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(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By Brandon S.

As we enter the early 21st century, the question may be asked whether the revolver has any relevance anymore in an era of increasingly lighter and smaller polymer framed pistols with capacities nearly double and triple that of the revolver. Let’s face it, the revolver is old; it is the gun of the frontier and the wild west, of Wyatt Earp, of Yosemite Sam, and in the modern context of the crusty old police officer, the Harry Callahans and the Roger Murtaughs.

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1987’s Lethal Weapon truly captured this dynamic best with Mel Gibson’s brash, cocky and young Det. Martin Riggs toting a then-newish Beretta 92FS, while his old, creaky, “too old for this shit” partner , Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh, plodded around with his 4” Model 19 Smith & Wesson .357 revolver. It was the classic embodiment of old meets new, and the revolver was clearly meant to symbolize Murtaugh as old and out of touch. 30 years later, even the Beretta might be considered old and stodgy, replaced by the Glocks of the concealed carry world, and possibly on its way out as the military’s sidearm of choice.

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Enter Smith & Wesson’s latest spin on a classic, the Performance Center 442 model, a dressed-up version of the iconic manufacturer’s hammerless J-frame pistol. For approaching 60 years, the J-frame line of pistols have been the ‘Old Faithful’ of concealed carry pistols, even if time has begun relegating them to the status of backup gun for an ankle holster in the event of a SHTF moment. With the “442 PC,” however, a change in thinking may be warranted.

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The model comes from the Performance Center, Smith & Wesson’s custom shop staffed by master gunsmiths who both produce the Performance Center models and provide in-house services for restoration and upgrade services on the company’s 150 year line of guns. This version of the 442 is fundamentally the same, with a few key upgrades that improve the shooting experience without the corresponding hit to your gun budget. As an aside, it’s important to note that this version of the 442 does not have the sometimes-maligned internal lock S&W began using in the early 2000s. So, for those of you who have no lock as a checkbox on their J-frame wishlist, as I did, read on.

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First, is the use of the stainless steel cylinder, as used in the 642 model, whereas the standard 442 uses a carbon steel cylinder. To some degree this is a matter of cosmetic choice, as some people prefer the stainless-look (to be sure, the 642 is still an aluminum alloy frame as well), while others prefer the blued look of the original 442. The use of the stainless steel cylinder, however, does have the additional advantage of being far less prone to rusting than carbon and depending on your perspective may be easier to clean.

For a difference in street price of about $350 for a standard 442 or 642, the Performance Center’s cylinder may represent value alone when it can be had for just $50 more. Particularly when that cylinder now comes with high-polished fluting and a glass bead finish, services that standing alone would run between $100-200 through the Performance Center. The polishing extends to the screws and thumbpiece, which make for a visually appealing package at marginal cost.

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A second feature that bears mentioning is instead of the standard rubber boot grip, this 442 comes with the DeSantis Clip Grip, polymer grips designed to allow for holstering in a belt or waistband without having to use a holster. These grips initially feel somewhat cheesy in that they’re plastic, however, they do have an added advantage for those with large hands in providing a little more space in which to allow those large paws to perfectly lay on the trigger.

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That said, anyone considering a J-frame probably already has a preferred set of aftermarket grips in mind, but if not these are worth a shot. I’ll likely replace them in short order with some wood from Altamont as is my wont, but some may find this to be a nice addition.

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I can say that it didn’t affect use with a pocket holster at all, so for those who find the spacing advantageous, they may decide to keep them on. Similarly, the DeSantis grips have decent relief to allow for use of a speedloader. I found it had better clearance than the stock grips working with a Safariland Comploader I, which was a nice plus considering that this has been an issue since the Uncle Mike’s rubber boot grip was removed from the line several years ago.

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Third, and most importantly, is that for the small price difference, you are the beneficiary of a full Performance Center tuned action, what would otherwise be a $165 trigger job through the Performance Center. It is here where your $50 is well spent.

