8 Best AR-15 Muzzle Brakes & Compensators [Hands-On 2019]

Want reduced recoil and minimal vertical movement?

Then you want an upgraded muzzle brake.

Tested Muzzle Brakes
Tested Muzzle Brakes

We hands-on test 8 of the most popular and high-performing muzzle devices out there.  Not only utilizing reduced recoil data…but looking at side blast, decibel readings, and reticle movement.

Muzzle Device Windsock Test
Muzzle Device Windsock Test

And of course…offer our suggestions based on your budget.

Let’s start off with some quick terminology.

Difference Between Muzzle Brake, Compensator, and Flash Hider

Most muzzle devices are hybrids now.  But it’s good to get the technicalities out of the way.

  • Muzzle Brake: reduces felt recoil, mostly with side vents
  • Compensator: reduces the vertical movement, mostly with holes on the top
  • Flash Hider: ok this one is easier to guess…it reduces the fireball when you pew pew

Now let’s talk about hole size.

What?

Brakes and compensators will have exit holes roughly the size of the round.

Precision Armament M4-72
Precision Armament M4-72

While flash hiders are larger so there’s space for unburnt powder to…burn.

Standard A2 Birdcage
Standard A2 Birdcage

For states that don’t allow flash hiders…make sure the exit hole is about the size of the round and that no where in the literature does it mention flash-hiding abilities.  For some pure flash hiders, check out our Best AR-15 Flash Hiders article.

Now let’s get on with testing.

Testing Procedures

Basis

I try to stand on the shoulders of giants.

And Jeremy S. over at TTAG has done some amazing work on muzzle devices.

I humbly start with his info on reduced recoil distance from his Muzzle Brake Shootout #1, Shootout #2, and Shootout #3.

TTAG Tested Muzzle Devices, Jeremy S.
TTAG Tested Muzzle Devices, Jeremy S.

Side Blast

Then I amp it up with some side blast comparison…since sometimes it’s cool to think about your fellow shooters next to you.  On the range or when clearing rooms (of course).

I had grandiose delusions of measuring the angle of floating balloons or using some cool powder that would disperse.  But what worked best in the end was a windsock on its side.

Muzzle Device Windsock Test
Muzzle Device Windsock Test

It’s not super scientific but I kept the same distance and position…and tried to keep the angle of blast the same.

Much movement = a really uncomfortable guy/gal next to you.

Decibel Readings

Now a little for your own pleasure.

When you reduce recoil and vertical movement…a lot of that energy is converted into that side blast and also sound.

I usually have to double-up ear protection when I shoot compensated AR-15s.  So I got measurements at shoulder level to mimic what you might hear.

Muzzle Device Decibel Meter
Muzzle Device Decibel Meter

If you don’t want ringing ears…heck out our Best Shooting Ear Protection for our tested favorites.

MSA, Walker Razor, HL Impact Pro
(Left) MSA Sordin, (Center) Walker’s Razor Slim, (Right) Howard Leight Impact Pro

Note that decibels (dB) are on a logarithmic scale (thanks math) so a 3 dB change is roughly 2x the loudness.

Reticle Movement

And what might matter the most…what you see down your optic/scope.  I’m using a Strike Eagle 1-6x at 1x at a ~25 yard target.

Check out Best AR-15 Optics or Best 1-6x Scopes for more details.

Reticle Movement
Reticle Movement

So I have video through every scope with a couple shots downrange.

I shoot standing up with a c-clamp grip and try my best to let the shot move naturally before moving it back on target.

C Clamp Grip
C-Clamp Grip (close…but not me)

And also my camera adapter flips the image, so my right hand is now on the left.  And the “true” movement of the reticle is also flipped.

But since we’re looking at the absolute movement of the reticle…we’re still good because all the muzzle devices are timed to 12 o’clock (top of the device is matched with the top of the barrel).

Now let’s get on with it…in no particular order except how I set up my original picture…

Tested Muzzle Brakes
Tested Muzzle Brakes

Best Muzzle Brakes & Compensators

1. A2 Birdcage

Standard A2 Birdcage
Standard A2 Birdcage

The OG and what likely came on your stock AR-15.

The A2 Birdcage does a very effective job of reducing blinding flash (.48 Lux compared to >10K Lux for a bare muzzle, TTAG Flash Hider) but not so great at felt recoil or vertical movement.

A perfect control for our next candidates.

Not a lot of movement on the windsock and from personal experience…perfectly pleasant to shoot next to with proper ear protection.

