Daniel Defense 5.56 NATO Rifles Review [2022]

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Most shooters and gun enthusiasts will agree that the AR-15 is one of the most beloved and popular rifle platforms existing on the market. Aside from the fact that it’s truly American, designed and developed back in the late 50s by a firearms manufacturer named Armalite, users appreciate it for the countless opportunities for customization as well as maneuverability and agility requested back in the day by the military to replace the AR-10, the AR-15’s heavier-caliber predecessor.

After the Vietnam War, the AR-15 successfully entered the civilian market and quickly became popular with retired soldiers transitioning to civilian life, plinkers, sporters, and people needing a weapon for home defense. However, a surge in the popularity of semi-automatic firearms and a succession of shootings overtaking civilian America in the late 80s and early 90s led to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 prohibiting the manufacture of some semi-auto rifles, including the AR-15.

The Ban automatically ended ten years later, in 2004 to be precise, and it was perfect timing to start getting involved in the AR market. So Daniel Defense did.

About Daniel Defense

Daniel Defense engaged in the firearm business in 2000, manufacturing upper receivers, sling loops, and other parts and accessories. Things got really interesting a couple of years later when Marty Daniel, the founder, came up with the M4 rail system named the RIS II that blew minds in the U.S. The Special Forces.

Compared to the original Knight’s Armament RIS employing a delta ring to hold the system together, the RIS II was fully free-floated. The design allowed for more accuracy because it didn’t mess up the barrel harmonics by adding weight and flexing to the barrel as the other rail systems did. Daniel Defense was awarded a $20-million contract and dramatically expanded.

The company diversified into firearms in 2009 when it introduced the DDM4, which later began to be referred to as the V1. Since then, it has been developing AR-15 and AR-10 rifles, AR pistols, and even bolt-action rifles like the Delta 5 and the Delta 5 Pro.

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Today, Daniel Defense is mostly viewed as a top-tier manufacturer of premium high-end AR-style rifles and carbines. You won’t find a DD firearm for less than $1900 for 2022. And this price is only valid for some lightly accessorized M4-style rifles and the company’s signature rifle and a participant of our Daniel Defense review, the DDM4V7, the extreme popularity of which allows the manufacturer to cut the price due to the economy of scale. Other rifles and AR-pistols cost crazy 2100-3400 bucks. That’s a whole lot of money to spend for many people, especially when there are similarly-featured options for $600 from budget brands or $1000 from higher-tier brands. So why are Daniel Defense firearms so expensive?

The main reason is that Daniel Defense makes all its firearms, parts, and accessories in the USA. The company doesn’t outsource components from abroad to simply assemble them and call it a day. Everything, from Daniel Defense stock to uppers, from BCGs to barrels, is made in-house, in its manufacturing facility in Black Creek, Georgia. The factory uses state-of-the-art technologies and machines, high-quality materials, and the labor of hundreds of professionals to deliver firearms and components that meet and exceed industry standards. The quality control is also top-notch. Several precision machines, including those designed by DD itself, check every product once it’s manufactured.

To be more specific, we’ll talk about the features that make DDs stand out in our Daniel Defense rifles review below. Generally, we’ll be discussing the two most popular models, the MK18 and the DDM4V7, but we’ll also touch on the versions and variants of the DDM4V7.

Daniel Defense Rifles – Review

MK18

Before we touch on the Daniel Defense MK18, let’s clear things up from the historical point of view.

The name MK18 generally refers to several variants of the M4 carbine, a shorter version of the M16 military rifle or the AR-15 civilian rifle. The long barrel of the M4 (14.5 inches) wasn’t quite suitable for close-quarter environments, but since the modularity allowed for easy replacement of the upper receiver, the decision was to create an upper receiver with a shorter barrel. This is how the Close Quarter Battle Receiver (upper) came to the scene. The model had a 10.3-inch barrel ideal for CQB situations.

The CQBR-equipped carbine was named the MK18 Mod 0 and then was further revised to adjust it for better performance with the 5.56 NATO cartridge. The DD MK18 is very similar to the MK18 Mod 1.

So as you can see, the whole idea behind the CQBR and the MK18 was to compose a very maneuverable system that can be effectively used in restrictive environments. This is what makes the Daniel Defense MK18 a great weapon for home defense and some short-range shooting. However, a 10.3 barrel has several downsides, such as slower velocities that impact the performance of the 5.56 cartridge and noise that becomes terribly loud in a closed environment. You still can somehow mitigate both these problems with a suppressor that will make a bang quieter by around 30 decibels and extend the barrel length.

