Our Top AR-15 Picks: Which Is The Best AR-15 For You?

The AR-15 platform gets a lot of attention and for good reason, it is one of the most reliable and versatile firearms ever created. We dive deep into "legos for adults".
Kenzie Fitzpatrick

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Best AR-15s - Cover

This article is part of our Guide to Everything AR

The AR-15 platform gets a lot of attention and for good reason, it is one of the most reliable and versatile firearms ever created. It’s my go-to rifle for almost any shooting activity home; defense, distance shooting — you name it.

Both long and short-barreled rifles are all possible with a single AR-15, which is why it’s one of the most popular semi-automatic rifles available today.

Invented by a renowned team of engineers who were looking to change the dynamic of what constituted small arms at the time, the gun has gone on to be known and respected around the world.

In This Article:

AR-15 Comparison

Below is my list of the best AR-15 rifles for 2022. I’ve listed the top 10 choices in terms of value, performance, reliability, and cost.

Click on the name to head straight to the product page and check prices or skip ahead entire list or ARs.

ImageNameSelectionPrice
PSA PA-15Best Value$779
Daniel Defense DDM4Best Premium AR$1,799
Lead Star GruntBest Mid-Range AR$892
FN M4 CarbineBest Classic Build$1,749
Springfield SaintBest Flat-Faced Trigger$1,125
Colt LE CarbineLE Selection$1,049
LWRC IC DIAlso Great$2,599
Ruger SR556Best Starter AR$799
Sig M400Mid-Range Runner-Up$949
S&W M&P SportBest Budget Option$772
Anderson MFGBudget Runner-Up$680

What you want in an AR-15

There are a lot of pieces on any AR, and we’re not going to get into the weeds on barrel profiles, anodizing, gas systems, or anything that won’t *really* matter to most folks.

That said, there are some fundamental criteria that will help you get the right black rifle for you:

  1. Quality receivers
  2. The right barrel
  3. Functional furniture
  4. A trigger that feels right

1. Quality Receiver Construction

The fundamental thing to look for in a solid rifle receiver is the construction – specifically, the kind of aluminum used to craft the two halves of the AR rifle:

  • 7075 aluminum’s primary attribute is its strength. It’s not as corrosion resistant as 6061, but 7075 has tensile strength on par with steel.
  • 6061 aluminum offers a blend of durability and natural corrosion resistance. It doesn’t offer 7075’s strength, but it offers a more workable material that is often slightly cheaper.

Forged vs. Billet: Further, while forged receivers are standard in AR production, some gun companies make their own billet receivers in-house, milled from a raw block of aluminum.

Most billet receivers have thicker walls and are harder to get into a military spec due to the machining process behind them but are preferred by those using heavier rounds with a bit more spice, such as .350 Legend, .277 Wolverine, and 6.5 Grendel.

Want to know how an aluminum blank becomes a receiver? Take a look at our deep dive into aluminum and ARs.

2. The right barrel

AR Barrel Lengths
AR barrels are available as short as 4.75" -- all the way up to 26", with the sweet spot between 16" and 20"

When the AR-15 rifle was first introduced in the 1960s, the standard barrel length was 20-inches, and the 5.56 NATO caliber ammunition of the day was ballistically optimized for that span.

Today, loads such as M855 are widely available and still deliver optimally in a 20-inch or longer barrel for those interested in maximizing accuracy — say, for competitive shooting. 

Since the early 1990s, the widespread adoption of M4 style carbine barrels, which for military and LE using a shorter barrel at just 14.5-inches, had led to many common ARs today having a default barrel length in the 16-inch range.

This choice is backed up by extensive barrel-length studies that found the “sweet spot” for common 5.56 loads in this range, although standard-length (20-inch) barrels deliver more velocity, thus imparting more energy to the bullet.

Even with that, there are custom hunting and target uppers that stretch out to 24- and even 26-inches. Beware, though, when using the long boys as harmonics issues start to come into play since longer barrels by nature will have more vibration. 

On AR pistols, the minute the barrel length starts to plunge below 14.5-inches, 5.56/.223 ballistics will begin to rainbow downward, shedding velocity with every inch dropped in barrel length while adding to noise and muzzle blast.