Conventional wisdom on a Smith & Wesson J-frame is that you dry-fire it ten times more than you actually shoot it, and that one day you will wake up and find you have the smoothest firing double action revolver on the planet. Conventional wisdom is actually correct in this regard, BUT, that doesn’t mean that paying for a trigger job isn’t worthwhile sometimes. For essentially $50, this one certainly fits that bill.

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Immediately upon dry-firing my newly acquired 442, it was obviously a cut above the standard DAO trigger on the J-frame line. The normally 14-15 pound trigger pull was by my estimate, and ultimately confirmed, in the 12-13 pound range solely due to the smoothness and lack of grit in the action. There was a pleasant crispness to it, the complete lack of any creep, the ease with which it hit its break, snapped, and then reset with minimal effort. Mind you, the trigger was firm, but in a way that made you confident that it would fulfill its role as a DAO trigger for concealed carry that would fire reliably when you needed it, and not at all when you carried it.

Feel of a trigger is clearly wholly subjective, so rather than just compare the new 442 to my existing revolvers, I called up a friend who had recently purchased a standard 642 on a whim. Knowing him as I do, I knew that even though he had purchased it about three months ago, it had yet to even be fired let alone cycled regularly. Side-by-side, the brand new and recently produced 642’s action just lacked refinement. It was a good trigger, sure, far better than say a stock Ruger LCR, but where the 442 came out of the box ready for a Mika pocket holster and some 135 grain Gold Dots, the 642 clearly would need some time to work out the grit on the internals and to loosen the springs. It was simply way too heavy, and comparatively it kills accuracy until it’s worked in when you’re basically forced into only using your distal joint for the trigger pull.

And how does the 442 PC do on the range? Pick whatever metaphor you like, smooth as a knife through butter, silk, Ivanka Trump, whatever, the 442 delivered. A J-frame is seldom fun to shoot beyond the amount required to remain proficient and prepared, but this one was different. The apple-crisp action actually makes shooting fun, as the ease of the trigger pull makes shooting strings enjoyable. Double and triple-taps become a game since the lighter pull combined with the snappy reset make follow-up shots on the range feel closer to sport than practice.

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I test-fired the 442 offhand to replicate the common uses of it, from 5 and 7 yards with regular old 158 grain American Eagle .38 lead flat nose in strings of 5. I was fairly pleased with the 442’s accuracy at five yards even without using pricier defense ammo. I’d certainly consider that string sufficient enough to serve my purposes.

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At seven yards, equally good, although I did lose a bit of focus on one flier. That said, from 7 yards I’d consider that well within one minute of bad guy accuracy, especially considering the plain Jane sights.

The bottom line is that at its core, the Performance Center 442 is a J-frame on steroids and well worth the extra money. Don’t believe me? Buy a standard 642 or 442 and send it to the Performance Center for the same features you could have bought out of the box. What you’ll end up with is waiting six to eight weeks to realize you spent nearly $700 on a gun you could have had for $400. That’s some serious value.

Yet, it bears mentioning, that it’s not all of the value it could be. First, I know some may consider the clip grip an upgrade since technically it’s an aftermarket grip, but it is plastic and not only detracts aesthetically, but some may find it annoying if they prefer the standard rubber boot grip that now they have to pay for. Given the likely cost, it would seem like a premier-line move to include the stock rubber grips as well at what costs probably pennies.

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Then there’s the issue of the sights. There’s no question they are not a strong suit, and for some people it may have them looking at other options like the LCR, which has a replaceable pinned front sight. But, they are classic, they are snag-free and they are wholly in fitting with what the J-frames are all about, which is pure straight utility and concealability.

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You can always add an XS sight with a trip to your gunsmith, but why waste your money. Just grab some Testors paint, and DIY it if you want some contrast. So, I understand this may be a negative for some, but it’s just part and parcel of a point and shoot gun.

