The Springfield Armory EMP is a 1911-style pistol built around the 9×19 Parabellum/Luger and .40 S&W round. Because it’s not a traditional 1911 modified to accommodate a shorter round, this subcompact pistol carries no extra bulk and it features some mechanical departures from a traditional 1911. This is a review of the 9mm model (since I could never condone the use of a .40 cal. round).

By Andy Rutledge

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The 9mm EMP, which stands for enhanced micro pistol, has a duo-tone finish with a stainless steel slide and a dark gray anodized aluminum frame. It comes with either double-diamond Cocobolo or cross cannon gray nylon grips. Because of the 9mm chambering, the EMP has a narrower grip profile than the typical 1911 chambered in .45 ACP.

While 1911s are usually large and heavy, the Springfield EMP is a subcompact pistol with a 3” barrel. At 27 ounces, it’s among the lightest full-grip 1911s going. Though small, it’s a full grip for my medium-sized hands, anyway. These characteristics describe the EMP’s intended purpose: concealed carry.

Why Consider the Springfield EMP?

The EMP 9mm is a purpose-made concealed-carry pistol for folks who prefer the 1911 platform. Unlike some 1911s chambered in 9×19, however, the EMP was designed specifically for the smaller, shorter round, and from the specifically-fitted magazine up.

The Springfield EMP is also quite a beautiful pistol. I’m especially fond of the brown Cocobolo grips on the dark gray frame, contrasting with the satin-finish steel slide. This, along with the abbreviated dimensions packs a lot of beauty into a small package. Don’t know about you, but it makes me want to hold it.

The Springfield EMP

Here are the two grip options for the Springfield EMP.

Springfield Armory EMP 9mm Specs:

  • Caliber: 9x19mm
  • Length: 6.6”
  • Height: 5”
  • Width: 1.06”
  • Barrel: 3” Match Grade
  • Weight: 27oz. (w/empty magazine) v
  • Slide: Forged stainless steel, satin finish
  • Frame: Forged aluminum alloy, black hardcoat anodized
  • Grip: Thinline Cross Cannon™ or Double Diamond Cocobolo
  • Sights: Low-profile combat, 3-dot Tritium
  • Capacity: 9-round magazine (3), stainless steel
  • MSRP: ~$1200

Shooting the EMP

Full disclosure: I put only about 200 rounds through the EMP at an indoor range. This experience gave me a feel for the pistol, but not a thorough understanding of its fighting capacity or reliability. Even so, I found the shooting experience to be very two-sided.

First thing I noticed was that the EMP is very accurate. My first shots at 15 yards put 4 rounds inside of a dime-sized hole (with one flyer 4” away. Oh well). Further shooting showed that even though this pistol has only a 3” barrel, it is remarkably accurate.

Next, the trigger is beautiful in take up, break, and reset. One of the best I’ve ever pressed. This excellent quality noted, I must say that the ~3 to 3.5 lb. trigger is far lighter than the advertized ~5 lb. trigger. While that equates to a fun/easy shooting experience, I’m not sure this light of a trigger is safe or appropriate for carry—and carry is the pistol’s entire purpose.

Finally, the EMP is extraordinarily hard to hold onto while shooting. Therefore, trying to put more than two shots on target meant having to re-grip between shots. This is alien to me, as I’m used to the functional and reliable grip found on a stippled Glock frame. The lack of texturing on the front of the grip, especially, makes holding onto the EMP a futile chore. This experience quickly put me off and colors my subsequent thoughts on the pistol. If you can’t hold onto the thing, it’s pretty useless.

Comfort & Controllability
This is a single-stack subcompact, so shooting it is somewhat different from that of the typical fighting gun. It is a very comfortable pistol to grip, but I have to say that this comfort is rendered moot after the second, or so, shot, when the pistol has climbed out of your stable grip. So for controllability, this pistol gets an F. Note, that my report is anecdotal; some may have hands that anchor the pistol in, but mine failed to do so on every pass.

Concealability + Capacity
The grip is appropriately short for a carry pistol (its intended purpose) and the capacity is not so bad, at 9 rounds of 9mm + 1 in the chamber. Compare that to a Glock 26 and you’re only down 1 round. Respectable. It’s a single-stack pistol, so it is eminently concealable. I have to believe, though, that the 27 oz weight—somewhat exacerbated with a full magazine of ammo—will not be perfect for everyone. An extra-stiff carry belt is a requirement for the Springfield EMP.

