The Daniel Defense rifles have been out in the field, slowly building up the company’s reputation. Their take on the ubiquitous black rifle is seen by many as the benchmark for legitimate quality and value. Their M4A1 is no exception. Designed from the ground up with mil-spec components, the M4A1 is solid. The newest version, the M4A1 Mil-Spec+, has been coated in the new Daniel Defense Mil Spec+ Cerakote, which puts the finish well above military specifications.
Before we go any further, I’d like to comment on this industry’s love affair with military-specifications.” MIL-SPEC. Mil-Spec. MIL-STD. MilSpecs. The new Daniel Defense Cerakote paint job has been named Mil-Spec+. Occasionally, you’ll see something referenced as mil-spec, and it is a bad thing (usually a trigger). It is likely to get a bit confusing. What makes a rifle meet the military’s specifications? Is it an expected performance level? Is it s a budgetary concern that governs contract fulfillment? When it comes to Daniel Defense, the term is used in at least two distinct ways. Many of the M4A1’s rock solid components are listed as Mil-Spec (meaning meeting the standards of service rifles). And then you’ll see Mil-Spec+ paired with Cerakote, the name of the gun’s new finish.
- 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, MP tested, 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, Mil-Spec MP Tested, Chrome Lined, Properly Staked Gas Key
- 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!
The M4A1 is a rifle that is as small as legal restrictions allow and as light as functionally possible. The gun features a M4 profile 14.5 inch cold hammer forged barrel with an elongated A2 style pinned flash hider. The gun comes in weighing 6.7 pounds empty, but settles down around 8 pounds loaded. Beyond its mild weight and short overall length of 31.5 inches, the M4A1 has some other tricks up its sleeve that are anything but standard on your typical carbine.
- The free floated RIS II Quad-Rail that is SOCOM approved and was adopted by the SOPMOD II program.
- The flared magwell is cut into the 7075-T6 aluminum lower receiver.
- The M16 profile bolt carrier has a staked gas key.
- The M4 style cut and polished feed ramps.
All of these features make this rifle into an optimal and reliable tool. They’re subtle enhancements, though, and this rifle isn’t subtle. The first thing that you will notice when you see the new rifle is its beautifully rugged paint job. The M4A1 is coated from head to toe the Mil-Spec + Dark Earth Cerakote. This ceramic finish is tougher than nails. It improves abrasion resistance, impact resistance, and is corrosion resistant. The color is an added bonus, really, and is a very dark tan.
The rifles also come with Daniel Defense furniture, which is so much better than Mil-Spec. The grip is easy on the hand and the stock is easy on the face. While we’re throwing around the Mil-Spec term, we should talk about the trigger. The Daniel Defense trigger is solid. There are much better options available on the market, but this is a great place to start. It breaks right at 6 pounds. There is a minimal amount of creep. The reset is fast. Mil-Spec, when we’re referring to triggers, is typically a bad thing. But in this case, the stock trigger is actually a cut above what most would expect from a Mil-Spec trigger. You could go a long time with this trigger and never feel like you are settling for second best.
Shooting the M4A1
In addition to the work I did for this review, I’ve used the M4A1 for a number of different projects. To date, I’ve got close to 2,000 rounds through it. Out of all the rounds fired during the (rather long) evaluation period, I didn’t experience one single issue. I haven’t been cleaning obsessively, I haven’t added any lubrication, and no special ammunition was used. I ran the gun in blistering heat, freezing rain, and mud as deep as my ankles and it chugged along. I’d expect nothing less from a gun with the Mil-Spec philosophy.
In the stock configuration (less all of my tactical doodads) the rifle is balanced well. If anything, it is a little on the light side up front. The gun draws on to target with ease, popping up from low ready with speed and precision. The 14.5-inch barrel swings left and right with little to no effort. Engaging multiple targets is easily mastered and becomes more of a game than a work out.
Accuracy of the M4A1 is somewhat staggering. Outfitted with a Nightforce 2.5-10×32 scope, I was able to repeatedly make sub moa groups at 100 meters. With a Primary Arms Micro Dot on top, I was able to produce a 5 shot group from 100 meters that was less than 3.5 inches. Before you start saying “well big whoop plenty of rifles are able to shoot groups like this,” let me add that the M4A1 ships with a “Mil-Spec” trigger, and the Micro Dot has a 3 moa dot. Let that sink in a bit… As far as accuracy goes the M4A1 is a rock star!
The M4A1 is a rifle built with ergonomics in mind. Starting at the front, the rifle is equipped with a full-length free-float handguard. Low profile and deburred, the quad rail gives you optimal space for mounting whatever grips, lights, or tactical crap you see fitting. For the minimalist, the gun also comes with three rail panels that add texture to the front and make that high C grip just a bit more comfortable.
The receiver offers a flared magwell, and a QD attachment point at the rear. Other than those two features, this guns has those standard Ar-15 ergonomics we are all so accustomed to. The gun doesn’t offer any ambidextrous controls, nor does it have any fancy 45-degree safety levers. Do you really needs them anyhow? If you do, you have your first stepping off point for customization.
The Standing Question
Is the M4A1 Mil-Spec + worth it? The MSRP on the M4A1 Mil-Spec+ is $1,949. Without the Mil-Spec+ finish, the gun comes in at $1,819.
Most AR afficiandos buy multiple guns, adding on pieces incrementally, in search of the perfect combination of parts. The irony is that most of us end up buying rifles that are clearly not what we want. Most carbines feel like they were built on an assembly line where random plastic placeholders were fitted onto a receiver. We start stripping them and replacing pieces until we end up with something that really works. Yet, by the time we get one rifle really finished, we’ve found something else that we want more and we start all over.
So is the M4A1 Mil-Spec+ worth it? If you are only going to own one AR-15, this could be it! This rifle is a home wrecker. The M4A1 Mil-Spec + is one rifle that could convince you that is okay to ditch your other AR’s. It is certainly a cohesive package that feels intentionally designed.
In all honesty, I think it is worth the price. With this kind of unfailing reliability, and the inherent abilities of the gun itself, why not? And you get the benefit of the Cerakote, too. I’ve seen a lot less being sold for a lot more. Just sayin’.