Program. Aim. Fire!
Words: Jeremy Hendricks of Booligan Airsoft
Photos: Walter Sidas and Jeremy Hendricks
The M4 is one of the most common airsoft platforms seen on the field, and it’s getting quite rare to see one come out that actually brings something new to the table. The 3rd Generation Ares M4 does indeed bring something new to the table in the form of its unique electronic trigger system, allowing this gun to be programmed to fire in several different modes. It has a few other tricks up its proverbial sleeves, including a functional bolt catch, precise rotary type hop-up and a quick-change spring system, all designed to help the serious player be more competitive on the field. In this review, we’ll be going over this AEG supplied to us by ZShot inside and out, so keep reading for more information on this step forward in AEG technology.
THROUGH THE SCOPE
WHO MAKES IT: Ares
GUN NAME: Generation 3 M4
WHO IT’S FOR: Mid-high level player
HOW MUCH: Gun, $280, Programmer, $48
FPS: 410 w.20
Despite its basic appearance, the Ares Gen 3 M4 is a technological marvel on the inside. The Electronic Firing Control System equipped gearbox gives you an excellent trigger pull, and when coupled with the Ares Electronic Programmer, you are able to set it to your desired fire mode. This coupled with a litany of other specialized features all add to the overall appeal of this AEG platform.
STAR-RATING: 4 out of 5
PROS & CONS
+ High-quality full metal body
+ Rear-wired with several battery placement options
+ Programmable trigger system
+ Locking bolt/functional bolt catch
+ Quick-change spring system
+ High-quality polymer furniture
+ Rotary adjustable hop-up is very precise
+ Easily able to run a mid-powered 11.1V LiPo battery out of the box
– Trigger programming requires separate electronic programmer
– 14mm+ muzzle threading limits you muzzle device options
– Handguard has a few degrees of wobble
– Two-piece outer barrel may require occasional tightening to prevent wobble
RIS (Rail Integrated System): 20mm Optic Rail, no other RIS equipped
STOCK: 5 position adjustable LMT Crane Stock
BARREL LENGTH: 14.5”
TRIGGER GUARD: Standard metal unit
MAG RELEASE: Real steel type right sided button
OPTIC SPACE: 20mm top rail
MAGAZINE: 300 round capacity hi-cap
LENGTH: 31.6 in. – 35.25 in.
WIDTH: 2.75 in. at stock
HEIGHT: 10.25 in. (sight to mag)
SIGHT RADIUS: 14.8 in.
GEARBOX VERSION: V2 Modified with Quick Change Spring System
MOTOR: Standard torque/speed unit, long length
GEARS: Steel with magnet-equipped sector gear
BUSHINGS/BEARINGS: Combination of ball bearing on bevel gear and solid metal bushings on all other gears.
WIRING HARNESS: Custom design, rear wired, ran outside of gearbox
CYLINDER & HEAD: Polished cylinder, O-ring sealed head
PISTON & HEAD: Polymer piston and ported head, steel full tooth rack
SPRING: M120 Strength
ANTI-REVERSAL LATCH: Standard
SPRING GUIDE: Quick change custom design
INNER BARREL: 350mm long, brass
HOP-UP UNIT: Rotary adjustable 1 piece plastic
WEIGHT: 6 lbs 12 oz (3061g)
CONTROL OPERATION: 3-position switch, variable fire modes
BATTERY STORAGE: Crane stock or buffer tube
RANGE/ACCURACY: 160 foot “Torso” accurate
ROF: 8.4V- 12 RPS, 9.6V- 13 RPS, 11.1V- 16 RPS
.20g- 407.8 – 412.7 FPS
.25g- 378.1 – 382.8 FPS
Batteries: 8.4v 1200 mAh Mini NiMH, 9.6v 1100mAh
Mini NiMh, 11.1v 20C 1000 mAh Tenergy LiPo
Charger: Duratrax Onyx 235 AC/DC Advanced Charger
BB’s: .20/.25g Matrix BB’s
As mentioned before, the Ares Gen 3 M4 is a full metal replica, as everything that would be metal on the real gun is metal on the replica. It’s finished in a matte black coloring throughout, aside from the magazine which is matte gray. The overall feel is great, aside from a few degrees of wobble in the stock and handguard. There was a small bit of rotational free-play in the outer barrel until I tightened up the four hex screws located at the base.