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Speaking of the barrel. The 1:7 twist barrel of the DD MK18 is cold hammer-forged. This is actually what makes the model exceptional. This manufacturing method doesn’t directly impact accuracy but rather helps maintain accuracy for a longer time by reducing the wear. The thing is that the more rounds you fire, the more your shot group opens up because of the barrel wear. Cold hammer forging allows you to shoot about 10,000 rounds with out-of-the-box accuracy. 

The DD MK18 features the signature Daniel Defense RIS II handguard, buttstock, and pistol grip. The pistol grip has a rather shallow angle that many shooters find great for manipulating a weapon through cramped environments. Left-handed shooters will appreciate an ambidextrous safety and charging handle.

So, the MK18 from Daniel Defense is an iconic weapon great for close-quarter encounters, home defense, and short-range shooting. But what if you want something more of a multi-purpose solution?

DDM4 V7

The DDM4V7 is an unofficial flagship of Daniel Defense and an absolutely gorgeous weapon marketed for civilians. Many consider it the best stock AR-15 you can buy for the money. Yes, it’s pretty expensive, but if you’re looking for out-of-the-box quality and can wait a bit to increase your price point, why not do that? In return, you’ll get a reliable, feature-rich rifle that you’ll love with all your heart. Now let’s enlarge on what the rifle has to offer.

The V7 has a 16-inch barrel with a twist rate of 1:7, ideal for shooting heavier loads of the 5.56 NATO. Users also note how great a mid-length low-profile gas block feels. Such gas block positioning softens felt recoil a notch and contributes to the longer service life of internal components. The V7’s barrel and chamber are also cold hammer-forged for longer service life and less wear.

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The V7 barrel rests inside the signature Daniel Defense MFR handguard, which is M-LOK, obviously. The M-LOK form allows for easier mounting of all your accessories with a couple of screw turns. The 15-inch free-float rail system attaches with 4 or 6 screws that go around the rail (instead of 2 screws on the bottom often seen on other stock AR-15s), which constitutes a system that prevents interference with barrel harmonics, increases accuracy, and holds the rail more secure.

What’s also great about the V7 is the enhanced flared mag well with just the right amount of metal widened and beveled to ensure fast and secure reloads. The model also features the military-grade M16 bolt carrier group that you rarely see in stock AR-15s. The M16 bolt carrier is clean-working and heavy to ensure reliable cycling of the system.

The V7 has the same story with controls as the MK18. The ambidextrous charging handle will be appreciated by shooters who like to work the rifle off their weak side from time to time, and the ambidextrous safety makes the handling experience more natural for left-handed shooters.

If you like the V7, consider our offerings in Cobalt and Deep Woods designs.

So, the DDM4V7 packs everything you need. Premium materials and components contribute to the reliability and durability of the rifle, while sturdy and robust construction makes handling a pleasant experience. The last but not least advantage of the V7 is weight. The V7 is an extremely light AR-15, weighing only 6.2 lbs WITH a full-length 15-inch aluminum rail and a standard government profile barrel. If that’s not impressive, what is?

DDM4 V7 SLW

The answer may be an AR-style rifle that weighs even less, the V7 SLW. This variant of the V7 features a barrel length of 14.5 inches and weighs mere 5.9 lbs. Many shooters believe the heavier the rifle, the more control you have. If it works for you, fine. However, many experienced shooters consider lighter rifles are easier to stabilize for more challenging shots in more snappy and fast conditions and more comfortable to carry for extended periods.

So, if you train in environments where you need to move around hiking up and down or simply want a shorter and lighter rifle, the DDM4 V7 SLW should be your choice.

Final Words

Daniel Defense makes great AR-15 rifles and AR-pistols. They are feature-rich, reliable, have a great look, and yes, they are worth the money. So if you have to decide between waiting a couple of months to buy a Daniel Defense or opting for a lower-end rifle right away, we’d recommend you to wait because DD’s reliable guns foster a positive shooting experience that translates into faster skill development with fewer bad habits. If you’re convinced, we kindly invite you to take a closer look at our Daniel Defense offering to find a weapon you’ll love.

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