Thursday, January 04, 2018

Under Armour UA HOVR Sonic Review: A Lot for a Little. Innovative, Dynamic Midsole and Great Upper at a Super Price

Article by Peter Stuart and Sam Winebaum

Under Armour UA HOVR Sonic
Approx. 10.2 oz/289 g US M9, tested sample M8.5 weighed 9.9 oz/280 g
Stack Height: Midsole + Outsole+ Sock liner 23mm/31mm, 8mm offset;  
Midsole + Outsole 17mm/25mm, 8 mm offset.
Available February 2018, $100, $110 Connected.
Sam:  UA has gone all out with the HOVR Sonic with a great fitting engineered knit upper, an innovative midsole, plenty of outsole rubber, and a great price at $100. Shoes in this price class generally have compromises somewhere, be it in materials or ride. The Sonic HOVR has none that we have seen in our testing.  The HOVR will also be available in a higher top version the Phantom. 
Peter: The Sonic HOVR is the latest from UA. They seem to be going all-in on this HOVR technology which combines a new, proprietary, midsole insert material wrapped in what they are calling an ‘energy web’--essentially encasing the softer foam in a mesh net (or web) that contains it and helps focus energy return. 

Bjorn Begelman, Senior Developer UA Run Footwear presents the Sonic HOVR to RoadTrailRun at The Running Event

First Impressions and Fit
Peter: Fit is sublime. Step-in and go. Sizing is spot-on. The HOVR Sonic came into my life just after I discovered the UA Charged Bandit 3, which was one of my favorite shoes of last year. On my first run, I was worried that these were a bit stiff, but they broke in nicely over the first few miles. 
Sam: I agree with Peter it is a perfect true to size fit for me. My only complaint is they are a touch short and low over the tip of the toes but as the knit toe bumper is not reinforced with extra stiffeners and somewhat stretchy this has not proved to be a big issue,

Sam: Knit uppers are often dense and scratchy or stretchy and overly snug. Not here.
UA used two types of yarn for the engineered knit upper, stretchier in the toe box and denser and more stabilizing for the midfoot saddle. This is not a stretch knit type upper and while dense it is pen and with enough stretch to be comfortable. 
To further help the mid foot hold there is a stretch mesh band connected to the very lightly padded tongue which extends from first lace hole to the last. The upper is somewhat stretchy when you pull them on but not overly constraining and snug. 
The tongue is a thing of functional beauty. Instead of a puffy mess or a flimsy thin flap. it wraps down far around the foot and has never budged.
So Sonic has stability knit at midfoot, plus stretch strap, plus the tongue to completely wrap the midfoot securely everywhere but with no pressures or gaps. 
The heel counter is external to reduce the potential for achilles irritation and while the heel achilles collar is only very lightly padded the rear foot hold is impeccable. I have had no irritation.
Unlike many recent UA shoes the Sonic has a conventional sockliner, thank you very much.  

Peter: UA can make an upper, that’s for sure. The HOVR Sonic upper is the best version of a knit upper I’ve seen. It’s breathable, but structured enough to really hold the foot. There’s a hard plastic external heel cup and a much denser weave in the rear of the shoe to hold the heel. While there’s barely any padding around the ankle collar I’ve experience zero heel slippage. Foot hold is nearly guaranteed by the wraparound tongue that goes almost all the way from one side of the foot to the other and is held in palace by elastic on either side. The tongue is a perfect thickness and really helps hold the fit of this shoe together. The lower ⅔ of the tongue is perforated-adding to the overall breathability of the HOVR Sonic. The rest of the upper is rounded out by varying densities of knit. 

Sam: As we said up front in a $100 shoe you might have a wonderful upper and lumpy midsole or a cost cutting upper and decent midsole. Well here both Peter and I agree we have an outstanding upper to go with a fabulous midsole.

HOVR Sonic has a dual density midsole. Following a trend we have seen with shoes such as the 361 Degrees Meraki, the upcoming Salomon Sonic RA line and Reebok Float Ride, we have a soft high rebound central core or layer which is supported by the rest of the EVA midsole and other "tricks" such as the energy web in the HOVR Sonic or the coatings over the soft materials in the 361and Brooks Levitate. These efforts seek to keep forces moving forward and not laterally. The main lifting is done with EVA sidewalls as in the Float Ride or a carrier encasing the whole rebound/soft insert or layer as in the Sonic and Salomon. Lateral forces with these non EVA midsoles are always tricky to direct. The original high energy non EVA foam adidas Boost relied on EVA layers and plastic Torsion pieces. 