Short barreled SBRs and pistols in standard AR chamberings also suffer from extensive muzzle flash due to unburnt powder and have a reputation of being “rowdy” on the range. Nonetheless, manufacturers market 5.56 barrels as short as 4.75-inches in overall length, targeting home defense rifle builders and range toy enthusiasts who don’t fear a little hot gas for breakfast. 

Barrel profile is important for weight, longevity, and accuracy.
The variety of barrel profiles gives the AR enthusiast almost unlimited potential for optimization and customization.

ARs range from 10-inch shorter barrels seen on AR pistols and SBRs to 24-inch long toms on some custom precision guns when it comes to barrel profiles.

Generally, weights will run from thin “pencil” types to heavy bull target barrels, with a sweet spot of around 16-inches being the norm and giving an optimal ballistic performance for the 5.56/.223 round in most scenarios.

This is a good example of the modularity that makes the AR-15 so great. 

Barrels also fall into three general “profile” types– lightweight, government, and heavy. Ironically, the hallmark of the early AR and subsequent AR-15 was a very thin barrel as the gun was developed by a company that was a subsidiary of a big player in the aviation industry, one in which every ounce mattered.

AR Pistol Barrel Stamp
The 4150 CrMoV stamp indicates 50% carbon content in the barrel

Most AR rifles in circulation today have barrels made of 4140 CMV steel, which is fine for general use. Barrels advertised as Mil-Spec will usually be made of stronger MIL-B-11595-E CMV or 4150 steel. Premium match barrels will usually be 416/410 stainless.

  • 4140 indicates the barrel contains 40% carbon content
  • 4150 indicates the barrel steel has a carbon content near .50%

A black nitride finish is typically seen on entry-level barrels. It is a little cheaper than manganese-phosphate hard chrome, which can be found on nicer (see; more expensive) barrels, with the latter lasting longer, especially when using heavier bullets and for those interested in preventing barrel whip.

A chrome lined barrel adds life and wear resistance, but can add to the final cost. If you want more on AR barrels we go deep in our AR barrels explainer.

3. Functional furniture

Fixed, two-piece handguard (top) vs free-floating (bottom).

Originally, Eugene Stoner’s system of using fixed plastic or fiberglass handguards around the thin, lightweight barrel of his early AR designs continued for the first couple of decades of the AR-15/M16s life.

This was supplemented by two-piece handguards held in place with a cap and delta ring system and incorporated internal heat shields between the handguard and barrel to prevent melting in heavy use.

These days you have a few choices when it comes to handguards & furniture.

Drop-in Handguards: So-called drop-in handguards, often with rail systems, started appearing in the early 1990s and offered a more up-to-date replacement for the old A1 and A2 style fore-ends. While they are lightweight and easily replaced if broken, the problem with all of these is that they attach to the barrel directly, which affects accuracy, especially as accessories are mounted. 

Free-floating Handguards: More common today are free-floating handguards on the forearm, a feature seen even on AR pistols. Attaching to the barrel nut instead of the barrel itself, which allows for a truely free floating barrel, free floating handguards are often more modular than fixed handguards, dripping in Key-Mod or M-LOK slots for accessories and Pic rails for optics at the 12-, 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock positions. Further, since the barrel is free from the furniture, its harmonics are not affected by the handguard, aiding in maintaining accuracy. 

Handguard length on AR platforms typically varies with the length of the firearm’s gas system. For instance, Pistol length is under 10-inches as pistols must have at least a 4-inch system, Carbine length systems run 7-inches, Mid-Length 9-inches, and Rifle-Length 12 inches. We dive way deep into gas systems with our explainer on the topic.

Gas system length translates into M4 handguards for carbines which are 7-inches long, Mid-Lengths, which are between 9 and 11-inches, and rifle length which is generally anything over 12 inches. 

4. A trigger that feels right (for you)

The most encountered trigger type on AR-15s is the good-old GI “Mil-Spec” pack. A single-stage trigger that can vary between 5.5 and 8.5-pounds, they have a lot of “creep” on the take-up before they break but perform well enough, are cheap, and reliable.

Most standard lower parts kits, which include everything needed to get a stripped lower receiver in working order, include a GI trigger system. While effective, they can be irritating for those who prefer a more predictable trigger break.

