Turntable Wow And Flutter – What Do They Mean?

Buying and setting up a turntable or record player usually means learning a lot of new terminology.

But it can sometimes be tough to figure out exactly what some of the industry jargon means.

For example, turntable wow and flutter is a commonly used term, but it is often very misunderstood, or not understood at all.

If you are new to the world of vinyl, you should try and get your head around wow and flutter and how they are referred to in a turntable and record player context.

Identifying both wow and flutter is important, and understanding these terms may lead you to know more about your turntable…

…and how to get the most out of it!

turntable wow and flutter in black text on green and yellow diagonally split background

What is Turntable Wow and Flutter?

The terms wow and flutter are thrown around in the world of vinyl…

…but if you are unfamiliar with them, they can be very confusing.

TL;DL Summary: 

Turntable wow and flutter refers to physical movement during the rotation of a record that results in a distortion of the projected sound. Wow and flutter is caused by miscalibrated hardware, warped records, a damaged stylus, or external vibrations. Wow and flutter must be minimised to improve audio quality.

Both wow and flutter are words used to describe a physical movement that results in distortion of the audio signal produced by a record.

This movement usually changes the speed of the record as it rotates, resulting in a distortion to the audio signal made by the turntable.

Wow is a longer form of distortion that occurs once per rotation, and sounds like the record is drastically slowing down and speeding up.

Flutter is a shorter form of distortion that happens continuously throughout the rotation of the record, and sounds like fluttering at the speed of the playback, hence the name of the effect.

Every turntable has some degree of wow and flutter, as there are no truly perfect turntables…

…but most better quality turntables and record players only have wow and flutter that is barely perceivable, or not perceivable at all.

If a modern record player has severe wow and flutter, there is something wrong with your kit, or the turntable is incorrectly set up and calibrated.

What Causes Wow and Flutter?

Wow and flutter is caused by excess vibrations or movement in some part of the turntable mechanism.

Large wow distortions are usually a result of miscalibrated belt-drive mechanisms, or actual defects in the mechanism itself.

Flutter distortions are usually caused by external vibrations, typically as a result of the platter being placed too close to the speakers.

Wow and flutter can also be caused by a warped record, a damaged or worn turntable needle, a tonearm that is applying too much pressure to the record, a damaged record…

…or even a faulty tension mechanism within the tonearm calibration.

How To Address Wow and Flutter

Addressing serious wow and flutter is usually as simple as locating the precise part of the turntable that is not functioning properly…

…or assessing your record for any visible warping or damage.

Look closely at the operation of the turntable, and the source of the movement causing the distortion should hopefully become quickly apparent.

It will more often than not, look like large movements in the rotation of the record, vertical movement in the belt drive, or oscillation on the tonearm.

If the wow and flutter is not easily visible, it is usually a calibration issue, or either your record or stylus has become damaged.

If the distortion is not removed by addressing any of these issues, the turntable itself may be defective or may have a problem with the motor.

Wrapping it Up!

Wow and flutter can be caused by many things in a turntable, but significant distortions of this kind are usually pretty easy to address and sort out.

Take the time to understand your turntable and how it works…

…listen to it carefully, observe it as it plays, and you will quickly discover any wow or flutter that needs to be fixed, as well as the source of the distortion.