price does not necessarily equate to quality. Mil-spec is the lowest quality level on the market. Endeavour to always exceed mil-spec. The critical components are- matched upper/lower sets that DO NOT open like a mil-spec hinge. Bolt carrier to upper receiver slop on fore/aft movement. Bolt to barrel extension precise, smooth, interaction. Bolt to bolt carrier precise, smooth, non wobbling interaction. Bore, centered precisely in the barrel. (BTSeenT). Barrel precisely, and correctly positioned in the barrel extension. Barrel extension, with correct feed ramp, correctly centered in upper receiver, to correctly feed a round. Correct chamber for your chosen round. I have had all 3. For me, the best, constantly reliable, was the 5.56 military chamber. It ate/eats anything. .223 chambers can be quirky with 5.56 rounds.. (ever found blown primers in your barrel extension? ) And the Wilde chambers can be quirky with all but specific sized reloads. So talk with the chamber expert in the shop when deciding which chamber to use/request. And recognize that AR-X may love one brand of ammo, and shoot it dead on where you want, but with super high priced g-whiz ammo, it may turn into a clunker gun!

    February 9, 2019 4:39 pm
  • el pedo viejo tirador

    There are only three or four actual manufacturers of many of the upper parts listed. Maybe 5! Using original M-16E2 source retail, plus - Government prices as a start, we can determine the ever increasing retail price andan indicator of the number of extra middle men involved. Lets start with a "mil-spec" rifle. Bottom of the barrel, lowest quality, minimal accuracy, must go bang, most of the time, sloppiest tolerances, no problem with parts wear out or breakage with constant depot, or armory level care and maintenance. - Milspec- had one issued for 35 years!
    Above mil-spec- difference is, attention to detail, quality control, and assembly tolerance quality. If you have an assembler that gets paid $2. per rifle to assemble it. The faster he can make it go click bang, the more he makes! If the gun comes back to be correctly rebuilt to correct original factory, shoulda been spec, it comes out of the assemblers time. They don't like that, and at some companies, the assembler, whose d code is stamped into the bottom of the grip frame, will do anything to avoid the issue. Especially with stainless steel, issue,law enforcement revolvers from a hour North of Hartford. Just something to be aware of.
    But, if you get a rifle, built by a guy who is a professional, and who cares, and you get a box stock, matched upper/lower, rifle that shoots better than 1 moa, has had one malfunction that can't be explained in the first 3500 rounds, was overnight factory shipped corrected, then went 60,000 rounds without failure, and still shot 2.5 moa, with all stock, non mil-spec (above, due to attention to detail, and quality control), parts. For an, at the time, $800 rifle. That pretty much sets the standard of expectance. Colona, Il. must have special air!
    So a key component to getting a super- shoots where you think, never breaks gun, is to find the actual source of the critical component parts, like the barrel, or the matched, no slack, upper/lower assembly, and ask them, who uses their components.
    Like ask Brownells who makes their super excellent component parts, and start there. Many "assemblers" produce multiple tier quality levels. From the bottom end mil-spec stuff, to the exceptional quality, "ultra match grade, non mil-spec stuff" but make sure your chosen manufacturer can back up his grade level claims with product, not words or labels.
    If you have ever sat in front of the old Colt Hammer Forging barrel machine for an hourof havng your bones rattled, it gives perspective. If you've talked to Boots, and listened to his swiss time piece barrel machine in the background, it gves you perspective. If you go to Colona, Il. and get treated like family, it gves perspective. Or if you walk into a small production company, stacked to the ceiling with boxes of parts being supplied to 25 different AR rifle assembling companies, it gives perspective.
    Point is- research is fun, and a great learning experience. Investigate, go to the shot show and talk to everyone, big and small, especially small. Read the name tags of passers by. The heavy hitters at the show will be quiet guys walking the aisles, with no tables. Find they, talk to them, learn!
    an aged barrel stroker

    February 9, 2019 4:10 pm
  • Catfish

    It seems if you were going to mention anyone about precision varmint uppers you would have to include a Larue tactical upper. $891 even gets you cerokote, their MBTrigger. Stock and grip.

    January 2, 2019 1:22 pm
  • Bradd Burke Smith

    A stainless steel barrel is not more inheriently accurate than a comparable chromoly barrel. The difference is in the gauging of the barrel after it is rifled. I also must take exception to your notion that Ruger or Smith and Wesson are less "top tier" than Colt or the other manufacturers you list as top. I have been a gunsmith for more than 35 years and have worked on all of these, not depend on them? Nonsense. You seem to be more impressed by the price than actual performance. I would put one of mine against anything you list as top tier.

