Review: Daniel Defense M4A1 MIL SPEC+

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There is nothing quite like a great factory built rifle sometimes. Like many American shooters my first rifle was an AR-15, unlike most American shooters I decided to build every single one I have owned. I never treated myself to spending quality time behind a premium factory built rifle. Man, was I cheating myself. Sure, my home builds work as you would expect, but the Daniel Defense M4A1 Mil Spec+ took the level of quality to a new place.

Daniel Defense sent us one of their Mil Spec+ rifles for review, this means that it is finished in their Mil Spec+ Cerakote coating. It really makes the rifle rather handsome in my humble opinion. The finish is uniform and appears to be very durable, it is also a nice FDE sort of shade. I also liked how they matched the Cerakote color perfectly to the grip and stock.

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Once I received the rifle the very first thing I did was check the chamber, I was pleasantly surprised with a bolt action like feel when I pulled back on the charging handle. Normally there is a bit of spring noise as well as a bit of resistance when the bolt moves over the hammer, with the M4A1 all you experience is feel of the bolt moving smoothly over the hammer. I know it isn’t a ground breaking feature, but I was so impressed with it that I handed the rifle back to my dealer and instructed him to feel how smooth the bolt is. As soon as he pulled back on the charging handle he looked up at me and said “Woah dude”.

Enough about that.

Looking over the rifle’s specs from Daniel Defense’s website reveals an impressive list of components. The M4A1 offers just about everything you could want out of a AR15 carbine, the only thing I feel that Daniel Defense missed was a upgraded charging handle latch. I feel that is an oversight given how many people run red dots, magnifiers, and scopes on their rifles. No matter, it is an oversight that is easily fixed.

MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION

  • LOWER RECEIVER: Mil-Spec with Enhanced Flared Magazine Well and Rear Receiver QD Swivel Attachment Point. CNC Machined of 7075-T6 Aluminum, Type III Hard Coat Anodized
  • UPPER RECEIVER: Mil-Spec with Indexing Marks and M4 Feed Ramps. CNC Machined of 7075-T6 Aluminum, Type III Hard Coat Anodized
  • BARREL: Chrome Moly Vanadium Steel, Cold Hammer Forged, 1:7 twist, 14.5″ M4 Profile, Chrome Lined, and Mil-Spec Heavy Phosphate Coated
  • GAS SYSTEM: Pinned Low Profile Gas Block CNC Machined of 4140 hardened steel with Mil-Spec Heavy Phosphate Coating, Carbine Length, Direct Impingement
  • MUZZLE DEVICE: Pinned and Welded Daniel Defense Flash Suppressor, Extended, 17-4 PH Stainless Steel, Salt Bath Nitride Finished
  • BOLT CARRIER GROUP: M16 Profile, Chrome Lined, Properly Staked Gas Key
  • BUFFER: H Buffer
  • SIGHTS: Sold Separately
  • HANDGUARD: Daniel Defense M4A1 Rail Interface System (RIS) II, CNC Machined of 6061-T6 Aluminum
  • RECEIVER EXTENSION: 6 Position Mil-Spec 7075-T6 Aluminum
  • BUTTSTOCK: Daniel Defense Buttstock, Glass Filled Polymer with Soft Touch Overmolding
  • PISTOL GRIP: Daniel Defense Pistol Grip, Glass Filled Polymer with Soft Touch Overmolding
  • RAIL PANELS: Daniel Defense Rail Panels made from Santoprene, heat resistant to 300° F.
  • FINISH: Daniel Defense Mil Spec+ Cerakote
  • Made in the USA!

Another thing that I really found annoying is that since Daniel Defense built this with a 14.5″ barrel it has a pinned flash hider. Unfortunately this makes changing muzzle devices near impossible at home. So much for running the DD M4A1 suppressed. I do quite like the flash hider they chose though, I am not normally a fan of anything other than a standard A2 birdcage or whatever QD muzzle device is needed for a suppressor. I found the M4A1’s flash hider to be clocked perfectly and the pin and weld job to be cosmetically pleasing.

