[Review] Palmetto State Armory (PSA) AR-15 (3 Rifles)

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Are PSA’s low prices too good to be true?

For years I’ve heard of Palmetto State Armory and their ultra-affordable AR-15s.  The only negative things were some finishing issues and shipping delays here and there.

But… for a long time I was a little obsessed with name brands and scoffed at sub-$500 rifles.

I finally bit the bullet…

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

I got three of their uppers (16″ 5.56 with front sight block, 16″ 5.56 free-float rail, 18″ stainless .223 Wylde), one of their lowers, and shot a lot of rounds through them.

Best Complete AR-15 on a Budget
Palmetto State Armory (PSA) Complete AR-15s

Palmetto State Armory (PSA) Complete AR-15s

Prices accurate at time of writing

By the end you’ll know if a PSA rifle/upper is right for you…and the best model to get based on your use.

*Update* We have a full video review on PSA AR-15s too!

We’ve also got reviews of their other calibers too:

Table of Contents

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Who Is It For?

  • Budget conscious buyers who want something that works and can overlook some details like perfect finishing and dead-on accuracy
  • Someone who wants a lot of options in terms of barrel length and handguard
  • People who can wait a while for something to go into stock or ship

Why Is It So Cheap?

PSA sent me these three uppers and one lower for testing.

But they are going through the same testing procedures I do for all my other guns.

And at a higher round count since reliability is key when I recommend more budget-friendly options.

PSA Break-In
One range session for one rifle

I spoke with PSA and the reason their AR-15s are so affordable is due to full vertical integration.  From raw metal to the finished product…they do it themselves.

Fit, Feel, & Finish

PSA has their Freedom line which is their most affordable and is pretty much mil-spec (meets military specifications).

PSA 16" Freedom Rifle

PSA 16" Freedom Rifle

Prices accurate at time of writing

However, like I outlined in our AR-15 Buyer’s Guide…I like a mid-length gas system way better than the standard carbine-length.

It gives you more rail space and a softer shooting impulse since the gas tube is longer and gas block is more forward.

Unless you’re going for the pure M4 look…I’d opt for something in the mid-length arena.  Or at least their Magpul MOE furniture models so you can add some rails in the future.

Barrels & Gas Systems

For my upper with a FSB (front sight block…that triangle thing you see above), I went with a 16″ mid-length Magpul model and Nitride-coated barrel.

PSA 16" Mid-Length Uppers

PSA 16" Mid-Length Uppers

Prices accurate at time of writing

This gives me a longer handguard (with M-LOK), ability to add rails, Magpul rear flip sight, and a nicer barrel finish compared to phosphate.

 PSA 16" Nitride with FSB
PSA 16″ Nitride with FSB

Since it has a pinned FSB…it’s a little front-heavy….but that’s the nature of the beast.  The FSB is pinned well and the handguard is really on there.  You can see my segment of Picatinny I added to the handguard’s M-LOK attachment points.

PSA Pinned FSB
PSA Pinned FSB

The next upper would be my favorite overall setup.  16″ mid-length with a 13.5″ M-LOK free-floating barrel and Nitride barrel.

PSA 16" Nitride Free Floating
PSA 16″ Nitride Free Floating

Now you get the benefit of not having a FSB which helps the weight balance, and also having a free-floating handguard that increases accuracy by taking away contact points on the barrel.

For absolute reliability I’d still opt for the FSB model…but free-float AR’s are now the standard, you can attach a lot of stuff, and the gas block is really on there.

PSA FSB vs Free-Floating
PSA FSB vs Free-Floating

The last model is the 18″ .223 Wylde which is a relatively new chambering that will shoot BOTH 5.56 and .223 but offers a slight accuracy edge.  Usually you’ll see the more accurate barrels in stainless which is what we have here.

This comes in an even softer shooting rifle-length gas system and 15″ M-LOK free-floating rail.

PSA .223 Wylde 18"
PSA .223 Wylde 18″

All came with mil-spec A2 bird-case flash-hiders that were installed correctly and didn’t require superhuman strength to take off and switch for some compensators.

Barrels

PSA seems to have three tiers of barrels.

  1. Premium: chrome-lined or CHF (cold hammer forged) that are made by FN
  2. Standard: Nitride, Melonite, and stainless barrels
  3. Basic: phosphate coated

The two 5.56 uppers I received were Nitride coated instead of regular phosphate…while the Wylde was stainless steel.

