Salomon S Lab Sonic – Review – an Improved X-Series with Retro Laces

For 2016 Salomon is replacing the excellent S Lab X-Series shoe (reviewed here, here, here, and here) with a model called the Sonic in numerous versions- an S Lab version, a Sonic Pro version, and a Sonic Aero version. Salomon worked with Max King in 2015 to “improve” the X-Series hybrid road/trail shoe. It was mentioned that the major changes were in the upper mesh, the lacing system for the S Lab version (which uses a retro “standard” lace system), and the details of the TPU overlays on the upper. I recently reviewed the Sonic Pro here and noted that there were more changes than those noted above. This review is of the S Lab Sonic, which, in reality, is not like the Sonic Pro in many respects.

Note: a 500 km update and a final update for the S Lab Sonic have been posted.

Here is what I said in the introduction of the Sonic Pro review, and it holds here for the S Lab Sonic as well:

First let’s remind ourselves of how good the X-Series shoe was- it was received with uniformly excellent reviews from many reviewers from many different use perspectives. I particularly liked how the shoe performed on typical Western mountain trails in the US with surprising stability in even very rocky and rough conditions. With the exception of extended scree traverses, this shoe was a very versatile mountain trail running shoe coming in at flyweight numbers (218 gms for US 7.5, 40 2/3 (EU)). It remains my primary trail running shoe.

Now let’s talk about the difficult task of “improving” any good or great shoe. In my opinion this can only happen with very minor, evolutionary changes with the realization that the designers may not have a full grasp on why the shoe was so great to begin with. This can be analogized with fooling around with a many-term, non-linear, mathematical equation whilst not knowing what the term functionalities are and expecting to have predictive results- not likely! Such is perhaps the case here, but I will hold final judgement until I have fully investigated the S Lab Sonic. However, based on an initial 35 miles (50 km) in the Sonic Pro, things do not look very good. This is an initial impressions review however, and I will follow up with updates.”

Holding final judgement on the S lab Sonic is a good thing as it is an outstanding shoe- even with the retro and fussy fabric laces.

Note 22 May 2016: I have posted an update on the Sonic after 500 km (300 miles) of trail use.

S Lab Sonic

The S Lab Sonic is the direct 2016 replacement of the S Lab X-Series and it is clear from just looking at the shoe that this is the case. It retains, and actually completes, the monochromatic red colorway by eliminating any white except for branding (the X-Series had a small white stripe around the heel). It is truly a “red” shoe, including the entire outsole.

My US 7.5’s (40 2/3 EU) weigh in at 211 gms which is 7 grams (about 3%) lighter than the 2015 X-Series. Great!

Construction

The construction of the S Lab Sonic is essentially the same as the 2015 X-Series, with the same midsole, cushioning, drop, and perimeter structure. Also included are all of the fit technologies that Salomon has developed over the past few years in the Sense line of minimalist trail shoes.

L1030268

The S Lab Sonic road/trail hybrid running shoe is a direct replacement of the 2015 S Lab X-Series. Note the retro fabric laces that have replaced the “speed laces” seen on the S Lab X-Series of 2015.

Upper

The Upper of the S Lab Sonic has been changed from the X-Series to include a new super light and highly breathable mesh material that is utilized throughout. This singular mesh material replaces the more complicated arrangement of the X-Series where a lycra material was used in the forefoot area, a super thin mesh was used on the medial midfoot, and beefier nylon mesh was used through the heel cup and ankle area. Also added to the S Lab Sonic are additional TPU overlays covering more area at the toe and providing support for the thin mesh material in the medial and lateral forward portion of the midfoot.

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The upper of the S Lab Sonic is topologically very similar to the S lab X-Series of 2015, but a new super light mesh material has been used throughout and additional TPU overlays are present at the toe and in the medial and lateral forward portion of the midfoot.

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A close-up of the mesh material used throughout the upper of the S Lab Sonic.

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The upper mesh material of the S Lab Sonic is super thin, super light, and will obviously drain well.

