Sunday, January 14, 2018

Salomon Running Avenue Sonic RA and Sonic RA Max Reviews: Masterpieces of Functional Run Shoe Design. Light, Stable, Supportive and Fast

Article by Dave Ames, Shannon Payne, Peter Stuart, Tiffany Teaford and Sam Winebaum

February 1st Salomon introduces all new road shoes with its Running Avenue line. Solidly designed and built, and scientifically grounded, this new line provides light, fast supportive models ranging from a natural riding performance trainer the Sonic RA Pro (Update: see our review of the Pro here), to a light daily trainer Sonic RA, to a more supportive trainer the Sonic RA Max. We put two models, the Sonic RA and Sonic RA Max to the test. We will also soon test the Sonic RA Pro.

For our YouTube Overview of the Sonic RA and Sonic RA Max see below

Sonic RA
8.6 oz/244 g Men’s US9, 7.4 oz/210 g Women's US 8
Stack Height: 20 forefoot /28mm heel, 8mm drop
Price: $130. Available Feb 2018

Sonic RA Max
Weight: 9.3oz,/ 264 g (M9), 8.3 oz./235 g (W8)
Stack Height: 20/30mm, 10mm offset
$130. Available Feb. 2018


In 2017 Salomon launched three road shoes with as their central innovation Vibe with Opal, a tibial vibration reduction technology of inserts in the heel and in some shoes the forefoot as well. By reducing tibial vibration Salomon showed in the lab that compensating muscle contractions, which lead to fatigue, are reduced,  Vibe seeks to reduce energy sapping vibrations while still providing an efficient ride through a firm Energy Cell+ midsole. So a Vibe shoe, such as the Sonics here, combines a firm, responsive midsole with an eerie and real sense that shock and vibration are attenuated.  

A Salomon bio-mechanist explained to RoadTrailRun that the forces measured during stride are generally made up of 50% shock, 15% rebound, and 35% vibration. Vibration is a huge component of the input load and is mainly made up of tibial vibration. Beyond the muscle, skeletal and nerve impacts there is also the perceived comfort impact of reducing vibration.

Vibe Technology is made up of 2 components:
  • Energy Cell+  compression molded EVA midsole (black below) which is firm, might be to firm for road use for some without..
  • Opal (light blue below) are inserts of a Thermoplastic Polyproylene (TPP) material which is lighter and softer than TPU's such adidas Boost and Saucony Everun, and with different cushioning properties.  Notably, Opal seeks to reduce vibration and in an interesting twist also seeks to reduce the vibrations of shear or side to side forces.  Opal is not glued into the cavity in the midsole, this so has to provide less interference for its movement under load or have any interface of glue between it and midsole.  Not to worry, it should not go anywhere or shift as there is a layer of sock liner like material over it, stitched to the upper sides to keep it in place.

By combining the Vibe with a relatively firm midsole Energy Cell+ one gets a highly stable, responsive, shock reduced ride. In my experience the combination absolutely works although those used to "soft" rides may be a bit put off by the firmness.  

2017 was a great start for the road line but the transitions were somewhat awkward and the ride slappy with an overbuilt for purpose upper strongly influenced by Salomon's trail heritage. The race S/Lab Sonic 2 (RTR review), also with an Opal insert was superb and one of my top shoes of 2017 (Year's Best article here).

2018 Salomon Running Avenue RA Line
For 2018 Vibe continues and Salomon focused on the upper and the ride with a slightly softer outsole in all models and especially a bio mechanics based geometric decoupling line which varies in location based on purpose and need across the three models, and which while subtle in appearance, clearly define the rides.

Running Avenue is a three shoe collection. The Salomon Sonic RA ia very light weight for its features, upper support  and durability daily trainer or performance trainer. It sits at the center of the  Running Avenue line (preview article).  So we have at the junction of the T, and center in photo above, the 8.6 oz Sonic RA. Go to the right for the Sonic RA Max a somewhat more supportive and stable trainer at a very light for the class 9.3 oz, go left for the Sonic RA Pro (RTR review), a 8.3 oz performance trainer racer.
Left to Right: Sonic RA Pro Sonic RA Sonic RA Max
Jonathan Teipen, RA product manager, explained what Running Avenue is trying to accomplish for the consumer: "Start with Sonic RA, if you feel you need more shoe, turn right to the Max. If you want to go faster turn left for the Pro. Much of this is supported by Benno Nigg's comfort paradigm that what feels good to the runner will translate to more efficient and healthier running." Good thinking put into action!
As Jonathan also put it: "some feet need more guidance and some need less and factors such as body weight, injury history, strength, experience, mileage, and form are a bigger factor in what shoe the runner needs than supination or pronation."

The science behind the line is deep. Simon Bartold, a world renowned sports podiatrist with a long history in shoe design joined the Salomon team a few years ago as Director of Strategic Programs. He was given an entirely free reign to apply his knowledge of bio mechanics and shoe design to this entirely new line. We spoke to Simon and one thing he is adamant about is that traditional posted highly supportive stability shoes are just not necessary for the vast majority of runners and may even cause more injuries than they seek to prevent. Pronation is natural, we all pronate, but some just may need some assisted transition or guidance according to Simon.

In Running Avenue as performance focus increases, offset and stack decreases with Sonic RA Max at a 20/30 mm stack 10mm drop, Sonic RA, 20/28 mm stack, 8mm drop, and Sonic RA Pro, 18/24mm stack, 6 mm drop. All models are priced the same at $130.

All three share a similar on the surface Energy Cell+ midsole, upper design,outsole and Vibe technology but on the run, and we have tested the Sonic RA and Sonic RA Max to date, they perform differently and strikingly so for their intended purposes.