Drop-in preassembled replacement trigger packs can easily upgrade ARs and provide a more repeatable trigger pull, replacing creep with crisp. A good example is the CMC Single Stage, which is offered in both 2.5-pound and 3.5-pound pull weights, which can be had for around $100.

Double stage triggers have a mechanical change to the hammer, sear face, catch, and springs that creates a pull cycle that includes first a light take up to bring the catch to tension, then a clean release when the trigger breaks. These triggers are smooth and, while a little costly at about $200-$300, are worth it when precision accuracy and long-range shooting are concerned.

Another thing to keep in mind on trigger packs is the choice between more common curved triggers and flat-faced triggers. While some drop-in packs will come with flat-faced triggers installed, companies such as Bullmoose offer flat-faced replacements for curved triggers that are compatible with the Mil-Spec parts kits.

Our AR-15 Picks

1. Palmetto State Armory PA-15

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
5/5
Overall:
4.3/5

What we liked:

  • Solid availability
  • Serious bang for the buck
  • Lots of PSA products to choose from
  • 1:7 barrel twist rate is good middle ground 

What we didn't:

  • There are higher quality builds available
  • Not a drastic improvement over previous gen PSA ARs
  • Mil-spec trigger not super exciting

A quality (and available) workhorse AR

The PA-15 is a solid choice in almost any caliber as the upper and lower lockup is dialed-in.
While the PSA PA-15 doesn't have the fit and polish of other ARs, it doesn't come with the premium price tag either.

Long an AR component producer, Palmetto State has made an impact as an AR-15 manufacturer. Palmetto State’s PA-15 mil-spec AR-15 uses standard components, and pairs a 4150 Chromoly 16-inch, cold hammer-forged barrel with a classic A2  pistol grip, carbine-length gas system and melonite finish for some throw-back goodness. 

Beyond the components, PSA owns the production behind these ARs , so there’s generally always a few in stock, which is a rarity given the surge in demand for ARs (and firearms in general) over the past year.

PSA PA-15 Magpul MOE Front Sight Collapsed
I really appreciated the classic look and feel of the A2 birdcage & nitride-coated, chrome moly vanadium barrel. The 1/7 twist is just right too. Who doesn't love the classic front sight paired with the M4 cutout? You know, in case you need to mount an M203 grenade launcher.

Flaws worth noting

Best AR-15s - PSA PA-15 Lower-Upper
Holy mil-spec Batman. The pride of West Columbia S.C.

Our main issue with the PSA is its carbine-length gas system paired with the 16-inch barrel which tends to over-gas the gun.

Sure, you’ll be able to power through the cheapest ammo available (and given recent trends *cheap* is probably the wrong word), but I found it produced a forward (2 or 3 o’clock) ejection pattern out of the box.

Not a killer, but something that we’d like to tune out to get it humming like a Singer.  

A fun, functional middle ground

Best AR-15s - PSA PA-15 Grip

The 1:7 twist rate barrel gets 62 & 77-grain ammo to the target in a tight group – but also performs well with 55 grain.

As with all classic A2 birdcages, there are no ports on the bottom so you’ll avoid kicking up dust when firing prone. 

All-in-all PSA continues to use its massive component infrastructure to deliver fun, high-quality products, and their PA-15 is no different. Sure, there are higher quality, better-designed ARs out there, but for a first AR or a 5th, I think the PSA hits the sweet spot of value and performance.

Best AR-15s - PSA PA-15 Magpul MOE BUIS Front Sight
The lightweight handguard limits rail space, but makes the PA-15 feel light and agile in hand.

2. Daniel Defense DDM4V7 Mil Spec AR-15

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
5/5
Quality:
5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

What we liked:

  • Incredible build quality
  • Ultimate in reliability
  • Mid-length gas system makes for softer shooting
  • California compliant options

What we didn't:

  • Heavy trigger break
  • Vertical grip 

A top-tier AR if there ever was one

DDM4 V7 Review - CoverDDM4 V7 Review - Cover
Daniel Defense's DDM4 in it's natural habitat.

The company that made AR rail systems famous has been produced some of the most popular rifles now for a generation. The Daniel Defense DDM4, especially the V7 series gun, uses a cold hammer forged government profile barrel dripping with M-LOK slots.

