Review – Allied Armament X-91 drum magazine

You guys remember a few weeks back I posted about a company that was making a 50-rd drum for the HK91 rifle? I said that while I admired the company for making a product like that available, I would probably have to take a pass on getting one because..well…I’m poor. (Hangs head in shame.) But, I didn’t feel bad about it because it really seemed to me to be a niche item that, in some circumstances, might be just what the doctor ordered but more often would simply be a pile of money tied up into something whose practical application (doing a real-life version of The Omega Man and fighting to escape zombie hordes) may be quite a while in coming. (However, to be fair, when you do need heavy firepower you usually need it badly and then you’ll become quite the believer in the phrase ‘money is no object’.)

I guess I made an impression somewhere because a fella from the company that manufactures the drum magazine commented to the post saying that for the guy who needed a large volume of fire this thing was just the ticket and that it was a crowd pleaser at the rifle range. I respect the honesty of someone who says how their product has a practical use and in the same breath says ‘and it looks cool too!’. The only thing that would have pushed more Guy Buttons would have been if he told me each one is hand delivered by the Swedish Bikini Team. I said that if they’d send me one to try out I would be happy to play with it a bit and post the results. I warned him that I’d write about what happened, good and bad, and he said that was perfectly cool with him. So…he said he’d get one in the mail to me and for the first time in a while I have been as excited as a kid waiting for Christmas morning. While waiting, I figured I should start thinking about the criteria for evaluating this magazine. After all, if they trust me enough to send me one to try out the least I can do is give the thing a good, honest test drive.

A box arrived the other day and its funny…you wouldn’t think you could fit so much excitement into a little cardboard box but I pretty much shredded the cardboard open with my bare hands. I might have run a couple stop signs getting back to the house in my rush to put this thing into the PTR and see how well it fit and how cool it looked.

The very first thing I noticed upon opening the box was that this magazine is not the plastic-bodied feeding device I thought it would be. The magazine body is aluminum with a Cerakote  finish that seems to just suck all the light from around it.   It has a very no-nonsense appearance and everything about it gives the impression of quality. Its almost elegant in its streamlined, no-frills appearance. The magazine came with a several page set of instructions and a few spare parts. The back of the magazine is clearly marked:

Marketing 101

Now, I recall the 1994-2004 stretch of magazine insanity that was the Clinton Assault Weapons ban. Mags made during that time, if they held more than ten rounds, had to be marked as law enforcement or military use only and be datestamped. Possession of a ‘restricted’ magazine was against the law for us mere civilians.  It was an insanely stupid law and once it ‘sunset’ in 2004 you could have all those ‘restricted’-marked magazines with no legal issues (in most jurisdictions..some states/cities kept their own version of the ban. Fortunately, they’re places where you probably wouldn’t want to live anyway). Those magazines are now reminders of those unhappy days and I always chuckle when I come across one. Why is the Allied Armament X-91 marked this way? Good question. I fired off an email asking why and promptly received a reply.

The answer, I’m told, is pretty simple – people want something more when they think they can’t have it. Thats right, its a marketing gimmick! Unless you live in one of the enclaves that still has magazine restrictions (NY, CA, etc.) you can own this magazine with no problems despite whats written on the back.

For testing and demo purposes I’m using two rifles – one PTR-91 that is a couple years old, and a genuine HK-91 that is more than a couple years but in like-new shape. I’ve shot both guns before and know that both are good, reliable shooters and perfect platforms to test the AA X-91 drum.

50 rds. + drum + HK91 = !!!!!!!

The first test is the most simple – how does the magazine fit in the magazine well? Tight? Loose? Easy in/easy out? Initially its a bit awkward because after years of using a rectangular magazine it takes a moment or two to figure out just how to grasp the bulbous drum and position it in the hand to seat it in the magazine well properly. The magazine required a sharp upward tap to get it to seat and lock in the magazine well. Fit seemed quite good although there was some forward/backward play, however it seemed to make no difference in performance. The magazine release operated as it should..no drag, tension or other concerns. The magazine didnt drop free when empty but was easily removed with the off hand. The magazine body, as opposed to the magazine feed tower, is at a slight angle so if you grab it and pull/push it into the magazine well youre pushing it at a slight angle off of the angle you would normally insert the magazine. This is just something thats part of the learning curve- having used regular 20-rd magazines for the last several years it takes a few manipulations and some time ‘playing’ to find what works best. In both the PTR and the HK it seemed that when loaded the magazine needed to be seated in the gun with the bolt open. The magazine fit into the magazine well of each gun just fine, although in the HK it was bit looser fit than in the PTR. On the other hand, the HK has almost 20 years of age to it so perhaps things have loosened up a bit. Giving the mag a little love tap on the bottom will ensure that the magazine is seated solidly and locked in place. More about that later.

This picture contains 200% USRDA of Awesome

Loading the magazine is pretty straightforward. The easiest way, and the way advised in the accompanying instructions, is to turn the ‘ratchet’ at the front of the magazine slightly to relieve the upward tension of the follow. Ever slide the follower in a .22 pistol magazine down with your thumb so you could load rounds into the magazine easier? Same idea. The magazine loaded easily and without problems. I would give the ratchet at the front a turn, load four or five rounds in, shift my grip to give it another turn, repeat. I had never loaded this magazine before so I timed myself. The first time it took 3:08 minutes to load all 50 rounds . On the second loading, having gotten the knack of things, the time was reduced to 2:21. Once you develop your own ‘rhythm’ (turn ratchet, add four rounds, shift grip, repeat) it goes much smoother and faster. A stripper clip guide arrangement would be nice but even without it getting the magazine loaded wasn’t as onerous a chore as one might think…especially when you’re  anticipating the fun of emptying the magazine.

