7 Best AR-15s: Complete Buyer’s Guide [2019]

There’s a perfect AR-15 out there for you and we’ll help you find it.

By the time you’re done with this guide, you’ll know everything about how the AR-15 works and how different configurations affect performance.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde Builds

There might be some jargon in there you don’t understand.

But don’t worry…we’ll deep dive into individual parts, the best manufacturers, and more about each rifle choice.

Click to “Best AR-15 Rifles” in the Table of Contents Below if you can’t wait!

Table of Contents

Loading...

Why the AR-15?

Typical AR-15
Typical AR-15

The AR-15 is one of the most popular sporting rifles for many reasons.  Here’s what we think are the top three:

1. Used by the US Military

Special Forces Beard Guy
Special Forces Beard Guy

Or rather, it looks like the M4’s and M16’s used by the US military.

The civilian AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle compared to the automatic/select fire capabilities of the military versions.

That means one press of the trigger is a single PEW! instead of a fully-automatic where a single press of the trigger will be a continuous stream of PEW! PEW! PEW! until you let go.

Admit it…there’s a little coolness factor in holding the symbol of America’s might.

2. Shootability

AR15 Parts Diagram
AR-15 Parts Diagram

The AR-15 is very light recoiling when chambered in its native 5.56x45mm round.  And is also very ergonomic when compared to other popular rifles such as the AK-47.

Check me out dumping 10 rounds on a PSA…

3. Modular Design

The AR-15 consists primarily of two large segments, the lower receiver…

AR-15 Lower Receiver
AR-15 Lower Receiver

And the upper receiver, which can be swapped out in a matter of seconds.

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

The AR-15 can fulfill roles such from a long range precision rifle to a close quarters combat (CQB) carbine by just switching out the “upper” and mating it with the “lower.”

Only the lower is the serialized firearm so with one lower you can have several uppers to fulfill any role without additional paperwork.

5.56 vs .50 Beowulf
5.56 vs .50 Beowulf

The lower holds the trigger mechanism and for the most part, you can swap out the upper for even different calibers, from the .22LR to the .50 Beowulf.

Mall Ninja AR-15
Mall Ninja AR-15

There are also tons of aftermarket products to customize the look, feel, and performance of your AR-15 to match your personality and intended use.

However, there’s a prevailing stigma (especially online) of putting too much possibly unnecessary stuff on your gun, and making you a “mall ninja” or being too “tacticool.”

In my opinion…it’s your gun and your money, so do what you want to do as long as it’s still safe and legal.  But…the above AR might have gone a little overboard!

See all our suggestions at Best AR-15 Upgrades.

Want to get a glimpse of how easy it is to take apart and clean too?

Still with me?

AR-15 History

More Common Bullet Calibers
More Common Bullet Calibers

Eugene Stoner developed the AR-15 as a lightweight 5.56x45mm version of the 7.62x51mm AR-10 while working at Armalite during the 1950s.  The lighter bullet enabled infantrymen to carry more rounds.  And that’s always a good thing!

Naming Conventions

M16 Vietnam
M16 Vietnam

In 1959, Armalite sold the AR-10 and AR-15 rights to Colt.  The “AR” actually stands for “Armalite” and not the common misconception of “Assault Rifle.”

After some tweaks, Colt introduced the M16 which was select fire (automatic) and mostly had a 20″ barrel.

M4 Carbine
M4 Carbine

The M4 came about in the 90’s and had a 14.5″ barrel with a carbine gas system.  Carbine just means that it has a shorter barrel than the rifle version and can either be pronounced “car-BEAN” or “car-BYNE,” but my preference is for the “bean” version.

The AR-15 is the civilian semi-automatic version of the select fire M4.  1 press = 1 PEW!

Colt owns the rights to “AR15” and “AR-15,” so most other manufacturers have slightly different names, but the general public still refers to the general pattern as AR-15’s.

Now, one big question coming up…

AR-15: To Build or To Buy?

For a first AR-15, we would heavily suggest buying a complete rifle from a reputable manufacturer.

Or at the very least, get a complete upper (Guide to Best Uppers) and build your own lower.  It’s like Legos for big kids and you can see our recs at Best AR-15 Lowers.

Now there are also options to simply get a complete upper AND a complete lower.  This way saves some money too since companies are charged a 11% tax on complete firearms.

Buying complete eliminates a lot of possible headaches by having a solid warranty behind your gun.  Plus, if you’re just starting off, you probably don’t know what you like/want, so I recommend just going with a standard configuration.

A factory gun doesn’t cost that much more than building your own (and nowadays it’s likely less), and you’ll get a much better resale value if you ever decide to part ways (or upgrade).

AR-15 Build Your Own Kit
AR-15 Build Your Own Kit

However, there’s something very satisfying about building your own “franken-gun” or “M4-gery,” but we recommend doing it for a 2nd or 3rd AR-15.  It’s not terribly difficult and you’ll get to choose every component in your gun.

But we think you’ll make better decisions after spending time with a factory gun first.

If you’re curious, check out our How to Build an AR-15 Lower Receiver and Upper Receiver articles just to see your future.

AR-15 Upper Receiver Parts
AR-15 Upper Receiver Parts

Next, we dive into the various parts of the AR-15 before putting it all together and recommending specific combinations based on your intended use.

All About Barrels

We begin the breakdown of the AR-15 system by covering the various characteristics of barrels (the thing that bullets come out of).

Now the real fun is going to start!

Barrel Chambering

AR-15 Chamber
AR-15 Chamber

The barrel chamber means the part of the barrel where the cartridge sits before firing (ie, what ammo it can shoot).

Since this is a beginners’ guide, we’ll focus on the most common 5.56x45mm NATO and .223 Remington.  There are tons of other chamberings from .22LR to .50 Beowulf, and a slew of new .30 caliber offerings.

The 5.56 is the more common choice compared to .223 since it gives “looser” tolerances and can withstand the higher pressures of the 5.56 round.

Here are some general safety guidelines for using different cartridges in different barrels:

  • With a 5.56 barrel, you can shoot BOTH 5.56 and .223
  • With a .223 barrel, you can ONLY shoot .223
  • Hybrid chambers such as Wylde are for specific precision purposes but can shoot both

Barrel Length: Long & Strong

AR-15 Different Barrel Lengths
AR-15 Different Barrel Lengths

Federal law states that the minimum barrel length of a rifle must be at least 16″.  This includes muzzle devices, such as flash hiders, muzzle brakes, or compensators.  However, if the device is to be included in the length, it must be permanently attached.

For example, you can have a 14.5″ barrel and permanently pin/weld a muzzle device to make it over 16″ to make it compliant.  Please note, there are some state/local laws that might govern the types of devices allowed, and even having a 14.5″ barrel might be illegal without appropriate paperwork.

Therefore, we recommend beginners get at least a 16″ barrel so they can switch out muzzle devices to their liking.  Most common lengths include 16″, 18″ and 20″.

So which one do you choose?

AR-15 Barrel Length Velocity, SA Defense
AR-15 Barrel Length Velocity, SA Defense

Having a longer barrel doesn’t necessarily mean more accuracy.  You can get plenty of accuracy out of 16″ since it is shorter and therefore stiffer and less susceptible to barrel whip (movement of the barrel during shooting).

However, a longer barrel gives you higher velocity since there’s more room for all the powder to burn.  And faster moving bullets give the environment (gravity and wind) less time to affect the trajectory of the bullet.

The average 16″ barrel is good for up to 400 yards, but after 300 yards, the standard 55gr projectile becomes more susceptible to environmental factors.  For longer distance, you would want a heavier and longer projectile such as 62gr, 77gr, or 80gr bullets.

Lastly, there’s also the issue of portability…shorter barrels are easier to move and weigh less.

So many things to think about!

Barrel Twist Rate

Barrel Rifling, Criterion Barrels
Barrel Rifling, Criterion Barrels

Another number you’ll see when looking at barrels is the twist rate of the rifling.

This is denoted as 1 x number (1×9) which means “one twist per 9 inches”.  In general, the longer a projectile, the faster the twist is needed (a smaller number in the twist since that means one turn happens in a shorter length).

Below is a great chart to show you the ideal bullet weight for the twist of a barrel.

Bullet Weight vs Twist, Shooters Log
Ideal Bullet Weight for Twist, Shooters Log

The most common AR-15 twist rate is 1:9 since 55gr is the most commercially available while the most common mil-spec twist is 1:7 since they need to stabilize longer/heavier tracer rounds.

Barrel Material

There are a lot of numbers and scary sounding words out there when related to barrel material, and we’ve done our best to simplify it:

  • 4150: Steel used in mil-spec barrels
  • 4140: Steel with 10% less carbon than 4150
  • Chrome Molybdenum Vanadium, Chrome Moly, or CMV: Same as 4140
  • Stainless Steel: More accurate but shorter lifespan
Stainless Steel Barrel
Stainless Steel Barrel

For the average shooter just go with the 4140/CMV.  Unless you’re firing full-auto a lot, you probably would not reap any benefit from 4150.  Except for a lighter wallet…but that probably doesn’t count as a benefit.

PSA Barrel Coatings
Coatings/Materials (L to R: Nitride, Nitride, Stainless Steel, Phosphate)

Barrel Lining

Chrome Lined Barrels
Chrome Lined Barrels
  • Chrome Lined: Coating that makes your barrel last longer at the price of a slight decrease in accuracy.  You’ll see a gray ring around each end.
  • Ferritic Nitrocarburizing (FNC): Also known as Tennifer, Melonite, or Nitride.  Treats the surface of the barrel instead of a coating for possibly better accuracy but with additional cost.
  • None: No coating.
Criterion Barrels, Different Coatings
Criterion Barrels, Different Coatings (Top to Bottom: Stainless, Chrome, Nitride)

Real round counts will differ based on a lot of factors (heat, environment, your definition of “accuracy,” etc), but you can expect around 10-20k before you have to re-barrel.

You still there?

Barrel Testing

Good, here’s some more acronyms manufacturers will throw at you.

MP HP Tested Barrel
MP HP Tested Barrel
  • MP: Magnetic Particle tested, magnetizing the barrel and using fine iron particles to detect cracks/defects
  • HP: High Pressure tested
  • None: No testing.  You get what you pay for.

You might run into the use of “batch tested” which really doesn’t mean much.  The manufacturer may test 1 out of 10 barrels or 1 out of 100K barrels.  For a home defense rifle, we recommend getting a barrel that is both MP & HP tested.

You know…just in case.

Barrel Forging

  • Cold, Hammer, Forged (CHF): Process that creates a more durable barrel
  • Barrel, Forged, Hammer (BFH): Same as CHF
  • None: No extra process

CFH and BFH reduce accuracy a little but you gain a much more durable barrel.  If you plan on shooting thousands of rounds a year, it might be worth the extra cost and push you towards a 20k+ round count.

Barrel Contours

Shape and thickness of the barrel which will have a decent effect on the overall weight.  And if you haven’t seen this quote yet on forums…“ounces equal pounds and pounds equals pain.”

AR-15 Barrel Contours
AR-15 Barrel Contours
M4 Barrel Contour
M4 Barrel Contour
  • CAR (Colt Automatic Rifle): Just a specific family of AR-15/M-16 rifles from the 70’s. Now just a general term for carbine-length rifles before the advent of the M4.
  • Heavy (Bull): Stiffer and heavier but more accurate.  Can take a lot of heat before shooting groups start to suffer.  Normally used for precision builds.  .936″ in diameter.
  • Medium (Government or M4): All around balance.  M4 contour has a cutout for grenade launchers.  .750″ in diameter.
  • Light/Pencil: Lighter but more susceptible to heat from rapid firing.  .625″ in diameter.

For the average plinker, Medium or Light barrel contours will work great.

Barrel Feed Ramps

This is an integral part of the upper receiver and you want it to be a proper match with your barrel.

M4 Feedramps, AR15Barrels
M4 Feedramps, AR15Barrels

The jury is still out whether or not they help reliability, but the main thing is to match up the ramps with your receiver.  If you’re buying from the factory, this should not be a problem.  But you still might want to check.

AR-15 Gas Systems

Now that you’re a pro with AR-15 barrels, we’ll go into the gas system.

There are two major types, Direct Impingement (DI) and Piston.  DI is the original design while piston only really became popular within the last few years.

Direct Impingement vs Piston

An AR-15 works by directing the hot gas behind the bullet into the gas tube (where the triangular front sight block is above) which then uses the gas to either move a piston or send it directly back (direct impingement).

When the force is applied, it makes the bolt unlock, move back, expel the spent casing, and strip a new cartridge into the chamber.

The vast majority of AR’s are direct impingement instead of piston.

Direct Impingement
Direct Impingement
Direct Impingement vs Piston
Direct Impingement vs Piston

Pros of Piston:

  • Cleaner since dirty gas is vented away
  • Should be more reliable in bad environments (water, dust, etc)

Cons of Piston:

  • Costs more than traditional DI system
  • Weighs more and puts weight in front (although getting better each year)
  • Proprietary parts unique to each manufacturer
  • Less accurate

Unless you’re needing to shoot coming out of water or in very dusty environments with limited ability to clean, a direct impingement system will work fine.  If that’s you…here’s our review of the Best AR-15 Piston Uppers.

With proper maintenance, a DI AR-15 is a very reliable weapon and what the military uses.

