Empire Sniper Review - Initial Look: Weight:
2.95 With Barrel
2.45 Without Barrel
Stock Sniper (2002) with Slider frame:
3.4 Pounds with barrel
CCM Series 6.5 :
2.37 Without Barrel
2.85 With Barrel
(All barrels measured here were the Empire Stock Barrel) Packaging and stuff inside the box:
Given that Carter and others have done great video's on Youtube unboxing the marker - I didn't want to spend a lot of time on this portion - however - as it is the first thing the end user experiences - sometime must be spent.
The box and foam packaging is immaculate. The box is cool - and would help stores sell the product. The foam is perfectly cut out for all pieces and parts and well thought out in its layout. The marker, Barrel Bag, and Allen Keys fit in the top of the case while the barrel, stock class feed, and parts kit are housed snugly in the bottom. Also coming with this kit is a single page 'Quick Start up' guide as well as a CD that explains much of how the marker is used and changed.
This portion of the packaging is extremely well thought out and set up. Considering a CCM doesn't come with a manual or a quick start guide - it is refreshing to see this type of thought going into something that could easily be overlooked - the packaging of the marker as well as a parts kit and a tool kit. Every seal that may need to be replaced on the marker is included in the parts kit (bar a few more rigid seals - like inside the regulator) a small capsule of lube (Dow 33) and a full set of allen keys are included too. I love these additions to the box and think they should be mandatory for many other markers.
(I must say, however, that I hear a person in the CCM community that is very smart has made a manual for all CCM markers.) Fit and Finish:
The fit and finish of the Empire marker seems to be tumbled to achieve a very mild 'dust' effect. There were a few tool marks on this marker around the grip frame and other parts - but they were not deep or obtrusive. The anodizing matched part to part very well and was even and deep. The milling is seemless from part to part. The body moves not only into the the front block ASA seemlessly - but also the grip frame and the on/off ASA. The mid block is cool and the bolt at is most rearward position is terminates perfectly with the top tube. The Barrel matches perfectly with the marker and is top quality. The marker overall looks very well put together and solid. Set Up:
I set the Regulator at 225 PSI as the manual recommended (and it was set up out of the box). The gauge was little off on the marker (as Mini-guages are wont to be - most are + / - 10%) and when my reg reads 250 PSI - it is closer to 225 PSI. I set the auto trigger correctly (it was set a little more liberally than I wanted it). Other than that - the marker was set up with no leaks and worked properly. A liberal amount of dow 33 was put on all the moving parts and the marker seemed well teched before it left the shop.
I chrono'd the marker and found it to be shooting about 260 out of the box. I had good paint to barrel match with the .680 back and so I originally turned up the regulator to see what I could do for the velocity using that route. I adjusted the reg and found the sweet spot for this reg and marker to be about 250 PSI - however I was still only shooting in the low 280's. I adjusted the IVG in and found that I had to nearly bury it to get the marker to shoot 300 FPS. The OVG only has about 3 to 4 full turns of adjustment - in this case - it was barely enough. Parts and Pieces: Internals:
The internals are an odd mix of markers that have been used throughout the ages in the sniper platform. Hammer
The hammer is slightly longer and heavier than a stock WGP sniper but smaller and slightly lighter than the CCM hammer:
(Photo by Carter Brown) From left to right - CCM Hammer, Empire Sniper Hammer, Stock WGP Hammer Valve:
The Valve is the same valve that is used in the Spyder platform (also the same valve that the CCM SS-25 uses) and is at 0.685 in the middle of the body. One major problem with how the marker is made (due to a how the front block is attached to the marker) is the fact that you cannot push the valve out the front of the body. You have to use a dowel and push it out of the back of the body. It is not easy to maintain for this reason - and putting the valve back in through the back and the IVG threads will likely lead to cut or nicked o-rings and a leaky valve upon reassembly. This portion of the tear down was not thought out well. Valve Stem: Photo by Carter Brown
The valve stem is essentially the same valve stem used in a PMI Piranha. In fact - the Valve body is very similar as well. The design is tried and true and is nearly bullet proof - however - as this is a new marker and Empire has a few engineers on staff - I would have thought a new design could have been in order. Time will tell on this one. Photo by Carter Brown PMI Piranha Valve Body and Stem for Comparison. Valve Body Retention Screw
This portion of the marker was one of the most frustrating. It seems like the valve pin retention screw was an after thought - as if someone said "Oh ****, we need something to hold this valve in place - quick - someone turn something down on the lathe to get this to work!"
