2018 King of Pistol Comps – Glock Compensator Slickguns Review
I have until very recently avoided compensators on pistols. This was for a variety of reasons, most of which were based on my perception of them as being unnecessary for the way I intended to use handguns: as carry and defensive arms. I have for a long time perceived them as only useful on competition or exhibition firearms. Due to this perception, I never bothered to give them more than a cursory look and have only fired compensated pistols on rare occasions.
Never has a muzzle device graced one of my pistols, unless you count putting an A2 flash hider on a threaded 9mm barrel as a joke. Needless to say, given that a 9mm bullet is larger in diameter than the aperture of a standard A2 flash hider, I didn’t put any live rounds through that particular setup.
Over the last few months, though, I’ve been using a variety of compensators on Glock 19 handguns. I’ve been comparing them with standard model pistols without compensators as well as ported versions of the Glock 19. This comparison has been from the standpoint of discovering what benefits and drawbacks there are to adding a comp to your pistol as well as how the newest generation of slim, lightweight comps integrates with a personal defense pistol and if they are, in an overall sense, beneficial for that purpose.
To that end, I gathered five different compensators, a ported barrel (in Glock parlance, a compensated model), a stock barrel, and a threaded barrel. I evaluated these options with consideration given to muzzle flash, muzzle rise reduction, ease of installation, bulk, and, last but also least, appearance. After all, Rule #1 is look good, and Rule #2 is be good, but Rule #3 is never sacrifice Rule #1 for Rule #2.
The five compensators in question were the Agency Arms 417, Agency Arms 417 Single Port, KKM 4-Port compensator, Texas Black Rifle Co Micro Comp V3, and ZEV Pro comp. I also had an Agency Arms G19 Urban ported model with an Agency ported barrel. Though the KKM comp had its own barrel with a unique muzzle thread, the other comps were attached to a Lone Wolf G19 9mm ½-28 threaded barrel.
The first order of business for me was to find out how effective each comp was. This could have been achieved several different ways, but I decided to eliminate human interference via the use of a Ransom Rest. Without a Ransom Rest or other method of reducing or eliminating human interference, changes in grip strength and effort imperceptible to the viewer could blur the differences between each device.
One of the biggest questions for me was how the ported pistol – which, if it were a stock Glock, would be called Compensated by Gaston & Co. – would compare with the various compensators. I was also curious how the comps designed to be as small as possible and fit inside existing Glock holsters for slightly longer models would compare with a larger comp like the KKM. I found answers to these questions.
By setting up a camera at a fixed position parallel to the direction the pistol was pointing before it was fired, I was able to determine the maximum angle of upward movement for each setup. This is because the Ransom Rest consistently held the pistol shot to shot, enabling me to observe consistent results for each compensator as I fired multiple shots per device. Even when I broke down the setup and then reassembled it as a test, I was able to observe the same amount of muzzle rise reduction for the same devices with the same ammunition.
There were some results that were not surprising – but also some that were.
Which results weren’t surprising? Well, it came as no big surprise to me that the KKM compensator was the most effective. It was the biggest, and we all know that bigger is better, right? It was certainly heavier than the others, and there is something to be said for attaching a big weight to the end of the muzzle in order to keep it from coming up. However, it also had the largest ports, and that enabled it to achieve greater recoil reduction than any other compensator or ported barrel combination.
I was also not surprised that the smallest comp was the least effective in terms of recoil reduction – the Agency Arms 417 Single Port. That sentence alone might condemn it to being ignored by some, but it shouldn’t be. As you’ll see later, it is for other reasons one of the best all-around choices for a carry comp.
In the middle were the Agency Arms 417, the ZEV Pro B and the Texas Black Rifle Co (TBRCI) comps. Although the Agency and ZEV slightly edged out the TBRCI in terms of muzzle rise reduction, the difference here was approximately one or two degrees out of a total range of 12 degrees of muzzle rise reduction observed across all devices. If one of these interests you, do not let a half a degree or a one degree difference in muzzle rise reduction be the deciding factor.
The ammunition used for all muzzle rise test shots was Fiocchi 124gr FMJ, which I have found to be quite stout for a standard pressure 9mm load.
You’ll see mention of both Agency Urban Gen 4 and stock Gen 2 slides, which will be discussed in more detail later. There was a 0.1% difference between the muzzle rise of the stock and Agency slides when no comp was used, and the various comps were within 1-2% of one another when compared between slides.
