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[Video+Review] PSA AK-104 vs. Pioneer Arms Hellpup: AK Carbine Battle

I’ve mentioned plenty of times on this channel that AKs are fun as hell.

Last year, I got the opportunity to play with PSA’s AK-74M and AK-103 and was pleasantly surprised with the experience.

PSA AK 103 Shooting
PSA AK 103

American-made AKs can be a supremely hit or miss niche — the 74 family specifically.

So, as you might expect, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on PSA’s newish AK-104 “clone.” (Using that term loosely, but we can talk more about that in a minute.)

More so, I was able to run it alongside the Pioneer Arms Hellpup for an AK carbine showdown.

PSA AK-104 and Pioneer Arms Hellpup
PSA AK-104 and Pioneer Arms Hellpup

So, let’s run through the basics, talk about some pros/cons, then we’ll end up at the range where I will lay out how both ran.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup
Pioneer Arms Hellpup

By the end, you’ll have a good grasp of whether you want to add either one of these to your AK collection.

Table of Contents

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A Little Backstory: AK-104

First, let’s start with a bit of backstory on just what the AK-104 is.

The AK-104 is a carbine version of the AK-103, with a barrel length of 12.4 inches compared to the 103’s 16.3 inches.

Ak-104 (Photo: Mike1979 Russia via WikiCommons)

While that might not sound like a lot, you can think of it as being comparable to the difference between a 14.5-inch M4 and a 10.5-inch MK18.

That means that the AK-104 represents a sort of middle-of-the-road option in between the full-sized AK-103 and the diminutive AKS-74U.

Ak-103 Soldier
Soldier with AK-103

Probably one of the biggest visual differences between the two Izmash rifles is that the AK-104 features a muzzle device derived from the AKS-74U’s iconic booster.

Rather than venting gas laterally to mitigate muzzle climb like the AK-74 or AK-103’s muzzle brake, it generates more backpressure to ensure consistent cycling on sub-16-inch AK variants.

The booster also directs your blast and muzzle flash forward. This makes sense considering the likely CQB-oriented use case scenario.

AK Muzzle Booster
Boosters

Two notches also sit on the front for destroying barbed wire. (No bayonet attachments here.)

Basically, the Russian AK-104 serves up a short-barreled carbine oriented towards CQB with the stopping and penetration power of modern 7.62×39 cartridges.

7.62x39mm
7.62x39mm

It’s got the sleek black polymer furniture and side-folding stock of the AK-100 series rifles, and it shows up in the hands of Russia’s internal security services occasionally.

With the background stuff out of the way, let’s jump into the gun I actually fired.

PSA AK-104 Specs & Features

PSA’s AK-104 is based on the company’s AK-103.

Overall, it’s a closer clone of the Russian AK-104s than something like Arsenal’s SLR-107CR. But it utilizes older AKM-patterned bolts and a few other small parts.

PSA AK-104
PSA AK-104

So, it’s not a “true clone.” But that’s something only AK nerds care about.

Perhaps the biggest visual difference sits right up front.

1099
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Due to U.S. law, the traditional AK-104 booster has been elongated, pinned, and welded to the barrel to bring the overall length up to 16 inches from the originally intended 12 inches.

The result here is…okay.

PSA AK-104

Such is the name of the game unless you want to go the pistol brace route. Coincidentally, that’s what the Polish Hellpup did…but more on that in a minute.

The extended booster is just a little goofy-looking.

PSA AK-104
It’s a little goofy.

But unfortunately, we didn’t have an actual booster to compare it against, so I can’t offer feedback on whether or not the length of the booster affects performance.

As one might expect, you’ve got your standard black polymer AK-100 series furniture up front. You also get a dovetail rail for mounting optics directly or installing a Pic rail.

PSA AK-104
All black here.

Rounding out some of the notable features is the black, polymer side-folding stock which collapses to the gun’s left side if you need it to.

Although you can’t lock it into place on the receiver latch with an optic mounted.

PSA AK-104
Side folding stock for the win.

Outside of that, it’s essentially a standard current generation PSA AK.

The trigger’s good, and the selector lever right out of the box was a little bit loosey-goosey but not so much that it’s an actual issue.

PSA AK-104

To be honest, there aren’t many bells and whistles. Assuming you know anything about AKs, though, you probably shouldn’t expect there to be.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup Specs & Features

For comparison, we’ve got a slightly different take on how to achieve an AK carbine from Poland’s own Pioneer Arms.

I had no prior experience with Pioneer Arms. But a little digging revealed that they’re essentially an American-owned company that set up shop in Radom, Poland to start turning out Polish-made AKs.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup
Pioneer Arms Hellpup

They have the same employees, machines, blueprints, and tooling from the storied FB Łucznik “Circle 11” arms plant.

