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Review

ICS M4 Series
  • Manufacturer 
     ICS
  • Model 
     ICS M4A1 Fixed Stock / Retractable Stock
  • Capacity 
     450
  • Weight 
     3500 / 2950
  • Power 
     275
  • Motor 
     ICS Turbo 2000
  • Hop-up 
     Yes
  • Battery 
     8.4v2000mah / 9.6v1500mah
  • Shooting Mode 
     Semi, Full Auto
  • Construction 
     Aluminum, Steel, and ABS plastic

Pros

+ Highly refined metal body finish
+ Innovative gearbox design
+ Working forward-assist
+ 6-position LE stock on the retractable version
+ Compatibility with Systema parts
+ Highly rigid construction
+ Quality approved by Olympic Arms (USA)
 

Cons

- Plasticky foregrip
- Odd-sounding gearbox
 

Verdict

An innovative and sturdy AEG that is more training weapon than recreational toy. Refined fit and finish, with reliability that rivals expensive Japanese counterparts. Very user friendly and delivers solid performance with flexibility for power upgrades. Feature for feature, the ICS M4 exceeds the Tokyo Marui M4 in value for money.

 

ICS and Olympic Arms
Everything about the new M4 series from ICS screams innovation - and that is very refreshing in a market smothered with "me-too" AEG rifles. Working closely with Olympic Arms (USA) in a design and manufacturing partnership, ICS successfully negotiated an agreement to legally replicate the real steel Olympic Arms AR15 rifle in this airsoft version. Having passed the stringent quality and performance of Olympic Arm's US labs, these ICS airsoft versions are now being sold world-wide through Olympic Arm's own distribution network for law enforcement and military training.

First a little bit about the real steel company. Olympic Arms was initially born as Schuetzen Gun Works (SGW), and was officially established in 1956 in Colorado Springs, USA. Their original focus was on barrels, but slowly evolved to developing a whole line of related parts. The company moved to Olympia, WA in 1975 and proceeded to manufacture barrels and related parts under the SGW name.

In 1982, the company officially changed its name to Olympic Arms, Inc. - and followed a new direction in manufacturing AR-15 style components and other military rifle parts. This makes Olympic Arms the second oldest continuous manufacturer of AR-style rifles in the U.S. The lion crest logo was born in 1993 and started to make its way onto AR-15 receivers, replacing the SGW crest and name. Olympic Arms remains one of the leading manufacturers of AR-15 rifles and components. Olympic Arms is also known in the real steel industry for various innovations - including the flattop receiver, the free-floating aluminum handguard, the 9mm conversion, and the AR-based pistol. Therefore it comes as little surprise that they have continued this spirit of innovation in working with ICS to introduce a completely new style of airsoft AEG.

Rear stock textured for realism
Fixed stock designed with custom 8-cell battery in mind!
Upper gearbox immediately accessible in seconds!

ICS M4 Training Weapon
ICS manufactures two variations of the M4 AEG rifle - both a retractable stock version and a fixed stock version - which are essentially identical from a mechanical perspective. Visually, the ICS M4 is a bit different from the Tokyo Marui M4 in that the Olympic Arms rifle uses a six-position LE style retractable stock. And of course, the laser-engraved Olympic Arms Lion's crest proudly declares that this is no normal AR-15. Discerning airsoft collectors will also instantly notice the refined finishing of the rifle - with tight and straight seam-lines that rival those of a Japanese car. The full aluminum receiver is baked in an attractive grey coating, and the whole gun is beautifully accented with black-baked steel parts where durability really counts.

The entire rifle is very sturdy and solidly built - with no shakes or rattles. It is also quite heavy with a total weight of 3Kg for the retractable stock version, and 3.5Kg for the full stock version. Both the pistol grip and the rear stock are nicely textured in a grainy finishing. We were slightly disappointed with the finishing on the front fore-grip since it seems a bit too smooth and plasticky. The same grainy surface texturing would add more to the realism in our opinion. Apart from the fore-grip, rear stock, and pistol grip, the entire gun is made out of aluminum and steel. The detachable carrying itself is an example in refinement - unscrew the retainer lugs and the handle slides right off the flat-top receiver. The built-in rear sight is made entirely of steel and is fully adjustable for elevation and windage. The steel adjustment dials are very easy to use even with thick gloves - and their tactile design means they click with every micro-turn so you get instant feedback on how much you are turning even without looking. You can also alternate between a sharp-shooting pinhole sight, and a larger 3mm halo sight with a flick of a finger. The front sight post is also elevation adjustable with an included adjustment tool. A hole on top of the carrying handle (as found standard on any AR15 style rifle) allows installation of additional sight rails should you desire to keep the carrying handle in place.

