I’ve tinkered with AR-15s for about 20 years, including both semi and fully automatic. I always wanted a Beta Magazine for my registered receiver M4, but they were insanely priced during the Assault Weapon Ban and didn’t go down too much when it ended, lingering in the $250 range.
In the last couple of years, however, Korean magazines from KCI (also marketed as PWA and Victory) have been available for $120-$150. Casual searching provides both positive and negative reviews, though most of the negative ones seem to be both anecdotal and hearsay (“my cousin’s roommate had one and it was Korean junk!”). I decided it was time to procure one and test it myself.
The magazine arrived today in an unusually generic box. This is no doubt to facilitate marketing it under at least three different names in the United States (KCI, Victory, PWA). The manual was packed at the top of the box, probably to encourage customers to actually read it since this is not your father’s G.I. 30 round magazine.
Included with the magazine is a brief manual, a carrying case with military belt clips, a 5 round “personal” loader, and two bottles of graphite lubrication that fit into small pockets on the case.
The case is perfectly adequate, but certainly not tough – the material seems very thin. I can’t see it lasting long term with a high level of abuse. It has a high-speed buckle on it, which I find ironic since there’s nothing high-speed about attaching this behemoth underneath your rifle.
The speed loader holds five rounds and assists in the insertion into the magazine. The manual references a 10 round “speed” loader designed for stripper clips, but such a loader is not included.
The manual claims that the magazine is capable of being pre-loaded and stored indefinitely at the full 100 round capacity. In addition, it states that the estimated life of the drum is more than 50,000 rounds. It also verifies that, as one would reasonably expect, the drum feeds alternately from the right and left drums, resulting in a fixed center of gravity while firing.
The drum is made mostly of high-impact plastic with some metal reinforcement. It appears satisfyingly sturdy, I suspect I could beat someone unconscious with it. Unfortunately, the plastic includes the entire tower. I’m concerned that the feed lips might wear prematurely. It is not light, tilting the scales at 2.2 lbs (1 kg) unloaded and 5 lbs (2.27 kg) loaded. That’s a pretty substantial boat anchor hanging on to the bottom of a lightweight carbine and a good bit of extra weight compared to an equivalent number of GI 30 round magazines weighing 1 lb (.45 kg) each.
Disassembly for cleaning and lubrication is relatively simple. Remove the two strap screws, remove the strap and tower, then remove the two cover screws, pull the cover off, and you’re done. It has plenty of graphite inside, so be prepared for a bit of a mess.
The internal mechanism also appears to be largely very tough plastic. The tension arms and supports, however, are made of steel and appear reassuringly sturdy. There are two belts with fake cartridges to aid in feeding – care must be taken to reinsert these properly. I’ve already learned that you can reassemble the drum with a bind in the feed belts. The easy way to test for this is to push down on the artificial cartridges and make sure you can push it down a good ways. If it’s bound, you can only push it down enough to fit a couple of rounds in.
Loading with the “personal” loader is pretty simple and pretty fast. Snap the loader on to the tower in the direction indicated by the cartridge-shaped pictogram. Drop 5 rounds in, then push the top down firmly and you’ll hear a snapping sound as the rounds are fed into the drums. This is a surprisingly light physical effort for the first 50 rounds or so. After that, it gets tougher. However, I simply changed to place the magazine on a firm surface and reposition for better leverage and had no trouble topping off the magazine to a full 100 rounds.
The drum is sturdy enough I think you can safely use your body weight to load rounds. Smacking the cover side against a firm surface also appears to help smooth feeding, much like it can help position rounds in a GI magazine.
Next up… range trip!
I made it to the local range with the magazine already loaded. Now is probably a good time to mention that it is damn near impossible to seat this thing in the mag well with the bolt forward and all 100 rounds in it. I had no other issues getting going – insertion with the bolt retracted is as expected.
I made it through about 60 rounds before I had a jam. I disassembled the magazine and found one of the “fake belts” was jammed and I suspect in upside down. One end of the two belts is different than the others; the rear of the fake cartridge is pointed. This goes on top. This one was my fault; the magazine came assembled correctly as you can see in the pictures.
I reloaded the magazine and gave it another go and was pleasantly surprised to fire about 85 rounds semi-auto without any hiccups. Since the range I go to strongly frowns upon full auto, I saved the fun for last and fired a 10-15 round burst to finish off the magazine. That too worked fine, and the bolt locked back as expected.
I’ll try to get the video posted here soon – I’m having issues with my DV camera. Finally, it’s available.
I think this magazine is worth the price if you desire the ability to put 100 rounds downrange without reloading and don’t mind lugging around the extra few pounds swinging from the bottom of your rifle. It is well made, works fine, and unlike the $500 beta magazines during the ban, certainly doesn’t break the bank.