The upper uses retro fabric laces instead of the familiar Salomon “speed laces” seen on all other S Lab running shoes. I am not a fan of laces as there always seem to be too much lace and no where to put it away. The “speed laces” are, in my opinion, superior in both performance and neatness. I like the way the speed laces tighten up uniformly across the shoe whereas laces can often times bunch  up and require fussing to get them uniformly cinching up. In addition fabric laces will absorb water and they can get caught up in trail debris and other stuff that might hook them (like sage plants here in the Idaho central mountains. However, I do like the fabric that these laces are made of as they are very thin, light and not likely to absorb much water. Out of the box they also tighten up nicely without much, if any bunching- time will tell if this continues with use. Salomon provides a second lace hole at the top of the lacing pattern to allow for alternate (or additional) lace integration with the upper. Note: one could try to put a speed lace kit on these shoes but the lace holes are punched and may not be durable as the kevlar lace material may cut through the fabric. On other Salomon shoes with speed lacing they provide sewn loops to put the speed laces through, which is an indication that punched holes are not suitable.

In contrast to the Sonic Pro, the upper topology has not been changed from the X-Series, including the symmetric ankle cup. As outlined in the Sonic Pro review, a more “Sense-like” topology is used on that version of the Sonic line, however on the S Lab Sonic the shape is the same.

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Salomon X seies side view

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Comparison of the profiles of the S Lab Sonic (top), the S Lab X-Series (2nd down), the Sonic Pro (third down), and the S Lab Sense 4 Ultra (bottom). Note the higher extent of the upper at the ankle in the S Lab Sonic and S Lab X-Series and the lower profile of the Sonic Pro and S Lab Sense 4 Ultra.

The heel cup construction is also unchanged although there does appear to be a bit less of a heel counter on the S Lab Sonic than in the X-Series.

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Hell construction is the same as in the X-Series, but there is less of a heel counter on the S Lab Sonic.

Midsole

As with the X-Series, the S Lab Sonic is a highly cushioned shoe, at least in the Salomon universe. On Salomon’s 1-5 scale of “cushion” in their technical literature, the Sense 5 Ultra ranks at “2” whereas the X-Series was rated “4” where a larger number indicates more cushioning. The S lab Sonic is also rated at “4”. This difference can be seen in the reported midsole thicknesses where the S Lab Sonic has a 24 mm heel and 16 mm forefoot EVA stack whilst the Sense 5 Ultra has 18 mm heel and 14 mm forefoot stack. So 6 mm more EVA at the heel and 2 mm more in the forefoot. Both models use the cushier “triple density” EVA “EnergyCell+” construction (where a cushier EVA is strategically placed in a matrix of a less cushy formulation). The very comfortable midfoot structure is unchanged and continues to provide a nice ride.

The S Lab Sonic also uses the ProFeel film technology developed for the Sense series shoes so there is good protection from rocks if one uses this shoe on trails.

Outsole

The outsole is nearly exactly the same as the X-Series right down to the widths and the specific grip patterns. This is acceptable given the great performance that this outsole exhibited on the X-Series. The only notable difference is in the rubber composition in the lateral heel area where a carbon rubber is used in the X-Series but not in the S Lab Sonic. Such carbon-particulate rubber compositions are tougher and more durable than non-particulate reinforced rubbers so this may lead to increased wear on the S Lab Sonic for some users. I have not had these shoes in any truly wet or muddy or technical rock conditions yet so I cannot make any evaluation of traction in these conditions at this point.

Slide2 (3)

The outsoles of the S Lab Sonic (top), the S Lab X-Series (middle) and the Sonic Pro (bottom). carbon rubber was used in limited ares in the X-Series and the Sonic Pro but not on the S lab Sonic.

Initial Running Impressions

I have had the S Lab Sonic out for about 40 miles (about 65 km) on dry pavement, packed snow trails, some ice, and a bit of mud. The traction performance, as expected is just as good as the X-Series.

