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If you do a good once over on your AR-15, you can probably name any number of parts and pieces and why you prefer brand x and item x or brand y and item b. A lot of these parts serve very important purposes, and one of the most important parts is near the business end of the gun. Unless you live in a few states that ban certain muzzle devices you likely have one at the end of your rifle.

From experience, I’ve met a lot of people who can laugh at someone who calls a magazine a clip but can’t tell the difference between a muzzle brake and a compensator. The device at the end of your muzzle can do a lot more than you realize. Depending on the purpose of your rifle a muzzle device can make a bigger difference than you’d imagine. The muzzle device for a home defense rifle may not be the best choice for a 3 Gun rifle. Presented for your enjoyment we have a complete breakdown of different muzzle devices, and what they work best for.

Flash Suppressors/Hiders

Flash suppressors are by far the most common muzzle device. Most AR-15s are sold with a simple flash hider often referred to as the A2 flash hider. This is the same device you’ll find on any military M4 or M16. It’s actually not a bad choice because it acts as a half decent compensator. BCM produces a high-quality model that’s also extended to convert 14.5-inch barrels into 16-inch barrels, it’s pre-drilled and comes with a dowel pin.

Flash suppressors are designed to counter the flash created by a gunshot. When it comes to a standard 5.56 caliber rifle the shorter the barrel, the more useful a flash suppressor can be. Most 5.56 ammo is designed to be fired from a 20-inch barrel, so anything shorter and you can still expect the powder to be burning bright.

With most ARs being carbine variants with 16 or 14.5-inch barrels a flash suppressor is a solid choice. There seems to be a lot of confusion about flash suppressors and their overall intentions. A lot of folks think they are to prevent an enemy from seeing your muzzle flash, but that’s not true. They do reduce flash signature, but the intention is to preserve the night vision of the shooter. The reduced flash benefits the shooter, and their natural night vision. Flash suppressors are quite common and are often hybrid designs, which we’ll address later. Some of the best include the aforementioned Bravo Company BCM Extended A2 Flash Suppressor, as well as Seekins Precision Flash Hider which doubles as a suppressor adapter.

Flash Suppressors benefit any shooter but work exceptionally well in home defense AR-15s. The reduced flash ensures use inside a home, at night, doesn’t blind the user. The biggest downside is the fact they aren’t very useful during the day. Also because in California these are part of their assault weapons ban.


The overall goal of a compensator is to reduce the muzzle climb of a rifle. There isn’t a typical compensator design, but most feature ports with some way to redirect gas upwards. The gas being redirected upwards compensates for muzzle climb by pushing the barrel downwards. The name makes sense once you really think about it. Compensator and muzzle brake et confused very easily due to some kind of misunderstanding in the gun world.

The overall goal of a compensator is to reduce the muzzle climb of a rifle. There isn’t a typical compensator design, but most feature ports with some way to redirect gas upwards. The gas being redirected upwards compensates for muzzle climb by pushing the barrel downwards. The name makes sense once you really think about it. Compensator and muzzle brake et confused very easily due to some kind of misunderstanding in the gun world.

As many notice muzzle rise in an AR-15 isn’t terrible. Even rapid firing it’s an easy gun to hold on to, not like a full auto Mac 10. For that reason, a lot of people don’t take compensators seriously. However, when it comes to putting rounds on target quick, fast, and in a hurry, it’s hard to beat a comp. In action shooting sports like 3 gun, a compensator can be quite invaluable. With three gun being such a dynamic sport the use of a compensator allows a shooter to rapidly transition from target to target during both rapid and slow fire sections. When you are competing for fractions of a second, compensators can make a big difference.

Compensators are great pieces of gear and function well when needed. They give better overall control of your rifle and enhance your ability to shoot both fast and accurate. There are a number of different manufacturers, but companies like Bravo Company produce an awesome model called the BCM Gunfighter. It’s a simple, no BS compensator that is well built and compact. Perfect for tactical and competition use.

The downside of compensators is that they are loud! Very loud, and they produce some substantial noise and concussion. When used at night or in low light conditions they cause some serious muzzle flash.

Linear Muzzle Compensators

Linear Muzzle Compensators are not exactly new but have exploded recently in popularity. Linear muzzle compensators are designed to reduce muzzle rise, but also eliminate some of the problems with regular compensators. They reduce muzzle rise, and do not eliminate sound, muzzle blast, or flash, but redirect it away from the shooter. So what this means is that the linear compensator pushes the sound, concussion, and flash forward of the shooter.

Anyone behind the gun will notice the difference, especially with sound. It’s not hearing safe but is a lot better than a standard compensator. The flash being pushed forward would give your position away quite a bit, but for competition, it's still a great option. Now, speaking of competitions, most linear muzzle compensators are quite large and will disqualify you from certain competition classifications.

Kaw Valley Precision produces some excellent options for both rifle caliber and pistol caliber AR-15 rifles. These are simple, but very effective devices. Hera Arms also produces their Linear Muzzle Compensator which is extremely high quality and very effective, but it is large and kind of heavy. Effectiveness also comes at a cost, and many LMC’s are priced a little higher than standard comps.

Muzzle Brakes

Muzzle brakes (not breaks) are designed to reduce the overall felt recoil of a rifle. Muzzle brakes work in one of two ways, they either redirect or deflect the gases. When you fire a gun, the gun powder turns into gas and the propels the projectile down the barrel. As the gas reaches the muzzle brake, it hits a wall inside the brake, and this wall diverts gas out the side of the brake.