Direct Impingement Gas System Lengths

The gas system length refers to the distance to the gas hole, or where the triangular “front site base” or FSB sits on each barrel above.

The rifle length gas system is traditionally used for 18″ or longer barrels, but there is the oddball “Dissipator” model which has a rifle length system on a 16″ barrel.

AR-15 Gas Systems Barrel Lengths
AR-15 Gas Systems Barrel Lengths

For 16″ barrels, the primary choice is between carbine and midlength gas systems.

Carbine vs Midlength vs Rifle Gas Systems on 16 Barrel
Carbine vs Midlength vs Rifle Gas Systems on 16″ Barrel

We believe the midlength has the advantage since it allows a longer sight radius if using a front sight base (which doubles as the front sight).  It also gives you more possible handguard/rail space since the handguard goes from the upper receiver to the front sight base.

It should also theoretically offer a smoother/softer shooting rifle since the increased distance will allow gas pressure to lower before going back into the rifle.

But, this is influenced by a lot of other factors including gas port size, buffer, and spring combinations.

Gas Blocks

Low Profile Adjustable Gas Block
Low Profile Adjustable Gas Block

For the majority of this article, you’ve been seeing the front sight base (FSB) style gas block which combines the front sight with the gas block.

For years I’ve been recommending this style for beginners for the ease of already having a front sight, robustness (the FSB is pinned to the barrel), and cost efficiency of a non-free-floating barrel.

You can also choose to grind down the FSB to fit a free-floating barrel later.

Daniel Defense AR-15 Flattop, DDM4 V11
Daniel Defense AR-15 Flattop, DDM4 V11

BUT…there are many AR-15’s that now offer low profile gas blocks that enable a factory install of a free-floating barrel.  Some of these gas blocks are also adjustable so you can choose just the right amount of gas to make your rifle/ammo combination run smoothly without unnecessary recoil.

If you know you’ll want to add stuff to your AR…skip the headache of grinding down the FSB or getting a new upper…and start off with a free-float handguard.

Handguards

AR-15 Midlength with Magpul MOE
AR-15 Midlength with Magpul MOE

Front sight blocks almost always force you to utilize non-free-floating handguards.

This means that the two-piece handguard touches the barrel at the FSB and can add some inconsistency in force that makes it slightly less accurate.

But for non-competitive shooters, you’ll be fine with a non-free-float.  There are some aluminum variations, but most are polymer which still works great and are more affordable.

The above Magpul MOE Handguards for Carbine or Mid-Length still allows you to add Picatinny rails on the slots to attach accessories or use their new M-LOK attachment system directly.

Picatinny rails were the gold standard of rail attachments and look like raised rectangles.  Below is an example of a “quad-rail” since there are Picatinny rails on all four sides.  The big con was its weight.

Troy Drop In Quad
Troy Drop In Quad

And of course, you’ve seen the free-floating handguards for low profile gas blocks.  This allows more consistency in your shots since there’s nothing touching the barrel along the handguard.  Those usually cost $100-200 more but allow tons of rail space.

And also save you a bunch of weight.

I prefer M-LOK over KeyMod, and so does the military now.

Keymod vs M-Lok
KeyMod (bottom) vs M-LOK (top)

If you can’t wait to see handguard upgrades, check out Best AR-15 Handguards.

Lightest AR-15 Handguards
Lightest AR-15 Handguards

Now for some serious stuff…

Bolt Carrier Group (BCG)

How the BCG Works

Essentially the engine that runs the AR-15.  The bolt is housed within the bolt carrier and together they make up the bolt carrier group (BCG).

AR-15 BCG
AR-15 BCG

It moves back when you pull the charging handle back.

Charging Handle and BCG Labeled
Charging Handle and BCG Labeled

And when you let go of the charging handle, the BCG moves forward, strips a round out of the magazine, and puts a round into the chamber.

When you pull the trigger, the hammer releases and strikes the back of the firing pin which is also in the BCG.

The firing pin hits the cartridge’s primer which sparks the gunpowder and sends the bullet down the barrel.  Then the gas system comes into play.

Watch it below:

Semi-Auto vs Full-Auto BCG

The BCG comes in semi-auto (SA) and full-auto (FA) varieties.  Having a full-auto BCG does not instantly make your gun automatic.  Normally it is used to slow down the cycling rate due to its increased mass (see the right ends of the BCG’s below).

Note that they should be overall the same size but the bottom FA is shrunk in the picture.

AR-15 Semi-Auto vs Full-Auto BCG
AR-15 Semi-Auto vs Full-Auto BCG

The full-auto has a shroud to protect the firing pin from hitting the hammer during re-cocking.  You can see the right-most BCG has more of the firing pin exposed and less weight on the bottom, making it a semi-auto version.

BCG Shroud, AR15
BCG Shroud, AR15

It doesn’t really matter which one you get, but most higher-end manufacturers will put in the FA BCG.  Most guns are over-gassed so they can run a larger variety of ammunition, so the additional mass and firing pin protection are advantageous.

What do I mean by over-gassed?

In an ideal world, the gas block would send back the bare minimum amount of gas to move the BCG back so it can eject the spent casing and strip another round.

However, there’s the problem of weaker ammo which would produce less gas, and also the crud that accumulates and can slow everything down.

Therefore, manufacturers usually let a much larger amount of gas cycle through to brute force through the issues.  A heavier BCG and shrouded pin minimize the negative effects of a lot of gas.

BCG Coatings

One of the newest crazes is to have coated BCG’s that are supposed to make them easier to clean, require less lubrication, and run longer between cleanings.  Nickel boron is the flavor of the week along with Titanium Nitride, Hard Chrome, and Black Nitride.

Nickel Boron BCG
Nickel Boron BCG

If you’re running your gun hard constantly or use a suppressor which deposits more gunk back into your BCG, you might benefit from a coated BCG.  Otherwise, keep your regular BCG clean and lubed and it will run just fine.  Or…check out our Best BCG’s article for our favorite picks.

Buffer Tubes, Triggers, & More

Buffer Tube

Mil-Spec vs Commercial Buffer Tubes
Mil-Spec vs Commercial Buffer Tubes

This comes up more when you are building a lower from scratch.  Just go with Mil-Spec instead of Commercial since it is stronger.  Also, make sure to match up the carbine/rifle lengths according to your barrel.

Triggers

Mil-Spec AR-15 Trigger

I’d stick with the standard Mil-Spec trigger initially.  It may be a little gritty at first but will become better with use.  I like it for its reliability.

More precision rifles will use aftermarket single stage or two stage triggers.

However, I will say that the first upgrade I would do to a rifle would be upgrading the trigger.  Just stick with the stock one first…if only so you can fully appreciate an upgraded one!

Can’t wait?

Check out our Best AR-15 Triggers list.  Hands down…getting a better trigger is the best upgrade you can do to shoot more accurately.

Optics/Accessories/Furniture

Again, we recommend getting used to your iron sights, stock muzzle device, and standard furniture before jumping into upgrades.  You likely won’t know what you need until you get adequate range time.

But of course, we’ve got a guide for that too…check out Best AR-15 Furniture & Accessories and Best AR-15 Optics & Scopes.

A Couple AR-15 Optics
A Couple AR-15 Optics

Intended Purposes

We’ll cover the four main flavors, each with their own pros and cons.

M4gery

Typical AR-15
Typical AR-15
Daniel Defense AR-15 Flattop, DDM4 V11
Daniel Defense AR-15 Flattop, DDM4 V11

Known lovingly as the “M4-gery” (M4 + Forgery), this is the most common AR-15 type which seeks to mimic the M4 military carbine.

While the M4 has a 14.5″ barrel with a carbine length gas system, most AR-15’s of this variant will use a 16″ barrel and a mix of carbine and mid-length gas systems.  Most will have collapsible buttstocks so you can adjust your length of pull and eye-relief.

M4gery’s span many varieties.  The first rifle is more bone stock, with a carry handle, non-free-floating handguard, carbine gas system, and a front sight base.

The second rifle has a flattop upper receiver with a 1913 (Picatinny) rail on top, the new KeyMod rail on the sides, free floated handguard, mid-length gas system, and low profile gas block.

Precision/Varmint/SPR/DMR

AR-15 Varmint
AR-15 Varmint

Varmint/precision builds likely will have an 18″ or 20″ barrel of the heavy contour variety for extra stability and velocity.  The twist rates and materials may also change for more accurate combinations (1×8 or 1×7 and non-chrome-line or stainless steel).

Oh…and get ready for some more acronyms such as Special Purpose Rifle (SPR) and Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR).  Basically…longer barrel.

Precision AR-15’s will also most likely have free-floated handguards and heavier buttstocks.  You’ll want to add a scope and probably a bipod too.  Get ready for a much heavier rifle!

SBR/Pistol Builds

DD MK18 AR-15 SBR
DD MK18 AR-15 SBR

We won’t be covering much of them in this guide, but if you do go this route, be extra sure of your state/local laws since you’ll be going with sub-16″ barrels.  Traditionally this is known as a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) which requires paperwork and a tax stamp.

AR-15 Pistol
AR-15 Pistol

AR pistols generally require fewer steps but make the tradeoff of not having an actual buttstock.  But now there are things such as “pistol braces” that the ATF allows for shouldering.

Springfield Saint Pistol
Springfield Saint Pistol

Both make the tradeoff of a shorter, lighter, and easier to handle weapon.  But the drawbacks include much-decreased velocity and increased muzzle blast (people around will HATE you).  SBR’s and AR pistols are best suited for under 100 yards.

Competition Builds (3-Gun)

JP15 3-Gun Rifle
JP15 3-Gun Rifle

Competition guns are specifically tailored race rifles for 3-Gun (rifle, pistol, & shotgun) or other competitions.

Normally you’ll see longer barrels and gas systems coupled with big brakes/compensators to reduce recoil and enable faster followup shots.  Almost everything else in the system is customized to the shooter.  For the best out of the box competition AR’s…click here.

Featureless Builds

Stag 2TF Featureless AR-15
Stag 2TF Featureless AR-15

It brings me great sadness to have to add this for 2017.

But featureless rifles make it legal for residents of CA and NY (and probably more) to own AR-15 style firearms with accessible magazine releases.

The biggest differences you’ll see are no pistol grip, non-adjustable buttstock, and no flash hider.  For more, check out our Featureless Rifles page.

Strike Industries Megafin Featureless Grip
Strike Industries Megafin Featureless Grip

Best AR-15 Manufacturers

Love it or hate it…people really want these groupings.  These are my personal point of view and fluctuate through the years as I gain more experience.

Drumroll, please…

Top Tier AR-15 Manufacturers

These are our perceived top quality manufacturers who don’t cut corners and can produce near 100% reliable guns (or they have an awesome marketing budget).

If you’re looking for the best service grade (mil-spec) AR for self or home defense, we recommend going with one of these top tier companies who stand behind their product.

Mid Tier Manufacturers

These are great guns that might start out range plinking guns until they’ve proven themselves.  We recommend putting at least 1000 rounds through with varying conditions, ammo, and magazines before you trust a gun with your life.

The below is not an exhaustive list, especially with all the builders out there.

Budget Manufacturers

Nothing wrong with these guns either, they are great starter AR’s because of their affordability and are perfectly capable of being reliable.  Just test them out first.

Price

For a top tier, expect to pay $1000-1500 for a complete rifle, while mid tiers can start around $600.  Remember, you’re paying for quality of materials, quality control, and R&D.  Ok…and probably marketing too.

Rifles are one item where the adages of “You Get What You Pay For” and “Buy Once, Cry Once” ring true.

Best AR-15 Rifles

Alright, what you’ve been waiting for…some of my specific recommendations based on personal experience.

Just because it’s not here doesn’t mean it’s not good, and just because I like it, doesn’t mean you will too.

For such a large purchase, I would always recommend seeing these rifles in person at your local gun shop (LGS) so you can touch and handle them.  Or you can online order them to your shop which should have an FFL (Federal Firearms License) to process everything.

1. Daniel Defense DDM4

Might be just because my first AR-15 was a DD, but mine has never failed me.

DDM4A1
DDM4A1

For a first rifle (or only rifle) I’d prefer one with an FSB such as the 16″ DDM4 V3 ($~1700) which also has the slightly softer shooting mid-length gas system.

Best AR-15 with a Front Sight Block (FSB)
1700
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

For railed systems also in mid-length, I’d recommend the 16″ DDM4 V7 (~$1600), or on the shorter side the or the 14.5″ carbine gas system DDM4A1 (~$1700) with a permanent muzzle device.

Best Free Float Handguard AR-15
1600
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

All their rifles here.

2. Bravo Company Manufacturing Mod 0

Daniel Defense has the quality but I think it’s a little expensive.

BCM in my mind is the best bang for the buck for top-tier stuff based on the several that my friends use and that I have extensively shot.

BCM Mid16 Mod 2
BCM Mid16 Mod 2

I would get their mid-length 16″ MID16 Mod 0 ($~1200) with polymer handguard or the Mod 2 ($~1400) with quad-rails for a complete rifle.

Best Mil-Spec AR-15
1100
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And for free-float, I would get either the Recce 14 or 16 (~$1500).  All their rifles here.

3. LWRC DI

Another creme de la creme is the mid-length 16″ LWRC DI which has all the things you want plus a handstop and fluted barrel.

1500
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Plus it comes in a super cool Stealth Grey Model ($1650).

