AR15 Muzzle Brake/Flash Hider/Compensator Comparison, Part 1

Note: While I work to verify my recoil data, I have decided to release the first part of this comparison, which covers muzzle flash.

One of the most popular accessories for today’s AR15 owner is a muzzle device. Want less muzzle flash? There’s a device for that. Want less recoil? There’s a device for that, too. Want less muzzle flash AND less recoil? Some devices even claim to perform multiple functions.

I have been closely studying how various muzzle devices perform for years, and this summer, with the assistance of Advanced Armament Company, B.E. Meyers, and Silencerco, was able to test a significant number of devices currently on the market in unique and highly educational ways. I did not manage to test all of the devices on the market, or even all of the most popular ones. I did include a good sample of different types of devices. It is my hope that after reviewing this article, the reader will be able to look at any muzzle device and be able to make an educated guess regarding its characteristics in a number of areas. As you will see, some perform quite similarly to one another.

 

 

Muzzle Flash Comparisons

 

If you would like to see how each device performed, scroll down to the graphs below. However, I feel that a preface is warranted here.

Surefire’s Micro can is not designed to reduce noise to hearing-safe levels, nor does it eliminate flash when attached to a Surefire brake.

Many manufacturers claim that their device reduces muzzle flash, and this may be true – compared to the bare muzzle. However, a bare muzzle will emit a huge amount of fiery awesomeness with most types of .223 or 5.56 ammunition. Every device tested reduced muzzle flash compared to the bare muzzle. The consumer might assume the manufacturer meant reduced muzzle flash compared to some other standard – perhaps the A2 muzzle device – which would eventually lead to disappointment.

What is your personal definition of too much muzzle flash? If your shooting only requires that you not be blinded by a huge fireball every time you pull the trigger, then nearly any device will do in this regard. However, if you want to not have bad guys see your exact position every time you shoot at them in the dark, then serious consideration must be given to which muzzle device is on the end of your rifle.

I personally feel that for combat, flash suppression is more important than sound suppression. I can hear and identify suppressed subsonic fire in my direction at over 80 yards, but if I do not have a visual reference point, I cannot effectively return fire. If someone with a very loud firearm that emits no flash is shooting at me, I am really no better informed than I would be if he had a sound suppressor. I just know that someone is shooting at me.

However, many sound suppressors, contrary to popular belief, do not do a very good job of reducing flash. So, armed with the knowledge that someone is shooting at me or my friends (from the sound) and exactly where he is shooting at me from (thanks to the flash), I would be able to shoot back with relatively high effectiveness. Of course, I would already be behind the curve, but I would have more information than the guy shooting at me would probably like. Were I the shooter instead of the shootee, this would be quite vexing.

Ammunition makes a big difference, too. Here’s the same rifle and silencer with Q3131A (the ammo used for this test) instead of S&B SS109 (the ammo used in the above photo).

With all of this in mind, this comparison uses multiple methods to evaluate muzzle flash: long-exposure photography close to the muzzle, long-exposure photography from downrange, high speed video, and high speed video using night vision equipment. Each device will be discussed individually, followed by a summary at the end of the section. Objective methods were used to analyze the results whenever possible. Winchester Q3131 was used for the still photographs and Federal M855 was used for the videos. All shots were with (unless otherwise noted) a 16″ AR15 in 5.56mm.

Images and videos are in slideshow format – look for arrows to the left and right of each slideshow photo to cycle through the images AND videos for that muzzle device.

 

 

 Bare Muzzle

This discussion must start with the baseline of “no muzzle device.”

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The bare muzzle, as stated above, allows a large (and in this case, somewhat uninspired) fireball to form in front of the muzzle. It’s by far the largest in terms of area, although with this particular evaluation method it didn’t result in the highest peak brightness. Camera settings for all shots from this angle (unless otherwise specified) were f2.8, ISO 400, 1 second shutter speed. Absolutely no modifications were made to these photos, other than to resize them.

