Difference between Flash Suppressors, Compensators, & Muzzle Brakes

With so many muzzle devices out there, it’s easy to get confused between flash suppressors, compensators, and muzzle brakes.

We’ll go through the differences between each in terms of design and performance.

Tested .308 Muzzle Brakes & Compensators, Fanned
Tested .308 Muzzle Brakes & Compensators, Fanned

Flash Hiders

Flash hiders, or flash suppressors, are used to guard the shooter from visible flash.

This flash comes from unburned gunpowder and for the most part gets progressively worse as barrel length shortens (AR-15 pistols, we’re looking at you). 

This is especially important in nighttime shooting to preserve night vision. A secondary perk is that it also minimizes the flash signature that others see.

PSA 9mm Upper Flash Hider
The simple A2 Flash Hider

Be aware that some jurisdictions have laws against flash hiders and minimum overall barrel lengths.

Flash hiders have exits that are much larger than the diameter of the bullet. There are two main designs for flash hiders. The first is the 3 or 4 pronged variety.

Reducing Recoil for an AR-15 Prong
Up close on the Sig three prong flash hider

The second and standard equipment for US forces is the A2 birdcage design. Its prongs are contained out front so there’s less possibility of snagging.

It is a hybrid muzzle device with some compensator design features.

Standard A2 Birdcage
Standard A2 Birdcage


Compensators are used to counter the vertical movement up of the barrel (muzzle flip).

It does this by venting the hot gases through openings on top so there’s a reaction force downwards.

BCM Gunfighter Compensator

The A2 above has a solid base so the top vents act as a kind-of compensator while also minimizes dust being kicked up if shooting low to the ground.

We don’t know of any pure compensators with just holes on top. They usually have a mixture of muzzle brake in there. 

While almost all compensators will also act as brakes, not all brakes act as compensators. Why? We don’t know, but that’s what the market wants! 

Look for three big openings on each of the sides and a couple holes on top to minimize muzzle flip.

.308 Muzzle Brakes & Compensators, Range
.308 Muzzle Brakes & Compensators

Muzzle Brake

Muzzle brakes help reduce the felt recoil by venting gases to the side. However, this makes it very loud and even forceful (with the pressure wave) for range bystanders or teammates to the side.

Muzzle brakes and compensators usually have exit areas that are roughly the same size as the bullet.

One of the best muzzle brakes out on the market is the above hybrid or Precision Armament’s Severe Duty.

Precision Armament M4-72
Precision Armament M4-72

If you want to get most of the braking action, but not blast your friends into the next zip code — maybe take a look at the SureFire SOCOM brake and Warden comp!

Alternatively, if you’re looking for more ways to reduce recoil — we got you covered: How to Reduce AR-15 Recoil: Stance, Gas, Brakes, & BCGs!

Parting Shots

Choosing a muzzle device will depend on your intended use. If you’re going to be shooting at night, you’ll likely want a flash hider. Competition shooters may want a combination muzzle brake and compensator.

We’ll cover our recommendations for all price ranges in our next article.

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