Tactical

Best AR-15 Complete Upper Receivers 2023

Getting overwhelmed with all the upper receivers out there?

Find out the best AR-15 complete upper receiver for you depending on your end-use, such as precision shooting, general use, or close-quarters combat.

A Few Of Our Personal AR-15 Uppers

Let’s talk budget…are you looking for the best bang for the buck, or are you fully loaded? We’ll have recommendations at all different price points.

Now let’s get started!

Summary of Our Top Picks

Table of Contents

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What is an AR-15 Upper Receiver Assembly?

Quick refresher on AR-15 uppers and lowers…

Chances are you already have a complete AR-15 rifle or at least the serialized complete lower. By pushing out two pins, you can connect a new upper to your lower and have basically a new gun.

AR-15 Complete Lowers
AR-15 Complete Lowers

We’ll be going over completed AR-15 upper assemblies or groups, instead of just the stripped upper.

But don’t worry; here’s our guide for the Best Stripped Uppers for your build and how to put it all together: Upper Guide & Lower Guide.

Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver
Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver

Why Not Just Get a New AR?

This question comes up a lot…why not just buy a new complete AR instead of buying an upper? Here are some of the reasons:

  • Saving money: If you’re not looking to get two guns and just want a different AR, getting the upper will save you at least $100-200, if not more.
  • Saving time/paperwork: Since only the lower is serialized, you don’t need to go to an FFL and file paperwork.
  • Like the current loadout: You’ve already modified your trigger, buttstock, or grip to your liking and don’t want to do it again.
Lots of AR-15 Uppers
Lots of AR-15 uppers…yup, we love them

Background and Brands

Still with me?

Technical Background

We’re going to presuppose that you already know some stuff about AR-15s, such as the different barrel lengths, gas systems, and BCGs. 

If you’d like a refresher, check out our Guide to AR-15s.

We’re also sticking with direct impingement guns (normal). If you’re looking for piston uppers…check out Best Piston Uppers & Kits.

Direct Impingement
Direct Impingement

Brands

These are our perceived top-tier brands that don’t skimp but cost a little bit more. If you’re looking to trust your rifle with your life, we recommend these proven brands.

  • Bravo Company (BCM)
  • Colt
  • Daniel Defense (DD)
  • Larue
  • Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT)
  • LWRC
  • Noveske

And these are our mid-tier brands. There’s nothing wrong with them, and we own a couple ourselves for plinking and competitions. But we recommend testing them thoroughly before you decide to use them for defensive purposes. These will typically cost less than the top-tier brands.

  • Anderson
  • Aero Precision
  • FNH
  • Palmetto State Armory (PSA)
  • Rainier Arms
  • Ruger
  • Sig Sauer
  • Smith & Wesson
  • Spike’s

Finally, these are the budget tier brands. Cheapest of the bunch but great for a starter build. Probably missing some accessories, such as a free-floating barrel.

  • Bushmaster
  • Delton
  • DPMS
  • Olympic
  • Rock River Arms (RRA)
  • Stag

Now the good stuff!

Best 16-inch AR-15 Upper Receiver Assemblies

These are the most popular upper receivers since they are in the sweet spot of 16-inch barrels — the minimum barrel length for a rifle under the National Firearms Act (NFA).

However, we’ll still include some 14.5-inch barrel uppers with pinned and welded muzzle devices to meet length requirements.

We prefer mid-length gas systems for 16-inch barrels since they allow a little more space for pressures to drop and therefore give a slightly softer shooting impulse.

Other things such as handguards, front sight block (FSB), and barrel profiles are user preferences.

Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 16″

Our go-to high-end upper with top-notch just about everything is the DDM4 V7.

Daniel Defense DDM4V7 Handguard, Muzzle Brake
Daniel Defense DDM4V7 Handguard, Muzzle Brake

16-inch cold hammer-forged mid-length with pinned gas block. Gold-standard DD BCG, nice M-LOK rail, and all the fixins.