As with the Sonic Pro, the S Lab Sonic is so much like the X-Series I expected it to run very similarly and it does. I did some running with a new X-Series on one foot and with the S Lab Sonic  on the other. Unlike the Sonic Pro, the S lab Sonic is just as flexible as the X-Series and perhaps a bit more flexible. The fit is even more “slipper-like” than the X-Series or the S Lab Sense 4 Ultra and it truly feels like an extension of your foot. This improved fit may, in fact, be a result of the “standard” lacing given that, when adjusted properly, such laces will more evenly distribute any stress and more uniformly engage the upper with the foot, particularly the top of the foot. So there may be some positives to the “standard” lacing on this model although I am holding judgement until I get a lot more miles on these shoes.

The lighter weight is also noticeable and the breathability of the super light upper mesh is clearly better than the X-Series lycra. One question will be how durable this new mesh material is.

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Salomon S lab X-Series (left) and S Lab Sonic (right).

With these limited miles and limited terrain, I really like the feel of the S Lab Sonic- in fact it feels a smidge better that the X-Series at this point. There is something about the enhanced “slipper-like” fit with the excellent midfoot support and the level of cushioning that combines to make a very comfortable yet high performance ride. Now about those laces….. well I guess there is always some compromise!

More miles will tell, but so far so great! Stay tuned.

Price

$170 US. Expensive, as usual but given the wear that I experienced with the X-Series the $/mile metric is likely to be quite good.

Bottom Line

Salomon has done what I thought would be very difficult- improve on the excellent S Lab X-Series. A better fit, more flexible, yet still super comfortable on road and trail. Just add some “speed laces” and the package is complete.

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25 thoughts on “Salomon S Lab Sonic – Review – an Improved X-Series with Retro Laces

  1. Great write up on the s-lab & pro sonics. I’ve been running in the x-series for over a year now and they’re the best shoe I’ve used to date for road & light trails, so have been on the look out for opinions of their next incarnation. Have you had any time with the sonic aero version? Is it the same as the pro, just with traditional laces?

    • Hi Owen,

      I have not used (or even tried on) the Aero. From the Salomon product info it would appear that the model has less cushioning than the S Lab Sonic and the Sonic Pro, so that may be the primary differentiation. The cushioning of the S Lab Sonic is a bit better than the X-Series but we will have to see how long this lasts. The Sonic Pro is too stiff for my liking so I probably will not be doing many miles in them.

      Also, do give your X-Series a try on more technical trails as I think you will be surprised by how well they perform. Many runners have way too much “shoe” on the trails as they have been sold a bill of goods that you need “protection” (i.e. lots of support and added weight) from the harsh elements. My experience is that this type of advice is not constructive without a runner trying out some less “protective” shoes for comparison and making an individual choice. Weight and BMI play a big role as the structure that some think they need for “protection” is actually there to support their big frames and/or excessive weight. I have always tended toward the lighter, more proprioceptive products and had good luck (Note: I am light and sit right on the Stillman Table for long distance runners). There are numerous competitors who use road shoes for Hardrock and other such races that include significant “buffed” trails with sections of technical terrain. Somehow they seem to come out the other end uninjured and all in one piece!

      Bottom line (my opinion only): Road shoes are the new Trail shoes.

      Hope this helps.

      • Thanks for the advice Robert. I’m pretty much a Kip Keino on that table and also go for lighter shoes. I tend to go with the Sense in the mud, or on rockier trails, as they have better protection in the toe cap – I’ve smashed up my toes on a couple of occasions in the x-series! Though I have gone with the x-series on longer distance trail runs due to their better cushioning.

        I’ll likely stick with buying x-series while they are still available as they’re a fair bit cheaper right now Then will probably move to the s-lab sonics.

        Thanks again

      • Hi Owen,

        Yes, buy the X-Series while you can as the Sonic is not that much better- that is unless you like standard lacing…

        As far as mud, I try to remember to put something about that in all of the reviews however I have not had the Sonic in mud of any significance yet. Given the same outsole as the X-Series I expect that there will be no difference in performance, meaning the Sonic will be marginal to unacceptable in mud.

  2. Thanks for the review! Do you know the reason for the change to the “slow laces”? I cannot imagine that they save that much weight. It would have been nice if Sally left the lace pocket so that we would have a place to stash the dumbo ears.

