Ten Top-Rated AR-15 Manufacturers

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Firearms

Which Tier 1 AR-15 manufacturers are your favorites? A poll around the Cheaper Than Dirt! office resulted in this list in no particular order:

I repeat, in no particular order. (C’mon guys, you know that would be impossible.)

  1. BCM
  2. Noveske
  3. Knight’s Armament
  4. Lewis Machine & Tool
  5. Daniel Defense
  6. LWRC
  7. Colt
  8. H&K
  9. Midwest Industries
  10. Barrett

One thing all these manufacturers have in common? They all make parts or complete rifles favored by military and law enforcement personnel. For many looking for a MIL-SPEC AR, this is no slight detail.

Okay, so admittedly, I am a little gun shy about writing this list. The last time I made a list it almost blew up (har har) in my face. (I made a comparison list of small, pocket handguns and plenty of you were in disagreement…as I am sure you will be with this list.) However, lists are fun to make and people like reading them and then apparently, arguing about said list.

There are hundreds AR-15 manufacturers, from giants such as Freedom Group—which owns Remington, Bushmaster and DPMS—to small mom and pop boutique shops that meticulously machine and hand-fit almost every single part. Prices range from $500 to thousands. It is also extremely poplar—and fun, and affordable—to build your own. When you piece-meal your rifle together—you get exactly what you want.

Those who are budget conscience can buy pieces slowly so no one you live with gets mad or goes hungry. That’s what I did for my first AR-15. For about $500, I have a reliable and accurate AR with a red dot and Magpul furniture. She isn’t built from the most expensive parts and she doesn’t like to run dry—what AR does?—and I’m fine with that.

I have heard many say that the best AR is the one you build yourself from the exact parts you want. However, there are plenty of respectable AR-15 brands out there using top-notch parts, high quality machining, and that pay close attention to details. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a factory AR-15. I know plenty of carbine experts who buy and run stock rifles.

So what makes a good AR-15 anyway? Certainly reliability and accuracy. Will it go bang! every time? Does it feed, function and eject without issues? Another huge part to a good AR is the quality the company puts into the parts, if they pay attention to detail and offer excellent customer service. All the Tier 1 AR manufacturers ensure the completed rifle is fired and function-tested before leaving its doors, fit and finish is impeccable, and the warranty that goes with the rifle is second to none.

Some will say a Tier 1 AR manufacturer makes its rifles to MIL-SPEC; however, MIL-SPEC is arguably just a marketing catch phrase. No semiautomatic commercial AR-15 will be truly MIL-SPEC. Most aficionados will tell you, the best ARs will follow Colt’s Technical Data Package, though a bit outdated now due to modern, innovative technologies, the best-rated AR-15 manufacturers rifles will have:

  • A properly staked gas key
  • A high pressure tested/MPI and shot peened bolt
  • 4150 steel, chrome-lined or stainless steel MPI and cold-hammer forged barrels
  • Chambered in 5.56mm NATO (All AR-15s listed below are chambered in 5.56mm)
  • A chrome-line bore and chamber
  • M4 feed ramps
  • MIL-SPEC-diameter receiver extension (buffer tube) with staked castle nut
  • Type III hard coat anodizing

For a detailed explanation of what all that means—especially for a beginner or first-time AR buyer/owner—I refer you to the best explanation I have read, “Explanation of Desirable Features in Commercial M4 Pattern Carbines.”

This can’t be a definitive list—that would be a near impossible task to list every top AR-15 brand in the world. I am pretty sure many of you will recognize which manufacturers are missing and please tell me.

(Note: I have also left off “boutique” manufacturers like Hodge, Sionics, and WarSport.)

Without a doubt, this list of 10 best-rated AR-15s includes some of the best in the business.

Bravo Company Manufacturing  (BCM)

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.

BCM is a veteran-owned black rifle company that started in 2005. They build mil-spec rifles for people who are going to run them. The entire company is dedicated to creating equipment that will not fail those who depend on it. BCM barrels are either MIL-SPEC 11595E barrel steel (CMV) or SS310 stainless steel, chrome-lined and are both M197 high-pressure tested and Magnetic Particle inspected. The company’s rifles have M4 feed ramps and a chrome-lined bore and chamber. The bolt is shot peened and high-pressure tested. Receivers are anodized per MIL-A-8625F Type III Class 2. The gas key is properly staked, hardened and chrome lined with Grade 8 MIL-SPEC fasteners. When running down the “what makes a good AR-15” checklist, Bravo Company gets all of it right. BCM rifles start at $1,200 for the standard carbine length, while mid-length isn’t much more.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt


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.