The vibration attenuation Vibe technology and its Opal insert varies by model with both the Sonic RA and Sonic Max having a 6mm forefoot insert and a 12mm heel insert with the Pro having only a 6mm heel insert. Based on my experience with the 2017 and 2018 models the12mm heel insert and 6mm forefoot insert really makes the vibration reduction noticeable,

The photo below illustrates the location of the geometric decoupling line across the three models. the Decoupling Axis line for the subtalar joint is roughly in the middle of shoe longitudinally, but significantly varying by model is designed into each outsole/midsole and moves away from the usual paradigm of pronation and supination. 

The more support and stability is sought the further towards the lateral side, to the left on the outsoles in the photos above the decoupling line is placed. The notches and numbering at the toes allow one to see the differences. The Max is the most supportive and to the right below, Sonic RA is in the middle, Pro to the left.
Left to RightSonic RA Pro Sonic RA Sonic RA Max
The diagram below illustrates the Geometric Decoupling design and intended run feel effect
  • Pro- Quick Transition with a smaller medial platform to move the foot forward faster
  • Sonic RA-Seamless Transition for a balanced forefoot load distribution
  • Max- Assisted Transition with a wider more stable medial forefoot platform 

So the Max which is the shoe with the most underfoot support and stability has its decoupling furthest to the left or lateral side and the Pro the quickest transitioning the furthest to the right or medial side. Hooey you will say, but this somewhat subtle difference in terms of relative support is absolutely felt underfoot but not in an overwhelming forced fashion,

Sonic RA Review
Dave, Peter, Sam, and Shannon tested the Sonic RA
8.6 oz/244 g Men’s US9, 7.4 oz/210 g Women's US 8
Stack Height: 20 forefoot /28mm heel, 8mm drop
Price: $130. Available Feb 2018

First Impressions and Fit

Dave:  The Sonic RA fit like a glove upon initial step in, molding my foot nicely and wrapping the arch as if it was a true racing flat!  Width was perfect and I was locked in nicely, not needing the last eyelet, a problem I sometimes have in shoes to get that solid fit.  The throat of the shoe was a little rough and lacing was a bit tougher than expected initially, but the more runs I got in the shoe, everything loosened up.

Peter: Sonic RA is a sleek, stylish shoe. I agree, fit was good off the bat. First run however led to a fair amount of chafing on the back of the ankle/achilles area.

Shannon: If trying Salomon’s first version of the Sonic (not to be confused with the Sonic Pro or S-Lab Sonic, which were and continue to be a outstanding shoes) turned you off to their road shoes forever, maybe reconsider and just think of that first Sonics as a “rough draft.” Its successor, The Sonic RA, felt to me like a pretty big overhaul straight out of the box. Aesthetically, the Sonic RA has seen huge a upgrade from its predecessor and more importantly, the shoe’s ride saw some very solid improvement as well as I came to find out. The upper was massively improved in terms of fit, with some interesting placement of foam in the heel collar that did away with any heel slippage whatsoever and the midfoot fit like a glove. While I am typically a women's 8, a 7.5 would've easily sufficed in this shoe.
Sam: This is a surprisingly light shoe for the amount and quality of support provided by the upper. Fit was true to size with no issues. Fit was true to size and the foot hold is outstanding in its security. If you prefer a "slipper" like shoe, not me most of the time, this is not the upper for you. If you want a pressure free secure fit you will like this upper. There is plenty of forefoot height volume and room for foot splay in the soft front mesh upper but this is not a wide as its cousin the Max has for me.


Sam: The upper represents a departure from Salomon's traditional trail oriented SensiFit and EndoFit uppers with their extensive thin outer overlays and often also an inner EndoFit bootie. The 2017 road line and of course the trail shoes had this approach.
Here mid foot support is internal as in traditional SensiFit and there are no EndoFit stretch booties as in many Salomon trail shoe. Instead of external overlays  we have  thin underlays laminated to the inside over a very open and breathable fish net like very supportive and foot wrapping mid foot mesh, also seen in the excellent  new XA Elevate trail runner. (RTR review). The combination creates a secure but also oot molding/hugging structure.

The front mesh is closed yet still breathable. The front toe bumper creates plenty of height and is firmer with a quite thick overlay in comparison to the Max's. The lower area of the upper has from the front of the heel to toe a combination of an extension of the toe bumper overlay and at mid foot the Sensi Fit underlays.

The heel and achilles hold is through a modular padding system, lower down than usually seen with no excess padding where it is not needed.
While some may say it is to "skeleton" like in appearances I say it is a masterpiece of carefully thought out functional design, heel to toe, and works perfectly for me with no irritation or pressures anywhere. I agree with Dave below that it literally remembers your foot and with Shanon that the mid foot is particularly secure. With this upper and the fat thick laces I find this to be a tie and go, never ever adjust shoe, It is neither loosy goosy slipper like or a straight jacket. I never feel I have to take these off after a long run.  It is the kind of upper my sloppy old form likes, trail worthy if need be, but not constraining but maybe a bit overbuilt.
Dave:  An interesting upper, one you don’t see too much of today, which makes it unique.  It is a combination of different mesh, but this time, underneath the top layer there is some sort of firmer underlay, the SensiFit.  It felt rough upon touch, but the minute I slid my foot into the RA, it was sweet!  The more miles you got in in the Sonic RA the more it remembered your foot type.  Reminds me of old versions of the Zoom Streak, which always fit oh so perfect!
Peter: For better and worse, the upper reminds me a bit of some of the older Salming shoes. The mesh is nice and there’s a bit of an exo/endo skeleton, the SensiFit wrapping the mid foot. As I mentioned I got some chafing on the achilles initially. On later runs my ankles were fine, but I got some blistering on the edge of my pinky toes. I think that has to do with the rigidity of the material surrounding the toes. The tongue is a perfect thickness and length and I really like the round puffy laces. The midfoot is held really well. I wish there was a tiny bit more give to the upper overall.

