Air Jordan 34 SE Performance Review

The best Air Jordan game shoe since the… Air Jordan 34? Sure, why not?

Not much has changed between the Air Jordan 34 and the new Air Jordan 34 SE. However, the aspects that were tweaked I feel were for the better. Although, it really depends on what your personal needs are as they pertain to basketball shoes, but the changes here are enough to warrant raving about.

TRACTION
The outsole hasn’t changes at all in terms of tooling molds or aesthetics, but the rubber compound has changed from solid rubber to translucent rubber. For me, I didn’t notice a difference between the two models as the herringbone was just as aggressive and grippy as the regular version of the AJ34.

As it spreads across the outsole in fan-like fashion, the outsole performed just as good as it looks. Like the Air Jordan XX9, the traction has a sneaky bite that isn’t squeaky. It took me a little bit of break-in time for it to have that stop-on-a-dime type of grip, but it was worth the short wait.

CUSHION
As I had said in the Air Jordan 34 Performance Review, this is the best Zoom Air experience I’ve ever had — and I’ve had many Zoom Air experiences over the years.

I jokingly consider myself a Zoom Air connoisseur as Zoom Air is my absolute favorite cushion (when done right) of all-time. The Air Jordan 34 SE not only implements Zoom Air correctly, in a way you can feel, but it’s also done in a way I’ve never felt before. Ever. Well, until the Air Jordan 34, of course.

The forefoot is springy, yet supportive. It’s responsive, yet offers an incredible balance of stability and court feel. It has a snap to it that feels like it propels you forward with your stride.

At the rear there is a large volume Hex Zoom Air unit, and I was actually able to feel it whenever I’d crash on my heel. For those that prefer or require heel and forefoot cushioning, this might be one of the best shoes on the market that will offer you just that.

MATERIALS
The materials are one area that was noticeably different between the AJ34 and the SE edition. Where the original model didn’t offer any premium materials at all, the SE edition offers a but of premium with a a bit of synthetics.

Many expect a premium build when it comes to an Air Jordan, but those same people will then complain that the premium build is too heavy. While some may still complain with a setup like this, I found it to be a good balance between lightweight performance and a premium build that reminds me of the good ‘ol days. The upper broke-in quickly, has maintained its shape and still looks like a beast once zipped up.

This version of the shoe should please both types of athletes — those that prefer premium builds and those that prefer lightweight performance.

FIT
I went true to size and that is what I would recommend for most people. I feel there is just enough space inside the shoe so that most foot shapes should fit snug, but not in a suffocating way.

Lockdown was really solid on the original Air Jordan 34 once you got the laces adjusted to where you’d like them to be, but the lockdown on the Air Jordan 34 SE enhances the lockdown thanks to the zipper shroud. One of the main reasons why laces will never go out of style. Again, the build breaks in nicely, so while you may feel the shoe is a bit too tight to start, after some running around then you should feel like you just had an Air Jordan tailored to your foot shape.

The zippers lock into place for anyone that may be wondering. If you’ve been around since the Nike Zoom Glove days then you already know that zippers on basketball shoes, while cool looking, tend to burst open and never work as well as intended. These locking zippers haven’t done that (so far) and don’t show any signs of doing that in the near future. You can zip them up or down with east when the toggle is upright, but once you fold them down then they’re locked into place. I wish Jordan Brand has opted for this type of zipper on the Jordan Jumpman Swift 6 Retro as those burst open at the zipper as soon as I take a step.

The support on the Air Jordan 34 was exceptionally good, even with all of the lightweight materials in place, but the Air Jordan 34 SE has me searching for a flaw. Yes, I found them to be that good.

The heel counter is built more traditionally when compared directly to the original 34. Instead of having the shoe built around the heel, the heel counter is hidden within the shoe just like it has been on shoes for decades. Because of this I never encountered the same digging into my foot feeling that I had with the original 34. The only thing I had to break-in was the upper/build with how snug the zipper enclosure was once zipped up.

There are still performance woven underlay materials, but with the exterior build being more like a normal shoe you end up with a layered build that supports the foot in all facets of movement. Then the Eclipse Plate really takes everything from there.

This Pebax chassis worked better than any of the previous FlightSpeed/FlightPlate iterations for me. It kept the entire tooling torsionally strong and rigid, but also maintained enough flex in the forefoot so I didn’t feel like I was wearing a boot instead of a sneaker.

The Air Jordan 34 was my favorite basketball shoe of 2019. Meanwhile, it’ll be difficult to find a basketball shoe better than the Air Jordan 34 SE in 2020 — especially if releases continue to get pushed back due to the Coronavirus.

If the Air Jordan 34 was like playing basketball in a stripped down no nonsense F1 Race Car the Air Jordan 34 SE feels like a Cadillac with the F1 engine and tires. A little more elegance added but still a performance beast when all is said and done.

If you prefer to keep your shoes as light as possible then the Air Jordan 34 is where its at. However, if you wanted all the features of the 34 with some subtle upgrades then the Air Jordan 34 SE might be your next favorite hoop shoe.

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