It is not only made of brass (the only piece on the marker that is - for no apparent reason) but had been assembled with loc-tite (others used teflon tape). If you compare this piece with a similar thing that CCM has made you can see the difference in lack of thought: Main Spring:
The Main Spring is stronger and longer than the CCM but shorter and about the same tension as the stock WGP spring: (From Left: CCM, Empire Sniper, and WGP Sniper Main Springs.
The IVG is a standard Midblock IVG made of aluminum - which has always worried me as it seemed a little thin over on the inside where the spring rides - but have no experience with breakage on this part: From Left: Empire IVG and Stock WGP IVG Top Tube: Bolt:
The bolt is made of delrin, has three o-rings, and is grooved to accept the double nubbin detents that the marker use. It is a pull pin design that makes removing the bolt very simple. Simply pull up on the bolt pin until the pin stops and remove the bolt from the rear. This makes pull through swabs a simple thing to use on this marker.
The only draw back of this bolt is that the front o-ring drags on both detents causing quite a bit of drag on the front and end of the pump stroke. One could remove the o-ring - but it would be assumed that more blowback up the stack would be a result. Detents and Detent Covers:
The detent covers are made of a polymerized plastic. I fear it is too thin and a direct hit on the side of the marker would play havoc with the detent covers. They would certainly be inexpensive to replace - but the choice to make them out of plastic and not aluminum may mean more trouble than they are worth.
Simon, engineer at Empire has posted:
"The eye covers won't break. I've bent samples in half and then back again, put them on the gun and they have been fine."
The rubber detents seem to be robust and should last a long time. They are easy to replace and get to (a simple screw) and do their job well (don't let paint roll past the detents). Regulator:
The regulator is a nice bit of kit to this marker - as it allows for a sweep from about 100 psi to nearly 275 PSI (all this marker seems to use in its stock configuration) and allows for the swiveling of the fitting to be always under the grip frame and in line with the ASA.
The only draw back I see with this regulator is that you cannot use a valve setting that requires over 275 PSI as the regulator does not go that high. However, there may be a way to restack or shim the spring stack to get a higher pressure out of this regulator.
Entire Reg Breakdown. Reg Top. Reg Bottom. Grip Frame:
The grip frame is a standard .45 frame that has been executed very well. The grip frame has a built in snatch grip and safety. The trigger is VERY snappy and very tight. It is set well and although you cannot adjust it - it does not need to be adjusted.
The grip panels seem to be from Empire and are essentially a palm swell Hogue style grip. They are made, however, to accommodate a double trigger and so some people will find it wanting at the middle finger for a little more beef.
The Auto trigger is a push through design that is three pieces: AT Arm, AT Cam, and screw.
The Cam is stainless steel - as is the trigger. I originally thought this part was made from aluminum - but it is not. Stainless on Stainless should provide a lifetime of service without issue.
How it is pinned to the pump arm is a copy from how CCM pins their latest pumps. However - they made this pin with an allen key hole so that it could be removed from the arm.
