HomeGunsBest AR-15 Lower Receivers of 2023: Budget to Baller

Best AR-15 Lower Receivers of 2023: Budget to Baller

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We know what you’re thinking right now:

Why are some AR-15 lower receivers $45 and some $200+?

A couple of AR Lowers

How do I know what’s best for me?

It’s not as intimidating as it seems, so don’t worry!

Skeletonized AR-15 Lower
Skeletonized AR-15 Lower, One-Off (sorry)

And we’ve built our fair share of ARs with a variety of lowers!

Lots of AR-15 Uppers
Lots of AR-15 Uppers

We’re going to cover the differences in manufacturing, materials, and weight to help you pick the best lower for your budget and build.

AR-15 Complete Lowers
AR-15 Complete Lowers

Summary of Our Top Picks

Table of Contents

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Manufacturing Processes

The overwhelming majority of lower receivers are made of aluminum.

While there are other options such as steel, titanium, and polymer, we’ll focus mostly on the three ways aluminum is made into an AR-15 receiver.

We’ll touch on polymer also, but I’ll try to be brief.

First, what are those numbers in front of the aluminum?

6061-T6 vs 7075-T6 Aluminum Receivers

There are two types of aluminum alloys that are used in making lowers. 6061-T6 and 7075-T6.

So, what’s the difference?

Simply: strength and corrosion resistance

7075 vs 6061, Proto Labs
7075 vs 6061, Proto Labs

7075-T6 is nearly twice as strong as 6061-T6. Naturally, there will be a cost difference between the two.

However, 6061 is more corrosion-resistant. But unless your receiver is bare aluminum, this part shouldn’t affect your decision too much.

Some 80% AR-15 Receivers
Some 80% 7075 AR-15 Receivers

When planning your build, think about how much that strength is worth to you.

Want our advice? 

The difference nowadays between 7075 and 6061 is so minimal that we like the peace of mind that comes with 7075.

But if budget dictates 6061…you’re fine too.

Now onto the three ways of manufacturing a receiver.

Cast Aluminum

The casting process is very basic.

Pour the molten aluminum into a mold and once cooled, you have a lower receiver ready for final machining.

Aluminum Castings (Probably Not an AR Lower, US Castings
Aluminum Castings (Probably Not an AR Lower, US Castings

Since the aluminum is poured into the cast as a liquid the final product will have a loose crystalline structure making it the weakest form of the three types of aluminum.

It is still strong enough for the receiver to be perfectly safe without fear of malfunction.

However, it is the least desirable of the processes.

Billet Aluminum

Think of it this way, the manufacturer is Michelangelo and the billet bar stock is the marble.

The lower starts out as a block of pure aluminum that ends up on various machines that mill it into a finished product.

Blocks of Aluminum, AR15.com (Shadow Grey)
Blocks of Aluminum, AR15.com (Shadow Grey)

It is just sculpting with metal.

Because the aluminum remains solid billet lowers are stronger than cast and have a finer finish.

If you’re looking to build a “show gun” consider a billet lower!

They also have the added benefit of being easily customized by manufacturers since they start with raw aluminum.

80% AR-15 Lowers, All Sides
80% AR-15 Lowers, Billet

This allows for creative changes to be made such as a skull-shaped magazine well, built-in trigger guards, and extra machining for weight savings.

This Seekins lower ($250) shows what cool things can be done with billet.

Seekins Gen2 Billet Lower
Seekins Gen2 Billet Lower

Forged Aluminum

The strongest and most common of the three types.

Take some aluminum and smash it into submission.

That’s essentially what’s going on in this process.

Machines press a block of aluminum into the desired shape and then it gets machined to finish it off. The compression of the aluminum increases its strength.

Anderson Arms AR Lower
Anderson Arms AR Lower

This is ideal for an AR-15 you plan on using often and hauling around with you.

Ambidextrous Lowers

This is a term you’ll see pop up now and then generally on premium lowers.

If you see a brand making lowers for one price, then see some lowers for 2x or 3x the price from the same brand — chances are the expensive ones are ambi.

Ambidextrous lowers mean they have controls on both sides of the lower. How, what, and where depends on the lower.

There are no standard naming conventions for these features so you’ll often have to inspect each lower on their own to see what type they are.

The bare minimum of an ambi lower is one that has a safety selector on both sides.

Reducing Recoil for an AR-15 trigger and side
Example of an ambi safety.

A step up from those will have a magazine release AND a safety selector on both sides.

CA HD AR SI Ambi Mag Release
Strike Industries ambi mag release on an Aero Precision lower.

Good ones will have the mag release, the safety, and a bolt release on both sides.

The best, and in my opinion the only ones that should have the right to call themselves ambidextrous, will have the mag release, the safety, the bolt release, and a bolt catch on both sides.

Rainier ambi lower
Rainier Arms bolt release only ambi lower.

Note the difference between a bolt release and a bolt catch. Often an ambi lower will let you release your bolt from both sides, but will only let you lock it back from one side. That’s useful, but it isn’t the best.

