Your upper receiver is the foundation of your rifle. It’s where most of the operating parts are, and your upper receiver the platform for one of the parts that most affects accuracy: your barrel.
So, while any decent upper receiver will get the job done, you should put some thought into your upper receiver and ensure that you’re getting one that fits your shooting context and style.
For those who enjoy spoilers:
If you want an upper receiver that’s functional and performs well for most applications, get the Bravo Company AR-15/M4 Flattop Upper Receiver Assembly. It’s a high quality and reasonably priced upper receiver that just works.
For those who like to read and evaluate their options:
We’ll cover the best AR-15 upper receivers, so you can really dial in your build.
Top AR-15 Upper Receivers on the Market
The Best AR 15 Receiver Reviews: Building a Solid Foundation
Those who have been here before know we’re going to start with the winning upper receiver. All the rest get their turn in order of price, from the most affordable to the most wallet crushing.
Let’s dig in.
1. Bravo Company Flattop Assembly - Best Overall Upper Receiver
The Bravo Company AR-15/M4 Flattop Upper Receiver is your bread-and-butter type of part. It doesn’t have any frills. But, it’s durable and capable enough for whatever you want to put it through.
This receiver is machined from 7075-T6 aluminum, with a matte black, hardcoat anodized finish. It’s mil-spec, with the benefit of Bravo Company’s more thorough quality control and precision construction. So, it will last longer and fit your lower receiver better than a regular mil-spec upper.
Additionally, there’s a dry film lubricant on the inside to reduce wear from the bolt carrier. This helps protect your bolt carrier as well as your upper receiver.
The picatinny rail features laser etched T-markings so you can easily remove and remount your optics in the same position.
Lastly, the inside diameter of the barrel extension is slightly undersized. This provides a tighter barrel fit and enhances your rifle’s accuracy. However, the tighter fit can make it challenging to attach your barrel.
Overall, this is a workhorse upper receiver that will work for any rifle you want to build. It doesn’t offer any real specialization. But it does everything well.
2. Brownells Stripped - Budget AR-15 Upper Receiver
The Brownells AR-15/M4 Stripped Upper Receiver is great for two reasons:
It’s super inexpensive.
It offers maximum customization.
It’s inexpensive because it’s essentially a mil-spec receiver. It’s machined from 7075-T6 aluminum, and mil-spec type III hardcoat anodized. Nothing special. But, the mil-spec design does maximize compatibility and fit with standard AR-15 parts.
The picatinny rail features painted T-markings. These help with consistent placement of optics and sights. However, painted markings wear off fairly easily.
This is a completely stripped upper receiver. So, you’ll need to supply your own forward assist and ejection port cover. However, that offers opportunities for customization for those who like a really dialed-in rifle.
It may not be flashy, but this is an excellent upper receiver for a budget build or anyone who wants to tweak every aspect of their AR-15.
3. Aero Precision M4E1 Upper Receiver - Value AR-15 Upper Receiver
The Aero Precision AR-15 M4E1 Upper Receiver is built for those who want mil-spec compatibility with the durability of a billet upper receiver. With AR-15 builders in mind, Aero precision offers this upper in three configurations:
The assembled model will work for the vast majority of shooters. It comes with the forward assist and ejection port cover already installed. All you need to do is attach the barrel and handguard.
But, no matter which one you get, they’re all machined from 7075-T6 aluminum, and covered with a matte black, hardcoat anodized finish.
The body itself features a more angular contours for improved aesthetics and durability. This gives your upper receiver a longer lifespan than the standard mil-spec design.
Finally, the picatinny rail features laser engraved T-markings that won’t wear off. So, you’ll be able to place your optics and sights consistently throughout the life of the rifle.Overall, this is one of the best upper receivers on the market. It’s an outstanding option for those who want better than mil-spec without sacrificing compatibility.
4. Foxtrot Mike Ultra Light Monolithic - Lightweight AR-15 Upper Receiver
The Foxtrot Mike Products AR-15 Ultra Light Monolithic Upper Receiver not only offers a very lightweight platform to build your rifle around, it also enhances the receiver to handguard fit for a more stable and durable forend.