The polymer stock is a properly licensed LMT “Crane” unit fitted on a five position metal buffer tube. The buffer tube is mounted like a real AR’s would be, which facilitates use of the quick-change spring feature. In order to remove the buffer tube, you will need to use the correct buffer tube wrench. The stock and buffer tube act as the battery compartment, as the buffer tube is much roomier than a standard AEG buffer tube. In order to access the battery compartment in the stock, you’ll need to take off the rubber butt pad and unscrew the large flat head screw in order to take off the rear section. The compartment will easily hold small nunchuck-type NiMH/NiCd packs, crane packs or buffer tube LiPos. Moving forward from the stock, you’ll hit the full metal receiver which, like all ARs, serves as the backbone for the entire gun. The lower receiver is similar in design to a real steel AR or gas blowback rifle, especially in the way that the buffer tube mounts. The upper receiver slides onto the lower and is secured with the single front pin in addition to two large lugs at the rear. The pistol grip is a standard M4 unit with a ventilated base and large flat head screw adjuster. The controls are standard M4 units, consisting of a left-sided selector switch, bolt catch (which is functional), right-sided magazine release (real steel type without a small screw) and metal charging handle. Pulling back the charging handle opens the dust cover and pulls back the faux bolt carrier, locking it back and allowing easy adjustment of the hop-up unit. This base model comes without any sort of rail system, instead coming with a basic M4 polymer handguard. There is a small amount of rotational free play with the handguard, and it seems to be due to the interface with the delta ring. The handguard can be easily removed and replaced with a rail unit if you so desire. Right in front of the handguard, you’ll find a sling mount that can be switched to either side. The outer barrel is a standard M4 profile, 14.5-inch long unit, and is a metal two-piece design. There are four hex grub screws located at the base, which allow you to adjust the barrel as needed, as well as tighten it up if it gets loose, which tends to happen after some time. The orange tip is a plastic birdcage-type flashhider that is removed by turning it counterclockwise, or “lefty-loosey,” the opposite way of most AEGs. This gun has a 14mm+ threaded muzzle, so muzzle accessories are a little bit trickier to find. Aiming the M4 is accomplished using the tried and true full metal, adjustable iron sights. The rear is adjustable for windage and elevation without the use of tools, and the front is adjustable for elevation using a standard M4 front sight tool. The rear site has dual apertures for different ranges/lighting conditions; however, you’ll probably never take it off of the large aperture for airsoft use. If you remove the carry handle, you can mount an optic on the 20mm top rail.
The included magazine is a full metal hi-cap holding about 300 rounds and featuring the industry-standard bottom-mounted winding wheel. The magazine is somewhat gray in color which contrasts nicely with the matte black body. It fits and feeds very well in the gun and drops free when you push the release button. The gun is compatible with most aftermarket low, mid and hi-cap magazines; however, it didn’t like the KWA KM120 that I tested, as it wouldn’t lock in securely.
Like almost all Ares guns, the Gen 3 M4 comes with a specially modified metal gearbox for ease of operation. At its core, it is a V2-type gearbox fitted with a quick-change spring guide for fast and easy velocity changes. It is equipped with a combination of metal bushings and a ball bearing on the bevel gear for smooth operation and the gun is well-greased. The piston has a full metal rack and gives a very good airseal inside the cylinder due to its ported piston head and good O-ring. The gun uses a V3 tappet plate, strangely enough, but the majority of the parts are V2 compatible. I really like the fact that all of the wiring is run outside of the gearbox shell, which means no more fumbling around with wiring as you close up the shell. The shimming was a touch on the tight side, but overall, it is a very well put together gearbox.