Long one of our favorite AR-15 manufacturers, we’ve run Daniel Defense guns for years now, and they’ve proven their reliability time and time again.

The folks at Daniel Defense were kind enough to send me one of their DDM4s to spend some quality time with, which you can read more about in our DDM4 V7 review.

Best AR-15 - DDM4 Marks
Up close and personal with the Daniel Defense DDM4. It feels light in hand.

Durable Reliability

Daniel Defense is a fan of heavy phosphate coatings and hardened steel gas blocks, which gives their AR-15 rifles a one up on the competition when it comes to durability.

I’ve put a few hundred rounds through this test rifle, and it hasn’t complained once.  Beyond reliably chewing though Sellier & Bellot 55 grain M193 like a champ, the DDM4 spits brass at a near-perfect 4 0’clock from the shooter. I can hear casings landing on one another behind me after a few rounds. It’s just a remarkably well-tuned rifle.

Best AR-15 - DDM4 Handguard and Vertical Grip
Close up of the DD rail/handguard. I found mounting accessories was a pleasure with the DD. The vertical grip is an, uh, interesting choice, but doesn't limit it's usability.
I ultimately found a forward grip to be the most comfortable, but YMMV.
Best AR-15 - DDM4 Sling Mounts
The DDM4 has a number of sling mounts on the handguard which is a nice touch.

Availability... about that

Despite the current inventory & availability crunch (in-demand AR-15 manufacturers like Daniel Defense have not been immune to limited inventory), they’re still meeting demand pretty consistently, so if you can’t find the gun of your choice in stock sign up for their newsletter alerts and before long you’ll be at the front of the line. 

My DDM4 uses their BCG (naturally).
Note the DD stamp on the BCG -- this kind of care is a hallmark of DD ARs

The DDM4 is the smaller-caliber 5.56 NATO brother to the 7.62/.308 AR-10 DD5. And it’s an impressive example the kinds of rifles the have made Daniel Defense a household name (of sorts); it feels like a high-end watch and runs, points, and performs as well as anything on the market today.

DDM4 V7 - Components
Yup, that's all it takes to impress me.

I find the DDM4’s grip a solid, pointable beast that offers more real estate than the Magpul MOE grip, and it has only recently been supplaneted by the Lead Star’s slimmer, stickier overmolded grip as my favorite.

DDM4 V7 Review - Grip and Lower
The Daniel Defense DDM4 grip is more robust than typical AR grips and always felt controllable and fun to shoot.

I could go on and on about the DDM4 — it’s a great rifle and absolutely worth considering if you’re in the market for a premium AR. Daniel Defense rarely disappoints, and the DDM4 holds that line impressively. 

3. Lead Star Grunt

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.75/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Few AR-15s have impressed me in the pure “bang for the buck” category as the Lead Star Grunt. It’s not attempting to re-write the book or change the game in any sense, but Lead Start have really packed a lot to like in a sub-$1,000 rilfle.

All the Upgrades

Lead Star may be familiar to the competition set, they’ve been cranking out precision-focused PCCs for some time, and their entry into the world of full-bodied rifles benefits from their precison PCC experience, letting the Grunt stand out amid the sea of 5.56 ARs available within a Benjamin of a grand.

The Grunt standing at the ready.

If the Golden Age of 5.56 AR-15 rifles, the Grunt surprized me on a few fronts. The first is just how light and nimble it feels in hand. From the full-length 17-inch handguard to what is now my favorite AR grip (displacing the DD DDM4), everywhere I turned the Grunt over-delivered — especially for what is typcally considered a mid-tier rifle.  

The handguard borrows from Energizer -- it just keeps going and going.

The Grunt being Lead Star’s entry into the (hyper competitive) world of home defense, duty, and range rifles, it’s competing with a lot of options, but there’s a few touches that helped the Grunt stand out.

It’s incredibly soft shooting — even with rapid firing — thanks in part ot Lead Star’s unique muzzle brake, which leans on their 9mm brake design, using ports on top of the brake in addition to a pre-chamber to help keep muzzle rise to a minimum, and extending their innovative approach to controlling a PCC to world of the 5.56 rifles.  