From 80 yards downrange, it was very clear where shots were coming from – note that in this and all downrange photos, you are seeing the aggregate muzzle flash of five shots. The photos of the muzzle from the side are a single shot, but are representative of the average muzzle flash exhibited by each device in near-total darkness.

Unfortunately, we lost the high speed video file which showed the bare muzzle.

 

 

A2

The ubiquitous A2 muzzle device is sold for $5-7. It is in use on nearly all US Military M16/M4 rifles, and a significant number of civilian AR15s as well.

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Compared to the bare muzzle, the A2 offered a significant reduction in muzzle flash.

From downrange, the A2 was barely visible – I was able to spot it only because I knew exactly where the shooter was standing. If I were searching for the shooter, I would have a more difficult time – especially if he were shooting directly at me.

While photos are useful and illustrative of the overall flash allowed by each device, they show all of the light which occurred in a one second period in a single frame, which is not exactly how the human eye sees muzzle flash. The duration of muzzle flash from an AR15 with a muzzle device is approximately 1 millisecond, which is why many standard (30fps/60fps) camera videos are a poor choice for showing an entire event – a flash could be missed entirely by the camera.

High speed video, shot on Silencerco’s Phantom v12.1 at 7000fps and slowed down 10x, shows a closeup of the muzzle flash in slow motion. The duration of the visible flash is approximately 5/7000sec. It appears similar to the long exposure photography, although we can see each part as it occurs.

A still frame from high speed video, shot with a B.E. Meyers OWL night vision lens adapter, allows us to see much more flash than with the naked eye.

 

 

AAC Blackout

The Blackout is a 3 prong muzzle device described by the manufacturer as “the world’s most effective flash hider. The proprietary features eliminate muzzle flash, even on CQB-length barrels. The BLACKOUT® is inherently stronger and more impact resistant than four prong designs, while not being subject to the rapid erosion of closed-ended units.” It retails for approximately $59.

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Using the same f2.8/ISO 400/1 sec camera settings, very little visible flash was observed.

Because it was so difficult to discern the best flash hiders from one another, additional shots were taken from the side with an ISO of 1600 and no other changes. This increases the camera’s sensitivity to light, but makes the images not directly comparable to the ISO 400 shots. Only attempt to compare these shots with other ISO 1600 shots, which will be identified as such below each photo.

From downrange, I did not observe any flash. The camera captured one “spark,” but I didn’t see it until I looked at the image.

In the Phantom high speed video, only 2/7000sec of relatively small flash is seen.

Using the OWL, a small amount of flash was visible in the IR spectrum.

 

 

BattleComp 1.0

The BattleComp, according to the manufacturer, “offers muzzle control like some of the best brakes on the market, with none of their liabilities” and gives “…excellent control WITHOUT the excessive concussion and crushing blast produced by most compensators on the market — with flash comparable to an A2.” It retails for $155.

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Flash from the BattleComp was rather attractive, with tendrils of flame arcing out from the device in several directions. The muzzle flash was also immediately obvious and bright. The position of the muzzle was easily identifiable from downrange. Phantom high speed video showed significant flash which was visible for 1 millisecond, or 7/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

B.E. Meyers 249F

The B.E. Meyers 249F is a 4 prong muzzle device which, according to the manufacturer, “virtually eliminate(s) muzzle flash.” It was originally designed for and sold to military and government customers, but recently became available on the civil market for $149.

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From the side, almost no flash was visible at ISO 400. At ISO 1600, some flash was visible, but it was still remarkably low. From downrange, no flash was visible. Keep in mind that all downrange shots show the light from 5 rounds being fired. Using the Phantom high speed camera, a very small amount of flash was visible for 3/7000sec. The B.E. Meyers OWL showed more flash on average in the IR spectrum with the 249F than the AAC Blackout.

