9mm compact pistols are all-too common. While the US military dickers about the relevance of the M9 platform (mainly because of the poor performance of 9mm ball ammo), most handgun innovation seems centered on larger calibers in smaller packages. So it is somewhat of a surprise to me that anyone would be investing in perfecting a high-end 9mm. Thankfully companies do, and Sphinx, a Swiss firm that’s still new to the American handgun market, knows there’s more to the 9mm than the M9 arguments would suggest. These guns are being imported by Kriss USA, and the Sphinx’s Compact Alpha makes the 9mm look really good.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS ALPHA COMPACT
Caliber 9×19 mm
Overall Length 7.4 in / 188 mm
Overall Height 5.35 in / 136 mm
Overall Width 1.37 in / 35 mm
Weight 28.18 oz / 799 g
Barrel Length 3.7 in / 95 mm
Sight Radius 5.7 in / 148 mm
Front Sight Iron blade with white dot
Rear SIght Serrated fixed sight
Single Action 4.0+ lb / 1.8+ kg
Double Action 10.0+ lb / 4.5+ kg
Slide material Steel
Slide finish Black with TIAIN coating
Upper frame Hard anodized aluminum
Lower Frame Polymer
Grip Polymer with rubber inserts
Magazine catch left / right – reversible
If you take a look at this list, there are a couple of things missing. There isn’t’ any mention of a safety. This pistol doesn’t have a built in trigger lever safety. There is no grip safety. There isn’t even a thumb safety on the slide. Instead, the Sphinx is equipped with an ambidextrous decocking lever that allows you to drop the hammer to a half-cock position, much as you would on a Sig P226 or a Beretta 92 G.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it. Guns meant for self defense shouldn’t have external, manual safety mechanisms. They stand in the way of immediate use, and can be a fatal obstacle. If you ever have to draw you gun from concealment, acquire your target, and fire, response time will be your greatest obstacle. In many defensive gun uses, the bad guy already has a gun drawn, which means you have to have an even faster response. A gun like the Sphinx isn’t going to add one more step in the equation. You draw and (assuming you’ve chambered a round) it will fire.
Yet lawyers exist. Some people want that extra measure of safety provided by a grip safety and thumb safety. I see it differently, and I think Sphinx does, too. The responsibility for safe usage, safe storage, safe carry…these are all responsibilities of the end user. You. Me. The gun is inherently safe. It isn’t going to shoot itself, despite what some of the liberal media would like you to think. You may be inherently unsafe, but there is very little Sphinx or anyone else can do about that.
And I say to-hell with the arguments about the stopping power of 9mm. Pick your ammunition carefully. Train like a mad man. Learn to shoot accurately, even when you’re under stress, and don’t miss. Shoot to kill.
On to the Alpha
Let’s break down the guns form a bit further. The Alpha is an exceptionally well made gun. The slide is milled from steel. If you look at the profile of the pistol, you will see that the slide sits deep in the frame. This design provides a lot of stability, What it doesn’t provide is a ton of surface area on the sides of the pistol to grip. The gun does have forward serrations, and rear serrations (obviously), and I never had difficulty manipulating the slide or clearing jams. The frame itself is slick, so my hand slides down, even when I do grab too much of the slide.
Below the slide, the Sphinx has an upper frame made of aluminum. Some of us associate aluminum with cans, but it does have substantial strength and mass. As I mentioned above, the frame is tall. It has a solid feel. The weight of the heavier frame helps balance the recoil motion. The steel slide, riding back on the Alpha’s full length rails, would have more muzzle flip if the whole frame were made from polymer. On this gun, though, it doesn’t.
The Alpha also has what Sphinx refers to as a lower frame. I think the term “grip frame” would be more suited. It is a well finished piece of polymer that mates to the upper frame and forms the grip, and frame for the interchangeable rubber inserts. It also forms the trigger guard. The texture of the front finger grooves could be more aggressive, but it is sufficient. The rubber on the rear of the grip is sized for various hand sizes. It is really grippy. Even with wet hands, the grip is easy to maintain.