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Lastly in the features lacking department, there’s no excuse for why Smith & Wesson doesn’t include the cuts for moon clips, which are included in the Pro Series 442 that they claim sits in between the stock and Performance Center models. It would seem that the highest-end model should build on the middle-tier model’s features, not exist as a standalone. This is doubly true when the 642 Talo PC model comes with the cuts as well even if it does typically sell for $70-100 more.

In the big scheme of things, I prefer speed strips on a J-Frame anyway because they’re easier to carry, but not including them on your highest-end model seems like cutting corners. I also wouldn’t have paid $100 more for them. For those who prefer moon clips though, there’s no question that this alone could be a deal breaker, no matter the action quality.

That said, if it’s not a deal breaker for you, then I think the 442 PC is $400 well spent, particularly if you already have an EDC firearm. I don’t view the 442 as only a backup gun. It’s proven itself particularly useful during these summer months when I don’t always want to dress around carrying my preferred Springfield XD.

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Big guys like me, particularly those who live in sweltering heat and humidity, may prefer having something easy to throw in a pocket for running to the grocery store in a t-shirt and cargo shorts when their pregnant wife realizes she’s run out of milk at 11 PM. Anyone who’s been there knows that the last thing they need on top of the guilt trip is having to scramble together your EDC rig for a ten-minute jaunt to the store.

Lo and behold, my 442 has been a champ on these ever-more-frequent runs where I’m consistently amazed by its concealability, and am increasingly more confident that its enough firepower on short notice standing by itself. It’s even found its way into my formal wear during this wedding season as a useful addition to my rotation for those situations where concealing a full-size gun is simply not totally feasible. With a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster, it’s a neat and tidy package in a pinch.

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If that’s you, then skip another polymer framed gun that has a barrel half-an-inch shorter than something you already have. Round out your EDC selections and go a little old school by channeling your inner Murtaugh. Because whether you are too old for this shit or not, the Performance Center 442 is the 21st century spin on a classic that at this price should be in every concealed carrier’s safe.

Specifications: Smith & Wesson Performance Center 442

Construction: Aluminum Alloy Frame, Stainless Steel Cylinder
Finish: Two-tone
Caliber: .38 S&W Special +P
Barrel Length: 1.875”
Weight: 15 oz.
Overall Length: 6.31”
Trigger: Double Action Only (DAO)
Sights: Fixed Front Sight, Integral Rear Sight
Magazines: 5-round capacity
Street Price: about $399

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style: * * * * *
Classic 20th century J-frame look with nice 21st century refinements

Ergonomics: * * * *
The stock DeSantis clip grips may not be for everyone, and polymer alone loses a star, but for large hands they may be as perfect as you can get in a J-frame.

Reliability: * * * * *
It’s a S&W revolver, only an act of god will make it misfire, and even then…

Accuracy: * * * *
For a sub-2” barrel and its intended purpose of repeatedly hitting center mass of someone intent on harming you, it’s fantastic.

Concealability: * * * * *
The hammerless J-frame has snag-free rounding to being with, and in a good pocket holster (Mika or DeSantis preferred) looks like you’ve got a large smart phone.

Customize This: * * *
An overwhelming number of options for new grips to fit any possible hand are a huge plus. The only other thing you might want to customize is the front sight, which can be a DIY paint job, easy and useful, or a gunsmith-milled job, which is overkill on a pistol designed for close encounters. That said, it’s basically grips or nothing.

Overall: * * * * 1/2
The S&W J-frames are iconic for their reliability and concealability, and the Performance Center 442 builds on both with significant value-added features without breaking your budget.

41 Responses to Gun Review: Smith & Wesson Performance Center 442 Revolver

  1. I will say I liked the Clip Grips, but am left handed so that’s a let down. 🙁 Some kind of J frame is definitely a gun one needs in their collection.

    • Guy pictured is carrying it lefty. Further, it is molded plastic, if there are not models for either side someone is too lazy to live.

      • Not sure, but one would imagine the “clip” part of the clip-grip would make it nigh on impossible to reload a revolver like this? I’m sure there are some ‘net-commandos out here who’ve already done the research though?