LWRC DI Grey
LWRC DI Grey

4. Colt LE6920

Good ole Colt has one of the best entry levels AR-15’s and the LE6920 ($1000) is one of the three that I recommend my friends who are just getting into AR’s.

Most Readily Available
1000
at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It might have the shorter carbine gas length barrel but it will eat anything and keep on truckin’.

Or you can opt for the OEM version ($800) and follow our AR Furniture Guide to make your very own without the difficult assembly.

Colt LE6920 OEM
Colt LE6920 OEM

5. Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport II

Another well-known name, albeit probably more known in the revolver and handgun world.

Most Affordable AR-15
700
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

More budget friendly but also one of my top recommendations for an initial AR-15.  Their entry-level 16″ carbine gas M&P 15 Sport II (~$700) sells like hot cakes for good reason and gets my vote for the most affordable first AR.

M&P 15
M&P 15

You can also opt for the M-LOK handguard ($700) variant for the same price…highly recommended.

M&P Sport II M-LOK
M&P Sport II M-LOK

6. Aero Precision M4E1

A well-known name if you’re into building your own AR (they make my favorite stripped upper+lower receiver).  Aero has its roots in years of aerospace manufacturing and makes almost everything in-house (a rarity nowadays).

For best overall value in rifles that have a FSB, I’m liking their AC-15M 16″ mid-length ($689) that has everything you want (including the mid-length gas system, at the same price as the other affordable models from S&W).

Best Bang for the Buck AR-15
689
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I’ve tested a couple of their free-float uppers on their lowers and my best stamp of approval is that its now my home-defense/SHTF rifle.

We have a full YouTube review now:

And you can check out my full written review here that goes over the full build as well as 100 yard accuracy groups.

Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards
Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards

It’s kinda weird that their full rifles don’t have this combo…but you’re in luck since you’ll get to save the full firearm tax.

429
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If it’s out of stock or you like other handguards…check out the rest of their Complete 5.56 Uppers.

Pair it with their AR-15 complete lower and you’ll never know the difference from purchasing a complete rifle.

205
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Make sure you don’t choose the M5 (different caliber) or Pistol (unless you’re building a pistol).  M4E1 complete lowers are also great and come with upgraded buttstocks, grips, and better aesthetics on the lower (in my opinion).

7. Palmetto State Armory (PSA) PA-15

Balling on a budget?  PSA makes everything in-house…turning raw materials to the finished AR-15 of your dreams.  Find complete rifles (a lot of the times with free-floating rails) for around $600.

Reputation is great too for rifles that simply work.  Sometimes you’ll see some complaints about shipping times when there’s a large amount of orders.

I’ve finished testing of three PSA rifles.  Full review here.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde Builds

And…now with a video review too!

They have a lot of complete rifles…and they go in and out of stock frequently as people gobble them up.  But whatever you’re looking for…16″ FSB or 18″ free-floating rail with Magpul MOE furniture?  They’ve got the variant.

For the truly budget conscious go for the Freedom Carbine…otherwise I’d prefer a 16″ mid-length with rails (are you getting tired of me saying that)?

Best Complete AR-15 on a Budget
499
at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Depending on the market…you might be better off ordering a complete upper and complete lower separately.  Something about an 11% tax on complete long-guns.  All you’ll have to do is connect them together with two pins.  Easy peasy.

If you decide to go this route, you’ll be able to have a bigger selection of furniture and rails (and the ability to get a sub $500 rifle).  Check out Best AR-15 Uppers for my personal picks.

Make sure to get one WITH bolt carrier group (BCG) and charging handle (CH).

250
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

And for lowers you can choose whatever style you like.  I prefer the Magpul editions with either the MOE buttstock or the ACS-L.

150
at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Again…full review of 3 PSA uppers right here.

What’s your take on PSA?

Readers' Ratings

4.92/5 (701)

Your Rating?

Left-Handed AR-15s

Now you don’t have to worry about brass flying into your face or getting an ambidextrous safety.

Stag Arms

Stag Arms has been making left-handed AR’s for a long time and offers life-time guarantees regardless of original owner or even number of rounds fired.

Best Left Handed AR-15
965
at Stag Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I like the Model 2L ($965) for flip-up iron sights (as opposed to the 1L that has a carry-handle).

Stag Arms 2L Left-Handed AR
Stag Arms 2L Left-Handed AR

My best buddy has been running his for years for both plinking and even competition.

Featureless Rifles

Stag Arms Model 2F Featureless AR-15
Stag Arms Model 2F Featureless AR-15

For the folks in CA and NY.  There has been a lot more activity here (Springfield and LWRC) but I’m holding off on adding everything until I can review them in-hand.  The easiest is to buy a featureless at your local gun store or turn your current one following our Featureless Guide.

Building?

If you really want to build your lower…

All AR-15 Lower Receiver Parts
All AR-15 Lower Receiver Parts

I’d recommend looking at our Best Lower Receivers article and then following How to Build a Lower Receiver.

But my advice is still…buy a complete rifle!  Or at least two complete halves.

Conclusion

I know we’ve gone over a lot, and your journey to getting an AR-15 has just begun.

So think of all the criteria you want (including price point) and start looking.

And once you do get one, let me know how it runs, and then check out the rest of the AR-15 Definitive Guides.

293 Leave a Reply

  • Jeremy Paulin

    Eric - Just a few comments and a question: Regarding the "barrel forging" as you call it. There are two types. They are Cold Hammer Forged and Button Pulled. They are significantly different from one another and aren't close to being the same. Cold Hammer Forged barrels produce a much more durable barrel because the material is hammered around a mandrel to form the rifling. This compression of the material makes a lattice structure that gives it the longevity. CHF barrels don't tend to need a hardening step because the machine "hammering" does that. BFH stands for Button-Forged and Hardened because Button-Forged barrels need to go through a hardening process after they've been rifled. Button Forged barrels are manufactured by pulling the "button" through the barrel to form the rifling. The Button cuts the barrel on the inside, removing material. Button forged barrels can have internal defects that cause the manufacturer to scrap the barrel immediately. "Barrel Life" depends on numerous things. The quality of the barrel (CHF v. BFH), Material, and how it's fired (automatic v. 3 round burst v. semi-auto). Other things that can affect the barrel life is the type quality of the rounds you use. If you're using 80-gr junk rounds, you'll heat up your barrel more than if you are using 62-gr high performance rounds. My question for you: - When you say that a Piston system is less accurate than a Direct Impingement system, what sort of accuracy difference are you talking about?

    5 days ago
  • Suck it Jason

    Keep this shit to yourself. I came here to read an article about my hobby, not to read some dumbass comment that stereotypes everyone on the left. This is the type of crap that makes me believe every Trump supporter is a drooling troglodyte.

    2 weeks ago
    • Joe

      Many on the left became mentally damaged when they refused to accept the fact that Trump beat Hillary. This, in turn, causes them to act out in bad ways. Let’s face it, the smelly people of Walmart elected the man who beat the Hildabeast so, as your posted name implies, “suck up” the reality that Trump won. Get over it and move on with your life. MAGA

      20 minutes ago
      • Sam R.

        Good comment. In my experience, all liberals hate their country and want to take away from others that which they themselves find offensive such as “guns”, and “free speech that tells the truth”. What kind of sick puppie does that?? If a person likes guns and claims they’re a liberal I think they are deluding themselves because they’re really a conservative. All liberals despise guns and they REALLY despise independent individuals who don’t feel the need to rely on the government to survive. No reliance on big government means they (liberals) lose control and therefore power. My general observation is that liberals hate everything that made America great and despise those on the right who don’t see big government as the solution. Bottom line: it’s not enough for a liberal to hate something, they also feel the need to deny that which they hate from everyone else....

        1 second ago
  • Jake

    How did the original AR...Armalite, not make this list? Surely, they are far better quality weapons than a garbage PSA.

    1 month ago
  • John Cole

    I am in love , i have found my new love.

    1 month ago
  • Charlie

    Great article. After reading it I know nearly all I need to know to get into an AR rifle. Thank you

    2 months ago
  • Carter Botto

    I have looked into the Springfield Saints, the Victor, Free float, or edge (that one is a little out of my price range). I am looking for something reliable, potentially for home defense, with a free float hand guard while not breaking the bank. Would these be a good option?

    3 months ago
  • Matt Boe

    Hi Eric, thank you so much for the wealth of information! I was wondering if you have ever heard of Bear Creek Arsenal? Their prices are unbelievable. Thanks for any input you can offer!

    3 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I've never heard anything overwhelmingly positive about BCA. A lot of reports about having to send back 3+ uppers to finally get one that worked, not even shot well but just functioned correctly. Barrels are very hit and miss, QC problems. Some times you can get one that is sub-MOA, a lot of times they are 5+ MOA - and this is coming from very experienced shooters that I trust. I've never used them personally but I don't plan too either, better to spend a little more but get something you know works.

      3 months ago
      • Matt Boe

        Thank you David!

        3 months ago
  • Ken

    Thank you Eric. I now feel I can go out, look at the different choices, and ask the important questions before I make my investment in an AR.

    3 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Glad I could help you out, Ken!

      3 months ago
  • Brucel

    Very good article, taught me alot, but What about the AR9?

    3 months ago
  • John

    Nice article, But you haven't mentioned Core rife. This was my first AR15. Why no commit. I understood they are a quality MFG. My first sport rifles where Ruger 30 ranch and SKS which was cheap hunting rife for a young family man on a budget. Had both the rifle and the carbine. They were lots of fun for a group of broke young guy's just getting started.

    5 months ago
  • JOHN AVILA

    I'VE BEEN LOOKING AT WILSON COMBAT AR PLATEFORM FOR A "HIGH END" RIFLE. DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY INSIGHT ON THE QUALITY OF THE RIFLE OF WILSON FOR THE COST? I ask because I don't see much reviews of this particular brand of AR.

    6 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Wilson Combat makes very high-quality products. Their rifles, 1911s, and Berettas are all well respected in tactical and competition communities. If they are worth the price depends on you, you're paying a lot for the name and the reputation - but you know for a fact that your rifle is going to be top-tier.

      6 months ago
  • Tim

    I’m looking for an all-around optic that will be good for coyote hunting but also work for closer in tactical purposes

    6 months ago
  • Edward

    Does anyone have any pro's and con's on the Ruger AR 556 ?

    7 months ago
    • Michael Norris

      I bought mine a few weeks ago and love it. My only issue with it so far is after a few mags in succesion it gets a little hot, but that is probably just the stock handguard not handling heat well (and this is after runnign about 120 rounds throuhg in under 15 minutes). Other than that accuracy has been great, and it has been very reliable, I would definitely reccomend it for the price.

      7 months ago
  • Vepr fan

    As usual, no respect for Black Rain Ordnance. I love mine, it screams quality and is very accurate.

    9 months ago
    • Doda

      I also have a Black Rain Ordnance and it really gets my goat that no one ever has any comments on this fantastic weapon!!

      5 months ago
  • Riley

    Wonder why there’s no mention of Radian Model 1 or Battlearms Development on this site, is this stuff up to date?

    10 months ago
  • 35 year Colt Armorer/USMC firearms guy

    Excellent article! A couple of points- there are only a very few companies that make the actual parts. So anything above $650. For an AR just means more middle men, or more options. The diffetence in the guns is in the detail. Anything milspec means the lowest quality, cheapest to manufacture, lowest accuracy standard, minus 20%, gun, and parts. As you get what you pay for, once out of the milspec parts bin, inspect, and look for the greater attention to detail. Example- matched upper/lower receiver sets that WON'T open unless BOTH pins are removed. Huge difference in reliability/accuracy. Example- try a Jewell, geissele, or other top end trigger. All triggers have the same internal parts. The only difference is quality, and attention to detail. Avoid a milspec trigger at all/any cost!

    10 months ago
  • Dave

    I didnt see anything about Barrett. Their rec7 is equivalent to the DD for the same price.

    10 months ago
    • Kyle Barham

      From a ddmv11 owner , Barrett is very much equivalent if not better than dd

      7 months ago
  • Bill Osten

    Aero rifles hard to get, AC15,, You can buy upper, and lower separate, and have the rifle? Missing magazine, maybe sights? Thanks

    10 months ago
  • Bill Green

    what are your thought about the Heckler and Koch rifles, they weren't mentioned

    10 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      HK is hard to find in the USA and very pricey when you do. They are well made and reliable, but grossly overpriced for the product delivered. Their pistols are a much better value though.

      10 months ago
  • RENE AUNIAC

    How about Patriot Ordonance Factory AR (POF- USA) ?

    11 months ago
  • RENE AUNIAC

    How about POF-USA ?

    11 months ago
  • Mikko

    Hi Eric - thanks for the article, good points you raised but I got recently my hands on my new best friend; KAC SR-15 E3 Mod 2 & Elcan Specter DR Dual Role 1,5x/6x scope on top of it and I am in love (pls don't tell my wife...). After almost 1K rounds the gun has had zero problems what so ever and the only thing I am contemplating improving is the trigger, although Knights original trigger is not bad at all. Ryker Grip is an accessory I can recommend for every AR shooter, although it needs some tweaking (grip tape) before it works properly. Just wondering why KAC SR-15 was not chosen on your top tier list, but a great gun whether listed or not. Best regards from Finland, Mikko.

