What are the best AR-15 complete upper receivers? It’s a question worth asking if you’re not quite ready to build your own complete upper receiver. While we obviously love building, we also cherish collecting high quality uppers and complete factory ARs.
For someone who is looking to protect their family and home with an AR but is new to building, it might be wise to go with a factory complete upper until you are up to speed on how to build an AR properly.
As to what is the best AR-15 complete upper receiver assembly, that’s an answer that will change depending on who you ask. At ARBuildJunkie, we have done a lot of asking, as we’ve had the unique opportunity to repeatedly interact with many of the world’s leading experts on the AR platform.
While there is no single best AR-15 complete upper receiver for everyone, we have been able to compile a list of several worth considering based on rifles that we own, or have learned about through past interviews with experts, as well as conversations with passionate, knowledgeable enthusiasts.
We’ve also vetted the final list below with a few experts to make sure that it is worth your time and consideration…with an emphasis on 16″ assemblies built for hard general purpose use.
For the purposes of this list, please note that we’re sticking to direct impingement rifles…mostly @ 16″. As for the order, we’re going alphabetical this time. If piston is your thing, then you may want to look into offerings from LWRCI, H&K, PWS, and Caracal.
Do Your Own Research
As always, do your own research and determine what the right choice is for you. Be wary of anything you read on the internet, and always remember that “best” for someone else does not mean it is the best for your specific needs…or your budget.
ALSO, if you’re shopping for the best AR-15 complete upper receiver because you work in law enforcement or are in a position where your life may depend on this purchase, you need to remember that a complete upper receiver assembly is a key component of your life-saving tool, not a vanity project. Read, seek out more info, and ask questions.
FINALLY, It is also important to recognize that brands that are good NOW may not be in the future. (This list is being published in very late 2019) It’s imperative that you do your part and make sure the company that produces your complete upper is doing their part as far as quality control. Companies can change focus due to budget concerns or even due to new leadership…as such, buyer beware.
With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at a list of some of the best AR-15 complete upper receivers that are well worth considering…
Bravo Company (BCM) CM BFH 16″ Mid Length (ENHANCED Light Weight) Upper Receiver Group
We’ve interviewed several dozen of the world’s leading experts on the AR platform…and during that time, less than a handful of names come up over and over again when it comes to high quality components. One of those names is Bravo Company. This complete upper receiver group offers a tremendous blend of quality and affordability. While there are more expensive brands out there, this is an upper that is very lightweight and ergonomic, yet can take hard use and be counted on to work when it counts.
These complete upper receivers from Bravo Company feature cold-hammer forged barrels and are designed for shooting professionals. They are fully assembled, headspaced, and test fired.
Centurion Arms RECCE Upper/CM4 Upper
For whatever it’s worth, the Centurion Arms RECCE upper is on my very, very short “to buy” list. It’s set up to do exactly the kinds of things I want to do, and the fit, finish, thoughtfulness, inherent accuracy, and build quality is there.
Do be advised that folks we know who have handled this rifle quite a bit have relayed to us that it feels fairly heavy. That said, depending on your needs, it might be just what you are looking for. If not, also be advised that Centurion also offers a CM4 Complete Upper…which might better suit your needs.
We recently spoke to Monty LeClair of Centurion Arms about this particular RECCE upper, and you can read that here.
As far as pertinent quotes from Monty:
“The “RECCE rifle” by name and concept, in military terms, came about from some of the Tier One units looking for a precision weapon in the AR platform for guys doing recon…The basic premise is that the rifle revolves around a high-quality stainless steel match barrel with a chamber that is designated or optimized to shoot match ammunition. It will shoot and feed anything, but it’s really optimized for the match ammo that you are going to put in it in order to get maximum accuracy with a good match trigger.”
“We are trying to build a precision-capable, but also combat-functional AR based on the RECCE concept…taking a battle-ready AR and tightening up some of the specs, then using a quality barrel and a quality trigger to also be able to obtain the capability of being able to shoot precisely with it with the proper optics.”
If this sounds like what you’re looking for in a rifle, you’re in the right hands with Centurion Arms…
CMT-A 5.56mm BR 16 Complete Upper Receiver Group
The BR 16 URG Upper is built from the ground up to provide reliability during hard use in a durable & compact package using quality components. Assembled by veteran armorers, head spaced & test fired to ensure proper function.
It features a mid-length gas system and a CMT UHPR™ 13.7 HDX™ M-Lok Handguard/ Rail system, which has a great feel.
