[Review] PSA .22LR Upper: Best .22 AR-15 Swap?

From high-end rifles to budget blasters, the number one most important thing is training regularly with your rifle!

Using .22LR is a great way of reducing the cost of training in any platform, and the AR-15 is outstanding for that offering that kind of flexibility.

Complete Rifle
PSA .22LR Upper on 80% Lower!

While kits are on the market that allow you to switch your standard .223/5.56 upper into a .22LR upper, these have disadvantages due to the barrel but being designed for the ammo.

A new upper that is dedicated for .22LR is a fast and simple way of avoiding those problems while offering you the greatly reduced price of ammo!

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What Is It?

Palmetto State Armory is well known for budget-friendly, reliable, quality firearms and uppers. We’ve reviewed almost every PSA offering under the sun and have always found them to be an amazing value for your money.

370
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

This .22LR dedicated AR-15 upper is no different.

There are two parts that make this a dedicated .22LR upper vs just any other upper, the BCG and barrel.

Chambered for .22LR and featuring a 1:16 twist rate, this barrel is going to be a lot more accurate out of the box than if you were to try and use your .223/5.56 barrel and a conversion kit.

The BCG is radically different from a standard BCG. It’s lighter, redesigned, and purpose-built for the project.

Lower and BCG
Lower and BCG

One thing to remember though is that any .22LR AR-15 will require dedicated .22LR magazines. There are a bunch of these on the market, but we used Black Dog Machine 10-Round magazines.

And yes, .22LR AR-15 magazines come in a lot of round-counter flavors such as drums!

Fit, Feel, and Finish

If you’ve picked up anything made by PSA before, then you know how the fit, feel, and finish is for this upper. It is exactly what you would expect from them, nothing to write home about, but fully serviceable and ready for the range.

Complete Rifle

The coating is simple but robust. Cleanly and evenly applied and decently finished, the upper won’t win beauty contests or help you flex on poors – but it will handle well and give you what you need from a quality firearm.

Range Report

The heart and soul of this upper is the simple fact that it is an AR-15 upper. Manual of arms and use is what you’re used to with any other AR-15 upper, the only difference functionally is that the .22LR has a shorter charging handle pull distance.

Reliability

Using a PSA or DIY 80% lower, the upper ran flawlessly. Nothing to really talk about since it just worked, exactly like it should.

40
at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

However, we did run into a problem when we switched the upper to an Aero Precision lower.

We were not able to identify what the cause of the issue was, but we had repeated failures and malfunctions with that lower.

John and Aero Lower
John and Aero Lower

Including one very weird malfunction that resulted in a spent .22lr case being trapped behind the BCG between the BCG and the buffer tube. The upper still functioned with the spent case rattling around back there, but that is still a not-good malf.

Because of this issue – you might want to consider that there could be part interchangeability questions with this upper. If you’re using a PSA lower, you should be good to go, but YMMV with other lowers.

Accuracy

We fed the upper a host of different .22LR ammo and it worked outstandingly with each. While shooting for groups at 25-yards, each ammo type grouped well and showed no signs of problems such as keyholing.

22 upper groups
PSA .22LR Upper Groups (Top Left Clockwise: Remington Thunderbolt, Federal Champion, CCI Mini-Mag, Winchester HP

The best ammo we found was CCI Mini-Mag was the best and shot around 1-MOA.

Proof that a dedicated .22LR barrel and bolt is a LOT better than trying to fling .22LR down .223/5.56 rifling!

22 upper cci ammo group
PSA .22LR Upper using CCI Mini-Mag

By The Numbers

Reliability: 3/5

Running perfectly with the PSA and 80% lowers, but the Aero issue highlights that there might be compatibility problems with some parts.

Accuracy: 4/5

Far more accurate than we expected! Having a dedicated .22LR barrel with a proper 1:16 twist really makes a difference in stabilization and accuracy.

We had the best results with CCI Mini-Mags, but all of the ammo we tried worked well.

Ergonomics: 4/5

As you would expect with an AR-15, everything fits well and offers some of the best ergos on the market.

Looks: 4/5

While a bit standard and basic, the looks, fit, and finish are well done and cover the bases.

Customization: 5/5

Even in .22LR, it’s still an AR-15! Literally, everything can be customized to match your needs.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Parting Shots

A dedicated .22LR upper offers the ability to plink, train, and commit the rifle to muscle memory without needing to spend a boatload on ammo.