The Lead Star "Ravage" muzzle brake is fantastic, but the way the handguard swoops in beneath it is just a work of art. Ending the handguard in a QD slot is the la pièce de résistance.

The Grunt being Lead Star’s entry into the (hyper competitive) world of home defense, duty, and range AR-15s, it’s competing with a lot of options, but there’s a few touches that helped the Grunt stand out.

It’s incredibly soft shooting — thanks in part ot Lead Star’s unique muzzle brake, which leans on their 9mm brake design, using ports on top of the brake in addition to a pre-chamber and banked wall up front to help keep muzzle rise to a minimum, and extending their innovative approach to controlling a PCC to world of the 5.56 rifles.  

While not ambi, the lower is CNC machined from forged aluminum, making them precise and tight in all the right ways.
More 17-inch M-LOK goodness.
Best AR 15s - Lead Star Grunt (8)
The overmolded Grunt Combat Grip is on the slimmer side, but really felt at home in my hand -- not to mention it pointed like it was AKC certified.

Another area that impressed me was the trigger — it’s a slender girl, with zero — like zero zero — uptake. Super snappy six pounds in weight and breaks when you intend it to. Straightforward reset and predictable as can be. Just a delight. 

Loved the trigger on the Grunt
Charging handle isn't ambi, but it's got a nice, oversized lever that makes actuation easy enough.

This being my first time with a Lead Star AR-15, I was incredibly impressed and thought it would clearly make a solid go-to AR for a beginner or seasoned enthusiast. 

4. FN M4 Carbine AR-15

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4/5
Overall:
4.1/5

What we liked:

  • US military-grade
  • Deep AR expertise 
  • Standard rifle of the U.S. Army
  • Chrome lined barrel

What we didn't:

  • 16″ barrel is your only option
  • Expensive
Best Ar-15s - FN M4 Carbine
My personal FN M4 rifle, side view. Sling loop, vertical grip, Knights Armament quad-rails? Check, check check.

Best known for their SCAR-series rifles, FN has also been one of the biggest AR-15 manufacturers when it comes to making M4/M4A1 carbines for the US military for the past two decades and consistently delivers thousands on open contracts every year.

Battle-proven M4/M4A1s

Yes, this is exact same rifle used by U.S. troops across the globe (giggle switch notwithstanding).

best ar 15 - FN M4, rail covers
KA rail cover forge mark. Press the metal tab to remove the cover.

Their semi-auto M4 Collector Series guns, with a 16-inch, 1:7 chrome-lined, cold hammer forged barrel, is about as close as you can get to the Army’s standard rifle on the commercial market without talking to a recruiter.

best ar 15 - FN M4, rail cover removed
Pressing the tab on the rail cover enables you to slide it off, revealing the rail space beneath.

5. Springfield Armory Saint Victor 5.56 AR-15

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
3.75/5
Overall:
4/5

What we liked:

  • Fantastic bang for the buck
  • Solid upgrade over base SAINT rifle
  • Flat-faced trigger 
  • Smooth-top handguard

What we didn't:

  • Tough to get your hands on one
  • Short rail up top

From the M1A/M14 to the AR

The SAINT rifle (top) as compared to the pistol version (bottom). The SAINT series is available in both rifle and pistol formats, in case you feel like collecting them all.

Cleverly taking on the old U.S. Army’s defunct Springfield Armory name in the 1960s and making a name for themselves with semi-auto M1A variants of the classic M14, Springfield Armory, Inc. has been around the block when it comes to ARs and is now one of the go-to AR-515 manufacturers for many people thanks to their mix of approachability, quality, and price competitiveness.

No need to bust out the punches - the SAINT comes with a flat-faced trigger.

An improvement over the base SAINT rifle

The 15-inch handguard runs almost the full length of the 16-inch barrel, and features a smooth top, eliminating the rail of previous versions (no gloves needed!) but keeping all the M-LOK mounting slots & Springfields proprietary 2-part muzzle brake.

The Saint Victory builds on SA’s impressive SAINT semi automatic rifle with serious attention to detail, a full-length 15″ M-Lok riddled handguard, mid-length gas system, a nickel boron-coated flat-faced trigger right out of the box, and a B5 SOPMOD stock that incorporates a QD sling mount and ergo cheek weld. 

