Accessory Review: Ace 1 Arms MWS GBBR M3 PMAG (FDE)

PMAGs… My god they’re nice to look at!

Magpul rarely make an ugly product and their magazines are no exception, but if you’re an MWS owner there isn’t really much of a choice outside of the Tokyo Marui OEM “steelie” which replicates the generic 30 round USGI STANAG magazine that’s been in use since the late 60s.

The original Marui magazine: A flawless performer but would a PMAG have suited this build better?

A while back, Iron Airsoft released a PMAG that we all hoped would be a worthy alternative to the MWS GBBR, but it just wasn’t to be. Iron Airsoft make a number of things that I’d rate quite highly, with their M320 being as good as any other on the market, but there’s a specific attention to detail that becomes vital when working with GBBR systems, details that were lacking when it came to the Iron Airsoft mags.

In short, they were inconsistent and prone to leaking… A massive shame. So, have Ace 1 Arms finally brought a PMAG to market that’ll actually work as advertised? Let’s find out.

On first impressions the Ace 1 Arms magazine looks a little different to the PMAGs that many of you will be familiar with, certainly the NGRS owners lucky enough to own PTS PMAGs will notice that these are subtly different from their NGRS PMAGs.

Marui MWS “Steelie” (left) Ace 1 Arms PMAG (centre) PTS PMAG (right)

Whilst most Airsoft PMAGs (Including the legendary PTS PMAGs) are based upon M2 “M-Rev” PMAGs, whereas the Ace 1 Arms PMAG is modelled upon the more recent M3 PMAG, and boy have they done a good job in replicating the design.

The information panels on the top of the magazine are closely modelled on the genuine M3 PMAG, even down to the patents and 5.56 x 45 round pictogram. Very close indeed and with only slight differences between the genuine and Airsoft magazines.

Genuine 40 round PMAG (left) alongside the Ace 1 Arms PMAG (right)

There’s also a noticeable step with a tab formed on the rear of the magazine, from the top third to the rest of the body that sits outside the magazine well. This step is designed to prevent over-insertion of the magazine (no giggling at the back, girls), which can be a real issue with firearms, where it’s possible to push a magazine further into the weapon than it’s designed to go, often causing feeding or magazine retention issues.

Note the over-insertion tab on the rear (left) of the magazine.

The colour of the magazine is a very close match for Magpul’s own FDE, it’s not perfect (a touch too light) but they’ve created a colour that’s close enough to look right (even on a Magpul furnished rifle) and certainly more appealing than BCM’s wishy-washy attempt at FDE.

Moving down the magazine, the signature Magpul waffle pattern is closely replicated from the original M3 PMAG. The material is also closer than I’d expected to the genuine “secret recipe” Magpul polyamide blend that so many copies fail to reproduce, even down to that surface micro texture that Magpul seems to have.

It’s not quite as textured as a real M3 PMAG, but it’s damn close… Close enough to not look cheaply made and it passes inspection alongside a real PMAG in all but very close-up photos.

The waffle pattern, note the slightly more textured surface on the genuine PMAG (left).

The lower half of the magazine replicates the dot matrix that is a key feature of the M3 design, this dot matrix allows you to ID your individual magazines in a way that’s almost guaranteed to never wear off. A dot matrix identifier is a big plus for GBBR users, where identifying problematic magazines is something we inevitably all have to do, it also means that getting your misplaced magazines back is far more likely.

The baseplate of the Ace 1 Arms magazine is closely modelled on the stepped design of the original, as for compatability with M3 ranger plates? I’m afraid that the Ace 1 Arms magazines are annoyingly just off-spec.

You could fit genuine Magpul M3 Ranger Plates to them, but they’d never fit exactly as they should due to the real PMAGs being a few millimetres shorter than the Ace 1 Arms copies.

The real M3 PMAG is designed to work with not only the M4/AR15 design but practically all STANAG Magazine compatible weapons in use, so this magazine should work with all the other current models Marui produce.

There’s also no reason why it wouldn’t work with any aftermarket body kits, such as the current Arrow Arms and (soon to be released) 416 kits from HAO. However I can’t speak for the MTR16’s compatability, as it’s known that this particular model can be a right sod with magazines.

The PMAGs weigh in at a touch under 400g, which when compared to the Marui “steelies” at 480g, can add up to a fair amount overall if carrying a brace of magazines.