    December 30, 2018 11:22 pm
  • Christopher Schrubbe

    I'm looking to build a 223 Wylde do you need a special upper for these or just the barrel and bolt carrier?

    December 19, 2018 12:13 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      Only thing different about a .223 Wylde build Vs. .223 or 5.56 NATO is the barrel. Same bolt, carrier, mags, ammo, etc.

      December 19, 2018 1:24 pm
  • Rob Robbo

    Anderson ???? Stop already

    December 7, 2018 5:57 pm
    • Garrett

      What's wrong with anderson?

      August 31, 2019 2:32 pm
  • Edward Engarto

    Some great information but really nothing at all to support the placement in a specific category. It may just be us mechanical engineers that want real data in the form of exactly what materials, coatings, design features, tolerances and dimensions, surface finish, heat treatments, it is that makes one widget better than another. Millions of bytes on the web and still not what we need.

    December 4, 2018 2:29 am
  • Amalowze

    Those uppers with the suppressors, do they need FFL transfer?

    November 18, 2018 11:38 am
    • joe davis

      yes. the upper no, the suppressor yes. together, assembled, yes. it keys on the suppressor. of, if it's a ruger with the serial number on the barrel, yes, with a can attached.

      February 9, 2019 4:46 pm
  • Amalowze

    Where can I get the Wilson Combat Suppressed .300 Blackout?

    November 18, 2018 11:37 am
    • CuDa

      From Wilson!

      June 1, 2020 5:33 am

    Anderson and PSA “Mid-Tier”. Must totally be serious gun guys.....

    October 10, 2018 12:26 pm
  • Kevin Flower

    Hi, how do you guys rate the POF uppers

    August 29, 2018 4:57 pm
    • David

      Pricey, but everything I've heard about them has always been very positive.

      August 30, 2018 3:29 pm
    • Ron Alvarez

      Does POF make their own uppers? or have them made under contract for them? I really like the POF lowers, for attention to detail, and quality control, but only with a matched, non mil-spec, won't open like a clam, upper. For strength, check the torque specs they tested to the failure point in screwing on the barrel nut. While put it together spec is one thing. Failure spec tells you the quality of the upper, metal. When you attach the upper to the lower, it should sound like an mp-5sda3 with a wet supressor. shick-aaah! It should no go clunk clunk, snap snap!

      February 9, 2019 4:55 pm
  • Paul Huber

    Hard to take that list seriously with Anderson and FNH being in the same Tier!

    August 24, 2018 8:13 am
  • Carly K

    In the first picture of this post of a few upper receivers y'all own, which upper receiver is the third one in from the left side? I really like how it looks.

    August 9, 2018 8:26 pm
  • Scott

    My Rock River is the Rifleman model and it's free floating, and you forgot Primary Weapons, they make some killer uppers.

    July 31, 2018 10:10 am
  • Mike

    RRA cheapest of the bunch? Not sure about that. Very well built and reliable gun(s)!

    July 20, 2018 4:53 am
  • Gilles Morin

    Hello Eric
    I do have one AR15 7,62x39 also a AR10 .308 from Windham Weaponry......and they are excellent weapon
    not on your list...!!!!

    June 30, 2018 3:52 pm
    • CuDa

      Agreed but Windham is still small and not as well known outside of New England. Might be a blessing letting them focus on keeping quality while building out company!

      June 1, 2020 5:38 am
  • IRISH3082

    I don't understand how you could possibly have Stag and Aero Precision in different tiers. The overwhelming majority of people in the firearms community more than likely would consider them to be on par with each other. Neither of which are a bottom tier IMO

    May 21, 2018 11:31 am
  • denbectec

    at atlantic tactical they ran a special fn 16.1 inch ar with a flat top for about a grand plus tax ,I bought three and outfitted different optics to match my shooting styles ,each holds an inch and a half at 300 yards ,now that's a deal worth getting.all but one got an acog .it got a vortex strike eagle 1x8 instead.

    May 14, 2018 3:39 am
  • Sgt Rock

    You put FNH in the mid tier? Shows what you know or who's paying you to push their brand

    April 18, 2018 12:44 pm
    • David

      I've handled several FN 15s and none of them have been overly impressive, especially for the price point. I'm a big FN fan but when it comes to an AR-15 there are better options for the cost.

      April 18, 2018 5:22 pm
  • joe

    What happen to Seekins?