With HOVR Sonic we have essentially a side wall and under foot Charged Foam carrier as well as a textile web wrapping and stabilizing the soft high rebound HOVR insert.

HOVR Cushioning System
In the center of the midsole seen through the window above and also seen at the heel (picture below) UA uses an insert of a new soft Olefin based material from Dow, similar to EVA, but with greater energy return and which is also claimed to be lighter and more durable than EVA. The HOVR window into the outsole on the lateral side is functional helping release the lateral side to smooth crash/stance/pushoff transitions while the medial side with no window helps provide some stability and support.  
This central core of HOVR is wrapped in a dense red mesh to help keep forces in the vertical plane. The mesh helps prevent forces from squeezing out laterally. The white gray speckled outer “carrier” is UA Charged Foam which gives the midsole torsional stiffness and stability and a snappy if fairly stiff and decently long flex.

Sam: The outsole at first glance had me concerned. The rear circle pattern of high abrasion firm rubber, reminding me of a court shoe, and with no heel decoupling.  The full coverage and relative stiffness had me thinking the experience would be rough and firm at the heel and also not very smooth transitioning. The front rubber is 1:1 blown rubber and in combination with the lug design has the shoe flowing very smoothly indeed. The soft front rubber is already showing some wear of the highlight nubs but I am thrilled UA combined a nice stable firm heel outsole with softer easier transitioning front rubber. 

Shoes in this price class, sometimes with cross training and lifestyle side pretensions often use very firm rubber all over or don’t segment effectively, or focus on a rigid midfoot stabilizing outsole area leading to stiff, firm rides.  In the Sonic, the midfoot outsole midsole combination, often an area where I find things to soft or to firm impeding transitions at varied paces, is particularly well executed with smooth and relatively soft, so I don't see exactly “explosive” transitions at any pace but fine easy ones.. 

Peter: The outsole and a layer of Charged Foam sit below the Olefin insert. The effect is of a full-contact outsole . Grip is good, transition is smooth and flex is perfect. There’s a little bit of wear on the forefoot sections of rubber at this point, but it appears that there is plenty of rubber to go through there. I don’t expect any significant wear issues with these.

Peter: After a couple of stiff miles, the Sonic HOVR opened up into a really smooth, enjoyable ride. It’s not super soft and cushy, but neither is it overly firm. Overall it’s a nicely balanced, smooth and even ride. The Sonic does well at any speed, eating up long miles with ease, and responding surprisingly well when you step on the gas. 
Sam: The Sonic HOVR ride is wonderful. The combination of the soft high rebound central Olefin core with the firmer Charged Foam carrier and full coverage heel rubber has me cruising along lively at any pace with good support and stability. I agree with Peter’s assessment of the cushion. The transitions are smooth but not exactly snappy at any pace, the response more than adequate. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

Peter: One of the traps of introducing a BIG NEW TECHNOLOGY is that it can be disappointing when a shoe just works really well but doesn’t reinvent running. To date the only shoe that I’ve run in that feels like a substantially different running experience is the Vaporfly 4%. 

That said, I like the UA HOVR Sonic. I mean, I really like it. I might like the Bandit 3 just slightly better, but I think UA has finally found their groove as a running shoe company. The HOVR Sonic runs super smooth. I just finished a 20 miler in them and they felt great all the way through--no foot fatigue, no hot spots, no problems with the upper. Firmness is just about perfect --they feel soft enough to stay comfortable and keep from feeling beat up, but firm enough to push smoothly through transition.  They are a great daily trainer--and at $100 bucks you cannot go wrong. 

Peter Score  9.5 /10
-0.5 for early wear on some of the outsole rubber--keeping an eye on how they hold up.

Sam: I previously tested the UA Gemini 3 and they just did not excite me with their somewhat ponderous ride and rubbery rebound which seemed to leak energy. With the HOVR Sonic  UA has combined lively soft cushion in the center of the shoe from the wrapped Olefin core with support and response through the Charged Foam outer midsole, included a full coverage outsole and a great modern upper to create a solid daily trainer with plenty of cushion, an easy transition at any pace, and decent response.  