    11 months ago
  • Lenny

    Wow . I did not see Ruger ar15? 556-223 . It is right there with the m&p. Ill shoot mine against any shooter with a m&p. So made Ruger was not concidered

    11 months ago
  • harry

    hi. i am interested in your opinion of windham weaponry's ar offerings. i dont often see them reviewed. i live in the state of NY, so i have a thordsen stock which is completely comfortable and effective, tho i wish it were a bit longer. i know that the new ones can be lengthened, but what about the old ones?

    11 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I don't know about the Thordsen stock, I've never used one. But I can say that Windham Weaponry is good to go - although not under the same name, they have a long history of producing great rifles for a decent price. If you Google their name a bit you can find the full story, but the short version is that the people in charge of WW made an outstanding product, Remington bought their company, fired everyone, moved the company and ran it into the ground, so the people that ran the old company reopened under the Windham Weaponry name with basically the same personnel as before the sale and started up their business again. They are good to go!

      11 months ago
  • Dwight

    Definitely check out Core Rifle Systems. I have a Grey Cerakoted TAC IV and love it. Precision AR with tight tolerances. I upgraded the BCG to nickel boron and love it. The forge their own barrels as well. A lot of Pew Pew for the buck.

    1 year ago
  • Mario

    You have not mentioned POF. Woder why?

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Mario, we haven't had any experience besides a few rounds through at a range day to have a solid opinion.

      1 year ago
      • Mario

        Understand. I have POF Renegade Plus. Superb quality and so many " extras " make this one really worth to take a closer look.

        1 year ago
  • Subsonic

    Hey Eric, and everyone else. Great article.. My coworkers and I enjoy reading your stuff. We are all well seasoned shooters with prior service backgrounds. We may not always agree with you but we for sure appreciate you having a voice and using it effectively. I’ve read all the comments as of 9/2/2018 @ 8:31 a.m. and there is no shortage of options. To the fella who commented on the Mini 14 being a viable contender, I’d say absolutely. Ever heard of Michael Platt? I’m not in any way glamorizing this individual or the shootout and in the end he got what was coming to him but it speaks to the Mini’s reliable platform. Back on topic. In my opinion if you can perform any of the following: • Hang a picture on a wall • Insert a key into the ignition • Dress yourself • Open a soda can You should have no problem building an AR with the proper tooling, especially when you consider the vast amount of detailed instructions available on YouTube alone. I agree with the satisfaction that comes with completing your own build and I mean placing your hands on each individual part, not pinning an upper to a lower. But I must warn you, when you are finished with your first build and you see the fruits of your labor... you will build another. This is a contagious lifestyle for which I have found no cure, possibly because I haven’t looked. Buy tools that are dependable, accurate and that will last. There are a few steps that one can take while assembling that only take minutes but that will improve accuracy on the big end. One example is lapping the upper receiver before installing the barrel in order to gain equal contact between the upper receiver and barrel extension. I have a cheap AR I put together using no name leftover parts and a $70 16” Bear Creek Arsenal 1:8 .223 Wyld Barrel. This thing is a shooter. Yes it’s ugly, no the colors don’t match and I may have $300 in it but it has been 100% reliable with a medley of Ammo and in most cases it shoots laser beams and has only gotten better over time. This is a builders market as there are many more options available to the builder and don’t be fooled into believing that more money equals better accuracy. Practice basic shooting fundamentals and build your skills from there. My departing advice to anyone new to the AR scene. Keep your rifles simple and purpose built. Keep in mind one rifle can play many roles. You don’t need a bunch of stuff attached to your platform. Work on being effective with the minimum. You don’t need a high dollar rifle to be effective. You don’t have to look like the Blackwater operators to be effective and most important you don’t need either to have fun with whatever you choose. Most of us are fortunate enough to live in states that allow us to make our own decisions so take advantage of the “privilege” while you can. Find what works for you, take a friend shooting, practice practice practice, put some Ammo away and when the wolf comes knocking your experience and equipment will serve you well.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Great advice there...especially on not needing a high dollar rifle or looking like a full-blown operator.

      1 year ago
  • anthony hill

    Thanks for the great read Eric. it has helped me out trying to narrow down my first AR15 purchase. I am OK with being in the 1500 range and was looking at the Falkor Defense The Standard, do you have any experience or thoughts on Falkor?

    1 year ago
    • David

      I haven't had the opportunity to use any of their ARs, the only thing I've heard about them is that they make an AR-10 in .300 Win Mag. Sorry!

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Anthony, so glad I could help out!

      1 year ago
  • Robert Essa

    Eric, I see you didn't name Armalite as a good company to buy an AR from. They are now moving to a new Factory location. Do you have any comment on them at all?

    1 year ago
  • Tball

    Well written, and very informative. I've been involved with shooting and hunting for sometime now, but I've never caught the AR bug until recently. Thanks for helping me with the basics

    1 year ago
  • DK54

    You didn't include Ruger on your list. Why?

    1 year ago
    • Ricardo Evans

      I have the Ruger MPR and it’s been serving me well.

      1 year ago
      • Kris

        I have both a ruger 55.6 and mpr .both great rifles. The mpr should be considered on your best bang for the buck list with all the upgrades over the standard 55.6

        1 year ago
    • David

      Ruger is on the list under "Mid-tier". The Ruger 556 and Ruger MPR are great budget rifles and two of main ones I recommend for people looking to get their first AR-15.

      1 year ago
      • Kris

        Sorry but I will double post .Having both a ruger 55.6 and mpr (both great rifles) I think the mpr should be on your best bang for the buck list.try one out

        1 year ago
  • mel

    mt inspection has nothing to do with x-rays .

    1 year ago
  • George

    Why do I never see Knights armament sr15 on these lists?

    1 year ago
    • David

      Knights Armament rifles are great rifles. They are also an innovative company, they were one of the first really perfect the AR-10 and they won the military contract for it also. The main reason they aren't on the list is simple price. At $2,500 their AR-15 is out of reach for most people and does not return good value at all. While well made, reliable, and good rifles - they are nothing special. You can get the same reliability, build quality, and durability from rifles half or less the price.

      1 year ago
  • Ramses

    BCM..top tier...lol...really!....lol!

    1 year ago
  • Tony

    For those new to AR, go with a COLT. You are more likely to get your money out of it later - other brands just dont hold value as well at a gun show. It’s a known commodity. COLT is not as high quality as the pimp’ed out DD, but people like used COLT rifles - like of like a S&W 44 mag versus other brands. Colt is Iconic.

    1 year ago
    • John Taylor

      and if you have no intention of selling it?

      1 year ago
  • Mike

    I own a CMMG MK 4 in 300AAC Blackout 16 inch barrel and a Ruger 5.56, I love them both. I'm wanting to upgrade to a "premium " weapon but I can't decide on the Daniel Defense , Bravo Company , LWRC and Wilson Combat ( how were they left off your list). I'd like it in 300AAC Blackout to be used for hog hunting. Any recommendations? Thanks.

    1 year ago
    • Sam

      Go with Daniel defense. I own the ddm4v7 and I love it. It’s a good amount of money but I think it is well worth it!

      1 year ago
  • Brandyn

    How in the heck did the Ruger AR 556 MPR not make this list. That is just crazy.

    1 year ago
  • Jake

    Another good AR-15 maker is Rock River Arms. I hear they make a great, all-round AR-15 and they also make specifically engineered left-handed models as well, right down to the barrel twist. Keep in mind those parts are engineered, thus proprietary, for those left-handed models, as mentioned in their notice, but it's great there is another southpaw option out there.

    1 year ago
    • David

      Twist based on shooter's dominant hand has been a debunked myth for decades. I would strongly question trusting any product being sold based on that claim.

      1 year ago
  • Grant Donald

    Hi Eric can you explain why you and the military prefer M LOK over KEY MOD hand guards. The Barret Rec 7 is is a very good AR 15 so i think Barret should have been included in the list of top tier manufacturers. Good article keep up the good work.

    1 year ago
    • David

      USSOCOM Published Their Testing Results and it basically boils down to M-LOK attachments were much stronger than Keymod. Also, since they now have USSOCOM's support the market is shifting heavily to using M-LOK over Keymod.

      1 year ago
      • Grant Donald

        Thanks for the info

        1 year ago
  • Ron

    Hi Pew Pew, you have excellent articles posted, lots of good info. 30 years ago I got a good deal on a slightly used Colt SP-1, put a couple hundred rounds thru it, cleaned it and stashed it away. Decided now I want one to use, I ended up with a Radical RF15, I like the M-Lok free-floating guard, makes it easy to modify the gun. Good review and bad on-line, I read em, went back and talked to dealer, he's sold some to guys that have put a beating on them with no issues. He had cheaper guns there, he had some way more expensive. Do some reading and looking and buy the one you like. It's like anything else, I have friends that love their XYZ truck, I wouldn't ever buy one. Went to a show yesterday and was looking at all the parts and pieces, looks like fun to build one, wont be cheaper than buying a complete low end gun but it would be mine! thank you!!

    1 year ago
  • Steve

    Hi Eric, I'm new to the AR15 and looking to buy one. I probably am not looking to build my first. I live in CA so I need to have the ugly version (featureless) I've heard really good things about Sionics. What are your (or anyone else) thoughts on them? Quality & Customer Service appear to be excellent. Thank you for your time!

    1 year ago
    • David

      I've never handled a Sionic but I haven't heard bad things about them. I think they are more focused on Law Enforcement though. I'm not sure they even make a CA approved AR-15. They wouldn't be my first choice for someone that was getting their first AR-15, but I don't think they would be a bad choice either.

      1 year ago
      • Steve

        Thanks for your i put David. They do have a CA legal version, I was looking at them in the shop last week. No pistol grips, one piece stock or fin and no muzzle blast suppressor. I've seen some good reviews of them, was just curious.

        1 year ago
  • DRH

    Curious as to why RRA is low tear?

    1 year ago
    • David

      Personally, I wouldn't really think of them as low tier - just not the best and not something that I would look to for top quality. There have been QC issues that I've heard cropping up with their rifles that would lead me to consider other manufacturers first. However, if the price was right I would roll the dice and pick one up.

      1 year ago
  • Charlie McDanger

    Excellent article. Keep up the good work.

    1 year ago
  • Kul555

    Brilliant plain English article

    1 year ago
  • Don

    Great article and very informative. Thanks!

    1 year ago
    • Matthew Collins

      Glad it was helpful!

      1 year ago
  • Matthew

    Have you ever heard of Radical Firearms? I'm looking at buying my first AR-15. So I've been trying to read up and look at the best way to do it.

    1 year ago
    • Bark Levin

      I own the Radical Arms RF-15, and I f-ing LOVE this rifle! I would argue that for the price, the quality can't be beat - American Made, Fully MIL-SPEC, 4150V Melonite Barrel, Free Float Barrel, yada yada.. And Personally, this rifle just feels absolutely perfect in my hands and when shouldered.. it's hard to describe really just how right this rifle feels.. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 5 STARS.

      1 year ago
    • Ron

      I just picked up a Radical RF15 a couple weeks ago. Read good and bad reviews, went back looked it over and bought it. Only put about 150 rounds thru it so far, took it apart and everything looks good. Haven't shot for accuracy yet, still winter here. It has the M-Lok handguard so you can mount whatever you want wherever you want. With all the features I don't think you can go wrong.

      1 year ago
  • Geof

    Great article, thanks.

    1 year ago
  • BigE

    Long article but such a great read! This may be one of the best entry level articles i've read during my research. You really break everything down, define abbreviations and terminology that first time buyers can understand. Also the abundance of pictures and references and videos you talk about are also super relevant and concise. This was a great article, thanks for writing and I'm excited now more than ever to start shopping around for my first.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, glad we could help out.

      1 year ago
  • Ranger Cal

    Armalite makes the best ar15 bolt with 40% less stress during firing. The best rifling for 62 grain is 1/9. when is the last time you fired tracer? You never need a hammer forged barrel unless you're competition target shooting.. Save your money and get an Armalite the best choice for your money in either ar15 or ar10. Most people by these firearms for homeland defense. Ideally you should choose lighter, sleeker, less moving parts with the goal of Designated Marksman. Ideally used in dynamic target acquisition. Ar15's are amazingly accurate rifles but the 5.56 is at maximum capable of Designated Marksman....barely. Definitely not a sniper.rifle. I recommend getting a Gas Piston and eliminating the bolt gas rings, the port door assembly and the forward assist. Also get a free float Mlok. get rid of the MBUIS and get a cheap C-More copy. Palmetto State Armory has the sleekest upper receiver. The best gas pistons are Bushmaster, Ares or Superlative...Period

    1 year ago
  • Michael

    I've recently been introduced to Patriot Ordinance Factory AR15s - specifically I shot the Puritan model (now discontinued). I was wondering, where on your list POF might come in, and why? Thank you! And thanks for the article!

    1 year ago
    • Les

      I have heard great things about POF as well. Your ranking?

      1 year ago
  • Michael Findlay

    Excellent article. Well written with lots of useful information.

    1 year ago
  • TomCat

    Great article...however, Eric, you should know better than to say by permanently adding a muzzle device at least 1.5" in length to a 14.5" barrel will make it a 16" barrel. If you don't...I'll tell you....... THE THREADS... a muzzle device will need to be at least 2.21" long to make a 14.5" barrel extend to 16" "Permanently" by ATF definition means pinned and welded or silver soldered. Don't do this without knowing what you're doing...