One final note before we begin – I often see comped 9mm pistols compared to shooting 22LR. I put an Advantage Arms 22LR conversion slide on the frame you see below and fired it multiple times in the Ransom Rest with high velocity ammo. There was 0.3 degrees muzzle rise in the rest. Even with a comp, a 9mm Glock has far more muzzle rise than a 22.
In both the stock Glock 19 Gen 2 slide on a Gen 3 frame and the Agency Arms complete Glock 19 with Urban slide, the bare muzzle rose approximately 27 degrees from the angle of aim. I switched between stock length G19 barrels and threaded G19 barrels and observed the same level of muzzle rise, with barely perceptible differences. This provided an excellent baseline for comparison with the other devices and barrels.
Muzzle flash is one of the big complaints one hears about comps – that if you use a comp, you’ll end up blinding yourself in a self-defense situation. I’ve heard some folks dismiss this with a reference to something called auditory exclusion – the phenomenon generally described as loud noises not being registered normally by the brain when they come as a surprise, or when one is under extreme stress. While auditory exclusion is generally recognized as something that is commonly encountered by many people who find themselves in stressful situations, some folks say that because some loud noises aren’t recognized under stress, neither will bright lights.
This shows a basic lack of knowledge regarding how the body works, especially sight and sound and how they are registered. Yes, your brain might exclude certain loud noises from the center of your consciousness in a fight or flight scenario in order to help you focus on whatever the threat might be. This does not mean, though, that your ears won’t ring and your pupils won’t contract in response to loud noises and bright lights. Auditory exclusion or not, a flashbang going off in front of your face is going to reduce your ability to see and hear for a little while. After all, if bright lights aren’t disorienting under stressful situations, why do we use flashbangs, spotlights, and exceptionally bright weapon lights?
While not quite on the level of a flashbang, muzzle flash is going to have some sort of effect on your vision, especially when it happens a dozen or two times. With that in mind, I set out to evaluate each of the compensators on their muzzle flash pattern in addition to their muzzle rise reduction.
This necessitated looking at the muzzle flash performance of no comp at all – that of the bare muzzle – and here is where an important lesson was reinforced for me. That lesson is that the type of ammunition you choose is as important to muzzle flash as the device you put on the end of the barrel, if not more.
Here’s the bare muzzle with some pretty hot stuff, Fiocchi 124gr FMJ:
And here’s the same handgun with the same exposure settings (F2.8, 2 sec, ISO 1000) viewed by the same camera and lens shooting UMC 147gr subsonic. Unfortunately, the camera’s white balance was set to auto for these shots, so please don’t pay attention to color, just brightness and size/pattern.
Because, for the purposes of this discussion, we are mostly concerned with how the muzzle flash looks from the shooter’s point of view, I took many photos from that angle. Here’s the Fiocchi ammo:
And, as expected, here’s the UMC 147gr subsonic:
Please note that the camera settings for the shooter’s view are different than the camera settings for the side angle photos. From the shooter’s perspective, I was using F4, 2 sec, 200 ISO. I reduced the camera’s sensitivity to light because while the more sensitive settings provided beautiful shots, I felt they were not as useful for comparing brightness and pattern from the shooter’s perspective. I also needed a bit more depth of focus for this longitudinal shot, hence the switch from f2.8 to f4.
Therefore, when you view photos in this article, you can directly compare the side angle shots with all other side angle shots, and you can directly compare the shooter’s view with other shooter’s view photos, but please don’t directly compare brightness between the two angles, because the camera settings were only consistent within each group of photos.
Camera settings aside, the lesson here is that if you’re really concerned about muzzle flash on a carry gun, pick ammo with less flash.
Let’s get to the devices, shall we?
Agency Arms 417 Single Port Compensator
Agency Arms has a 417 Compensator, which is reviewed later in this article, and a 417 Single Port Compensator, which is lighter and smaller than its similarly numbered brother. In fact, it’s smaller and has fewer ports than most of the other add-on devices tested for this article.
This simplest of add-on compensators reduced muzzle rise by about 7 degrees, which, by my calculation, is a ~25% reduction in muzzle rise. Its single top port directs gases upward and this is educational in that it shows how a simple, single redirection of escaping gases can have a significant effect on muzzle rise. Yes, more ports means more muzzle rise reduction, but if for no other reason than scientific interest, I’m very glad Agency brought us this comp. I’d be very interested to know how it would perform with the addition of side ports, as the standard 417 Comp has two top ports plus two side ports.
There are, of course, other benefits to a smaller and lighter comp: not only is this one going to be more holster compatible than the bigger ones in the test, but it was better from a functional standpoint. That is to say, it didn’t require messing around with recoil and striker springs to work on most of the barrels I tried it on.