Components and Materials

This is a beautiful gun. The satin-finish stainless steel slide is nicely done, edges and all. It contrasts beautifully with the dark gray, anodized aluminum frame set against the warm brown Cocobolo grips (on the model I tested). Aesthetically, every feature of the pistol is inviting.

The frame features the 1911-typical grip safety, beavertail, and sports ambi thumb safeties. I note that the front of the grip lacks any texturing and I found this to exacerbate the lack of purchase when firing the pistol.

The sights are excellent, in my opinion. The useable and accurate Tritium night sights mean most folks won’t need to consider any aftermarket replacement. The skeletonized hammer is nicely textured and reduces the weight on this already light (for a 1911) pistol.

Since this pistol was built specifically for the 9mm round, there are some departures from the typical 1911 componentry. Most are internal, but there is the conspicuous lack of a barrel bushing. This means takedown is a bit different than you may be used to with a 1911, and a bit easier.

On Reliability

As I only put a couple hundred rounds through this pistol, I will not speak as to its reliability directly. Though in those 200 or so rounds, I experienced no malfunctions. I have, however, spent quite a bit of time reading what others have said and watching videos others have made relating to the model’s reliability. Reports vary significantly. Note, also, that operator skill and competence vary significantly. One would do well to keep this fact in mind…

From what I gather, the early models (2007 – 2009) were prone to feeding problems. The EMP has a barrel-integrated feed ramp which is a departure from the standard 1911 approach, which utilizes a frame-mounted ramp to the barrel. For whatever reason, the early models had hit-or-miss trouble with feeding ammunition generally or as specific to certain kinds of ammunition. There are/were a couple of theories as to why, but suffice it to say that some owners experienced no issues and others had full-on lemons that had to be returned to the manufacturer for refitting. These anecdotes would seem to reflect poorly on the EMP. However, from what I gather, these ammo-feeding issues have been engineered out of the Springfield EMP and it is today a typical 1911 with regard to reliability.

Conclusions

Pros
This is a beautiful, very compact (subcompact) pistol for people who like the 1911 platform. The sights are top notch and the components are refined. The trigger is fantastic (if, perhaps, a bit too light?). The size is perfect for a concealed-carry pistol and the weight is not (for some) too great for that purpose, and excellent for a 1911. Perhaps most importantly, this is a highly accurate weapon, even as measured against a pistol of any size. It is hard to argue with this characteristic.

Cons
The cost is prohibitive. Also, the EMP is a 1911, which I believe one should never use for concealed carry; the 1911-style thumb safety is a gross liability for any defensive pistol. The lack of appropriate texture on the grips—especially the front of the grip—is an unexplainable failure in the design of this gun and renders it quite difficult to shoot more than 2 rounds on target (with wet, sweaty, or bloody hands, it surely renders the pistol impossible to hold when shooting!). This last feature is a terminal failure for a specifically-made concealed-carry pistol.

So for rating the EMP…

Ergonomics (*****)
The EMP feels very nice in my hands. It is quite thin, even for a 1911, but the result is very comfortable. Trigger reach (for me) and sight picture are quite comfortable, too. Even though this is a subcompact, the grip is, for me, a full-hand grip and leaves nothing to be desired…beyond texture and grip maintainability.

Shootability (**)
Recoil is relatively mild, though certainly greater than with a full-sized 1911. The 9mm round rather than .45 ACP round makes this an easier-to-shoot pistol for the size. Those aspects aside, the lack of proper grip texture had the pistol climbing out of my hand with more than, say, 2 shots on target. I found the EMP very hard to maintain control of, and not for the violence of the recoil, but for the lack of purchase on the grip.

Accuracy (*****)
Top of class. This is a remarkably accurate pistol. It’s perhaps the most innately accurate pistol I’ve shot out of the box.

Reliability
I cannot comment on this from my experience.

Customization (**)
The EMP is not a pistol that one customizes outside of, perhaps, the grips and thumb safety. I have seen or read several accounts of owners who replaced the ambidextrous thumb safety with a single-sided safety lever, owing to issues of accidental toggling by a holster or clothing.

In Summary

I think the Springfield EMP is beautiful and seemingly well-engineered 9mm 1911 pistol. So far as 1911 carry pistols go, it likely ranks at or near the top for static quality and engineering. However, the too-light trigger and near impossibility of maintaining a good grip while shooting are heavy strikes against it. I’ll conclude that the Springfield EMP is a perfect example of a safe queen. Though, at $1,200.00, it’s perhaps a less-than-perfect example for most folks.

About The Author
Andy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.
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