Average of 116.3 dB although the last one might have been an error.  Otherwise around 118.8 dB.

But you can see the fairly large movement of the reticle.

A2 Birdcage Reticle Movement
A2 Birdcage Reticle Movement

It does the job and at a super reasonable price and weight (1.9 oz) too.

The Classic
7
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

2. Battlecomp 1.0

Battlecomp 1.0
Battlecomp 1.0

The BattleComp was big deal a few years ago…is it worth the hype?

Let’s see!

  • Not too much movement on the windsock but still more than the A2 when the angle was right
  • 117.9 dB so it actually is less loud to the shooter…but will likely be quite loud for someone next to you
BattleComp 1.0 Reticle Movement
BattleComp 1.0 Reticle Movement

And oddly…seemed to have more reticle movement even though its cuts make it almost a pure brake.  And at a more vertical 11 o’clock direction compared to the A2’s 10 o’clock.

Dimensions are very similar to the A2 (and weighs in at 1.7oz )…and if we go with the BattleComp 2.0 info from TTAG’s article…is decent at flash suppression with 1.41 Lux compared to the .48 Lux of the A2.

90
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

However the reticle movement is a deal-breaker for me.  At least for how I shoot.

3. Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty

Precision Armament M4-72
Precision Armament M4-72

The M4-72 Severe Duty was the winner of two shootouts with 74% reduced recoil…so I had to try it out for myself.

It has some pretty aggressive side cuts which make it a pure compensator.

  • Lots more side blast…I would not want to be next to this bad boy since almost all the energy is going to the sides
  • Average sound of 119.4 dB
M72 Reticle Movement
M72 Reticle Movement

And really little reticle movement!

It’s definitely longer and heavier (2.6 oz) than the A2 but really does its job in the reticle department.

Your buddies might hate you and it’s a little louder for you.

But if recoil reduction and keeping your reticle on target is the name of the game…this one might be our winner if ~$100 is within your budget.

Editor's Pick
90
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on the M4-72?

Readers' Ratings

4.97/5 (115)

Your Rating?

4. DPMS Miculek Compensator

DPMS Miculek Brake
DPMS Miculek Brake

The world’s fastest shooter helped design this relatively simple pure compensator that clocks in a nice 68% recoil reduction.

I’ve been using versions of the Miculek Brake for a lot of my competitions.

  • The windsock is DANCING with this one.  Somehow it’s a lot more than the M4-72 previously
  • Sound rating of 117.4 dB which is lower than it too…at least for the shooter
DPMS Miculek Reticle Movement
DPMS Miculek Reticle Movement

It was hard for me to find the exact frame but it’s really good.  Movement felt slightly more 9 o’clock compared to the M4-72.

If I had to choose a winner between these two it’d still be the M4-72…but the Miculek is less than half the price although heavier (3.3 oz).

40
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Ascend Armory Titanium Brake Mod 1

Now we’re getting fancy…

Ascend Armory Muzzle Brake
Ascend Armory Muzzle Brake

Ascend’s hybrid brake and compensator (both side and top holes) looks great and is super light (1.4 oz).

Let’s see if something half the weight can stand up to our previous two pure comps.  Since more weight also helps stabilization at the end of the barrel.

  • The windsock is moving pretty good…not as much as the Miculek but will still ring your bell in close quarters
  • Sound rating of 115.7 dB which is the softest so far
Ascend Armory Reticle Movement
Ascend Armory Reticle Movement

Not as great as the M4-72 or Miculek…but very respectable and probably half the distance of the A2.

I’d take a serious look at the Ascend if you want something different or you’re obsessed with weight.  Plus the price isn’t too shabby for something titanium.

82
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

6. Nero 556

Now let’s get REAL exotic.

Nero Muzzle Brake
Nero Muzzle Brake

Looks different…doesn’t it?

That’s because the Nero 556 is 3D-printed from Inconel…the stuff they use in rocket engines.

And because it’s 3D-printed they can do lots of cool stuff you can’t with milling steel.

  • Windsock movement is pretty decent although I found it to be more pleasant than the M4-72 and Miculek
  • Sound rating is 117.6 dB which is pretty average
Nero Reticle Movement
Nero Reticle Movement

But did you see how the reticle moved?

It actually went down.

I’m glad I read somewhere that this happens to a lot of shooters that first try out the Nero.

We’re so used to an upward movement that a flatter shooting muzzle device makes us press down.  Later on in the day when I man-handled the Nero rifle less…I had even better results.

