New Balance MC 996 Shoe Review
- Immediate comfort
- Durability guarantee
- Support wanes over time
- Not super durable
We couldn't help but be excited about playtesting the New Balance MC 996, especially after seeing Canadian star Milos Raonic wearing them to start the 2013 season. New Balance took the already successful MC 851, maintained the lightweight comfort and low-to-the-ground design, and improved the support and stability. The result is an immediately super comfortable shoe that allowed our playtesters to feel like they could fly around the court with speed and confidence. All of our playtesters loved how low-profile this shoe was and how connected to the court they felt. The uppers were soft and supple, but at times a bit too soft for some of our team. As the playtest wore on some testers commented on how soft and flexible the upper became and how they found their foot sliding around in the shoe. However, the new MC 996 proved to be very comfortable, fairly stable and a great choice for the player who enjoys a light and fast shoe.
Comfort - Score: 4.1
Comfort right out of the box proved to be one of the strength's of the MC 996 when we took it to the courts. Chris really enjoyed the soft upper and the low-to-the-ground feel. He explained, "I was impressed by how supple and comfortable these shoes felt right out of the box. After lacing them up for the first time I walked on the court and played in absolute comfort. I liked the level of cushioning; it placed me low to the court, yet absorbed all the shock from landing. The uppers flexed very well, which made the shoes feel not only comfortable, but also fast. I had no rubbing or blister issues throughout the test. The comfortable fit was one of the high points for me with this shoe."
Jason felt that the softer upper was forgiving enough for his wider foot. He said, "I was very happy with the comfort of these shoes, especially since they felt so lightweight. The cushioning felt responsive, yet plush. Because of the wider fit (wearing the D width) and supple upper there was absolutely no pinching."
Andy has always found New Balance shoes to fit him well, and this one was no exception. He offered, "These shoes were super comfortable right out of the box. Like other New Balance shoes in the past, it just seemed to perfectly fit the contours of my foot. When I took them to the courts the most noticeable comfort feature was the extremely cushioned midsole. Harsh landings were minimized by the pillowy layer between the insole and the outsole. The upper is also very soft and rides on the top of the foot nicely. Comfort is definitely one of the strengths of this shoe!"
Troy initially found comfort, but he struggled over time. He explained, "Right out of the box this shoe seemed to fit well with my foot. The upper was soft and supple, so it did not have much of a break-in period. This shoe provided a low-to-the-ground feel, so there wasnÕt much cushioning in the forefoot. I found the upper material to expand after about five hours of play, which resulted in the shoe not hugging my foot as well as it initially did out of the box. When I wore two pairs of socks this shoe had a better fit for me, and comfort improved. Overall, it lacked the cushioning I prefer in some of the heavier duty shoes that I typically use."
Ventilation - Score: 4.4
Breathability was never an issue for our playtesters with the MC 996. "A very well ventilated shoe!" Jason exclaimed. "There's plenty of mesh in the uppers and tongue so that air circulated with no problem."
Andy liked the breathability as well, and said, "The rubber cage around the mesh upper offers lots of room for the foot to breathe. I never felt in danger of overheating when playing, even as the days have started to get warmer. The level of ventilation is not exceptional, but it's absolutely adequate for most situations."
This was one of the more ventilated shoes Troy has tested in recent years. He explained, "The overall amount of integrated mesh in the upper portion of this shoe, including the tongue, created plenty of breathability. My feet never felt overheated during long hitting sessions. I could actually feel a slight breeze through the shoe when sprinting in them, which is something I have only experienced in a few shoes in my years of playtesting."
Chris' feet were comfortable during the playtest. He said, "My feet always felt cool and comfortable in these shoes. The uppers and tongue have ample mesh, and it seemed to do a good job in letting my feet breathe. I did not notice any excessive heat build-up inside the shoes, and my feet never got excessively sweaty. While I couldn't feel the air flowing through them like I can when wearing the adidas CC Feather IIs, these shoes provided sufficient ventilation to let me play very comfortably."
Arch Support - Score: 3.6
The MC 996's arch support is slightly lower than medium, but most of our playtesters still found just enough support. The lower arch fit Jason's flatter foot well. He explained, "I'm sure the arch support was bad for Chris, which means it's great for me! I could still feel it slightly, but there was no soreness at all."
Contrary to Jason's assumption, it wasn't the arch support that bothered Chris as much as the flex of the shoe. He said, "The height for the arch was a tad lower than ideal for my higher arched foot, but the level of support was OK. I would have liked the shoes to be a tad stiffer in the chassis under my arch, as they flexed just a tad too much. If the fit had been more glove-like I would have been fine, but the midfoot and forefoot were a little too wide in a D width for me even with two pairs of socks. Along with the flex of the shoes, the fit had my feet sliding around inside the shoes, and I felt the strain in the arch and the top of my midfoot areas."
The arch fit Andy's foot pretty well, but he found himself desiring a little more support. He said, "The arch support of the shoe fit my foot very well, but at times it felt a little low. I would have liked just a touch more pressure in that area when moving around. No real issues here, but just a little more support would have been nice."
