Our verdict

No matter what the current fashion trend is, the NB 990 v1 is one of those trainers that remain relevant and a true classic. Adding to its no-fail flair is unparalleled support that kept us surefooted throughout the day. Moreover, it is surprisingly lightweight despite its various overlays and thick rubber outsole. We can definitely vouch that this is a must-have, especially if you're into trainers with an appeal that never ages.

Pros

  • The most original 990
  • Premium materials and craftsmanship
  • Made in the USA
  • Lighter than average
  • Highly supportive
  • Stable platform
  • True to size and fit

Cons

  • Pretty warm and lacks breathability
  • Not very cushy or padded

Audience verdict

94
Superb!

Who should buy

First released in 1982, it doesn't get more original than the New Balance 990 v1. We believe that this great founder of the entire 990 series would appeal to the following folks:

  • connoisseurs of the eternal classics
  • seekers of premium quality in a shoe that's proudly crafted in the USA
  • guys and gals who want a bit less athletic-looking sneaker from the 99X collection

New Balance 990 review

Who should NOT buy

If you are in love with the silhouette but are taken aback by the price, New Balance offers at least two budget-friendly alternatives that are easy to confuse with the 990 v1. The 997H and the 574 are both retailing for only £100.

You might as well lack cushioning in the v1, especially if your feet have been spoiled by the marshmallowy trainers of today. In that case, you will enjoy the succeeding 990 models more (i.e. the 990 v6) as they come with ABZORB foam, have more tech, and feel bouncier as a result.

New Balance 990 lab test

Breathability

Hold off calling it your summer sneaker just yet - the NB 990 v1 is the least breathable shoe in the series!

As an old-fashioned kick, the proportion of mesh and suede in its upper tilts more towards the latter. We could feel the heat building up on a warm day, threatening with an unpleasant odor.

Even the mesh panels didn't do much, based on our in-house breathability test. The small gaps between the tongue and the upper are the only way for the heat to escape.

As we hover the shoe's half-cut upper over the light, we see no hope for ventilation anywhere outside of the tongue. Thus, the 990 v1 gets a lower score of 3 out of 5.

We went as far as checking the kick's mesh material under the microscope.

New Balance 990 microscope

Kinda hard to call it mesh after seeing this textile up close. Thick threads and dense weave make up a pretty sturdy yet heat-trapping material.

New Balance 990 microscope upper

If you're after a 990 sneaker that can be donned on a hot summer day, the 990 v6 has fantastic ventilation with the highest breathability score: 5 out of 5!

Test results
990 v1 3
Average 3
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Leather/Suede quality

The 990 v1's dazzling success back in the '80s was partially explained by the fact that it was manufactured domestically, in the United States, using the most high-quality materials.

Today, we check whether the sneaker stays true to its promises.

Equipped with a butane torch and a leather scratch awl, we set out to test the suede and leather patches throughout the shoe's upper.

From the heel to the toebox, this NB shoe kept checking off our boxes.

Check. Check. Check.

Stop. The only fake leather part is found inside the shoe's heel counter.

Test results
990 v1 Real suede

Toebox durability

Admit it, you too can't help smelling a freshly bought pair of kicks.

Let us assure you that the 990 v1 exudes the most luxurious fragrance of an expensive suede shoe. And it certainly proves its worth in close contact with our sandpaper Dremel tip.

Applying the tool to the suede-covered toebox for 12 seconds at a demanding speed of 5K RPM, we were highly satisfied with the result. A small cosmetic dent on the material is not even seen from afar!

This earns the NB 990 v1 a solid 4 out of 5 score for toebox durability. This pricey pair is not afraid of being worn day in and day out.

New Balance 990 Toebox durability
Test results
990 v1 4
Average 3.7
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

Neither will you see premature wear on the shoe's heel padding. Even though it is such a delicate area, our Dremel had a really hard time damaging it.

In most sneakers, it takes a mere touch of a Dremel to tear the heel lining to the core. But 4 seconds of drilling at 5K RPM barely even left a scratch on the synthetic leather lining of this NB shoe.

This is what 5 out of 5 for heel padding durability looks like. You get what you pay for in the 990 v1!

New Balance 990 Heel padding durability
Test results
990 v1 5
Average 3.4
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

We do have some reservations about the shoe's outsole though. It felt suspiciously soft, and that's not normally a good sign of durability.

Pressing our durometer against the rubber, the tool returned 72.9 HC which is 15% softer than the average sneaker outsole. Unfortunately, less hard rubbers also tend to wear out faster.

New Balance 990 Outsole hardness
Test results
990 v1 72.9 HC
Average 85.1 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
72.9 HC
Outsole hardness
90.3 HC

Outsole durability

Our worries were confirmed the very second we applied the Dremel tip to the outsole.

Apparently, not all Vibram rubbers are made equal and this one ended up melting like butter on our eyes.

We held the Dreme at a consistent speed (10K RPM) and pressure (3.2N) for 22 seconds to compare the 990 v1's abrasion resistance (or lack thereof).