 

 

BWA X Comp

The Black Weapons Armory X Comp is made by Proto Tactical, and is described by BWA as “produc(ing) a light straight back recoil instead of producing muzzle rise…Most compensators and flash hiders cause the muzzle to rise up and lengthen the time required for the shooter to get back on target…The X design incorporated into the tip of the compensator and interior chamber design helps reduce the flash, which produces a much smaller signature that is normally produced by muzzle brakes.”

It’s designed to control the movement of the muzzle and retails for $120.

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Flash from the X Comp was clearly visible and rather bright. From downrange, the position of the muzzle was immediately obvious. Phantom high speed video showed a relatively large muzzle flash which was visible for 6/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

PWS FSC556

The Primary Weapons Systems FSC556 is a hybrid device which, according to PWS, “provides superior compensation characteristics combined with enough flash suppression to keep the flash out of your optics and line of sight.” It retails for $100.

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Flash from the FSC556 was greater than that of the A2 and clearly visible. From downrange, the shooter’s position could be identified with relative ease. High speed video showed a moderate amount of flash which lasted 5/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

PWS Triad

The PWS Triad is a three prong muzzle device which retails for $70. PWS say it “features a revolutionary design bringing true flash suppression together with reduced muzzle flip by redirecting gases exiting the muzzle without the overpressure created by muzzle brakes and recoil compensators.”

[slideshow_deploy id=’4773′]

Flash was visible from the Triad, and although it was not very bright, it did cover an area of decent size. From downrange, it was slightly easier to identify the position of the Triad than the A2. High speed video showed a sizable amount of flash which was visible for 5/7000sec. The video also showed the Triad rotating as the rifle was fired due to its design (devices were not torqued for this test). No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Proto Tactical Z-Comp

Proto Tactical’s Z-Comp is a compensator with a unique angled forward end, which Proto claims “delivers significantly reduced recoil and decreases muzzle climb to help you get back on target quickly” without commenting on muzzle flash. It retails for $129.

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Flash at the muzzle was comparable to other devices of this type – that is to say, bright. Flash from downrange was very easy to spot. On high speed video, it lasted just under one millisecond. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Proto Tactical Z-Tac

Proto Tactical’s Z-Tac is a compensator with short flash suppressing tines on the front of the device. It retails for $129.

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The Z-Tac was rather flashy at the muzzle. From downrange, it was easy to spot, and flash lasted just under one millisecond on high speed video. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Rainier Arms XTC

The Rainier XTC is a hybrid device “designed to reduce felt recoil & muzzle rise with a relatively low muzzle flash. A true multi-functional muzzle device designed to do it all while looking great at an affordable price.” It retails for $57.

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The area of flash as viewed from the side was relatively small, but very bright. From 80 yards downrange, the muzzle flash was spectacular and easily seen. If you are ever stranded on a hostile planet and need to signal for help from a passing spaceship, use the XTC. High speed video shows rolling fireballs escaping out each side of the XTC, with a total flash duration of approximately 6/7000 of a second. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Silencerco Specwar Brake

The Silencerco Specwar Brake is a three port muzzle device intended to reduce recoil and provide a mounting location for the Specwar silencer. Its brother is the Saker Brake, which offers identical performance, but is intended to mount the Saker silencer. Both devices retail for $80.

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As you might expect, this device had a lot of flash. I think this was my favorite muzzle device in terms of flash. Turn your head sideways, and it looks like a Christmas tree. From downrange, the Specwar brake was easy to spot, but it was not as bright as a few of the other devices, surprisingly. Unfortunately, we didn’t get high speed video of the Specwar Brake. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Silencerco Trifecta

The Trifecta is a three prong flash hider designed to mount certain Silencerco suppressors while eliminating the ringing tone which other multi-prong devices are prone to emit when tapped on a hard surface or fired. It retails for $70.

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The Trifecta allowed a small but somewhat visible amount of flash. At 1600 ISO, the flash was easily identifiable. A small but noticeable amount of flash was visible for approximately 5/7000sec on high speed video. Although performance in the IR spectrum varied from shot to shot more than the other devices, this is a representation of the average flash visible from the Trifecta with night vision.

