It’s funny how things work out. Not long after I posted my review on the Mantis X10, which I still use almost every day, folks began asking what I thought about the other Mantis products. Most of those folks asked specifically about the Blackbeard, Mantis’ AR dry fire system. Given I had not personally used it and the fact that I don’t dry fire with ARs nearly as much as I do with pistols, I was unable to provide responses that went beyond “I think it’s interesting”, or “it looks neat”. The incessant queries fueled my curiosity and I was getting quite close to pulling the trigger on a unit when I received an email from the good folks at Mantis asking if I would be interested in reviewing their next generation Blackbeard product. To which I promptly replied, “Why, yes. Tell me more.” Enter the BlackbeardX.
While I do have an affiliate relationship with Mantis, meaning that I receive monetary compensation when somebody purchases a Mantis product after following a link I posted on this blog or elsewhere, I was quite surprised they extended an offer to send me a BlackbeardX unit at no cost to me given I was a bit critical of their X10 product. Either they didn’t read the earlier review or appreciated the honest feedback I offered about a product that I found to be a valuable dry fire training aid. Nevertheless, they sent me a BlackbeardX with no strings attached, no additional compensation offered, and I got to spend some time with it.
So what exactly is a BlackbeardX? Great question. I’d describe it as the offspring of the Blackbeard and the MantisX. Of course that begs the question, what is a Blackbeard and what is a MantisX? The Blackbeard is a system made up of two components, a power bank and an electromechanical unit, that automatically resets the trigger on an AR and sends a laser beam down the barrel of the rifle. The MantisX, which I reviewed previously in detail over here, is another system made up of two components, a sensor that tracks muzzle movement right before and after a trigger press and a smartphone app that analyzes the data from the sensor to provide feedback as the practitioner is guided through various shooting drills. I describe the BlackbeardX because the integrated combination of the Blackbeard and MantisX results in new training capabilities that were not previously possible when using a separate Blackbeard and MantisX simultaneously on a rifle.
Just like the BlackbeardX’s predecessor, the Blackbeard, it is available in four different variations which only differ in terms of the laser. The choices are a red laser, green laser, infrared laser, or no laser. In terms of price, the red and green laser variants are priced at $319, the infrared laser variant is priced at $349, and the no laser variant is priced at $299. Compared to the Blackbeard variants, the BlackbeardX variants are exactly $100 more. Is the extra $100 worth it? I think so, but just like my opinion of the MantisX the value depends on the individual shooter. More specifically the return on investment is a function of the shooter’s current skill level combined with the amount of time they spend working with the device. In other words, the reader will have to decide for themselves if the extra juice is worth the squeeze and a deeper look at the device should help inform that decision.
Let us begin with an brief overview of what the BlackbeardX auto-resetting trigger system includes:
- A Blackbeard bolt carrier group,
- a BlackbeardX AR15 magazine power bank,
- a USB charging cable,
- a sticker,
- a small hex wrench (to zero the laser),
- and a quick start guide,
- all packaged up nicely in a soft nylon case with a fancy foam insert.
The BlackbeardX is designed to be compatible with virtually every AR-15, but there are a few exceptions. I will not work with the Fostech Echo 2, the Springfield Armory SAINT Victor rifles, and with lower receivers with a sear block. It also may not work with 80% lower receivers.
Installation is straightforward assuming one knows how to perform routine cleanings on an AR-15. The process consists of replacing the bolt carrier group with the Blackbeard bolt carrier group which can be done by following these steps:
- Remove the magazine if one is inserted.
- Lock the action open to clear the chamber.
- Visually and physically inspect the chamber to ensure that it is clear.
- Engage the bolt release and ensure the bolt is in the forward position.
- Release the rear takedown pin.
- Remove the bolt carrier group.
- Remove the charging handle.
- Insert the Blackbeard bolt carrier group.
- Close the rear takedown pin.
- Insert the BlackbeardX magazine power bank
I’m not sure if any of the power banks will arrive with a charge. The unit I received had virtually no juice and took several hours to fully charge. I’m not sure exactly how long it took to fully charge since I ended up letting it charge overnight, but it did take more than six hours. That time may have been partially due to charging the power bank using a USB hub that was powered by another USB port connection rather than using a wall charger. There are LED charge indicators found on the top of the magazine that will provide an approximation of the power bank’s current charge level. The LEDs will remain on during charging. There is also a small button found at the top of the right wide of the magazine power bank that will momentarily illuminate the LED power indicators as well.
Once installed there is a button on the lower left side of the BlackbeardX magazine power bank that powers on the integrated MantisX and allows it to be connected to the Android or iOS MantisX Pistol/Rifle app installed on a smartphone. Connecting the BlackbeardX to the MantisX app is not required to use the BlackbeardX since it will function just like the original Blackbeard without the app. I struggled to think of a good reason as to why somebody would want to forego the benefits having the app analyze their dry fire performance, but it is good to know that it exists.
