Muzzle Brake vs Compensator: What’s the Difference?
One of the topics we see come up repeatedly on forums, and among firearms enthusiasts in general, is the difference between muzzle brakes and compensators (and flash hiders, to a lesser extent).
To help put this one to bed once and for all, we’re going to take a look at what makes these muzzle devices different and go over everything you need to know to decide which one belongs on your gun.
We’ll start with what exactly a muzzle brake and compensator are, how they’re different, and how to choose, and then we’ll touch briefly on some other types of muzzle devices to consider before we wrap up.
Let’s start with…
What Is a Muzzle Brake?
A muzzle brake is a device that is designed to be attached to the muzzle (barrel opening) of a firearm in order to redirect the expelled gasses when a round is fired. These hot gasses are directed sideways and slightly to the rear to improve recoil reduction and decrease muzzle movement.
Originally, these devices were most common on rifles firing large, heavy-hitting calibers like .50 BMG and others that would otherwise be a bit rough on a shooter’s shoulder. These days you can find them on a variety of firearms, including pistols, shotguns, and automatic weapons.
Less recoil allows for faster follow-up shots by the shooter, and even the hardiest and most experienced of shooters will appreciate less of a beating on their shoulder during long strings of fire or when firing a hefty round such as a magnum rifle cartridge or 3.5” shotshells.
Brakes are intended primarily to redirect the muzzle blast and propellant gases to the side, which also helps to eliminate or at least dissipate some of the downward escaping gases.
The downside of this more side blast, which can be very loud and even painful indoors.
We’ll talk more about dealing with this later on and how a compensator might compare, but just be aware that a muzzle brake might improve recoil control, but all that energy still has to go somewhere.
You won’t make many friends in an indoor range or in the prone position on a group firing line with a muzzle brake as the people next to you will bear the brunt of that blast in terms of noise and concussive force. That said, if you’re shooting in the open or by yourself, the reduction of felt recoil can definitely be worth it.
Lastly, some muzzle brakes are externally threaded or cut for a quick-detach system so that you can quickly and easily mount a compatible suppressor (which we’ll discuss later) to the brake. This keeps you from having to remove your brake in order to swap to a suppressor and allows you to quickly install or remove your suppressor with minimal tools.
What Is a Compensator?
A compensator works very similarly to a muzzle brake, except that it redirects the escaping gases to help eliminate the upward recoil impulse, which we call muzzle rise or muzzle climb.
This is especially beneficial under rapid semi-auto or fully automatic fire as it helps to keep the firearm on target and means less reticle movement. That’s why you see many pistol and rifle competition shooters utilizing compensators.
When you’re trying to send many rounds downrange quickly and accurately, a compensator is really what you’re looking for in most cases. By directing combustion gases upwards, the rifle is effectively controlling for vertical recoil on its own, as well as minimizing horizontal recoil as well.
Some compensators can even be tuned by the shooter in order to perfectly counteract the upward recoil impulse of a particular rifle and round combination. This is great for anyone who often shoots multiple types of ammo, such as one round for training and one for competition or self-defense.
Finally, like muzzle brakes, many compensators are also externally threaded or channeled so that you can attach a suppressor directly to them, giving you the option to quickly install or remove a suppressor in the field depending on your needs.
Muzzle Brakes vs Compensators: Which One Is Right for You?
At the end of the day, muzzle brakes and compensators do similar sounding but practically very different jobs, so it’s up to you to decide which one is best for your particular application.
For hunting, long-range shooting, and other applications where you’re often shooting heavily recoiling rounds with long gaps in between shots (like a sniper rifle), a muzzle brake is usually the best choice. Just be ready for the side blast and make sure your buddies on the firing line are ready too.
They’re especially handy for long-range precision shooting where you want to be able to spot your hits (or misses, we don’t judge) and want to keep your shoulder intact after a long day of shooting big bullets downrange.
If you’re planning on shooting rapid strings of fire, such as in a 3-Gun competition or even a defensive or tactical setting, then a compensator is probably best. Reducing felt recoil isn’t as important as keeping your sights on target and being able to place follow-up shots quickly and accurately in those types of situations.
Of course, there are a number of hybrid devices out there that combine some of the effects of a compensator and some of the effects of a muzzle brake, but you won’t get as much benefit either way as you would with a purpose-built device.
Still, they might be worth exploring if you want to split the difference between eliminating a lot of felt recoil and eliminating a lot of muzzle flip.
A Note About Other Different Types of Muzzle Devices
In addition to muzzle brakes and compensators, there are two other common types of muzzle devices: flash hiders/flash suppressors and suppressors.
Flash hiders do exactly what the name implies and help to minimize the muzzle flash of the firearm. They do this by breaking up the unburnt powder and combustion gasses that exit the end of the barrel. This helps to eliminate or at least minimize the bright flash you (and others) see when firing.
Reducing this visible light at the muzzle can be very advantageous in a tactical or defensive situation, hence why the standard military muzzle device in the United States has been the A2 “Birdcage” flash hider for years.
It’s also great for shooting in a darker environment as your target won’t be as obscured by the flash. This is especially important in rifles with shorter barrels as you’ll usually have more unburnt powder with a shorter barrel, which can generate quite a fireball at the muzzle.
Suppressors, also sometimes referred to as silencers, can also work to eliminate muzzle flash, but they are primarily designed to capture the expanding gasses that exit the barrel in order to dampen the sound of the firearm when firing.
They do this by dispersing the expanding gases through a series of internal baffles that are not dissimilar from the baffles inside a car or motorcycle muffler. These baffles help to greatly reduce the decibel level of a fired shot and can even render the report of some rounds hearing safe.
While undoubtedly practical, suppressors are also expensive and require special permitting in the form of a tax stamp to own in the United States. This process can take several months and makes a suppressor more trouble than they’re worth for many, though the process does seem to be getting faster and easier.
The Faxon Difference
At Faxon, we’re proud of the positive reputation we’ve earned for smart engineering and quality products. Builders and competitors know us for our barrels, but we also make some of the most highly regarded muzzle devices around as well.
Beyond your standard A2 “Birdcage” flash hiders, we offer two main product lines when it comes to muzzle devices: our Slim series and our MUZZLOK™series.
Our slim series is designed to be lightweight and unobtrusive, allowing you to remove the gas block and barrel nut without yanking the muzzle device off. This is great for builders and tinkerers who just can’t decide how they want their gun set up, and it also cuts down on weight at the end of your barrel where it matters the most.
Your barrel is a big lever after all, and any weight out there is going to feel several times heavier than normal when you’re manipulating your rifle.
Lastly, we have our MUZZLOK™series which is designed to be easy to install or remove in the field, without a crush washer or shim. The included extension nut makes correctly timing your muzzle device a breeze as you can adjust the rotation of the device quickly and easily.
Because there’s no crush washer to deal with, you can also remove and reinstall the device in the field with very minimal tools, which is great for cleaning, swapping to a suppressor, or just changing the device out to deal with a new or changing situation.