    April 7, 2018 3:24 pm
  • Bucknasty87

    You call spikes a 2nd rate brand????? the whole ar community lives by them ! Spikes runs the lower game!

    April 1, 2018 12:27 am
  • Brian

    Dumb question. Is it OK to mix the manufactures between up and lower? I just bought an Anderson lower. Can I use another company’s upper?

    March 27, 2018 4:47 pm
    • David

      For an AR-15 yes it is fine. The vast majority of manufacturers all use the same mil-spec standard as everyone else. There are a couple of companies out there that make a weird pattern that isn't mil-spec, but those are very rare, cost an outrageous amount, and comes with lots of warning labels about how they aren't standard.

      All of the manufacturers we looked at in this article all make standard mil-spec uppers that can attach to any standard lower with no worries.

      Personally, I highly recommend Aero.

      March 28, 2018 5:19 am
      • Bcfm1

        David, thanks for the information.

        March 28, 2018 6:32 am
    • denbectec

      make sure it fits and that the pins line up and are tight,but nut overly tight .

      May 14, 2018 3:42 am
  • Shane

    Two other great budget uppers are diamondback and CBC industries. I was weary of diamondback as they’re not known to make the greatest pistols, but I’ve already put 1000rds through one and have never had an issue and it’s extremely accurate. I’ve never personally shot a CBC upper but from the reviews they get they seem pretty nice. Both start around $200 with a large variety of uppers on both websites.

    February 21, 2018 12:57 pm
    • Kc p

      I have a CBC upper mounted to a Anderson lower excellent fit and my 16'' 1/7 twist 556 upper is as reliable and accurate as you can ask for regardless of the price at 200 yards I can shoot the cap off of a milk jug every shot it runs steel case tula ammo without an issue and brass runs great the customer service is prompt and they keep you informed on the status of your order unlike the horror stories I've read about from other companies I hope this helps more people decide to exercise they're 2nd amendment rights responsibly

      April 9, 2018 8:34 pm
  • tango

    I've purchased 4 ar stoner uppers that have going on a 1000 rounds without a pickup and printing 1/2 moa at 100 yards. I'm curious why they are not mentioned at all

    February 15, 2018 6:13 am
    • Chad g Wilkins

      1/2 moa consistently is a pretty bold claim. any proof?

      March 31, 2018 7:13 pm
  • James Kirk

    Wth these groups of mid tier vs top tier are ridiculous. What is that the groups of people that didn't offer to send you free stuff vs the people that did?

    February 12, 2018 11:42 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Simply...groups are what people ask for. And I wish! I've only gotten email responses back from one of the top tier listed.

      February 13, 2018 9:29 pm
  • Shane

    Eric i always enjoy your articles but I don’t know how lon it’s been since you got a palmetto state armory upper but I have ordered 3 in last 6 months using their deal of the day and they to me are better than most of the middle group you mentioned. I have a DD AR and they don’t compare but I’ve had zero problems and great groups with all of them. Most are what they call blemishes and they usually have a little scratch on the rail or a slight color defect that I’m not sure most could tell if they don’t look for it and all 3 have had stainless free float barrels and the most I paid was $249 because they are blemishes one is perfect because it has a paint chip right where my optic sits. And at that price I was able to put eotech on all. I know this is about uppers but today they have a 5th gen glock 26 and 3 lowers for $599 if you wait and catch the uppers you want you can get 4 guns for under $1200 bucks and the quality of uppers have been great. I’m thinki of pulling plug on the Glock and 3 lower deal and test them out.

    February 7, 2018 12:40 am
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Shane, we'll be testing some PSA uppers and barrels soon!

      February 13, 2018 9:14 pm
    • Kevin

      I agree about PSA. I bought an 18" stainless upper in .223 Wylde and mated it to a Ruger lower. It has been an outstanding build. The upper arrived in about a week and was just as advertised. I have been very impressed.

      April 14, 2018 5:21 pm
  • Robert

    JSE surplus is a great place for a large variety of complete uppers. They allowed me to customize the 4 I bought from them. Delton also has a really cool customizable section. There are only 3 upper receiver manufactures and all make them to mill spec. Its the barrel you want to pay attention to. I prefer mid-length gas system. it shoots smoother and tends to be more reliable for extraction. Most barrels are 16" why not get the most out of it.

    November 18, 2017 3:18 pm
    • Chad g Wilkins

      what do you mean only 3 upper manufacturers? if you mean forges.. you're wrong. if you mean finishers.. again incorrect.