Before getting into the X aspect of the BlackbeardX, let’s cover the Blackbeard aspect first as some readers may not be familiar with the Blackbeard.
As I’ve mentioned, the Blackbeard system consists of two parts: a drop-in bolt carrier group and a drop-in magazine which automatically resets the trigger during dry fire practice. The way it works is as follows. When the trigger is pressed, the hammer is released and makes contact with the Blackbeard bolt carrier group (which is powered by the magazine power bank). More specifically the hammer strikes a button found under the bolt carrier group that when pressed activates the laser (if equipped) which shows the approximate point of impact on the target. Simultaneously when the button under the bolt carrier group is pressed an electric motor is activated which extends a small arm that pushes the hammer back into position where it locks with the sear. As the small arm returns back to its start position the button is released and the laser is turned off. The entire process happens in about one tenth of a second.
In my opinion there is tremendous value in the electromechanical automatic trigger reset function for several reasons. The first is that eliminates the need to dismount the rifle, run the charging handle, and remount the rifle between every dry fire trigger press. Frankly I find the manual trigger reset process to be an ache in the tuchus and is one of the reasons I go far too long between dry fire sessions with the AR-15. Another benefit is that one can now run drills that consist of more than one shot without having to put up with a dead trigger which significantly increases the benefit of dry fire practice by making dry fire drills essentially identical to live fire drills minus the recoil and noise. Furthermore it allows us to reinforce safe rifle handling habits during dry practice such as disengaging it when the rifle is mounted and engaging the safety when the rifle is dismounted, which is something that many forgo when manually resetting the trigger during dry fire.
The integration of the MantisX adds another feedback dimension that, in my opinion, can enhance the quality of dry fire practice. The value of this enhancement is going to be greater for folks who are starting to develop their fundamental marksmanship skills, are new to dry fire practice, or both. As mentioned in the review of the Mantis X10, the value comes in many forms. I won’t rehash all details in this post again, but the dry fire benefits of the X2 unit are present in the BlackbeardX. These benefits include, but are not limited to, the objective shot quality analysis, the instructional aspects of the included drills, and the motivational aspects associated with gamification, social competition, daily goal tracking, and earning course patches.
Granted the core benefits of the MantisX can be achieved using one of the rifle compatible MantisX products such as the X2, X3, or X10. As a result, current MantisX owners may consider the standard Blackbeard to be a more financially prudent investment. However, like the X10 unit, the BlackbeardX integrates with some unique app features that provide specific analysis that is not possible with the MantisX alone. These features include the BBX Dynamics drill, a collection of Transition drills, and a collection of Plate drills.
The key benefits of the BlackbeardX specific features is that they provide detailed analysis of multi-shot drills including split time analysis and transition analysis. Consider the Pyramid drill for example which consists of 10 shots. The app records the shot quality of each dry fire shot and the time between each shot. Individual detailed shot analysis is provided just like any other MantisX drill. However, we also get a detailed spit time and transition analysis which can expose specific aspects of practical marksmanship that one can focus on developing. Given that shot calling and self diagnosis are two of the most difficult skills to develop, this data is pure gold to shooters who are at the beginning of their skill development journey and can still be valuable to shooters who are further along in their development.
There is one improvement to the BlackbeardX (and the standard Blackbeard) that I think could make it better and provide a better value proposition to more advanced shooters. That is a way to turn the laser off that was simple to do without needing any tools. There are times when a visible point of impact is valuable in practice and there are times when it gets in the way. It all depends on what the focus is during practice. For example, it can be very beneficial when learning hold overs needed for precision shots on close targets or when working on improving shot calling. However, it can be a visual distraction when working developing visual focus skills.
Overall, I think the BlackbeardX is a powerful dry fire aid. As I’ve mentioned, I think the value proposition is dependent on the individual’s current skill level. Nevertheless, it can certainly aid in improving marksmanship fundamentals and assist in the development of practical shooting skills. While the value proposition for shooters who have highly developed skills may not be enough to invest in the BlackbeardX, they may still want to consider the standard Blackbeard as it can make dry fire practice more efficient while opening the doors to additional practice methods. In other words, I would have been happy purchasing the Blackbeard with my own money and I would have probably taken advantage of the Blackbeard trade in program that will allow standard Blackbeard owners to receive $50 for their standard magazine when upgrading to the $175 BlackbeardX magazine. How do I know that? Let’s just say dry fire with the AR-15 is no longer a chore and an activity that went from occurring once a month or multiple times a week.