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Daniel Defense installs their M4A1 Rail Interface System (RIS) II on the M4A1. If I am honest I have lusted after one of the MK18 RIS II for my personal SBR for a long while, but it never was in the cards. The rail is very solid and accesories lock up tightly to it when installed. It is easy to see why the Daniel Defense rails were selected by the Department of Defense as replacements for the robust Knights Armament rails found on most M4 rifles. Daniel Defense even included rail panels made from something called Santoprene. I have no idea what that is but it sure felt nice, sort of a cross between a silicone pot holder and a more traditional rubber.

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Both the rails and upper receiver is nicely T marked so you can quickly locate accessories in the same place every time you attach them.

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The upper receiver to lower receiver fit is nice and tight. All of the lower parts are standard Mil-Spec parts and work well, no mushy clicks. The trigger is also Mil-Spec but the feel of it is nicer than other standard triggers.

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The pistol grip and stock are of Daniel Defense’s own design. They have some added grip panels that they refer to as Soft Touch Overmolding. Normally I don’t like rubber on my grips because over time they become sticky and leave a residue on my hands. I can’t say this wont happen over time with the Daniel Defense parts, but the rifle I had for testing didn’t seem to exhibit the same gross stickiness that I have experienced with the Magpul MOE+ grips.

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The sights that Daniel Defense supplied aren’t standard on the rifle, but I wish they were. They are super light weight at only 2.8 ounces. They have a MSRP of $125 and you can find them here.

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The M4A1 includes a rear QD swivel attachment point in addition to the QD attachment point on the stock.

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Out at the range I found the rifle to handle nicely, at under 7 pounds it was a treat to shoulder. Unfortunately I had so much fun shooting the steel targets that I forgot to group the rifle. Other reviewers have reported MOA or sub MOA accuracy out of the same testing and evaluation rifle I received. The M4A1 became my go to AR-15 while I had it, making several range trips with me and digesting darn near 500 rounds of various ammo.

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I was enjoying it so much that I asked some of my friends if they would like a go, none of them turned down some free trigger time. My friend Randy was the first to take the bait. After he handed the rifle back he had a ton of questions to include “Where can I order one?”. Randy seemed pleased with his time behind the gun.

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Then I passed the rifle to a friend of mine’s son Alex. He had just celebrated his 21st birthday and was out at the same range we were breaking in his new 1911 that he purchased as a birthday gift to himself. Alex was eager to shoot a nice AR-15 so I loaded a mag and handed the rifle over to him. Again, I was met with a couple of questions about the rifle.

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After all was said and done the Daniel Defense M4A1 Mil Spec+ turned out to be a wonderful rifle. After taking it to the range half a dozen times and roughly 500 rounds put down the pipe I didn’t experience a single malfunction. I liked it so much that I am planning on ordering one of their MK18 Mil Spec+ rifles for my personal collection when finances allow. At a MSRP of $1949 the price is a bit steep, but once in a while treating one’s self is called for. If you are looking for a premium AR-15 or AR-15 parts I suggest that you check out Daniel Defense’s offerings on their website.



Patrick R

Patrick is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and works in the shooting sports industry. He is an avid recreational shooter and a verified gun nerd. With a lifelong passion for shooting, he has a love for all types of firearms, especially handguns and the AR-15 platform. Patrick may be contacted at tfbpatrick@gmail.com.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • Tom – UK

    Hi Patrick, I appreciate that ammo is dear but really for a review I’d expect to see groupings from various ammo types and for the number of rounds being put down range to really be around the 2000+ mark. I also think that maybe some competitive shooting would let us know how the rifle performs when being used more actively.

    • Tom, unfortunately for these reviews we pay for our own ammunition. Buying 2000 rounds is definitely not practical. In a perfect world we would have limitless resources and be able to accomplish much more but this is simply not the case.
      Even 500 rounds is an astronomical amount for a simple written review!

      • supergun

        Lets all chip in a dollar.

    • Patrick R.

      Alex is right, I can’t spend $600-$700 reviewing each rifle. I wish I was able to, but when I get several guns in a month to review I have to make sure my ammo budget covers all of them. Reloading for testing also isn’t feasible, I wouldn’t be able to accurately report on the reliability of the guns I review when using non factory ammunition.

