Muzzle Brake vs. Flash Hider vs. Compensator
Primary Arms Staff7/23/2020 4:58 pmwww.primaryarms.com
If you want to get the most out of your precision rifle or carbine, you need to have the right muzzle device, but with so many options available, where does anyone even begin?
In general, muzzle devices contribute to four major performance factors:
1. Flash Reduction
2. Recoil Mitigation
3. Muzzle Stabilization
4. Suppressor/Accessory Compatibility
Every muzzle device will contribute to these factors in some way, so you can start by establishing your priorities. To do that, we recommend answering these five questions:
Is your rifle meant for tactical/defensive use?
Is your rifle meant for competition?
How do you describe your rifle’s recoil impulse?
Will you ever use your rifle at night or indoors?
Do you have or want a suppressor?
These questions will help you decide between Flash Hiders, Muzzle Brakes, and Compensators, which appeal to different styles and applications of marksmanship.
For tactical or defensive applications, muzzle flash can be a major liability. Flash exposes your position and can blind you to your target in low light conditions. That’s why flash hiders have been a standard for military and police groups for decades: flash hiders have no major downsides and are usually the most affordable option.
The A2 ‘Birdcage’ Flash Hider has been in use with military groups for many decades, and its effectiveness in reducing muzzle flash is undisputed. If you want a simple flash hider that gets the job done, these devices can cost as little as $10.
Of course, if you want the best performance, the SureFire 3-Prong Flash Hider and Strike Industries Venom will have even greater flash reduction, but they come at a higher price. Some detractors may say that pronged flash hiders are inferior due to their ‘tuning fork’ effect, where each prong would ring off each other after each shot. However, most current models of pronged flash hiders have mitigated this effect by slightly altering the dimensions of each prong to reduce resonance.
No matter your choice, a flash hider is a great match for any combat carbine—especially on short-barreled carbines like an AR pistol, where muzzle flash is very pronounced. Just make sure that flash hiders are legal in your state, as some ‘assault weapons’ laws prohibit flash hiders by name.
If your rifle has a kick to it, a muzzle brake may be your best friend.
Muzzle brakes reduce the amount of rearward force by redirecting gas as it leaves the muzzle. For full-power rifles and magnum-caliber rifles, muzzle brakes can tame an otherwise uncomfortable punch to a manageable shove. The extent of recoil mitigation will vary from device to device, but unlike flash hiders, muzzle brakes come with a considerable downside.
Muzzle brakes create a considerable shockwave with each shot. The size of the shockwave will depend on your brake’s design, but in general, more recoil mitigation means more shock. This effect is multiplied if paired with a short-barrel rifle or rifle-style pistol. If you’re at an indoor range, this shockwave will be VERY noticeable to everyone around you—and it may even upset neighbors in nearby lanes. Fortunately, there is a workable solution to that issue, which we will discuss in the ‘blast diffusers’ section.
There are a wide variety of muzzle brakes designs available. The Lantac Dragon is a top choice when it comes to raw recoil mitigation, but the VG6 Gamma and SureFire Muzzle Brake offer similar results with a slightly different feature set.
Compensators are similar to muzzle brakes but with a noteworthy difference. While muzzle brakes redirect gas to reduce recoil impulse, compensators redirect gas to counteract muzzle rise. The distinction is subtle, but on low-recoil carbines, muzzle movement is considerably more important than overall recoil when making rapid fire shots on target.
Like muzzle brakes, compensators cause a concussive shockwave when fired. In enclosed spaces or close proximity, this blast can feel intolerable, but the degree of shock will vary depending on the rifle and compensator design.
Compensators excel in competition shooting, where rapid taps on target are most important. They can also be very useful on short carbines, which may have more muzzle movement than larger, heavier rifles. Just remember: shorter carbines generally have more muzzle blast with brakes and compensators, so there is always a trade-off.
Popular compensators include the Spike's Tactical Dynacomp, BCM GUNFIGHTER, and JP Enterprises Tactical Compensator. As a whole, compensators come in a wide variety of designs and price points. Many devices blur the line between brake and compensator, acting as ‘hybrid’ devices.
Hybrid Muzzle Devices
Over the last few years, hybridized devices have taken the forefront of muzzle device development. These devices merge the features of flash hiders, muzzle brakes, and compensators to combine their benefits while offsetting their weaknesses.
These devices are difficult to design and manufacture, which makes them more expensive than other muzzle devices, but the resulting performance can be stellar. The SureFire WARCOMP and SOLGW Nox muzzle devices achieve exceptional flash hiding capabilities while also reducing muzzle movement—all without excessive concussion. Likewise, the Precision Armament AFAB and EFAB are two of the most popular hybrid devices, instantly recognizable from their distinctive port patterning.
While hybrid devices may not excel in any one factor, their overall performance is good enough to earn use among professional teams, including SOCOM and other Tier 1 groups. For this reason, we highly recommend hybrid devices for consideration on any combat rifle.
Muzzle Devices and Suppressor Compatibility
Suppressors are a unique case. They can count as both a muzzle device and a muzzle device accessory depending on the mounting system.
Direct-thread suppressors would replace a muzzle device and attach directly to the threading of your barrel. This is still somewhat common for precision and bolt-action rifles, but direct-thread attachment has fallen out of favor on the tactical market.
Most suppressor manufacturers (including Surefire, Dead Air, and SilencerCo) make QD suppressors that fit over your muzzle device and lock down for quick attachment and removal. These QD systems are not compatible with one another, so most suppressor owners centralize on one system. That usually means choosing one brand of flash suppressors, muzzle brakes, and compensators for all your rifles, but some suppressor companies like Dead Air are working with other muzzle device manufacturers to provide more options, like the Lantac Dragon with KEYMO attachment.
If you plan on purchasing a QD suppressor in the future, suppressor compatibility will be very important. If you invest in a single system, you won’t have to replace incompatible devices in the future, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars.
To confirm if a muzzle device is compatible with a QD suppressor system, we recommend reading the item description carefully. That is the only reliable way to determine a muzzle device’s QD suppressor compatibility.
Suppressors aren’t the only accessory to consider. If you use a compensator or muzzle brake, a blast diffuser might be an invaluable addition to your rifle.
Blast diffusers attach to your muzzle brake or compensator to redirect the concussion forward and away from the user. This is particularly important when shooting indoors, as muzzle blast is magnified and reflected by nearby surfaces. Without a blast diffuser, compensators and muzzle brakes can seem intolerably loud—and borderline painful. With a blast diffuser, your rifle will sound only slightly louder than average.
Like QD suppressors, many blast diffusers attach directly to your compensator or muzzle brake, so it’s important that you stick to one system for full compatibility. For example, the Surefire Warden will only fit on Surefire-compatible muzzle devices. This is true of many other blast diffusers on the market, so read each product carefully before you make a purchase.
In optimizing your rifle, muzzle devices are an important consideration, deserving ample attention and research. You should carefully evaluate all the available options before making your decision—especially if you are planning to invest in accessories like suppressors or blast diffusers.
While the variety can be intimidating, we all benefit from the added competition between manufacturers. Muzzle devices are one of the fastest-innovating parts categories for firearms, and new designs are releasing every month.