Up until at least the year 2000, this plant manufactured a variety of AK platform rifles for Poland’s military.

The Hellpup being a pistol means a few things for us here – chiefly that the muzzle device up front is closer to the “correct” length found on a normal AK-104.

However, you’re not getting the wire cutting feature found on the normal booster.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup

I’m not entirely positive this thing’s got the internal volume necessary to be working on the same principles as the original.

But I’ll refrain from speculating, considering I don’t have an original to test out.

Regardless, the barrel comes in at just about 11.5 or 12-inches. By necessity, we’ve got to have a pistol brace on the rear to stay SBR compliant.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup

On the Hellpup, this works rather crudely with a plate at the rear of the receiver. That plate gives us a buffer tube, to which an SB Tactical M4 is affixed.

A few problems became apparent as soon as I started throwing rounds down range with the Hellpup in this configuration.

The rear plate that provides that buffer tube is, to be blunt, sharp as hell.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup

I probably don’t have to explain why having a 12-inch 7.62×39 gun recoiling an angular edge into your face kind of sucks.

The second is that the SB Tactical M4 has no internal locking mechanisms to catch the slots on the underside of a standard buffer tube.

So, the length of pull adjustments is essentially useless, and the brace can also rotate 360 degrees around the buffer tube.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup

Be that as it may, I managed to fix both issues by just gaff taping the stock into place at its shortest position — which wrapped the edges of that adapter plate as well.

It’s dumb, but it worked okay…other than making my length of pull a bit too short to be comfortable. So, it goes.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup Gaff Tape
Modern problems require modern solutions.

Other than that, it’s an AK.

The front sight is hooded as opposed to the open posts found on Russian AKs.

Its selector lever was way too stiff right out of the box, so I beat it up a bit to make sure I could run the gun safely and fluidly.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup

Overall, it’s a short AK made by a reasonably high-quality Polish company.

All of that out of the way; let’s get them out to the range — Texas Shooting Academy to specific! (Thanks for letting us nerd out, guys.)

Range Time

PSA AK-104

My hopes were pretty high after how much fun I had with PSA’s AK-103.

But my hopes shattered with disappointment after a few rounds…

About half a mag into the first mag with the PSA AK-104, the trigger went dead.

As I could have sworn the gun ejected the casing and went back into battery, I was a bit surprised.

PSA AK-104 Shooting
Right before it all went wrong.

So, I cleared the gun and tried a few more times…to the same result.

The gun will fire if you manually charge it, but the trigger doesn’t actually reset if you’re riding it.

Weirdly enough, it will reset if you fire the gun and let off the trigger immediately.

Weird

We broke the gun open, and the issue was quickly apparent — the braided metal mainspring arms had somehow lost tension on the trigger housing and disconnector that provides your trigger reset.

This means when the gun fires, the bolt comes back and resets the hammer.

Then the disconnector grabs onto the bolt and holds it, which in proper function it does until the bolt is back into battery.

PSA AK-104 Issue
Trying to diagnose the issue.

Because those main spring arms don’t properly connect to the trigger mechanism, the trigger didn’t reset. In turn, the disconnector still had the hammer held to the rear.

While PSA can sometimes have a reputation for quality control issues, I personally had never really experienced them myself until now.

PSA AK-104 Issue Breakdown
This is not how you want your range day to go.

I’m honestly a bit disappointed as my experience with them had been pretty positive.

But there’s no other way to paint this…it’s a major malfunction for a gun with ~15 rounds through it. In my opinion, it should not have been allowed to leave the factory.

bad news in a good way

Thankfully, we were able to get ahold of PSA while we were at the range. They were able to help us take a pair of needle-nose pliers and twist the mainspring back into place.

This provided the needed tension level to restore proper functioning.

PSA AK-104 Fixing

Kudos to them for the help, but this probably shouldn’t be placed on the end user to do.

But it’s an AK, and if nothing else, these things are pretty damn simple to work on.

We got the gun back up and running and didn’t encounter any similar issues during the couple hundred rounds we ran through the gun.

PSA AK-104

While the PSA AK-104 ran just fine with standard Magpul Gen 3 polymer magazines and a few Palm 30s, for the life of us, we couldn’t get the gun to function with whatever no-name steel mags we had.

So, beware if you’ve got a stockpile of surplus metal magazines floating around.

The 104’s irons were also a fair bit off, consistently requiring a hold pretty far off the right side of the plate to achieve hits at 50 to 100 yards.

PSA AK-104 View

Obviously, AK irons are adjustable for elevation, and it can be easy to get bumped up to your 100m notch instead of the 50 if you aren’t paying attention.

