A Beginner’s Guide to Suppressors: Part 1

image

We are living in a Golden Age of suppressors. The market is flush with caliber ratings, high-tech materials, new mounting options and a host of accessories. If you have ever thought about owning a suppressor, or even if you haven’t, let’s walk you through your first purchase from start to finish. Believe me, you want one. Ok, more than one.

There is a lot of information to cover, so we are going to break this whole process down into three easy parts:

Part 1

  • Silencer Laws
  • Types of Suppressors
  • Which One is Right For You?
  • Research and Reviews

silencer guide

Part 2

image

Part 3

Before we begin, what actually is a silencer?

Straight from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATFE) website:

The term “Firearm Silencer” or “Firearm Muffler” means any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for the use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.

Clear as mud, right? In layman’s terms, a suppressor is a device mounted on the muzzle end of a gun’s barrel, or any part of that device, that is intended to make that gun quieter. The term, suppressor, silencer, muffler or “can” are all interchangeable.

And lastly before we get into the laws surrounding ownership, commercial suppressors are sold through Federal Firearm Licensees (FFL) that have paid their yearly Special Occupational Tax (SOT). Commonly referred to as “dealers”, “class III dealers” or “SOTs” (pronounced S-O-T), these companies sell and/or transfer silencers they receive from manufacturers or other dealers. More on the BATFE transfer process coming up in Part 2.

Silencer Laws

Here are the basic requirements to purchase a suppressor from a dealer:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be a U.S. resident
  • Be legally able to purchase and own a firearm
  • Pay a $200 BATFE transfer tax (per item)
  • Live in a state that allows civilian ownership of suppressors.

Let’s talk about that last point: If you don’t already know your state’s suppressor laws, your first stop should be the American Suppressor Association (ASA) or the National Rifle Association Institute for Legal Action (NRA-ILA). Even if your state is on the ‘silencers are legal’ list, it is your responsibility to also check your local laws for any additional restrictions.

Credit: The American Suppressor Association

Credit: The American Suppressor Association

Didn’t make the list? Keep reading; Suppressor laws are evolving for the better every year. Last year both Minnesota and Vermont legalized suppressor ownership and at the time of this writing Iowa (Congrats Iowa!) and even Massachusetts, with all it’s challenging gun laws, are both advancing bills to legalize individual ownership of suppressors. There is also a push in Congress to remove silencers from the National Firearms Act (NFA) Registry – The Hearing Protection Act.

Final legal issue: The Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) sign off requirement. For 82 years, individuals who wanted to purchase NFA items like suppressors were required to get an approval from their local CLEO. In some locations, CLEOs would refuse to sign NFA transfer paperwork effectively banning ownership of suppressors and other registered items. However, with the adoption of a controversial BATFE rule change called 41F (formerly 41P), starting in early July of 2016, individuals will only be required to notify their CLEO of an NFA transfer – no approval required. Individuals (and now entities like corporations and trusts) still have to submit fingerprints and photographs and undergo a background check to have their BATFE forms approved. Don’t worry, we will simplify all of the paperwork in Part 2.

Types of Suppressors

Great, you’re legal! It’s time to start the search for your new silencer.

First, let’s break suppressors down into five basic categories: Rimfire, Pistol, Rifle, Multi-Use and Shotgun.

Rimfire Suppressors ($200 to $450) – These smaller lighter cans are optimized for rimfire cartridges (although some can handle small rifle cartridges like the 5.7×28). This is the easiest way to get close to that ‘Hollywood quiet’ suppressed gun. Using the right ammunition, the loudest sound you’ll hear when using a rimfire silencer will be the bullet hitting the target. Because rimfire ammunition runs dirty, modern day rimfire cans are built to be taken apart for cleaning. Most rimfire suppressors attach directly to the barrel with a thread pattern of 1/2 x 28.
Examples: SilencerCo Spectre 22; Dead Air Mask.