Even before we measured the dent with a tread gauge, we could see that it was much deeper than the average one. Indeed, at a whopping 3.06 mm, it is among the deepest in our roster. It is almost as if there was no rubber and the shoe had exposed foam only.

New Balance 990 Outsole durability
Test results
990 v1 3.1 mm
Average 1.0 mm
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

But here is some reassuring news - the NB 990 v1 has some of the thickest slabs of rubber among sneakers. Based on our caliper, this outsole is 7.5 mm thick!

It may be soft and quick to wear but at least there is plenty of rubber to go through before the shoe calls it a day.

But if you are still uneasy about it, have a look at the succeeding versions of the 990 starting from v3 that feature the brand's Ndurance rubber.

New Balance 990 Outsole thickness
Test results
990 v1 7.5 mm
Average 5.5 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
3.4 mm
Outsole thickness
8.2 mm

Weight

Admittedly, New Balance sneakers are not the lightest bunch. And we are not even mentioning the 22.6 oz monster CT302.

New Balance 990 on feet

But with the 990 v1, your legs can catch a break as it comes in at a moderate 12.9 oz (366g). That's even an ounce lighter than average!

New Balance 990 Weight
Test results
990 v1 12.91 oz (366g)
Average 14.18 oz (402g)
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
8.54 oz (242g)
Weight
22.61 oz (641g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

We felt rather grounded walking in the 990 v1. Unlike the more recent 990 v6 (heel stack: 39.1 mm), the first iteration keeps it real and down to earth at 34.4 mm.

New Balance 990 Heel stack

New Balance 990 v1

New Balance 990 v6

Test results
990 v1 34.4 mm
Average 29.8 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
18.2 mm
Heel stack
41.8 mm

Forefoot stack

Under the ball of the foot, we measured the shoe's forefoot stack at 22.4 mm. This amount of cushioning is consistent with the rest of the 990 series and with the average of sneakers.

Nothing to write home about: it is comfortable and great for all-day wear.

New Balance 990 Forefoot stack
Test results
990 v1 22.4 mm
Average 18.9 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
10.6 mm
Forefoot stack
28.3 mm

Drop

Inside the shoe, our feet experienced a smooth heel-to-toe drop of 12.0 mm. Because it is similar to many other sneakers, we are convinced that it won't cause any discomfort or need to adjust.

Unlike the more aggressive 15.7 mm drop of the NB 550. That one works for people who enjoy the feeling of elevated heels in their shoes.

New Balance 990 Drop
Test results
990 v1 12.0 mm
Average 10.9 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
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.

Designed over 40 years ago, the 990v1 features the simplest midsole by modern standards. It consists of a full-length EVA foam slab which is quite firm and doesn't have much rebound.

It wasn't until 16 years later that New Balance added the more advanced ABZORB cushioning to the 990 v2.

Using a durometer, we measured the foam at 35.0 HA which is 20% firmer than average and also the firmest among the 990 shoes.

New Balance 990 Midsole softness

Test results
990 v1 35.0 HA
Average 28.5 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 37 trainers
Number of shoes
15.0 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
46.4 HA

Secondary foam softness

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

In addition to primary cushioning, the 990 v1 also comes with a large heel insert made of a different-density foam. This is the historical Motion Control Device that made the headlines back in the '80s. It was designed as part of the brand's aim to create the best running shoe at the time.

Our durometer shows that this insert is even firmer than the main foam, at 42 HA. Having worn the shoe out and about, we can confirm that it plays its part in stabilizing the foot rather well.

New Balance 990 Secondary foam softness
Test results
990 v1 42.0 HA
Average 26.2 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.

Insole thickness

Helping the 990 v1 feel cozier underfoot is a thick 5-mm insole. With a bit of plushness to it, this insert does a great job buffering the midsole firmness.

New Balance 990 Insole thickness
Test results
990 v1 5.0 mm
Average 5.4 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
3.1 mm
Insole thickness
13.9 mm

Stability

Lateral stability test

Getting a New Balance sneaker nearly always translates into getting a very supportive and stable shoe.

Originally intended as a motion-control running shoe, the 990 v1 carries over its supportive properties into a lifestyle sneaker that can be recommended to people with overpronation.

Torsional rigidity

Choosing a firm foam for its midsole, the 990 v1 contributes to the stability department.

As our manual test shows, twisting this sneaker takes some effort. On a 1-5 scale, where 5 is the stiffest, we readily give it a solid 4.

A rigid platform like that lowers the risk of rolling your ankles over the edge of the sole.

Test results
990 v1 4
Average 3.5
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

With New Balance's famous heel clip and a fairly structured heel counter, we got a very secure hold in the rearfoot.

Assessing the shoe's heel counter stiffness from 1 to 5, we believe that it is worthy of the higher 4.