Onto functionality, the key area where GBBR parts often show their true worth. Starting with filling the magazines, you’ll notice that the fill valve is further recessed into the bottom than the standard Marui MWS magazines.

Note the deep, recessed fill valve. Keeps the dirt out but can cause issues with some gas bottles.

It’s shallow enough to work with most gas types on the market, but some small cans with short nozzles might be a little tricky. So far I’ve managed to fill these magazines successfully with the following gas bottle types:

  • Abbey Vertex
  • ASG Ultrair
  • Airsoft Surgeon
  • Airsoft Innovations (Propane Adaptor)

FPS wise, the magazines do show some measurable differences from the original Marui steelies. Using a factory standard, box fresh Tokyo Marui M4A1 Carbine as the test bench platform, .25 ASG blasters was used as the test ammo and I also used ASG Ultrair (green gas) with a 10 second fill from empty on each magazine.

The test bed, a brand new and un-molested Tokyo Marui ZET/MWS System M4A1 Carbine

The outside temperature was a deceptively chilly 14 degrees and the chronograph was my Xcortech 3200 Mk 3, I shot through each of my 6 Tokyo Marui “Steelie” Magazines and also the 6 PMAGs. I took the averages from all six of each magazine and recorded them below:

The first 30 shots from a freshly filled magazine.
Followed by the final five shots.

So, what can we tell from the results?

The Ace 1 Arms PMAGs start strong but gradually lose their FPS advantage over the steelies, this could possibly be mitigated by shooting at a lower rate of fire, but I don’t like the idea of compensating for FPS loss by shooting less. It’s not a massive loss and to be honest, it has little noticeable impact on range and accuracy, so I’m not that concerned.

As for why it’s happening? The gas router is a slightly different shape (although cross compatible) and along with variations in valves etc this could be why they run a little hotter than the Marui originals.

I have heard that some users have noticed a degree of sluggishness from using the Ace 1 Arms magazines, especially compared to the original steelies. It’s not been a noticeable issue for myself to be honest, but it’s definitely something to consider prior to buying a brace of new magazines. The nature of GBBRs is that you’ll find that one tiny little variation in parts, how it’s looked after, or even general wear and tear can have a massive difference on the overall performance.

The issue appears to be that they ride ever so slightly higher within the magazine well than the original Marui magazines, added to the inexplicable increase in the height of the latch on the rear of the magazine that engages with the bolt “hold open” mechanism.

The bolt hold open latch on the magazine is taller, leading to a slightly different fitment and potentially a key component of some peoples sluggish performance with their MWS replicas.

Why they decided to change a tried and tested formula I don’t know, but it appears that they might have inadvertently caused an issue that the original magazines never had.

Note the slight increase in height on the PMAG (bottom) compared to the original “steel” magazine (top).

As for negatives, well there’s one key point that I keep running in to… They tend to leak far quicker than the original Marui steelies. I’m not talking about a massive amount or even something that causes you to have an issue mid-game, but after a couple of days you’ll most likely find that the magazine is completely drained. This might not appear a massive issue to most people, but it indicates a less than perfect seal which could see larger issues develop later on down the line.

I’m generally an advocate for leaving my mags gassed after a days shooting, I don’t mean refill them to the brim, but I don’t tend to vent off any remaining gas after I’ve finished shooting. The reason for this is two-fold, firstly it keeps pressure within the magazine and allows the suspended lubricant found in airsoft gas to keep the seals and moving parts properly lubricated. It also means that I’m not needlessly wasting gas, I’m not blessed with limitless amounts of money and literally venting away half a bottle of gas after each game day feels like a massive waste.

Marui MWS (left) Ace 1 Arms MWS (centre) PTS NGRS (right)

Its not developed into anything yet, but I can see these magazines needing more regular maintenance than the Marui steelies. Of the original 6 Marui magazines I’ve had for nearly three years, only a single one has needed a strip down and clean, I think looking after these is going to be a bi- monthly or quarterly job.

So with the positives and negatives in mind, can these magazines be recommended for use in game? Or do they remain just a cosmetically attractive but ultimately unreliable magazine? In my experience and after running them through my MWS for the last couple of months, these magazines are up to the job they’re designed for.

Are they better than the original Marui MWS magazines? No, the original steelies still win over the competition. But they look cool, and looking cool is half the battle. I’m probably going to use these as my primary magazines for the foreseeable, but I will be keeping my original Marui magazines to hand just in case I need them…

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