It also offers a much better platform for small game hunting since the twist rate is able to correctly stabilize the very lightweight .22LR rounds.

A Few Of Our Personal AR-15 Uppers
A few of our favorite things…

We also love to use .22LR to train new shooters and introduce people to the awesome world of firearms!

A .22LR AR-15 is one of our favorites since it helps bridge a gap between “scary black rifle” and being one of the best firearm platforms ever designed.

Do you roll with a dedicated .22LR upper? Got a conversion kit instead? If you’re looking for more awesome calibers to use with your standard AR-15 lower, take a look at the Best Caliber Conversion Kits!

10 Leave a Reply

  • Robert Sikes TSGT (ret) USAF

    The USAF has been using a conversion kit for the M-16 since the late 1970's. Glad to see the civilian market has caught up

    1 second ago
  • Douglas Greenfield

    I bought a Mossberg AR_715,. 22 cal for $200.00,thus avoiding the high cost of a conversion. I bought a box of 500 22 cal with it, and I just kept firing with it and not cleaning it, halfway through the box it finally had enough and dead fired. I cleaned it up and have had no issues with it.

    5 days ago
  • Mark Pryor

    I've been using a PSA 22 upper on an Anderson lower for about a year now and am very pleased with performance. I use a Boonie Packer mag adapter and S&W M&P 15-22 mags and get last bolt hold open. So, look, feel, and operation is like that of an AR15 but at a much cheaper cost per round price point. From other comments on some forums, this set up seems to have less problems than the conversion route. Additionally, if you are in a "non-free" state like Crazyfornia, this type of rig allows you to retain your "evil features." Bottom line - get one! You will be glad you did. Note to Bruce - if you are patient past new stock sales and/or blem sales have been in the $290 - $300 range. I have no experience with the HK416 that you mentioned but similarly started out with a S&W M&P 15-22. While being a good trainer, I prefer the PSA 22 upper on an AR lower. Both are good trainers and allow for use of cheaper .22 cal ammo but the PSA 22 upper route is closer to feel and weight. Additionally, you have a lower that after cleaning out 22 cal soiling can take a different caliber upper, which is what I call versatility :)

    1 week ago
  • Brandon

    I just put together a dedicated 22lr PSA AR-15 for my first firearm. It’s been fun adding a few custom parts and getting a feel for the platform. Runs great so far. The cheap ammo lets me blow through a few hundred rounds at the range without my wallet flinching. I plan to add a dedicated 556/223 upper at a later time. Having a lot of fun with the 22lr right now!

    1 week ago
  • Aaron

    I think your calculations for the 1 MOA accuracy is off. If you shot at 25 yards, that would be a .25 inch group. Your picture is about 1-inch at 25 yards so that would be 4 MOA, which isn’t too bad for .22 lr.

    1 week ago
  • Bruce Hill

    Is there an advantage to doing this rather than just buying a .22 AR style rifle? You can buy an Hk416 .22 rifle for less than the $370 you’re listing for just an upper.

    1 week ago
    • Bill

      The HK is a great rifle I used for seven years then gave to son. Never any problems except you can’t change out the trigger. I shoot and win most steel challenge in my area, Alaska. I built couple ar with PSA 22 lr uppers and they work great also. I would not use them if not for the boogie packer or whatever the name of the adapter that lets you use Smith and Wesson mags. I watch ruger race guns fail all the time while my ar style rifle kicks ass. Using cci ammo I have one out of over five hundred not go bang. Most not all Rutgers are constant problems.

      5 days ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      If you have upgrades already installed on your normal lower that you want to retain, it is likely cheaper to get a new upper than to re-buy all of the upgrades for a new rifle. Also, depending on your transfer fee at an FFL a new rifle even priced the same might end up being more cost to you.

      1 week ago
  • Mark Pryor

    I've been using a PSA 22 upper on an Anderson lower for about a year now and am very pleased with performance. I use a Boonie Packer mag adapter and S&W M&P 15-22 mags and get last bolt hold open. So, look, feel, and operation is like that of an AR15 but at a much cheaper cost per round price point. From other comments on some forums, this set up seems to have less problems than the conversion route. Additionally, if you are in a "non-free" state like Crazyfornia, this type of rig allows you to retain your "evil features." Bottom line - get one! You will be glad you did.

    1 week ago
    • John Perkins

      Thanks for alerting me to the mag adapter.

      1 week ago
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