If you want bleeding-edge technology at whatever the cost…check out the Nero.  The makers have hooked you up with coupon code “PewPew” for 10% off.  The link here and below will auto-add it.

180
at Walker Defense Research

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

7. VG6 Gamma

I’ve shot this A LOT on my go-to Aero Precision rifle (full review) and it shows.

VG6 Gamma
VG6 Gamma

The VG6 Gamma was a great upgrade from my A2 and had a very nice 66% recoil reduction in the TTAG article.  Remember…the Miculek was 68%.

  • Decent windsock movement…probably halfway between the A2 and M4-72/Miculek
  • Sound rating of 116.5 dB
VG6 Gamma Reticle Movement
VG6 Gamma Reticle Movement

It’s a little more movement than this but I couldn’t get a good screen capture.

But you can see there’s a lot of vertical vents on the Gamma so it also pushed the reticle down for me.

It’s also pretty compact and light (2.1 oz) for its great performance.

Plus the price is coming down which makes it a deal for something all-around that doesn’t destroy the people to your side.

64
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

8. Strike Industries J-Comp V2

What I’ve been shooting the most recently since I started reviewing a lot more uppers.

Strike Industries J-Comp V2
Strike Industries J-Comp V2

And the main reason was cost.  It adds up when I have to buy 5 comps at a time.  The J-Comp V2 comes in around $30-40

Oh…and also that it performed well across the board on TTAG’s tests…with 61% recoil reduction and also 1.44 Lux in flash hiding.

Note that they used the V1 of the comp…but the V2 is super similar but without literature that says it has flash-hiding capabilities.  But the exit hole is larger than the caliber so…yea…

Now let’s see how it performs in our tests:

  • Pretty extreme movement on the windsock…and I can attest that it sucks to be next to on the range
  • Sound level of 118 dB which is a little higher than others
J-Comp V2 Reticle Movement
J-Comp V2 Reticle Movement

But pretty good in terms of low reticle movement.

However it’s longer than normal and weighs in at a hefty 3.0 oz.

My go-to choice if you want something that’s all around in terms of price, recoil reduction, flash hiding (possibly), and reticle movement.

Best Goldilocks Muzzle Device
37
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

Let’s summarize based on some scientific but mostly my subjective opinion.

More Muzzle Devices
More Muzzle Devices

Best Compensator goes to the Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty since it reduces the felt recoil the most.  Plus had the least reticle movement.  But the people next to you (and your own ears) will hate you.

Editor's Pick
90
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Runner up is the Miculek at less than half the price.

40
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Brake/Compensator Hybrid goes to the VG6 Gamma since it’s right behind the M4-72 and Miculek in reduced recoil, has some great downward force on the reticle, and is annoying but not as annoying to others.

Plus…it’s more compact, lighter, and still affordable.

64
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Goldilocks Muzzle Device goes to Strike Industries J-Comp V2 since it’s got great recoil reduction, possibly flash-hiding capability, and decently little reticle movement.

Best Goldilocks Muzzle Device
37
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Most High Tech Muzzle Device goes to the Nero 556 with it’s 3D-printed Inconel design that will turn heads, not destroy eardrums, and give you tremendous downward force.

I’m keeping this on my primary tester rifle so I get more used to the very different recoil/movement profile.  Stay tuned for updates!

Remember to use the code “PewPew” for 10% off on the Nero.

180
at Walker Defense Research

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I probably missed a lot of good brakes/compensators.  Let me know what you’d like to see in a future update!  And if you want to make your AR-15 run even better…check out the rest of our Best AR-15 Upgrades series.

Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s
Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s

15 Leave a Reply

  • MY EYES!!!

    Damn, I just bought the Jcomp V2 to put on my featureless AR. Guess I gotta go a different route.

    1 month ago
  • Bro

    According to your videos, looked like the M4-72 had some of the highest reticle movement. The Ascend Armory looks much better in that regard compared to the M4-72 and the Miculek. Based on the videos and price alone, I would go for the VG6 Gamma -- the reticle movement on there was minimal (looks much better than the M4-72 and Miculek), though apparently not as much recoil reduction as M4-72. Maybe you were just holding on tighter? Overall, though, this is an awesome and consistent video review. Thanks!

    2 months ago
  • Chubs

    Great article! Thank you so much for this comparison. I’m in the process of building a 12.5” AR pistol, and am seriously considering the J-Comp. What do you think about this going on a barrel shorter than 16” ? Mostly I just want it because of looks & cost. But one thing you did point out is that it’s pretty loonngggg

    2 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome! It will add about 2" to the length so keep that in mind.