The single port compensator wasn’t much better than the other comps in terms of muzzle flash. If anything, it had a more pronounced vertical flash, which makes sense, because those gases have only two ways to escape: forward and up. Other comps with side ports vent some gases, and thus some flash, to the sides.
Agency 417 Single Port Fiocchi 124
As with the bare muzzle, the lesson here is to pick the right ammo.
As you can see, the 417 Single Port had a pronounced vertical flash signature.
Agency Arms 417 Compensator
The larger Agency Arms compensator proved to offer a performance benefit over its little brother, although it’ll take up more space in your holster as a consequence of that added performance. Like the Single Port, it is available in a variety of finishes, although this one was a more natural silver color that would probably match fairly well with a nickel plated slide.
Performance on both stock and Agency slides was about 18 degrees of muzzle rise, meaning ~9 degrees of reduction from the stock, no-comp barrel. That’s a 34% reduction in muzzle rise. Perhaps because it was working in harmony with the Agency slide, it edged out the ZEV and TBRC comps to be the most effective standard-muzzle-thread comp tested when used on that modified Agency slide, while it was perhaps a third of a degree behind the ZEV when used on a stock slide. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two in terms of performance, and I doubt you could either. They’re both among the best on the market, as far as I have seen.
What about muzzle flash?
I’m not going to lie, I think the Agency 417 comp looked super cool when firing the Fiocchi 124 stuff.
Yes, your selection of ammo does make a difference, as this shot with UMC 147gr shows.
Perhaps because of the simple reason that the flash had more ports to escape from, I observed less muzzle flash, especially vertically, from the 417 Comp than the smaller 417 Single Port comp.
Overall, the performance of the Agency 417 Compensator was excellent.
Texas Black Rifle Co (TBRCI) Micro Comp V3
I don’t know why TBCRI is called TBRCI. Is it really Texas Black Rifle Company Incorporated? Whatever, it’s kind of a cool acronym, so I’ll let it slide. Despite the “rifle” in the name, most of their popular products seem to be compensators for pistols.
For this article I tested the TBRCI Micro Comp V3, not to be confused with the even-more-micro Stubby Comp. TBRCI helpfully informs us that the Micro Comp V3 was meant to fit on a Glock 19 with a threaded barrel and still fit in any Glock 34 or 35 holster.
As far as performance goes, I have no complaints about the Micro Comp V3. I observed muzzle rise of approximately 18.5-19.5 degrees compared to the stock 27 degree rise, meaning an ~8 degree total reduction, which comes out to 30% in simpler terms.
How about muzzle flash?
Both cool looking and not too different from the other compensators.
While it was a small tick behind the Agency 417 and ZEV Pro comps in terms of muzzle rise reduction, it comes in at a lower cost, and the manufacturer helps us out by telling us what holsters we can use if we put it on a Glock 19.
I’m disappointed that it didn’t have the shape of the state of Texas engraved on each side, but there is a steer skull with horns engraved on the bottom, so I guess that’ll have to do.
ZEV Tech Pro Compensator
ZEV’s comp is different from the others in several ways. First, it attaches via a single Torx screw that clamps the comp in place. I found this to be my favorite attachment method, as it was easy to install and required no Loctite, but stayed in place perfectly throughout all testing. Some might prefer the hidden or slightly lower profile setscrews of other designs from an appearance standpoint, but I really liked how ZEV Technologies attached their comp.
Beyond that, while every other comp has relatively small top ports, whether one or five, the ZEV comp has a huge single top port. I assume this means less machining time, but does it also mean less effectiveness?
With roughly 18 degrees of muzzle rise – meaning a 9 degree or 35 percent reduction from stock – the ZEV Pro was among the most effective comps tested. ZEV also tells us that it will fit most G34 holsters when attached to a G19 with a ZEV threaded barrel. On the Lone Wolf barrel you see above, it would probably be just a little longer than a G34 slide, meaning you’d need a holster with an open bottom or a different barrel.
That big single port on top made for some pretty spectacular flash with Fiocchi 124.
However, from the shooter’s perspective, especially when compared to the other comps, it wasn’t bad at all.
KKM Precision Compensator & Match Barrel (G19B1C)
Because the KKM comp used its own muzzle thread, this comp was tested only with the KKM barrel. When viewed on its own, the KKM comp gave the impression of being very large – but when placed next to the other comps, it was about the same size or smaller than some. Perhaps this was because its ports were bigger than any other save the top port on the ZEV comp. The KKM barrel had flats machined on the side for the setscrews to tighten against, a nice touch, but you’ll probably still need Loctite to keep this one in place.