The late John Noveske founded Noveske Rifleworks in 2001 after returning home from serving in the U.S. Army and learning barrel making at PAC-NOR. He started Noveske in his dad’s garage with a lathe making barrels. He soon moved to a shop with the lathe and a new mill to start building a precision AR-15 rifle. The renowned AR maker paved the way for stainless AR barrels. Noveske applies an extra thick chrome lined layer, making a Noveske barrel much more durable than most others are. These Noveske AR hand-chambered barrels exceed MIL-SPEC standards with a 416 stainless steel hardness of 32 RC. Noveske takes great care in the detail of the process of creating one rifle. Each rifle is hand-fit by just one person. It’s Gen 1 RECCE Basic rifle, starting at around $1700 has a shot-peened and MP-tested bolt and a staked carrier key, a Noveske Signature rear back up iron sight made by Troy Industries and Magpul furniture.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Knight’s Armament


Knight’s Armament AR-15

Devoted to improving the AR-15, KAC employed Eugene Stoner where he stayed until he passed away.

Knight’s Armament (KAC) has grown to be one of the biggest manufacturers of small arms in the United States since it started over 30 years ago. KAC employed Eugene Stoner, who was at Knight’s Armament until he passed away. The company is best known for its innovation and improvements to Stoner’s original AR-15 design. Many of Knight’s Armament newest ARs have the tough E3 Enhanced proprietary bolt carrier group. KAC’s railed forend is also the one that the U.S. military use on their M4 and M16s. Barrels are hammer-forged and chrome-lined. KAC rifles start at around $2,500.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT)

LMT CQB MRP Defender Model 16

Chock full of extras, the LMT CQB is battle ready.

Lewis Machine and Tool has been in business since 1980 and are most known for President Karl Lewis’ Monolithic Rail Platform, which is a one-piece MIL-SPEC upper receiver that has an integral forend. This system was one of the first to allow for quick barrel and caliber swaps. The innovative design allows users to switch barrels without losing point of impact and the point of aim. Neither are you forced to buy a completely new upper when changing calibers. Switching calibers from 5.56mm NATO to .204 Ruger, .300 AAC Blackout or 6.8 SPC is as easy as simply removing the upper using just one tool. Starting at almost $1400, LMT’s lowest price AR-15 has a chrome-lined and cryogenically treated barrel. The company also makes stainless barrels. All of LMT’s rifles are 100 percent made in the U.S.A.

Daniel Defense

Daniel Defense DDM4v9 ar-15 rifle left side

Daniel Defense’s DDM4 line has reached legendary status within the AR community. No collection could be complete without at least one…

Marty Daniel, founder of Daniel Defense, started the company when he found a lack of high quality improved parts for his M16, so he decided to make his own. It is only one of five companies worldwide that make cold hammer-forged barrels. Daniel Defense barrels are chrome-lined and MPI. Daniel Defense produces rifles in pistol, carbine, mid and rifle length gas systems—all have Type III hard-coat anodized finished, M4 feed ramps and a properly staked gas key. The bolt carrier group is shot-peened and both MIL-SPEC MPI and HPI-tested and the gas system has a salt bath nitride finish. Unlike some of its competitors, Daniel Defense machines much of its own parts in house, including sights, stocks, rails, and flash suppressors. For $1,500, you can get Daniel Defense’s M4V11 rifle.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

LWRC International

Black AR-15 rifle with Geissele Automatics Super Tricon 2-stage trigger and the 14.5-inch spiral fluted barrel

The Tricon MK6 has the best trigger you can find on an AR-15—the Super Tricon 2-stage trigger.

After U.S. Army vet, Pat Bryan bought out the pre-existing company in 2006, LWRC became dedicated to developing a short-stroke gas piston system for the AR-15. LWRC’s short-stroke piston system is patented. LWRCI rifles are made to meet U.S. Army Individual Carbine program requirements. The company makes its own barrels out of 41V5 steel alloy, which are NiCorr-treated, eliminating the need for chrome lining. The bolt carrier group—another innovation of the company—is Nickel Boron coated which provides a permanent lubrication to the rifle. LWRC ARs have a MIL-SPEC-sized buffer tube, H2 buffer and are Type III hard-coat anodized. Prices for an LWRC at Cheaper Than Dirt! start a little over $1600.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt


Colt LE6920 Socom ar-15 rifle black left side profile view

If you want a rifle that is as close to what is currently being used by special operators around the world, then the Colt LE6920SOCOMII is the rifle for you.