 

 

Simple Threaded Devices 5.56

The, uh, STD is a unique device which looks rather like an elongated thread protector and is intended to keep noise and muzzle flash from interfering with the shooter during hunting. It sells for $55.

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From the side, the STD had a noticeable amount of flash. It wasn’t terribly bright, but it was sizable. The position of the muzzle was easy enough to spot from downrange. On high speed video, the single fireball lasts just under 1 millisecond at 6/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Spike’s Tactical Dynacomp

The Dynacomp is, according to Spike’s, “designed to reduce recoil impulse and muzzle climb to provide faster follow up shots.” No claims are made on the Spike’s Tactical site regarding muzzle flash reduction. It retails for $90.

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Muzzle flash from the Dynacomp is beautiful and awesome – and also bright. From downrange, the Dynacomp’s flash was immediately obvious. It was somewhat less than the XTC, but still unmistakable. On high speed video, the Dynacomp’s initial flash looked remarkably like the first microseconds of a nuclear explosion, lasting one millisecond, or 7/7000sec.

No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

VG6 Precision Gamma 5.56

VG6’s Gamma 556 is claimed to be “a muzzle brake and compensator hybrid. It virtually eliminates recoil and minimizes muzzle movement. The unique combination of both braking and compensating features inspire shooter confidence and allows the shooter to make very fast follow up shots.” No statements are made regarding flash suppression.

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Muzzle flash from the Gamma 556 was, as expected, healthy. The position of the shooter was easily identifiable from downrange. The VG6’s muzzle flash lasts 5/7000sec.

No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Vltor VC-1

The Vltor VC-1 is a birdcage-looking muzzle device that acts as a flash hider and mount for the Gemtech HALO silencer. It retails for $57.

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The VC-1 has muzzle flash roughly comparable to the A2. From downrange, it was a challenge to spot the VC-1 – again, about on par with the A2. On high speed video, the flash profile was also remarkably similar to that of the A2 and lasted 5/7000sec.

No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device.

 

 

YHM Phantom

The Phantom is advertised as a flash hider which “virtually eliminates flash and provides excellent performance with night vision.” It retails for $34.

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Although brighter than the Blackout and 249F, the Phantom provides rather excellent flash suppression for the price. At 1600 ISO, the flash was easily visible. From downrange, I could not identify the position of the muzzle, but flash was visible on camera (after 5 shots).

On high speed video, we can see a small amount of flash for roughly 3/7000s. Unfortunately, we lost the high speed night vision video of the Phantom.

 

 

Muzzle Flash Summary

It’s nice to look at photos and videos, but how do you quantify all of this information?

Photoshop was used for this. I resized the images and made them black and white, then used the Mosaic filter to create a blocky version of each image.

I then noted the relevant HSB data for each block, measured in relative terms, with 0 being pure black and 100 being pure white. For area, I noted the number of “blocks” for the up close images – the downrange shots all fell into one block.

Thus, we are able to compare muzzle flashes up close…

 

…as well as from downrange.

 

Due to the angles and distances involved, some of the devices performed better at distance than they did up close – and vice versa. However, the best flash hiders did well at all distances and angles.

The next portion of this article relates to sound, and it will be released soon.

57 thoughts on “AR15 Muzzle Brake/Flash Hider/Compensator Comparison, Part 1”

    1. It doesn’t look cool enough and everyone knows cool looking guns make the bullets fly farther, faster and straighter.

    2. It mostly depends on what people are looking for in a muzzle device. If you’re looking for muzzle flash suppression at a low cost, the A2 birdcage is what you’re looking for. If you want muzzle control because you’re a high-level gun gamer and give no dimes about whether cardboard silhouette targets can identify your shooting position, you’ll want a costly, super-flashy compensator.

      For my own self, I want an A1 three-prong style, because I am a dumb baby who loves the aesthetics of it and care naught for either recoil control or flash suppression.