    I wonder if something like Locklaces or Yankz would be a feasible workaround…

    • Hi Aaron,

      I think the “slow laces” are something that Max King and other roadies like for reasons that have been described as a “better fit”, “a more uniform distribution of stress”, and that the laces can be adjusted to accommodate specific foot shapes. Don’t know if you have ever seen elite roadies put their shoes on before races but it can be a 15 minute affair adjusting the laces, etc. to get just the right feel- not my cup of tea.

      If the other speed lace products have laces that are similar to the ones Salomon provides with the Sonic they may work.

      • a member of the Salomon sales team told me the change happened because the retailers were asking for trad laces based on customer feedback after the launch of the X-Series (they did seem to very quickly go on sale at many outlets). However when Salomon showed the Sonic at trade shows many of these same retailers were disappointed that Salomon swapped out the speed lace for the trad laces. You can’t win.
        Is there a Wings review in the works?

      • Hi Jamie,

        Yes, it was a disappointment when Salomon put the traditional laces on the Sonic and it may be short-lived as you point out. I think they would have been well served to throw a pair of speed laces in the box, but as I mentioned in the review, the lace holes are likely not compatible with the thin speed laces.

        I have a pair of S Lab Wings but I just have not gotten enough miles on them. I find that the overwhelming majority of my running, even here in the Northern Rockies both on and off trail, does not require a more substantial shoe like the S Lab Wings, rather the X-Series (and, I expect, the Sonic as well) and the S Lab Sense do well. The exceptions include longer scree traverses but these are few and far between in my travels. I also balk at the higher weight (264 gms for my US 7.5s) of the S Lab Wings. They have performed well in my limited use and only further use will give me comfort in making any full evaluation.

  3. I wish I could get away with wearing the Sense full time however there are a few trails in the White Mountains I love that call for something with a little more protection.
    While on the topic of S-Lab shoes, have you experienced the insole slipping issue that seems to be plaguing all the S-Lab shoes from 2015 and now into the 2016 models. Insoles lack any real structure and appear to be nothing more than a thin piece of foam held in place by 4 stripes of glue so when they get wet they slip and bunch up in the toe box. On the Sense I have removed the insole completely – problem solved. However on the Wings taking out the insole exposes a slippery blue film that causes my feet to slide as they get sweaty or wet. Salomon is aware of the issue however have no plans on correcting (Fall2016 product has the same insole) by either introducing a slightly stiffer insole or adding more glue….hopefully not water soluble this time 🙂
    If enough people call and complain maybe we can change that.

    • Hi Jaime,

      I ran in the White Mountains on portions of the traverse last summer in the X-Series- they performed acceptably but I could see why one might want more shoe in that terrain. We also did a TT from the Lodge to Moosilauke and back and the X-Series were a good choice but that is fairly mild terrain in comparison to the traverse.

      I have heard abut the slipping insoles and can only suggest gluing them in with a better glue or replacing them with something that has better adhesion. Taking them out altogether is a good idea as well as it appears that they really provide no obvious function other than a cosmetic one. I have not had the problem with my S Lab Wings but, as I indicated earlier, I also have not had a lot of miles in them, particularly in warm weather and stream crossings. Hopefully Salomon does something about this as it seems to be a common complaint.

      • One other thing I forgot to note- in six pairs of the X-Series with in excess of 1000 km on each of four of those, I have not experienced any slipping of the insole. I do a fair number of water crossings here but they tend to come in groups and my shoes dry out between the groups- i.e. my shoes do not generally stay wet for very long, something that is likely different from your experience there in the east. Another accomplished ultra runner that I know has told me of the same problems you are having- he lives in Portland OR, a place that definitely gets wet and stays wet. So the specific conditions will likely play a role on whether one sees the issue or not. Of course it is not acceptable that a $180 shoe should have such an issue and hopefully Salomon addresses it.