Daniel Defense DDM4V7
Daniel Defense DDM4V7, Complete

See it in action:

And in our complete review with tons more video.

1179

at Daniel Defense

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Rosco 16″ Bloodline URG

Looking for something more premium but doesn’t break the bank?

Rosco is known for their barrels and their 16″ Bloodline barrel that powers this URG (upper receiver group) does not disappoint.

Rosco 16 Bloodline URG
Rosco 16″ Bloodline URG

Quality build with a nice M-LOK handguard (OD green in this case…it’s not your eyes). And some slight aesthetic differences such as the more angular forward assist area.

Rosco Forward Assist
Rosco Forward Assist

Also comes with the SOLGW NOX9 Neutral muzzle device that brings the best of both flash hiding and compensation. Neutral means that it’s great for both left and right handed shooters.

Rosco SOLGW NOX9 Neutral
Rosco SOLGW NOX9 Neutral

No ringing like other pure flash hiders and it’s already set up to accept Dead Air silencers.

Inside, I opted for their slicker Nitride bolt carrier group which was correctly staked. Plus the very nice VLTOR charging handle.

Downside is that you have to pay extra for both of those things…

Rosco BCG & Charging Handle
Rosco BCG & Charging Handle

Great…but how about accuracy?

After about a hundred rounds of break in, I set up with a nice Triggertech 2-stage trigger and a S&B 5-25x scope.

Rosco Bloodline Upper Testing
Rosco Bloodline Upper Testing

I set up some targets 100 yards downrange, got a mix of plinking and defensive ammo, and here’s the results with shooting on a bag at a pace of around 1 round every 3 seconds.

Rosco Bloodline URG 16 Accuracy Test
Rosco Bloodline URG 16″ Accuracy Test

MOA = 1 inch at 100 yards.

  • PMC Bronze .223 55gr: ~2.5 MOA, taking out one flier that was on me
  • S&B 5.56 M193 55gr: ~2 MOA
  • Speer Gold Dot .223 55gr: ~2.5 MOA

Pretty decent when you compare to military M4’s which are acceptable at 4 MOA. Plus I’m probably just above average as a shooter.

Premium Pick

710

at Rosco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Aero M4E1 16″

Softer shooting mid-length gas system, 16-inch CMV barrel, choice of free-floating rail, but you will need to add a BCG and charging handle for about ~$120 more (use the “Finish Your Build” tab).

Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil
Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil

Probably the best deal for a quality free-floating mid-length upper. Check out my in-depth review of the previous generation with thicker rails.

Bang for the Buck 16″

499

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

A new version has thinner ATLAS rails that are easier to grip. Also comes in a pencil barrel (shown above).

Palmetto State Armory 16″

Tons of options from PSA, but here’s our list of 16-inch mid-lengths sporting an M-LOK free-floating handguard.

PSA 16" Nitride Free Floating
PSA 16″ Nitride Free Floating

You can still choose BCG, sights, and barrel profile.

Or if you already have a BCG and charging handle…you’ll save even more by getting a more stripped down one.

Affordable & Goes Bang

From raw materials to finished product…PSA does it all in-house, so that’s why their prices are so low.

You’ll hear the occasional complaint about finish and shipping time…but they are well-known online for reliability. 

At the end of the day, that counts the most.

PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde
PSA 5.56 & .223 Wylde Uppers

I got a few of their uppers in hand, so check out my full review. So far…100% reliability.

What’s your take on PSA uppers?

TRYBE Defense 16″ 5.56

How about a screaming deal on a complete upper?

We got one of these $249 TRYBE Defense complete uppers in and have a couple hundred rounds through it…so far so good!

Trybe 16 Complete Upper
TRYBE 16 Complete Upper

No added frills but the handguard is decent and M-LOK compatible.

Plus the BCG and charging handle are mil-spec and correctly staked.