A company that needs no introduction—the Colt’s LE6920 is the closest commercial AR-15 you will find to the military M4. All its missing is the pewpewpew button. So when Colt says its AR-15 is MIL-SPEC, they really mean it. “Parts is parts” isn’t a thing with Colt. The same parts that go into the Colt M4 go into the Colt’s commercial/civilian ARs. Barrels are chrome-lined and HP-tested and MP inspected. The bolt is also Magnetic Particle Inspected. And not to mention, Colt was the first and for a long time, the only ones to have exclusive rights to the military’s specifications and requirements for M4/M16 rifles. Colt rifles are only of two on this list that sell for less than $1,000.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt


Black AR-15 rifle made by H&K.

The rifle’s operating system incorporates a solid operating push rod that replaces the gas tube found on all other AR-15 rifles—an operating system proprietary to H&K.

H&K as a weapons manufacturer began as developing and supplying firearms to the German military in 1956. Since then, it has produced some of the most famous and reliable battle rifles in the world—most notably the MP5 and the HK416 (the rifle used to kill Osama Bin Laden.) H&K pioneered the polygonal rifling that is standard today. An H&K AR is set apart from others due to its proprietary gas system. The H&K MR556A1 uses the same gas system found on the HK416 rifle. Instead of a gas tube, the MR556A1 AR-15 uses a pusher rod. This system proves to be truly cleaner than others are. Also different is H&K’s choice to not chrome line its barrels. H&K barrels are made by H&K in Germany out of cannon-grade steel and are cold hammer forged. The 5.56mm NATO chamber meets the Commission Internationale Permanete dimensions requirements (C.I.P.). Many of the same exact parts used to build the HK416 also go on the MR556A1 like the free float rail system. The H&K MR556A1 retails for a little more than $2,500.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

Midwest Industries

Midwest Industries AR-15

Midwest Industries AR-15s have FN hammer-forged and chrome lined barrels, a MPI bolt, M4 feed ramps and a staked castle nut.

Midwest Industries have been making quality AR parts for years now, but are relatively new to building complete rifles. Its first complete rifle was introduced in 2014. Built on the company’s forged hard coat anodized billet receivers, the Midwest Industries AR-15s have FN hammer-forged and chrome lined barrels, a MPI bolt, M4 feed ramps and a staked castle nut. You will find the same type of safety selector on the Midwest Industries riles as you do on an FN SCAR—a feature unique to Midwest’s complete AR-15s. Midwest Industries most affordable AR has an MSRP of less than $900.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt


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.

Barrett is known for firsts. Ronnie Barrett founded it in 1982 when he developed the first ever shoulder-fired .50 BMG rifle—which is what Barrett is mostly known for. When Barrett introduced its REC7 rifle in 2007, it was one of the very first piston-driven AR-15 style platform rifles chambered for 6.8 SPC. The Barrett’s ARs have an MPI bolt, hard-anodized receivers, chrome-lined barrels, M4 feed ramps and utilize some of the industry’s most respected accessories from Magpul, Daniel Defense and BCM. The anti-tilt bolt carrier has no gas key, is machined from one piece of 8620 steel, and is Nickel Teflon-coated. The standard REC7 model has an MSRP of nearly $3,000.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

So, let’s start the debate. What AR-15 rifles make your top Tier-1 list? Tell us in the comment section.


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.

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Comments (208)

  • Secundius


    I’m really not into AR or AK Rifles, preferring Bolt-Actions or Garands. But if I had to choose, it would be the HK.417A2 (MR762A1). That way I can use both the 7.62x51NATO and the .308Win. ammunitions…


  • Steve


    I’d Scratch midwest industries and replace it with Primary Weapons Systems 👍


    • John




  • Spacegunner


    Rock River Arms has always been a brand that is frequently acclaimed, and well respected. I own three lowers for my NRA High Power Match Rifle, my “Shorty” (M4) .223 (also RRA upper) & .22 LR (CMMG-upper) rifles. RRA sets an industry-standard with their 2-stage trigger, and value/quality for price standards.

    I agree with Mikial on DPMS. I sold everything DPMS years ago. I consider them below second-tier. I would buy nothing from S&W except revolvers or maybe a vintage Model 41. S&W is a wannabe “toy” manufacturer who supplies very little to nothing to the real Military & Police (M&P) forces.

    With the advent of the internet, forums, blogs, etc. A company that makes sub-par parts is short-lived. I have built a few other AR’s with various lowers, uppers & accessories that I would have gladly kept for myself.

