The Best AR-15s for All Budgets

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Firearms

Since there isn’t one gun to fit all, before recommending a gun to someone who asks me what is the best gun to buy, I always ask them, “what’s it for?” and second, “What’s your budget?” Some people shop for guns for protection, while some want an inexpensive snake gun for the hunting lease. I’m going to recommend a different gun for different situations.

The “best gun” question is always loaded. The “best” gun is really the one you feel most comfortable. What works for me, won’t necessarily work for you. Therefore, the “best” gun is relative and all “best of” lists will be subjective.

Here at Cheaper Than Dirt!, we shoot a lot. And I mean a lot. So, I can tell you with all confidence that none of these guns will disappoint. Just remember, the amount you invest in your rifle is what you should expect out of your rifle. Though an inexpensive factory gun shoots just fine, it may be only a matter of time before you will want to upgrade your trigger, sights or buttstock—maybe all three. For example, if you buy the DPMS Sportical and upgrade the handguard, add sights, and install a good—not even the best—trigger, you have added nearly $500 to a $550 rifle. Now, don’t get me wrong. Upgrades to the Sportical aren’t a necessity. Add a red dot or scope and your ready to rock and roll, but just realize the limitations of the gun.

To start your best AR-15 search, settle on a budget. Then, start shopping by features. After figuring out how much you can spend, make a list of the features you want and eliminate guns that don’t have those features. For example, if you don’t care about a forward assist, dust cover or Battle Sights, definitely look at the cheap rifles. Further, if plinking is your thing, a cheap AR is all you need. If you plan to run into battle, fight the zombie horde, compete or hunt, you will want to look at the $1,000+ price range.

Features you might want to consider include the rifle barrel’s twist rate, choice of sights/handguards and mounting options, type of stock and chrome lining in the barrel. Of course, there is no scientific evidence behind these choices. Based on dependability, reliability, accuracy, features and popular vote, these ones made the list.

Budget/Entry Level

The best entry level AR-15 is honestly the cheapest you can find. If you can build it cheaper than factory, then go that route, but if you insist on factory or can’t wait to get in all the parts separately—a budget build can take awhile, believe me—then these three ARs will suit your needs for a basic, entry-level AR-15.

DPMS Sportical, $549

DPMS Sportical AR-15 Right profile

Lightweight barrel, adjustable stock, and a slick-sided low profile upper make this rifle the perfect choice for the recreational shooter on a budget.

The DPMS Sportical is our least expensive AR-15. Like all the ARs on this list, it will shoot .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO. It has a 16-inch barrel with a 1:9-inch twist. The barrel is not chrome-lined and the rifle comes without sights. However, the Sportical does have two rails to add optics and other accessories. It comes with DPMS’s Glacier Guard handguard and Pardus collapsible stock. The DPMS also has an A2 birdcage flash hider and A2 pistol grip. It weighs 6.3 pounds. With a good scope, you will be pleasantly happy with its accuracy performance for its price, but you will probably want to replace the included 30-round magazine with a Magpul PMAG.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Windham Weaponry Carbon Fiber SRC, $599.14

Windham Weaponry carbon fiber SRC AR-15

The SRC’s receiver is not made of aluminum, but molded carbon fiber. This keeps the weight down to a low 5.85 pounds.

Windham Weaponry gained a reputation quickly throughout the shooting community to be a high quality, pay-attention-to-deal company that knows what it is doing. The Carbon Fiber SRC shoots both .223 Remington and 5.56mm ammo and has many of the exact characteristics of all these ARs, such as the A2 flash suppressor, collapsible stock, optic-ready rails and A2 pistol grip. However, unlike the others, the SRC’s receiver is not made of aluminum, but molded carbon fiber. This keeps the weight down to a low 5.85 pounds. The Windham Weaponry Carbon Fiber SRC has a 16-inch 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium 11595E steel barrel with a 1:9-inch twist. The warranty on the Windham lasts a lifetime and is transferrable. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Best Value: ArmaLite Defender, $655.14

Black ArmaLite Defender AR-15 rifle

The ArmaLite Defender does not have a rear sight, it does come optics-ready with Picatinny rails and an A2 front sight tower.