How did this bigger-yet-not-bigger comp do?
Better than anything else in the comparison by a noticeable, if small, margin. At barely over 15.5 degrees of muzzle rise, the KKM comp reduced muzzle rise by an average of 42%. That’s something to be proud of, KKM, and it’s the sort of max performance people expect from a comped pistol.
Will it blind you?
Well, not quite, but it definitely has a better chance of causing visual interruptions than some of the other comps.
If you want the least muzzle rise and don’t mind paying for it, the KKM is the best way to go.
Agency Arms Ported Barrel
I felt this comparison wouldn’t be complete without a ported barrel in the comparison – after all, Glock has sold ported barrel models with a confusing C suffix for years. For those who don’t know, a ported barrel is one with holes or lines or ports machined directly into the barrel instead of attached to the end via a threaded device like a comp.
This has the advantage of reducing weight and bulk, but the disadvantage of a slight reduction in muzzle velocity, as velocity does not steadily increase as the bullet passes down and then exits the muzzle to begin decreasing, but instead this increase is interrupted by the venting of gases prior to the bullet beginning the external ballistics phase. Unfortunately, I was not able to use my trusty chronograph for this test, but there is a lot of data available on this point, and one can expect between 3 and 10 percent velocity reduction by switching to a ported barrel.
Fans of comps over ported barrels will no doubt point to this as a reason to avoid ported barrels, but one must keep in mind that the comp itself adds length that the ported barrel does not. An interesting comparison would be a ported Glock 34 of the same length as the comped Glock 19, with a focus on both muzzle rise reduction and velocity loss. We may visit those points in the future, but for now, we stuck with G19-length pistols.
In any case, I am not hugely concerned about a slight loss in velocity if it is offset by other performance increases.
I was quite curious to learn how effective a ported barrel would be compared with the add-on compensators. To that end, we threw a very nice Agency G19 Ported Urban model with a Trijicon RMR into the mix.
Because not everyone will be adding a comp to such a fine pistol, I tested all of these devices twice – once when attached to the Ported Urban pistol with its weight-reduced slide, and once when attached to a mostly stock pistol that was a hybrid of a Gen 2 and a Gen 3. Until now, you’ve been seeing photos of the stock/hybrid pistol in the Ransom Rest, but rest assured that the devices were all tested on both types of slides – with the exception that the ported barrel was not fired with the non-ported stock slide.
Because the Agency ported slide was of the Gen 4 type, it had to be used with its Gen 4 frame, not the Gen 3 frame seen above.
Enough talk, you say, how effective was a ported barrel compared to the comps?
Quite effective, but not the most effective. The ported barrel was a virtual tie for the ZEV and Agency comps in the Agency barrel, giving us a muzzle rise of 17.4 degrees, or about a 9.7 degree / 36 percent reduction in muzzle rise compared to the stock 27.14 degree rise.
We’ve all heard how spectacularly flashy ported barrels can be. Is this true? Yes.
There is no external light source here – you are seeing all the details of my hand and the frame of the pistol thanks to the massive mushroom cloud of the ported barrel. Interestingly, we can tell the flash lasted longer than with other devices because we can see a small bit of escaping gas from the breech. Thus, the flash lasted long enough to illuminate part of the unlocking phase of operation.
With less flashy ammunition, the 147gr subsonic, it was somewhat less spectacular, if still impressively sparky.
From the shooter’s perspective with Fiocchi 124, we were given enough illumination to clearly see the outline of the front sight. I have heard people say they don’t need a weaponlight because they’ll just use muzzle flash to illuminate the target. I can say positively that I could not see anything beyond the muzzle for a few seconds after firing the ported G19 with hot, flashy ammo – but yes, I could see the front sight. Of course, blindly firing a shot in the hopes of illuminating your target is a bad idea for numerous other reasons, legal, moral, and tactical among them.
With lower flash ammunition, the ported G19 was quite manageable, both in terms of recoil and muzzle flash. This was little more challenging to shoot, visually, than the same pistol with a bare, non-ported barrel, but it offered a significant reduction in muzzle rise.
Furthermore, the ported barrel means you can use every existing G19 holster without modification and you don’t have to worry about added length or weight.
There’s something I’ve yet to touch on significantly, and that’s reliability. Put simply, adding weight to the barrel reduces the ability of the pistol in otherwise stock configuration to cycle fully. Even when full-power ammunition is used, the pistol might not cycle. I ran into this problem even when using the Ransom Rest.