PSA Barrel Coatings
PSA Barrel Coatings

Nitride (two left black ones) is smooth while stainless is…stainless.  The BCG on the right gives you a sense of what the rougher texture phosphate looks like.  Nitride is supposed to be a little tougher and I like the smooth look.

I took apart the free-floating 5.56 and Wylde.  Straight gas tubes…

Straight Gas Tube
Straight Gas Tube

And at least 35 in-lb of torque on the gas block with some sort of weird spill on the 5.56.

PSA 5.56 Gas Block Torque
PSA 5.56 Gas Block Torque

Upper Receivers

There’s not too much to say here…everything is where it’s supposed to be.

PSA Upper Receivers
PSA Upper Receivers
  • Ejection port door works
  • Forward assist works
  • Charging handle feels mil-spec and works
  • T-Markings present and easy to read
  • Evenly phosphate coated

If I had to nitpick…there’s some super small machining marks on the forward assist for two of the uppers I had.  Not even sure you can see them in the pics.

Small Machining Marks on Upper Receivers
Small Machining Marks on Upper Receivers

Handguards

The Magpul mid-length polymer handguard is what it is.  A great update to the mil-spec plastic handguard that can’t attach anything.

PSA 5.56 Uppers
PSA 5.56 Uppers

The free-floating M-LOK handguards work too.  The thin profile feels great in the hand…but could use a little more TLC in the CNC to get rid of sharper edges.

Also the 13.5″ is a little on the purple-ish side and a little off in orientation between receiver and handguard…but nothing an Allen wrench and a small turn didn’t fix.

PSA Handguard Misalignment
PSA Handguard Misalignment

The more “premium” Wylde upper was properly aligned and colored.

BCG + Charging Handles

As mil-spec as they come.  Everything is as it should be and the gas-keys are properly staked.

PSA BCGs Disassembled
PSA BCGs Disassembled

The 5.56 uppers had phosphate coated BCGs (mil-spec) while the Wylde had a Nitride coated one.

PSA Phosphate & Nitride BCGs
PSA Phosphate & Nitride BCGs

If I had to nitpick again…the coating is a little bumpier than other phosphates I’ve used, but since only the rails of the BCG contact anything…there’s no real downside.

I found that the mil-spec phosphate BCGs were not MP marked (magnetic particle inspected) while the more premium .223 Wylde one was.

PSA Bolts
PSA Bolts (Bottom is Wylde)

All the bolts were listed Carpenter 158 steel (mil-spec) but I’ve seen some PSA models where it is 9310 steel.  Fine for civilian use but if you really want mil-spec…go for the Carpenter 158.  The carriers were all 8620 steel (mil-spec).

Charging handles were mil-spec as well.

PSA Charging Handles
PSA Charging Handles

Since I’ve gone with aftermarket charging handles…I cannot go back (Best AR-15 Charging Handles).

Lower

I built the lower as a kit so I added a few dings here and there (How to Build an AR-15 Lower).  I got the Magpul kit which has their buttstock, grip, and trigger guard.

This one also comes with PSA’s EPT trigger which is silver compared to mil-spec phosphate black.  Much less grit!

PSA Lower
PSA Lower

But for this one I did have a little trouble threading the grip screw initially.  I’m thinking the coating was a little thick since I had to muscle my way through the initial turns.

Otherwise everything installed as it should.

How Does It Shoot?

What really matters…right?

PSA 5.56 Testing
PSA 5.56 Testing

I took a bunch of ammo, a buddy, and the two 5.56 uppers to the range.  With the goal of putting as many rounds downrange as possible.

I cleaned the barrels but otherwise did not do any break-in procedures.  I started with ~300 rounds of Wolf Gold (Best AR-15 Ammo) through each one before the accuracy tests.

PSA Break-In
PSA Break-In

For the 16″ with FSB…there were two failures to load a new round after a magazine change in the first 40 rounds.  However after that it shot without a hiccup.

For the M-LOK free-floating version, there was one failure to load on the first magazine change and no more problems afterwards.

This is likely due to all the parts breaking in.

Recoil was standard and mild for both 5.56 uppers.  After a few mags I was easily hitting 12″ plates at 100 yards with my EOTech.

PSA 5.56 Uppers
PSA 5.56 Uppers

But still made me realize how spoiled I’ve been with adjustable gas-blocks and compensators (Best AR-15 Upgrades).