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Tom!

      1 year ago
  • Aaron

    Is Colt Firearms still in business? I was planning to buy 2 Colt LE6920's oem2's to pick up shooting with my daughter when tax return comes in. But never in stock anywhere. And if not Colt what is its equal in price and quality out there? Thanks Aaron

    1 year ago
    • Allan

      Maybe we are getting them all up here in Canada. Seems to be easy pickings as I just picked one up @ Bullseye in London. Good article BTW!

      1 year ago
      • John

        Okay because I won’t be there

        1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      I believe it's Remington that was recently in trouble. As far as I know Colt is still in business. There's a couple of suggestions I have in the article. Thanks Aaron!

      1 year ago
  • Steelbox44

    Dude jus take a 14.5 M4 barrel,,throw 2 crush washers and standard birdcage on,,pin it weld and your at 16.1 with the dowel test

    1 year ago
  • FloppyG

    Mr Hung, Well written. This model will be my next purchase. Thank you for such clarity! Looking at the Ruger AR-556

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Glad we could help out!

      1 year ago
  • Connor H

    Have any of the staff at Pew Pew had any hands on experience with the Ruger MPR? I've been researching this model for several months, and for the features included it seems to be a no-brainer entry level MSR. 18" medium profile barrel, 5R rifling, rifle length gas system, free float M-LOK handguard, Magpul grip and stock, Ruger 552 two stage trigger. The trigger alone retails for ~$150, and this rifle can be found in the $600-$650 range. I see no reason for anyone to buy an M&P Sport or DPMS Oracle when a rifle with these features is available sub-$700.

    1 year ago
    • Jimmy 2 Pants

      Great question. I was looking for them to mention this rifle as well, now that it's been out for awhile.

      1 year ago
      • David

        I don't know if any of us have personally used one, but one of my best friends picked one up a month ago and has been very pleased with it. I know the Ruger 556 is a solid AR15 with a good reputation and since the MPR is just the 556 with upgrades - I would expect it to be a great choice.

        1 year ago
  • Adam

    You are absolutely incorrect on the barrel and muzzle calculations. The barrel is measured with the bolt closed, a rod is inserted into the barrel until it stops on the closed bolt, then marked at the tip (excluding removable/non permanent muzzle. Anything less than 16" (which a 16" barrel is actually more around 14.5" when measured with out muzzle device and bolt fully closed) would be considered a short barrel rifle. So you cannot avoid this by using a removable muzzle device of any length on a standard 16" unless you want to pay for the $200 NFA tax stamp and wait around for a while to get the approval to build (cant legally build it until the paperwork is approved and you have received the tax stamp for the lower). Best route to go is to permanently attach (pin and weld) a muzzle device of 2" or more (you loose length of muzzle device when its threaded onto the barrel) to the barrel making the barrel from closed bolt to a length of 16" or more when checked with ATF approved rod length test. If its even less than 16" by even the slightest fraction of measurement, is it worth it to chance a 10k fine and 10 years away from your loved ones while your someone's' bitch in prison? Hope this description helps anyone. My references included the NFA Handbook (chapter 2) which is available on the BAFT website.

    1 year ago
    • Larry G Turner

      Thanks for the informative comments. I immediately checked my Bushmaster to confirm its length. Now I know how to do it properly.

      1 year ago
      • Mr. WOLF

        Funk this guy bro. Bushmaster is a great brand. I gave right under a a 1000 for mine about 3 or 4 years ago. It still runs like a sewing machine. Xm15e2s rocks. Ask the Beltway Sniper

        1 year ago
  • Rich

    Eric, how would you rank the Aero AR15 M4E1 Complete Rifle, 16" 5.56 NATO Mid-Length as opposed to the AC15M against this list of recommendations?

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      It's a matter of personal taste...if you want something more traditional with a front sight post and regular handguard, go with the AC15M. But if you have an inkling of wanting to upgrade optics or hang put anything on your handguard...go for the M4E1. I'll be updating the article this week to reflect this.

      1 year ago
  • Gareth

    Thanks that was well written and to the point. I appreciate the clear way you wrote it. A must read for first AR buyers.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Gareth!

      1 year ago
      • Mr. WOLF

        I have a Colt and my Bushy runs just as well if not better

        1 year ago
      • Mr. WOLF

        Bushmaster is bottom of the barrel?

        1 year ago
  • Poop

    pardon my potential ignorance, but i have read in several guides that CHF produces a MORE accurate barrel. this has been my understanding for quite some time. did you mistakenly say less accurate? or, if not, can you help me to understand the basis for the assertion? i don't mean to nitpick, only to better understand. thanks for article, and thanks in advance for any feedback.

    1 year ago
  • Tom Smith

    Great beginner's buyer guide Eric!! I do want to point that a muzzle device of 1.5" in length will not bring a 14.5" barrel to 16" The threaded part of the barrel (approx .625") disappears into the muzzle device when installed, so the minimum length muzzle device needed is 2.125" Some manufacturers make them this precise length for this exact purpose. VG6 and Faxon among them. Thanks again Eric!!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      That's a good point, thanks Tom!

      1 year ago
  • Snowflake Down

    Disappointing not to find Knights, POF and Armalite on tier lists.

    1 year ago
  • W Jones

    I've been trying to research AR15's for a while now with the intent to buy and this page/post has been the most useful so far. Thanks for being so thorough.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome!

      1 year ago
  • isaac

    just bought a new LE6920 (magpul addition) but wondering about the quality - is it the same quality of the ones made before or have they cut corners and if so what upgrades can i make to bring it up to snuff

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      I think it's still fine...take a look at our AR-15 Upgrades.

      1 year ago
  • Ken

    Hi guys. I’m looking at an entry level “ar” somewhere between $500 to $800. So far for the best $$$ Smith &wesson M&P15 sport II $499 Ruger 556 8500. $499 And last but not least on my list is the Springfield saint at $749. I’ve heard very good things about all of these so I’m really caught up in my decision making. Any help will be greatly appreciated

    1 year ago
    • Isaac

      Don't buy anything from traitors like Springfield or Rock River

      1 year ago
      • Tom Smith

        Why are they traitors??

        1 year ago
  • R C

    You left Armalite off your list. Great affordable rifle.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Definitely looking to update this list soon!

      1 year ago
  • andrew

    I am surprised you put Stag as a budget rifle seeing how they made a lot of parts for Colt (tier 1) for many years now. I would take a Stag over a Colt all day. Colt quality has declined and Stag has developed a great reputation for accuracy and durability. I own an LWRC, Daniel Defense and a Stag and my Stag is only slightly less a rifle than those 2. For the money you'd be hard pressed to find a better quality AR.

    1 year ago
  • Josh

    Any opinions over the Ruger? By the way, a great article.

    1 year ago
  • Joe

    first time in here I read over 4 hrs of information really liking this !!!

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Glad we could help!!

      1 year ago
  • Christian Inskeep

    Thanks for all the great info. That's a pretty good 15 minute lesson and gives me something to think about before buying.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Christian!

      1 year ago
  • Greg Steele

    Do you have any info on the Colt Expanse M4 AR-15 CE2000? I really want a Colt and I found this model for under $700.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Greg, I don't have any experience with that particular model.

      1 year ago
  • James Hannan

    U failed tu mention d SPRINGFIELD SAINT IN D GOOD ARs Y ITS NOT ANY GOOD CAUSE I JUST GOT 1

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi James, I don't have much experience from it besides shooting it once at SHOT. Springfield is a good company though.

      1 year ago
  • Abdiel

    I highly recommend the S&W M&P sport 2, it is cheap and really, really worths the price. I only recommend getting a new stock, the standard can hurt your skin.

    1 year ago
  • DharmaDawg

    Great information, Thanks!!!! Was wondering where Armalite falls in your list of manufacturers, budget, mid, or top tier?.

    2 years ago
  • Bert

    Lots of good info in article, Thanks! Have always used righty rifles, but now I want to work toward a suppressed AR. This will require the change to a lefty model. Already figure to get coated BCG and stainless barrel, but what manufacturers make suppressor ready lefty AR's? Thanks again!

    2 years ago
    • Tom Smith

      It's not the barrel or the rifle that makes it suppressor ready, it is the muzzle device. Many manufactures" sypressors will only fit their muzzle devices and some only fit one or two muzzle devices. The Gemtech "HALO" (among others) will fit an A2 birdcage. Personally i'd run a cheap muzzle device until you're ready to buy the suppressor and then match it with a good solid mount or brake that is made for the suppressor.

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Bert...that's a pretty specific question! You should be fine with a regular lefty AR that has a threaded barrel.

      2 years ago
  • Timmie

    Where did you get your info? Barrel material Stainless is more accurate but not as long lasting? I think you got things backwards. And with todays steels and barrel makers the accuracy thing can go either way. Stainless handles higher temps better and lasts longer than chrome moly. It handles the water vapor better from suppressors as well without corroding. Inspection MP means Magnetic Particle inspection which is the same as MagnaFlux where they magnetize the barrel and place it in a solution of naptha and tiny particles of iron which have a dye that shows up under a black light. The particles collect anywhere there is a crack or a discontinuity in the metal and is absolutely nothing like x ray at all. Hammer forged barrels can be just as accurate and can be longer lasting though it depends on material used and who does the work. Some are great, some not so great. Normally the forged barrels have better hardness and wear characteristics especially combined with nitriding. Chrome plating doesn't help accuracy at all....it can actually degrade it. It does protect against corrosion and is the primary reason they chrome bores. It prevents damage when owners neglect their firearms. It is a crutch. Thats as far as I got.....

    2 years ago
  • Kevin Lynch

    Just bought the Ruger SR 556 Sporting Rifle, with the upgraded Trigger. I own a number of Ruger weapons and this one is no disappointment! There are more expensive AR's but I would rather save my money to increase my collection! Smile.

    2 years ago
  • Mike Sr

    My recommendation is to think long and hard before grabbing that on-sale special. I strongly recommend buying a Flat Top, honestly you're going to tinker with it anyway. :) In my case, before cataract surgery I couldn't see the target well enough to aim... So, I bought a 4x scope. Which helped a lot, but, the Front "A" Frame sight was in the way. So, I bought a couple of good quality flip up sights and a low profile gas-block, which the first (supposed) gun smith installed and broke the gas tube. The second Gun Smith, also a principle at the SWGSA, got it working again. You can see the dollars signs adding up, right? OK, my first AR is a S&W M&P 15 Sport bought on sale at the now defunct Gander Mountain. For a one hour drive and about the same price I could have gotten a Daniel Defense Flat top and two popup sights! Didn't even know about Pew Pew (love the cat)

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks Mike! And yup...the dollar signs always add up in the world of guns...especially ARs!

      2 years ago
  • J

    I call BS on the lists. You have Rock River Arms at the bottom of the list. I own four of their LAR-15 models and they are all tack drivers. I also own a few Colt 6920's and a Bushmaster XM15-E2S . I would not place RRA far from the COLT. I actually like the fact the RRA's come with Heavy Barrels. I had to buy Colt HBAR uppers to add to the 6920's. One of the RRA LAR-15's has fired many thousands of rounds and I have never had a single issue with it. The RRA 2-stage triggers are a bonus as well. I'd take another look at the list. In more than a decade of trying to find an answer, not a single person has given me a reason why the RRA is dissed by anyone. I'd love to hear why YOU have them at the bottom. My guess is it is only because you grabbed someone else's list. This seems to be the ONLY reason anyone puts them at the bottom of their list. I love mine.

    2 years ago
    • Dave

      Amen Bro !! I just shot my RRA for the first time last weekend. It came with an 18" Stainless Steel match grade barrel chambered in .223 Wylde with a 1 in 8 twist (guaranteed 3/4 M.O.A. at 10o yards), and a tw0 stage trigger. It has an Ergo-grip and more awesome equipment that I want to type in here. All for $875 Ask the D.E.A. and A,T.F why they chose Rock River Arms. My son bought the RRA AR-10 in .308 for deer hunting and it's equally amazing.

      2 years ago
    • Mike

      Absolutely! Many of those budget Rifles make top notch stuff. He has his tier list all wrong. My bushy has been 100 percent over the years including a 500 round course. My old RRA 16inch Predator Pursuit is about as accurate as you can get. I lusted after a Daniel Defense forever but couldn't justify it. Bought a full rail PSA upper with a CHF Barrel from FN and I'm very pleased.

      2 years ago
    • Mallen

      Rock River Arms in the lowest tier makes no sense to me either. I own a predator pursuit and it's one of the most accurate ARs I have ever shot--100% reliable as well. Just picked up a 10.5" upper for my SBR build based on my positive experiences with the predator pursuit--it is also rock solid. Seriously wondering why this manufacturer is getting disrespected here--what is this based on?

      2 years ago
      • Anaconda

        None of the "Top Teir" guns on this list have ever seen any real combat action or military trials testing. Same for FN as mid tier, which he defines as unproven. But by whom, the author himself? He probably doesnt even realize FN makes nearly all the guns used or carried by our troops, including the M4 Carbine. FN should be top tier and those in the biz will more likely agree. He failed to mention HK but im sure if he did they would also label them as mid tier; despite the fact that the US military uses them as well. Also No mention of LMT..... the king.

