December 02, 2020
While other custom-production brands are offering modified versions of the Glock models and SIG Sauer’s pistols, few shops have tuned the M&P platform. This meant there wasn’t a lot of options for M&P fans until recently. Agency Arms offers a complete pistol build for $1,500 — a price that excludes the customer-supplied M&P. For such a build, an interested customer has to be prepared to invest more than $2,000 — significantly more if that person wants to add a quality red dot. The basic M&P9 M2.0 with threaded barrel costs $599, while an optic-ready M&P9 M2.0 Compact with 4-inch barrel retails for $616. Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center M&P M2.0 CORE Pro Series raises the price to $712, or $721 if you want one with a ported barrel.
Custom pistols attract an affluent clientele who are serious about self-improvement. Despite the fact that the majority of us shuffling along the glass cases in a gun store would only consider buying one from the used end of the counter, we were amazed to hear from John May, sales and marketing director for Ed Brown, that thousands of these pistols are actually sold every year! In contrast to buying an M&P and sending it off to a pistolsmith for treatments, Ed Brown now offers the complete package. Starting at $1,995 for Ed Brown’s basic optic-ready, nitride (black) MP-F1, you can get a Trijicon RMR or SRO red dot sight as part of the package for about another $500. An adjustable RMR retails for $699 and the SRO $749, so if you expect to eventually add either red dot to the slide, it makes sense to have Ed Brown go ahead and include one for the savings.
Who buys a $2,000 pistol?
Ed Brown’s clients are non-compromising, serious shooters concerned about raising their proficiency and effectiveness with their gun and gear. Most are looking for an advantage in a self-defense situation while also preparing for possible participation in IDPA or IPSC competition. Not wanting to show up and feel like a newbie, these people have the interest and means to research and invest in squared-away hardware. Many prospective buyers seek out reputable training from professional instructors, which often costs around $600 for a two-day course or about $2,000 for a week-long immersive experience. These gun owners save up, buy a serious pistol and, typically, a few thousand rounds of ball ammunition for practice. For them, it’s an investment.
Their aim is well intended. These people are responsible gun-owning citizens who want the capability to protect themselves, friends or family. Along the way, they know that the training will validate their purchase by demonstrating the pistol’s reliability and accuracy potential after hundreds or thousands of rounds have been fired through it. They’ll become familiar with the pistol’s contours, quirks and maintenance schedule. Even if they may not possess the disposable income, this category of gun owner finds a way to make this level of commitment to their own self-improvement, and we should never begrudge such a person.
Why the M&P?
Smith & Wesson introduced the M&P series in 2006, and by 2007 the company transitioned many police agencies to the platform. The full-size M&P holds 17-plus-one rounds of 9mm, and shoots smoothly. Perceived recoil is often less than expected from similar platforms of any caliber. It possessed good ergonomics, a low bore-axis and beavertail that earned it an easy-shooting reputation. The trigger was considered an improvement over the Glock of the era, and the steel magazines were slick and fed flawlessly. Accuracy was adequate, but not the best, and many grumbled at the lack of texture at the front of the slide for manipulation. Others didn’t like the curved trigger with a hinge in the middle and thought the grip texture was only a little better than a dry, textured bar of soap. Smith & Wesson addressed many of these concerns with the launch of the M2.0 on Guns & Ammo’s March 2017 cover.
In the last three years, the M2.0 has proven to be more accurate than the original M&P with most feeling secure knowing there is a longer steel chassis supporting the polymer frame. The M2.0 trigger also sported a cleaner feel with a shorter reset, while the slide was given more tactile serrations at the front and rear. Even if an M&P M2.0 wears the optional ambidextrous thumb-safety levers, they don’t actually suck if we’re being honest. They're like a gas pedal for your thumb.
What the M&P did was divide gun owners. The 18-degree off-square pitch, or “grip angle,” and circumference of the grip frame is closer to that of a Model 1911. If your first pistol was made by Glock, chances are that you passed on the first M&P you handled because of the feel of its grip and how it pointed. Pistols like the Glock have a more raked grip angle that measures closer to 22 degrees.
Why Ed Brown?