      March 31, 2018 7:15 pm
  • adam

    what about Wilson combat upper lowers

    October 6, 2017 1:46 pm
    • Chad g Wilkins

      meh. vastly overpriced. they arent nearly as good as their pistols.

      March 31, 2018 7:16 pm
  • Jorey Peterson

    This guy is clearly an idiot...Since when is RRA low tier quality? Thanks for the good laugh :)

    September 29, 2017 9:59 am
    • Eric Hung

      Thank you, Jorey.

      October 2, 2017 1:58 pm
    • CuDa

      at least he has a article backing up his opinion, what are you backing up your claim of idiocy? Personal experience?

      June 1, 2020 5:43 am
  • Ghostmaker

    I'd like to suggest very decently priced and good quality uppers by Karri's Guns. I bought a 10.5" 5.56 upper and haven't regretted it.

    September 2, 2017 3:41 pm
  • 10mm Jesus

    For the guy that asked about building a 223 Wylde vs 223/5.56. Do not,I repeat do not go with the Wylde as a first timer in ar's. You will regret it and won't be with it long before you end up swapping uppers. My recommendation to anyone entering the world of ar's, build a basic 5.56/.223 then after you are comfortable get a 300 blk upper. 90 percent of the stuff on this list is the same. You learn after years of building that just about every lower is the same. Unless you are looking for a specific logo, custom serial number or a cool feature that a lower may have, all lowers are made by the same three or four companies before being sent to get the premium laden logo attached. Don't worry about building a cool looking gun your first time out. I see guys all the time waste time and money building a pretty gun that doesn't work or shoot for schitt. Make sure any lower you buy is marked multi caliber and listed as a pistol/ rifle lower on your form, that way you can build a formless SBR without the nitpicking. Sigbrace, sigbrace, sigbrace, is all I will say to end this.

    July 30, 2017 8:16 am
    • Chipss

      I would be careful about the way you say this, if your intentions are getting around an sbr tax stamp, your breaking the law, and that is how the law is wrote, you must build a pistol, from a reciver that has never been a rifle, does not matter what the new reciver that has never been a rifle is marked.
      Just saying!

      September 11, 2017 6:02 pm
      • TxProud

        A stripped lower should always be classified as "other", it's the final assembly that determines rifle or pistol. Caliber does not matter on the lower receiver, but very much matters on the barrel.

        Do no assemble a rifle with a barrel under 16" without a stamp in hand.

        December 28, 2017 12:57 am
    • Jim M.

      Could you elaborate on your hatred for the Wylde? I have the caliber in 18" SS and can't tell a difference in rifle function. Shoots like a champ!

      February 1, 2018 2:20 am
      • Chad g Wilkins

        think you can chalk it up to ignorance.

        March 31, 2018 7:22 pm
    • Chad g Wilkins

      what in the world are you talking about with the 223 wylde stuff? itll shoot 223 or 5.56. its not a custom wildcat cartridge lol. and multi caliber marking has absolutely nothing to do with a "formless sbr" which im hoping you mean pistol? you're giving out dangerous and incorrect information.

      March 31, 2018 7:21 pm
  • Daniel Smith

    Enjoyed the article. I am a left handed shooter and looking for info for building rifle for leftie.

    July 3, 2017 11:38 am
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Daniel, if you go to the end of the article you'll see a lefty receiver from Stag. You should be able to buy just the upper receiver from them too.

      July 3, 2017 2:48 pm
  • roger

    FNH and Sig are some top tier manufacturers.

    July 3, 2017 10:05 am
  • Ronald Sanchez

    Hi Sir, you never mentioned American Tactical Imports (ATI). I have put over 3000 rounds through it in the past 2 years with zero defects... Day something about ATI.

    June 30, 2017 12:17 pm
    • Israel Holguin

      Low tier

      October 5, 2019 7:34 pm
  • Mike Edwards

    wait? what? Putting PSA in the same leage as Olympic arms and RRA? what the literal F??? and putting Anderson above them in Mid tier? psa has SOME cheap stuff (their PTAC line), but their freedom is as good as any in the mid tier line, maybe better, while their premium line almost rivals BCM (almost, not quite)...

    May 27, 2017 7:51 am
    • J

      Evidence or bravado?

