Supercharger Whine: How it Works & How to Improve It

Lots of factors go into the perfect car. For some people, that includes how it sounds. Superchargers can provide a distinctive, keening, whining sound that helps your car sound unique! Let’s talk about what can go into the supercharger and its distinctive song.

What is a Supercharger?

Simply put, a supercharger consists of a device that compresses air to increase the density and pressure of that air which is then routed to supply the needs of an internal combustion engine. What this does is allow the internal combustion engine a steady and much higher supply of oxygen, which in turn gives the engine more fuel to burn.

If the engine has more (and more concentrated) fuel to burn, it will be able to do more work, and work harder, which can let you rev the engine harder and go faster. The power for the supercharger is generally provided via a connection to the engine’s crankshaft.

Superchargers Vs. Turbochargers

Systems like this exist all over the place — but in some situations, they’re referred to as a supercharger, and in other situations, they’re known as turbochargers. What’s the difference?

There’s one simple difference: A turbocharger is another air compression system, but it gets its energy from an exhaust gas turbine. A supercharger requires power from the engine it’s supplying to run, while a turbocharger can utilize the waste gas from combustion. Turbochargers can therefore be considered more efficient — but you need more parts for them to work!

Turbochargers also don’t make the distinctive whine that superchargers make. And for some people, it’s all about that sound.

Prochargers, on the other hand, do make noise. We actually have a full guide that compares superchargers and prochargers.

Advantages of Superchargers

One of the clearest (and loudest) advantages of supercharging your engine is the distinctive keening sound that comes from it. It’s an easy way to tell people that you have a powerful car — and lots of people want to be a part of that conversation.

However, there are other advantages. For example, the original reason for installing a supercharger had nothing to do with the sound it made; people wanted their cars to be able to go faster and longer and harder, which was why the supercharger was invented.

Here are a few other advantages of superchargers:

  • Lag is not a concern if you’re working with a supercharger. Lag refers to the passage of time between when the driver exerts pressure on the gas pedal and the response of the engine to this stimulus. This lack of lag comes from the fact that the supercharger is connected directly to the crankshaft of the engine. 
  • They’re easy to install. Whereas a turbocharger would require dismantling a large fraction of the vehicle to properly insert, a supercharger can simply be bolted to the engine itself, either on the top of it or upon its side. 
  • They’re easy to maintain. Once your supercharger is installed, it can be easily accessed if it needs any servicing in the future. 
  • With a supercharger, you don’t have to worry about doing anything special to shut it down safely. Turbochargers require a cool down period, because they’re lubricated by engine oil. However, just like most other components of your vehicle, warming up your supercharger properly will make it run much more efficiently, so make sure that you warm up your vehicle! 

Just like with any other system, there are disadvantages to superchargers as well as advantages. 

  • Because superchargers are run directly from the engine, they steal some of the horsepower that they help provide to the engine. They can steal up to about twenty percent of the horsepower, in fact, which is not a negligible percentage! However, because they for the most part augment the horsepower at about a forty or fifty percent clip, it’s still largely considered worth it to add a supercharger. 
  • Superchargers can also provide a strain upon the load of the engine itself, which can add to service costs down the road.

What Causes Supercharger Whine? 

Superchargers work by supplying air to an internal combustion engine. An engine sucks in air by moving its pistons to create a vacuum. When air is sucked into that vacuum, mixed with fuel, and ignited, it causes a combustion reaction which supplies the engine with its energy. The supercharger exists to add more air to the equation, making a bigger explosion and more energy.

Three types of superchargers exist — root superchargers, twin-screw superchargers, and centrifugal superchargers. These differ mainly in how they get the air they compress into the intake valve of the engine.

Twin-screw superchargers cost the most, but they can also sound the loudest. They operate by sucking their air through a couple of gears (resembling worm gears) and then compressing the air inside a rotor housing. Because the rotors are tapered conically, the air pocket gets smaller and denser the further into the rotor it goes.

Centrifugal superchargers provide the most efficient air compression system, and they’re the ones typically found in most vehicles. The sounds that they make can turn heads on the busy street!

When the compressed air leaves the discharge outlet, the supercharger creates a whistling, whining sound. For a long time, this was considered an undesirable side effect. Car manufacturers scrambled to find a way to muffle the sound, brainstorming noise suppression techniques and installing dampers.

But then, later, as the noise began to be associated with the increased power supplied by the supercharger, people began to like it. Car enthusiasts began to find ways to augment the noise, differentiate the noise; it’s become a whole arena for enthusiasm in itself.

What Determines How Good It Sounds? 

A lot of what makes a supercharger sound good or bad is extremely subjective — after all, remember, initially dampers were added to make sure the sounds coming from the supercharger didn’t bother anyone at all!

Here are some factors that may go into making a supercharger sound the way it does:

  • Because the whine comes from the gears as they mesh, changing up the shape of the gears will change the whine. If the teeth have a very shallow angle, the whine will be louder.
  • Others postulate that the noise comes from the rotors chopping the air. If you open the throttle, the noise will be louder!
  • The noise can also be varied depending upon your intake. Installing an aftermarket intake can help produce that distinctive sound.

Tips For Improving Supercharger Whine

Good news: If your car doesn’t come with a supercharger, each of the three main types are easily added to any car. However, if you want to optimize your chances of getting that sweet supercharger whine, there are some distinct steps you can take. Here are some things to consider if you wish to improve your supercharger whine.

  • Consider investing in a twin-screw supercharger, instead of a root supercharger or a centrifugal supercharger. They cost more, but they’re the best at making that keening sound which makes car fans go crazy. Twin screws are also higher pitched, which means that they can usually be heard better in a crowd. 
  • However, centrifugal superchargers also provide that keening sound at a lower price point. Decide which is the best for you! 
  • Make sure that your throttle is opened — it’ll make the noise sound much louder, which will definitely help produce that supercharger whine.

Having the perfect car is about way more than just how fast it goes, though that can certainly help! There are those who believe that there is no sound sweeter than the keening whine of a supercharger paired with a loudly revving engine. If you are one of those people, then you’re in luck!

Installing a supercharger in your car is a simple process that can make your car sound better and run faster in one fell swoop. Research your options to get the sound that you want at the price that you need!

Straight Cut Gears

The Quick Guide to Straight Cut Gears (Pros & Cons)

Turbo Back vs Cat Back Exhaust

Turbo Back vs Cat Back Exhaust (Pros, Cons, & Differences)