Over the last year, I’ve noticed that the slowest step in my reloading process is dispensing powder.
Also, I’ve been working to reduce the spread in my velocities by getting a more precise powder charge. I’ve struggled with many of the reloading scales on the market, so I dedicated the last two weeks to investigating to find the best one.
Why You Can Trust This Review
- I purchased 7 electronic powder scales for reloading
- I spent over 40 hours testing the powder dispensers
- I have included both objective and subjective tests
- None of the companies in this test paid me
The Shortened Version of This Review
Overall, the electronic powder trickler that won this test was the Hornady Autocharge Pro (click to check the current price on Amazon). It did the best in the accuracy test and was the third fastest scale. The runner up was the RCBS Chargemaster Supreme but it is more expensive than the Hornady.
For the speed test, I had each scale throw a charge of 50 grains of H4350 and timed how long it took to complete the test. As soon as one load was completed, I immediately threw the powder in a bowl and put the tray back on the scale. This real-world method allowed us to test the time it took the scale to start the next charge as well as the dispensing.
|||Time to Throw 10 Charges||Notes|
|RCBS Chargemaster Lite / Link||5 minutes, 21 seconds|
|Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper||2 minutes, 59 seconds||While it was the fastest, it also gave two “overcharges” during testing.|
|RCBS Chargemaster Supreme||3 minutes, 37 seconds||It dispensed no “overcharges” during this test, so you could argue that it beat the Frankford Arsenal.|
|Lyman Gen6||4 minutes, 20 seconds||Motor seems louder than the rest.|
|Hornady on High Mode||3 minutes, 54 seconds||To go even faster, you could increase the speed and decrease the trickle setting, but that wasn’t tested in this comparison.|
|Hornady on Medium Mode||5 minutes, 33 seconds|
|Hornady on Low Mode||Not tested||I didn’t record a speed on low mode, but it’s very slow.|
The most notable feature among these powder dispensers is the ability for a powder measure to calibrate itself to the speed at which it dispenses a certain powder. Frankford Arsenal and the RCBS Chargemaster Supreme both have this feature where you put powder in the hopper, and it dispenses the powder at different rates and continually measures it, so it can dispense efficiently.
I found this feature to be valuable and made a significant difference in the dispensing speed. It put the Frankford Arsenal and RCBS Chargemaster Supreme at the top of the heap in the speed test.
To test the accuracy of these powder measures, I used default settings on each machine. I did use the powder learning features on the Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper and the RCBS Chargemaster Supreme so we could test each machine under its best settings.
I threw 10 charges of 41.1 grains and measured each charge on the well-regarded FX120i scale that is more expensive than these machines and measures down to a single kernel. I then repeated the 10-load test with each scale and averaged the two tests here. The reason I repeated the test was to make sure my small sample size wasn’t giving me a bad result, but the second test really just confirmed the results of the first.
Here are the results.
|Standard Deviation||Extreme Spread (grains)||Target Minus Mean||FPS Variation (6.5 Creedmoor)|
|RCBS Chargemaster Lite / Link||0.0835||0.26||-0.052||17.2|
|Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper||0.0565||0.16||0.008||10.6|
|RCBS Chargemaster Supreme||0.0555||0.16||0.013||10.6|
|Hornady on High Mode||0.0512||0.16||0.013||10.6|
|Hornady on Medium Mode||0.0513||0.12||-0.070||7.9|
|Hornady on Low Mode||0.0311||0.10||-0.057||6.6|
- Standard Deviation
- If you were asleep in middle school math, a lower number means there is less variance in the data. In this case, a higher number is worse. The RCBS Lite was the worst in the test, and the Hornady on low mode was the best in this test.
- Extreme Spread
- This is the difference between the lowest powder charge and the highest powder charge in the sample. The RCBS Lite had 0.26 grains of difference between two of the loads, which is quite a bit more than most reloaders would be happy with.
- Target Minus Mean
- I programmed each machine to throw 41.1 grains of H4831SC for this test. It’s possible for a machine to throw very consistent charges of what it calls 41.1 grains, but if the FX120i is to be believed, this test showed the variance from the target weight and the mean charge of the tested loads. In this test, the Hornady did the worst.
- FPS Variation (6.5 Creedmoor)
- Making some reasonable assumptions, if you were to load H4350 in a 6.5 Creedmoor, this data shows how the velocity of your ammo would be effected by the variance in the powder charges. In this case, the RCBS Lite would have 17.2 fps of difference in velocity due to the powder charge, but the Hornady on Low Mode would only have 6.6 fps of difference. Generally, other factors would impact the velocities more than the powder charge, but 17.2 fps of difference is more than most reloaders would like to see coming from the powder charge variation.