      2 months ago
  • A J

    Please test the Precision Armament EFAB! Also the Wilson Combat Q-comp and the Bravo Company Gunfighter Comp Mod 1. Thanks!

    3 months ago
  • Vulcan

    Always a learning experience for me to read articles like this. Thank you! In the Marines they hand you a rifle, help you to become as proficient as they can in a shortened war time boot camp like I went through in San Diego, and next thing you know you're thousands of miles from home with a lot on your mind. (I actually set the range record beating the Colonel of the base, and they attributed that to my having never once in my life fired any firearm prior to boot camp, listened and learned it the right way the first time with no bad habits to break.) These days I'm circling back around and actually learning the specifics, nuance and finer details of the AR and it's variants, accessories and best practices. Your articles are invaluable and so many are available all at one web site, and come from someone who clearly knows their business - making them trustable! This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. :) Thanks again!

    3 months ago
  • el pedo viejo tirador

    Fantastic evaluation! And so begins the next generation of shooters that will spend thousands of dollars on trying out comps. Ever notice that you never see used comps at gun shows, or gun shops? I probably have 15, or 20 old comps in my garage! I think there's a whole underground market where unused comps flow from shooter to shooter, on a nod and a hand shake.

    4 months ago
  • Franklin

    Lantech Dragon, Griffin flash comp, VG6 Precision EPSILON (different model than gamma), and Witt machine mre (Muzzle Rise Eliminator)5.56 are some other muzzle devises I would like to see in the next testing. Thanks!

    4 months ago
  • Scott

    I'm very confused by this article. At the beginning, the various devices are defined: 1. Muzzle Brake: reduces felt recoil, mostly with side vents 2. Compensator: reduces the vertical movement, mostly with holes on the top 3. Flash Hider: reduces the fireball However, the descriptions of other several devices seem to contradict the definitions. For example, the Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty is described as, "has some pretty aggressive side cuts which make it a pure compensator." I thought side cuts would make it more of a pure brake. Likewise, the next device is under the heading "DPMS Miculek Compensator", yet the caption under the picture says "DPMS Miculek Brake" and you describe it as a, "relatively simple pure compensator", but the side cuts make it appear to be more of a brake. Under number 5, you refer to the previous 2 (M4-72 and Miculek) as pure compensators. I'm a gun guy with plenty of experience with various rifles, handguns, and shotguns, but I'm a n00b when it comes to the AR-15 platform. I'm doing a lot of research before my first AR build and am trying to learn as much as possible about each component. This article did more to confuse me than to educate me. Can you provide more insight into these seeming contradictions? I understand that most of these devices are hybrids in the way they function, but side cuts to reduce recoil and top cuts to compensate and reduce upward muzzle movement makes sense to me, but seem contradictory in the descriptions of each device. Thanks, Scott Benton

    4 months ago
    • Shepherd of Fire

      You are correct, Scott. Even the A2 birdcage flash hider works slightly as a compensator since the holes are mostly on the top, thus reducing muzzle flip. The reason it is solid on the bottom is to reduce the amount of dust kicked up when shooting prone. Just pick an affordable one that has the features you need. These are simple devices and even a novice machinist or gunsmith can mod or tune these to suit your needs.

      4 months ago
    • Tom

      I have the m4-72, the article doesn't quite get it right. It has very aggressive side cuts, however, the way they are made, the floor of the brake is wider than the ceiling, such that gas can escape upwards as well as to the side, effectively making it both a brake and compensator. It's an excellent muzzle device, I highly recommend it.

      4 months ago
  • Graham McIntosh

    Hi, what about the Surefire WarComp MSRP $149 ??

    4 months ago
  • Subsonic

    Another excellent article. I really enjoy reading your work Brother, thank you. I’ve tried several of those also but decided to design my own to get exactly what I wanted. I machine one style of break/ comp only in different sizes based on caliber.

    4 months ago
  • Jeff gambinosky

    Great article on brakes, and compensators! And... there will always be ones you missed. Next chance you get, check out the Witt Machine, 3 piece compensator. It includes the best of all that you did test, plus the option to select the amount of back blast, side blast, and muzzle blast that you want for the days application. I have purchased over half of the comps in the big photo, over the years, plus many more, not pictured. The Witt 3 piece is my new favorite go to be all, do all, comp.

    4 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Jeff, I'll try to get my hands on one!

      4 months ago
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