      June 2, 2017 4:29 pm
      • Mike Edwards

        experience. I have multiple guns from BCM, Colt, PSA, Aero (only one Aero at the moment though) and guess what. the PSA Freedom and CHF stuff that has been coming out the last 2 years are seriously good shit. Especially the NEW freedom line (in the last 8 months) when they switched to 4150 CMV barrels and all nitride/melonite as they ditched most of their phosphate stuff. BCM is good shit and imo deserves the higher tier, but their difference between PSA is more in fit and finish vs. actual performance.

        July 31, 2017 2:18 pm
        • Mike Edwards

          it won't let me edit, sorry.

          and my argument is not that BCM and PSA should be ranked equally, but that putting PSA in the same league as Olympic Arms, DPMS and Delton is ridiculous. Especially when he puts ANDERSON (the king of uber cheap ARs) in the mid tier with Aero and the like.

          July 31, 2017 2:21 pm
          • Shane

            Agree 100% late reading this but I’ve bought 3 PSA uppers in last 3 months and all were the freedom with blemish on them and most can’t find the blemish it’s usually a little color difference or paint chip on the rail. I have a DD and they not in that group but I have no problem taking them out plus it gives me little extra to put in optics.

            February 7, 2018 12:49 am
  • Liam

    Hi Eric. I was thinking of trying to build a 5.56 rifle and I had read other articles about anderson lowers being very good quality. I was wondering if it would be a good idea to put a Aero M4E1 16″ upper onto an anderson lower or whether aero percision ( or any other brand for that matter within that price range) Would Be a better choice. This would be my first ar build. Thank you so much for the information on the article it has helped me immensely.

    May 24, 2017 10:25 pm
  • Tony Wendice

    A few thoughts: (1) Since Olympic has gone out of business, it would make sense to remove their products from your listing. (2) Since "USSOCOM Selects M-Lok For Weapon Programs" (google it), the KeyMod platform is pretty much dead. Everyone wants milspec, which is now M-Lok. (3) Why the continuing inclusion of quad rails, which are heavy, ungainly, and often have sharp edges? The best rail design I've seen lately is the ALG Defense EMR v1, which is round-ish, light, smooth, and lets you attach M-Lok accessories anywhere you want. All I want on my rifle is a light and an optic, so I don't see the point of the full-length M1913 rail along the top, either. Not trying to start a fight or troll, just offering some suggestions along the line of "light and simple is better."

    April 30, 2017 10:07 am
  • ERIC

    I just finished a build (kind of a Frankenbuild) with Mega Arms forged upper and lower, UTG Slim Pro handguard, and 16" Ballistic Advantage Hanson Series 1:8 barrel in QPQ finish. The Mega receivers are absolutely tight and well finished. Had to heat the upper to insert the barrel, but I understand this is a good thing for accuracy. First time out, after sighting in the run of the mill Magpul irons, I shot a 20 round grouping the size of a plum at 50 yards. Recommend all of the above parts.

    April 3, 2017 2:25 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Very cool, thanks for the insight!

      April 5, 2017 4:36 pm
  • Vinny

    For the complete aero precision upper do you recommend the pencil profile or m4 profile? 16" mid length gas tube. Just for a good all around gun.

    March 28, 2017 6:01 am
    • Eric Hung

      I like the pencil profiles for weight reduction. Unless you plan on shooting lots of rounds really quickly you won't really see a difference in groups.

      April 5, 2017 4:28 pm
  • jeff

    if I had the money. the LMT with quick change barrel would be the best

    March 13, 2017 7:02 pm
  • jeff

    not one LMT????

    March 13, 2017 7:01 pm
    • Eric Hung

      No personal experience yet...but they are pretty awesome from what I hear.

      March 14, 2017 11:23 am
  • Darwin

    What do you think about RADICAL FIREARMS TACTICAL ???

    March 9, 2017 12:51 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Darwin, no personal experience but I know they are very affordable.

      March 14, 2017 11:15 am
  • Thomas Frische

    Hello Eric, I want to build a side charging 300 Blackout.
    I see a complete upper by ARStoner. Do you have a review available for that brand?
    Thanks for your site.

    February 27, 2017 11:15 am
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Thomas, I haven't owned any AR Stoner stuff but I know they are the budget in-house brand for Midway. I'd check out more reviews first.

      February 27, 2017 11:30 am
      • Thomas

        Thanks for your quick response and advice Eric.

        February 27, 2017 11:43 am
  • Grayden

    Do you see any negatives going with the 18" wylde upper over the 16" mid length upper by Aero Precision? Other than it being 2" longer, I like the added accuracy it will provide for farther distance.

    February 24, 2017 9:17 pm
    • Eric Hung

      It'll just be longer and heavier...but give you slightly more velocity for farther distances.