Durability, Customer Support, and Warranty
Two of the scales in this test died on my during the last year of me using different scales.
My Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper became unreliable for a couple days in its ability to measure, and then the touch screen became unresponsive on several spots. It doesn’t work at all. Frankford Arsenal said all of their units are sold out, so they wouldn’t have a warranty return machine available for a couple months. In my opinion, they probably shouldn’t have sold out all units without keeping some in reserve for fixing machines from current customers.
I also had an RCBS Chargemaster Lite die on me after a short time of usage. It simply stopped trickling powder altogether for some reason. RCBS customer support was very difficult to work with. Each time I called, it was just an answering machine that said they’d call me back in a few hours. When they called back after a very long wait, I was often doing something else and couldn’t answer. So the only way to call them is if you have an afternoon where you can be ready by the phone.
Hornady’s customer support was awesome. They answered almost immediately and even had the engineer who designed the machine call me and answer some specific technical questions I had. Can’t ask for much better than that.
I did not have occasion to call Lyman customer support.
The standout feature in my opinion was the app available for the RCBS Chargemaster Link and the RCBS Chargemaster Supreme. The app is very easy to use, quick to connect, and gets updated about every two months. I didn’t think I wanted an app for my powder dispenser, but it was handy when calibrating to see exactly what to do.
The RCBS Chargemaster Supreme also has a feature where it turns on an alarm when the powder unload chute is left open so you don’t put powder in the hopper with the chute open. Handy.
My Overall Recommendation
In my opinion, and after a significant amount of testing, I believe the best electronic powder dispenser under $500 is the Hornady Autocharge Pro.
The feature on the Hornady that won me over was being able to choose between low, medium, and high mode. You can either turn it to low and have very accurate loads (in my testing, the extreme spread of the charge was just 0.1 grains), or you can crank it up on High and even turn up the speed number as well to really pump out some range ammo quickly.
I also appreciated that the Hornady just felt like a more reliable and solid machine overall. The scale wanders much less than the competition. Some of the measures on the other scales would wander up and down a grain for a few seconds before it would beep that it was finished. The Hornady scale seemed more sure of itself.
I also appreciate the form-factor of the Autocharge pro that is compact while having a huge capacity for powder, and a large touchscreen.
My only real complaint with the Hornady was a few odd UI choices. The “Settings” button doesn’t allow you to see all the settings, but actually just toggles between 4 presets. To change the speed, you have to press ENTER + 8, which I’ll undoubtedly forget a hundred times and need to look it up in the manual. To reset the Hornady Autocharge Pro to factory defaults, you press ENTER + 6.
It’s also a little odd that there are two parallel systems for changing the speed of the powder trickler. The “Speed” number can be changed up to a setting of 10, and the “Trickle” setting adjusts how many grains should be trickled at the end of the charge. Then, there’s high, medium, and low which don’t change the “Speed” number on the machine, but adjust the overall programatic speed of the system. This seems quite confusing to have “speed” and “high, medium, and low” that are both ways of adjusting speed, but use different systems for doing so.
If Hornady updated this machine with a “powder learn” feature to increase the speed to be more on par with the RCBS Chargemaster Supreme and Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper, it’d be a nearly perfect dispenser.
Hornady vs The Competition
While I did prefer the Hornady overall in this test, I actually decided to go a different route for my reloading. After spending some time with the Autotrickler and FX120i, I decided to plunk down the cash and buy one. It costs 4x more than the Hornady, but since shooting is my livelihood, I decided it’d be worth it.
The Hornady can measure powder accurate enough to have just 6.6fps of variation in a 6.5 Creedmoor. That’s as good as I need, but it’s very slow at doing so when on low mode. The Autotrickler can load to the kernel in 10-15 seconds per charge.
However, most reloaders wanting to go higher-end would probably be served as well or better by buying to Hornady Autocharge Pros and just running two at the same time to match the speed of the Autotrickler. The accuracy won’t quite be to the kernel, but it can indeed measure to the tenth of a grain quite reliably.
If you’re wanting spend less than the Hornady Autocharge Pro, then things get tricky. I really like the Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper, but I have a tough time recommending it since mine did die; however, that was only after a year of heavy use.
The Lyman Gen6 is another good option at a lower price point. It felt a little dinky and had a very basic interface, but it did well in the objective tests and seems reliable. My biggest usability complaints were the calibration process which needed a more user-friendly interface, and the design of the powder dump chute that can easily get powder underneath the chute that blocks it from lowering.
The RCBS Chargemaster Supreme is a very nice machine with an easy-to-use app, but since the Hornady is significantly cheaper and performed even better in accuracy, I don’t know if it’d be my first choice.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon and Optics Planet.