        1 year ago
  • Jason

    Very informative piece! I decided that I wanted to build my first AR so I understood it and built it exactly how I wanted (although I have lots of experience shooting them) and I couldn't be happier. I went with Sons of Liberty for the receivers and BCG. So far I'm very happy with them. Do you have any experience with the company? They offer a great warranty and customer service. I also exchanged my mil-spec trigger with a unit from Trigger Tech and I LOVE IT!!! I tried a bunch of different brands and I think its on par with the very best out there and runs a bit less expensive. I would be curious to hear your thoughts.

    2 years ago
  • cj pickup

    Didn't see Troy mentioned anywhere?

    2 years ago
  • Ray

    Iam going to be a first time AR 15 after my son who is in the military took me to a gun range for fathers day. First of all my son and i had a blast at the range and went through 10 boxes of ammunition. For me when it comes to buying anything is warranty warranty warranty from the company. I hate to say this but money is no object when it comes to buying a AR 15 for me if it costs a little more i will just save for a little longer. in your opion the best AR with the best warranty.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Ray, good point. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I've never had to call in a warranty for any of my AR's. You might be better off searching for forum posts on how each company deals with warranty. Just take it with a grain of salt since most people with positive experiences don't post...but it's a good sign if other forum members jump into the company's defense.

      2 years ago
  • Koops

    Eric, I loved the information in your article. I hung on to every word...no pun intended. I will recommend this article to a friend who is just starting out like myself. There is one thing I would love clarity on. Your recommendation in the end, included two carbine styled AR's and one mid-length gas system rifles. In your article you stated the mid-length gas system you found to be preferable for beginners. Your reasons were longer sight distance, more handguard/rail space and most important smoother/softer shooting due to gas pressure. I look forward to your response before I make my first purchase.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Haha lol. Thanks for writing in and for sharing with your friend. Yup if you have the choice, go with the mid-length which tend to be a few bucks more expensive.

      2 years ago
  • Dennis

    Hi Eric, This was such an informative article. Thank you. Against your advice, I built my first rifle. However, I had an experienced, professional gunsmith (a friend) looking over my shoulder and checking my work. I'd had also already shot many rifles, so I had a pretty good idea of what I liked and what worked for me. I realize that not everyone has that luxury. I was very fortunate to have come away with a great rifle and a ton of knowledge and experience from the build. I did want to ask about your opinion or knowledge about two things: 1) Radical Firearms: They're a full service manufacturer (not just an assembler) out of Houston Texas that machines all their parts in-house. Their one-stop shop setup is what allows them to keep their prices low. They also provide firearms for a lot of the Police Dept's in Texas. So, what do you know about them, do you have an opinion about them and where would you place them on your tiers? 2) Black Rain Ordnance: I noticed that you didn't place them on your tiers. I've heard some really great things about them. What's your take on them? Thank you for your time, in advance. Dennis

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Dennis, glad your build came out great! Regarding Radical and BRO...I simply don't have experience with them besides knowing Radical has some very affordable prices. But good to know that Radical's low prices come from being a one-stop shop.

      2 years ago
  • Jeff Sheldon

    Eric, lots of info, probably an over load, but thanks. So for us old guys who live in California and can't buy Black Guns, what is wrong with a Ruger Mini-14? Seems to me, one who who carried an M-14 for our Government, the Mini-14 will do everything a Black Gun will do and be legal in California?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Jeff, I replied in email but this is probably good for others too. Nothing wrong with the Mini-14...it's just not the flavor of the year. And if you're in CA...it's definitely less "scary" and almost featureless already.

      2 years ago
  • Jeff

    Hey Eric! Thanks a ton for all that information! I've always steered away from semi-auto rifles, or rather AR-15's due to all that jargon and lingo - your article really made it all much easier to understand! I think I want to buy/build a good 7.62x39 AR-15 platform. What would you recommend? Or would you recommend a different platform for that round? I'm attracted to the price of the round as well as the ballistics.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome. I've though about building/buying a 7.62x39 but it seems more headache than it is worth. I'd just get an AK variant for that round.

      2 years ago
  • Job Russ

    It will be a cold day in hell before Daniel Defense and Bravo Company set higher standards than LWRC in my book. LWRC is the best precision gun manufacturer hands down, Pretty boys just want pogue rifles with as many attachments and aftermarket parts as they can fit, never mind putting rounds on target or buying a gun that doesn't need the trigger replaced out of the box. lmao

    2 years ago
  • Charles Gilbert

    Hi Eric: Great "Buyer's Guide"! You covered all the bases and kept the writing clear, concise and easy to understand. Very accessible article for those new to the AR game. Well done! Cheers, Charles

    2 years ago
  • Dhaval Deshani

    Love you guys.....✌✌❤❤❤

    2 years ago
  • Mark

    I am new to the AR-15 world but found your article filled with good information to help me make my first purchase. My question is regarding the Colt LE6920 which I have almost decided to get. But what can be done about the front sight if I want to put a Red Dot on the Colt? Won't the front sight get in the way of the view? Any recommendations for this would be appreciated.

    2 years ago
  • jason

    I am looking into buying my first ar-15. I have a military background, Marines, so I’m happy with fixed A2-style front, I’ll be shooting iron sights most of the time. This rifle is for self defense with plinking fun gun. I would like to shoot steel ammo, since I’m on a budget. I got Aero precision mid Ar 15 I can pick for at brownell for good price like less than 550, good specs but maybe bad customer service. I got ruger 556 for 605 from my dealer, ok specs, good customer service and I don't have to pay ffl. Or Springfield saint for 750 also from my dealer. Which one would you pick?

    2 years ago
    • Dustycoyote

      Jason, which dealer is offering you the Springfield Saint for 750? that's a really good price.

      2 years ago
  • Lou Storiale

    I just wanted to give you guys a hat tip on the article: https://www.pewpewtactical.com/ar-15-buyers-guide-how-to-choose-your-first-ar-15/ I work for OpticsPlanet in the SEO dept. Damn! That's a great article. Great job to your team that put it together. Lou Storiale

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much Lou!

      2 years ago
    • Matthew Collins

      Thanks so much Lou! Really appreciate the kind words.

      2 years ago
  • X

    Question. What is the highest quality ar 15 if money dosent matter?

    2 years ago
    • Matthew Collins

      It really depends on what you're looking for. At the super high-end, the best option would be to find a quality custom shop or gunsmith and have them build you exactly what you want. Asking for the "best AR" is a bit like asking "what's the best car?" At the end of the day, its going to be the one that's the best at what you want to do, and the one you have the most fun with.

      2 years ago
  • Ed

    Being a left handed shooter, I wanted my first AR to be a lefty model. I bought a Stag Arms 3L. But after doing further research I learned that a lot of lefties buy just a regular AR. So now I am already looking for my second AR 15. I don't plan to compete or go hunting with them. I will probably just shoot at the local shooting ranges. I will probably start chasing the 1" MOA at 100 yd... I will start thinking about getting a free floating handguard, lighter trigger, better scope, better barrel, etc.. So instead of upgrading a part by part, which can be fun but also frustrating, I will go for an expensive model probably. I will shoot the Stag Arms first and see how it does. But I know I will always want a premium AR.

    2 years ago
  • JS

    Good article, but your commentary on barrel "forging" is a bit misleading. Hammer forging is not a process to make barrels last longer. It is how they are made. They are literally hammered around a mandrel that forms the chamber, bore, and rifling of the barrel. The reason they last longer is the hammering created a more dense material. As far as them loosing accuracy, that is not accurate either. Compared to other methods it can actually create a more smooth surface because nothing is pulled or pushed through the barrel created marks in it. In hand lapped barrels that is corrected mostly. Other types of barrels, are drilled, and either button rifled, single point cut, or broached. There are obviously pros and cons to all types, but Hammer forging can create extremely accurate and precise barrels.

    2 years ago
  • Dennis

    Pretty good article for the uninformed, You have some very good info there. But, (there's always a but) You state that "Magnetic Particle tested, basically x-raying the material to see if there’s any hidden cracks or voids." They are nothing alike. In Mag Particle NDT (non destructive testing), the part is either directly magnetized or indirectly magnetized. Then a ferrous material is applied, either in a wet suspension or as dry powder. The cracks or irregularities then show up. X-Ray is where the object is shot with a beam of either x rays or gamma rays since they have the shortest wavelength and can penetrate carbon steel easily, well they can penetrate almost everything. The rays pass through the object onto a special film that when developed any anomalies can be seen. Or you can even view them in real time now. Just like at your doctors. I teach NDT at an Aviation school. I've built 50+ AR's and have seen both flat commercial and slanted mil-spec. buffer tubes. I think Del-Ton made some of the flat commercial tubes. Keep up the good work!

    2 years ago
  • Ralph

    Great article First, I dont buy the overwhelming internet "would you stake your life on a non mil spec AR?" Spent many years in the service with some heavy combat and I would have loved the reliability of some of my home AR's then the early M4's i used. There is a lot of subjective information that comes out on the AR builds, "I have to have 4150 blah blah blah". Look, in the real world here for self defense what are you really going to need? A gun that goes boom when you pull the trigger. Fact- you arent going to be shooting a 1000 rounds off when your house gets broken into. Find an AR that you are comfortable with and is made by a quality manufacturer. Yup for sure DD, BCM, Colt make great guns and i own them all. I also own a RRA. tactical Op 2 that I have literally beat the living Sheet out of and it keeps on ticking. I recently finished a 2 days fighting rifle class in pouring rain and mud for 2 straight 8 hours days. 1400 rounds and not a hiccup. Plain Jane Tac Op 2 with an eotech 512 on it and a sling. That is my 3rd such class with that rifle so In my book that is a pass and yea to get to my original point. I would stake my life on it whether its mil spec or not. Great read you have

    2 years ago
  • N8

    Great article Eric! After reading it, and researching the topic further I've narrowed my choices to two ARs...a Colt LE6920MPS or S&W M&P Mid MOE SL. I'm torn because I like the mid-length gas system on the S&W but the Colt's a Top Tier AR for same price (but with carbine length gas) Would you help me break the tie in choosing one of these two? They both seem great and meet my budget but I can only buy one. Thanks, N8

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      I'd flip a coin, lol! But if I had to choose between those two I'd go for the Colt if it's your first gun.

      2 years ago
  • Scott

    Any thoughts on the Savage MSR15? I'm looking for my first AR15 and this one seems to get pretty good marks for some of its features like the 223 Wylde chambering.

    2 years ago
  • Dickie

    Eric, Great article, thank you. I am just starting to read about AR's; I've never owned one. Any opinions about American Defense MOD2 or Noveske GenIII? Was initially between Larue and DD, but now I'm not so sure. Thank you for your time. Dickie

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Dickie, Noveske has a great rep but I haven't heard of American Defense.

      2 years ago
  • Francis

    Hi Eric, Awesome article. My first AR 15 was the M&P 15 Sport 2 and my wife has the M&P 15-22. we love the guns and so do our kids. Now I'm at the point where I'm studying up on what it takes to build one from scratch. One article I read suggested that a newbie like me build the lower but to buy a complete upper so there's less chance of messing things up. What's your take on that? Thanks, Francis

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Francis, the lower is pretty easy to complete if you know some of the tricks. The upper I recommend getting the correct tools so you have the right torque and also to secure the gas block correctly (those are the two main points of failure for my first few builds). Check out our how to build an upper and how to build a lower articles.

      2 years ago
  • Paul

    Hi Eric, I am looking at the LWRC IC-A5, however they have not come out with any improvements for at least last years same model (maybe more I am not sure). I'm concerned about this; like cars, every year they improve. So, 1) what are your thoughts on this? and 2) what would be the equivalent AR from any other top Manufacture? (I did check some other manufactures links you listed, guess in my opinion, they weren't as up to par). Thanks Paul

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Paul, honestly there's not too much stuff to improve on the AR system...a lot of it is "improvement" for the sake of improvement. So I wouldn't take that as a negative.

      2 years ago
  • Ferni5

    Great Article. I have one question, where do you stand on building your first AR? I never owned an AR before but I've done a lot of research. In a perfect world I would like a 1/8 twist wylde 223 AR that is free floated in the price range of $500. Off the shelf guns won't come close to that price range (Savage MSR 15 Recon). I was thinking Palmetto State Armory by building the lower and getting a complete upper from them. What do you think of them?

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      I recommend buying your first AR, really knowing what you like/dislike, then going from there. PSA has some good budget products.

      2 years ago
  • Nguyen

    I purchased my DDM4V7 high quality gun and great piece of art to look at. My 1st shot was bulls eye hit at 35 yard,.5 inch group after followed shots right out of the box with Magpul sights. Being an engineer I did my through research and save up for this riffle. Like a high quality tool, buy it's once and count on it when needed.

    2 years ago
  • Joel

    Great article Eric!! I'm just a little confused about where the Colt LE6920 stands in your personal list. Do you rank it as top tier, mid, or low? Do you think a modern Le6920 is just as good overall as the older LE6920's from say 20 years ago? The reason I ask is because if heard people say that Colt has lost some of its quality that it is known for, due to their financial issues. What's your opinion on all that? I currently have a Colt LE6920 MP Edition on layaway. I'm an ex Army soldier from the 90's and I enjoyed shooting the Colt M-16A2 I was issued back then, and that's why I I'd likeep to own one. I currently have a S&W Sport 2 and so far after 500 rounds it's a flawless rifle!! Thanks bro!! -Joel

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Joel, I've heard of that too but unfortunately I don't have experience with the older ones. One of my best buddies started off with a newer one (on my rec) and loves it.