      February 25, 2017 6:10 pm
      • Grayden

        I'm building my very first AR based on your website recommendations of the Aero Precision. For a first time owner of an AR, which barrel length would you recommend? Thank you for your website and taking the time to reply.

        February 25, 2017 9:14 pm
        • Eric Hung

          Hey Grayden, I like 16" for a good mix between velocity and maneuverability. Plus, you can change up muzzle devices without dealing with permanent attachment.

          February 26, 2017 5:01 pm
          • Grayden

            Ok 16" it is thank you Eric! However, would you opt for the .223 wylde mid length over the 5.56 mid-length for $25 more? Sorry for all the newbie questions but I really value your opinion in owning my first AR. Thank you again Eric!

            February 27, 2017 6:26 am
          • Eric Hung

            Hey Grayden, I'd say it's based on if you're looking at slightly more accuracy go for the wylde (if you're reloading, really make sure your rounds are in spec, I learned the hard way), but for general shooting go for the 5.56.

            February 27, 2017 11:29 am
        • Victor

          Grayden , you ever live in Washington?

          June 1, 2017 5:07 am
  • Sunny

    I'm glad to see you included the YHM Black Diamond in the top tier. I did my first build 6 months ago and that is the upper I chose to go with. I have to say it has incredible accuracy. I used top tier products all through the build from a Magpul UBR stock, a Geissele SD3G trigger, a Seekins Precision SBA15 lower to a Steiner T5Xi 1-5x24mm scope. Beast of a build I'll tell you what. I'm glad to see a review that makes an honest assessment on the hierarchy of uppers. Also it reinforces my opinion that I made a good decision in trusting YHM ;)

    February 22, 2017 11:03 am
    • Eric Hung

      Awesome, great to hear! I'm looking to test out YHM's 9mm uppers soon so stay tuned.

      February 23, 2017 8:19 pm
  • John

    Eric, you didn't mention Windham Weaponry in your mfg list. Was that a byproduct of your experience with their products? Or, just left them out completely?

    February 16, 2017 1:00 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hey John, I've just never had any experience with them.

      February 16, 2017 2:48 pm
  • Jesse McGowan

    I am really surprised that you ranked Bushmaster in the lower tier, Can you please elaborate on why you ranked them at this level. Their prices seem to rival most of the mid tiers that you listed.

    January 30, 2017 12:29 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Just personal experience...they work fine but nothing to write home about.

      February 7, 2017 7:48 pm
  • Matt

    Eric, was wondering if you could break these out also by whether they are gas impingement or piston driven?

    January 29, 2017 8:50 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Matt, thanks for the tip...I believe they are all direct impingement. But I'll look into adding piston ones too.

      February 7, 2017 7:47 pm
  • Ricky Mertz


    You mention the Black Diamond "16 from Yankee Hill but I did not see Yankee Hill listed in your mfg. rundown. Where do you list the Yankee Hill products?


    January 21, 2017 7:54 am
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Ricky, thanks for picking that up. I added them to my primary AR-15 article but forgot them in the upper assemblies one.

      January 25, 2017 10:04 am
  • William

    I know chrome lined barrels are generally less accurate than their stainless steel counterparts, but Im looking for an 18in chrome lined barrel so I don't have to worry about corrosion. Do you have any suggestions?

    December 9, 2016 8:45 pm
    • ehung

      Hi William, have you checked out my AR-15 upgrades post?

      December 10, 2016 1:20 pm
  • mike o

    What an awesome site. All the info one should need.

    October 27, 2016 10:38 pm
    • ehung

      Thanks Mike!!

      October 28, 2016 1:37 am
  • Connor

    Anderson over Bushmaster? XM15 bare bones lower is 350$ Rainier is top shelf as well. Actually, that whole classification of brands is way off. I enjoyed the read, however you putting an FNH as a "mid-tier" weapon is quite laughable. Have you ever touched any rifle made by FNH? I think you would like it! ☺

    September 16, 2016 5:05 pm
    • ehung

      Hi Connor, thanks for the comments. Hope to try out some FNH rifles soon!

      September 18, 2016 1:29 pm
    • Justin Schmidt

      249 SAW, 240B, 50 cal, most barrels in the m4 we used in the army. All FNH. Yeah I'd say their top teir indeed

      March 5, 2017 8:52 pm
  • Kenny

    Thank you for the information!

    August 8, 2016 6:49 am
    • ehung

      You're welcome, Kenny!

      August 8, 2016 9:18 pm