Trybe Charging Handle & BCG
TRYBE Charging Handle & BCG

After some break-in I set it up for accuracy testing with a Triggertech 2-stage trigger and S&B 5-25x scope.

Slow but steady shooting with some different rounds.

TRYBE 16" 5.56 Upper Testing
TRYBE 16″ 5.56 Upper Testing

Here’s the results:

TRYBE Upper Accuracy Test
TRYBE Upper Accuracy Test
  • PMC Bronze .223 55gr: ~3.5 MOA
  • S&B 5.56 M193 55gr: ~3 MOA
  • Speer Gold Dot .223 55gr: ~2.5 MOA

It seemed a little more agnostic to ammo and I’m glad the defensive ammo came in the best shooting. Regardless…still better than most mil-spec guns.

Plus it has been 100% reliable for around 200 rounds…but we’ll keep shooting!

Want some other calibers? They’ve got other options such as .300 BLK and 7.62×39.

Most Affordable 16″

249

at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Bravo Company (BCM) 16″

Another favorite top-tier brand that we’ve been testing extensively.

BCM 16" Mid-Length MCMR Handguard
BCM 16″ Mid-Length MCMR Handguard

This upper utilizes their 15-inch MCMR handrail in M-LOK to give you tons of space to mount anything your heart desires.

Check out the full review with video.

780

at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Precision/Varmint/3-Gun AR-15 Upper Receiver Assemblies

These types of builds have longer barrels, such as 18 inches or 20 inches, for increased bullet velocity and may even use stainless steel barrels for better accuracy.

Their handguards will likely be free-floated for enhanced accuracy too.

.223 Wylde chambering adds additional accuracy by having a smaller chamber throat compared to 5.56 but will still shoot both .223 and 5.56 NATO.

Daniel Defense MK12 18″ Upper

Reach out and touch something with this upper in a soft-shooting rifle-length gas configuration. The 1:7 twist stainless steel barrel is perfect for precision shooting with heavier bullets. Comes with a flash suppressor.

1585

at Daniel Defense

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Bravo Company (BCM) 18″ Upper

This BCM sports a stainless 18-inch barrel with a rifle-length gas system for soft shooting and accuracy. Also comes with the 15-inch Alpha KMR KeyMod rail.

Best precision/Varmint/3-Gun

780

at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Palmetto State Armory 18″ Wylde Upper

Working with a budget but need something that will always go bang and hit its target? I’m liking PSA’s 18-inch rifle-length gas system for extra velocity and reduced recoil. Again, tons of options, but I’ve selected M-LOK handguards for you to be future-proof. If you’re shooting mostly bench…you can opt for the 20-inch barrel.

Hands-on review here!

Aero M4E1 18″ Wylde Upper

Rifle-length gas system for the softest shooting and with the more accurate .223 Wylde chamber that still works for both 5.56 and .223 rounds. The Aero M4E1 offers different thin free-floating handguards with multiple colors available.

Need to purchase BCG and a charging handle ($120 in the “Finish Your Build” tab) but it still makes it a great deal. 

559

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best AR-15 Short Barrel Uppers

These barreled uppers are for Short Barrel Rifle (SBR) applications or the easier-to-do AR-15 pistol configuration. Make sure you follow all laws, such as having a pistol lower already before purchasing.

I like the minimum length to be at least 10 inches, if not 11.5 inches, because of increased dwell time. I’ve heard too many reliability issues with barrels and gas systems shorter than that.

Daniel Defense MK18

Current rifle being provided to US Special Operations Command. This upper comes with a 10.3-inch government profile, 1:7 twist, carbine length gas system, and flash suppressor.

Daniel Defense MK18
Daniel Defense MK18 Full Auto

Check out our full review of the DD MK18.

1371

at Daniel Defense

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Rosco Manufacturing 12.5″

My go-to choice after some nostalgia with the Daniel Defense above.

Rosco K9 12.5" Upper
Rosco K9 12.5″ Upper

Rosco’s K9 12.5″ barrel uses a proprietary “Patrol Length” gas system that’s definitely softer shooting than carbine and more reliable than mid-length.

