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Unless you're currently living in a log cabin with your great-grandpappy's antique flintlock collection, you probably own at least one gun with a red dot sight. These illuminated sights are ubiquitous on rifles, carbines, PDWs, and shotguns, and they're becoming steadily more common on pistols as well. The minimally-obstructed field of view, easy-to-acquire point of aim, and long battery life an RDS provides make it an appealing choice for any close-quarters-oriented weapon platform.
That said, red dot sights aren't the only option anymore. Many optic manufacturers offer different reticle colors, such as green or gold/amber. We recently picked up the new Holosun HE503R-GD gold dot sight to see how it fares in comparison to a traditional RDS or a green dot sight like the HE510C-GR we previously reviewed. We also took this opportunity to evaluate the Holosun HM3X magnifier, which adds versatility to this sight.
Read on as we review the gold dot sight, the magnifier, and how the two worked together.
The company has expanded its Elite optic line with two new gold reticle models: the HE403R-GD and HE503R-GD. Both are variants of existing red dot sights from the company's Classic line, namely the HS403R and HS503R. All four of these models feature a compact 20mm housing with a manual brightness dial, and each includes a low mount and a lower-1/3 co-witness mount.
The 403 models feature a 2-MOA dot, while 503 models feature Holosun's Multiple Reticle System (MRS) which offers a 2-MOA dot with a user-selectable 65-MOA ring option. There's an $85 to $100 difference between the two, so if you aren't committed to the 65-MOA ring, you can save a considerable amount by going with the dot-only 403 model. Current MSRPs are $199 for the HS403R (red dot only) or $218 for the HE403R-GD (gold dot only), and $285 for the HS503R (red dot/ring) or $320 for the HE503R-GD (gold dot/ring). The latter model is the subject of this review.
As mentioned in our HE510C review, Elite models also offer a better warranty than the Classic series. Specifically, you get a limited lifetime warranty against defects on the housing or lens, and a 10-year warranty on the illumination system. Classic optics have a 5-year lens warranty and 3-year illumination warranty.
Now for the elephant in the room — what's the point of a gold reticle? Is it really superior to red or green? As you may expect, that answer is mostly subjective. However, there are some potential pros and cons to consider before choosing a gold dot.
Holosun says the gold reticle was developed partially because it's not affected by the most common form of color-blindness. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, red-green color vision deficiency affects 1 in 12 males and 1 in 200 females in population groups with Northern European ancestry. In comparison, blue-yellow color vision defects are far rarer, only affecting about 1 in 10,000 people worldwide. If you were born with red-green color-blindess, a yellow reticle should be much easier to spot than either of those colors.
The other claimed advantage of the gold dot reticle is its effectiveness in a wider variety of environments. While a red dot might get washed-out against burnt sienna rock formations and a green dot might blend into a grassy field, this bright yellow-orange hue stands out in both settings.
There is one glaring issue (no pun intended) with the gold reticle: battery life. If you directly compare the specifications box between red dot and gold dot models, you'll see that the former lists “up to 100,000 hours” of battery life at medium brightness while the latter lists “up to 50,000 hours” (the same as green dot models). Although 50,000 hours is still a very long time — roughly 5.7 years — it's still half as long as the standard red dot. Also, this sight doesn't have Holosun's battery-saving features such as Shake-Awake or a solar panel, so it's likely that you'll be eating into that battery life 24/7/365 if it's used on anything other than a safe queen.
The HM3X magnifier is new for 2019, and Holosun boldly proclaims that it's “the best magnifier value on the market today” as a result of its $235 MSRP. It features a lever-locking QD rail mount with a removable spacer for use with absolute co-witness or lower-1/3 co-witness sights (1.4 or 1.63 inches from top of rail to center of lens, respectively). The aluminum housing flips directly to the side and is retained in either position by a sturdy detent.
A ±3 diopter allows you to focus the magnifier to match your eye, and the windage/elevation controls can be adjusted to center the dot using a flat screwdriver or the slotted caps from a Holosun sight. Eye relief is 2.75 inches; exit pupil is 0.29 inches.
We installed the HE503R-GD sight and HM3X magnifier onto a S&W AR-15 alongside the standard Magpul MBUS rear sight. The lower-1/3 mount comes pre-installed on the gold dot sight, but the matching lower-1/3 spacer had to be installed on the magnifier to get it to line up. With that step complete, the HE503R was installed onto the upper receiver with the included Torx wrench, and the magnifier's QD mount was locked in place after adjusting its clamping force with the same wrench. It's nice that this QD mount comes standard with the sight, since some competitors (e.g. Primary Arms) sell them separately.