It is a tricky to build in lots of firm outsole rubber at the heel while keeping the response consistent with the midsole firmness, to soft and there is a lingering feeling of bottoming out, to firm and things get jarring but UA got it done. Obviously the central Olefin core plays a huge role in balancing the feel as does the segmented outsole. And lest I forget, and I do forget about the Sonic’s upper when running, a good thing, the upper is fantastic. It is the first “knit” upper that really works for me without compromises of fit or comfort, even better than Skechers excellent GOKnit as among other things the breathability is excellent due to the extensive holes with no lining at all required.  This said generally I would prefer a thin engineered mesh with appropriate overlays.  

I agree with Peter, at $100 or really at any price, the Sonic HOVR is an excellent, no compromises daily trainer with a smooth ride at all paces and some lively, friendly on the legs personality

Sam’s Score 9.4 /10
-0.2 for some early forefoot outsole wear
-0.2 for weight. I think the Sonic at sub 9 oz would be livelier yet. Knit uppers tend to add weight.  While it works very well, the full contact outsole heel to toe also could be paired down.
-0.2  I would like to see the midfoot outsole midsole be a touch firmer, just a touch, to give the Sonic a bit more snap and stability given the knit upper with no overlays..  


HOVR Sonic vs. Brooks Launch 5 (RTR review)
Peter: The Launch has been hit and miss for me, but every run in the UA HOVR Sonic has been a delight. They work with my stride more consistently and the upper is as dialed in as it gets.
Sam: The Launch 5 is a touch lighter and has a new unstructured upper, to unstructured for my tastes at speed, with the combination of narrow mid foot on the ground and minimal mid foot upper support not ideal for me. All pace versatility and support in the Sonic HOVR was superior but at faster paces with good consistent form the Launch 5 might be a "faster" shoefor some. Given a pick and at this weight class and purpose, I focus on versatility and wouldpick the Sonic.

HOVR Sonic vs. Skechers GOMeb Razor (RTR review)
Peter: Similar shoes in some ways. The Razor is lighter and feels a bit faster. Ride is similar in some ways. The upper on the HOVR Sonic is a much more refined knit upper. Both are comfortable, but Sonic looks better and the tongue really helps hold the foot in.

HOVR Sonic vs. ASICS RoadHawk FF (RTR review)
Sam: The RoadHawk overdoes its midfoot saddle, it’s comparatively very snug, and has firm, stiff outsole rubber particularly upfront.The ride from its single density firm Flyte Foam is firmer and stiffer for sure when combined with all the firm outsole rubber. Just not nearly as fun and comfortable to run as the Sonic. 

HOVR Sonic vs. adidas Boston 6 (RTR review)
Sam: The Boston is lighter by a full ounce but a worthy comparison and it to is a lively shoe from its bouncy, high energy return Boost midsole. You will get a superior, more comfortable upper with the Sonic and all that energy will be far better controlled particularly at the heel where the Sonic is more stable and directed. Upfront the Sonic clearly has more forefoot cushion and it is more stable as well.

HOVR Sonic vs. Saucony Ride 9 (RTR review)
Sam: Wow!  Early 2017 had me thinking that the Ride 9 was about as good as a daily trainer could get. The competition sure heated up in the last year. The Ride 9 coming in at about the same weight with its “conventional”  Power Foam midsole and Everun topsole while creating a slightly more responsive ride just isn’t as cushioned and lively as the combination of Olefin center core, outer Charged Foam and fulllanding zone of the Sonic HOVR. And the Sonic upper is far more modern and sophisticated in design and is more comfortable with less pressure while being equally supportive 

HOVR Sonic vs. Skechers GOrun Ultra Road R2 (RTR review)
Close to an ounce lighter, the more maximal Ultra Road shares a knit type upper with the Sonic. Its upper is softer but less breathable and a touch less supportive as well.  It is more maximally cushioned, somewhat stiffer and transitions as a result more awkwardly than the Sonic. I would pick the Skechers for heavier mileage and slow easier running and for yet more cushion and the Sonic for versatility and potentially longer outsole durability.

HOVR Sonic vs. 361 Degrees Meraki (RTR review)
The Meraki was a big 2017 surprise for me. A dynamic, responsive daily trainer with edge taken offby a QuikFoam layer of soft rubber infused EVA “wrapped” by multiple TPU paint layers to control lateral energy is very similar in concept to the insert in the Sonic with its textile web wrapping. The upper of the 361 is fine but not the smooth modern fit of the Sonic’s. The Meraki is heavier and is overall slightly firmer in ride front and back. It’s a toss up with slight edge to the Sonic for its softer overall ride. 