It makes sense why Ed Brown selected the M&P M2.0 for its first custom, polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol. Ed Brown, the man, had been tuning the Model 1911 for more than 50 years before his retirement. His innovative parts included the “Memory Groove Beavertail Grip Safety” and “Bobtail” mainspring housings, which would alone qualify him for a hall-of-fame induction if this industry had one. Besides having been a brilliant engineer that geeked out on precise tolerances, he was also a competitive shooter since 1980, and was considered among the best. Brown possessed all the necessary bonafides to build a solid business.
Going from operating a tool-and-die shop to designing aftermarket components used by all the famous names, Brown and his family continuously adapted the business to accommodate modern engineering philosophies and machinery necessary to increase their precision capabilities. With the public demand for polymer-framed striker-fired pistols peaking, it was time in 2020 for the family to explore a new platform beyond the 1911.
Smith & Wesson’s M&P M2.0 makes sense. Besides the fact that few aftermarket operations offer custom pistols, it’s only among a few modern handguns sharing a similar grip angle and the same pointability as the 1911. Like the 1911, Ed Brown’s engineers didn’t need to reinvent the pistol, but the M&P was certainly long overdue for enhancement. Hence, the company’s tagline for the series is “Fueled by Ed Brown.”
Initially, there are three models simply named the “MP-F1,” “MP-F2” and “MP-F3,” each offering a different set of aesthetics. All are equally functional, but the MP-F1 represents a serious, purpose-minded approach with an all-black appearance thanks to the black nitride finish applied to the slide, barrel, trigger and frame pins.
The MP-F2 offers more “personality,” let’s call it, with a multi-colored “Spectrum” barrel finish. The slide and frame pins feature black nitride, while the trigger is finished in flat dark earth. Though the combat veterans were a bit shy to shoot the MP-F2, we were surprised when May pointed out, “The F2 with the Spectrum barrel is the best-selling model we offer. We can’t make enough.”
The MP-F3 is a two-tone option with a matte-finish 17-4 stainless-steel slide. It presents a tasteful appearance that accentuates the slide cuts and serrations around the contrasting black-nitride barrel. Though distinctive, the MP-F3 performance features are more subtly presented, in our opinion.
For this review, Guns & Ammo’s staff selected the MP-F3 for its aesthetic compromise. Aside from its slide and trigger finish, it otherwise shares characteristics with the MP-F1 and MP-F2. All three are optionally available with either a black or Coyote Brown Trijicon RMR or black SRO, so we tossed a coin that picked the newer, larger SRO optic. (This spec maxed out the price of the package at $2,544, but having a red dot helped us produce many one-hole groups at 25 yards.)
Ed Brown’s gunsmiths overhauled the M&P. May indicated, “They tear each pistol down to its foundation and then put it back together,” which is believable. Every part appears to have been modified or hand fitted. The heart of this pistol is Ed Brown’s machined and oversized block that replaces the front rail block in the M2.0 frame. They’ve designated it an “Accuracy Rail,” which gives the slide and match barrel perfect mating surfaces and a tight, slick fit. Gunsmiths go to great lengths to ensure that the Accuracy Rail block is properly fitted in relation to the barrel, which is machined from 416 stainless and button rifled. The result has to improve the M&P’s barrel lockup, or it doesn’t go in the gun. Combined with the barrel, it’s the key to this pistol’s accuracy potential. The extended, threaded barrel is Ed Brown’s own design, too, and it isn’t a simple process to apply the spiral fluting seen through each slide port. Bonus, the action was developed to accept and reliably run with a suppressor.
Ed Brown tossed all of Smith & Wesson’s metal-injection-molded (MIM) parts before exchanging them with forged ones. If you’ve ever grabbed the slide of a factory S&W M&P frame, you’ll know the difference when handling the MP-F1, -F2 or -F3. There is no rattle or movement thanks to hand-fitting. We have to conclude that this, too, contributed to these pistols’ accuracy.
The slide cuts are visual indicators that this is a high-performance pistol. Knowing that the steel is 17-4 stainless proves the point to its core. Stainless plus the modern polymers and finish means that these guns will not corrode or decay. Even though the slide features many cuts that look sharp, the pistol is actually dehorned around the edges. The beveled corners have nothing to do with manipulating the slide or the pistol’s controls, which have more aggressive texture than any M&P we’ve ever tested.