Colt – AR-15 LE6960-CCU Upper Receiver
Via the Brownells website…
“Brownells and Colt have teamed up to offer the LE6960-CCU Upper Receiver which is the same as found on the Colt LE6960-CCU, or Colt Combat Unit Carbine AR-15.”
“Designed with direct input from veteran trainers Mike Pannone, Daryl Holland, and Ken Hackathorn, the LE6960-CCU Upper Receiver is a modern design featuring a 13” Centurion Arms slim profile, M-LOK, free float handguard, around a 16.1” lightweight profile, mid-length gas system barrel. This barrel has chrome lined bore with a 1-7 twist rate, and a manganese phosphate finish.”
Daniel Defense V7 Upper Receiver Group
Via the Daniel Defense website: “The Daniel Defense M4 V7 Upper Receiver Group is built around a Cold Hammer Forged 16” Government profile barrel and equipped with a DD improved Flash Suppressor to reduce flash signature. It features a mid-length gas system for smooth, reliable cycling and reduced wear on moving parts. A free-floating MFR 15.0 handguard offers incredible weight savings as well as superior cooling, ergonomics, and modularity while maintaining the strength and durability. All Daniel Defense complete upper receiver groups come standard with an M16 profile bolt carrier group.”
Geissele Super Duty Complete Upper
Geissele makes several high quality uppers…This particular one is a great upper if you are looking for something to build an AR pistol with.
The Geissele Super Duty Upper is an 11.5” complete upper chambered in 5.56mm that features a “Nanoweapon coated Surefire SF3P mounted to an 11.5” Mag Phosphated, CHF, Chrome Lined 1-7 twist barrel. The barrel is cold hammer forged utilizing the highest quality materials at Geissele’s facility in North Wales, PA. The carbine length gas tube and Geissele Super Compact Gas Block with bomb-proof installation ensures reliability and optimal performance in extreme conditions.”
We’re also big fans of the handguard…We recently did an interview about them, which you can read here.
About the rails and their strength, Nick Serena, Customer Service Manager at Geissele says “It’s a really strong rail system when it comes to taking abuse. It’s something that Geissele is really known for. These rails are really ruggedized, and used by lot of folks in military and law enforcement, on state and federal tactical teams.”
Knight’s Armament SR-15 E3 Mod 2 Upper Receiver
When a personal friend or family member asks me what rifle they should buy, my default answer is to say “save up for a Knight’s.” I love the sights, I love the URX handguard, and I love what KAC has done to push Eugene Stoner’s design forward. If pressed, I would say this is the best AR-15 complete upper receiver on the market today…or at least the one I would choose. (Do your research on KAC and some of the proprietary parts this awesome upper contains.)
When we interviewed Jack Leuba about the company (which you can read in full here) he had a great quote about the SR-15 Mod 2…
“I challenge anybody out there to find a rifle that’s is going to outperform us in every category. You might be able to find a gun that is marginally more accurate. You might be able to find one that’s a little bit lighter…but when it comes time to put everything together into a gun that shows up at your FFL that you don’t have to mess with…well, I don’t know. I don’t know how much that’s worth. We’ve got a price tag on them. It’s a question of what’s it worth to you? What’s it worth to have a gun that you can look at and know that gun is going to work for 20,000 rounds?”
When we interviewed John Johnston of Ballistic Radio, he had this to say:
“Knight’s to me, has always been the “if I could only have one AR, I want that one.” The reason I want “that one” is because I believe their quality control to be some of the best available. I believe some of the specific things that they’ve done with their proprietary parts, the E3 bolt especially, just really make the rifle better. The other thing I dig about the rifle is that, out of the box, they have pretty much everything I want. There is no other weapons platform that I trust to work more than an SR-15 Mod 2.”
Via the product description: “The Knight’s Armament SR-15 MOD 2 complete upper receivers feature the URX M-LOK handguards that each have 2 anti-rotation QD sling swivel sockets and even includes a Magpul M-LOK rail cover kit.On top you’ll find the KAC Micro Front Sight and at the rear the KAC 200-600m micro rear sight that is flip up and adjustable for windage and elevation.The included bolt carrier group features the E3 bolt that has rounded locking lugs that work in conjunction with the E3 barrel extension.”
LaRue Ultimate AR-15 Upper Kit
LaRue makes a good product, and they have a great web site tool that allows you easily put together an upper that can exactly suit your needs. Once you hop on the website, you’ll see a series of dropdowns.
There you can select each part….with each one running you $99. It’s a somewhat fun way to build a very high quality upper. You can also very easily use this “kit” to put together an upper in calibers other than 5.56.