Adjustable Gas Block & Compensator
Adjustable Gas Block & Compensator

One thing…

For the free-floating version, if you grip around the gas block like I do…you’ll feel a little heat when dumping rounds.  Not enough to burn…but enough to have a red hand after 500 rounds.

Here’s my buddy and me at our second range day.  I’m running my competition lower with a much better trigger (Best AR-15 Triggers).

Compatibility

The uppers worked flawlessly after the initial break-in on the following lowers:

  • Aero Precision (x2)
  • Colt
  • Anderson
  • Daniel Defense

While the lower worked with the following uppers:

  • Aero Precision (x2)
  • Colt
  • Daniel Defense

Accuracy

The 5.56 barrels are the middle of the road for PSA.  Let’s see how they fare.

I let the barrels cool down and then ran through Wolf Gold, PMC Bronze, American Eagle, and Federal Gold Match.

PSA 5.56 Testing Rounds
PSA 5.56 Testing Rounds

I used my standard testing platform for all my AR-15 stuff…

Testing PSA FSB
Testing PSA FSB

Targets were placed at 100 yards and I shot at a pace of around 1 shot per 10 seconds.  10 shots each group.

PSA FSB Accuracy
PSA FSB Accuracy

Mil-spec is 3-4 MOA which means 3-4 inch groups at 100 yards.  The FSB version falls within that (targets are 8″).  With PMC Bronze doing the best of the plinking rounds at around 3 MOA.

Gold Match does the best but keep in mind it’s about $1 a shot.  If you’re shooting that on a regular basis you’re probably looking at other rifles (Best AR-15s).

All in all…it’s as I expected.  When there’s a front sight block there’s a whole lot of stuff touching the barrel which doesn’t help accuracy.  Let’s see the free-floating model.

PSA Free Floating Accuracy
PSA Free Floating Accuracy

Much better!  Looks like all the groups closed up.  PMC Bronze and American Eagle are pretty even at what looks like 2 MOA.  Gold Match is still the ultimate winner but it’s not THAT much off from PMC and AE.

When you have a free-floating handguard there’s less contact with the barrel and the accuracy shows.

Now how about the .223 Wylde we’ve forgotten?

PSA .223 Wylde 18"
PSA .223 Wylde 18″

Since this is a more premium barrel and made for accuracy…I did a break-in procedure with it as well as with PSA’s .224 Valkyrie (coming soon).

PSA Breakin Procedure
PSA Breakin Procedure

I cleaned the barrel and shot 1 round through before using copper solvent and a brush.  Repeat the shoot and clean for 5x total.  Then I changed it up to 5 shots before cleaning.  Repeat 5x.

I then plinked ~200 rounds.

Finally, I was ready…

PSA .223 Wylde Testing
PSA .223 Wylde Testing

I used a different lower with a Triggertech trigger which I might actually like more than my Hiperfire (Best AR-15 Triggers).  I started running low on Gold Medal so the last group only has 4 rounds.

PSA .223 Wylde Accuracy
PSA .223 Wylde Accuracy

Disappointing…

It really looks like the FSB version instead of something that uses a tighter chamber and a free-floating handguard.

I’ll continue testing but right now looks like I would stick with PSA’s regular 5.56 offerings (free-floating of course).

Recommended Models

The thing with PSA is that they are always in and out of stock of everything.  And they have almost every combination under the sun…which makes it nice but also a headache to find what you want.

Complete Rifles

No fuss of building anything…out of the box ready to go.

Best Complete AR-15 on a Budget
Palmetto State Armory (PSA) Complete AR-15s

Palmetto State Armory (PSA) Complete AR-15s

Prices accurate at time of writing

I again like mid-length gas systems and it looks like their Nitride barrels are GTG.  Their more premium selections (CHF) should be great as well if you have a little more to spend.  I haven’t spent time with their regular barrels (phosphate), but other reviews vouch for them.

I personally like free-floating M-LOK handguards since they give you added accuracy and lots of space to put stuff.  Unless you really want the look of a FSB…go for free-floating!

Uppers

Already have a lower and want an affordable upper?  There’s a bazillion options again…so here’s a search for 16″ mid-lengths to narrow it down a little:

PSA 16" Mid-Length Uppers

PSA 16" Mid-Length Uppers

Prices accurate at time of writing

Remember to choose the options with BCG (bolt carrier group), CH (charging handle), and Magpul MBUS (flip backup sights) if you need them.

Lowers

Looking at complete lowers?  I prefer the Magpul editions…mil-spec buttstocks and pistol grips are not great.