Like other New Balance shoes he had worn in the past, Troy found the arch support to be a little low for his liking. He offered, "As I have noticed in other New Balance shoes, such as the 1005, the arch support was on the low side. I wasnÕt getting the arch support I would have liked from this shoe, and after a couple of hours of aggressive play I experienced some arch pain/fatigue. I swapped out the stock insole with a pair of my Superfeet insoles and that seemed to solve the problem."
Foot Support/Stability - Score: 3.3
Our playtesters had mixed feelings when it came to support and stability. Most liked how the TPU-injected cage around the forefoot kept the foot locked in, while others felt it became a little too soft and flexible over time. "I wish I could give two separate scores here. One for support and one for stability," said Jason. "Stability would get a much higher score for me. The NDURE cage did a good job keeping my feet from rolling over when I planted and changed direction. On the other hand, or foot as it were, my feet were sliding around inside the shoe, not getting enough support. On the days when I got pulled all over the court I'd experience a lot of rubbing on my pinky and big toes because my feet weren't locked in."
Chris echoed these sentiments, saying, "I liked the flexible and fast feel of the uppers, however, I need a more supportive fit from a shoe that flexes this much. My feet were moving around inside the shoes. On an aggressive lateral plant the shoe was twisting on my foot, and I was feeling some strain during a long hit. I also found the heels slipping a tad too much, despite using a runners knot at the top of the lace system. With a more supportive fit I would have enjoyed this shoe much more."
Troy also felt the upper became a little too soft over time. He explained, "As I wore this shoe more the upper seemed to stretch out a bit and my feet were moving around in the forefoot area. I fixed this by wearing two pairs of socks, which is a common practice for me, and I felt much more secure in the shoes. As far as stability goes, this shoe provides such a low-to-the-ground feel that I felt secure making aggressive lateral movements. I didn't find the support around my ankles like I have found from shoes such as the adidas barricade 7, but that seems to be the trade-off with a lightweight shoe such as this."
Andy didn't have as much of an issue with the stability as the other testers. He said, "For as lightweight and low to the ground that this shoe is, it still provides more than enough support for moving around aggressively on court. The rubber cage that wraps the forefoot did a great job and did not allow my foot to slide over the side of the shoe when cutting laterally. The only issue I had was that as the playtest wore on the upper became a little too flexible, and my foot started sliding around a bit inside the shoe. This caused a bit of instability, but the cage did a fine job preventing it from becoming too supple."
Overall Sole Durability - Score: 3.1
Durability was not a strength of the MC 996, but it was about on par with the rest of the lightweight speed shoes on the market. Andy wore down the shoe after putting in some extra time on the court. He said, "I really enjoyed wearing this shoe, so I wore it more than others shoes I have playtested. I definitely put the sole durability to the test. It held up nicely, but by the end of the test I was starting to develop a hole under my big toe, where I normally wear out a shoe. The rest of the outsole has plenty more rubber left. However, the great thing is that if you do happen to wear out the shoe, it's covered by New Balance's unmatched one-year guarantee."
Chris also began to see some wear and tear during the test. He explained, "The durability was decent in this shoe. For its weight, the durability was good, but it wore on the quicker side when compared with other durability guaranteed shoes, and I saw quite a bit of balding under my right big toe. I'm starting to go through that part of the outsole as we near the end of the test, and this is a shoe where I would exercise the durability warranty."
Jason started going through the shoe a little bit quicker than normal. He said, "It wasn't the most durable outsole, but that was to be expected because of how lightweight it is. I started noticing wear and tear after about 10 hours on court. It wore out first near the medial forefoot on both shoes."
Compared with other speed-oriented shoes he tested, Troy didn't think the durability of the MC 996 was better or worse than other speed-oriented shoes he's tested. He said, "Overall, the sole durability was below average compared with all the shoes I have tried in the past, but average compared to other lightweight shoes. I found the most wear near the balls of my feet, where the tread started to go bald, but I didn't completely wear a hole through that portion of the outsole."
Toe Durability - Score: 2.9
Our toe-dragging playtesters found that the soft material on the toe area of the upper did start to show some wear during the playtest. "Out of all the playtesters, I am likely the worst when it comes to being a persistent toe-dragger," acknowledged Troy. "In 10 to 15 hours I had worn through the rubber toe guard near the tip of the shoe. With other heavy-duty shoes, such as the Nike Air Courtballistec 4.3 and adidas barricade 7, I will typically get closer to 25-30 hours of play before I wear a hole in the toe. The toe durability was relatively on par with other lightweight shoes such as the Nike Vapor 9, Asics Gel Resolution (first generation), and the adidas CC Feather, but it wasn't going to last me through the summer tournament season!"
Chris also started to see some wear in the toe area, but he did not think it affected the performance of the shoe all that much. He said, "I have a lot of scuff marks on the uppers of my 996s. I'm putting quite a bit of wear on the lateral side of the toe tip of my left shoe from dragging it on slice backhands. In that area the soft midsole material is contacting the court and is wearing away, however, it does not seem to be adversely affecting the performance of the shoe. The tip of the left shoe is showing some abuse, too, but is holding up better."