      2 years ago
  • C Francis

    Rock River is in the bottom? I am glad that I have bought three, and built one, The predator pursuit, and the varmint both shoot 3/8 in groups with factory ammo, and you have them at the bottom of the list??

    2 years ago
  • Neal Green

    Thanks for making it simple. There are so many "buzz" words out there I was getting a headache. Do some plinking and target shooting nothing involved, I purchased a Bear Creek Arsenal as my first one. It is 7.62 x39. About to build a 5.56 from an 80% lower. Seems the best route to go for function and overall cost is a 16" mid-length with the attached front sight , regular barrel and BCG. If I add a scope or optics will the front sight be an issue? Should I get coated BCG and barrel? Very fine work you have done on this article!!! Neal

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Neal, glad I could help! You'll be able to see the front sight block in your optics but it's not too much of a problem (at least with non-magnified optics). Coated BCG's are slightly cleaner but tons of people have done without them for years. And for barrel if you mean chrome-lined it's up to you...gives a slightly higher round count.

      2 years ago
  • FlipGI

    The father of the AR is Eugene Stoner not Stone. Also, why dont you have any recommendations for CMMG, anderson manufacturing, and specifically JD Machine (formerly Kaiser Defense) which a lot of the top manufacturers use as their base lower. They are just as good if not better than your suggestions. Lastly i would recommend adams arms piston uppers for their ease of use and easily disassembly for cleaning and maintenance. I myself have a JD machine lower mated with an Adams Arms carbine length piston upper which cost less than $800 total for the rifle.

    2 years ago
  • Tim

    Very informative! I never make a major purchase without research. I am considering buying my first AR 15 type rifle. This article was bookmarked soon as I found it. It not only answered many questions, but has been a reference to fall back on. Do you have any background or info on Troy built guns? I'm finding very little info online. Thanks for the great post! Tim

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Tim, thanks! I haven't had personal experience with Troy besides their sights which are excellent.

      2 years ago
  • Joe Brown

    I found this extremely informative if not a little intimidateing too. This is my first venture into buying an AR type rifle. I'm left-handed and researching the Stag Arms l2 or l3 models. I've saved your article in my favorites for future reference. I'm an avid shooter, mostly handguns, but feel out of my eliment when it comes to modern rifles. Thanks for getting me off on the right foot, or left foot in my case. Joe B.

    2 years ago
  • Ronnie Maeker

    I did not see Adcor mentioned. Any thoughts? Thanks.

    2 years ago
  • Gary Duggan

    Very nice write-up, thanks. I am helping a friend who is looking to purchase his first rifle and this gives great information.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much Gary!

      2 years ago
  • Paul

    Great article:) Very helpful for newbies. However, the link to 'Best AR-15 Upgrades Guide' actually links to 1911 upgrades. Other than that, good stuff! Cheers, Paul

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks for catching that Paul!

      2 years ago
  • Blue

    If this is truly a new, original article as of 2017 you seem to have one glaring omission: The Ruger AR556 is a tough rifle to beat in terms of mechanical accuracy at almost any price these days (1 - 1&1/2MOA at 100yds if you do your part and absolutely SPANKED the KAC SR25 I had in the safe until a few months ago) and it's one of, if not THE best "budget" AR's out there these days... The M/P 15 Sport 2 isn't the rifle it was in Ver 1 (5R rifling that made it what it was) and really it's nowhere near the value the Ruger is these days. As far as the others as advice to a first time ARb buyer (after over a decade of building them myself) I'd skip all the "big names" that want to charge you extra for a mid-range AR with their own (almost universally) junk furniture as an "upgrade."

    2 years ago
  • Ken

    Hi Eric, Great article, thanks! Do you prefer a M4gery style AR or a Flat Top? Can you explain why one is "better" than the other? Or is the only difference how it looks? Thanks!

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Ken, thanks! I like a flat top vs the carry handle so I can put my choice of optic on it since I rarely use irons.

      2 years ago
  • EB LeDoux

    What a great article! I've been looking for something like this for about a year. Most guides make too many assumptions about what the reader knows but you spell it out perfectly! Pros and cons and personal opinion mixed in honestly! Thanks!

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks so much!!

      2 years ago
  • Matthew Johnson

    What are the disadvantages of having a 55-grain bullet weight with a 1:8 or 1:9 twist rate?

    2 years ago
    • Blue

      1:8 will still stabilize 55gr rounds perfectly well and it gives you significantly better results with the lower GR. rounds then the 1:9 barrels do with the heavier rounds that are becoming much more common these days. IF you can honestly say you'll never shoot anything but 55gr .223 then 1:9 is acceptable but if it's a GP rifle then 1:8 is just a vastly better and more versatile option as it'll help with the heavier bullets and give more consistent accuracy across a broader range of bullet-weights and target distances. IMO 1:8 is the best all-around rifling for an AR these days...

      2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Matthew, 1:9 is the optimum twist for a 55gr bullet. If you go out of that range, it's possible that it doesn't spin it enough or too much so it's not stabilized in flight. Accuracy at distances might suffer.

      2 years ago
  • Harvey

    Hello Eric, I like to have an nice barrel, CHF, 16" Mid-gas, Government, 1-7 twists, would you suggest FN Barrel or BCM? Thank you

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Harvey, you can't go wrong with either!

      2 years ago
  • Lyle

    I read your article and was considering a bcm recce, and a dd v11, however I ended up going with a Troy which I really like so far, are you familiar with Troy, what tier would Troy fall under? Also I have a friend that is selling his dpms sass, I think it is an lrt but need to verify. Even though a manufacturer is typically a low tier can they make higher end that would fall in the mid or high tier catigory? This ar-10 looks and seems nice but I have no experience with dpms and don't want to pay 1500 for a low tier gun.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hey Lyle, I think you're sweating the tiers a little too much. Troy has a good rep but I have never tried/owned one. Shoot it a lot and build up that confidence! I personally have a DPMS 7.62 which has been great too when fed its favorite ammo. I'd ask your friend if it has been finicky. Not sure about the prices though.

      2 years ago
  • Brian

    Hi Eric, You said that the Colt is one of the 3 entry AR-15s that you recommend to friends. What are the other two? Thanks, B

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hey Brian, depends on your definition of entry, but mine is anything under $1000...so that would be the S&W, Spike's, and Aero at the bottom of the list.

      2 years ago
      • Blue

        Ruger AR556 > Anything in it's price range and probably better then most AR's even a few hundred more... It's a LOT better then the mediocre M/P Sport II (the Sport I was a good rifle but the Sport II... meh, nothing special. They didn;t drop the price but they did drop the ONE big feature of the Sport I and seem to think that a forward assist and a dust-cover are equal to a quality barrel... they're not,) The lowers are all fairly interchangeable even on many of the high-end AR's and the barrel on the Ruger is better then anything Spikes, Smith & Worthless or the like. If you want to get the most bang for your buck and don't want to build: Ruger AR556

        2 years ago
        • Eric Hung

          Hey Blue, thanks for the insight. I had the chance to play with the Ruger at SHOT this year and it did feel/shoot very nice. I hope to get my hands on one for a longer test. Lol at Smith & Worthless!

          2 years ago
  • Martin

    Hi Eric. Thanks for the informative article. This helped me choose my first AR by pointing me towards a DD. Did further research on it and ended up getting the DDM4V11. Been very happy with it. I sometimes shoot at ASR too.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Awesome to hear, Martin!

      2 years ago
  • Donnie

    Thank you for the very informative article. The new Springfield is out and based off the article I like what im seeing with the Saint from SFA. Any thoughts on it for a zombie end of world must have AR?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hey Donnie, thanks for the comment. I've been seeing the name around a lot recently but haven't had the chance to play with one yet. Looking forward to SHOT show!

      2 years ago
  • Mike

    Hi Eric, looking to purchase my first AR and I'm leaning towards DD but not sure which DDM4 model to go with...any suggestions?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Mike, I listed some of the variants in the article! For a first gun I like the one with the fixed sight base (FSB).

      2 years ago
  • Nathan

    Hi! I like the article. Im looking into getting my first rifle and one of my friends who is a cop brought up the new AR from Springfield Armory the Saint. Do you have an opinion about that rifle as far as quality?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Nathan, I don't have personal experience with any SA rifles but my first 1911 was one of theirs and it's still going strong!

      2 years ago
  • Dave

    Great article! Looking to purchase my first AR. Any tips on locating the BCM Mid 16 mod2? Everywhere around me just says "good luck". My local guy is pushing a CORE15. Any feedback?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Dave...they do tend to sell out quickly. Best bet would be to see if there's any place to do a back-order. As for Core15...I've only heard of them but don't have an opinion. If you get one, please let us know!

      2 years ago
  • Juice

    Hi Eric great article. I was wondering why no mention about Wilson combat rifles and am looking into the AR platform and was wondering if you could recommend a top tier manufacture for a .300 blackout and will this shoot your standards 5.56/45mm & .223 home defence rounds. Thanks

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks! I have no experience with their rifles but they make some top-notch 1911 products that I own. If you get a .300 BLK upper it will not be able to shoot other calibers.

      2 years ago
  • Przemek

    Hi Eric! Thanks for the article and greetings from Poland. In my country, the budget Mossberg MMR is becoming pretty popular, what's your opinion on this AR?

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hey Przemek, I haven't had any experience with the MMR but I love their shotguns! Let me know if you end up getting it.

      2 years ago
  • Aryn

    I have been looking at a black rain ordinance in a 5.56/223, wondering what your thoughts are

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Aryn, replied to your email, but thought other readers might like my response too. Haven't heard bad things about them but I haven't had the chance to see/hold/shoot one myself. Let us know how it is if you end up getting a BRO.

      2 years ago
  • Steve

    Thank u for a very informative article. I wish I could find a page like this for everything that I have ever needed answers for. Thanks again and for what it is worth I saved the page and subscribed to your YouTube channel.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Glad I could help, Steve!

      2 years ago
  • Jo

    Very informative and simplistic enough for a beginner like me to understand. THANK YOU!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Jo!

      3 years ago
  • Roland

    Hi Eric, I have been researching ARs for awhile now. I just came across an article in Tactical Life on the Dark Storm Industries DS-15 Typhoon. Have you come across one of these and if so, how do you rate them? What is interesting to me is that it already comes with many of the mods I had already earmarked for mine. Appreciate any info you have. Roland

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Roland, thanks for your message. I've never heard of them yet but that doesn't mean they aren't good.

      3 years ago
  • Dakota

    Eric, thanks for an excellent and informative article. Your BIO mentions that you have attended a number of training classes. Any in particular that you recommend for those new to the AR?

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Dakota, I've done mostly pistol and shotgun courses. For rifle I utilize the same safety/handling skills from the classes and practice in rifle competitions. I can personally vouch for ITTS (CA but sometimes they travel). But great idea for a future article of great training courses!

      3 years ago
  • Eric

    Practically a knuckle dragger when it comes to Ar-15's. I hear all the time about switching uppers, but is that only possible with a given type of gas control system?? Direct impingement vs piston. So maybe the question is, if I bought a piston type complete gun, can I switch on most any upper or must it also be of a piston type only??? Thank you very much Eric

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      You should be able to use any DI or piston upper with a "regular" DI lower since it doesn't play any part into the gas system. I'd still double check with some Google-fu in case you're looking at some proprietary systems.

      3 years ago
  • MrSatyre

    Great article for a relative AR newcomer like me (I've been a Tavor bullpup guy up till this year) (*gasp*). This past summer, after reading numerous glowing reviews and with the grudging nod of approval from a lifetime AR friend, I picked up a Ruger SR-556 Takedown in 556, with the option of swapping out the barrel for a 300 Blackout barrel kit. It's a piston design, which is something I definitely prefer, with a free-floating barrel, and overall a great gun in the $1500 range (gun show price, by the way). It does have two interesting quirks, however, and that's that it has a 1:9 twist to the barrel (which you say is typical, but for the a purportedly mil-spec AR, I wasn't the only one who was surprised it isn't 1:7), and that when assembling the rifle for use from its broken down and carry-bagged state, you MUST install the bolt carrier group LAST. Otherwise, the BCG doesn't sit quite right in the upper when it meets with the barrel and you'll have a devil of a time running the charging handle and no magazine installed. It will still work if you load a magazine and charge, but if you want totally smooth operation 100% of the time, follow the instructions and put the boot in AFTER you've assembled the rifle from its taken down state. Again, thanks for a great article!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for the insight! Haven't had the chance to try any piston AR's out yet. But good info to know.

      3 years ago
  • Robert

    Hey guys just wanted to tell you about the barrels being magnetic particle tested. It's know as MT tested. It's the induction of a magnetic field into the steel with an application of flourscent iron particles. What this means with a barrel that is crack will attracted those iron particles to the void allowing the inspector to see it. It's called magnetic flux leakage. X-Ray is different. We all the the standard medical x-ray. Same process just more iodization

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Robert, thanks for the insight into barrel testing!

      3 years ago
  • Joe

    I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Windham AR 15. A local dealer here seem to have some pretty good deals

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Joe, I've seen them on some sites but haven't heard much about them. I'd do more research before you take the plunge. If you get it, please let us know how you like it.