The steel trigger guard can be flipped open for quicker trigger access. And the most impressive part about this rifle that we found is the charging handle. It is much stiffer compared with any other M4 AEG on the market and you really have to give it a firm pull before it goes all the way back to release the breech cover flap - which automatically flips open with a comforting sound. With the charging handle pulled all the way back and the breech cover open, the black hop-up adjuster knob is clearly visible. While the knob is big and ribbed, it unfortunately is very stiff and requires patience to make fine adjustments. My own experience was that with each push, I tended to go too far each time since a "gentle" push was not sufficient to budge the knob from its standstill position. We hope this knob loosens up a bit with use. Once hop-up adjustments are complete, the breech cover can be closed manually where it will lock in place. Naughtily, we pulled the charging lever back one more time and released our fingers so that it snapped back into place with a loud "thack", and an unexpected "twang" as the spring within resonated from the vibration. Oh well, it is a replica afterall so we might have been expecting too much. By the way - do not try this yourselves at home since the charging handle can break if this is done repeatedly.

Upper and lower receiver open like hood of a car
Lower gearbox immediately accessible in seconds!
Metal pivoting front sling mount and front sight

The retractable M4 uses a small 8.4V 600mah battery stored in the foregrip, while the fixed stock version can take a larger 8.4V 1700mah - 3000mah battery in the rear. Of course, it is recommended that stock guns should stick with large batteries rated under 2000mah to ensure longevity. For upgraded guns, ICS smartly designed the foregrip such that it can take a 9.6v 1700 (nun-chuck) style battery that is sufficient to power 400fps upgrades (with no modifications required to the foregrip). Likewise, ICS made sure the rear stock can fit a 9.6v 8-cell battery for power levels up to 9.6v 3300mah. These design details alone reflect how well ICS understands the upgrade market - and the need to accommodate custom batteries. Access to the front foregrip battery compartment is done by simply pulling back the foregrip retainer ring, and slipping off the two halves of the foregrip. Access to the rear stock is performed by opening the butt-stock plate.

A look inside the foregrip also explains why the ICS M4 is more rigid than Tokyo Marui's. ICS uses a metal outer barrel that runs the length of the foregrip - whereas Marui's version does away with the barrel housing within the foregrip in order to make room for the fuse assembly. ICS elected for a floating fuse capsule instead to save space.

Putting back the foregrip halves together is a bit tricky and takes a little patience. The fit is very snug so even the slightest off-set means that the grips won't close against each other properly. Some practice is required to do this smoothly and quickly.

Beautifully laser-engraved receiver
6 position LE tactical stock with pivoting sling mount and realistically sized magazine
Steel rear sight is fully adjustable with tactile knobs

Innovation
We mentioned at the beginning of this article that ICS's M4 is all about innovation. That innovation lies under the skin in the new split gearbox design - a radical departure from traditional Marui gearboxes and one that resembles the Systema Training Weapon gearbox. The pictures shown here should give you an idea of the differences - as you can see, the core set of gears still resides in the lower receiver, but the piston itself now resides as part of the upper receiver. Access to the gearbox to make visual checks and to manually clear jams is now as easy as slipping away the rear retainer pin, which allows you to open up the gun like the hood of a car. The upper receiver pivots forward to reveal all the internal parts in seconds! Furthermore, the upper gearbox assembly can slide out of the receiver for even greater access. Plagued by durability problems in the early years of its MP5 AEGs, ICS has taken no risks this time and built its gears out of hardened steel for maximum durability.

