The barrel is almost always the first thing people change on their guns. It's easy to change and easy to put back the way you got it. It is also the most important of the very few things that can affect your range and accuracy. While there are many more barrels available for this gun than I'm listing here, I'm only listing the ones I've had direct experience with, and those used by people whose opinions I consider to be reliable.
Barrel Basics: My opinions here have changed a bit in the last couple years.
The first, most important thing to getting the best range, accuracy, consistency, and efficiency from your barrel is to get a good paint-barrel fit. I know that Glenn Palmer completely disagrees with this, but all the experience I've had in the last 3 years completely bears this out. You want a barrel that your paint doesn't just roll out of, but but which isn't so restrictive that you can't easily blow a paintball through it with your mouth. This will ensure good efficiency, minimize barrel breaks, and ensure that you get the best shot-to-shot velocity consistency.
I still think that certain materials tend to shoot better than others. I still like brass as a material best, but I can't get a brass barrel in the ID required for the paint I tend to shoot. Brass also has a tendency to scratch and needs more maintenance (cleaning) than other materials. As a result, I find myself shooting hard-coated aluminum barrels more and more. Stainless steel barrels are very nice, but they're damn heavy, expensive, and just don't shoot any better than the best aluminum barrels.
Third, holes, rifling, and ridges make cleaning barrels a pain in the ass. I'll be the first to admit that, when well implemented, all these features can improve performance with a dry, clean barrel, and with good paint. Break a ball, though, and you'll be cursing them. All of these hang onto paint tenaciously and wreck performance until the barrel is well cleaned and cleared. The best compromise I've seen is the use of small holes, which clear more easily (hold less paint), or having the holes only over a very short length of barrel.
- Stock Bud Orr barrels
As I said before, these barrels aren't bad. They just have a fragile internal finish, and are dramatically outperformed by the best aftermarket barrels. They are cheap, though. The new stock tight-bore barrels that made their first appearance on the stock 'cocker in 1997 shoot about the same, but they have a more durable finish.
While Armson rifled barrels are very popular on open-bolt paintguns, you don't see too many of them on Autocockers. They do not have the reputation of being a harmonious pair. This is not entirely fair, but there is reason for it. While the Armson seems to be very effective in compensating for open-bolt inaccuracies, it doesn't have the same effect on closed-bolt 'guns. Armsons are unmatched in accuracy at close range, and are quite good out to medium range. This makes them exceptional speedball barrels. At long range, though, I've always found them to hook quite abruptly. I should also mention that the spiral ridges that make up the rifling hold paint and clear very poorly after a break. A tight paint-barrel fit and teflon treatment are both effective in improving self-cleaning. I should mention that the rifling does not affect how well they squeegie. They squeegie just as well as any other barrel.
Armson has recently come out with a new barrel design called the Stealth barrel. Basically, it's like the older Armsons, but with end porting and a new cosmetic design. The porting definitely helps. The Stealth barrels are much quieter than the original Armsons (which were loud enough to be mistaken for cannons). I also think that the new Armson Stealth is a little more accurate at longer range than the original Armson. I still don't think they're the best for long range accuracy, but they're now much better and I don't discourage their use.
- BOA (Barrels of America)
BOA sells among the most perfectly made barrels on the market. These gorgeous barrels have an immaculate finish inside and out. They're available in bare brass or with industrial hard-chrome plating. They can also be had with the "Snake Brake" spiral-vented muzzle brake. BOA recommends a 10", Snake-braked, chrome-plated barrel. I must admit that when I first tried these barrels, I wanted to like them. The company offers excellent service and produces barrels of exceptional quality. Sadly, their performance did not live up to the promise of their appearance. Most noticeable to me was a slight hook at mid-long range, making it unsuitable for anything but short-range speedball. This appeared to be even worse on barrels with the Snake Brake. I won a BOA barrel at a recent tournament. On BOA's recommendation, I requested a 10", chromed, tight-bore barrel with their new four row Snake Brake. I had wanted brass, but they strongly pushed for me to take chrome for greater durability. Unfortunately, I haven't found the new BOA to be a terribly great performer. It's much better than the first ones I bought a couple of years ago, but it doesn't match the other barrels in my collection in either range or accuracy.
I can remember when DYE burst onto the scene with their line of stainless steel barrels which almost immediately became tournament favorites. How could they not? With Dave Youngblood and the Ironmen's names behind them, how could they fail? These were hardly new barrels at the time, though. In fact, DYE barrels had been made for quite some time under the name of the company that actually designs and manufactures them - Carter Machine - one of the oldest, best known, and most renowned airsmith shops in the business.
So how do they shoot? Well, it's a mixed bag. In the past, I'd found DYE barrels to be very inconsistent in ID and how well they shot. These days, the new barrels I've seen have been shooting very well and very consistently. The stainless and aluminum barrels shoot exactly the same and are a good mid-bore size. Very small paint will roll through them still. With most brands of paint they shoot very well - great range and exceptional accuracy, though efficiency suffers if you don't get a good fit. I'd stick with the aluminum. It's lighter and much less expensive. The two stage, aluminum/stainless hybrid Boomstick is offered in a variety of IDs (for tournament players), but is extremely expensive. I really think the LAPCO is a better value in a tight-bore barrel. DYE is one of my three favorite barrels right now.