Shannon: Again, the upper had an awesome fit, with the midfoot feeling particularly secure, feeling as though it “grabbed” the foot upon lacing it up. Those upper features combined with the shoe’s thinner tongue and secure heel collar had the shoe feeling more like a fast, performance trainer than an everyday trainer, in a good way.

Dave:  The Energy Cell+ with VIBE midsole is outstanding, providing super smooth heel to toe transition, which promotes a midfoot forefoot landing.  All runs were very similar to the M Strike in Skechers Performance trainers.  You really find your sweet spot in the RA.  A very powerful shoe promoting efficient running .

Peter: VIBE midsole seems fine. It’s on the firm side and I agree with Dave--it rewards good form. In fact, I think this shoe punishes laziness. It feels best when really focused on running efficiently.

Shannon: If a marshmallowy midsole is your jam, this is not your shoe. But if a snappy, responsive ride is your preference, this shoe is awesome. The midsole uses Salomon’s VIBE tech, which is Energy Cell +EVA working in conjunction with Salomon’s Opal cushioning material (a Thermoplastic Polyproylene (TPP) which is intended dampen the vibration that occurs upon impact. Compared to the its preceding version, the Sonic RA’s midsole feels much more flexible in the forefoot, negating the need for as much of an initial break in period, which I felt was necessary to get the real feel of the first Sonic. Again, a lot of improvement here.

Sam: Shannon and Dave said it just right, smooth transitions and firm but in a good way!  I don't  totally agree with Peter than good form is absolutely required here or for that matter that Sonic performs best only at certain paces, although the shoe does prefer to go fast as slower pace transitions seem a bit soft and labored. It is a firm responsive ride but I am a "firm" believer in the effectiveness of the Opal vibration attenuation inserts. Regardless of pace my legs are never the worse for wear something that I can't say for similar, firm responsive midsole foams such as New Balance RevLite or even Nike Zoom Air such as in the Pegasus.


Dave:  A good amount of rubber is located in the high impact areas for me as I am a slight heel striker and supinator.  These are areas I always wear down in trainers and over 75 miles in, there are absolutely no signs of wear and tear.  I caught some ok grip as well on sidewalks, as here in SoCal sprinklers go off early in the mornings to try and keep lawns green with the severe drought.  We just don’t get rain, so I am curious to see how this performs on wet roads.  My guess is the outsole would be just fine.

Peter: Yup, lots of rubber coverage. For as many grooves as there are cut through the rubber I would think this would be a more flexible shoe--but it’s not. Overall it feels pretty stiff and I would like more flex .

Shannon: I've always been really impressed with Salomon’s Contagrip outsole material as it stands the test of miles and shows very little wear in the process. The outsole also features some really deep flex grooves that I found promoted a great ride where the shoe felt as though it really worked with the foot.

Sam: We discussed the Geometric Decoupling above.  Here it is in position 2 so one can expect, and I found that transitions are seamless as advertised, if a bit on the more labored side at slower paces in contrast to the more supportive Max.
Of course there is a ton of super high durability slip resistant Contagrip rubber. This is an incredibly durable and thick outsole, amazing for such a light weight shoe. We have Blown Rubber in the forefoot and the firmer but not overly firm as outsoles go with Contagrip at the tip of the toe, mid foot and rear. Sonic RA is the center outsole below.


Dave:  Outstanding!  Light, efficient and poppy.  My legs feel very fresh post run in these.  I managed mostly general mileage in this shoe, but did get a hill workout in (12 x 300m hill reps)  Sometimes you just know when a shoe is working well for you.  Runs feel effortless and your stride is smooth.  The Sonic RA did just that for me!

Peter: Man, I just can’t get a great run out of these shoes. They ride better at tempo, but at all speeds I start to get some forefoot fatigue a few miles into a run. What’s frustrating to me about the Sonic RA is that I have moments where the ride is sublime, but stretches of time where the ride feels just a little labored.

Shannon: I found the Sonic RA’s ride to feel exceptionally responsive and stable regardless of pace, and to me was very reminiscent of the (unfortunately discontinued) Brooks Defyance, Asics Landreth, and adidas Supernova Solution. Additionally, the shoe felt to me to be somewhat of a “Swiss army knife” sort of shoe that I think has the versatility to be used for anything from easy runs to faster days to long runs.

Sam: I agree with Shannon the Sonic RA has a Swiss Army Knife ride. Equally proficient and comfortable on easy runs but it shines taken to faster paces and with enough support for some trail running, Its firm ride is not of the easy sink and wallow along variety, often favored by many for easy runs and recovery.  I find that if I am tired such soft rides especially when combined with more unstructured uppers tend to accentuate soreness and potential injuries. I prefer firm but look for shock and vibration reduction and as here due to the Vibe with Opal there is welcome shock and noticeable shock reduction at any pace. This is one stable and supportive shoe but in no way a "stability" shoe. I found hard steep downhills particularly excellent with great heel stability and yes again the Opal's vibration attenuation really shines. It would be an excellent shoe for a hillier marathon course such as Boston.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Dave:  Great shoe that can be used for almost anything training wise, minus the track and recovery days.  For me, I’d go with Tempos, Fartlek, Hill sessions and Long Runs….especially those long runs in Marathon Prep in which you have miles at MRP.  I take my workouts quite seriously and do not recover like I used to, so recovery days are out with the Sonic RA.  I’d reach for a shoe with more cush, personally.