But most impressive of all is the design of the forward-assist button. While every other M4 / M16 in the market has a fake spring-loaded forward-assist, ICS chose to make it a full-functioning spring-tension release button. What does this mean? For one, you no longer need to shoot in semi-auto a couple of times to release a partly compressed spring before storing your gun. How many times have you taken your battery out, only to remember that you had not remembered to do this all important step? Now with a press of a button, the spring is fully decompressed into its resting position. An even more important application involves clearing gearbox jams. Gears are designed so that their teeth meld together on each turn in order to transfer torque - but sometimes the teeth jam against each other and lock up the entire gearbox (plain bad luck). The effect is like two cars jammed head-to-head on a single lane street. Pressing the forward-assist button allows the gears to reverse direction and clear the jam - analogous to the two cars in our example reversing and pulling away from each other. For all its importance and innovation, the process is relatively unexciting - the operator simply pushes the button and hears a faint "whir" sound, as the spring releases and the gears reverse their positions. But it is exactly this button's uneventful and reliable operation that makes it such a god-send when your M4 suddenly jams up in the heat of battle.

ICS also engineered its gearbox so that all Systema aftermarket upgrade components will fit right in without modifications. As such, upgrading power close to 450fps is very achievable (RedWolf offers 2 upgrade options for each version of the ICS M4).

Upper carrying handle detaches easily by unscrewing retainer knobs
Custom 9.6v 1700mah battery stored in front grip of retractable stock version

Accessories
With regards to accessories, the ICS M4's magazine well is slightly narrower than the Marui M4 / M16 magazine well. As a result, using Tokyo Marui or other brands of magazines in the ICS guns may cause the magazine to jam a little tightly into the gun and prevent smooth extraction. We therefore recommend that you use ICS magazines to ensure smooth operatoin. We The 14mm counter-clockwise threaded barrel can take a full assortment of silencers. The magazine well is standard sized and while the ICS M4 comes standard with a whopping 450 round high capacity magazine (which is sized proportionately to the real steel magazine, versus the Tokyo Marui version which is a bit shorter), you may also opt for drum magazines and other high capacity box type magazines as well. The flat-top receiver (after removing the carrying handle) sports a 20mm standard rail that can take scope mounts and other accessories like a laser. However we found that installing the Actron Bottom Rail for the M4A1 provided a more convenient platform for flashlights and lasers, or even a bipod.

On The Field
Loading up the magazine and winding it up is a snap as with any high-capacity magazine on the market today. The magazine fits nice and snug into the receiver with a click. A flick of the thumb moves the steel selector switch from SAFE to SEMI or AUTO - the switch itself is nice and firm with excellent tactile feel so you know exactly when the lever is in proper position. Trigger pull is nice and firm at approximately 2 lbs. Thanks to the high speed motor, full-auto mode delivers 12 - 14 rounds per second using a standard 600mah battery in our test retractable stock M4. Our chrono tests yielded barrel velocities from 270 to 280 fps (0.8 Joules using 0.2g BBs) on both the fixed and retractable stock models. For reference, Tokyo Marui's M4 delivers 270 - 280fps out of the box as well. Accuracy is on par with the Tokyo Marui M4 at +/- 1cm from 20 feet, though installing a precision barrel will likely improve this accuracy even further.

The only concern we had in testing was the sound emitted from the gearbox. We have to be honest in that it simply does not sound as smooth as Tokyo Marui's gearbox, although the BB's appeared to be fired out at a normal rate. We suspect the different sound could be due to the new gearbox design, so we cannot draw any conclusions relating to the build quality of the gearbox. Suffice to say, our inspection of the gearbox components revealed no major flaws, and the BBs fired from the gun met all velocity and accuracy standards we would expect.

Conclusion
Innovations to the basic AEG design are far and few between. ICS's new approach to gearbox design should be applauded for the convenience it brings to airsofters everywhere. I myself have had many spoiled days where my gun jammed in the first game, forcing me to either sit out the rest of the day or take on 400fps rifles with a Glock 17. Having quick access to the gearbox, with the ability to de-jam gears at a simple push of a button would have made all the difference.

ICS has come a long way in refining its AEGs, with thanks going to Olympic Arms for manufacturing guidance and quality control. The gun is one of the most refined metal body rifles we have seen coming from outside of Japan, and the rigidity is also much welcomed in an airsoft world plagued by barrel wobble. One key point to note is that ICS markets this M4 as a training weapon for law enforcement and military use, which would imply greater durability (RedWolf cannot confirm that in this test). A well-documented English manual is included to explain maintenance.

The combination of a full metal body, new innovative gearbox design, 6-position LE stock, excellent feel and rigidity, and official approval by a real-steel manufacturer make this rifle well worth owning for any collector or serious skirmisher.