Also new in this latest version: a QD end plate. Let your sling dreams run wild!

6. Colt Law Enforcement 6920 Carbine AR Rifle

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
3.75/5
Overall:
4/5

One of the original AR-15 manufacturers, Colt has certainly not abandoned American’s Rifle. Colt’s baseline M4 series gun, the LE2920 is one of the most encountered AR-15 rifles in the trunk of police cars from coast-to-coast.

best ar 15 - Colt LE AR, gas system
Beneath the handguards we see the mid-length gas system.

Something of an old-school semi automatic rifle, it has classic rounded handguards which can put a crimp in the plans of those who want to hand a dozen accessories from their gun, but the LE6920 screams “Mil-Spec” with its 16-inch cold hammer-forged barrel, fixed front sight, and Magpul MBUS BUIS.

best ar 15 - Colt LE AR, bolt markings
Bolt markings on the Colt, which designate the possible sub-contractor who produced the bolt itself.

7. LWRCI IC DI AR-15 Rifle

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
5/5
Quality:
5/5
Value:
3.25/5
Overall:
3.7/5

Specializing in the black rifle game, LWRCI is seen by many as an upper-tier builder.

best ar 15 - LWRC, barrel fluting, flash hider
The barrel fluting on the IC DI is almost worth the price of entry alone.

Their IC DI series guns cost a bit more than some of the semi automatic rifle competitors but the build-quality, from spiral fluted barrels with floating rails and amible controls, is hard to beat.

best ar 15 - LWRC, charging handle
Even the charging handle on the IC impresses with its build quality
best ar 15 - LWRC, free floating fore-end
The free-floating rail and fore-end give the LWRCI a really high-end, quality look.

8. Ruger SR556 AR-15 Rifle

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
4/5
Overall:
4.25/5

Long known just for pushing their Mini-14s and Ranch Rifles as an AR-15 alternative for the past 40 years, Ruger recently decided to grab a slice of that sweet, sweet AR pie directly with their SR556 series of semi automatic rifles.

AR15_Ruger SR556
The SR556 and its classic forward assist.

With deep pockets, well-established CNC factories, and good company philosophy, the folks of the Black Eagle have done a good job in playing catch up and the Ruger AR 556 is both decent and decently priced, any AR manufacturer a run in the “bang for the buck” department.

AR15_RugerSR556-1
The handguard offers loads of M-LOK slots and topped with a full length Picatinny rail to accomodate both BUIS and an optic.
AR15_RugerSR556-2
Who doesn't love a stamped BCG?

9. Sig Sauer M400 Snakebite

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.2/5
Overall:
4.3/5

While Sig will gladly sell you a high-end rifle that costs well above the $2K mark, they also make a gem known as the M400 which brings quality Sig Sauer features such as a Magpul SL-K stock, polished trigger, ambidextrous controls, and a 16-inch stainless barrel for a price point that is much more affordable for your average Joe Beercan.

AR15_Sig Sauer M400-2
The M400 is classic Sig -- quality & care from every angle.
AR15_Sig Sauer M400-4
The upper's Picatinny rail give you plenty of room for the optic of your choice.
AR15_Sig Sauer M400-5
The mid-length gas system makes for a softer-shooting rifle.
AR15_Sig Sauer M400-6
Sig's adjustable gas block isn't shopped out.
AR15_Sig Sauer M400-7
The three-prong muzzle device offers both form and function.
AR15_Sig Sauer M400-10
All your range buddies will know when you're on the line.

10. Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Sport 2 Rifle

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
3.75/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
5/5
Overall:
3.8/5

Back when revolvers were the main game in handguns, Smith and Wesson never tried to put Colt underwater by over-building their guns, but they did offer wheel guns that brought 99% of what Colt did to the table and for less money.

AR15_Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport
The front end of the M&P can feel a little heavy due to the barrel profile.

About a decade ago Smith and Wesson applied the same concept to the AR-15 by bringing their M&P15 line to market.

Priced affordably, they hit all the high points you look for in a quality AR in the sub-$1,00 price range. The M&P-15 is a great rifle that punches way above the mid-tier pricing, but we’re watching their new Volunteer Series to see if the upgraded MSR might displace Big Blue’s M&P on our list.  