When taking the grip frame apart to maintain it one finds a common theme among the Empire Sniper - they took little into account when tearing down and cleaning the marker. For instance, the safety is a pain to put back into the marker (the spring and ball want to fly out when you take it apart - and doesn't want to go back in when you put it back in - expect many lost little springs and balls when this is done). Also, the sear pivot pin is splined and thus when it is hammered into the marker - it has to be hammered back out. Granted - you don't have to take this part out to get the trigger out - but a full cleaning is very difficult without taking it out. A simple pin would have done in this place as grip panels would have held this pin in place - but Empire decided to go the route that makes tear down a chore and will lead to marred frames upon disassembly and reassembly.
Another small nit pick I had with the grip frame is the super cheesy logo jewel that is placed on the grip frame. It is a scope reticule in red - which not only seems not to fit the style of the marker - but also the general color scheme of the marker. However, it does match the barrel jewels - and I guess that is enough. It doesn't seem to match for me. Bottom Line ASA:
One of the best pieces on the Empire Sniper is the use of this lever action on/off bottom lines. It is very easy to turn on and off. When turning the ASA off - it automatically degasses itself. The milling on the ASA matches the grip frame seamlessly.
The ASA is a T style ASA that slides onto the grip frame at the bottom and is fixed to the marker using two set screws that are set inside the grip frame. This has pluses and minuses: Pluses - it is the most common way that players use their asa (straight - no drop - affixed directly to the frame). Also it is rock solid once it is attached and does not need a rail that simply adds cost a weight. Minuses: it cannot be moved much (about 1/2 inch from front to back) and an after market drop does not fit this marker. If you don't like the way the ASA attaches - you are stuck with it. Also, to take the rail off takes forever as the set screws are set in the frame in such a manner that you have to do a billion little 1/8th in turns to get each screw out enough to slide the frame off. This however should be seen as a small detraction as you rarely take your ASA off once it is set. Pump and Front Block ASA Pump and Pump Plate
A pump handle is a very personal thing and what one person likes in a pump handle can vary greatly from player to player. However, Empire decided to buck the 'round slightly ribbed' pump handle that seems to dominate the market (with slight variations) with a very different looking pump handle. Taking inspiration from a spinal column apparently Empire made a very grippy pump handle made of delrin. I originally thought it was made of plastic (as did many others) but it is cast delrin as opposed to machined delrin - which looks different.
(Thanks again to Simon for the correction of this information.)
One of the cool things that Empire managed to incorporate a "Hit Man Mod' style T handle that allows for a player who likes to hold the reg to pump the marker simply. However, this mod can be taken off easily for those that do not like that feel. If you are a pump player that does not like the Hit Man Mod - the pump is uncomfortable with it on. However, with it off - it surprised me that it is fairly comfortable. I am, frankly, quite used to shooting a CCM style pump handle - so it may take a little time to get fully used to - but I think it will get better - not worse. With this said, the feel of the plastic feels, much like the detent eyes, a little cheap. I am not sure if it will be as durable as delrin. From top to bottom; CCM deluxe pump - long and Empire Sniper Pump From top to bottom; CCM Basic Pump Kit and Empire Sniper Pump
A few caveats on this pump in general. You have to remove the pump handle to take the arms and the sled off the marker. It is a huge pain in the *** to do so. You have to use the short end of an allen key to get this pump kit off - and then you have about 10 other steps to get the pump arms off. It is about a 1/2 hour process to take this portion off the marker, wipe it down, and put it back together. This, again was so poorly thought out as to frustrate the end user. If you take a few hits on the marker and need to clean it fully - this process, over and over, will simply piss you off. What is needed is for a engineer of this marker to play with it a few times and figure out a better way to assemble the pump, pump plate, and pump arms. Pump Guide Rod
Made of aluminum with small channels the pump arm is also hollow as to allow a huge air chamber in front of the valve. It has a great chamfer that allows the return spring to not bind and be properly aligned.
I have a few worries about this pump rod. One - the fact that it is hollow makes me worry about a misguided superman dive might break it off. However - of you are diving on your pump handle - you probably have more issues than this pump handle.