Peter: I really, really, really want to love this shoe, but don’t. It’s close in so many ways but I just can’t get it to feel great for me. It’s a go fast shoe for sure--better for tempo workouts than for slower stuff. All of my runs have ended with some forefoot fatigue and various chafes or blisters. It seems like this shoe and I are working against each-other. I will say that it has opened up considerably over 30 miles, so I’ll keep giving it a shot to see if it breaks in further. It always seems like it’s on the verge of being great--but never quite gets there.

Shannon: I think Salomon really redeemed themselves with the Sonic RA after struggling with the launch of the previous Sonic. The shoe has a awesome fit, is super versatile, and personally I would use it for just about any run.
Sam: The Sonic RA is exactly what a lighter performance trainer should be. Salomon delivers a dedicated, modern road shoe with no compromises with a design backed by carefully applied bio mechanical principles. It is light at 8.6 oz, supportive top to bottom at any pace and while firm and responsive, a good thing for a shoe in this class, easy on the legs due to the effective Vibe technology.  This is fast shoe that can easily be a daily trainer for many. It is particularly well suited to hilly terrain and for those who want some help keeping momentum forward. I marvel at just how light it is for all the shoe one gets with a durable outsole, decent stack height, and supportive upper. Salomon really did its homework all around with the Sonic

Dave Score: 9.25/10
Smooth, efficient and my stride feels great in the Sonic RA.  -.75 for rough lacing in the throat of the shoe and colorway.  Bright safety yellow is long gone, Salomon.

Peter's Score 8.5/10
I keep hoping to get a great run in this shoe. I’m still having trouble identifying exactly what isn’t working for me. -.5 for fit issues (achilles chafing, blistering), -.5 for forefoot fatigue(perhaps they should use more VIBE in front half?), -.5 for being caught somewhere between racer and daily trainer.

Shannon's Score 9/10
I liked it. I liked it a lot. Very impressive. Maybe take that with a grain of salt as historically, all of my favorite shoes end up discontinued. But seriously, the only shortcoming I can dredge up is that I'd suggest moving down a half size in the women's model.

Sam's Score 9.65/10
-0.25 for somewhat soft slightly more labored transition at slower paces, reducing versatility.
-0.15 for somewhat overbuilt upper particularly toe bumper, a plus for occasional trail use but likely adds some weight.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Sonic RA Pro (RTR review)
Sam: The Pro is a lighter cousin (0.3 oz) to the Sonic RA. It differs in having a slightly lower overall stack and lower 6mmd drop, 6mm Vibe insert vs.12mm and no mid foot outsole rubber. Surprisingly for me, is somewhat easier going and relaxed in ride with a bit less snap than the Sonic RA. It transitions and runs somewhat better at slower paces for me. Nonetheless I prefer the extra stability and snap of the Sonic RA.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Sonic RA Max (see Max review below)
Sam:V ery similar but more shoe with the Max. If you need a workhorse daily trainer and you lean towards more support and a bit more cushion, and most of your miles are at slower paces go with the Max. If you are a faster paced runner or need a light performance trainer go with the Sonic RA. 

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Skechers Performance GOMeb Razor (RTR review)
Dave:  Almost spitting images in terms of road feel between the two, with the Razor being on lower stacks and drop.  The Vibe midsole in Salomon reminds me oh so much of the M Strike in Skechers Performance.  A tough call on who wins here.  Both are two of the best shoes of the last few years in run specialty, hands down!  Slight edge to Razor.

Peter: Razor, razor and razor here. Upper is more forgiving and the ride is smoother at all speeds.

Sam: I had limited runs in the Razor. As the others have said very similar shoes with the Razor lighter by an ounce. I for one prefer a bit more stack in a firmer shoe and the Sonic has a welcome 2 mm more at the heel. I find the Razor low and firm at the heel, more racer than trainer. The Vibe and Opal of the Salomon and its fuller coverage outsole are clear comfort and durability advantages for me as well. The Razor's upper is more forgiving and comfy but a touch less supportive for me.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Brooks Launch 5 (RTR review)

Dave:  Both new updates to the run market, I would put both in the lightweight performance trainer category.  There is a bit more weight in the Launch, but in a run shop I’d pull both up against one another.  I find the Launch a tad unstable laterally.  Sonic RA wins here.  I also feel fresher post run via the VIBE midsole.  I hit the sweet spots better upon landing.
Peter: The Launch works a little better for me overall, but they are almost in different categories--with the Launch being a daily trainer and the RA a speedier shoe.

Sam: Much more shoe, much more upper support and much more stability particularly at mid foot in the Sonic RA and at a lighter weight. With my sloppy form, the Sonic is a faster more directed ride at faster paces and more accommodating at slower paces. The Launch 4 is a closer comparison as it was more supportive. It was not quite as responsive and firm as the Sonic RA.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Saucony Kinvara 8 (RTR review)
Dave:  Similar shoes in the same lightweight category, but I get much more use out of the Sonic RA.  Kinvara shreds my achilles up (all models through the years). I question durability of the Kinvara, which has always been a concern for many runners.  For a long run, the Kinvara just doesn’t have enough for me underfoot.