The gas hitting the wall of the muzzle brake slightly shifts the weapon forward. This is where your recoil reduction is felt. You don’t feel this forward movement because the rearward recoil is still in play. Most AR-15 calibers do not have substantial recoil, but there is enough recoil to cause movement with the weapon.

The muzzle brake helps eliminate this movement and like a compensator makes it easy to get back on target. Some calibers benefit more from a muzzle brake than others. Big bore calibers like the 450 Bushmaster and 454 SOCOM are solid contenders for muzzle brakes due to their harsher recoil. The downside of muzzle brakes is the flash factor. You get a lot of it, and it increases as barrels get shorter. Another downside is that shooters beside you get the full brunt and concussion of your rifle. Some folks won’t appreciate it, and it makes brakes a questionable choice for combat. Firing your gun inside a building with a brake is horrible, trust me.

Tunable Muzzle Brakes

A tunable muzzle brake is an interesting idea that is gaining steam. Most tunable brakes feature side ports that are permanently ‘opened.’ They feature additional ports that are sealed with threaded screws. A number of sealed ports vary between design, from 2 to 10 ports isn’t uncommon. The end user has the ability to open the ports at their will. This redirects gas in the directions a shooter wishes.

Tunable Muzzle Brake

Tunable Muzzle Brake

This can often allow shooters to compensate their weapons as well. These are most often hybrid designs. What they do though is allow the shooter to tune the weapon for their style of shooting. The rifle can be tuned different ways for different shooters. As a right-handed shooter, I generally get movement upwards and to the left. With a tunable muzzle brake, I can bleed gas to compensate for that up and to the left movement.

Tunable brakes don’t offer flash suppression and aren’t the cheapest muzzle devices, but they are quite handy. Anything that can be customized to a shooter is quite handy. The Lancer Nitrous Compensator is one of the most popular options on the market, and like most Lancer Gear it is well made and well thought out.


Hybrid muzzle devices often attempt to do the best of both worlds in design and implementation. The most common styles of hybrid muzzle devices are muzzle brakes and compensators and flash suppressors and compensators. These hybrids aren't uncommon and aren’t too hard to find. The A2 flash hider is by far the most common as it is a combination of flash hider and compensator.



Usually, a dedicated device will give the maximum effect of the device. Meaning a dedicated compensator is often better at reducing muzzle rise than a hybrid. The same goes for brakes and flash hiders. Hybrids are certainly interesting, and as more companies experiment with them, we may see a better option. Tunable muzzle brakes like the Axelson Tactical ROC competition is an excellent example of a well-done hybrid.

Flash Cans/Blast Shield

Flash cans and blast shields are designed to preserve the shooter’s vision from muzzle blast. They are designed specifically for short barreled rifles. Flash hiders can only do so much when you begin to cut the length of a barrel. With barrels of 7.5 to 10 inches being popular in AR pistols and short-barreled rifles, a flash hider really can’t keep up. Especially when the gun is chambered in 5.56.

A blast shield contains the explosive and bright nature of burning gunpowder. On a 16 inch barrel, the flash reduction is minimal, but it does exist. A flash directs all the muzzle blast and flash forward of the shooter. A flash can also allow the use of long handguards that go all the way up to the muzzle. Attempting to use these handguards with brakes or compensators often results in a broken handguard due to muzzle blast.

Flash Can in use

Flash Can in use

Flash cans don’t do much for muzzle rise, or recoil, but are handy at preserving the vision of shooters with short barrels and rifle cartridges.


Suppressors are the final item on this list for good reasons. They go by many names and can be called suppressor, silencer, can, and muffler depending on who you ask. The reason they are last on the list is because of how heavily regulated they are. Some states outright ban them, and others only require you follow the Federal Laws on suppressors. Federal law states that suppressors must be registered and approved via tax stamp after applying with the proper forms and paying a 200 dollar tax. There is an incredibly lengthy wait attached to the approval from the ATF.

Suppressors are also the most effective muzzle device for the AR-15 series of weapons. Of course, they reduce the sound of a rifle, and they do this quite effectively. Depending on the caliber they can make a rifle completely hearing safe. Suppressors also act as a very capable flash suppressor, as well as a muzzle brake. Due to the baffle system used in most suppressors, there is a noticeable reduction in rearward recoil.

Suppressors also reduce muzzle rise. A suppressor is basically the ultimate muzzle device. It’s perfect for home defense, excellent for competition and tactical use as well. If you are willing to put up with the hassle of dealing with the Federal Government and you can legally own a can, they are a quality investment.

Device Selection

Device selection is always on the individual. They should consider the needs of their rifle, as well as its intended purpose. A home defense rifle won’t benefit as much from a brake as it will a flash suppressor, sound suppressor, or flash can. A 20 inch barreled rifle won’t really benefit from a flash can at all. Use a little common sense, and always remember to invest in quality. There are a number of junk manufacturers peddling crap for cheap. (Protip crappy muzzle devices can’t withstand muzzle blast.)


  1. Seekins Precision Flash Hider ($45)
  2. BCM Extended A2 Flash Suppressor ($35)
  3. BCM Gunfighter ($90)
  4. Hera Arms Linear Muzzle Compensator ($113)
  5. AeroKnox AE // 01 Muzzle Brake 5.56/.223 ($110)
  6. Lancer Nitrous Compensator ($93)
  7. AAC 5.56MM 556-SD Rifle Silencer ($600)

* Items may have been out of stock or discontinued at the time of this writing.

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