The magazine, which holds 15 rounds of 9mm, fits easily into the beveled mag well. While I’d like to see even more of a flair on the mag well of a duty pistol, the Alpha is meant for concealed carry, so Sphinx minimizes width by keeping the grip as narrow as possible for a double-stack pistol. There are cut outs on the base of the mag well, though, that allow you to get a thumb and finger into the well to strip a magazine free, if you ever have a double feed or a mag that won’t drop. This is another one of those really minor additions that puts the Sphinx into a class of pistols that are meant to be appeal to those of us with experience. If you have ever tried to yank a magazine out of a gun and had to pry it out, you’ll know what I mean.
All told, the Sphinx feels very intentional. While the gun looks good, the features are all meant for ergonomic, practical use. Take the beaver-tail as an example. This is the one hindrance that many concealed carry experts will point to in the Sphinx’s design. It protrudes from the back of the gun and can get hung up in something. Well, I doubt it. I find the beaver-tail perfectly positions my shooting hand, as I hit it hard in the holster. I jam the web of my shooting hand into the back of the grip and it rides there, high on the center-line of the gun. As long as that tail is tucked into the web of your hand, it isn’t going to catch on anything.
The other features are nice, too. The double action pull on the Compact is over ten pounds. The single action pull is supposed to be around 4 pounds, though this one breaks just a bit higher. You can cock the external hammer if you need to. And you can decock it, which is always useful. When decocted, the hammer protrudes from the slide, just enough to thumb it down. When the trigger is pulled on an empty chamber, the hammer falls flush with the frame.
The gun is available with a threaded barrel. It comes black, or in a green, stainless, or two-tone finish.
Shooting the Sphinx
I’d put this gun up against any 9mm I’ve ever fired. It is that capable. The weight of the gun gives it a distinct advantage where it counts. Lighter guns may be easier to carry. Smaller guns may be much easier to conceal. Yet the Sphinx has enough size and enough weight to really make the most out of the platform when it comes out of the holster.
Recoil will still be a factor, but the Compact has little muzzle rise. I have really fast split times with the pistol because I barely lose the sight picture. Shooting at a silhouette from 7 yards, I can keep all of the rounds in a 12 inch circle, shooting as fast as the trigger reset will allow. If I slow down and use the sights, and really position what I’m doing carefully, I can place a round inside bulls-eye.
This is where I think the compact excels. If you need defensive maneuverability, and rapid-fire reliability, the Sphinx delivers. If you want to pin down a single shot, you can do that too. The Sphinx isn’t going to ask you to compromise.
So how much does this marvel of Swiss engineering cost?
It isn’t cheap. Retail on the Compact is running somewhere around $1,100. That puts the gun well about the polymer framed 9mm market. Rightfully so. I see more potential for the Sphinx than I do for a lot of what dominates the shelves of most gun stores. This gun has everything you could want for serious concealed carry. It is functional enough for duty carry. The differences in performance that the Alpha Compact provides may seem minimal, but they do exist. And that’s something you can put a price tag on.
There is only one thing I’d point out about the Sphinx. Holsters are much harder to come by than they are for some of the more ubiquitous 9mm pistols. This is a gun that should really be worn close to the hip, strong side, in a nice Kydex holster. It isn’t going to disappear like some of the the more compact compacts, but it will shoot circles around them. You have to be realistic about exactly how much obfuscation is needed. If you are tiny, and wear tight, shear clothing, than the Compact Alpha isn’t going to hide well.
For the rest of us, though, it is perfect. I’ve had this gun in for review now for over a year, and I’ve put more than 1,500 rounds through it. I’ve run it dry. I’ve run it in the rain. I’ve kicked it around in a range bag, and carried it on my hip, and I’m still as enamored with it today as I was when I removed it from its box at my FFL. The Sphinx line is going to be big, at least with those who don’t mind paying a grand for a pistol. They have a full size model and a sub-compact in the works, too.