Yelling at the Ransom Rest to stop limpwristing didn’t help. Yelling at people to stop limpwristing doesn’t help either – after all, if they weren’t limpwristing, they wouldn’t need a comp on a 9mm, right? Teehee! But seriously, if you have to have an absolutely perfect death grip on your pistol for it to function properly, it’s probably not reliable enough for carry and defensive use.
One potential solution is to reduce the strength of the recoil spring, but then the weaker recoil spring might have trouble fighting the striker spring when it’s time to make the pistol return to battery. You could then reduce the strength of the striker spring, but that can lead to other reliability problems such as light strikes, which are almost a less desirable malfunction than a failure to fully cycle.
I found another workaround: a different barrel. Try as I might with ZEV and Agency barrels with all stock springs, I wanted to evaluate the performance of the comps with otherwise stock components, and thus I kept encountering malfunctions. I’m sure they would have gone away with some spring changes, but as mentioned, I didn’t want to go that far unless I had to.
I went to my parts bin and found a barrel I’d purchased long ago, a Lone Wolf threaded 9mm G19 barrel. It seemed to lock up ever so slightly looser than the Agency and ZEV barrels – which worked perfectly without comps, by the way – especially in the barrel hood area. Whatever the difference was, it worked great with every comp that would attach to its ½-28 threaded muzzle.
That left the KKM comp and barrel, which seemed to be the tightest of the bunch. While this is great from an accuracy standpoint, it wasn’t so great from a functional standpoint. I tried it in a bunch of different slides, and it had better luck with some than others, functioning nearly perfectly in some stock slides and being almost impossibly tight in some aftermarket slides.
If you have a few different Glocks and don’t care which one ends up getting a comp installed, this might be an easier solution for you. If you have one Glock in particular that needs a comp or are going to be installing a comp on something other than a Glock, be prepared to spend time playing with springs unless you know you have a barrel on the looser end of the fit scale. You could also have a gunsmith work on your chosen barrel and slide to ensure the proper level of fit for adding a comp.
As far as accuracy concerns with looser barrels go – I know that’s where your mind was headed – I shot groups comparable to the stock Glock barrel with that threaded Lone Wolf barrel, and that level of accuracy and precision is more than adequate enough for defensive use.
Just like third grade, this is a situation where everyone gets a gold star for one reason or another.
-Agency’s 417 Single Port comp is a good way to dip your toes in the pistol comp pool, and it’s also a great choice if you’re concerned about muzzle blast when firing a pistol from retention, as it has no side ports. It will likely have fewer out-of-the-box functional issues than some of the larger comps, and it looks great. Installation is going to be slightly more complicated than some other devices, but once it’s on, it’s probably not going anywhere, and the hidden setscrews are a nice touch. Though Agency Arms doesn’t tell us explicitly what its holster compatibility is, it looks to be compatible with most G34 holsters.
-The larger Agency 417 Comp was highly effective in terms of muzzle rise reduction and quite good in the muzzle flash pattern department. It looks fantastic and it’s even a good match for a ZEV Tech slide, believe it or not. My installation quibbles with the 417 single port are mirrored here. Because it’s a bit longer than the Single Port, it will probably not fit as many holsters as that smaller Agency model.
-TBRCI’s Micro Comp V3 was excellent, especially when one considers its reduced price compared to the competition. I like that they tell us it fits a lot of holsters, although like the Agency comps, I’m not in love with setscrews or eleven-step installation procedures for a single part.
-ZEV Tech’s Pro Comp is my favorite if only because it’s so easy to install. It also happens to be great at reducing muzzle rise. ZEV Tech tells us it’ll work in most G34 holsters, which is nice of them. It could probably stand to lose a little weight, just like you.
-The KKM Comp is the undisputed king of muzzle rise reduction, but this came at the price of, well, money, as well as out-of-the-box reliability concerns. The flats on the barrel for the setscrews were nice, but you’ll still need Loctite.
-Finally, Agency’s ported G19 was a work of art that functioned flawlessly and put bullets precisely on target. It was easy to control and gave us beautiful night shots. With the right ammunition, muzzle flash was quite tame. It has the added benefit of not needing a longer holster.
I’ve changed my mind a little on the efficacy of comped or ported pistols for carry; I found them to be much more useful and agreeable than anticipated. However, I have yet to decide which way I’d rather go as far as attaching a comp or switching to a ported barrel and slide on a dedicated carry gun. I am glad, though, to have so many viable options.
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