AR15_Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport-1
A slimmer barrel profile, like this from an M4 would balanace the rifle better.
AR15_Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport-2
Cracking open the handguard.

11. Anderson MFG AM-15 Rifle

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
3.7/5
Quality:
3.9/5
Value:
4/5
Overall:
3.8/5

Kentucky’s Anderson Manufacturing — lovingly referred to as the “Poverty Pony” in AR circles — is well known for lowers that cost less than a dinner for two. Still, their complete rifles are also solid performers. They manufacture all their components in Hebron, Kentucky, which helps them pass the savings onto you.

Their AM-15 is a fantastic budget AR with a 16-inch 4150 Chrome Molybdenum Vanadium Steel barrel that ends in an A2-style birdcage. 

Despite what many folks would consider a “low expectation” rifle, the AM-15 runs a forged aluminum receiver that has been anodized, and the 1-8 twist barrel is parkerized, making for a gun that will hold up well over time. Some of the more subjective aspects — like charging handle feel — aren’t as polished as more high-end guns, but the Anderson is a reliable firearm that may very well win you over in time.

This rifle is a great choice for those who already have an optic picked out, as it includes a flat-top rail on the upper. 

One thing I would like to see is some FSB, as the AM-15 does not have a front sight, but if you’re running an optics, it’ll do the trick. Also, the drop-in handguard does not have accessory rails, a common reality with sub-$700 ARs.

12. Aero Precision AR15 M4E1 223 Wylde

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4/5
Quality:
4.2/5
Value:
4.1/5
Overall:
4.2/5

Aero Precision almost certainly has the most receivers in circulation, and Enhanced Series Upper Receiver is incredibly popular. Their complete rifles are just as reliable and impressive. 

This Aero M4E1 is chambered in .223 Wylde, which gives you the option of running 5.56 NATO or .223 Rem. The 16-inch barrel has been bead blasted and is made from 416 stainless steel, and when paired with the low profile gas block and a mid-length gas system, runs as smooth as rifles costing considerably more. It’s a fun rifle to shoot. 

The receiver is Aero’s Gen 2 lower, which boasts a flared magazine well and has a tension screw to keep the play out of the upper and the lower. I would have preferred the inclusion of iron sights and– given the flexibility of the .223 Wylde to shoot the longer-ranged .223 Remington — a muzzle brake of some kind, as the A2 feels out of place with the rest of the rifle’s build quality. 

The addition of the Magpul STR Stock is great, as you get both a comfortable comb angle and storage for things like batteries to keep your optics running.

The M4E1 is set up to be a perforant hunting rifle, so a scope on top of the ample Picatinny rail would be more appropriate. The lightweight M-LOK handguard keeps weight down while providing room for all the accessories you could want to take into the field.

13. Diamondback DB15 FDE Elite AR-15

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.4/5
Quality:
4.2/5
Value:
4.3/5
Overall:
4.4/5

This year’s Diamondback’s DB15 has been totally redesigned, and if you simply add up the price of the components they incorporated into the new gun it’s easy to see how much value they packed into their new AR. 

The inclusion of the 1-8 twist 16-inch 4140 Chrome Molybdenum Steel barrel,  forged 7075 T6 aluminum upper and lower both cerakoted in flat dark earth, an adjustable Adaptive Tactical EX Performance stock, and one of the most aggressive muzzle brakes I’ve seen on a factory rifle in years, it’s easy to see that Diamondback aimed this rifle squarely at those of us who want to spend around $1,000 on an AR without the need to upgrade it. The new DB15 does that in spades.

Many AR enthusiasts are happy to spend $700-$800 on a base gun, and slowly add better components over time to build or customize the rifle. That’s not something you’ll need to do with this gun — you buy it from the factory with all the bells and whistles you want. 

14. BCM RECCE-16 MCMR AR-15

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.6/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Bravo Company Manufacturing (“BCM”) is an incredibly well-respected brand amongst AR fans, and the RECCE-16 builds on what made BCM so popular. They make all of the components — from the barrel to the BCG to the furniture and uppers —  and most importantly, they provide the specifications and details behind these rifles.