    • supergun

      Me 2. For that kind of money, it needs to put out.

  • sde

    Daniel Defense has the option of a non-pinned barrel in their custom configuration system.

    • Patrick R.

      With a 14.5″ barrel that would require a tax stamp unfortunately.

      • supergun

        Not if the flash is welded permanently. Kinda of a high price for a welded flasher.

        • Patrick R.

          I am aware of that. The problem would remain that I wouldn’t be able to easily change the muzzle device at home without serious modification.

          • supergun

            I knew you did. I wonder if the shorter barrel with the flash is less accurate that the standard. Interesting idea, but limited.

          • Patrick R.

            No. I strongly doubt you would see any accuracy shift with the shorter barrel.

          • Ryan

            The accuracy of a rifle is far less dependant on its length than most people tend to believe. It does however effect the velocity of the round. Shorter barrels produce less velocity. How much less depends on the particular cartridge in question.
            You can go too short and reduce the effective range of the weapon. Conversely you can also go too long and lose any appreciable benefit, possibly even cause a detriment due to increased weight and the altered balance point.
            The most efficient length for 5.56 is usually around 18″ or so. You can see that in the MK12 series of designated marksman’s rifles used by our forward operations units. Whereas if we were talking about AAC .300BLK sub-sonic rounds then the optimal barrel length is 9″ because the round was designed to burn all of its powder within that length. Just my $0.02.

          • CommonSense23

            Just cause the round burns all the powder within 9 inches doesn’t mean the round is topping out at that range. You still get better external ballistics out of a 12 inch than a 9inch.

  • Full Name

    Up to a point, you get what you pay for. Past that point, you are getting ripped off. But if you like it (or you have other peoples’ money to spend), and it is worth it to you, fine.

    • Vitsaus

      Before the trendy colors came out and the gimmicky furniture, Daniel rifles were actually an incredibly good deal for their quality. They were sort of a sleeper brand, costing a lot less than other comparable AR15s. I don’t know if that could be said about them now. The quality hasn’t gone down, but the value has.

      • supergun

        I love the DD. But I got the Colt CRX AR 15 for about 1/2 the price with more features. Not saying I won’t buy a DD. They can be bought for $1,350 – 1,400.

    • supergun

      Only in America.

  • Anonymoose

    Is cerakoting the receiver brown instead of anodizing it black really worth an extra $130?

    • Patrick R.

      If you take a look at local Ceracoaters prices, yes. $130 for a professionally done Cerakote job is a bargain. I know my friend Ed charges more than that for a full rifle.

    • supergun

      Color looks cool, but I will take the solid black all day long. Looks like a trophy rifle, doesn’t it.

  • Bob

    Ive built from scratch, semi built using a base and bought with everything all done. Not saying every daniel defense would be worth it esp at full retail but I can tell you the V1 is my favorite and my go to.

    • Patrick R.

      Looks like you had the American experience that I did. They really are a sleeper AR like another reader said.

      • Doug73

        To me, “sleeper” implies a product that is very good, but relatively few people know about. It also often implies unusual value.

        I wouldn’t call DD guns “sleepers”. Yes they’re good, but I think most people in the AR world are well aware of them. When I see “Top 5 AR Brand” posts in forums, DD is routinely mentioned. And good though they may be, I wouldn’t say the “value” quotient is all that high.

        Great guns, but hardly “sleepers”.

    • supergun

      Another good reason.

  • uisconfruzed

    DD makes nice hardware. Why do the manufacturers have a fascination with a 14.5″ barrel??? You can’t swap muzzle devices or hang a can w/o a SBR stamp. Who then would pay $200 and wait 4-6 months for 1 1/2″ shorter barrel? I wouldn’t buy it for that reason alone. Besides my TBAC cans would be lonely.

  • Deacon Valis Knight

    ?!?!
    BECAUSE RACECAR !
    /end

  • Marmot

    2000 bucks and no fancy trigger? No thanks. Everything else looks good though.

    • supergun

      Or muzzle break. Should have a geiselle trigger at least. And sights.