- J & J
J&J has completely changed their line of barrels since I last wrote about them. They used to just make brass barrels. Later they started hard-chrome coating the barrels for improved durability and slickness. Then they added every barrel option you could imagine: single-spiral porting, double-spiral porting, bottom-porting (the Wisper barrel), internal straight rifling, muzzle brakes... you name it, they offered it. J&J built their reputation early by hand-making excellent barrels in small batches. That ended a LONG time ago. For years now they've been coasting on reputation. Their barrels have been impressively mediocre and inconsistent. I've seen J&J's that shot really well, but they were a rarity. J&J seems to have changed yet again, and is now selling a line of ceramic-coated barrels. They are supposed to be very slick and have very tight-bores. They've also added a new 2-stage barrel very much like the DYE Boomstick. It has a stainless steel back and a ceramic-coated, ported front. I've shot one of these 2-stage J&Js on my Dark Angel and it rocked. Excellent barrel with near-Boomstick-like performance, but at a much lower price. It's a shame they aren't offered in a variety of IDs.
- LAPCO Autospirit and BigShot
I've been recommending the Autospirit barrel for a very long time now. This unassuming barrel was the first true tight bore barrel to achieve real popularity. It's 0. 687" ID is suitable for just about everything but the very largest (Nelson) and smallest (Evil) paints. The first version of the barrel widened a bit after the breech, but current production barrels have a consistently tight bore down the entire barrel length. The barrels terminate with 48 small, very closely spaced holes (which Colin Thompson insists are not a muzzle brake) and then a short section where the barrel flares back out. I've been impressed with this barrel since the first time I threaded it into my gun. Out to extreme range the balls drop one on top of the other. It cleans itself as well or better than any other barrel, your only clue that you've had a break being that there's a little paint in the holes of the brake and every 3rd or 4th shot will drift a bit. With any paint that fits it properly, I've found this to be the most efficient barrel around. One guy described losing 60 fps when he went from this to a smoothbore J & J and I've seen the same comparing it to a Smart Parts 12". At about $60 for the aluminum version, it's also priced well below most other high-performance Autococker barrels. There is now a stainless steel version which shoots the same, but is heavier and costs more money, but which is still less expensive than other stainless barrels on the market. This plainly designed barrel is definitely not for the fashion conscious. You can have it in any color you like as long as it's black. But for the person who wants the very best performance, but is on a tight budget, I'd have a hard time recommending anything else, especially if you shoot smaller paints like Marballizer and Pro-Ball with which it absolutely dominates.
I should also mention that LAPCO now has a mid-bore (0.688" I.D.) barrel called the BigShot. It is available in both stainless steel and aluminum and looks great (milled down much smaller than the Autospirit) and is much more forgiving with larger paint. For the money, the Autospirit and BigShot are probably the best two-barrel set you can buy.
- Palmer's Pursuit Shop
While Palmer's is best know for the Typhoon, the Rock regulator, and the Stabilizer in-line regulator, they also do custom work for and on just about every other paintgun in existence. Since I've been continually impressed by the performance of the Typhoon, I asked Palmer's to make a barrel for my Autococker. They recommended an 11" nickel plated brass barrel with elliptical honing and spiral end-venting. The barrel was custom hand-made from brass stock specifically for my gun. Because they did not have the right length in stock, I had to wait a long time for the barrel (others I know have experienced long waits because of problems with the nickel plater). The inside of the barrel looks essentially identical to the inside of my old Typhoon; mirror honed finish. The spiral venting starts at about the same length down the barrel as in a 16" Smart Parts barrel (~7.5" from the breech), but ends at 11". Since then, I've added a 12" tight-bore Palmer barrel with no venting or plating. Both of these barrels are of very comparible performance: exceptional accuracy out to extreme range almost no matter what brand of paint is used. Additionally, Palmer barrels shoot really lousy paint better than just about anything else. The only frustrating thing is the barrel ID. These are a largish midsize bore, so most smaller brands of paint (RP, Pro-ball, etc.) roll through them. New Palmer barrels are supposed to have the Wedgit to prevent this roll out problem, but it will not improve the poor efficiency that comes with a loose barrel.
The Palmer barrel is no longer the value king. When I originally bought mine, my total cost was only $75 for a fully loaded barrel. I was shocked to hear recently that today, that same barrel will run you $137. That's more than any other brass barrel on the market, and more than the street price of most stainless steel barrels. Forgoing some of the amenities (spiral end venting, nickel plating, and match honing) will bring the price down (to $55), but it will still be a high price to pay for a brass barrel, however good the design. On the other hand, they are hand-made, incorporate a relatively exotic honing pattern, and come with a money-back guarantee in case you don't like it.
- Smart Parts
Let's face it, Smart Parts created the custom barrel market with their spiral-ported barrels. The All A's early success solidifed it as the barrel of choice for years. Back then, when Aftershock was J&J sponsored, Danny Love told me off the record that he thought that SP Autococker barrels shoot better than any other barrel he'd tried (of course now he uses DYE religiously). Ironically, it was at this time, during Smart Parts' most popular days, that I was least impressed with their barrels! When their barrels first came out, I had one for a VM68 that absolutely shot darts. But when they first came out with their two-piece barrels, I was thoroughly underwhelmed. They seemed to come apart quite often, only shot OK, had gigantic bores, were incredible gas-hogs, and were a total nightmare if you broke paint in them.
Just recently, my opinion has changed again. Smart Parts is now offering a huge variety of barrels, including both one and two piece barrels, stainless steel barrels, 12", 14", and 16" lengths, and multiple IDs to allow you to match your paint to your barrel. The ones I really like a lot are the 14" All American barrels and the Teardrop. The 14" All A's barrels come in a variety of IDs (I have three) for good paint-barrel matching, and have a slick ceramic coat for excellent durability and performance. Though they're still gas-hogs and are a pain when you break paint in them, they're extremely quiet and shoot darts out to long, long range. On a low-pressure 'gun, these barrels are amazingly accurate and never break paint. I like the Teardrop for it's one-piece construction which allows for much better clearing after a break, with performance that is similar, if not quite as good as the All A's barrels. They're also much more affordably priced. Along with DYE and LAPCO, Smart Parts completes the trio of my very favorite barrels.