  2. I’m not saying nobody should own a semi or an AR15. What I am saying is that 99.9% of a citizens legit self defense needs can be met by an old school revolver and a pump shotgun.

    Run your semi like martin riggs and you’ll soon be sitting in prison. We don’t have qualified immunity.

    • It’s the new age shooting – Spray and pray – If I’m not mistaken when all the cops switched over to the wonder nines the amount of shots fired went up 50%-100% per incident? Same thing with the military they went to the “burst” mode to slow troops fire down. With the revolver you had to aim and make the shots count, not dump the mag whilst jumping thru the air and reload.

      A fine example of this is the Carolina? (trooper?) Traffic stop that sprays the back of a surburban on that famous youtube video. No hits on perp, I don’t think.

    • I don’t know about that. I used to agree, but with the increasing likleyhood of any city in America, suddenly burning under the guise of social justice, I feel under armed with anything less than a full combat load.

      • Riots and massive events like Katrina are whole other animals. In those cases a full combat load may make you feel safe but you’re still only 1 man. If a crowd of bad actors come after you they will break and run at your first shot, in which case the revolver/shotgun combo is valid, or they’ll plow you under and how many banana mags you had taped together won’t matter.

        Shughart and Gordon ring any bells. And they had full auto.

        • I don’t think it is a matter of making one feel safe. I don’t imagine that many here think that way. I don’t think it is likely that civil unrest attacks are binary propositions where either the attackers flee from one shot or overwhelm you even if you have a full auto PDW. The fellow in the parking garage may have had to (and may been capable of doing so with a semi auto) incapacitate more than one attacker to get them all to break off, especially if they were drinking. He might then have had to deal with other groups as he tried to make it the rest of the way to safety. Oh, and several of the attackers in Somalia were also armed with firearms and it was pretty much a worst case scenario.

        • Ok JWM so your just a FUD. You go ahead and take your precious six shot revolver and 6 shot shotgun and see how you do against an angry mob. I don’t know what your problem is with 30 round mags, but I’ll take one ANY day over your stupid revolver shotgun combo. You also REALLY don’t understand how mobs work, or know jack Shit about Katrina.

        • Getting emotional Hank. I got no problem with 30 round mags. And I’ve always told people to carry what makes them comfortable.

          But my original statement is valid. In 99.9% of situations that would qualify as a legit DGU a revolver is good enough. Throw in a pump shotgun and you’re covered for everything except these extreme outlier events.

          And you’re right, I wasn’t in New orleans. But i’ll bet I can change a group of looters minds with my fuddish revolver and shotgun.

    • That guy getting the crap kicked out of him in that Charlotte parking garage might have found use for a gun with a full size magazine. That said, I am considering switching to a very nice revolver when I move to WY.

    • I would fully agree if modified to say a single stack pistol or revolver. I often carry some form of 1911 in 380, 10mm or traditional 45 ACP because I consider my principle threat to have four legs. Since they don’t shoot back you probably are fine with 5-8 rounds. The argument in favor of the semiautomatic is packaging and often the trigger. The 442 is about the same size as a G-43 or XD/s with almost twice the barrel length for better ballistic performance. You get a more powerful round with less recoil and a shorter lighter trigger pull. This highlights the popularity of semiautomatics over revolvers. You get better ballistic performance for any sized gun.

    • I disagree.

      I can see why you’d feel that, but there’s a certain suck factor to a 3 on 1 and only having two bullets for each bad guy, if you don’t miss, have a full six in the cylinder, and can pull the trigger six times before they get you.

      Whereas even a G26 has ten rounds in it’s smallest mag capacity (about 40% more bullets, 3 for each badguy and one left over) and a maybe 5-8 pounds pull on the trigger. I’m going to pick a G26 everytime, especially when 9mm and +P .38Spl are pretty comparable loads. And, bonus points, if I get into some real shit, I can just slap a G17 mag in there and suddenly my compact now has 17+ rounds.