Aero Precision Ambi
Aero Precision Ambi lower using a PDQ Ambi- Bolt Release/Stop

Okay, But Why?

Simple, so you can use all of the controls from both sides of the rifle.

If this is purely a range toy, then ambi really doesn’t matter. But for competition, SHTF, or home defense — I really recommend looking at ambi lowers or at least adding an ambi safety and mag to your normal lower.

A DDM4 RIII with an ambi lower.

You never know when you’ll be hurt, when you’ll need to switch sides when you’ll have your hands full with something or someone else.

The ability to manipulate your rifle from both sides has benefits that will only present themselves when you truly need them.

Polymer Lowers

Because of the growing popularity of polymer lowers, it’s worth talking about the pros and cons, how they are generally made, and why you might want one…or might not want one.

History Of The Polymer Lower

Surprisingly, polymer lowers really aren’t new. Colt was playing around with the design in the late ‘60s, it didn’t get past the testing phases — but they still were the first.

Polymer lowers would languish and be mostly ignored for several decades but the idea eventually came back.

hello boys I'm back
Polymer lowers, colorized, 2021, probably

Plastic is cheaper than aluminum, easy to work with, and lighter. So on paper, it makes for good material for a non-wear part like the AR-15 lower receiver.

Is It Strong Enough?

This is where we run into some issues. If you take the specs for a standard AR-15 lower and try to just make it out of polymer, you’re going to have a bad time.

Failure points like the walls around where the safety detent goes are very thin and prone to breaking.

Poly lower broken detent
Broken wall for the safety selector detent on a polymer lower. This lower is retired now and lives on our “shame” shelf.

Where the buffer tube connects to the lower is another weak point, and even the threads for the buffer tube are often a problem and wear quickly if the buffer tube is replaced more than a few times.

There are other weak points but you get the idea.

To combat this, you need a lower that is designed to be a polymer lower. You can’t just take AR-15 lower specs and switch to plastic.

Overall though, the problem with these designs is that they are just too much weakness for not enough gain.

silly free weights
Less weight beats whatever the hell this is…

A standard aluminum stripped lower is about 8.5 ounces, and a polymer stripped lower that is decently designed is about 5.5 ounces.

Three ounces really isn’t much weight savings and pre-covid the price wasn’t much different either, maybe a $10 difference.

The Monolithic Polymer Receiver

While the difference between a stripped Al lower and a striped poly lower might only be a few ounces, when you make the entire lower — the grip, the stock, and the receiver, out of polymer, then you can save some major weight.

A complete aluminum lower (buttstock, grip, LPK, trigger) weighs around 2.5 to 2.8 pounds. Something like the KE Arms KP-15 complete lower (buttstock, grip, LPK, trigger) weighs 1.7 pounds.

KP-15 Complete Lower
KP-15 Complete Lower

A full pound or close to it is some real weight savings.

Making the entire lower out of polymer also allows you to design it so that everything is strong enough, often stronger than an aluminum lower because it’s all one part.

There are some downsides, but there are a lot of upsides too.

Sadly, there are very few options in this category — but more on that later.

Best AR-15 Lower Receivers

Most websites are going to tell you to weigh it out and decide on your own.

Modded AR-15s
Modded AR-15s

Here at Pew Pew Tactical, we’d rather show you some examples and talk about them.

Frankly, we won’t cover cast lowers for two easy reasons — they’re weak and I think they’re ugly. Never have I used a cast receiver in a build and don’t think you should either.

Now let’s get on with our top picks! These are not in any set order. All of them are great, some are better than others for different reasons.

1. Palmetto State Armory

Simple forged lowers for a great price, they also offer a host of complete lower options for basically every type of AR-15 you can think of.

PSA AR-15 Lowers
PSA AR-15 Lowers

We’ve used and reviewed just about every AR-15 and AR-10 rifle that PSA makes and their lowers have never given us even a hint of a problem.

They even have some awesome limited edition lowers, such as their “Space Rider” stripped lower!

PSA Space Rider Lower
PSA Space Rider Lower

If there’s a current event or meme…they’ll have you covered. On the flipside…they also have “stealth” lowers that I like.

Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with their regular ones. And if you don’t feel like building the lower…check out their complete lowers.

Best Budget Lower

50

at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on PSA lowers? Rate them below!

2. Anderson Manufacturing

Here it is, the Honda of lower receivers.

Testing Vortex Viper PST II
Anderson Lower

Anderson Lowers are cheap ($38 for stripped and $120 for complete), they’re forged 7075-T6, and they’re often available.

My accuracy testing lower uses the Anderson and Hiperfire trigger (Best AR-15 Triggers).

I have used their lowers on countless builds and have had zero issues with them.

If you scratch it while building, who cares? Don’t let the price fool you, these are quality basic lowers good for 90% of your potential builds as a hobby shooter. I have four of these in my safe right now just waiting to be built.

Plus there are also “stealth” versions where they don’t have the horse logo if that makes you feel better!

Most Affordable

38

at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Aero Precision

My buddies and I have built at least a dozen ARs with Aero lowers. They are all running just fine.