This model is machined from 6061-T6 aluminum. The aluminum reduces the weight. However, it’s not as durable as 7075 aluminum.
The ejection port cover is already installed when you get this upper. However, the body features a slick side design without a forward assist. Some say the forward assist is unnecessary. But, if you want a forward assist, this may not be the upper for you.
On the other hand, the design does feature an interlock system for the handguard that improves your forend stability and durability. The handguard interlock also makes it impossible for your barrel nut to come loose. So, it offers some peace of mind, too.
The included handguard offers M-LOK attachment points at the 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock positions.
Of course, the exterior is type III hardcoat anodized for mil-spec corrosion resistance.
All in all, this upper is probably best for those who prioritize weight reduction, since this model makes a couple sacrifices to keep the weight down.
5. JP Enterprises JP15UR-H Upper Receiver - Competition AR-15 Upper Receiver
JP Enterprises has been a staple in the competition AR-15 market for years. The JP Enterprises AR-15/M16 JP15UR-H Upper Receiver has a terrible name. But, it offers excellent performance.
The biggest benefit of this upper is that it’s forged from 7075-T6 aluminum. It’s the strongest, most durable construction you can get.
This model is type III hardcoat anodized. Additionally, the entire thing is finished with Black Teflon for better lubrication and scuff resistance. This reduces wear on the internals and your bolt carrier group, and ensures that the outer finish remains intact despite rubbing on gear and magazines.
T-markings are stamped into the picatinny rail. So, it’s impossible for them to wear off. You’ll never have to place your optics or sights without some guide marks.
Even with the improved finish, this upper will still accept any standard AR-15 parts. Although, it would be kind of a shame to pair this receiver with standard mil-spec hardware.
This upper receiver is stripped. So, you’ll need to supply a forward assist and ejection port cover.The price point is a tad on the high side. So, this upper is best if you’re building a high end tactical or competition rifle that you want to be able to run hard with confidence.
6. Heckler & Koch HK416 Upper Receiver - Gas Piston AR-15 Upper Receiver
For the most part, gas piston AR-15s require a lot of proprietary parts. So, it’s hard to build one from the ground up. However, with the military adoption of the HK416, there’s at least one gas piston system that you could build yourself. The Heckler & Koch HK416 Upper Receiver offers builders a gateway to building a gas piston AR-15.
First, this upper is built to military specifications, since it was originally designed for a military rifle. That means 7075-T6 aluminum construction, and type III hardcoat anodizing.
However, since the military rifle has a fully automatic option, the upper receiver is forged for improved durability. So, this upper will have a very long lifespan on a civilian rifle.
Even though this model is designed for a gas piston system, it’s still compatible with standard AR-15 lowers. So, you can use any lower receiver you want.
There aren’t any T-markings in the picatinny rail, which is unfortunate. But, you can always mark your upper with some nail polish, if you need to remove your optics or sights.
The last thing to consider is that all the parts that attach to this upper receiver are Heckler and Koch parts. They can be tricky to get. And, they’re expensive. So, building a complete gas piston upper will be a bit pricey.
But, if you’re dedicated to building a gas piston AR-15 or military clone rifle, this upper is your best bet for getting it done.
Putting it All Together
Building your own AR-15 is fun and rewarding. It can also be less expensive than buying a complete rifle. But, why build your own rifle if you’re not going to get parts that really match your style?
If you want an upper receiver that will run great on any rifle, get the Bravo Company AR-15/M4 Flattop Upper Receiver Assembly. It’s a solid upper receiver that will give you years of service at a great price.
So, check out your options. See what you like. And grab an AR-15 upper that’ll give you a whole bunch of bangs for your buck.
James Miller is a defensive firearms coach, certified through the ICE Training Company. He teaches Intuitive Defensive Shooting fundamentals and tactics to shooters of all skill levels. He lives, writes, and skis in Reno, Nevada.