Pistol Suppressors ($400 to $800) – Specifically engineered to handle the recoil operation of semiautomatic handguns, these suppressors use a spring operated Neilsen Device (or booster) to help cycle the action. Some of these silencers can handle subsonic rifle rounds and have the option of a fixed barrel mount rather than a booster for mounting to the barrel of a rifle. Important note: Never use a booster with a rimfire can.
Examples: Rugged Obsidian 45; Griffin Revolution

Rifle Suppressors ($500 to $1500) – Designed to handle the high pressures and temperatures of rifle rounds, these caliber specific cans come in direct thread and quick detach versions. Most of these suppressors are sealed, meaning that they can’t be taken apart for cleaning. It’s a good thing that rifle silencers rarely, if ever, need to be cleaned; the high energy from rifle rounds blasts out most of the carbon buildup.
Examples: Sig SRD762Ti-QD; AAC M4-2000

Multi-Use ($600 to $900) – These suppressors combine certain traits from each of the rimfire, pistol and rifle categories to provide the user with a ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of do-it-all silencers that can be moved between multiple hosts and configurations. This also can mean that these silencers may not excel in any one category, so choose wisely.
Examples: Liberty Mystic X; Griffin Optimus; SilencerCo Hybrid

Shotgun Suppressors ($1,200) – This is the most niche category on the list. There are few options out there but a shotgun suppressor is probably not a good recommendation first time buyers.
Example: SilencerCo Salvo12.

Each of the above categories can have their own subsets. For example rifle suppressors can be made to take a harsh firing schedule for combat use or be extremely lightweight for a bolt action hunting gun. And since this is a beginners guide, we will leave submachine gun, machine gun and integral (built into the firearm) suppressors for another time.

Which One is Right For You?

The key to picking the right silencer is to manage your expectations. Firearm suppressors reduce (not eliminate) noise, pressure and flash. “Forget what you see [and hear] in movies,” says Chris Hansohn from Hansohn Brothers, an online and retail suppressor dealer based in Virginia. And aside from rimfire and some subsonic ammunition, even when shooting suppressed, you will still need to wear some form of hearing protection. If you are looking for that awe-inspiring silencer experience, a rimfire can is probably your best bet, followed closely by a pistol or rifle can using subsonic ammunition. “Start with a rimfire silencer and a .22LR rifle as a host for the best dollar-to-smile ratio,” continued Chris from Hansohn Brothers. But, if you are dead set on suppressing your .338 Lapua first, just realize that it will still be loud.

“With a myriad of models, options, and probably most important – price ranges, most buyers can get overwhelmed,” says Mark Cook, owner of MAC Tactical an FFL/SOT dealer in New Hampshire. “My best advice to customers is to identify what your intended use is and what caliber(s) and hosts you want to suppress.”

When considering which guns to suppress, start with the one you shoot the most. Defensive pistol? Backyard plinker? Rifle hunter? Precision shooter? Common sense dictates that shooters should make their favorite guns the most pleasant to shoot. “You can effectively suppress 90% of all firearms with just 3 silencers.  A magnum rated .30 caliber, a .45 pistol, and a magnum rated .22 silencer,” says Jake Hinton of Quiet Riot Firearms, an online and retail suppressor dealer based in Georgia. “Pick which of those three you shoot the most and start there.” Also, as one reader points out, because of the gap between the cylinder and the barrel, revolvers make terrible hosts, except for a few exceptions.

Research and Reviews

One of the hardest parts about buying a silencer is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to try them out before making a decision. And even if you do find a dealer that has demonstration cans that they allow customers to use (at their range), chances are that they will not allow you to test them on your hosts. This means that prospective buyers are left primarily with the Internet and word of mouth for silencer research, which can be difficult to interpret. Especially since consumer-grade audio and visual equipment cannot accurately capture the sound reduction felt by the shooter. [Be careful] listening to people’s opinions and taking that as the gospel on a specific silencer,” says Jeremy Mallette of Silencer Shop, an online suppressor distributor headquartered in Texas. “Even at Silencer Shop we have our favorites and if you ask five sales guys you’ll get five different answers.”

“It makes a dealer’s job a lot easier to suggest models if you have clearly defined goals,” – Chris Hansohn, Hansohn Brothers.

Many manufacturers, distributors and dealers will use professional audio equipment to measure decibel reductions. While this is a great way to compare the performance of different suppressors, it’s not the only variable to consider. “Don’t get to wrapped up in chasing the lowest decibel numbers. These days the manufacturers know that a third party [decibel] test is inevitable and they have nothing to hide. What you need to concentrate on is the tone,” says Adam Johnson, owner of the NFA Review Channel that conducts testing and evaluation of suppressors. “Tone will make or break your shooting experience.”

One of the best ways to interpret a suppressors tone is to find a friend who owns and shoots with silencers. And, if you don’t know a suppressor owner, internet discussion boards like AR15.com have active suppressor forums where the latest products and technologies are discussed. If you are interested in a specific brand, chances are there is someone out there that either loves or hates it. Just remember that it’s the internet; take everything you see, hear and read with a grain of salt. What works for one user, might not necessarily be the best choice for you.