Besides the magazine funnel and flat-faced trigger, the polymer frame is largely untouched from the M&P M2.0. The high-grip undercut at the back of the triggerguard has been retained, and the magazine release is still reversible. For personal fit, Smith & Wesson’s M2.0 four backstraps with palmswells are still included to thicken or lessen the profile of the grip in your hand.
On top, a red dot isn’t required. Ed Brown’s Fueled Series pistols wear a set of suppressor-height Pro-Glo sights from AmeriGlo (ameriglo.com). The front wears a brightly colored ring around a tritium-filled night-sight vial, while the rear is a no-dot pyramid with a U-notch at its summit for alignment. These are ideal back-up sights for co-witnessing with Trijicon’s RMR and SRO red dots. If you put off equipping these pistols with a red dot, they’re rugged and easy to use as primaries. Using a red dot was preferred, however. Simply remove the sight plate and attach either the RMR or SRO. The slide is cut low to Trijicon’s footprint for direct mounting and no fuss.
Accuracy potential is difficult to realize without an excellent trigger. For the Fueled Series, Ed Brown smartly partnered with Apex Tactical Specialties for their M&P Flatty triggers ($175). Typically, M&P triggers offer a pull weight of 5½ pounds for the M2.0 models. Featuring a machined sear and striker block, Apex’s solution enhances the M&P’s trigger feel, shortens reset and reduces overtravel and pull weight. Our sample measured 4 pounds, though it felt lighter (and more like a 1911) due to the profile of the stroke and break past the wall. The trigger press was consistent through several hundred rounds and continues the safety mindset that M&P’s were originally regarded for. Apex’s flat face conjured different opinions, though. Some evaluators thought it made the Fueled Series feel more like a match trigger; Others thought it would feel better with a curved trigger. Either way, the Apex unit was an improvement versus the standard M&P trigger.
Magazine changes were a fun drill to practice. The weight of the two steel-bodied magazines with custom-machined aluminum basepads insert positively and eject from the frame with authority — with or without ammo. Ed Brown’s longer +2 basepad ($30) increases the round count of the 17 rounder to 19. The basepads are hardcoat anodized, which proved to be an important feature. During our evaluation, they noticeably resisted the wear that comes with falling on gravel or concrete floors at the range. Also notable, the longer magazine offered more positive insertions to seat the mag within the grip and securely lock it in place. It only takes a few reloads to appreciate the confidence these qualities imbue.
When aligning the sights on target, it’s hard not to notice the custom backplate at the back of the slide. The no-glare horizontal serrations are perfectly executed and serve as a reminder that every part on these guns was considered and refined by actual shooters. These details go beyond the expected engineering and fitment from Ed Brown; They just make sense. What isn’t obvious is the attention given to small parts such as the disassembly pins. The pins are actually turned on Swiss-type machines and are installed to support the precision fitment of components such as the Accuracy Rail. It’s easy to see where the money went in the design of these pistols.
If you can afford it, you’ll get a lot of value out of Ed Brown’s Fueled Series. It would be hard to imagine a more thoughtful and well-engineered rendition of the M&P.
Ed Brown M&P-Fueled Series Specs
- Type: Recoil operated, striker fired, semiautomatic
- Cartridge: 9mm
- Capacity: 17+1rds., 19+1 rds. (w/ +2 basepad)
- Barrel: 4.65 in., 416 stainless, threaded
- Overall Length: 7.9 in.
- Weight: 1 lbs., 13.2 oz. (tested)
- Slide: 17-4 stainless steel
- Frame: S&W M2.0, black polymer, 4 backstraps included
- Trigger: Apex Tactical, 4 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: AmeriGlo ProGlo, tritium, suppressor height; Trijicon RMR/SRO (optional)
- Safety: Trigger lever; striker block; loaded chamber indicator
- MSRP: $1,995 (base); $2,544 (tested w/ SRO)
- Manufacturer: Ed Brown Products, edbrown.com
Ed Brown M&P-Fueled Series Performance
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