PSA Complete AR-15 Lowers

PSA Complete AR-15 Lowers

Prices accurate at time of writing

Rifle Kits

A little something I learned recently…retailers must add on a 11% tax for fully assembled firearms.

PSA has rifle kits which…if you’re a little handy…will save you a bunch when you build your own lower.

PSA 16" Rifle Kits

PSA 16" Rifle Kits

Prices accurate at time of writing

And be sure to get a stripped lower since the kit will contain everything except that.

PSA Stripped Lower

PSA Stripped Lower

Prices accurate at time of writing

Follow our How to Build an AR-15 Lower guide to put it all together.

By the Numbers

Reliability: 5/5

After some minor break-in to loosen things up…my PSA uppers were fully reliable at my current round count of 1500 across all three.

Accuracy: 3/5

It’ll do its job within mil-spec with regular plinking ammo, and seems to like PMC Bronze overall the best (Best AR-15 Ammo).  Little bummed out that the .223 Wylde didn’t perform as well as it should.

Ergonomics: 4.5/5

Magpul kit makes it pretty good with the buttstock and pistol grip.  Free-floating handguard is thin but a little too sharp around the edges.

Looks: 4/5

Pretty average here but could use more consistency in color.

Customization: 5/5

It’s an AR-15 with M-Lok so the sky’s the limit.  Check out my list of the Best AR-15 Upgrades & Best AR-15 Optics if you need help.

Bang for the Buck: 5/5

You can get a fully reliable AR for under $500…and even lower if you get the kits.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Conclusion

The online legends are true.

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

Based on my testing I can totally recommend Palmetto State Armory for an affordable AR-15 that will go bang every time.

My favorite would still be their mid-length free-floating options…but their more M4-looking FSB ones also fit the bill.

Best Complete AR-15 on a Budget
Palmetto State Armory (PSA) Complete AR-15s

Palmetto State Armory (PSA) Complete AR-15s

Prices accurate at time of writing

For now…stay away from their Wylde and soon I’ll have reports on their .224 Valkyrie and more.  Plus I’m going to put much more rounds in all three and update if anything changes.

And once you get one…check out our AR-15 Definitive Resource for everything AR.

We also have other PSA models reviewed:

What do you think of the review?  Is a PSA AR-15 on your horizon?  Or if you already have one…how’s it working out for you?

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William Moore
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William Moore

Eric, I already have a PSA lower. Do you have any experience putting BCM 12.5″ upper with the PSA lower? Just curious if I should stick with PSA or Daniel Defense for upper or if BCM would config well. thanks

Gunnerboy76
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Gunnerboy76

Worse customer service twice on Fernedo road Columbia Sc yesterday went to store ask manager about the PSK 47 GEN 2 HE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT OK 3 YEARS AGO MY WIFE AND I WATCHED FROM THE GUN COUNTER AS EMPLOYEES TALKED ON CELL PHONES AS WE WAITED FOR SERVICE FINALLY I PO PAYED MORE AT SPORTSMAN’S WEARHOUSE 1/2MILE DOWN THE ROAD FOR OUR GLOCK PALMETTO STATE ARMORY IS THE WORST PLACE FOR VETERANS TO BUY GUNS #GOLFCOMPANY #USMC SECOND BATTALION RECRUIT training

Joshua Stein
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Joshua Stein

Any update on the wylde barrel? Any more testing?

Bobbt t
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Bobbt t

Have a 7.62 psa upper shoots .75 to 1..25 groups at 100yrds….1000 rounds through it and 1 fail to fire..i use a p308 scope…..have the 556 freedom kit on a runner runner lower with a sparc red dot.1000 rnds plus,not 1 issue at all and will shoot the dot all day at 100.fun and inexpensive.i would definately use them again.rather build 3 or 4 decent ars than have 1 high end 1..thanks for that 223 review…..

Owen
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Owen

Have a PSA 18 .223 Wylde 1:7 in 4150 vs stainless that shoots MOA with IMI m855 62 grain, maybe you have an off barrel. It’s picky and does not like 55 grain at all, but heavier rounds stabilize well.

Sora
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Sora

I also have the PSA .223 Wylde 1:7 18″ in 416R stainless with free float. It does not like 55 grain. I shot them in-door at 10 yards! I think it’s best to avoid the 55 gr with that. I’ll have to see how it does with 62 gr and heavier/longer bullets when I get a chance at outdoor.