One of the biggest perks of the Gen 3 M4 is the electronic trigger system. Instead of a sliding trigger shuttle with contacts that can easily burn out, the Ares comes with a microswitch-equipped, microchip-controlled trigger system. In order to select a burst mode, you have to program it using the optional Electronic Programmer, which I will cover in detail in its own section. Fitted with a MOSFET and with features such as full cycle completion, the trigger response is great and you get consistent burst counts when you select a burst mode. The full cycle completion means that your spring will not be left compressed if you release the trigger before the gun finishes firing. If you tap the trigger in a burst mode, it will complete the programmed three round burst. Trigger pull is very light and short with a VERY short reset, allowing for very quick firing on semi-auto mode. The full cycle completion feature uses a magnet fitted on the sector gear to tell the trigger controller when a full cycle has been completed. This is an especially unique way to accomplish this; however, you could run into issues if you want to upgrade the gear set.
The hop-up unit is a custom-designed, one piece rotary adjustable unit constructed out of a high-strength polymer. The bucking is green and has a standard inner design; however, the nub is a concave curved design which helps with consistent hop-up engagement. The rotary adjustable dial allows for precise adjustment, and it holds its selected position very well.
In order to completely utilize the full capabilities of the electronic trigger system, you’ll want to purchase the optional Electronic Programmer. The programmer allows you to set the gun up for your specific battery (11.1v LiPo, 7.4v LiPo or NiMH) and it allows for LiPo voltage cut-off if your voltage gets too low. The biggest function of this programmer is the ability to select one of four different fire modes: Safe-Semi-Auto, Safe-Semi-3 round Burst, Safe-3 round Burst-Auto and Safe-Semi-Semi. You cannot program it for longer or shorter bursts; you can only select one of these four modes.
In order to program the gun, you first select your battery type using the small rotary dial, and then plug both the gun and your battery into the unit as marked. You can then use the large switch to pick your desired firing mode, as indicated using the LED lights next to the modes. Once you have your desired settings dialed in, push the “Enter” button, and allow the unit to program the gun for about 30 seconds. Do not touch the trigger or unplug either connector during programming. When the unit issues a loud beep, you can unplug it and reconnect the battery plug to your gun’s connector. Test that it is firing in your selected mode, and you’re ready to roll.
Because this is essentially a bone stock M4, your modification options are basically limitless. The outer barrel can be swapped if you want to run something longer or shorter or if you want to set it up with a 14mm-threaded barrel for better aftermarket compatibility. The stock tube can be replaced with real steel units, and the stock can be swapped out for airsoft or real-steel options that are commercial spec. The delta ring is a real steel type, so RIS systems like Daniel Defense Omega or countless others can be easily mounted up. Basically, however you want to configure this gun, you can do it with little effort.
After charging up my test batteries and loading up my magazines, I set up my testing equipment and proceeded to throw some rounds downrange. The trigger response that this gun offers is really impressive due to the microswitch trigger system. I never found myself overrunning the gearbox with my trigger pulls, as it kept up very well with the LiPo battery. With other batteries, the rate of fire and trigger response were quite low, so I’ll plan on running this on a LiPo for the foreseeable future. Range and accuracy were about what I expected with the inner components that this gun is fitted with. I was easily able to engage my torso sized target out to 160 feet using .25g BBs, getting hits 90 percent of the time. Further than that, and I’d start to see more and more side-to-side deviation with my shots, causing them to come off-target. Shot to shot FPS consistency was VERY good, only deviating +/- 2-3 FPS from my average. I saw the best consistency after spending a bit of time dialing in the hop-up to make sure the BBs were being held in the same position in the hop-up unit with each shot.
My previous experiences with Ares guns have been somewhat limited to testing out teammates guns and trying them out at trade shows like SHOT Show, so I was excited at the chance to get one on my review table and really put it through its paces. I’m very happy to report that it exceeded my expectations across the board. The body is very sturdy, and aside from a few small quibbles (stock and handguard free play), it’s a very solid AEG platform. The new electronic firing system does a fantastic job giving you near instantaneous trigger response and the ability to program your fire modes using the optional programmer really adds to the functionality of this gun. I just wish that the programming mode was somehow built into the gun, instead of requiring a standalone, added-cost unit to use all of the features that your gun is capable of. Overall, I’m quite impressed with the gun itself and the functions that it offers, and I’m excited to see what else Ares can come up with in the future.