    Lastly, HUGE KUDO’s to Wilson Barrels! They build the best barrels for the price they ask. Yes, you can get better, truly “Match” barrels from the Big Guys (Krieger, etc.), but I shoot Master/High Master scores with my Wilson barrel, and it shows absolutely no throat erosion after nearly 4,000 rounds (coated bullets help, too!).


    • vector16


      Yeas, DPMS rifles are sh#$. I bought an Oracle for my wife and the trigger mechanism fell apart when she was at the range with me. Thank god I had kept the old one from another gun to switch it out with. Then the selector switch fell out too. Never again will I by DPMS anything or anything with the name even associated with them.


    • Don


      Wilson barrels are notorious for having issues with the size of the hole for the gas blocks. A lot of people find out they have to resize the hole to make their AR operate correctly, google it… One of my shooting buddies had Wilson build him a custom AR. When he received it it kept giving him issues no matter what brand of ammo or what grain he used. The bolt would not pull back far enough to load a new round. After sending it back to Wilson several times with the same results he took it to a local gunsmith who opened up the gas block hole which fixed his issue.


  • Daniel Wisehart


    The AR-15 you assemble yourself starting with an 80% lower you machine to completion.


  • vector16


    After all it is all the same gun no matter what name is on it.


  • Mikial


    Good list, Suzanne, and kudos for being brave enough to post yet another list on TSL. So, my comments an Black Rifles.

    These are all great names and great guns. I carried a Colt for almost two years in Iraq while a security contractor on DoD contracts, and it never failed me. Not once. The same can’t be said for the Bushmaster I carried on the previous Iraq contract. So, Colt gets a nod from me no matter what anyone else might say.

    I realize these are not what one might consider Tier 1 rifles, but I would like to make a quick comment on a couple of other brands; one good, one not so good. First the not-so-good.

    DPMS. The two I have owned have had some serious issues. If they’re so bad, why do I own two, you might reasonably ask. Well, the first is a Brady Era M4 that it took me a long time to get right. It would not extract. I tried all sorts of ammo with the same result. I even sent it back to the factory, and they sent it back to me with a note saying it worked fine for them. Yeah, right. No improvement. I finally installed a Buffer Tech extractor kit that solved the problem. Figuring this was an early model, and in the frantic buying of guns after Obama got elected, I had limited selection and bought another DPMS thinking they would have made improvements by then. Nope. After more problems I bought a replacement upper from CTD and it works fine now. No more DPMS for me.

    Now for the good . . the S&W M&P. This thing is amazing. For $700 plus some more for sights, lights, forearm grip, and other fun toys, it is an excellent gun. It eats all kinds of ammo from Lake City 5.56 to Remington .223 without a hiccup. Highly recommended.


  • abelhorn


    What BS


  • vector16


    same here with my Del-ton 316 echo. My buddy has a colt and its very picky with ammo. The del-ton I have fed everything thru and never had an issue, not once. I think this is not the best but, the most expensive Ars that you can buy…. That makes more sense.


  • Mitchell


    I’m surprised Stag Arms didn’t make the cut. I’ve carried a Stag 15 as my patrol rifle for nearly 10 years and put thousands of rounds through it without any issues. I think of it as a wonderful high-end rifle.


    • Secundius


      @ Mitchell.

      Probably because Stag Arms is Experiencing “MAJOR LEGAL PROBLEMS”. Stag Arms, got caught producing ~3,000 Unregistered Lower Receivers that were Fully-Auto Capable. A violation of the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968. CEO, Mark Malkowski is looking at a Minimum of 10-years in a Federal Prison if convicted…


  • patriotshooter


    I have fired over 25 different AR15’s, M4’s and I have found one of the best is DPMS and your left them out. That makes me suspect of this list. DPMS is a leading provider of AR15’s to Law Enforement and your left them out? You need new so-called experts!


    • vector16


      DPMS is the absolute worst firearm and the market second only to Phoenix arms 22 pistol. They fall apart by just pulling the trigger. God help the person that buys a 308 mad by them. it might actually explode in the users hands. if you have fire 25 different ARs and the DPMS is the best, I would hate to see the other ones. Was the worst performer just and actual pencil sketch of one and then the second and third ones photographs or what. 5th thru 10th held together with flour and water paste the 11th thru 20th they stepped up the assembly super glue and masking tape. Geez man!!! maybe you need to layoff grandpas old cough medicine.


    • DV


      DPMS employee detected….

      I’d say you forgot Spikes Tactical. I agree with the list; though I didnt expect a couple of those brands.


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