Shooting was accomplished in the following manner: the magazine was loaded with 50 rounds of military ball ammo and inserted into the rifle with the bolt open. Once the magazine was seated the rifle would be worked to load a round from the magazine. The rifle would be rested on an object and be fired one round per second. Any failures to feed would be noted and compared against a similar test in the other test gun. The instructions that came with the magazine said, quite clearly, that the magazine was designed for optimum use with FMJ military-style ball and that use of softpoint, hollowpoint or other non-FMJ ammo ‘may’ cause reliability problems. I normally jealously guard my supply of South African battle-packed ball .308 but if this magazine was designed for military FMJ ammo then thats what it was going to get tested with.

Military ball ammo ready for loading

First up was the PTR. I seated the magazine, got comfortable, let the bolt ride forward, flipped the safety off, pulled the trigger and was rewarded with a bang and the magazine dropping out of the magazine well. Ooops. Replaced the magazine, gave it a firm tap on the bottom to make sure the magazine catch engaged it and went back to sending bullets downrange. Fortynine rounds later the hammer fell on the empty chamber. Other than my little goof, the magazine functioned without a hiccup.

Next up was the HK91. Same drill, except this time making sure I seated the mag properly, and fifty rounds went downrange with no drama whatsoever. In fact it was rather monotonous in its reliability which is actually a good thing.

What does dumping fifty rounds out of the rifle in under a minute do to your barrel temperature-wise? Glad you asked. A buddy brought a digital infrared thermometer and each rifle had its barrel temperature measured before and after shooting. All temperatures were taken from an average of five readings. Keep in mind the PTR has a thicker, heavier barrel than the HK91. The PTR, before our little bullet party, clocked in at 58 degrees. Fifty rounds later it registered 340 degrees. The HK91 started the day at 52 degrees and after fifty rounds of fun was a smoking 320 degrees. Both barrels cooled pretty quickly, dropping into the 200 degree range in a couple minutes. You definitely did not want to touch the barrel and, in fact, even the handguards were a little toasty.

The barrel does get a bit hot

The magazine, fully loaded, weighs a bit under five pounds but, as Im sure you can imagine, it gets lighter as you shoot it. Does it change the balance or handling characteristics of the rifle? Not as much as you might think. Sure, you’ve added five pounds to the weight of the basic rifle but the gun swings just the same and balances almost the same. The magazine, because it is wider than a 20-rd magazine, does bump against you when you have the rifle slung or carried with the 3-point sling. Even with the drum the rifle was still comfortable to carry in a low ready or ‘patrol’ position. Where this sort of thing shines, however, is as a static weapon. The drum only protrudes about an inch longer than the regular twenty round magazine so there was plenty of clearance for getting flat on the ground, flipping out the bipod legs and becoming a one-man roadblock.

Naturally, there are going to be comparisons between the Allied Armament X-91 drum and the Beta C-mags. I’ve a little experience with the C-mag so I can make some observations. First and foremost, the C-mag is plastic bodied while the X-91 is aluminum. While I wouldnt want to drop either one on a hard surface if I could avoid it I suspect a fully loaded x-91 would survive the impact better than the C-mag. When fully loaded the C-mags are a bit noisy..they rattle. The X-91 didnt have nearly the noise signature..loaded, partially loaded, or unloaded. The C-mag does have an option to have a clear back to allow the shooter to keep track of how many rounds are left in the magazine whereas the X-91 has no way of showing how many rounds are left. Witness holes might be a possibility but I’d imagine that any holes would let in dirt and grit which wouldn’t do anything beneficial to the magazine. Personally, I would throw a few rounds of tracer in there to give myself a visual reminder if it were really important. Beta is showing on their website that they are offering a C-mag for the M1A now so in terms of .308 drums, the C-mag is twice the capacity of the x-91 at around the same price. But, the C-mag isnt available for the HK platform and the x-91 mag isn’t available for the M1A platform. (Although both companies are working to correct that.) If you are talking solely in terms of the HK91-style rifles, as far as I know no one is offering anything close to the magazine capacity Allied Armament is offering in their X-91 (unless you find an original HK drum on Gunbroker…be prepared to pay close to two grand for it!)  At the moment Beta seems to have sewn up the drum magazine market for .223 but AA seems to have the potential to do the same in .308. AA’s website says that they’re working on drums for the popular .308 platforms – the M1A, FAL, AR-10 and SCAR-H. (At the moment CMMG offers an AR-10 lower that take G3 mags. If this drum works with those lowers then AA will have been the first to the punch with getting a drum into the AR-10 platform.) With several outfits bringing gas-piston AR-10 rifles to the market I’d be mightily interested in getting one and kitting it out with a drum (or three).

Would I make any changes to the AA X-91 drum? I’d like to see a protective plastic cover or cap for the magazine to protect the feedlips when the magazine isn’t in use…the magazine isnt cheap and I’d hate to drop it or ding the feed lips and watch my expensive magazine become a paperweight. A carrying pouch of some kind would be nice. Milling a flat spot on the bottom of the mag so it will sit upright would be handy (or adding a couple nubs to act as legs to keep the mag from rolling around when you set it on a flat surface.) Making the follower in a high-visibility color would be a nice touch as well.

So to wrap it up, what did I think of the AA X-91 drum mag? In a word ‘cool!’ If I could use three words the third would be ‘cool!’ ,  the first would be ‘very’ and the second would be unprintable. The magazine is very well made and finished, reliability was flawless, loading was simple (if tedious) and the unloading process was awesomely fun. For the fella that wants or needs to have a compact package of firepower this thing is, at the moment, unique in the marketplace of HK accessories. If the FAL and AR-10 versions  come to pass I suspect AA will have its hands full keeping up with demand, especially if the quality, finish and function are as good on the FAL and AR drums as they are on the HK drums.

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