Gear, Parts and Accessories

Different Types of Muzzle Devices for Your AR-15 or MSR

AR-15 with Focus on the Barrel

I’m often asked, “What is the best muzzle device for an AR-15?” This is a tough one, as there is no one correct answer. A lot more goes into what you thread on the end of your barrel than the way it looks. Different types of muzzle devices offer different performance depending on your needs. Additionally, each individual shooter may prefer the feeling of one over another, which is only gained through experience. With that, let’s take a look at the different types of muzzle devices and their intended effects. 

Flash Hider

A flash hider is commonly found on your basic AR-15 out of the box. It’s designed to reduce your muzzle flash while firing. This aids in preserving the shooter’s vision, especially at night or in low light. This is important for accurate follow-up shots and allows for better focus and situational awareness. 

Spike's Tactical A2 Flash Hider
The slotting on a flash hider helps minimize muzzle flash on the shooter’s end.

Certain cartridges perform better with different barrel lengths. Too short of length and your rifle can exhibit excessive muzzle flash caused by unburnt powder igniting at the muzzle, such as with a SBR or AR pistol. A flash hider can help bring this down to a more manageable level. 

There are plenty of different flash hiders, but by far the most common is the A2 birdcage. This is probably the least expensive muzzle device and works rather well. Further, a subset called “flash cans” can provide even more light elimination by containing and directing muzzle flash forward. These are intended for firearms with extremely short barrels for CQB. 

Muzzle Brake

When you fire a cartridge, the remaining energy propels the firearm rearward, resulting in the recoil you feel. A muzzle brake works to reduce recoil through side ports that redirect gasses rearward, which drives the rifle forward to dampen the kickback. This “brakes” the travel sort of like braking a car. These tend to work better on higher-pressure calibers, such as magnums, where more gas can be redirected. 

Muzzle brakes can make more powerful and effective calibers more accessible for shooters who are more recoil sensitive. Additionally, they allow for faster recovery and more accurate follow-up shots. Good option for long-range rifles fired from a bipod or shooting rest. 

Gemtech Muzzle Brake
Here you can see the side ports on this Gemtech muzzle brake.

Compensator

Compensators work similar to muzzle brakes, however, they are designed with ports in the top to redirect gasses upward to counteract and diminish muzzle rise. As you fire, recoil is directed rearward and upward. The rising effect of recoil drives your sights up and off target. Compensators redirect gasses upward to push the muzzle downward, which creates less muzzle rise and allows the shooter to recover quicker and make faster follow-up shots.

Compensators are common on semi-auto rifles, especially tactically-oriented designs. They’re also becoming more and more common on handguns. Certain models even feature them straight from the factory. 

Hiperfire Compensator
The porting in the top of this Hiperfire Hipercomp helps redirect gasses upward to reduce muzzle rise.

Linear Compensator

Linear compensators are a specific subset of the category intended to direct muzzle blast forward, away from the shooter. This reduces the sound and flash on the shooter’s end and makes for a more enjoyable experience. This makes linear comps great for short-barrel rifles that often shoot flames and bark like a dog. 

Linear compensators do not, however, reduce recoil or muzzle rise. They are more geared toward the shooting experience, rather than shooting performance. So, if you’re comfortable with how your rifle handles, but find the report a bit abrasive, a linear compensator may be the way to go. 

HERA USA Linear Compensator
Linear comps direct all gasses forward, away from the shooter.

Hybrid

As the name suggests, hybrid muzzle devices work to combine features of different muzzle devices. For example, a compensator and muzzle brake or a flash hider and compensator. They typically do both things alright, but are not as good at either as a dedicated device. There’s always some give and take. 

They tend to be the most popular on semi-auto sporting rifles, such as the AR-15, where they may need to flex into different roles. Shooters wishing for a general-purpose rifle may turn toward the hybrid muzzle device. Additionally, intermediate cartridges such as the .223/5.56 don’t require much in the way of recoil control. Having a muzzle device that can do multiple things can be beneficial in other ways. Some may even have prongs for quickly mounting a suppressor. 

Zev Tech Hybrid Muzzle Device
This hybrid device from Zev features the ports of a compensator and the slotting of a flash hider.

Suppressor

Of course, the coolest muzzle device of them all: suppressors! A suppressor is a sound-dampening device that attaches to the muzzle of a firearm to contain the blast from gunfire to protect the hearing of the shooter and anyone around the gunfire. Suppressors also help reduce recoil by slowing down gas expansion and escape by containing it at the muzzle. This can reduce any flinching and help you focus and shoot more accurately. They help contain almost the entirety of your muzzle flash, making them effective flash hiders as well. 

This seemingly do-it-all muzzle device does not come without its costs — literally. Suppressors are much more expensive than other muzzle device options and require added paperwork and a $200 tax stamp. Still, if you decide to go this route, you’re getting the added performance to match. 

SilencerCo Osprey
A silencer provides more benefits than just sound suppression.

Final Thoughts

Some firearms benefit from a certain type of muzzle device more than others. A high-power benchrest rifle pairs well to a solid muzzle brake. A compact pistol caliber carbine would be enhanced with a quality compensator. Whatever your purpose, a proper muzzle device will help elevate your shooting experience. 

What are some of your preferred muzzle devices? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
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 (5)

  1. depending on the caliber of the gun if you install a muzzle brake that forces the pressure forward so it doesn’t blow your eardrums, a professional gunsmith will usually make his own muzzle brake but find a professional to do it

  2. Witnessing a 5.56 AR, 16″ barrel with a Flash Can on the end of the barrel, being shot from the prone position, on a blanket of leaves one fall, I noticed about 6 feet beyond the tip of the flash can, it looked like a mini earthquake each time it was fired. Realizing the flash can is very effective in moving the “shock-wave” about six foot further away from ones ears, is a very big plus. They look pretty cool too, a lot like a suppressor, but without the paperwork and expense.

    Flash cans on an indoor range are kind of funny, in that they sound a lot like a double tap. Fire it, you hear the bang, then you hear the echo bang. LOL

    SUPPRESSORS: For the life of me, I cannot understand why there is ANY restrictions on suppressors. They basically lower ear damaging decibels pretty much the same as a good set of hearing protection, or roughly about 30 decibels. So with a suppressor on an AR 5.56, the blast is still way past causing permanent hearing loss, if not using in conjunction with hearing protection. They definitely do not “whisper” like they do in the movies. So why would anyone be against someone wanting to protect their hearing? How in any way can that be defined as criminal?

  3. I have that Hera Arms linear comp on a threaded 10/22 barrel. It works well enough that it makes standard velocity 22LR hearing-safe for the shooter. Ideal for a back door pest control rifle where you don’t want to be rummaging for ear-pro while the varmint gets away.

  4. Suppressors are a most useful tool in early training, too. A lot of beginners flinch from the noise, not from the active recoil, so starting with a .22LR rifle with .22 CB Long gets them used to on target and lets you move up high velocity .22LR without an issue, but with larger centerfires the muzzle blast tends to make younger shooters react– but the same rifle with the same round but with a suppressor lets them learn about what recoil really is, avoiding the sound effects until later when they know it is not kicking that much.

  5. I just acquired one of the new Springfield Hellcat Pro Comp pistols and can confirm the barrel and slide porting do cut down on muzzle flip when compared with the standard Hellcat Pro. This definitely makes it more pleasant to shoot. I have yet to fire it in low light, so I don’t know what effect it has on night vision. Nor have I run any chronograph tests to see how much velocity is lost and if it adversely affects bullet performance.

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