I don’t necessarily consider the ArmaLite Defender an entry-level AR, because it is fully featured, however, the price can’t be beat. The ArmaLite Defender shoots both 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington and has a 16-inch chrome-lined barrel with 1:7-inch twist. This twist rate will handle heavier 77-grain bullets. It has standard oval polymer handguards, an A2 pistol grip and collapsible stock. What makes this such a great value is the forward assist and dust cover—which other AR-15s in this “cheap” or “entry-level” category usually do not have. Although the ArmaLite Defender does not have a rear sight, it does come optics-ready with Picatinny rails and an A2 front sight tower. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Mid-Range

An in-between or mid-range AR will typically have more features than a budget-priced rifle. For a few hundred more bucks, you get sights and an upgraded stock. These rifles, priced usually from $800 to $1,000, are generally more accurate and reliable than cheaper models. Since I don’t compete or precision-shoot, I shop in this range. These three rifles go from tin can plinking to home defense without issue. I would trust my life to any of them.

Windham Weaponry MPC, $826.47

Black Windham MPC AR-15 rifle with sights

The MPC has a flip-up rear sight and fixed A2 front sight tower.

When we look at higher-priced ARs, we also look at the additional features. The MPC has a flip-up rear sight and fixed A2 front sight tower. The 16-inch barrel is also chrome-lined. The Windham MPC shoots .223 Remington and 5.56. The barrel has a 1:9-inch twist. It also has a six-position collapsible stock, A2 flash hider, A2 black pistol grip and optic-ready rails. Unloaded, it weighs 6.8 pounds. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Colt AR15A4MP-FDE, $1,099.99

Colt AR-15 with Magpul FDE furniture, fixed stock and 20-inch barrel

The 20-inch barrel allows the bullet to perform at its maximum ballistics and the longer sight radius aids in accuracy.

This Colt is slightly different from any other rifle on this list, it has a 20-inch barrel. The 20-inch barrel allows the bullet to perform at its maximum ballistics, and the longer sight radius aids in accuracy. It has a 1:7-inch twist. Another difference is the Colt’s fixed Magpul stock. The rifle is 39.5 inches long and weighs 7.72 pounds. Along with the Magpul flat dark earth stock, other Magpul FDE furniture on the Colt includes a pistol grip and handguard. There is also a Magpul MOE rear BUIS sight. The bolt is MPI-marked and it comes with an A2 flash hider. The Colt AR15A4MP-FDE is made in the U.S.A. It ships with a 30-round Magpul PMAG. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

S&W M&P15 MOE, $1,035.10

Smith & Wesson M&P 15 AR-15 rifle with adjustable Magpul FDE stock, pistol grip and vertical grip

The S&W M&P15 MOE has a 16-inch barrel with 1:8-inch twist.

Like the Colt, the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 MOE comes with flat dark earth Magpul furniture. It will shoot both 5.56mm and .223. The S&W M&P15 MOE has a 16-inch barrel with 1:8-inch twist. There is an M4 A2 front sight tower and a folding Magpul rear MBUIS sight. The MOE buttstock is collapsible. Besides the Magpul stock, pistol grip and handguards, the S&W M&P15 MOE also has a Magpul vertical grip. Fully extended the rifle is 37 inches long and it weighs 6.54 pounds. Smith & Wesson is relatively new to the AR market, but they hit the nail on head with their quality M&P15 rifles. The M&P 15 ships with a 30-round Magpul PMAG. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Expensive/High-End

The reason why guns jump in price is the amount of high-end features and quality and control of craftsmanship that goes into the build at the manufacturer.