Sam: On the right foot, i.e. a narrow foot low volume foot the Kinvara is a faster more race oriented shoe although in the 8 I found the heel overly soft compared to the 7. Much more comfort, versatility, and durability in the Sonic RA.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Skechers Performance GORun 5 (RTR review)
Dave:  Both boasting a quick heel to toe transition and in the lightweight performance category for me, these are completely different feels with the VIBE midsole being firmer and more responsive than the GR5.  I prefer the Razor over GR5 as is, because GR5 is just too soft.  I’m beat up post run in the shoe.  Sonic RA for the win here.  You’ll pull far more durability out of it as well.  VIBE midsole and M Strike are very similar.  You’ll find a nice midfoot forefoot landing in both.

Peter: GORun 5 is a do anything shoe for me. Soft and easy on slow days and fast when I need it to be. Yeah, it’s soft, but my forefoot feels great in it.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Under Armour HOVR Sonic (RTR review)
Peter: The battle of the Sonics!  Under Armour HOVR Sonic is a much more enjoyable, smooth and transparent ride for me. Ran 20 in them this weekend and felt great. Ran 8 in the Salomon this morning and wished I was wearing the UA shoe.

Sam: While the Sonic RA has a great upper for me the HOVR's is yet superior, lighter, and downright elegant. As for ride the HOVR has an easy just right softer and quite vibration free ride but doesn't have the snap and response of the Sonic moderated by its Vibe and Opal.  I would lean towards the HOVR for longer and recovery runs and the Sonic for everyday training and faster workouts.

Salomon Sonic RA vs. Mizuno Wave Shadow (RTR review)
Sam: A very close comparison for me. Both have an 8mm drop with the Sonic having more overall stack height at 20/28 vs the Shadow at 17/25 yet the Sonic weighs 0.3 oz less. Both have very stable heel landings with Shadow and its Wave plate a bit to firm and harsh for me with too sharp a contrast in feel front to back in the midsole/outsole in feel and transition.  The same applies to the upper. The Shadow's front toe box with about the same volume and fit as the Sonic accomplishes this with a very nice stretch engineered mesh with saddle considerably more structured. On the run the Shadow transitions more decisively but not as smoothly as the Sonic and is less cushioned overall particularly at the forefoot than the Sonic. Nod to the Sonic.

Sonic RA Max Review
Weight: 9.3oz,/ 264 g (M9), 8.3 oz./235 g (W8)
Stack Height: 20/30mm, 10mm offset
$130. Available Feb. 2018
Sam Winebaum, RoadTrailRun Editor and Tiffany Teaford tested and reviewed the Sonic RA Max. Tiffany is a Vermont based two time Boston Marathon qualifier and a former pro nordic skier and pro cyclist who is joining the RTR team with this her first review.

Sam: This review is going to be shorter. The technical differences between the Max and Sonic RA are slight using the same principles of design and geometry in ever so slightly different ways. Yet the result is a different riding shoe.

The Max can be categorized as either a neutral shoe a light support or guidance shoe and can for those runners Product Manager Johnathan Teipen said near the more here: "some feet need more guidance and factors such as body weight, injury history, strength, experience, mileage, and form are a bigger factor in what shoe the runner needs than supination or pronation."

Unlike stability/support shoe of the traditional variety Max has no firm post or an over reinforced upper as is common in such shoes  It accomplishes this extra support and touch of stability very simply by the following modifications to the Sonic RA platform:
  • 2mm of additional heel and 0.5 mm additional forefoot midsole on an ever so slightly wider platform with more vertical mid foot side walls.
  • A geometric decoupling at position "3" so further laterally than the Sonic for a wider medial forefoot platform
  • a clearly wider and roomier toe box, approaching the room of some of the foot shaped shoes from what I can tell so this is clearly a great option for wider feet and by far the most front room of any Salomon I have tried to date with the next widest or front of foot accommodating the S/Lab Sense Ultra.
  • somewhat more substantial Sensi Fit underlays and overlays for a more supportive fit.
Weight: 9.3oz,/ 264 g (M9), 8.3 oz./235 g (W8)
Stack Height: 20/30mm, 10mm offset
$130. Available Feb. 2018

Fit and First Impressions

Sam: While my Sonic RA is loud in Safety yellow the Max is all black with heel collar and heel touches of the bright. Tiffany's is dark blue with a touch of purple and lighter blue at the heel. I like the look. My sample pair at a half size up was very roomy. Usually a half size up is fine for me, and was in my first pair of Sonic RA passed on to Dave, but here, clearly, I should be at true to size. Not swimming around but the toe box is more voluminous that necessary and I have a touch of heel slip. I imagine at true to size I would still have all the that front room and great foot splay but it would be a bit better held. 
Tiffany: While I typically where a 42 in the Sonic Pro and S-Lab Sonic, my Sonic Max (RA) 41 1/2 fit perfectly - even with winter-weight socks. I am a big Salomon fan and have always loved the fit of my cross-country ski boots,  I have a fairly narrow foot. 

Sam: The upper follows the general design of the RA Sonic but has a wider toe box.
This extra room is clearly felt so if you have wider feet the Max is the Running Avenue option for you.

The mid foot support is reinforced.  We have the internal Sensi Fit underlays as in the Sonic RA.
 but also an external overlay where midsole meets upper.
The underlays at mid foot are more vertical than in the Sonic we assume to provide additional support.

The heel collar and its padding is the same as in the Sonic RA.
The toe bumper and toe area overlays interestingly are softer, thinner and less extensive than in the Sonic and are made of the same materials as the rest of the mid foot overlays.
The very front tip is firm and provides great over toe height.  The result is a roomy, high, broad toe box which is no the less well held.