Reviews on almost any of host and suppressor combination are on YouTube.


Obviously you want a suppressor that will reduce sound and muzzle blast, but there are other characteristics that are equally important, but much easier to quantify. Length, weight, materials, mounting system, barrel length, caliber restrictions and the manufacturers customer service history should be a part of your decision process. Again, it all comes back to what host you are trying to suppress and for what purpose. For example, selecting a silencer for a short barreled rifle (SBR) can be a completely different process from picking a silencer for a bolt action precision gun. “It makes a dealer’s job a lot easier to suggest models if you have clearly defined goals,” says Chris from Hansohn Brothers.

When you start looking at models, make sure you take into account your host. For rifles, barrel length is going to be a top concern since most manufacturers will list a minimum barrel length required for a specific caliber. And you are going to want to decide on a mounting option: it is usually a choice between direct thread and quick disconnect. Typically, direct thread silencers are left on one host most of the time while quick disconnect (QD) options allow the shooter to have multiple mounts (a brake or flash hider) on different guns and swap the suppressor between them. Some pistol hosts have unique thread patterns or don’t offer threaded barrel options. Another reason to do thorough research before you buy.

Length and width restrictions should be considered when pairing your host with a potential suppressor.

A SilencerCo Octane 45HD mounted under the hand guard of a QuarterCircle10 pistol caliber carbine, Length and width restrictions should be considered when pairing your host with a potential suppressor.

It is important to note, the market for used silencers is almost nonexistent, so consider every suppressor you buy a lifetime commitment. With that in mind, you wouldn’t buy a TV without pouring over specifications and features and making an informed decision, right? Doing similar research when buying your cans will save you headaches and regret. “Buy the best silencer you can afford, even if that means putting your purchase off until you can save more [money],” says Jake from Quiet Riot. “There is nothing worse than having an old ineffective silencer collecting dust in the back of your safe.”

Finally, start planning out how much you want to spend. Your budget should include the $200 transfer tax and possibly mounts, boosters and barrel threading.

With that, I’m going to wrap up Part 1 of this series with a little homework. Take the below list of silencer manufactures and start researching some options for your host(s). Take a look at the NFA Review Channel and other reviewers on YouTube and around the web. By the time Part 2 rolls around, you should be ready to buy. Remember your objectives and pick the right suppressor for you, not what the internet or your local gun shop decides to sell you.

Top suppressor manufacturers (in alphabetical order):

Advanced Armament Corporation – http://www.advanced-armament.com

aac


Allen Engineering – http://aesuppressors.com/suppressors/

ae

AWC Silencers – https://awcsilencers.com/

awc


Bowers Group – http://www.bowersgroup.com

bowers


Dead Air Armament – http://deadairsilencers.com

deadair


Delta P Design – https://www.deltapdesign.com/suppressors.html

deltap


Gemtech – http://www.gem-tech.com

gemtech


Griffin Armament – http://www.griffinarmament.com

griffin


Innovative Arms – http://www.innovativearms.com

innovative2


LaRue Tactical – http://www.larue.com/larue-tranquilo-sound-suppressor-m308

larue


Liberty Suppressors – http://libertycans.net

liberty


Mack Brothers – http://macbros.com/

MB


 

OSS Suppressors – http://osssuppressors.com/

oss


Ruger – http://ruger.com/micros/silent-sr/index.html

image


 

Rugged Suppressors – https://ruggedsuppressors.com

rugged


Sig Sauer – http://sigsilencers.com

sig


SilencerCo – https://silencerco.com

silencerco


Surefire – http://www.surefire.com/tactical-equipment/sound-suppressors.html

surefire


Tactical Solutions – http://www.tacticalsol.com/suppressors/

TS


 

Thompson Machine – http://www.thompsonmachine.net/

TM


 

Thunder Beast Arms – https://thunderbeastarms.com

thunderbeast


 

Yankee Hill Machine – http://yhm.net

yhm


Writer’s note: I’m sure I left your favorite manufacturer off the list. If so, feel free to remind me in the comments section. 

I’ll leave you with this bit of information from Jeremy at Silencer Shop:

I have yet to have a customer that has just bought one silencer.

Quick Review:

  1. Check your laws.
  2. Decide on which host(s) to suppress.
  3. Read/Watch/Discuss reviews online.
  4. Research manufacturers.
  5. Decide which suppressor is best for you and your goals.

See you for Part 2 of A Beginners Guide to Suppressors.



