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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
$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.
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.