      A revolver CAN work, but to me an automatic has inherent advantages over most revolvers that mean as long as I’m expecting to fight two legged varmint I’ll take one the vast majority of the time.

      Bears? I’ll take a .44 if I can get one.

  3. I must shop the wrong streets? I’m hard pressed to recall a sub $400 any model S&W. Certainly not a Performance Center. That is why Taurus dominates volume wise over Smiths costing double or triple. As for the 642? The LCR seems lighter and the taurus CIA does the same job cheaper.

    • Me too … I have not seen a S&W Model 642 for less than $450 in my neck of the woods. I can only imagine that the Model 442 Performance Center is even more expensive. If I saw a Model 642 for $350, I would probably buy it on the spot on impulse.

      Pro-tip: if you are even slightly mechanically inclined, have basic tools, and can follow a “how to” video, you can do your own trigger job on a Model 642 for nothing more than the cost of some springs (roughly $15?). The difference is night-and-day.

  4. I have to disagree with you in one regard- your comparison to the LCR. I have found the LCRs trigger out of the box to be better than any of the j-frames I’ve owned. The j-frame trigger is perfection after a little work, but out of the box? I have to give the nod to Rugers LCR.

    • I must say that I too lost some confidence in his opinion with “far better than say a stock Ruger LCR”. “Better” might still be a matter of opinion, but “far better” falls away from that bar. I don’t own either, but I occasionally loiter at one of my local FFLs handling the wares when they are not busy.

    • I scrolled down specifically to comment on this issue.

      The reviewer says the stock trigger on the 642 is “lots better than, say, the Ruger LCR” and in the very next sentence uses the descriptor “grit” for the 642’s internals.

      Dude’s never handled an LCR, and the entire review is suspect.

      • I actually quit reading at that point. I don’t think I’ve ever read a review in which somebody made such a claim. Regardless of where you stand in the brand wars, Ruger got the triggers right on the LCR. I’m a bit nostalgic. I like the j-frame, but I I’ve put a enough rounds through 2 different LCRs to know the triggers are solid.

    • I agree with you. The author’s comment about a stock 642 having a better trigger than a stock LCR sounds like pure S&W fan-boy bluster. I own a 642, and love it. I don’t own an LCR. Still, I freely admit the stock LCR has a far superior trigger to a stock 642. Ruger and Smith both make great guns. I own several from both companies.

      Overall however, this was a great review. I paid $369 for my 642 about 18 months ago. I would have gladly paid an extra $30-50 to get a Performance Center version of a 442 instead.

    • In Brandon’s defense, LCR triggers are light, not smooth.

      There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The gismo in Ruger’s baby-rattle of grave bodily harm sacrifices fitting and solid connections for leverage. For the amount the average snub is shot, an LCR is the poor man’s performance center Scandium J. A lowly all-steel Taurus, however, will have a smoother (NOT LIGHTER) pull after twenty dry-fires.

      I have no doubt that the PC 442’s action (A) feels (B) just as light and is (C) much smoother than Jean Doe’s LCR.

      Nice jab, Brandon: you’ve got ’em on the defensive. 🙂

      That said… for two ounces more, you could have a softer-recoiling .357 with a practically identical trigger for less cash from Ruger…

      • Ha. Not sure about being on the defensive. I own far more Smith’s than Rugers (and those are all 22s!). We’ll just have to disagree on the smoothness of the Ruger’s trigger. It starts smooth (and lighter as you mentioned), but it will never get any better than it is. Smith’s can achieve perfection, they just don’t start that way unless you buy a PC model.

  5. Something I’ve noticed is S&W revolvers all seem to have that “rub” where the crane meets the frame.(on the ones I’ve had) Looks like this one has it too. Look just under the barrel with the cyl. open. on the pic. Area where the cyl. pin / crane fit’s into the frame. I’m guessing it’s caused by +P ammo?