Colt 6920 SOCOM, $1,351.90

Colt LE6920 SOCOM AR-15 rifle with Troy Industries handguard

The SOCOM’s lower receiver is stamped “LE,” for law enforcement and chambered for 5.56mm NATO.

The Colt 6920 in its various configurations continuously makes Cheaper Than Dirt!’s top selling list year after year. Colt has been making ARs longer than any other company, which directly reflects on the Colt’s reliability. It is arguably one of the best AR-15s you will get right out of the box. The SOCOM’s lower receiver is stamped “LE,” for law enforcement and chambered for 5.56mm NATO. It will also shoot .223 Remington. It has a 16.1-inch chrome-lined M4 SOCOM barrel with a 1:7-inch twist. The Colt 6920 has a standard A2 pistol grip and collapsible M4 stock. Not standard is the Troy Industries quad rail handguard, MaTech back-up rear iron sight and H2 buffer. The rifle is 32 inches long with the stock collapsed and weighs only 7.11 pounds.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

FNH FN-15 Tactical Carbine, $1,299.00

FNH FN-15 Tactical Carbine AR-15 rifle with Magpul sights and furniture

The Tactical Carbine has a 16-inch match-grade, chrome-lined and free-floating barrel with a 1:7-inch twist.

FN introduced its first AR-15 rifles in 2014 and though it entered late into the game, the company entered right. Its AR-15s are top-notch. The Tactical Carbine has a 16-inch match-grade, chrome-lined and free-floating barrel with a 1:7-inch twist. Topped with a Midwest Industries LWM M-LOK 12-inch handguard and Magpul furniture—including both front and rear Magpul sights. The FN-15 carbine has a single-stage ALG Defense QMS trigger and FN 3-prong flash hider. The Magpul SL collapsible buttstock extends to 37 inches long. Fully collapsed, the rifle is 33.7 inches long. The FNH FN-15 Tactical Carbine is lightweight at 6.6 pounds. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Bravo Company USA RECCE 16 Mod0 Carbine, $1,295.80

Bravo Company MIL-SPEC black AR-15 rifle

Though the Bravo Company RECCE 16 Mod0 Carbine has no sights, its specifications and features read like a what’s what of ARs.

Though the Bravo Company RECCE 16 Mod0 Carbine has no sights, its specifications and features read like a what’s what of ARs. It is truly an operator’s AR-15 set up with Bravo Company’s hailed BCM Gunfighter Mod 4 charging handle, MPI and HPT bolt, properly staked gas key and BCM extractor spring. Many of the rifle’s parts are USGI MIL-SPEC including the 5.56mm chamber, chrome-lined barrel, bolt, hardened gas key, hard coat anodizing, receiver extension, and M4 stock staked lock nut. Bravo Company uses the Troy Industries TRX free float rail and Magpul’s MOE enhanced trigger guard on this rifle. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

If Money is No Object

Part name, but mostly quality is the reason behind such high prices on the following three rifles. Serious competitors, hunters and long-range precision shooters demand a lot from their rifles and those priced over $2,000 will deliver. From the proprietary gas piston system in the H&K MR556 to the Barrett’s piston operating system, these three expensive rifles have every feature you could want and more.

HK MR556A1, $2,854.50

Black H&K 556A1 AR-15 rifle with proprietary gas piston system

The H&K MR556 A1 AR-15 uses the same proprietary gas piston system as the HK416 battle rifle.

The H&K MR556 A1 AR-15 uses the same proprietary gas piston system as the HK416 battle rifle. This system uses a piston and a solid operating rod instead of the traditional gas tube found in most AR-15s. The H&K AR has a 16.5-inch heavy contour barrel with 1:7-inch twist. The free-float handguard has four Picatinny rails. There is a two-stage trigger with a 7.64-pound pull. The H&K is a little heftier than most the ARs on this list, weighing in at 8.60 pounds without the magazine. The stock extends from 33.90 to 37.68 inches. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Barrett REC7, $2,698.00

Black AR-15 rifle with gas piston system made by Barrett.