The geometry of the midsole includes 2mm of additional heel foam when compared to the Sonic RA making the Max a 10mm drop shoe. Max has a slightly broader mid foot and forefoot platform, again reinforcing its more supportive nature.  Its medial side walls are slightly more vertical than Sonic RA again for a touch more medial support. Max is slightly stiffer than Sonic RA with a slightly longer flex. I certainly felt the difference while subtle. Max runs a little easier at slower paces and Sonic RA is snappier and smoother at faster paces.

LEFT: Salomon Sonic RA Max  RIGHT: Sonic RA
The outsole materials are identical to the Sonic RA but with a slightly different mid foot geometry that matches the broader more supportive nature of the Max.
LEFT: Salomon Sonic RA Max  RIGHT: Sonic RA
Upfront we see the differences between the locations of the geometric decoupling line. The Max decoupling line is at position 3, further to the lateral side, to the left above of the shoe outsole so we have and can clear feel more support on the medial side but also a little less transition smoothness and pop at speed than the Sonic RA. Both shoes are very supportive under foot but Max has just a little bit more all around without ever feeling like a "support or stability" shoe. 


Sam: The Max is a very stable and supportive shoe but without any hard support elements or plastic piece tricks. There is no sloppiness at any pace although narrow feet or those used to traditional Salomon snug fit may find the front of the shoe overly roomy.  Wide feet and heavier runners will be very, very happy here. I found the sweet spot for the Max is on slower runs and longer runs where I don't want to concentrate as closely on form.  Everything stays aligned and moving forward even on sore legs. The ride is firm, well cushioned, and largely shock vibration free, a kind of surprising ride, making me smile, given a firm responsive midsole and outsole. It is a bit slappy as it is a fairly stiff shoe. Transitions are easier at slower paces than in the Sonic RA as the flex is longer, if stiffer, and I can feel the "assist" at mid foot on transition whereas in the Sonic RA it is a bit more labored. Don't get me wrong this very light shoe is not a slow shoe. It is particularly good on long pounding downhills taken at speed, so stable and shock free, and it is fine for tempo as well.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Tiffany: Until now, I have done all my training miles in the Sonic Pro and all my racing the S-Lab Sonic - fast, light and responsive but I've been in search of a bit more cushioning for daily miles. My first run in the Sonic RA Max was joyful! The magic balance of just enough cushion, while still feeling in touch with the road is just what I was hoping for.  These shoes feel plenty light and the mesh upper has been surprisingly fine with Merino socks even at temps below zero, I can't wait 'til spring! 

The forefoot stability is a luxury while not feeling overbuilt or overly controlling - just enough to keep me aligned when the legs tire. The fit is familiar -  secure and comfortable with a nice amount of room in the toe box. The padded contoured tongue and heel is comfortable. It took me a run to get used to it but over the miles delivers a feeling of locked in comfort with no pressure points.   Our roads have been snow packed and icy in spots - the outsole has been surprisingly stable. 

I'm counting on the Sonic RA Max to get me to the line in Hopkinton this April in fine shape. Thanks to Salomon for pushing their road offerings forward and continuing to fine tune materials, construction and fit for the open road. 

Sam: The Sonic RA Max is a light for its substance daily trainer which does not skimp on support, stability, and outsole rubber.  No frills, just a scientifically grounded masterpiece of functional design leading to a clear new contender in the daily trainer category.  The Max provides a lively, smooth firmer ride with noticeably reduced vibration and shock from the Energy Cell+ midsole and Vibe technology. No marshmallow or lumpy disconnected ride here and I like the way the overall support and firmness kept me moving forward smoothly. Neutral runners don't be scared that this might be a "traditional" pronation support or control shoe with firm posts, plastic pieces, etc... It absolutely is not such a shoe and the scientific designer Simon Bartold is adamant in his dislike for such approaches. With this shoe, as called out above, the transition is assisted by the upper support, a more vertical medial side wall and the geometric decoupling of the outsole, that's it.  I recommend the Max:
  • for all runner stride types and paces as a workhorse daily trainer 
  • for heavier runners or those with wider feet
  • for runners seeking to transition away from traditional pronation support/control shoes
Sam's Score: 9.7/10
-0.15 for stiffness (and slappiness). A bit more flexibility would help faster pace transitions.
-0.15 for somewhat overbuilt upper and toe box roominess, at least for me. The Sonic RA upper would be fine here but include the softer toe box overlays of the Max.  

Salomon Sonic RA Max vs. Sonic RA
Sam: Very similar but more shoe with the Max including 2mm more heel stack and a yet more supportive and roomier upper. If you need a workhorse daily trainer and you lean towards more support and a bit more cushion and room, or it most of your miles are at slower paces go with the Max. If you are a faster paced runner or need a light performance trainer go with the Sonic RA. Max runs a little easier at slower paces and Sonic RA is snappier and smoother at faster paces.

Sonic RA vs. Sonic RA Pro (Update: see our review of the Pro here)
The Pro is slightly lighter and lower stack with a 6mm heel Vibe insert (vs. 12 in Sonic RA) and no forefoot Vibe. It has a single type of mesh upper but shares the internal SensiFit underlays. It fits similarly but a bit lower at the toe. It transitions a bit more smoothly and softly at all paces but for me with a bit less snap and response. 

Salomon Sonic RA Max vs. 2017 Salomon Sonic (RTR review)
Sam: The 2017 Sonic was a good start to Vibe but the upper was overbuilt for a road shoe. It  had unnecessary trail oriented ProFeel layer and as a result and in combination with the upper the shoe was stiff and slappy on the road. Huge improvements with the Max. Strangely the 2017 Sonic only weighed a touch more. 