It can be difficult to know what exactly an AR’s components are composed of, as details can often be in short supply. Not so with Bravo Company — you know what you’re getting. They’re proud of what they build, and it shows in their work.

On top of that, Bravo Company is a government contractor — they make fighting rifles for people who stake their lives on them, so they have some of the highest standards in the industry. Whatever rifle you’re looking for, the qualities & functionality the RECCE-16 puts on the table should inform what you look for in any rifle. It’s that good.

Not only does the 16-inch 11595E Certified Steel barrel give you the accuracy you’d want, but the KMR handguard is surprisingly thin — in a good way — that keeps weight to a minimum while giving you the rigidity you need up front. It’s locked to the receiver with a unique BCM locking system, designed to respect barrel harmonics while giving you all the room for accessories you could want. The black anodized receivers are forged from 7075-T6 aluminum and are built to last through hard use.

We’d have loved if BCM threw some irons in the box with it, but chances are if you’re buying this rifle with great features and furniture, you already have a preferred optic you plan to use

15. Noveske Light RECCE

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.6/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.3/5
Overall:
4.4/5

It’s certainly possible that you’ve never heard of Grant’s Pass, Oregon’s Noveske, but they have been a premium AR maker for longer than most new shooters have been on the planet, and they were the first to truly uproot Colt as the premium name in the AR game. They don’t have an assembly line — their rifles are hand-fit by passionate gun builders, who both shoot and know rifles better than you or I could ever hope to. They’re a small shop that has had an outsized impact in the black rifle world, which tragically lost their founder John Noveske in 2013 but continues to carry the torch without compromise.

The Light RECCE Gen III uses a RECCE-appropriate 16.1-inch 1-7 twist, chrome-lined proprietary barrel made in Oregon from the same steel that the U.S. military uses for M249 barrels, so it’ll deal with whatever abuse you throw at it. 

At the end of that barrel is a threaded cherry bomb muzzle device that’ll make it easy to quiet the rifle down with your favorite can.

Both the upper and lower receivers are Novekse’s proprietary designs and are some of the best-loved in the industry. 

This model comes with built-in iron sights, which I love. One thing I’d swap out is the A2 style pistol grip – -I prefer something meatier in hand, and it doesn’t fit with the quality found elsewhere on the gun. Personal preference more than anything: this is an excellent rifle.

AR-15 Pricing

Compared to precision bolt guns or collector pieces like Al Capone’s favorite .45 Auto, an AR is, in general decidedly affordable.

  • $700-$1,000. Entry-level, budget rifle options will often cost less than $700 and generally keep under the $1,000 price point, and for that level of investment, you’ll get a perfectly functional AR often with MOE furniture and some solid BUIS.
  • $1,000-$2,000. Moving into the middle-tier gets you into the sub-$2,000 range, which often includes lighter materials, more custom furniture, and one or two bonus features.
  • $2,000 and Above. Spending more than $2,000 will get you a premium AR that often includes piston-driven systems which run cleaner and cooler than a standard DI system. 

Value Brands (> $1,000)

  • Palmetto State Armory
  • Rock River Arms
  • Springfield
  • Stag

Middle-Tier (> $2,000)

  • Anderson
  • Aero Precision
  • Colt
  • Ruger
  • Sig Sauer
  • Smith & Wesson

Premium (< $2,000)

  • Bravo Company
  • Daniel Defense
  • Larue
  • Lewis Machine & Tool
  • LWRCI
  • Noveske
  • Patriot Ordnance
  • Windham

Conclusion

Given the size and scope of the AR world, finding the right AR-15 for you can be intimidating, especially when you’re looking for your first AR or starting down the long road of building your own from an AR build kit. Which, depending on where you live, may save you a decent amount of change — we’ve heard horror stores of up to an 11% tax on long-guns. And you thought ammo was getting expensive!

In the end, whenever one of my friends wants recommendations for choosing an AR-15, I always recommend doing your homework, spending some time at your local gun store, and making sure your rifle is designed for your needs – be it a big game hunting rifle, long-range precision,  competitions, a home defense gun,  close-quarters work, or something in between. I recommend buying a complete rifle, spending time at the gun range with it – then getting another!

Sources

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