  6. Revolvers have their place, primarily if you dont want to leave casings behind or live in a Democrat Death Cult controlled state. But this day and age 5 shots may not be enough. A pack of feral dogs, or a pack of feral “protestors” will quickly make you wish for a high cap. A 442 with the same overall weight and size as a G26 you might as well gun up. Or carry 2 or 3 442s.

  7. I have this exact same 442, and am happy to say it serves me well. With the belt clip, I can easily carry this IWB of my under shorts, like when I forgot to bring the garbage can in from the road at 3:00 am.

    Beyond that, I’ll normally carry my high capacity Niney Glocks, but I really don’t feel any better protected by those.

  8. Everyone should have a little J-frame that they can count on. Or two. Loaded with good HP SD ammo, the pocketable snubby is the finest contact weapon ever devised, and more than accurate enough for dispute resolution at distances of seven yards or greater.

    The choice of manufacturer is a personal decision. Both S&W and Ruger are inspiringly reliable and reasonably priced.

  9. Great review! I agree with a lot of the people here: recent events have definetly shaken my faith in my LCR in terms of capacity. But here’s the dilemma: firstly, are you really going to carry a Glock 26 sized gun (at least) with multiple, extended magazines all the time? Seems unrealistic to me. Secondly, is a firearm even the most ideal tool for creating space in a mob? Why about a fogger style pepper spray, for example?

  10. Bummed I missed this when it went up to comment, but appreciate the feedback. Just a few points (that probably wont’t get read by now, oh well…)

    1. The 442 PC was available pretty widely for $399 over the last few months. That was the reason for the review, since I think most people assumed something was suspect with such a model shipped for under $400, and I know I wanted to know more about it as I was deciding.

    2. I tried to address the three triggers at issue, the standard j-frame, the PC, and the LCR. I think everyone brings their biases a bit, and I just happen to prefer the S&W triggers on the whole to the Rugers. That said, my go-to hunting rifle is a Ruger and I won’t be convinced otherwise at this point. My favorite production 1911 is my father-in-law’s Ruger SR; I basically invent reasons to have him take it out every time we go shooting. So, it’s just my preference, but certainly not any hate for Ruger, the LCR just didn’t do it for me.

    3. Thanks for all the comments, and criticism. Glad to have some supporters, and just to get some good conversation going. I hope at a minimum that the usefulness of the snubbies was conveyed and maybe at least got a few to take a new look at any of them.

    BS

  11. I’m confused. On the S&W website, the page on 442 Performance Center lists both the stainless and carbon cylinder… the page is inconsistent. It also looks different than this gun; it has a black cylinder. I then just called S&W Performance Center customer service TONIGHT and, after I referenced these inconsistencies, the rep informed me that it has the CARBON cylinder. So was the gun on this page special ordered or was the rep wrong?

    • The PC Rep must have been wrong. My 442 PC has a black aluminum frame and a stainless steel cylinder with the polished flutes, just like the one pictured. Maybe it was a limited production model, I just dunno, but I got mine from Palmetto for $399 just a few months ago.

      When you see these items at online places like that, you pretty much have to hit the purchase button immediately, or they’ll typically be “Out of Stock” the very next day.

      • I figured it out. The site is wrong and hasn’t been updated. The PC 422 has a black carbon cylinder. The PC 442 with the silver stainless cylinder is a Chattanooga Supply exclusive that some dealers must have. I’m actually going to order one of these Chattanoogas and swap the grips.

  12. i live in mass where we don’t have a big choice of firearms to choose from, but i do have a 442 s&w . love it . i use it every day for my carry fire arm, you can’t beat reliability, never misfires, binds etc, perfect reliability ! also have a sig p938 scorpion, a h-k vp-9, and a ruger mark4, i always go back to my 442 for carry. i love it, purchased price in mass 440.00 not bad for a quality piece. i changed my grips to the crimson trace , perfect

  13. I missed the part where shooting it is like taking a full hammer swing in the palm of your hand. Wished I had never purchased mine but its just physics. No gun weight is going to have awful recoil.

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