Salomon Sonic RA Max vs. adidas Tempo 9 (RTR review) and Boston 6 (RTR review)
Sam: The 8.9 oz Tempo has a far narrower toe box. It is a somewhat more agile, quicker shoe but one with noticeable pronation support at mid foot from its Torsion plastic and side wall laminate. The 8.8 oz Boston is less supportive and stable and has a thiner feeling forefoot although it too is more agile and quicker and less trainer focused than Max.  The Max is a more versatile shoe as a daily trainer. In terms of Boost plus EVA in the Tempo vs. Energy Cell+  and Vibe I will go with the firm dynamic shock free ride of the Sonic. Wow! That's big as I have been a huge Boost fan but time is passing the tech by for me.
Salomon Sonic RA Max vs. Brooks Ravenna (RTR review) 
Sam: I will be running the similar weight, class and purpose Ravenna shortly. Dave Ames has just reviewed it at the link above. 

Salomon Sonic RA Max vs. New Balance 890v6 (RTR review)
Sam: The upcoming NB 890v6 is a somewhat lighter but not much lighter 8.9 oz performance trainer which has a noticeably firm and stable mid foot outsole platform achieved only through its single density midsole and the outsole and its springy front TPU strips. The mid foot platform support is far more noticeable in the 890 with the shoe just not much fun to run slow and even fast the transitions are more abrupt. The Revlite midsole is harsh firm stuff in comparison to the Max's midsole and not any more responsive. I feel beat up in comparison to Energy Cell+ and Vibe. The 890 upper is incredible and superior to the fine Max's.

Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running and shoe geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half.
Peter Stuart is a late 40's avid LA based runner with recent sub 3 hour marathons and sub 1:25 halves.
Dave Ames is the Founder and Head Coach of Ame For It Run Coaching, a nationwide run coaching business, training athletes of all ability levels from 5K to Marathon. A former competitive college athlete he keeps sub 3 hour marathon fit. 
Shannon Payne is a two time winner of the Mt Washington Road Race, was 3d in the World Mountain Running Championships and a 7x All American at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She currently works in running retail.
Tiffany Teaford is a Vermont based two time Boston Marathon qualifier and a former pro nordic skier and pro cyclist who is joining the RTR team with this her first review.
The Sonics was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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S said...

Will the S/Lab Sonic 2 get replaced by an upcoming shoe of the Running Avenue line or will there be a S/Lab Sonic 3 this year?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Sascha,
Unknown at this time. I have asked more than once and have not gotten an answer. S-Lab versions are sponsored athlete driven so I hope one will ask for an S_Lab! In the meantime the RA Pro is an alternative. We will test it soon.
Sam, Editor

CaliS said...

Hi! Any idea when these new road shoes will be available for purchase? I know it says February 1, but that was yesterday and they don't seem to be available yet! I'd really like to try these. Thanks!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi CaliS,
They will only be available at select running speciality stores for a while. I am working on getting a list. I know The Balanced Athlete a super fine run store in Renton WA has them. I know the owner Eric Sach and he is a master fitter even remotely. Ask for him.
Sam, Editor

Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links to all shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews. Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated

CaliS said...

Thanks so much for the info! Please keep us all posted :)

Sam Winebaum said...

Not sure you saw but got and posted the US store list for RA. It is above just below the reviewer bios.

CaliS said...

Perfect! Thank you so much! One iof these happens to be semi-local, so I plan to check them out :) I appreciate your help and info!

uk-runner said...

Now available to see on the Salomon UK website:

Héctor Cantos C said...

Hi, I´m looking for a new shoes to replace my old Asics Cumulus 18 that I bought 2 years ago. By that time I used to weigh around 10 kg more than now (1,70 m. 66 kg today) and I`ve been changing mit footprint from heel to forefoot while running, with good results. Since last summer I´m running on a pair of Mizuno Wave rider 20 and I love them cause are stable and cushioned, but firm enough to not be worried about my old Knees and ankles injuries without the feeling of bulky shoes and work perfect with my personalised topsoles.
So do you recommend the Salomon Sonic RA Max or what shoe do you recommend? My pace is between 5 and 6:30 minutes per km.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Hector,
Thanks for asking the question. Either would be fine but given that you say your have personalized top soles which I assume require a bit more room inside the Max might be the best choice as it is slightly wider and higher volume than the Sonic RA.
Sam, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links to all shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews. Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated

Will said...

How do either of these shoes compare to the Salomon Sense Pro 2 and Sense Pro Max? I know those shoes have slightly more trail-ready tread compared to the road shoes. However, I have been using both those shoes as daily road shoes and have really been enjoying them. I wonder how these shoes compare.

Héctor Cantos C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Will,
Thanks for asking. I have not run the Pro 2 but have the RA Pro and while working on the review now. I agree the Pro Max is a fine hybrid road trail shoe and is Salomon first more maximal shoe. The RA Max would be closest to the Pro Max. The RA Max upper is considerably more comfortable and roomier than the Pro Max, the cushioning is close but not quite the maximal feel of Pro Max, you have the effective Vibe in both, and the transitions, response and speed is considerably better in RA Max. And... RA Max weighs 1.5 oz less. The RA Max does have a road outsole but decent enough for some smooth trails.
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

Hello. I have a question for Shannon about the sizing. She said she's usually an 8 but a 7.5 would have worked. Is that in running shoes or "normal" shoes? I usually order up a half-size in running shoes but don't want them to be too big if these run on the larger side. Thanks!

Shannon said...