With that said, aluminum on aluminum (pump rod on pump plate) makes me worry. The original sniper ran aluminum to delrin and CCM runs stainless steel on aluminum or stainless on delrin. Very few makers run aluminum on aluminum for a reason. Aluminum on aluminum tends to gall and start to get rough feeling. With a delrin pump handle - the pump handle is self lubricating and yields to the aluminum. With Stainless on aluminum - the aluminum gives to the stainless and you can polish the stainless. With aluminum on aluminum - there is nothing that can give - and you tend to get galling.
Simon, the Engineer at Empire had this to say about this portion of the review:
"The delrin pump rides on the pump rod, not the back aluminum pump plate so there shouldn't be any risk of galling."
Russc, a trusted member of MCB had this to say about these pump plates - in his experience: "I've used an original WWA (White Wolf Airsmithing) deluxe kit for about 7 years. It had a fully aluminum pump, as well as the main guide rod... I barely ever cleaned the damn thing and it was caked with crap and dirt from back when Nelson was selling waxy oily crud for paint. I never had issues with galling, and it was as smooth as ever when I finally sold it. I much preferred it to a delrin-handled gen2 kit that I bought later on."
This is a valuable piece of information - it may be that Empire has made an excellent decision in making both of these parts aluminum. Weight reduction and smooth operation - or that it rides on the Delrin pump - and thus have a robust pump. Return Spring:
The return spring on this marker is fairly stiff. It is shorter than the CCM return spring - but it implemented in a different manner. The return spring is installed inside the pump and rests on a shoulder milled into the main pump arm. This is a great match and the spring does not kink and is smooth. I am not a fan of return springs as I do not take my hand off the pump when I shoot the marker - however - the return spring, when coupled with the stiffer main spring and the detents rubbing on the o-rings of the bolt make for a very stiff pump stroke. When the return spring is installed the pump stroke is stiffer than a stock WGP set of internals with a CCM kit installed. I wager the pump stroke, with the return spring installed, is about 3 times as stiff as my Series 6.5 without a spring. The return spring makes a stiff marker pump stroke into something, for me, that is nearly intolerable at this price point. From left: CCM Return Spring, Empire Sniper Return Spring. The Front Block ASA:
The front block ASA blends seamlessly with with the body and has a double set of eyes that guide the dual pump rods. One of the cool things that Empire did with this piece is to index the body and the front block so that they not only go on properly - but do not need to be held with anything other than the main guide rod. Nice engineering.
The gauge it came with is attractive and has a rubber like sleeve over the 1/8th" NPT threads. The plug on the opposite side was installed with a black thread sealer that was fairly slopped around during install. I removed it - cleaned it up - and replaced it with blue loctite. no issues.
Having the gauge on the marker is very convenient when setting up the marker - however - I am not sure how necessary it is once the reg is set. It is a nice addition overall - and the gauge empire picked looks cool. Dual Guide Rods and Sled:
Some of the most frustrating portions of this marker reside in this group of parts. Both pump rods are drilled with an Auto Trigger hole so that you have an arm with a worthless hole in the side. The Auto Trigger is not reversible (it must reside on the left side of the marker) the hole is simply there because they didn't want to have a part made separately.
Equally frustrating is how these pump arms come off. Here is the procedure:
a) Take the bolt out the back of the top tube.
b) Take the auto trigger screw off the Auto trigger assembly
c) Unscrew the two shoulder bolts that hold on the pump.
d) Unscrew the pump arm opposite the auto trigger using an allen key.
e) Unscrew a shoulder bolt from the Auto Trigger Allen side from the pump arm.
f) Slide the dual pump arms out of the main block and from the rear.
As mentioned above the shoulder bolts for the pump take quite some time to get out and the other steps set this procedure at about 10 minutes for disassembly. Considering that the T2 has a similar component set up and it takes three screws to take the pump off - this is very very poorly thought out.
