When I started my gun journey, I often got muzzle brakes and compensators mixed up. I also used them interchangeably. I quickly learned that they were two completely different attachments, at least in their uses and benefits. Thus, the need for this comparison emerged. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. This is for all the beginners like me, who have little to no experience in the gun community, much less a helpful friend or guide.
This isn’t a new concept though. There is a lot of muzzle brake vs compensator articles floating on the internet. What follows, though, is a compilation of those bits and pieces of knowledge into what I hope to be a comprehensive review for everyone. Included in this review are two of the best-rated, best selling, and most featured muzzle brakes and compensators.
While looking for the simplest explanation of the difference between a muzzle brake and a compensator, I watched a Youtube video by Langley Outdoors Academy. He explained that muzzle brakes give more forward thrust to the gun, while compensators give a downwards thrust.
Jim Satney, writing for Prep For That, gives another difference in the disadvantages found in the two devices. Compensators may cause temporary blindness when used at night, and muzzle brakes amplify sounds.
This fact is echoed by a lot of videos and reviews. With this knowledge, I looked through the different listings for muzzle brakes and compensators and found that the design does differ slightly. I’ll be reviewing one muzzle brake and one compensator from Precision Armament, a company based in Wellsville, New York, and a member of the National Rifle Association Business Alliance.
Common Features and Materials
Both made from HTSR 416 stainless steel bar, the Precision Armament M11 Severe-Duty Muzzle Brake, and Precision Armament M4-74 Severe Duty Compensator both come in two finishes, either matte black or matte stainless.
HTSR 416 Stainless Steel is a type of steel that corrodes much slower than regular steel. HTSR stands for “heat treated stress relieved”. For the M11, the hardness is indicated as HRC 26-32.
As for the finishes, the matte black is an advanced Ionbond high-temperature CrCN coating. The matte stainless is a stain grey finish made with stainless steel-in-the-white.
Ionbond, according to the Ionbond website, is done by Chemical Vapor Decomposition, a process of a low-stress coating through thermally-induced chemical reactions. The coating is vaporized then decompressed onto the surface.
Both of the muzzle brake and compensator need the Accu-Washer Alignment System for proper installation and best results for the devices. On the official website, it is not recommended to use crush washers for the products. I don’t understand why, but let’s see if we can find an explanation somewhere.
The designs for muzzle breaks include sizeable holes drilled or formed along the sides of the device. The Precision Armament M11 Severe-Duty Muzzle Brake weighs 5.6 ounces. It is 2.675 inches in length, 1.188 inches in height, and 1.375 inches in width. The thread is ⅝-24 TPI.
Going by the design, this muzzle brake is combined with a couple of compensators at the top. Thus, it is a muzzle-brake-compensator hybrid and not just a muzzle brake. It is available in three calibers, namely 6.5 mm or .264, 7.62mm or .308, and 8.6mm or .338.
Lumping together hundreds of reviews online, there is a common theme of praise for the M11 Muzzle Brake. However, with those praises come slight undertones of disappointment. Many of the owners complain of the loud or amplified sound coming from their muzzle brakes.
Joe Grine of The Truth About Guns explains in his introduction to his review that the benefit or recoil reduction and little muzzle rise has a price, following Newton’s laws of physics. The price is increased noise and blast concussion. It was interesting to see this analogy.
Grine points out that M11 is not a symmetrical brake, thus the need for a specific Accu-Washer. He emphasized the perfect “timing” or “indexing” for the muzzle brake to be attached to his gun’s muzzle. There are 18 different washers, all individually marked, and thus guarantee the most accurate bore alignment possible. He notes that they work well, but other people might not like the idea of a washer being visible.
Grine placed the hour-long ordeal as a disadvantage in his post, maybe as a warning to anyone who plans to bypass the Accu-Washer purchase and buy an ordinary crush washer instead. I guess it cannot work when you’re buying Precision Armament.
For compensators, the design differs by the way the holes are formed or drilled, which help them dissipate gasses upwards. The Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty Compensator’s specs differ depending on the caliber of your rifle.
For 5.56mm, the thread size is ½-28 RH, 2.25 inches in length, a diameter of 0.865 inches, and weighs 2.6 ounces. As for 7.62mm caliber, the thread size is ⅝-24 RH, 2.275 inches long, 0.985 inches in diameter, and weighs 3.1 ounces.
Lastly, for the AK47, the thread size is 14×1 mm LH, 2.275 inches long, weighs 3 ounces, and has a diameter of 0.945. It is important to note that 2 crush washers are available with every purchase of the AK72.
However, the crush washer for the 5.56mm and 7.62mm calibers is a separate purchase. As mentioned above, purchasers are recommended to buy the Accu-Washer Muzzle Alignment System. Thanks to Grine, we now know why.
Quin Cunningham, in his Youtube review of the M4-72, cites the design of the compensator as the reason why it is one of the most, if not the most, efficient device when it comes to recoil reduction. He points out that the bafflings look like fish gills and push the pressure back towards the shooter. This, he says, mitigates the recoil.
Progressing with the video, Cunningham showed the side blasts by firing his gun while holding a piece of cardboard pressed against the side of the compensator. The blast was enough to rip huge holes into the cardboard, or at the very least, knock the cardboard off the makeshift stand with nothing but the force coming for the gas from the compensator.
He does note that the noise can be deafening and the flash is very much noticeable. But when it comes to recoil reduction, he is all praises. Cunningham’s takeaway is that he will not use it for team operation, tactical missions, or home defense. He recommends it for target shooting and competitions, even going so far as promising that split times will look great.
Now that everything has been laid out on the table, let’s get to something I discovered on the Precision Armament website. There is a table that measures the M11 and M4-72 in different categories. The devices are attached to both a .223 Remington and .308 Winchester and measured by a high precision pendulum. I couldn’t believe my eyes as it was the very thing that I needed.
The maximum baffle angle is 40 degrees for the M4-72, while for the M11, it is 0 degrees. The bore clearance is 0.060 inches for the M4-72 and 0.032 inches for the M11.
The backblast zone is 60 degrees for M4-72 and 20 degrees for M11. The gas blowback from the shooter’s position was moderate to high for M4-72, while it was low on the M11. The M11 is a muzzle brake after all, and this shows that it is doing what it was designed to do.
On accuracy, the M4-72 was rated as good, while the M11 was rated as excellent. For recoil reduction, the M4-72 had 74% and 64% reduction on the Remington and Winchester respectively. M11 had 69% and 61%, respectively.
Both of the devices are non-tunable and non-removable, due to the Accu-Washers needed to secure it to the muzzle. However, they are easy to clean, the M11 more so than the M4-72, with a grade of excellent and good respectively.
It always boils down to your preference, however, going by the research I have compiled above, the Precision Armament M4-74 wins this one for me. Although the M11 is a muzzle brake-compensator hybrid, the results still yield the M4-72 as a better assist to recoil and muzzle rise.
When it comes to the use of the device, I feel like a compensator would suit me better than a muzzle brake. I think I’ll fare better with a momentary dip of my gun, especially with situations that call for multiple, successive, and rapid shots. I’ll have a better target acquisition that way.