Plus its continuous taper allows for even heat distribution and a more balanced rifle towards the middle.

Rosco 11.5" vs 12.5" K9
Rosco 11.5″ vs 12.5″ K9

The complete uppers also come with SOLGW Nox flash hiders which attach popular Dead Air suppressors.

Rosco Upper, Closeup
Rosco Upper, Closeup

Made in conjunction with the awesome guys over at Sage Dynamics…I’ve had a great time shooting the 12.5″ K9, which so far has been 100% reliable and dead-nuts accurate.

690

at Rosco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Bravo Company BCM 11.5″

Great combo of the 11.5-inch barrel for extra dwell plus carbine gas length. Comes with a 10-inch KMR Alpha KeyMod rail for enough space and grip for most jobs.

758

at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Palmetto State Armory 10.5″

Not wanting to have much barrel length AND out-of-pocket expense? Again…it’s PSA to the rescue. Normally short ARs have reliability issues but so far, so good with PSA. 

We conducted a full review with their 10.5-inch and 7.5-inch (for those who want to go ultra-short).

PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers
PSA AR-15 Pistol Uppers

Complete with videos of both so you can see the difference in recoil impulse…plus shot groups. And there’s a BIG difference.

Which length is the best for you?

Best Budget Short Barrel Option

Aero M4E1 10.5″

The Aero M4E1 10.5 upper combines a carbine-length gas system and an A2 flash hider. Comes in a variety of free-floating handguards and colors.

Aero 10.5" Upper
Aero 10.5″ Upper

Need to purchase a BCG and charging handle ($120 in the “Finish Your Build” tab).

Aero AR-15 10.5" Pistol
Aero AR-15 10.5″ Pistol
319

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Lightweight AR-15 Uppers

We’re working on adding more lightweight uppers…but here’s our favorite so far.

Faxon ION Upper

The flagship rifle/upper from the renowned barrel manufacturer is the Faxon ION.

Faxon Ion Rifle
Faxon Ion Rifle

Lightweight barrel with integrated brake, carbon fiber handguard, lightweight BCG, and more bring the entire gun to under 5 pounds.

If quick movement between targets and minimizing weight is your goal…you can’t go wrong.

Check out our full review here for more video.

Best Lightweight Upper

1011

at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Non-Traditional Caliber Uppers

The beauty of the AR-15 is that you can slap on a different upper and gain a whole new barrel length and even caliber.

One of my favorites is the .300 Blackout which gives you a much bigger and heavier round that’s perfect for short barrels and suppressed systems.

Wilson combat Suppressed .300 Blackout
Wilson Combat Suppressed .300 Blackout

Check out our favorite picks in Best .300 Blackout Uppers.

And of the newest flavors of this year is the .224 Valkyrie which slings ~90 gr bullets up to 1,300 yards…in an AR-15 lower platform!

PSA .224 Valkyrie At High Bar Homestead
PSA .224 Valkyrie At High Bar Homestead

I go in-depth with this round in .224 Valkyrie [Complete Guide] and do a full review of PSA’s budget platform here.

Best Long-Range AR-15 Budget Upper

Best Left-Handed AR-15 Uppers

Stag Arms 15L Tactical Upper

Stag has been in the left-handed game for years and offers a transferable owner and infinite round-count guarantee.

I like this model for the rails, although there are other options if you want a front-sight block. However, there are other options.

Best for Lefties

564

at Stag Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Are you a leftie and need more rifle recommendations? Check out our article on the Best Left-Handed Rifles & Parts.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it…our recommendations for the best AR-15 complete upper receivers out there.

Faxon Ion Shooting

Hopefully, you’ve found something in this list that appeals to you.

What’s your go-to upper? Let us know in the comments below. Also, check out the rest of our AR-15 Definitive Guide for upgrades, best optics, cleaning, and more.

Read the full article here

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