HOVR Sonic vs. Salomon Sonic RA (RTR preview, review soon)
A full ounce lighter,the Sonic RA is firmer for sure but vibration is attenuated by its Opal insert, 6mm front and 12mm back. It has a more conventional mesh upper with overlays. It is not quite as comfy but is more supportive for sure, almost or actually trail worthy.  Under foot the ride is very similar with the midfoot transitioning a bit more smoothly in the HOVR but with a bit more snap in the RA. Overall the Sonic is a slightly “faster” feeling shoe with the HOVR more cushioned, softer and more accomodating top to bottom. I would lean towards the Salomon for its versatility, very durable outsole, more supportive upper and firmer, more stable and snappier mid foot platform for faster paces and towards the Sonic HOVR for long run utility and overall comfort. 

HOVR Sonic vs. Reebok Floatride Run (RTR preview, review soon)
With a stretch knit upper and plastic cage at mid foot, the upper arrangement of the FloatRide Run is snug and works well although is not quite as breathable. I prefer the Sonic's upper. Underfoot the Float Ride ride is slightly firmer and the transition smoother with a more distinct and further forward toe flex point. The real magic in the Reebok is the dynamic, super light Float Foam, a Pebax foam, a form of which is also used in the Nike Vapor Fly. At just about 9 oz the Floatride is lighter and is livelier at all paces for me and ride is everything to me. If it wasn't for its upper and a price at $50 more than the HOVR, the Floatride would easily be the winner. 

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 an avid LA based runner in his late 40's with recent sub 3 hour marathons and sub 1:25 halves.
For Sam and Peter's full run bios see our Reviewers Bio Page here.
The Sonic was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments Questions Welcome Below!
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Anonymous said...

As always love the reviews. I have a question that is not related to a review. I have noticed that you all talk about a heel of a shoe being stable or unstable. I mention this as I have developed some pain on the outside of my right foot when running in some shoes. The Skechers GRU Road 2 as an example. Can an unstable or "mushy" heel cause such a problem? I am an under pronator and usually run in high cushioned neutral shoes. The pain comes and goes and is not constant.

Any information would be helpful. Thanks for the time and keep up the great work on the reviews.


Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Marc,
Thanks for your kind words about RTR! Much appreciated. I too am a heel striker and also like a bit of stability. Soft foams and the heel's midsole outsole geometry can for me cause some of those outside of ankle aches and pains. Not so much in GRUR 2 but for sure in the Clifton 1-3. I ponder this a lot and I think it has more to do with outsole coverage at the heel, more and continuous better over soft midsoles, and keeping the bevel rocker flatter but not completely flat. The GRUR2 is has a bit of a bevel but I do think it would benefit from more continuous thicker outsole heel rubber and I have told Skechers this as I wear tested the shoe. I also think it could have better and longer flex.
Sam, Editor
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

Anonymous said...

Any update on the outsole of the UA HOVR Sonic? How does it holds up?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Ben,
My wife has over 80 miles on hers and there is for all intents and purposes no wear beyond some of the tiny nubs. So to date a very durable outsole.There is very thick rubber over the whole outsole which is neat as it will accommodate different wear patterns.
Sam, Editor.

Unknown said...

A big fan of RTR. You guys really take the shoes through their paces and cover all aspects of the shoes that are important. Much more detailed than anyone would find at almost every other review site. Keep up the great work!

Now, to my question.

I've been running in the adidas Supernova Sequence 9 for the past two years (once I realized how much I liked the shoe, I bought a couple pair) but alas, as they say, all good things must pass, and I can no longer find the shoe in my size. The Supernova ST just doesn't cut if for me, so I am looking for a shoe that has similar qualities; some support, cushioned in the forefoot and heel, not mushy, and some response when I want to pick up the pace and try and stay with the young bucks.

I read the review on the Forza 3 and it seems like a potential fit for what I'm looking for. I am also intrigued with the UA Sonic, but am concerned that it won't give me that bit of support that I need.

Interested in your thoughts.

Thank you,

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks for following RTR and for commenting. Both the Forza and UA Sonic could fit the bill for you. The Sonic' outer Charged Foam carrier is quite firm and stable without resorting to extra firm posts. No question Forza 3 would also fit the bill. You might also look at Salomon Sonic RA Max which focuses most of its support at the forefoot so more guidance than pronation control and Brooks Ravenna 9 with more pronounced rear support from a post and a flexible more neutral feeling forefoot.
Reviews of all below at our index page.
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