Our verdict

With its heritage as a 90s basketball shoe, the New Balance 550 is a retro kick that shines in utility and versatility on our wear tests. It boasts a clean and straightforward style that amplifies its adaptable vibe from the hardwood to the playground. Despite having no modern technology, this sneaker thrilled us with lasting cozy strides while keeping us stylishly chic on the city streets.

Pros

  • Attention-grabbing throwback look
  • Well-cushioned insole
  • Incredibly clean details
  • Suitable for various outfits
  • Durable, high-quality construction
  • No visible wear after several uses
  • Easy to clean
  • Striking shades
  • Reasonably priced

Cons

  • Insufficient lockdown feel
  • Not ideal for wide feet
  • Released in a limited quantity

Audience verdict

89
Good!
  • Top 6% most popular sneakers

Who should buy

We recommend the New Balance 550 as a great choice for those who: 

  • enjoy wearing throwback-styled sneakers with modern comfort
  • are looking for an affordable New Balance model to add to your rotation
  • prefer kicks that are easy to maintain

New Balance 550 rfuievble

Who should NOT buy

The 550 will feel too snug for those with wide feet. We recommend the New Balance 530 as a roomier alternative. 

The 550 boasts a rather firm midsole, so those who prefer softer cushioning from their sneakers should check out the positively plush New Balance 9060.

New Balance 550 eaqvq

Breathability

As is generally the case with leather sneakers, the 550 suffers from sub-par airflow. Our smoke test helps to give a visual idea of the shoe’s poor airflow as we can see that smoke is mainly able to escape in thin wisps through the shoe’s perforated tongue. We therefore give the 550 a breathability score of 2 out of 5, which means that it will certainly feel toasty during the warm summer months. 

Conversely, check out the smoke show that is the Puma RS-X which earned a perfect 5 out of 5 in the same test. 

Despite appearing to sport lots of micro-perforations along the shoe’s side panel, inspecting a backlit cross-section of the upper reveals that the only part of the 550 that allows light to shine through is the non-leather tongue. This further illuminates the shoe’s lackluster performance in our smoke test. 

The narrow strip of mesh that acts as a bridge between solid slabs of leather is a little detail that likely saved this shoe from receiving the lowest breathability score. As we can see from our microscope shots, this section is made up of two layers of mesh braided with lots of gaps that promote at least a minimal amount of airflow through the shoe.

New Balance 550 ree

New Balance 550 Breathability
Test results
550 2
Average 3
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Leather/Suede quality

By searing the various sections and overlays that make up the 550’s upper with our blowtorch and scratching off the scorched remains, we determined that they are all made of genuine leather. This absence of synthetic materials is truly remarkable for a shoe at this extremely fair price point. 

Test results
550 Real leather

Toebox durability

Shoes with leather uppers tend to fare pretty well in our durability tests, and the 550 is no exception.

Despite quickly throwing up a flurry of material at the onset of the test, we found that our Dremel had done little more than smooth out the area at the point of contact with our abrasive element, leaving only a minor scuff on the toebox after four seconds. This above-average performance earns the 550 a toebox durability score of 4 out of 5. 

New Balance 550 Toebox durability
Test results
550 4
Average 3.8
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

We unleashed another four seconds of fury against the 550’s heel counter which also proved to be a worthy contender against our Dremel.

While the tool’s grinding element was able to pierce through the lining material, it didn’t manage to eat away at much of the soft padding within by the four-second mark, therefore leading us to give it another respectable 4 out of 5. 

New Balance 550 Heel padding durability
Test results
550 4
Average 3.4
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

With a durometer reading of 85 HC, the 550’s outsole is right on par with our current lab average. Based on our findings in our lab so far, we’ve found that this level of hardness usually denotes a good balance of grip and durability. 

New Balance 550 Outsole hardness
Test results
550 85.0 HC
Average 85.0 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
72.9 HC
Outsole hardness
90.3 HC

Outsole durability

We turn to our Dremel once more to test the durability of the 550’s outsole. This time spinning at 10K RPM, we pressed the tool’s abrasive element against the shoe where it immediately bit into and eased its way through the outsole rubber. 

Once the time was up, we used our tire tread gauge to determine that the shoe had lost 1.03 mm of rubber from its outsole. This puts the 550 in line with how the average sneaker performs in this test and means that we expect this shoe to last at least 400 miles of use before showing any major signs of wear and tear.

New Balance 550 Outsole durability
Test results
550 1.0 mm
Average 1.0 mm
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

At 6.6 mm thick, the 550’s outsole is beefier than average for a sneaker. While all that extra material to wear through gives us added confidence in the 550’s durability, it does affect the shoe’s weight. 

New Balance 550 Outsole thickness
Test results
550 6.6 mm
Average 5.5 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
3.4 mm
Outsole thickness
8.6 mm

Weight

With its leather upper and all that rubber on the outsole, it’s no wonder that the 550 is heavier than the average sneaker at 16 oz (452g). However, we wouldn’t go as far as to describe the shoe as burdensome, especially when it comes to normal day-to-day activities. 

New Balance 550 Weight
Test results
550 15.94 oz (452g)
Average 14.18 oz (402g)
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
8.54 oz (242g)
Weight
22.61 oz (641g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

Using our caliper, we measured the 550’s stack to be 33.7 mm thick at the heel.

New Balance 550 ervqwvqv

This is slightly higher than our current lab average and means that the 550 effectively dampens our landings with a ride that’s comfy as well as supportive. 