The Barrett REC7 depends on the same reliable gas system as the AK-47—a piston operating system. This keeps the chamber and bore cleaner than direct gas impingement rifles.

The Barrett REC7 depends on the same reliable gas system as the AK-47—a piston operating system. This keeps the chamber and bore cleaner than direct gas impingement rifles. Firing both .223 Remington and 5.56, the Barrett REC7 has a 16-inch chrome-lined and magnetic particle-tested barrel with a 1:7-inch twist. The Barrett AR has a reinforced and enhanced piston bolt and extractor. The full-auto bolt carrier is machined form a solid block of 8620 steel. It has a Barrett factory KeyMod rail system. Upgraded parts include the Magpul MOE six-position stock and MOE grip, a PWS Triad muzzle device and one of the best triggers on the market, the Geissele SSA. On top of the rails are adjustable flip-up iron sights. When fully extended, the rifle is 33.25 inches long and it weighs 7.2 pounds. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Noveske Gen III Recon, $2,348.27

Black Noveske-built Gen III AR-15 rifle with many upgrades

The Gen III Recon has a 16-inch barrel with 1:7-inch twist and shoots both .223 and 5.56.

Many consider Noveske the best in the business of building AR-15s. The Gen III Recon has a 16-inch barrel with 1:7-inch twist and shoots both .223 and 5.56. Noveske built this rifle on aluminum upper and lower receivers that are hard coat anodized. On the inside, the bolt is shot-peened for a longer bolt life and corrosion-resistance and MP-tested. The gas key is properly staked. The Noveske Gen III has an ALG Defense combat trigger, Raptor ambidextrous charging handle, Magpul STR carbine stock, and Magpul MIAD pistol grip. Four mounting optics, it has a 13.5-inch NSR free-floating KeyMod handguard with rails. There is also Troy Industries back-up iron sights. Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

If you are still unsure of the features you want on your AR-15, read the following in-depth articles that describe twist rate, chambers and upgrades.

Curious about which AR-15 rifles sell the most? For the past four years, we have calculated sales of all AR-15s and made lists of the ones that sold the most. To see those lists, read the following posts:

If money was no object, what AR-15 would you buy, or which parts would you get to build your own? Tell us in the comment section.

SLRule

Introduced to shooting at young age by her older brother, Suzanne Wiley took to the shooting sports and developed a deep love for it over the years. Today, she enjoys plinking with her S&W M&P 15-22, loves revolvers, the 1911, short-barreled AR-15s, and shooting full auto when she gets the chance. Suzanne specializes in writing for the female shooter, beginner shooter, and the modern-day prepper. Suzanne is a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

View all articles by CTD Suzanne


Product pricing and availability are as of time of publication and subject to change without notice at any time.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (54)

  • Rick H.

    |

    Not one single PSA??? I built mine and one for my son for under $1200.00 (TWO RIFLES) that included slings, magazines (3 each rifle), sights, a billet aluminum lower with all hardware, An upper with a chrome lined bore and chamber, bolt carrier, 1:7 twist 16″ barrel, also all parts mil-spec including the receivers which were 7075 aluminum. And with twelve years active and Army reserve time I know from mil-spec. All in all very accurate, reliable and high quality. Would not trade either one for any listed in the “budget” part of this article. I said 1200 for two but actually the price works out to $569.000 per rifle.
    Check out their web site they are always doing specials on their stuff which includes FREE SHIPPING on a lot of their components.
    You can’t go wrong with PAS, and you can get “blemished” components even cheaper!

    Reply

    • Michael

      |

      @ Rich H.

      I’d wish people Stop using “Mil-Spec” as a Comparison to Something. Mil-Spec, is the MINIMUM Requirement to MILITARY-GRADE. It’s like comparing .308Win with 7.62x51NATO. SIMILAR too, But NOT THE SAME.

      Reply

    • Sam

      |

      So those people are saying that those components fulfill the minimum rigorous military specifications. Shame that was tricky for you.