Traction - Score: 4.3
Our playtest team had no issues with the traction of the MC 996, finding the right amount of stick and give. "I found a nice level of traction from these shoes," said Chris. "The outsole material was soft enough to grab the court, and I felt confident pushing off aggressively. Also, when I came to a quick stop I found the traction to be up to the task of scrubbing off speed with ease. On lateral plants there was enough give to allow me to slide out of the shot, which was perfect, as it took pressure off my joints."
Andy never had to worry about slipping on the hard courts during the test. He said, "Traction was never an issue with these shoes. they had a nice balance between give and grab when making aggressive cuts. I felt confident moving and changing directions at full speed in these shoes, and the traction was a big reason why."
Troy was so confident with the traction of these shoes that he had to be careful he wasn't breaking any speed limits on the court. He said, "The traction that the outsole of this shoe provided made me feel confident moving aggressively. I found the combination of herringbone tread on the lateral side and a slick tread on the medial side of the forefoot provided a good balance of grip and slide as I was changing directions. I felt like I could slam on the brakes when charging for a drop shot and gradually slide into a stop with confidence. When it came to my movement around the court, these shoes felt like a fresh pair of racing tires!"
Jason was sliding a little bit too much for his liking, but for the most part he felt good moving around the court in these shoes. He said, "I liked the traction this shoe provided. The outsole uses a unique tread pattern, and it seemed to grip the hard courts well. I had no issues on starts, but when I tried to stop and change directions I noticed the shoe slide and give a little bit. It wasn't a big deal most of the time."
Weight - Score: 4.6
One of the strengths of the MC 996 was how light they were and how fast they made our playtesters feel on court. Andy particularly enjoyed how lightweight and low to the ground he felt in them. He said, "The light weight, along with the comfort, was a standout strength of this shoe. It is super low-profile and low to the ground, and you can't help but feel light and fast on your feet moving around the court. New Balance did a great job producing such a speed-oriented shoe while still maintaining enough support to move around with full confidence. I really enjoyed the lightweight design of the 996!"
"The weight was probably my favorite aspect of this shoe," said Jason. "It just feels so light and fast. The low-to-the-ground feel definitely adds to the sensation of being lightweight."
Chris also loved the lightweight design, but felt they beefed up the shoe a little compared to its predecessor, the MC 851. He offered, "On court the 996s felt light and fast. They flex quite a bit through the forefoot, and that gave them a fast feel for me. They are not as minimalistic as the 851s, but they feel equally as fast and offer better support and durability. The lightweight feel was also impressive considering these are durability guaranteed."
Troy wished the shoe would have lasted a little longer, but he couldn't help but appreciate the lightweight feel and design. He said, "This lightweight offering made me feel extra-speedy when putting in the miles on court! Compared with the Nike Air Courtballistec 4.3 or the Asics Gel Resolution 4, these felt like slippers on the court. I must admit that I would have preferred a little more material on this shoe for durability purposes, but when it comes to speed-oriented shoes it doesnÕt get much better than this!"
Overall - Score: 3.8
Chris - "I liked the traction, out-of-the-box comfort, and light and flexible feel."
Jason - "The lightweight, low-to-the-ground feel. Loved the ventilation and overall ride."
Troy - "The lightweight and low-profile feel of this shoe made me feel race-ready as soon as I slipped them on!"
Andy - "Super lightweight and low-profile in design, and extremely comfortable. I also really liked the stability the shoe had to offer, especially with the forefoot cage."
Chris - "I would have liked a more supportive fit. Even with two pairs of socks, the fit of the D width was a little too loose for me."
Jason - "Not enough support. My feet weren't locked in so they were sliding around in the shoe."
Troy - "For the amount of time I play and my aggressive-grinding style this shoe did not supply the durability that I need."
Andy - "I was sliding around slightly toward the end of the playtest as the uppers became softer. I also would have liked just a little bit more arch support."
Comparing this shoe to other shoes they've worn, our testers said:
Chris - "One of the better New Balance shoes I have worn, this one is like a more supportive and durable version of the 851, but it fit a little wider in the forefoot on me than the 851. These shoes also had the flex and traction of a shoe like the Nike Zoom Breathe 2K12."
Jason - "Fits me like a Babolat SFX and has that low-to-the-ground feel of a Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour."
Troy - "The weight and low profile reminded me of the Nike Vapor 9 and the KSwiss Tubes Monfils. I also found similar performance to the Nike Zoom Breathe 2K10, but I felt that the 2K10 was slightly more durable."
Andy - "This was a really nice playtest, and I wore this shoe a ton. It felt similar to the adidas adizero CC Feather II that we recently tested in its lightweight, low-profile design, except it's a little bit more shoe than the Feather. If you're looking for lightweight, low-to-the-ground court feel and lots of cushioning, this is worth a test drive!"
Playtester Foot Types:
Chris - Narrow width / Medium arch
Jason - Wide width / Low arch
Troy - Narrow width / Medium arch
Andy - Medium width / Low arch
Review date: March 2013. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
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