With the sight and magnifier installed, we immediately noticed that the finishes on these items are different. Holosun's web site lists “MAO black” as the surface finish for both products, but the sight we received appears glossier and darker than the magnifier. We compared a few other Holosun sights, and they all seem to match the magnifier's matte charcoal finish, but the HE503R-GD doesn't. Holosun's product photos also show a lower-gloss finish than what we received. This may be a minor nitpick, but it makes us wonder about how much variation there is on this production line.
Cosmetics aside, the gold dot sight can be adjusted between brightness settings of 0 through 12 — two settings for use with night vision, and ten for use in daylight. The final position of the brightness dial (pictured above) toggles the reticle between dot and dot+ring; it remembers this setting even if the light is turned off and on again. We prefer the dot+ring configuration since it makes it easier to acquire the dot as the weapon is shouldered.
Parallax is minimal, but not entirely absent as Holosun advertises — no dot sight on the market is truly parallax-free.
This “gold” dot color is an acquired taste, although we don't mean that in a negative way. It can be described as bright yellow with a hint of orange, much like a yellow traffic light. It's similar to Trijicon's amber reticle color, which has been available for quite a few years now. We thought it might wash out more against a desert background, but were pleased to see that it wasn't very hard to spot as long as the brightness was set appropriately.
So, you may be wondering, should I go with a red, green, or gold dot? We can't answer that question for you, but based on our experiences, we like green the best. It seems to stand out more than the other colors in most environments we've tested, despite Holosun's implication that gold is more versatile. This makes sense because the human eye is most sensitive to colors in the green portion of the spectrum, causing them to appear brighter (unless you're color-blind).
Deciding between red and gold is a much closer call. We'd still give a slight edge to red, but that may be mostly because we're already had many years to get used to it. However, bright red backgrounds aren't common in nature, whereas bright yellows — such as sunlit sand dunes — are more plentiful. For this reason, gold would be our third choice, but we'd still gladly take it over iron sights.
The HM3X magnifier is simple to use, and pairs nicely with this sight. The detent holds the magnifier firmly in line, but isn't hard to overcome as you push the housing to the side. Clarity is good, although the magnifier cuts down on light transmission, causing the sight picture to appear dimmer with a faint bluish cast. There's a lot of glass between your eye and the target with two separately-housed optics, so this is to be expected.
The HM3X is on par with entry-level magnifiers, but it's clearly not on the level of an Aimpoint or EOTech. Of course, it's priced accordingly.
Through the magnifier, the dot and circle still look crisp, although the circle becomes distracting at 3X magnification. We set the sight to dot-only mode while using the magnifier.
After using a friend's AR with a Primary Arms Gen IV 3X magnifier with QD mount ($165 MSRP), the PA magnifier's sight picture seemed a little brighter, but it featured a smaller eyebox and some slight edge distortion. We strongly preferred the Holosun's smooth housing design and flip action, but it also has a $70 higher pricetag. The HM3X is a solid choice, but we wouldn't say it's far and away “the best value on the market” as Holosun's product page states.
Both the HE503R gold dot sight and HM3X magnifier have performed well, and work together as intended. The magnifier makes it easier to reach a little further out, and can be quickly pushed out of the way for short-range engagement.
At a combined MSRP of $555, the HE503R and HM3X are in the same price range as entry-level low-power variable optics (LPVOs). Frankly, we're still partial to a 1-4X or 1-6X LPVO for most multipurpose carbines. Those scopes offer infinite magnification adjustability, and their higher maximum magnification and more detailed reticles are better-suited to longer ranges. They're also contained in a single unit with one set of adjustments.
That said, the “1X” offered by LPVOs in the sub-$1000 price range can't touch the clarity of an unmagnified dot sight for close-range use. The magnifier is also removable to cut weight, whereas an LPVO is a package deal. If you already own a dot sight and you're looking to expand its capabilities, or you rarely use your weapon at longer ranges, a magnifier like the HM3X might be worth considering.
As for the gold dot sight on its own, we still prefer Holosun's red and green dot sights, especially those with Shake Awake and solar features. But the HE503R-GD comes with the improved Elite warranty and gold reticle for $35 more than the HS503R red dot, so if you think you'll prefer the gold color, it's worth a shot. As a consumer, more choices are never a bad thing — even though this sight configuration and reticle color wouldn't be our first choice from Holosun's lineup, we're glad there are plenty of models to choose from.
For more info on Holosun's dot sights and magnifier, go to Holosun.com.