These two components would be bad enough - but Empire decided to go with a delrin sled. Again, I originally thought this piece was made of plastic - but now know it is made of Delrin. Many sleds are made of delrin and given the dual arm application spreading the weight over the back of the sled - it may be the case that this sled holds up fine. I was worried because the piece feels thin and a bit too light for the application. However - time will tell on this piece. Feedneck:
The feedneck is a standard Ego style feedneck that is of high quality and diversity. You can easily take this feedneck off the marker loosening two screws and prying the bottom portion of it apart. The lever lock is easily adjustable and works very smoothly. The feedneck is milled to match the marker perfectly. I love this feedneck and find little issue with its implementation. My only wish is that it could be removed without prying it apart. I fear marring the anodizing when I do so. Stock Feed Adapter:
One of the coolest things that this marker comes with is the Stock Feed Adapter. It is very versatile (it can be used as a spring feed or as a stock class feed) and well made. You pull the spring feed back and lock it into place. Then you turn the power feed a little over 90 degrees (these are marked on the side) and load the marker from the top. You then turn the powerfeed plug back and shoot the marker. With the spring installed it holds 12 balls, 14 without. It is easy to take the spring and plug out of the feed tube and it functions flawlessly.
The tube, plug, and back cap are made of aluminum and anodized a tumbled black. This is an odd choice as the marker parts that are black are gloss black - but it does not seem to take away from the overall look of the marker. The main feed adapter and powerfeed plug are made of plastic and are easy to install. The Main Body:
The main body of the marker has one cool feature that I wanted to mention somewhere - but it didn't seem to fit anywhere else in the review. Empire decided to add some meat to where the grip frame screws into the body of the marker. One of the drawbacks of the sniper platform in the past has been the rear grip frame screw hole. It has always been VERY thin and easy to strip out. Empire solved this problem by adding some meat to these two screws and then drilling out the grip frame to accept this additional aluminum. This makes for a VERY secure way to attach the grip to the marker.
The only draw back is for people who want to put an after market grip frame onto the Empire body. However, given the grip frame on this marker - I can't see why anyone would. The Barrel:
The Empire Sniper Barrel comes with three backs and one front. It is a 14 inch barrel with a 7.5 inch control bore. The backs are .675, .680, and .685. This is really small for local paint in my area - but there are likely two main reasons for Empire to choose tiny barrel backs: a) Paint has been doing nothing but getting smaller in the recent years and these backs fit this trend. b) the fact that I had trouble getting the marker up to 300 FPS makes a tight paint to barrel match an imperative. Underboring may be the thought for makers of this marker.
Regardless, the barrel is of a VERY high quality and shoots very accurately. I found it to be just as accurate as my Deadly Wind (SS freak backs) and my CCM barrel kit. The 7 inch control bore will likely make the Empire barrel kit more efficient than the CCM barrel - but that would have to be measured. Either way - it is a top notch piece of kit. Bench Test:
I went out to my yard and chrono'd the marker in. I had a tough time, as mentioned above, getting the marker up to 300 FPS. There is little travel in the regulator and only a few turns possible in the IVG. I got it to 290 after adding 25 psi to the regulator and nearly burying the IVG.
The pump stroke is not nearly as smooth as it could be considering the cost of this marker - but it is not wobbly or gritty. As mentioned above the detentes, heavy main spring, and heavy return spring make for a tough pump stroke. With that said, the marker feels very solid, shoots consistently and accurately. It has a great balance with a 45/4500 tank installed and points and aims naturally.
One thing I noticed as I compared this marker to other markers (CCM and a CCM'd Sniper) is that it is LOUD. It runs at 225 PSI and the hammer really opens the valve up when it is shooting. As a result, it is super loud. I used a Deadly wind barrel on the Empire Sniper and found that it was not the barrel that was causing the noise - it was something in the marker itself. I am not sure why this is - but it really sounds off when you shoot it. It reminded me of my old Palmer Houndstooth that was not spiral drilled.
I could shoot the marker quickly and accurately. It performed very well in a non game situation.