  4. I’m only on my first pair of X-Series but have a fair amount of wet and sweaty road miles on them and of all the S-Lab shoes I used from 2015 (also 1 sense, 1 sense soft ground and 2 wings) it’s the only one that hasn’t suffered from insole slipping. Strange. The insoles on the others slipped after only a few wears and I recall the Sense slipping on the first outing. I neglected to mention when I initially called Salomon regarding this matter back in the early summer the customer service rep acknowledged the issue and said they were making an equally thin yet stiffer insole that should rectify the issue and he would ship me out replacements. A few weeks went by and I didn’t receive anything so I called Salomon customer service again and a different rep told me he knew nothing of the sort but would send me out some Ortholite insoles. I received the Ortholites which are considerably thicker and change the fit of the shoe and caused my toes to be smashed up against the toe box/vamp. Useless. While they do appear to be cosmetic on the Sense shoes on the Wings they cover up a blue cushioning layer that becomes slippery when wet. Anyway, SALOMON – FIX THE INSOLES!!!!!

    • Heard the same thing about the blue layer… yes, Salomon need to address this. There is a new S Lab Wings coming- S lab Wings 8 and a SG version, perhaps the issue has been addressed with that model and in the, now available, Sense Ultra 5. Not sure when the S Lab Wings 8 will arrive…. perhaps not until summer.

      • I saw the Wings 8 (and the rest of the fall16 line – Lab XA Alpine looks interesting) at OR and spoke with the rep (he’s having the same issue) and he said there are no plans to change the insoles on the S-Lab shoes for Fall16. Bummer – but it won’t keep me and I’m sure 99% of the other Lab fanatics experiencing the same issue from buying them because other than this issue there isn’t anything that comes close to the fit and function of the Lab shoes.

      • Agreed on the S Lab products. I tried on the XA Alpine- they are just what I thought should be brought out to replace or compliment the SnowCross in a review I did a couple of years ago– except they did not include spikes! For me, here in the Northern Rockies, the spikes are critical for safe running in the mountains in the winter and early spring and I think that the XA Alpine would have been perfect with spikes. Anyway, I think Salomon are looking more at the fast and light mountaineering crowd for them so they probably expect use of crampons (which they are compatible with).

  5. Spikes on the XA Alpine would be nice however for the conditions in the NE I find the carbide spikes ineffective for 80% of winters weather. The narrowness and stiffness of the Snowcross (and Speedcross platform – which seems dated) don’t agree with my feet however I use them because they hold my Hillsound Trail Crampons (my main winter set up) in place nicely, have an integrated gaiter and offer some insulation/water resistance. As long as the XA Alpine hold those Hillsounds in place they’ll be dreamy.
    Only major changes to the Snowcross for 2016 seem cosmetic. Bummer.

  6. Does the S-Lab Sonic develop the same medial crease in the overlay material on the medial side as the X-Series (visible in some of your pics as well)? Mine formed permanent “dimples” after a little over 20 miles. I liked the shoes otherwise, but the dimples made contact with the skin and caused hotspots.

    Thanks,

    Bernie

  7. Hi,

    Apart from the upper, is there any difference between this and the sonic pro? I’m looking at getting one of the two and am veering towards the s lab because of the weight. I assume the sonic pro has more cushioning than the s lab?

    • Hi James,

      The S lab Sonic and the Sonic Pro have the same cushioning rating from Salomon and that is consistent with what I have experienced. As I indicated in the review of the Sonic Pro, it is a stiffer shoe and I will recommend the S Lab Sonic mainly because of this- but also because of the lower weight (particularly if you are a lighter runner).

      Running Warehouse currently has all of the Salomon products (including apparel and packs) on sale right now at 20% off MSRP, so if you are in the US you might want to take a look:

      http://www.runningwarehouse.com/catpage-MRSSALOMON.html

    • Hi Andrey,

      Thanks for the pic, it shows that there is a wide distribution on wear of the uppers. Here is what I wrote in response to another reader on the same issue:

      “There seems to be a large variation in upper wear on trail running shoes, supposedly due to use in different terrain. I can understand this when comparing a midwestern grassy, woodland trail use to use in the Rockies, but I seem to get better wear than a number of other users that I speak with even though I am on rocky technical steep trail (including scree) about 50% of the time and the comparison runners are on similar or much less aggressive terrain. So I think there are other important factors for upper wear. First is fit- some users like a “tight” fit and my experience is that these runners go through uppers very quickly. I have also noticed the same thing when runners use a size too big- the folding and creasing of the upper leads to high wear points and, often, a short life for the upper.”

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