Lewis Machine & Tool MLC Upper Receiver
Lewis Machine & Tool has a long history of pumping out high quality AR upper receivers. MLC is LMT’s monolithic upper receiver 7-position M-Lok, with a mid-length gas system…you can find the starter kit on LMT’s website. I’d also recommend viewing the excellent video from Small Arms Solutions below for a detailed overview.
Radian Model 1 Complete Upper
When we interviewed Radian Weapon Systems at Triggrcon 2019, we were tremendously impressed with their complete rifle…but if you’re in the market for simply a complete upper, than the Radian Model 1, with its proprietary extended aluminum handguard is well worth a look.
Radian claims “that every Model 1 is assembled by hand, one at a time, by a trained gunsmith who inspects, test fires, and cleans the weapon to personally guarantee it meets the most rigid quality standards. The upper features a match grade 416R stainless steel barrel w/ polished crown and feed ramps, chambered in .223 Wylde/5.56 NATO.”
Triarc Complete Upper Receiver
TRIARC Systems stated mission is to “provide tailored solutions and weapons systems for professional end users,” with the belief that the user should never have to second guess the reliability of their equipment. They also place a heavy emphasis on getting small details right.
That certainly applies to the highly configurable Triarc Complete Upper Receiver. Using TRIARC’s website, you can configure your own with a forged or billet upper, select from a wide variety of barrel lengths, gas blocks, muzzle devices, and more. You can also select a handguard from Geissele or the TRIARC’s beautiful and functional Wedge Lock 7-sided M-Lok.
ARBuildJunkie recently sat down with Chris Reeves, founder of TRIARC Systems to discuss his company, their line of AR-15 rifles, and his advice on how to build a reliable, long lasting rifle. You can read that article here. About his uppers, Reeves says:
“The foundation of the company is we build weapons to the standard of the professional end-user, that’s military, law enforcement or people who carry their rifle on a day-to-day basis. That’s who we consider the professional end user.”
“Having direct control over the manufacturing of the barrels is very important to us. We use a unique rifling…we don’t own the patent but we work with a company that does. It’s a patented rifling called “single edge polygonal”. We call it “track rifling” for short.”
Sons of Liberty Upper Receiver Groups
It’s very hard to go wrong with a complete upper from Sons of Liberty Gun Works. At ARBuildJunkie, we are very partial to the SOLGW M4-76 Upper, which features their Wedge Lock rail. These uppers can be configured to your exact specifications by visiting the Sons of Liberty Gun Works website.
Bottom line, with this upper you are getting a quality barrel and a quality bolt carrier group at a very reasonable cost. If you have not researched Sons of Liberty and are in the market for a new upper, please be sure to give our recent interview with Mike Mihalski a read. In that article, Mike spoke about the “engine” of his complete upper…you can read that quote here:
“Every rifle begins its life as a barrel. We build the rest of the gun to support that barrel…So, part of the engine is the correct barrel steel…that treatment. Gas ports…the QC, actually checking chambers. For free-float guns…dimpling barrels. Offering pinning for gas blocks. All that stuff to make sure that barrel is good, as it is the foundation…Then from there, the second most critical part is the bolt carrier.
There was only one bolt that I was ever going to use, and it’s made for us by Microbest, but to me it was critical that it was a 158 Carpenter steel bolt. That it was individually high pressure tested…individually magnetic particle inspected…shot peened…All those things make a difference.”
Bottom line…in your search for the best AR-15 complete upper receiver, when you factor in quality AND price, these uppers should end up on your own very short list.
SIONICS Patrol Three Upper Receiver
SIONICS was a company that was mentioned several times during our conversation with William Larson of Semper Paratus Arms earlier this year. Will was a tremendous source of knowledge who knew what it took to make an AR the right way. As you research your next AR compete upper, this one is definitely one to consider.
V Seven Enlightened 556/223 Complete Upper
Last but not least, we have the V Seven Enlightened Upper. This is a company that has impressed us and many other shooters we know this year. We recently did an article about the company which you can read here.
Pertinent quotes about the 5.56 upper from founder, Joel Allen:
“It’s very lightweight and durable. I see people who get their hands on it for the first time and they are blown away. They say “man, I have never felt anything quite like this.” It feels solid, but it’s so lightweight. That’s two things that usually don’t go together. Usually when you feel something solid, it’s also like a bank vault. That’s not the sensation you get with our rifles. It’s hard to explain unless you have actually held one.”
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