      1. Also, the three prong flash suppressor is even more effective than the birdcage of the A-1 and A-2.

        I have been installing the Blackouts from AAC for quite a while, and have no muzzle flash problems reported.

    3. Well it only beat out the Vltor flash hider the other devices were brakes/comps or brakes/comps that claim to have flash hiding capabilities!

  1. Wow. You put in work. I’m happy with my research and previous purchases, surprised by some of the outcomes, and impressed with the pictures. Great job, very informative.

  2. I noticed in your comparison charts that you list results for the MB556K. However, I do not see it listed anywhere else on this page. Can you please post them?

    1. I’ll add it in at some point. I only had the MB556K for this portion, not the rest of the test, so I didn’t spend time on adding it in other than the chart.

      1. Awesome! Thank you.

        The only reason I ask is that the Magpul guys are big fans of the device, and a lot of people have been following suit lately. I’m plenty happy with my A2s. :)

  3. This is the first time I have seen someone actually qualify flash suppressors with the ammo used and barrel length. I commend you! These two facts are usually ignored, and leave people thinking they work off PFM (pure effin magic). I’ve known for a long time that the prong type hiders were the most efficient but never realized they were that much more so. And the reason the cages came about were simply due to necessity. The end ring closing off the prongs prevented them from catching on anything and acting like hooks, thus impeding rapid movement of the firearm. The other thing I’ve been aware of from personal experience is a muzzle brake and flash suppressor just do not mix. I am glad to see the videos that both qualify and quantify what I have been explaining for years. This isn’t a pat on my own back. My knowledge is an accumulation of 40 years experience, that was hard earned. You have qualified every single bit of it, and that is more valuable than all the work I have into it.

  4. I know it is not common, but would love to see the Young Mfg flash hider (La France design).

    thanks for all of your work, this was extremely helpful.

    It would be interesting to develop a mount that could assess the brake aspect or influence the device has on the the recoil impulse.

  5. Figures that the bare muzzle would have an “uninspired” ball of fire. I buy Battlecomps and other brakes so that my balls of fire have more pizzazz.

  6. I’m hardly surprised with the battlecomp results. I’ve seen muzzle flash in broad daylight from that thing.

    One question though – why no linear brakes? while I realised its a niche, I can’t help but be curious as to how the closed chamber of the linear type brakes affect flash. I’m not expecting super performance, just a comparison to the open chambered brakes.

    1. Just didn’t include any. I should have most of the testing equipment used for some time afterward, so any interested companies may send their devices for a followup.

  7. Dude, if you continue to test manufacturers’ claims like this, they’ll stop advertising on your . . . oh. Never mind. Carry on.

  8. Any thoughts on the AAC brake out? I know you didn’t test it here, but it is supposed to be a good mix of comp and flash hider

    1. Honestly, the design of the Brakeout is very similar to the XTC, so I’m pretty sure they should have pretty similar signatures, as well.

  9. You can’t compare muzzle brakes to flash hiders they both have two distinct purposes. Didn’t even include the vortex flash hider by smith enterprises. How is this a good comparison? of course the blackout is the best flash hider because that is what it’s meant for.

    1. Yes, could you contact them and see if they will send one. I’d really like to see you compare it to the others. It seems more interesting than the Blackout but not well proven yet.

  10. I wonder how much effect cutting through the connecting part of the prongs of an A2 would have on improving flash suppression?

  11. It’s a shame Smith Enterprises declined to participate. I guess if their product really worked the way they say it does, they wouldn’t have a problem with the comparison, eh?

    1. To be fair, we were working on a short timeline, but other companies had the same amount of notice and sent devices.

      What bothered me a little was the Smith rep who said he didn’t see my message in time to ship them – but the nifty Facebook “message seen at X time” thing told me otherwise.

      1. Seriously? … If you run this test again, let me know. I have a spare SE Vortex 5.56mm (Part 1001V) sitting around that you could borrow.