Our ankles stayed securely locked inside the 990 v1's heel cup and there was not a hint of heel slippage. The only gripe we have with this part of the shoe is that the synthetic lining feels a bit sticky against the skin causing slight chafing.

Test results
990 v1 4
Average 3.2
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

The nice and broad platform of the 990 v1 granted our feet with a very grounded experience.

Measuring the distance between its widest points in the forefoot, our caliper showed 109.4 mm. That's on par with most sneakers these days.

New Balance 990 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
990 v1 109.4 mm
Average 108.5 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
100.0 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
121.0 mm

Midsole width in the heel

It is in the heel that the 990 v1 flares out wider than most shoes. With a caliper measurement of 89.2 mm, it is among the widest bases in our catalog.

New Balance 990 Midsole width in the heel

Every step felt planted and surefooted in this New Balance kick.

Test results
990 v1 89.2 mm
Average 82.8 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
69.4 mm
Midsole width in the heel
103.1 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

Given the shoe's firm midsole and overall sturdy design, we expected nothing less than a stiff, unforgiving platform. And yet, we were pleasantly surprised to experience a decent flex in the forefoot of the 990 v1.

Even though it didn't give as much freedom of movement as some other sneakers, the shoe had enough bend to accommodate smooth heel-to-toe transitions. 

New Balance 990 flexibility

Our in-house flexibility test showed that it takes 25.4N to bend this NB shoe to a 90-degree angle. That is 13% stiffer than average and can be on the edge of uncomfortable for some folks. For reference, its stiffness is very close to the famous New Balance 550 (25.9N).

Test results
990 v1 25.4N
Average 23.0N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
5.8N
Stiffness
51.8N

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

New Balance has a stellar reputation for running true to size and the 990 v1 just confirmed that once again. Trying the shoe in our regular men's US size 9 felt like matching two puzzle pieces.

New Balance 990 fit

Our caliper measurements also backed up the fact that the 990 v1 has a true medium fit in the toebox. In the widest part (near the big toe joint), the tool returned 97.9 mm which is right at the average of all the sneakers we tested in the US size 9.

New Balance 990 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
990 v1 97.9 mm
Average 99.1 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
94.0 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
107.7 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

This NB sneaker also remains quite spacious around the toes. Measuring its width closer to the tip, the caliper showed 74.8 mm. Another perfectly average measurement.

New Balance 990 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
990 v1 74.8 mm
Average 74.8 mm
Compared to 46 trainers
Number of shoes
63.7 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
82.7 mm

Tongue: gusset type

The tongue of this NB shoe has no gussets on the sides. But they are absolutely unnecessary given its wide and ergonomic shape.

New Balance 990 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
990 v1 None

Comfort

Tongue padding

Compared to other iterations of the 990, the v1's tongue is paper-thin! We measured it at only 2.5 mm compared to the puffy 10-12.5 mm of the succeeding versions.

New Balance 990 Tongue padding

New Balance 990 v1

New Balance 990 v6

Another important thing to note about the v1 is that it doesn't have much internal padding as a whole. Its upper sits pretty close against the foot.

Test results
990 v1 2.5 mm
Average 9.3 mm
Compared to 47 trainers
Number of shoes
1.0 mm
Tongue padding
38.4 mm

Heel tab

No pull tabs over here but the slightly raised heel collar aids in getting the shoe on.

New Balance 990 Heel tab
Test results
990 v1 None

Removable insole

Some people may want to level up the shoe's basic-feeling cushioning with a plusher insert. That is easily done by removing the stock insole.

New Balance 990 Removable insole
Test results
990 v1 Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

As it turns out, the NB 990 v1 was not intended for low-light conditions. So it doesn't help you be more visible in the dark...unless that's what you aim for.

New Balance 990 Reflective elements
Test results
990 v1 Yes

Extra laces

The 990 v1 comes with a complementary set of laces in a contrasting color to vary the look.

New Balance 990 Extra laces

Back to 1982: the story behind the 990

Introduced in 1982 as the most technologically sophisticated running shoe at that time, the 990 v1 took over 3 years to design.

The kick retailed with a hefty price tag of £110 which, adjusted for inflation, would cost more than £310 today! But even being one of the most expensive shoes back then did not stop the 990 from selling out ten times beyond its projected sales.

New Balance 990 laces

What was it that convinced buyers to shell out and welcome the shoe so warmly? Here are some of the most common assumptions:

  • The 990 v1 had truly premium quality materials and craftsmanship.
  • It was marketed as a US-made product which was a rare case at the time.
  • It features an innovative Motion Control Device which stabilises the foot.
  • The shoe managed to combine great arch support and flexibility which was a novelty back then.

New Balance 990 side support

The New Balance 990 pioneered the highly sought-after New Balance 99X Series. The NB 99X Series is a lineup of shoes produced by the brand with design and construction originating from the original 1982 NB990 model.

Overall, the 990v1 was such a success that it wasn’t until 16 years later that New Balance decided to introduce its successor, the v2.

New Balance 990 N logo