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What is Wow and Flutter and How Can I Prevent it?

What is Wow and Flutter and How Can I Prevent It?

What IS Wow and Flutter?

Quite a whimsical duo of words. It sounds like it could be some sort of spell for your DnD character or something. However, that’s not quite it. 

Wow and flutter are two forms of audio distortion. While they are technically two different things, they have become generalized together down to being closely linked in how they affect a listening experience. 

This might all sound like a bad thing that might mean your turntable is dying, but rest assured, it’s not. 

After all, distortion is a natural part of music to begin with. Influential music artists have found inventive ways to distort the sounds of their instruments for a very long time. It’s when that distortion starts getting painful to listen to that we need to worry.  Wow and flutter are present in ALL turntables. There are a few that claim to be free of it, but this simply cannot be the case. It’s not something that can be erased- However, it is something that to most ears is completely unnoticeable.

What Level of Wow and Flutter is Audible?

Everybody is different and we all have our individual tolerances for wow and flutter.  Some audiophiles will not accept anything other than 0.5% when it comes to pitch fluctuations (either on vinyl records or the turntable itself).  However, on average, most people won't notice a difference in wow and flutter up to around 0.20% pitch fluctuation.

Most (if not all) record players deliver a degree of wow and flutter, although whether it is audible or not is a different matter.  A lot of manufacturers will specifically state the level of wow and flutter you can expect from their device within the documentation supplied.  If a cheap record player has an unacceptable leve of wow and flutter for your ears, it may be time to upgrade to a better model for an enhanced listening experience.

However, it 's worth considering that a modern turntable with a wow and flutter rating of 0.15% might actually provide a better audio quality that a top of the range device from thirty years ago.  This is because time, entropy and general wear-and-tear can cause increased levels of wow and flutter.

What Causes Wow and Flutter?

This duo of distortions starts within the mechanics and the electrical power of the turntable itself. This is why it’s simply not possible to completely be rid of them- They’re part of the build as a whole. A turntable wouldn’t be a turntable without its parts. 

When you know this, it starts to make sense why some older turntables might sound a bit worse than newer ones. Their inner workings have succumbed to age, they have degraded over time and use. Their control over the distortion of their sound, lost.

For Example:

Wow can be caused by a number of different things including

  • Deformed Rubber Rollers
  • Worn Out Belts
  • An Off-Centre Record

Flutter is often caused by:

  • Issues With The Turntable Mechanism
  • A Bent Capstan
  • Gear/Motor Issues

Naturally with all this information in mind, there is no way to truly erase wow and flutter. But there are ways to try and prevent it from getting worse and more noticeable. 

How Do I Fix Wow and Flutter?

Highlighting the exact cause of wow and fluttter can be difficult.  If you are unable to do so, you may require the assistance of an engineer to diagnose any mechanical issues with your turntable.  However, there are some simple steps you can take to eliminate or at least minimise the amount of wow and flutter you experience when listening to vinyl records.  Before seeking out professional record player repair, wny not try these quick and easy wow and flutter fixes?

1. Check The Record Player is Set Up Properly

The first and what sounds like the most obvious thing to check is that you've set up your record player properly.  It sounds obvious, but sometimes these distortions can be caused by a misplaced needle.

Depending on being too far in, or out of the grooves, it can affect the pitch. Positioning the needle correctly should fix this issue, should it have been the problem to begin with. 

However, if the problem goes beyond this, it’s time to think about the inside of the turntable. 

A vinyl enthusiast with a store may be willing to help you repair an older turntable. This comes with the caveat of parts for such record players being fairly difficult to come across. If the difficulty of repairing the turntable proves too much, it’s probably time to start looking at new record players.

2. Invest in a Surge Protector

A consistent recommendation throughout the community of vinyl record collectors is to invest in a surge protector. This will control the intensity of the electric that will enter the record player, and protect its inner workings from overloading and getting damaged by heavy currents. 

3. Check The Power Supply

Speaking of power, it’s also a good idea to ensure the power supply is secure. There are certain cables that are specifically made for audio power, which could be worth looking into. But as long as both the plug and the wires are as secure and safe as possible, that should do the trick. 

Once again, old record players will show difficulty with this process. Their wires are likely very old, worn and certainly a little janky. They may need an updated wire. 

4. Check The Belt

Another part of the turntable that can be the root of a few problems is its belt. Belt drive turntables can stretch out their belts over time, which can cause some playback issues, of course including the infamous loss of resistance against increasing wow and flutter.

5. Check Your Vinyl Records

Vinyl records are often the culprit of wow and flutter, as a record that has been warped by heat or poor storage could potentiall produce fluctuations in pitch.  Things like dirt, dust and animal hair can find their way onto records if they are incorrectly stored and these particles then find their way into your record player, which is where the real problems begin.

Ultimately, looking after vinyl records will help protect your turntable from foreign bodies which could cause issues further down the line.  Even if your records don't cause damage to your audio player, ensuring your vinyl is well-stored and looked after will help to keep your music listening experience as high-fidelity as possible.

Today, record players are sold with a “rating” concerning their level of wow and flutter. The higher the rating, the lower the level of distortion.

But, You Don’t NEED a Highly Rated Turntable for a Decent One

We mentioned it earlier, but it takes going beyond 25% wow and flutter for most people to really be able to hear any distortional issues. 

With most turntables being sold with an average of 10% to 20% wow and flutter, it’s something a lot of people won’t have to worry about. 

It’s those with the strongest ears, those vinyl heads that can hear the slightest error in playback that would feel obligated to invest in something more. The absolute lowest percentage I was able to find was one of 5%, this is for someone that even 10% wow and flutter can’t appease! 

In the end, it’s your choice. You know your own ears better than anyone. But generally speaking, so long as your listening experience isn’t compromised, that small percentage of wow and flutter shouldn’t affect you as long as you take good care of your record player.

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