      3 years ago
  • Forrest Branton Jr

    This is my 1st time to read your articles and really like the info you shared with 'us' newbies, in the AR platform. I built my very 1st AR-15, a Polymer80 lower, and a ATI 5.56/.223 NATO 16" barrel. I have since done a few mods, quad gas block, FireField site, Red Dot Laser, XML-T6 Flashlight lots of 30 round mags. [...] I love the way my AR shoots, it's very accurate, light weight. Do you have any info or ideas on this 'Kit' or the way I did things for the 1st time? All is appreciated...

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Forrest, thanks! Sounds like a great first build. If you're looking for your next upper, check out my Best AR-15 Uppers article too.

      3 years ago
  • Jr

    Great article Eric. I have to agree...Daniel Defense is top tier quality and function. A lil pricey, but worth every penny once you buy one. I bought the M4A1 and what a beautiful rifle! .....comes with nice case also. State of the art facility where these guns are made. Marty Daniel has you covered!!! If your on the fence, buy a DD -best AR out there.

    3 years ago
  • Will

    Eric, great article. I am interested in an entry level (under $900) 300 Black Out for the extra punch in hunting. Do your recommendations hold for the guns, assuming they offer the 300 AAC? Also, looking at Wyndham Weaponry, are you familiar with that brand? Thanks so much.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Will, thanks! I haven't had the chance to get a .300 Blk but I've done some research before and it seems awesome to have the capability of a .30 cal in the AR-15 platform that is basically made to be suppressed. I haven't heard much about Wyndham so I have no opinion yet, but for now I'd say my recommendations should be a good starting spot as well for .300 Blk.

      3 years ago
  • Keith

    Oh by the way I love your website keep up the good work guys.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks so much!

      3 years ago
  • Keith

    Do you ever have to clean the gas tube that runs back into the bolt assembly?

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Keith, thanks for the question. I've never cleaned it since it should be self-cleaning every time you shoot. The 30-50k PSI of hot gas probably does a better job than I ever could.

      3 years ago
  • John

    I'm debating between Colt 6920 and Spikes ST-15 Midlength. Both are about same price just under 900. Any tips for a newbie? Thank you!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi John, out of those two I like the Spikes since it has the mid-length which should shoot a little softer. As far as I know Colt doesn't have any mid-lengths.

      3 years ago
      • John

        Just want to let you know that I ordered the Spikes today! Thank you for your advice and this well informative article. I will let you know how it is in follow-up comment!

        3 years ago
        • ehung

          Awesome, keep us posted.

          3 years ago
          • John

            Hi Eric, Hope all is well and thank you again for your articles and sharing your knowledge with us. I know it's over a year now from my original post, but I wanted to follow up. I am definitely happy with my Spikes, but I am not thrilled. One of the things I don't like about it is that the gun seems "wiggle" a bit. People I spoke to said this normal, but I have shot other ARs that did not have this amount of wiggle and they seemed more solid to me. It's like the lower/receiver has some wiggle with the upper. Is this normal in your opinion?

            2 years ago
            • Eric Hung

              Hi John, thanks for bringing in your yearlong experience. It's "normal" but I'm with you...it's not ideal. It theoretically should not make a difference in function. You can look up the AR-15 accurizing wedge to help.

              2 years ago
              • John

                Agree that it shouldn't impact the function of the rifle itself, more concerned about its impact on me. A few times I had my target zero'd in on and the wiggle caused me to readjust my aim.

                2 years ago
      • John

        Thank you so much for the fast reply! I may actually hold off an save a little bit for a BCM. I have a tendacy to over analyze everything and become frozen around decision time!

        3 years ago
  • Chris

    I have a few different manufactures on your list, but the one I take issue with is Stag. To put Stag on the "budget" list, but Colt as a tier one, isn't doing your homework. CMT (Stag is their house brand) has been making parts for the M4 since the Vietnam War, and I would bet there is a great chance nearly all of the rifles you have listed have some CMT (Stag) parts in them. You have S&W as a mid-tier......do you know who made S&W early AR style rifles? Stag did. I don't work for Stag, nor am I involved in the firearm business at all - I just like it when folks do their homework. You can find Stag Model 1 or 2 with their "Plus Package" for around $850 - and that is a 100% "mil-spec", "tier-one" AR (according to the infamous chart) for less than any other mil-spec variant on the market. Oh, and a transferable lifetime warranty with them, including free barrel replacement if you shoot it out. IF a 6920 Colt (which I own a couple of) is "tier one", then so is a Plus Package Stag.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Chris, thanks for the info! It's my own personal list and really appreciate your input which helps me out in the future and gives a different perspective to my readers.

      3 years ago
      • 762COAX

        Don't confuse original manufacturers to end products. Just because CMT made the RAW product for a company doesn't mean there all equal. Each company has to put the finishing touches on the product. Like finishing or quality control. An example would be a company only checks every 25 gas blocks for proper sizing and machining. When another company check every 10 or everyone. The end product will very between company's . Some company's cut corns to save money. Some don't.

        2 years ago
  • wayne

    Cool info but it is a fact that a gas piston AR-15 is as accurate as one that isn't! I've owned both and my gas piston LWRC and RUGER 556 piston type AR-15 rifles were more accurate than any of the none piston rifles. LWRC is a half an inch MOA shooter. RUGER is a three fourth an inch MOA shooter. They never jam! Every non gas piston rifle that I ever owned would jam all of the time.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for the info Wayne! I hope to try out some piston AR-15's soon.

      3 years ago
      • Jesse

        Try out the Sig 516 if you get the chance. You will fall in love with it, and you will probably put Sig in your top tier where it belongs.

        3 years ago
        • ehung

          Will do in the future (hopefully soon)...thanks for the rec!

          3 years ago
  • Patrick

    I miss the H&K MR223/416 in your list. In my opinion it beats up everyone of your list - especially the poor one`s of colt. Just look for youtube to see a comparison firing test with a wet Colt M4 against a MR223/416 - The Colt explodes completely when firing the first round!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Patrick, I do remember that video! I'll probably do a future list with piston AR's (where it will definitely make the list)...but for now I'm just including DI for first timer buyers.

      3 years ago
  • Tom

    Hi Eric, Excellent article and very informative. I appreciate you taking the time to do a really deep dive on the AR-15. I've wanted one for a while, but the explosion in AR-15 variations has overwhelmed my ability to digest all the variations out there. Your article helped clear up a lot of the confusion. I noticed that you've got Colt crossed out on your list of top tier AR-15 manufacturers. Is that a typo? If not, could you explain why you've crossed Colt off of your top tier list? Based on your article and a search of their website, I decided to look for a BCM Mid16 Mod2, but I can't find an online dealer with any in stock. In fact, I can't find an online dealer with ANY BCM products in stock. I suppose this is a combination of the overwhelming public demand to get an AR-15 before the gun control nuts get their way and a testament to the quality of BCM products.

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Tom, thanks for the keen eye! Turns out the specific link to Colt became a dud and your browser picked it up. I've gone through and fixed it. Yup...it seems like there's always something political/tragic that's driving great products out of stock. Best of luck in finding one!

      3 years ago
      • Marine

        At the beginning of your article you stated the military version is fully automatic. That is entirely incorrect. It has semi and 3 round burst. Everyone I packed for 9 years did which was and m4, m16 A2, and m16 A4

        2 years ago
        • GRUNT

          You are absolutely right Marine. I am also a Marine 0311 Rifleman. 3 round burst and not full auto. Semper Fi brother...

          2 years ago
  • Chuck

    Eric, great article and thanks for the information. I'm thinking of buying my first AR and have been looking at an Adams Arms product at a local gun dealer. Specifically the 16" Mid Tactical Evo Rifle. Do you have any experience with Adams Arms?

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Chuck, definitely heard of them and mostly for their piston gas system guns. Looks like the one you mentioned is piston so I'd so you're most likely in good hands!

      3 years ago
  • Fain

    P.S. $1700.00 budget

    3 years ago
  • Fain

    Eric, Great informative article..been researching for months. Am looking to get my first AR. Grew up around guns...but its baan a long while. 25 yeard.. Live in CA. So panther is out...Any reccomendations? 5.56/.223 or .308. (Light n cheap vs. Death behind a cinderblock wall at 150yrds. N expensive) Chrome vs. Chromoly...etc. plinking, deer..zombies..urban combat scenarios (aka decline of western civilization) etc. Any suggestions? (CA) Thanks!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Fain, thanks for your comment! For a first AR I would heavily suggest the AR-15 (5.56/.223) instead of the AR-10 (7.62/.308) since the recoil will be much more controllable and you won't go bankrupt from ammo. Check out my recs for complete rifles in the article above.

      3 years ago
  • Caleb

    Hi. I'm not sure if you're going strictly by price here but I strongly disagree with your placing RRA in the bottom tier of AR builders. I have owned or shot at least half a dozen RRA rifles or upper builds and every single one of them has had incredible fit and finish and will shoot sub 1" groups at 100yds all day. I've admittedly only shot their "higher end" rifles but I have a fair amount of experience with AR type rifles in general and have not found a better overall value yet. Do you have actual experience with RRA guns that differs from mine?

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Caleb, thanks so much for your message and experience with the value and performance of RRA. My list is definitely a little subjective and I take into account price, personal experience, online sentiment, etc. Hope to one day have a shootoff with all the rifles out there...

      3 years ago
      • Deadparrothead

        Great article learned a few things, been around ar's for at least 25 years. I will say of the 4 I currently have 2 Colts one being a car but the car meaning Colt accurized rifle (its on the box) a Daniel Defense and a RRA in 308, the RRA is easily on par with the others. Bought new with a 26" barrel a 1/2 moa gun and liked it so much bought a 16" upper and made a 1 moa gun never had a issue with any of them. RRA rocks.

        2 years ago
  • Xander

    Hi Eric, Great article, it was very informative, what tier would you considers "Nemo Firearms?" I have been looking and researching the 5.556 Tango 2. Any experience with this manufacturer? Thanks in advance!

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Xander, I've only heard of them but don't have any experience with them. Let me know what you end up deciding!

      3 years ago
  • Kurt

    Hi Eric, thanks for the great article. I'm looking for a first AR for my son for his 18th birthday. The rifle will be used for recreational shooting and home defense (kept in my safe until he graduates from college!). Here's my question: John is left-eye dominant so he shoots better left-handed. What is the difference between a RH and a LH rifle? If we get a LH model can I still still shoot it (I'm a RH shooter)? Also, you didn't mention Bushmaster in your summary for a first affordably priced gun. Can you comment on that brand please? Thanks again, Kurt

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Kurt, you're welcome and thanks for your comment! The difference between a RH and LH AR-15 rifle would be the placement of the ejection port (would be on the left side) and also the placement of the magazine release and safety lever (mag release would be on the left and safety lever would be to the right). You can still shoot it just like John can shoot a regular RH gun. Only annoying thing would be the manipulations and the occasional brass flying into your face. I'd suggest an ambi-safety at least so it's not annoying to switch it on/off safe for either of you. Bushmaster is good to go as an introductory gun!

      3 years ago
  • Luiz

    Hello great article ! lots of great info. I was thinking of buying a DPMS GII Recon or GII Moe Have you done any reviews on DPMS Porducts? If so which one would you recommend of these 2. Thank you

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi, DPMS should be good for the price...I've used a DPMS upper for my AR-10 which has run smoothly. I think it really depends on what handguard you like since the recon is a quad rail with flip up sights while the MOE has the standard Magpul plastic handguard and front sight block.

      3 years ago
  • M B

    Eric, Great article. Lot's of information. I'm new to guns, trying to learn as much as possible. What are you thoughts on "Knights Armament" products? Thinking about the AR "mod 2".

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      I'd consider them in the highest tier as well...can't go wrong with KAC!

      3 years ago
  • Nate W.

    Hey Eric Excellent and informative article. I have been out of the market for years (kids &life), but have recently decided to reinvest. I am somewhat familiar with the AR platform buy as stated it has been about eight years since owning. Was curious what you would reccommend for a second AR? Buy or build? I have put a few .22's together which were relatively simple and have a pretty decent understanding of building. However I am torn with the idea of "M4gery" or having one , like a DDM4 finished and ready. Also you left the trigger department somewhat vague (no offense). For .22's (Ruger) that is a fairly integral portion of accuracy. Not that I'm looking to get involved in comp. shooting but I do like to hit what I'm aiming for! I do understand there are tons of variables when it comes to deciding what AR is right for each individual personally. So with that being said, what do you think is best for an all around AR platform that is reasonable to carry for reasonable distances, accurate, and dependable? And do you think it's best to build or buy? Thanks

    3 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Nate, thanks for your comment and suggestions! If it will be your first 5.56/.223 AR-15 (sounds like right now you only have.22 versions?) I would suggest going the Buy route with any of the suggestions I have at the end of this article based on your budget. You can always go ahead and upgrade the trigger (thanks for the insight) in your lower at a different time. I go over them somewhat in my Best AR-15 Upgrades article.

      3 years ago
      • ken

        Man , I thought that PSA would have been rated better than you rated it. I have shot mine with a bump fire stock, used steel cased ammo, etc, and it hasn't missed a beat. It is mil spec as well, so I don't know why it's rated as a lower tier product

        2 years ago
New to Guns ? Check out our beginners guns video course. Start Now