Pete

LE – Science – OSINT.
On a mission to make all of my guns as quiet as possible.
Pete.M@staff.thefirearmblog.com


Advertisement

  • One thing to keep in mind is that shotgun silencers mostly suck except for the salvo12 which you can only use 12 gauge slugs and wadded shot plus have a certain barrel length mininum. Shotgun silencers have been around a long time but you had to use handloaded or speciality rounds that didn’t go past 1100 fps or so.

  • Also with one exception on the civilian market the M1895 Nagant you cannot quiet down a revolver handgun. There is the Sixby12 by Cyre Precision which is a revolver shotgun that uses a gas seal system like the Nagant. Otherwise you would have to pay for a custom job to have a revolver that can have a silencer put on it.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      The Crye hasn’t made it past prototype and after handling it I laughed so hard at that thing. I seriously hope no one is getting hyped up for that! Also, I’m skeptical it will suppress well even for a shotgun.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    OK but where can I get a “loudener”?

    • NDS

      Mmm

    • TechnoTriticale

      re: OK but where can I get a “loudener”?

      That’s called a muzzle brake (just ask the party beside you at the range). Not an NFA item.

      The article might have pointed out that there are multiple sources of noise during firearm operation, and a suppressor can do nothing at all about several of them (#1,2,4,5 & 6):
      1. mechanical noise of ignition
      2. cylinder gap gasses on a revolver
      3. muzzle report
      4. mechanical cycling of self-loader action
      5. shockwave of supersonic projectiles
      6. target impact

      As other remarks have pointed out, trying to silence a revolver is generally pointless, unless using captive piston ammo instead, which would be way off topic for this useful article series.

      • Pete

        We will hit these points in Part 3. Good stuff, thanks.

    • Tierlieb

      Owen at SnakeHoundMachine makes a comp explicitly marketed as “Loudener”.

  • NDS

    Good article. Only advice I’ll add is once you’ve made an informed decision to buy a silencer, do it ASAP. Nothing worse than waiting months and months for Forms to clear and kicking yourself the whole time for not getting them out sooner!!

    • Pete

      Part 2 reminds buyers not to wait. Get in the NFA game. Thanks!

    • BattleshipGrey

      What’s the going wait times (roughly)?

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Wow, good article Pete. I was expected a quick and brief take on the subject. You clearly put some work in. Good job.

    Muzzle db numbers are stupid, I’d like to see way more AT EAR reports because just this week TFB’s own James wrote a VERY incorrect assumption that his AR-10 suppressed was hearing safe – in reality its not even sort of close!

    That said… “Tone” is kind of a joke. Who can argue with entirely subjective “reports”!? I feel one specific mfg is pushing this a little hard right now.

    The real story about “tone” is it doesn’t matter and they they all actually sound similar enough. If you are actually using your suppressor for something like personal defense, or hunting or competition, tone is 100% unimportant. The ONLY time “tone” is even brought up is when you might be A/B comparing two cans and WHEN MARKETING CANS. Be careful of that.

    Also, dedicated cans should get a mention! The longer you’re into NFA, the more you will likely understand that. If it’s a “real gun” and you’re going to suppress it, might as well consider the can as part of that gun. The “do it all” cans are appealing but in reality only good for the margins of silencer mfgs who want to sell mounts/adapters/caps.

    • Pete

      Thanks much.

      Dedicated cans will definitely get air time in Part 3. I just didn’t want to discuss integrals for true beginners.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        I don’t consider dedicated to mean integral. IMO integral is a dead tech, they just aren’t quieter than muzzle cans anymore and optics have replaced the need to long sights, ammo can be made subsonic so porting is goofy.

        I’m talking about dedicated cans like, this 556 can, this is part of this gun. This gun doesn’t even work without it because the gas system was reduced at the port to correct the increase in backpressure. It doesn’t comes off easily because it doesn’t have to. This is how “pros” set up their guns and have for years, the whole quick-attach and “modular” thing is just to sell high margin products.

        • Pete M

          I agree. Almost every gun you have should have a dedicated can. But it sounds almost ridiculous to beginners. They have to experience that sense of longing for more silencers on their own. 😉

        • iksnilol

          Integral cans are still pretty awesome from what I’ve (literally) heard. I agree that the porting thing is silly if done to reduce velocity, not so silly if done near the end of the barrel to reduce noise.

          That and they are shorter than the regular cans.

      • claymore

        how about referring to them as what they are ….suppressors.

        • Pete M

          I also drive my automobile to the apothecary. 😉

          If we are too rigid, we run the risk of losing new owners. Let beginners know they can use the slang.

    • Pete just started with TFB and he’s a very good writer. I know you’ll enjoy his articles!

      • Pete M

        I’m the lowest ranking member. And I may not even rank. Thanks for having me Phil.

  • Jeff

    No mention of SRT. Doug does excellent work.

  • Tim U

    “I don’t know anyone who only buys one.”

    That’d be me actually. I have one suppressor and I don’t anticipate buying any others. I would like to, but I’d also like to buy more guns, more ammo, more widgets for guns, etc.

    Since it was and is unlikely I’ll buy another, I bought the one that would bring me the most fun and value. Got my 9mm can plus an optional fixed barrel spacer and now I am set for both PCC and handgun fun with subsonic loads.

  • So would it be dumb to ask which is the best 9MM suppressor for a pistol and carbine?

    • Pete M

      Definitely not a dumb question. But there are a couple of follow-up questions before any suggestions can be made. Are you going to shoot your pistol or your carbine more? Do you want the best suppression or a shorter length for maneuverability? Is your carbine a SBR and you want to put your can under the handguard?

      If you can’t buy two cans now, buy one that works best for the host that you’ll shoot the most and that will also work on the other host.

      • Unknown which I would shoot more.
        Best suppression
        Not a SBR yet and my CX4 doesn’t have a hand guard.

        • Pete M

          It’s hard to suggest something without seeming biased. SilencerCo Octane 45HD, SilencerCo Osprey 45 (non traditional look), Dead Air Ghost M, AAC TiRant (if you can find one), and Liberty Mystic in no particular order.

          If you are going to SBR the CX4 (don’t forget 922r) maybe a shorter can would be a good option.

  • Mtneer

    Might want to mention Ruger will soon have a 10/22 silencer on the market.

    • Pete M

      You know, I should have included Ruger. They are especially important for new buyers since Ruger is a mainstream brand opening a whole new market. Thanks.

  • Shannon Kelman

    After receiving my first silencer (5 month wait for the tax stamp to process) I would have to say I’m quite impressed. It’s an AAC Pilot 2 on a Buckmark. While not the pew, pew of the movies it suppressed the sound down to that of an air rifle and made shooting without hearing protection extremely comfortable. I shot all sorts of subsonic ammo with no discernible difference. I did try a couple stingers for comparison. While the initial noise from the powder charge was eliminated you still got the “crack” from the super-sonic ammo. Breaking it down after 200 rounds it was about as dirty as I expected but not overly so. Well worth the cost.

  • Geoffry K

    Two years ago I submitted a Form 1 for a 5.56 silencer (yeah, OK, suppressor, but the Feds regs call it a silencer, so you better put that on the form), it took 9 months for the approval in Jan 2015. I built a modified version of the infamous MagLite silencer. Yeah, it works, and it works really, REALLY good. Subsonic ammo is a “poof” rather than a BANG. Supersonic crack only with full power ammo. I spent about $100 on parts.
    I just submitted another Form 1 this month for a 30 Caliber silencer/suppressor. Should only take 60 to 90 days now according to the wait times on the NFA tracking site.
    I designed a reflex suppressor using a combination of 3AL-2.5V titanium and 6061-T6 aluminum tubing and 304L SS round bar for machining the end cap, barrel ring, blast baffle and thread adapter.
    It is a modified version of the T8 Scout. 12.5″ length with 5.5″ past the muzzle.
    Yeah. I am going to buy a lathe. I’m retired. Seems like a good hobby for all my spare time.
    I haven’t decided yet on the expansion plugs or machining cone baffles.
    Feel free to use my design if you want to build your own.
    I’ll follow up with a report on how well it works after I get it built.
    (Don’t hold your breath, it could be like 6 months or more from now.)

  • Julio

    Thanks for the detailed survey, Pete. Here in the UK, pretty much everyone hunts with a silenced/suppressed/moderated rifle. Once you have a rifle licence (FAC) owning moderators (the most commonly-used term here) is easy. Almost all the models available here come from Finland or Norway, though we have some good home-grown makers too. I have yet to see a US-made moderator here, and it seems the reverse is true in the US. I don’t know if this is due to a natural preference for a domestic product, or to import restrictions. In any case, it would be interesting to know how European and US designs compare on price and performance.

  • Red State

    The only problem with suppressors in the US is the price. We are talking about a can with baffles and threads on one end. $1000 really? These should go for $100-200. Proof: In Europe no permit is required and they are on sale freely. They cost MUCH less than in the US. This needs to change.