Aero AR-15 Lowers
Aero AR-15 Lowers

Aero Precision lowers ($109) are just like Anderson’s (forged 7075-T6) but their logo is better looking.

You can pair it with an Aero stripped upper receiver too which is our current favorite.

Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver
Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver

PLUS…there’s an adjustable screw for Gen 2 models that makes a tighter fit with your upper…no more rattling around!

Aero Lower Gen 2 Tension Screw
Aero Lower Gen 2 Tension Screw

My newest competition build utilizes an Aero FDE Gen 2 lower receiver.

BSF Barrel Testing, Round 2
Aero FDE Lower

Can’t wait for some future builds with more of them…my personal favorite for most builds.

106

at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Oh…and now we have a full review on Aero’s M4E1 uppers and build kits using…you guessed it…Aero lowers.

Check out the full review of the M4E1 and all the parts used in the build.

4. F1 Firearms

This might not be the lightest set at 1.03 lbs, but it’s definitely the coolest looking.

But one thing is for sure…F1’s billet receiver set brings some style to the competition shooting game.

Of course, features like a beveled magwell and flared trigger guard do add some functionality to the cool-factor. If you are looking for something unique, this is it.

508

at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Lewis Machine & Tool Company MARS-L

A truly ambi lower, the MARS-L is in our editor’s opinion the greatest lower on the market right now. 

This is the same pattern of lower that New Zealand adopted as their standard issue rifle and it comes with some great features.

1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and LMT Rifle
1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and LMT Rifle

First and foremost, this is truly completely ambidextrous. Every control can be used from both sides, including the bolt release and stop.

They are also proprietary to the MARS-L, not just aftermarket parts slapped on a standard lower sold for 4x the price.

Downside of all of that is that these are not cheap and are often hard to find. LMT often has these back-ordered for 6 months or more at a time.

If you see one for sale, get it fast! They never stay on the shelves for long.

Best High-End Receiver

314

at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

6. KE Arms KP-15 Monolithic Polymer Lower

The KE Arms KP-15 was designed by KE Arms with the help of Ian McCollum and Karl Kasarda from InRangeTV based on their What Would Stoner Do 2017/2020 projects.

We used it in our very own WWSD Build.

Basically, this is a monolithic polymer lower that is designed to be such in every way.

From the ground up this is meant to be exactly what it is — strong, durable, lightweight, and reasonably priced. We enjoyed our time with it.

That said, be aware that it is a fixed stocked and the grip isn’t replaceable. So if you need those kinds of adjustments in your life, you might want to choose something else.

Otherwise, it’s a solid choice.

Best Polymer Lower

79

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

7. H&R Retro Lowers

Okay, there really isn’t anything too crazy about the H&R lowers, except that they are patterned after lowers from long ago.

A retro build with a H&R retro lower. (Photo: Guns.com)

The AR-15 lower has changed in small ways over the years and these are throwback lowers to those bygone designs.

These are awesome for those who are looking to make a clone build like an old school M16A1, XM177, XM16E1, 635 builds, or other older AR variants.

They look good, they’re well made, and they’re fun. Plus, they are a lot cheaper than trying to source originals.

9mm AR-15 Lowers

If we had to choose one…it’d be the PSA PX-9 lower that takes Glock mags.

PSA PX-9 Sharp Lower Receiver
PSA PX-9 Lower Receiver

See how it already looks different from regular AR-15 lowers? It’s got an ejector built in and a longer mag release.

PSA PX-9 Magazine Release
PSA PX-9 Magazine Release

Best 9mm Lower

119

at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

We cover all the differences you’ll see in pistol caliber AR lowers and the rest of our choices in Best 9mm AR Lower Receivers.

Others

But the ones I see at the gun store are not on the list?

To provide you with information and direction, the above recommendations were selected without persuasion.

Lots of Lowers, Precise Shooter
Lots of Lowers, Precise Shooter

There are countless other places manufacturing and machining lower receivers. As such, there are three things you should keep in mind when shopping around for them…

Material, process, and reputation of the manufacturer.

A good place to start for manufacturer reputation is with our AR-15 Buyer’s Guide. If their complete rifle is good…chances are their lowers are good too.

WWSD 2020 PPT CA Edition (10)

You can then cross-check against what is in stock at your local store so you can save on shipping. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, you’ll get a feel for each company and find favorites, as I have.

Some people prefer different logos or roll marks, some have brand loyalty, and others only worry about the price of the lower.

Complete AR-15 Lowers
Complete AR-15 Lowers

There are many who choose a forged lower over the pricier billet lowers using the simple mantra “a lower, is a lower, is a lower.”

Personally, If I had to choose one lower for the rest of my builds…I’d go with the Aero. That is because Uncle Sam taught me was KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Dwight KISS
Dwight KISS

Now that you’re armed with enough knowledge to help you sort through the haystack and narrow your search get out there and find what works for you.

Finish your lower with our Best Lower Parts Kits and also the AR-15 Resource Guide for all other parts. Or…fancy completing an 80% lower receiver?  Check out our Best 80% Lowers & Jigs article.

Read the full article here

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