New Balance 550 Heel stack
Test results
550 33.7 mm
Average 29.6 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
18.2 mm
Heel stack
41.8 mm

Forefoot stack

The 550’s stack is on par with our current lab average at 18.7 mm thick at the forefoot. According to our caliper measurements.

New Balance 550 vqwv

This gives us a good sense of the surface below which serves to keep us feeling grounded and nimble despite the relatively high heel. 

New Balance 550 Forefoot stack
Test results
550 18.0 mm
Average 18.7 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
10.6 mm
Forefoot stack
28.3 mm

Drop

The difference in our stack measurements leaves the 550 with a heel drop of 15.7 mm. This steeper-than-average offset makes the shoe a good choice for those who prefer the feeling of an elevated heel from their sneakers. 

New Balance 550 Drop
Test results
550 15.7 mm
Average 10.9 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
6.7 mm
Drop
17.2 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

We pressed our durometer against the 550’s midsole and got a rather firm reading of 34.5 HA.

New Balance 550 3qevwew

It still feels well-cushioned enough for day-to-day purposes, thanks in part to the relatively robust heel stack. 

Test results
550 34.5 HA
Average 29.2 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 40 sneakers
Number of shoes
15.0 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
60.0 HA

Insole thickness

At 8.8 mm thick, the 550’s two-layered Ortholite insole is significantly thicker than our current lab average. Not only does this heighten our sense of comfort within the shoe, but it also provides excellent arch support which makes the shoe a great choice for those with flat feet. What’s more, the moisture-wicking properties of the Ortholite insole kept our feet dry and odor-free for hours on end. 

New Balance 550 Insole thickness
Test results
550 8.8 mm
Average 5.4 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
3.1 mm
Insole thickness
13.9 mm

Stability

Lateral stability test

We felt incredibly well-planted as we shifted our weight from side to side in the 550. This not only makes it a nice and stable kick for strutting about town but also means that we can hit the courts for some pickup games with confidence. 

Torsional rigidity

We found the 550 quite difficult to bend and twist in our hands, leading us to give it a torsional rigidity score of 4 out of 5 on our subjective scale. As such, the shoe’s structure works to mitigate any excessive lateral movements that might negatively impact our sense of balance.   

Test results
550 4
Average 3.5
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The well-structured nature of the shoe extends to the generously padded heel counter which also put up an above-average level of resistance as we probed and squeezed at it, earning it another 4 out of 5 for heel counter stiffness. 

This also helps in preventing our foot from rolling laterally during our stride which further contributes to the 550’s stable underfoot sensation. However, it doesn’t provide a solid enough rearfoot lockdown to prevent our heel from sliding up and down as we move around.

Test results
550 4
Average 3.2
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

At only 102 mm wide according to our caliper, the 550’s midsole isn’t as broad as the average sneaker at the forefoot. However, we didn’t find that this negatively impacted the shoe’s stability during our tests, especially with the forefoot being so close to the ground. On the other hand, this slim profile does make the shoe feel rather nimble despite looking somewhat clunky.

New Balance 550 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
550 102.0 mm
Average 108.8 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
100.0 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
121.0 mm

Midsole width in the heel

At the heel, the midsole is closer to but still shy of our current lab average at 78.1 mm wide based on our caliper measurements. 

New Balance 550 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
550 78.1 mm
Average 83.0 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
69.4 mm
Midsole width in the heel
103.1 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

After securing the 550 to our workbench, we found that 25.9N of force is needed to bend the shoe 90 degrees. This makes the 550 a little less flexible than the average sneaker and means that the shoe is somewhat resistant to the natural flexion of our foot during our stride.

That being said, it's not so stiff that we felt uncomfortable in the shoe, but rather contributes further to how stable the shoe felt during our tests. 

New Balance 550 Stiffness
Test results
550 25.9N
Average 23.1N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
5.8N
Stiffness
51.8N

Grip / Traction

We found the toebox to be narrower than our current lab average, measuring only 95.8 mm wide at its widest point. This means that the 550 won’t feel very accommodating for those with broad feet. 

New Balance 550 evrger

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

We found the toebox to be narrower than our current lab average, measuring only 95.8 mm wide at its widest point. This means that the 550 won’t feel very accommodating for those with broad feet. 

New Balance 550 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
550 95.8 mm
Average 99.2 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
94.0 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
107.7 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

At only 71.2 mm wide based on our caliper measurements, the 550’s toebox is also narrower than average at the big toe. This further confirms that this shoe isn’t an ideal choice for anyone with wide feet, especially during more active outings where the toes are liable to splay out and rub against the unyielding leather upper; a recipe for hotspots and blisters. 

New Balance 550 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
550 71.2 mm
Average 74.9 mm
Compared to 49 sneakers
Number of shoes
63.7 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
83.0 mm

Tongue: gusset type

The 550’s tongue is non-gusseted, though we didn’t experience any issues with it slipping from side to side thanks to the ample padding. 

New Balance 550 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
550 None

Comfort

Tongue padding

The tongue is much chunkier than average, measuring 9.6 mm thick. On the one hm this means that the shoe feels incredibly pillowy and welcoming across the instep. On the other, however, the plush nature of the tongue means that our foot still moves around slightly within the shoe even when laced up tight. 

New Balance 550 Tongue padding
Test results
550 9.6 mm
Average 9.3 mm
Compared to 50 sneakers
Number of shoes
1.0 mm
Tongue padding
38.4 mm

Removable insole

The 550’s insole is fully removable in case the cushy double-layer Ortholite default somehow doesn’t provide enough arch support. 

New Balance 550 Removable insole
Test results
550 Yes