But windage is something that should be set correctly at the factory.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a front sight tool or optics rail on hand to bypass the issue with a red dot or holographic sight.

PSA AK-104
No red dots here.

All of that said, the 104 ran well enough. Once I mentally dialed in where my holdovers were at 50 and 100 yards, I had no trouble consistently ringing steel with the gun.

The trigger has that snappiness that I enjoy with AKs. PSA’s stock trigger is close to on par with something like Tapco’s G2 if perhaps just a tad shy.

PSA AK-104

I will say that the booster throws the entire chunk factor of 7.62×39 right back at you.

While it’s not uncontrollable, it’s also not necessarily what I’d deem “pleasant” either.

You’re getting less rearward movement but quite a bit of muzzle rise that you need to be on top of if you’re trying to score accurate follow-up shots.

PSA AK-104

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The Hellpup

Comparatively, we had much fewer weird kinks and issues with the Hellpup. In fact, I don’t think the plucky Pole had any issue whatsoever during our time with it.

And its magazine, well, for whatever reason, also played much nicer with the cheapo steel magazines than the PSA 104’s did.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup
Pioneer Arms Hellpup

As I mentioned, the unfortunate issue here stems largely from the fact that the SB Tactical M4 brace isn’t adjustable for length of pull — although later models of pistol braces are.

While my gaff tape solution to holding the brace in place prevented it from twisting around the buffer tube and smoothed out the sharp edges on that adapter plate, it meant that the length of pull was really tiny for my wingspan.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup
It’s a little short.

Unfortunately, the AK lacks an easy way to mount optics on the gun without doing something like a rear sight block rail.

So, we’re stuck with irons again. But at least this time, the gun’s irons come zeroed for windage.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup

The Hellpup’s selector lever, as noted, was pretty damn stiff right out of the box – but that’s an easy fix. 

I tend to knife hand swat at my AK selector levers when I’m going fast.

Loosening the lever up allows for just enough tension on the receiver to ensure I can make big dumb gross motor function movements without making it so loose as to be floppy.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup Slector
Knifehand!

Recoil-wise, it’s about on par with the PSA 104 – chunky but with some significant muzzle climb.

In theory, unlike the PSA 104’s pinned and welded design, the Hellpup’s muzzle device can be changed.

Yours might have a small bit of welding holding it in place too. I’ll leave that up to you to check out. But again…in theory, it’s possible.

PSA AK-104 vs. Pioneer Arms Hellpup: Which is Better?

Truth be told, neither the PSA AK-104 nor the Pioneer Arms Hellpup was quite my cup of tea.

But given that I’ve boxed myself into comparison, I think I’d probably take the Hellpup between these two firearms in their current configurations.

I’m trying my best not to let the trigger spring issue with the PSA color me too much, as we could get it sorted out. Not to mention, the rifle ran fine after that.

But I’d be lying if I tried to pretend that it didn’t give me a bit of pause.

PSA AK-104 Shooting
PSA AK-104

Coupled with the fact that, aesthetically, the elongated booster to meet SBR requirements just really doesn’t do it for me…I think I’m inclined to pick the Hellpup.

The Hellpup ran without issue, and it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be something else and perhaps stumbling on the way there.

Pioneer Arms Hellpup
Pioneer Arms Hellpup

However, there are variants of the PSA-104 available as pistols — complete with a side-folding buffer tube adapter and pistol brace, MLOK rail, and aftermarket muzzle device.

If you’re looking for a 12-inch AK in 7.62×39 that comes pre-tricked out, I’d probably wind up going that route.

Just be aware that you might have to get on the phone with PSA’s customer service to iron out the bugs.

1099
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it just kind of depends on what you’re after. If you want a work out of the box solution, the Hellpup works well.

PSA AK-104 and Pioneer Arms Hellpup
PSA AK-104 and Pioneer Arms Hellpup

But if you prefer a more feature-rich version, grab the PSA AK-104.

What do you think of PSA’s AK-104 or Pioneer Arms Hellpup? Let me know in the comments below. Need more AKs? Check out our full guide to the AK platform.

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Patrick

    If it was so easy to fix, why did you need to contact PSA for technical help? Was the problem not readily apparent, or are you knot familiar with the AK? Either way, I agree this issue should have never happened.

    December 19, 2021 6:47 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim in Texas

    Thank-you for writing such an honest review!

    It sounds like the gun manufacturers need to work the bugs out before considering either gun for purchase and hope they take the time to do it right this time.

    December 17, 2021 3:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Christopher Forbes

    Where are the images???
    I'm using Firefox 95.0 x64 and the images for this article are not downloading.

    December 16, 2021 5:47 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jacki Billings, Editor

      We had a minor glitch yesterday, but everything should be back up and running.

      December 17, 2021 3:40 am
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