What Is Wow And Flutter On A Turntable? A Comprehensive Explanation

If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, you’ve probably heard the terms “wow” and “flutter” thrown around when discussing turntables.

But what do these terms actually mean?

In simple terms, wow and flutter refer to the distortion of sound that can occur when playing vinyl records. While all turntables have some level of wow and flutter, it’s important to understand how it can affect the quality of your listening experience.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what wow and flutter are, how they can impact your vinyl listening experience, and what you can do to minimize their effects.

So sit back, relax, and let’s explore the world of wow and flutter on a turntable.

What Is Wow And Flutter On A Turntable

Wow and flutter are terms used to describe the irregular movement of a turntable’s platter, which can cause fluctuations in speed and pitch. Wow refers to slower changes in pitch, while flutter refers to faster changes.

These fluctuations can be caused by a variety of factors, including an off-center record, worn-out belts, or a sticky cassette. Even new turntables will have some level of wow and flutter, but the amount can vary greatly.

While some listeners may not be able to detect wow and flutter levels up to .25 percent, higher levels can be displeasing to the ear. Turntable enthusiasts often avoid decks that produce a lot of wow and flutter.

Fortunately, many modern turntables have a wow and flutter range between .10 and 20 percent, which is considered an acceptable level of distortion.

Defining Wow And Flutter: What Are They And How Do They Occur?

Wow and flutter are terms commonly used in the audio engineering industry to describe the variations in playback speed and pitch of a turntable. Wow refers to slower, periodic distortions in sound, while flutter describes faster variations. Essentially, wow and flutter are caused by irregularities in the movement of a turntable’s platter, resulting in fluctuations in speed and pitch.

There are several factors that can contribute to wow and flutter, including an off-center record, worn-out belts, or a sticky cassette. Even new turntables will have some level of wow and flutter, but the amount can vary greatly depending on the quality of the turntable.

While some listeners may not be able to detect wow and flutter levels up to .25 percent, higher levels can be displeasing to the ear. Turntable enthusiasts often avoid decks that produce a lot of wow and flutter.

Fortunately, many modern turntables have a wow and flutter range between .10 and 20 percent, which is considered an acceptable level of distortion. To minimize wow and flutter, professional audio recording and playback devices use special technologies such as servo systems and quartz stabilizers to ensure precise and constant speed.

In digital audio technology, wow and flutter are no longer a problem since the playback speed of digital recordings is digitally controlled. The clock signals are derived from quartz oscillators, which have deviations around 20ppm and are orders of magnitude below mechanical constructions. Absolute pitch shifts of this magnitude are inaudible; however, depending on the design, very fast fluctuations occur in digital systems, which is referred to as “jitter.”

The Impact Of Wow And Flutter On Sound Quality: How To Identify It

Wow and flutter can have a significant impact on the sound quality of a turntable. These irregularities in speed and pitch can cause distortion, affect the sustain of a record’s pitch, and make the sound inconsistent.

To identify wow and flutter, it is important to measure the fluctuation of playback speed. This can be done by adjusting the rotation speed using markings on the platter or using a tape with a test signal recorded on a high-quality machine. Playback speed and pitch are directly related, so one can be easily calculated from another.

Listeners can perceive wow and flutter differently depending on the type of instrument being played. For example, it is more audible with brass, flute, guitar, string, and piano solos. Wow alters the pitch, while flutter can make the sound cracked and unpleasant.

It is essential to note that even if a turntable has an acceptable level of wow and flutter, it can still impact the sound quality in a reverberant room with constant fluctuations. Listeners can feel these sounds clearly, which can cause discomfort.

The Causes Of Wow And Flutter: Mechanical And Electrical Factors

Wow and flutter are primarily caused by mechanical and electrical factors. The mechanical factors include the wear and tear of the turntable’s mechanical parts, such as the motor, platter, and bearings. Over time, these parts can become misaligned or worn out, leading to an irregular rotation of the platter.

Another mechanical factor that can cause wow and flutter is an off-center record. When a record is not centered correctly on the turntable, it can cause the platter to wobble, resulting in fluctuations in speed and pitch.

Electrical factors that contribute to wow and flutter include power spikes and capacitor values drifting over time. These factors can degrade the performance of the turntable’s electrical components, resulting in irregularities in the rotation of the platter.

It is important to note that while wow and flutter are common in analog audio systems, they can be minimized through proper maintenance and calibration. Regularly checking and adjusting the turntable’s mechanical and electrical components can help reduce wow and flutter levels, resulting in a cleaner and more accurate sound.

Minimizing Wow And Flutter: Tips And Tricks For Improving Your Vinyl Listening Experience

If you’re looking to minimize wow and flutter and improve your vinyl listening experience, there are a few tips and tricks you can try.

First, consider upgrading your phono cartridge to one of better quality. The cartridge is the first component in the signal chain and can greatly impact the sound quality of your turntable. Upgrading to a higher quality cartridge can transform the sound of your turntable and minimize wow and flutter.

Another tip is to use slightly different versions of a sound throughout a track. This can add subtle variation and help mask any wow and flutter that may be present.

Using a record stabilizer can also help flatten warped records and improve tracking, minimizing any wow and flutter caused by an off-center or warped record.

Finally, take the time to understand your turntable and how it works. Listen carefully and observe it as it plays to quickly discover any wow or flutter that needs to be fixed, as well as the source of the distortion. With these tips and tricks, you can minimize wow and flutter and enjoy a better vinyl listening experience.

The Future Of Wow And Flutter: Advancements In Turntable Technology

As technology continues to advance, so does the potential for reducing wow and flutter in turntables. One major advancement has been the development of direct drive turntables, which use a motor directly connected to the platter instead of relying on belts or idlers. This eliminates any potential wow and flutter caused by those components.

Another development is the use of digital signal processing (DSP) to correct any speed fluctuations in real time. This technology can detect and correct any pitch variations caused by wow and flutter, resulting in a more stable sound.

Additionally, some turntables now feature built-in speed measurement tools, allowing users to easily monitor and adjust their turntable’s speed to minimize wow and flutter.

Overall, the future of wow and flutter on turntables looks promising as technology continues to improve and eliminate potential sources of distortion.