      Reply

    • Michael

      |

      @ Sam

      When was the Last Time Colt’s Manufacturing or Colt Defense, EVER WON a Military Carbine Competition (Mil-Std.)? 2007! The LE6920MSP-B (Mil-Spec.)!

      Reply

  • glenn

    |

    I love the look and feel of the DPMS Sportical and would love to own one, however, I live in CO where 15 round mags are the legal limit. The sites that sell versions that can be shipped to CO are “California” compliant with the silly Bullet Button and 10 rd mag. I would love to see a version offered that comes with the 15 round mag and without the Bullet Button. Do that in this same $550 range and I, along with several several of my shooting buddies would jump on the chance to add this to our collection.

    Reply

    • Rick H.

      |

      Contact the manufacturer and tell them about your mag situation. Chances are they will give you a credit for the 30 rd. or simply replace it with a ten or twenty. If all you can have is a 15 then good luck don’t recall seeing any. But I’m sure you find what you’re looking for. Go to PSA Palmetto State Armory and see what they have. Their customer service is fantastic!

      Reply

  • 56k.psi

    |

    I think the end of the article said something about “If money was no object, what AR-15 would you buy, or which parts would you get to build your own,” not, “hey, take up potentially useful comment-space with your opinions (which I am seemingly guilty of here, as well…) about the author because she didn’t include your favorite parts manufacturer.” Admittedly, there are as many opinions about the venerable AR platform as there are sunless body parts, but for the love of all things reasonable, think before you post. Ask yourself, “is this relevant?” “Is this really helpful to others?” “Is it something you’d tell your mother, and in that tone?” The final instructions are that the comments be “relative and insightful.”

    CTD is a business. They sell a lot of everything you need to use a firearm, usually at very competitive prices. Of course they are going to promote things that they carry, there’s no slight-of-hand here. Out of the 40+ posts, less than 10 followed the instructions (remind me not to shoot with some of you) regarding what to post. I don’t work for them (I’d love too, but it would ruin me, financially), but they provide a pretty good forum – for free – that at least 45 thought would be helpful.

    Or did they? Shooting sports gets bad press not because firearms are dangerous, they can be, certainly, but more likely because of the way “we” express ourselves in public. Someone who can’t control or effectively route their expression, however passionate, in public, particularly pointed at an individual, is bound to be labeled as someone who shouldn’t even pick up, let alone own an AR platform firearm. Some folks use these forums JUST to inflame things. That’s not constructive.

    Oh, lest I be pinned on the same offense I’m whining about here… I think I’d opt in for a SCAR, although I don’t know that you can actually call that an AR… So, +1 on the H&K.

    Reply

  • Kerk diggler

    |

    SIG 556! Good furniture, flip up sights on flat top, spring return, well balanced trigger for fast semi auto, oh yea……gas piston for more than 500$ less than the others. That’s why I own 2. 21 years in the USMC so I have a little experience with multiple platforms. Think you guys missed a crucial player!

    Reply

  • Robert B.

    |

    It is obvious that you don’t know the “AR” industry as you think you do You omitted two key players in the high end market which is Lewis Machine&Tool and LWRC . I don’t think SOPMOD or the SEALS will be be utilizing equipment like Noveske. Just saying. Robert .

    Reply

  • Wid

    |

    I have DPMS Bull 24″, fluted barrel with a Burris 6x scope 2-12 power with the PEPR mount. On 2x I can throw it up on a target as close as 10 ft. and be right on it as if I wasn’t even looking through a scope. 30 years of looking through a survey scope with both eyes open helps. New out of the box it shot a 3 shot dime group at 100 yards with Hornady 53 grain factory ammo. It is heavy at 10 lbs. but I’ll take the extra weight along with the accuracy. I also added a Wilson combat trigger, better than any other offered as far as I can tell. Very crisp, breaks smoothly.

    Reply

Leave a comment

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

%d bloggers like this: