Lightning Review: Forward Controls Design EMR-A Ambi Mag Catch/Release

As a fan of ambidextrous controls, I am always pleased to see when new products hit the market. With handguns going quickly full-ambi, I hope it’s just a matter of time until most rifles follow suit. Until then, companies like Forwarding Controls Design have been hard at work combining modern machining and ideas to half-century old AR-15s.

Their latest offering is the EMR-A, or Enhanced Magazine Release – Ambidextrous. The EMR-A has a lot going for it, of which I will leave the description up to the manufacturer, as they sum it up best:

EMR-A’s an ergonomic ambidextrous magazine release.  The placement of its lever is well thought out to closely mirror the magazine release button on the right side.  The portion immediately below the bolt catch’s lower paddle has a lower profile to avoid interference, heretofore a common drawback of popular ambidextrous mag catches, it is also left smooth.  The serrated length of the lever is split into a shallow V shaped serrations (80%) that conform to the curvature of the user’s finger, and straight serrations (20%) that form a natural index point, and provide additional traction.  We refer to the design as Multi-faceted Control Surface, the difference MCS makes has to be felt to be fully appreciated.

I’ve had the EMR-A for about a month, used on my personal Faxon ARAK-21. With the ambidextrous features of the upper receiver, the ARAK was an ideal pairing to put the EMR-A through its paces at the range. This Lightning Review is with about 250 rounds through the devices and a few hundred dry magazine and practice runs.


The Good:

  • Works exactly as described. Catches the magazine and releases it reliably.
  • By pushing the pad behind the mag catch, no possibility of accidentally engaging the bolt catch.
  • No special install tools. Anyone who knows how to install a mag catch can install the EMR-A.
  • Shape and serrations make it easy to find and depress.
  • Compatible with both .308 and 5.56 weapons using the standard AR-15 mag catch/release.

The Notable:

  • The lever sits farther towards the grip. It will feel unusually far back for those used to the standard magazine release button placement or the Norgon. Works best with an extended magazine release for the right side like Odin Works.
  • The release uses the receiver to pivot. Expect some long-term wear on those contact points.
  • Offered in a standard length and an “extended” which is .09″ inches longer.
  • Includes higher rated magazine catch spring at 10.9 lbs instead of mil-spec 6.85 lbs. It’s needed to avoid accidental drops by touching the body.
  • Likely won’t work with widened bolt catches the Battle Arms enhanced bolt catch, etc.

The Bad:

  • Will not work with various lever-type bolt catch/release levers like Magpul’s BAD.
  • Will not work with KNS or similar anti-rotation pin sets. The EMR-A’s paddle will hit the screws and not actuate fully.

Final Thoughts:

The EMR-A continues Forward Controls Design’s excellent designs with similarly solid execution. The EMR-A is well-machined using the excellent materials for the job. It further showcases their attention to detail, especially in the design and layout of the human-machine interface.

The vertical serrations and slight depression intuitively move the finger to the center. The cut-out at the top for bolt release clearance is an excellent touch and location of the pivot point and smooth machining make this feel excellent when used.

For those looking for an ambidextrous magazine catch/release, this is an excellent alternative to the Norton with additional features for $20 less. Works great by itself and will work best paired with a similar extended mag release button on the right side. But most importantly, it just works.

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

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


  • What kind of upper is that on your gun?

    • Steve

      Looks like the ARAK upper, to me. A reinvention of the Sig 55X rifles, essentially.

      • Vitsaus

        Without the reliability of the 55X.

        • Anonymoose

          but is it as reliable as the the 556?

          • roguetechie

            No, but it’s easy to make eject to the left!

            As a left handed cheapass I’m forever grateful for the brunton bump…

      • drambus

        The 55X series of rifles as an ak-style bolt and carrier.. While the ARAK is piston operated in a similar way to an AK, the bolt and carrier more closely resemble an ACR/G36/SCAR/AR18 derived bolt and carrier.

        So it’s more like if you could make a long stroke scar upper fit on an ar-15 lower.

  • Steve

    Hope you’re not throwing the perfectly good Norgon in the trash…

    FWIW, that mag release is almost a direct copy of the SCAR (and other) releases. I actually had the roll pin cause the release to stick on a SCAR 17S causing the magazine to not latch reliably. Took almost a year to get a replacement latch…

    I’ll stick with the Norgon on my AR’s though… if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

  • valorius

    I like the sharks teeth.

    • Haulin’ Oats

      It’s from the Flying Tigers of WWII.

      • valorius

        I figured as much.

    • Paveway

      Love the war-bird theme

      • Haulin’ Oats

        It’s a Spikes Tactical Hellbreaker lower receiver. You can buy them for under $300.

  • MrFN

    Does anyone know what irons those are?

  • GhostTrain81

    This article be like – “hey guyz I’m here to talk about some ambi … forward …. eh crap I forgot, just check out that awesome shark mouth!”

  • Rocky Mountain 9

    The PRICE should be part of TFB’s standard, required list of items for every product review. If there’s no such list, there should be.

  • Colonel K

    Except for the manual safety, I’ve never had any issues with operating the controls on AR or 1911 systems, and I’m a southpaw.