  12. Interesting data but you left an important point out that maybe you will cover in the next part – and that’s shot to shot times.

    Curious- Why didn’t you try the White Sound Defense flash hider? It performs as well as the AAC Blackout without the annoying tuning fork, and offers some compensating effect without the concussion associated with brakes. I own both and have seen how well the A2 performs next to them at night. It is good to see someone show how effective the A2 is, so thanks for sharing that.

    The main reason anyone needs a comp is faster split times. As a US civilian, you are highly unlikely to have to shoot someone at distance with a Centerfire rifle at night. And if you do, you are probably going to need to identify them first with a white light. Sorry, but “I had NVGs on and felt they were a threat” is not something I would want to rely on in court in a potential self defense trial. I would much rather shoot often and preserve my hearing than try to get a negligible improvement in splits. Some of the devices tested are obnoxious

    So for me, muzzle devices really don’t matter unless they offer a significant reduction in split times. Maybe do a version of the Half and Half drill at 20 yards- one in daylight, and one at night with a white light, and time 3 competent carbine shooters for average time with each device.

    Thanks for publishing the data!

  13. Did you contact BCM to include the Gunfighter’s? Also, do you have an opinion on them? I have been looking into compensators lately and they appear to be well designed. They also have an attractive price tag.

  14. Great information Andrew.

    If you end up doing any additional work with flash intensity there is an old, but still great, dinosaur of a program called NIH Image that is a free download (http://rsb.info.nih.gov/nih-image/). I have used this extensively in biomedical research projects and there are many new programs available but, for basic intensity/density measurements, this will do everything you need.

    In a similar manner to what you describe in this post, convert to B&W, invert the image to a negative, open in the program, and analyze the density. The best way to represent the data is to express as a percentage of a standard; i.e. percentage of the bare muzzle flash. Also, make sure the images (or selected areas in each) are the same size across all samples or the data will not be valid.

    Looking forward to more of your experiments…

  15. This sort of work, especielly the dry humor blended in with the great and original research, is why I always come back to this blog. Excellent work, as always.

  16. I found your blog linked from the AR-15 slow-motion video on YouTube. I wish I would have known earlier about the wealth of information on your blog! Excellent article, thanks.

  17. Fantastic article. I bought a Phantom based on Brownell’s video. I really couldn’t tell much from their video, but it seemed to preform at least as well as the A2, was available, and was reasonably priced. Looks like I got lucky.

  18. This excellent article was pointed out to the folks here at White Sound Defense by a reader. It was suggested that we should offer a FOSSA-556 for comparison. We have reached out a few times in the past, to the blog email address, but have never received a response. However, the offer stands. We would enthusiastically welcome a comparison.

  19. What phantom flash hider was used? YHM produces 3 that claim to produce the same results (all under the name phantom). The original 28-a, 5C1, and 5C2. Also, if you have had experience with the 5C1/5C2 vs. 28-a, were the results similar, can i expect the 5C1/5C2 to produce the same results as the 28-a. I’m looking to buy the phantom but stuck on which model to purchase. Appreciate your dedication and hard work.

  20. Your data was referenced on a 300 blk forum for choosing a compensator, do you think the results would follow the same line if done in 300 blk?

  21. Excellent article. I especially appreciate the clear distinction if the three factors: flash, recoil/muzzle climb, and sound. Very professionally executed and written. When all is said and done, the ONLY test as in pudding is the taste. (The proof of the pudding is in the taste) in this case, my efforts are flash suppression and the clear winner is the AAC Blackout, which when I’m done praising your work here, I will go online to find one maybe two… I anxiously await the next installment. Well done, sir.

  22. Great review. As an engineer, I greatly appreciate the efforts made to ensure valid “apples to apples” comparrisons were possible. I can clearly see which flash suppressor I shall buy, without needing to test for myself, saving me time and money. Thank you.

  23. Pingback: YHM-15 Pistols

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