Hi Heather-I am usually an 8 in running shoes, but would need a 7.5 in this specifically. Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Just a quick follow-up...I used to run in Sense Pros before they disappeared, and I wore a 9. I usually size up to 9.5 in running shoes, but 9 was a good fit for the Sense Pro, so would you recommend an 8.5 for these?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Heather,
I have never run in the Sense Pro so can't comment on that one. Did you wear Sense Pro for trail and thus smaller size? I thought Sense Pro had a relatively snug fit. I would not size up in the Max as it is wider and has more volume than Sonic RA. If you did size up in either I think you would find the toe box roomier than Sense Pro in both.
Sam, Editor

BAllenby said...

I usually run in the S-Lab Sonic 2, but have been wanting something a bit more cushioned for slower, longer runs, as well as some every day walking around with kids use.

Do you have a strong feeling about whether the standard Sonic RA or the RA Max would be a better fit for my needs?

If it's helpful, a fast pace for me is 6:30-7min/mi and a slower pace is 8-8:30 min/mi.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi BAllenby,
Thanks for reading RTR and asking. I would go with the Sonic RA or the Sonic RA Pro (review soon). The Sonic RA is somewhat softer in the heel than Sonic 2 and definitely more cushioned in the forefoot due to the softer outsole rubber and Vibe but still lively. The Pro is actually a bit softer easier going yet for me while slightly less cushioned as it does not have a mid foot outsole piece. It transitions more smoothly than the Sonic RA but with less snap. It definitely contrasts with the firm outsole rubber of the Sonic 2 as its front outsole rubber is softer as with all the RA shoes.
Sam, Editor

BAllenby said...

Thanks so much for the advice!

Unknown said...

Sam - curious about any insights you can provide about how the RA or RA Pro might stretch or lossen up after use? The 10.5 is feeling a little roomy, but the 10 a bit too snug...

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Unknown,
Which model or both feels this way? And where in particular? What I usually do in such as situation is work on sock weight. I have found the Pro so far as stretched a bit more than the Sonic.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Sam. Not sure why I showed up as unknown...Both the RA and the RA Pro feel just a bit too snug, especially width wise. Length is good and overall volume is good. I'm going to experiment with socks as well as a few other insoles.

Ebolum said...

Hi Sam
I recently started using the sense ride as my first Salomon shoe and would like to get a road equivalent as I enjoy the quality of cushioning
Which of them would you say is closer? and I have just about enough forefoot room in the sense ride

Sam Winebaum said...

HI Ebolum,
Either would be fine coming from the Ride. The Sonic RA Max is a little broader and more stable up front. The Sonic RA livelier and more agile.
Sam, Editor

Josh H said...

I'm trying to decide between the Sonic RA and the Brooks Ghost 11. Do you have any thoughts comparing the two? I am replacing a pair of Hoka Clifton 2s that were fine, but I didn't love them.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Josh,
Thanks for asking. What didn't you like about Clifton 2? Softness and in stability a guess? You will find both Ghost 11 and Sonic RA more stable than Clifton but not as bouncy soft with Sonic RA firmer than the Ghost. If you are light and faster paced I might suggest Sonic RA. If you want somewhat more cushion and softer the Ghost.
Sam, Editor

Gmx said...

Thanks for the reviews! I am brand new to running (max distance is 5km, aiming to hit 15km by June) and looking to add another pair of shoes into a rotation. I am currently using a pair of Escalante 1s (and Merrel Trail Gloves the odd day) and am looking to experiment with a shoe with more drop for some faster runs and hills. I would consider myself a fore/mid foot striker - or atleast thats what I am trying to train myself to do. My short list is the Salomon Sonic Ra and the Nike Zoom Elite 9(both on clearance). Are these 2 shoes in the same category? Would one get a nod over the other? Cheers!

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi gmx43 g,
I would recommend the Sonic RA over Elite 9 especially as you are increasing volume. Elite is a racing shoe really. Didn’t care much for its soft heel and firmer forefoot. Sonic RA a solid light trainer with a balanced ride and some snap. Keep progressing!
Sam, Editor

Katty23 said...

Hi, question coming, bear with me while I explain the back story!...
I'm trying to increase my running kms as well as speed however over the last couple of years I repeatedly keen running into injuries (excuse the pun). I initially was having a lot of ankle and arch pain as well as knee pain. After seeing a podiatrist they recommended the old advice of getting custom made orthotics which I couldn't afford at the time and wasn't sure I agreed with as a long term solution anyway. I did however change my runners, I was wearing Asics at the time and went into a running store where they do the foot match thing and was recommended Brooks Adrenaline. I'm now rarely feeling pain in my arches but have since developed pain in my achilles, specifically on the right. It aches in the mid achilles whilst running and then mild pain at the insertion over the heel when at rest, even a day or two after a run. I bought the Salomon SpeedCross runners on a whim whilst in Africa because I'd forgotten to pack hiking boots and figured they'd do just for while I was away, I ran in them a couple times too and suddenly found I wasn't experiencing as much pain in the achilles so have since been wearing them for general road running at home. Unfortunately they're obviously not designed for road running and I find them too grippy if that makes sense although I'm now thinking perhaps a Salomon brand shoe for road running would solve my problems. Given this history, but also combined with the desire to increase speed and kms what shoe would you recommend?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Katty23,
I am not a medical person or podiatrist but it seems to me and it is the case for many that "support" "stability" type shoes such as Adrenaline as while recommended for pronation "issues", and pronation is actually for most natural and not a bad thing, are often not really a good idea for the majority of runners and might lead to what you describe. In Salomon road I might suggest you try the Sonic RA 2 or Predict RA, see below for links to reviews. Please let us know how it works out.
Sam, Editor

Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated!