May 102016
 

The Lovehoney Flash (left) is a buzzy vibrator. The Doxy Don (right) is rumbly.

The Lovehoney Flash (left) is a buzzy vibrator. The Doxy Don (right) is rumbly.

Perusing the sex toy exhibitor booths at AVN, turning on and off strange vibrators from no-name companies, one word kept flittering into my mind: buzzy.

Ugh, too buzzy. What a shame. The design is cool, but it’s so fucking buzzy. Nope.

I even met an avid reader of my blog who works for an up-and-coming sex toy manufacturer. Their flagship vibrator intrigued me with its peculiar manta ray flaps and vibrant shade of turquoise silicone. But I turned it on and could not hide my disgust. “It needs a better motor,” I sighed.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “I knew you’d hate it.”

A sex toy could do literally everything else right — ergonomic shape, body-safe materials, intuitive controls, make my coffee every morning with the proper amount of creamer — but these days, if it has an extremely buzzy motor, that vibrator is dead to me.

“Rumbly” and “buzzy” are adjectives that, to my knowledge, the sex toy community invented. If you imagine it as a spectrum, rumbly vibrations (sometimes referred to as “thuddy”) reside on one end, buzzy on the other. This does not refer to the intensity of vibrations, but rather the quality of them. Because if you think all vibrators vibrate in the same manner, you, my friend, are mistaken. It’s not true that a vibrator’s a vibrator’s a vibrator.

The majority of sex toys fall on the buzzy end of the spectrum, especially battery-operated ones. Buzzy vibrations are surface-level, shallow, even sharp at times. Sometimes you can hear them more than you can feel them, and they tend to have a grating high-pitched timbre, like a bee zipping by. They’re the kind of vibrations that can cause temporary numbness, and with it, something even worse: boredom.

If held against my nose, the Mini Magic Wand seems strong. But my clit knows the truth. After the initial wave of pleasure that comes from holding any buzzing object against my genitals, something terrible and depressingly recognizable starts to happen: I’ll realize I’m not enjoying myself. 20 minutes will go by and I’ll be orgasmless.

Lovehoney Mini Magic Wand review

Buzzy vibrations are a menace to society, in my opinion. They’re the reason a lot of folks think vibrators “just don’t work” for them, because yeah, a toy that anesthetizes your clit before it can bring you to orgasm is a major problem. But it is not indicative of all vibrators.

“Rumbly is good; buzzy is bad” — that’s how my boyfriend beautifully responded when I asked him about the difference. As a musician, he likened it to sound waves: buzzy is a higher frequency, and rumbly is lower. Think of buzzy as the nasally, frenetic singing of a snotty pop-punk band. Rumbly is sexier, more laid back and velvety, like Elvis sashaying across the stage like a man who owns the universe.

Obviously, you don’t want Blink 182 against your clitoris.

Toys featured in this video (not including title sequence): OhMiBod Lovelife Smile, L’Amourose Rosa, Lovehoney Mini Magic Wand, Silver BulletVibratex PrincessaEroscillatorLovehoney Flash, Doxy DonFun Factory Big BossFairy Mini Mini WandWahliGinoWe-Vibe Tango.

Rumbly vibrations are rarer in the sex toy market. They’re deep, resonant, penetrating. Externally this matters because rumbly toys are capable of sending their vibrations further, stimulating the internal clitoris and even, with the right thrumming intensity, the whole G-spot/CUV. Internally this matters because buzzy can feel like a bug zapper against your G-spot while rumbly feels more like a massage chair.

Buzzy toys can get me off (especially if they have sheer power on their side), but rumbly vibes are simply more satisfying. And it makes sense: deeper vibrations cause deeper orgasms… superficial vibrations cause superficial orgasms.

Imagine pushing an empty metal shopping cart over coarse, uneven parking lot asphalt — feel your hands becoming uncomfortably tingly? This is the feeling of a cheap, shoddy vibe at the buzzy end of the vibration spectrum.

Aerie’s We-Vibe Touch review

But the distinction is not a science. Most toys don’t fit neatly into one category of vibration quality, and not all reviewers will agree about it. Buzzy doesn’t inherently equal terrible: my favorite vibrator, the LELO Mona 2, falls somewhere in the middle, and I endorse the fairly buzzy PicoBong Ako and Turbo Glider. It’s when a toy lands solely on the buzzy end of the spectrum that it becomes alarming.

Let me tell you a secret, though: it took me fucking forever before I myself understood the dichotomy. I always read reviews in which people seemed so adamant that a toy had a particular type of vibration, and I’d think, how do you know this?! It’s a distinction that comes with a lot of toy-testing, I think, and a grizzled clit.

But I also believe it can be taught. In the sex toy shop where I work, I’ve made a habit of arming customers with the knowledge of rumbly vs. buzzy. For an example of a buzzy vibrator, I hand them a $9 bullet that takes watch batteries. To demonstrate rumbliness, I give them the We-Vibe Touch. Light bulbs go on, customers end up buying better toys, and I can sleep well at night.

Want to train yourself to notice the difference? Here are some HOT TIPS:

Movement. Rumbly vibrators exhibit more visible back-and-forth movement. They’re harder to keep steady, more prone to jumping around in your palm. Buzzy vibrators appear more stationary, but can make your fingers itch.

Sound. Not noise level, but pitch. The more high-pitched and obnoxious, the more buzzy the vibrations probably are. A lower pitch is usually indicative of a rumblier toy.

Don’t confuse vibration quality with vibration intensity. There are weak buzzy vibrators and powerful ones, mild rumbly toys and jackhammer-level ones. It depends on what you’re looking for.

Does it run on those godforsaken watch batteries? Probs buzzy, quite likely worthless.

A cheat sheet:

More than anything else I’ve learned as a sex toy reviewer, this distinction has enabled me to gauge if a toy is going to work for me the moment I hold it in my hand. It’s the reason I immediately regretted my decision to review the Bi Stronic Fusion when I felt its clit stimulator in person. It’s the reason I instinctively grimace when I turn on the Eva or the Princessa. It’s the reason I’m wary of inexperienced sex toy reviewers using words like “powerful” and “intense,” because sometimes they just mean “really really buzzy.”

This post is composed of generalities, of course. In general, cheap battery-operated sex toys lean buzzy. In general, people prefer rumblier vibrations. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but I’m not one of them. I believe once people get a taste of rumbly, they won’t want to go back to purely buzzy sex toys — and they shouldn’t. As I once said, “we deserve orgasms that shake our entire clitorises, people. Never settle for less.”

  • OpheliaV

    oH MY LORD THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST. Before now, I could only describe vibrations based on the noise they make. Namely, embarrassing my friends by making ‘eeeeee’ and ‘urrrrrr’ sounds to set vibrators apart. In fact, I probably spent too much time mocking a screaming-o vibrating octopus given to my as a gag gift (it sounded like it hated its tiny, jelly-encased life anytime i turned it on). So THANK YOU. Thank you actually articulating what the difference is like, bless you.

  • Lia Heavvymetalqueen

    I think comparing a watch battery bullet with the Touch is a good move, because boy that lil potato is rumbly. I had never fully understood why vibrators had patterns until I won it and discovered that RUMBLY patterns can totally get you off.

    As for the super buzzy….well, I guess the fairy mini wand does help with my back pain when it flares up, which is good because it can’t make me orgasm for shit, lol

  • I tend to side-eye people pretty hard after more than one review where they’re calling something rumbly and I’m like “No……no it’s not. Go back to school”. The first time I truly knew rumbly was with the internal arm of the old Jopen Vanity VR6. I’d had nothing else quite as powerful, quite as rumbly. The feeling of a vibrator that could rattle the internal legs of my clitoris and make me feel like I’m getting good clitoral stimulation (even though I wasn’t because the clitoral arm was shit) was mind-blowing. A real, true rumbly vibrator can also get away with shit (terrible buttons, annoying charger) that a buzzy vibe would be heavily condemned for.

    I will say that I’ve had some people tell me that they dislike rumbly because it’s too much for them, their clitoris is very sensitive. When they ask for a recommendation on a GOOD buzzy vibe I kinda can’t really do it because in my mind they’re all awful on 14 different levels.

  • dootsiebug

    Team rumbly 4 lyfe.

  • Bat Duffy

    the comparison i always use is harley motorcycle/electric bicycle.

  • “Obviously, you don’t want Blink 182 against your clitoris.”

    That sums up everything. (I even once had a bullet vibe that was Milli Vanilli.)

  • K. Scott

    I love that you work in an environment where you can alert the sex-toy-shoppers that there is a significant difference. This issue is the reason that a lot of people don’t like vibrators!! I used to be one of them. Thanks for the shout-out 😉

  • ummm i so want blink 182 against my clit….at least travis barker. haha jk. But i do love your example of elvis sashaying, makes me think of mick jaggers sexy rock and roll walk/swagger!! he is a ugly man but there is nothing sexier then his confidence as he wiggles around the stage!!! <3 so off topic, but u got me going!!!

  • AceDenise

    This is a wonderful post to help clarify the “rumbly vs buzzy” issue for those new to vibrators. Before I discovered the Tango I also thought vibrators were all shitty and didn’t work anyway because they just made me numb. Now I have over 60 of them (and counting!) I like to check out Lovehoney’s product videos because sometimes they will place the vibe on the table hands-free, and let it move around. These videos really help me decide if i should spend the money on a toy and what I might expect when I get it. If the vibe only slides horizontally, or the motor sounds whiny, I won’t buy it. If it jumps off the table or the spokeswoman has to grab it quick to keep it from getting away, it goes straight to my wish list. Unfortunately sometimes they will hold the end of the toy and just let the other end move on the table, it disguises the motion somewhat since it’s still restrained. A strong buzzy vibe (or a weak rumbly one) can still bounce up and down if you’re holding one end, but I usually stay away from those also. I think they do that sometimes because the vibe won’t move much if they don’t (buzzy!) and they’re trying to make the toy look as appealing as possible. I love the Blink 182 vs Elvis comparison too! I only wish this information had been around when I was first experimenting with vibrators. I thought for years that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t get the orgasms that I heard so much about from my first cheap, buzzy vibe.

  • Kissmet Designs

    Excellent post! Super useful info that all vibrator consumers should heed. I’m sorta new here. I left my job in aerospace designing everything that makes an airplane including two completely new engines. Now, I design vibrators and such. I’ve studied vibrations for years mostly because they cause “trouble” in machines that aren’t meant to get you off. Here’s my question: Does anyone want to know the science and engineering behind rumbly vs. buzzy? I thought to ‘splain it but figured I’d ask if anyone actually cared first. 🙂

  • AceDenise

    I’m interested… yay science!

  • My boyfriend also made hilarious noises when I asked him to describe the difference!!

  • Maddy

    Great post. Also whenever I think buzzy I think of this ridiculous jelly vibrator (UGH) that had a little pineapple on it for your clit. Like a rabbit vibrator. But with a pineapple instead of rabbit ears. (My friend got it as a secret santa gag gift and we were drunk and waving it around at the secret santa party in question. Where the buzzy comes in: I distinctly remember yelling “IT SOUNDS LIKE A MOSQUITO”.) So she forgot it at this party, and when I left I told the host I’d bring it to her, probably so she could use it as a hilarious conversation piece? So a few days later I went to meet her at a movie and I was a bit early so I was leaning against a wall and waiting for her, and I had the vibrator in a present bag. I’d put it down to check my phone and I forgot it there. So some poor movie theatre employee probably picked it up like “….”

  • Samantha Schwarer

    Yes please. Yay.

  • AceDenise

    Oh that poor employee… hopefully it went straight into the trash. Where all jelly toys belong.

  • IT SOUNDS LIKE A MOSQUITO is the most perfect description for buzzy vibrations!

  • Kissmet Designs

    Buzzy vs. Rumbly

    Sound is a great way to visualize and study vibration
    because there are many similarities.
    Sound is most often pressure waves created from a moving surface. The moving surface is “vibrating”. A speaker cone or disk moves in and out at
    various frequencies to create various frequencies of sound. When you listen to a speaker you are not
    listening to one simple frequency of motion.
    You are not even just listening to several frequencies. You are listening to the combination of
    literally thousands or millions of frequencies depending on how
    “complex” the sound and how good your speaker is. (It is also true that a bad speaker will make
    many, complex, unwanted frequencies, but that is a different subject).

    To understand this a bit better consider different musical
    instruments. A piano string all alone
    creates a very simple tone when struck by the soft hammer. This is the base tone. But that is not all that you hear. You hear the rich sound of the piano box
    (both the shape and the wood) resonating and adding complexity to the base tone. The box is what makes a Steinway piano better
    than a cheap one…not the strings. Now
    consider a synthesizer keyboard playing the same note. The “base tone” that we call the
    “note” is the same. However,
    the synthesizer can be adjusted to make all sorts of complex sounds. These complex sounds consist of millions of
    superimposed frequencies to create the “voice”. If you have a cool synthesizer, it will show
    you the “shape” of the sound wave that it is creating. One “voice” option is…piano. I’m sure you can find synthesizers on the
    internet or free phone apps that will show you the difference between pure
    tones and complex “voices”.

    What does all this have to do with vibrators? The most “rumbly” vibe has most of the
    vibration energy in the “pleasurable” range of frequencies. These are typically low frequencies around
    5000-6000 RPM or 83-100 hz. The most “buzzy”
    vibe starts with a motor that may be turning at 5000 RPM and turns a lot of the
    rotational energy into a jumble of frequencies MOST annoying to hold or press
    against your genitals. It has a HORRIBLE
    “voice”.

    Here’s how: Every physical
    object, structure, whatever you want to call it has “natural
    frequencies”. The best examples of
    natural frequencies come, once again, from music. When you tap the string of the piano, it
    vibrates at its natural frequency (the note).
    When you smack a tuning fork…hmmmmmm…you hear its natural
    frequency. If you smack a vibrator
    housing it will vibrate at ITS natural frequency but will die out quickly so it
    is hard to hear it. The vibrator housing
    is also like a wine glass. A wine glass
    will “sing” when you “ping” it. With a bit of water on your finger swirling on
    the rim, you can get it to sing continuously.
    Watch this video “Wine glass resonance in slow motion”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BE827gwnnk4.
    The rim of the wine glass is like the
    vibe housing. The video says the wine
    glass resonates at 337 hz which is the equivalent of 19,800 RPM.

    It is well known that people prefer vibrator frequencies in
    the lower range of around 5000-6000 RPM or 83 to 100 hz. But a typical vibrator housing will have a
    range of “wine glass” natural
    frequencies that range from 100’s to 1000’s of hz. Worse, the vibrations of the
    housing shake the motor while it is running.
    Since the motor housing and shaft have their own natural frequencies,
    they respond by resonating too. The
    motor and shaft resonating change the frequencies output by motor and the whole
    thing can become a SUPER complicated system.

    To solve that complicated problem and eliminate vibration
    energy in the unpleasant range takes knowledge and a whole lot of either
    computer simulation or trial and error. If
    a company is shooting for low cost and fast to market, they won’t take the time
    and will end up with a random result for the “voice” of the
    vibe. Sadly, cheap to make = buzzy. If a company takes the time to design the
    “buzzy” out, the engineering and testing will cost money. Plus, the resulting “rumbly” product
    is likely costlier to make than the “buzzy” one. Sadly, “rumbly” doesn’t come for
    free.

    So, “rumbly” vibes have lots of vibration energy
    in the low ranges which you can also see and makes them jump around on the
    table. The “buzzy” vibe has a
    lot of energy in higher frequencies (like the wine glass frequencies) that you
    can’t see and won’t make the vibe jump around.
    But those frequencies will annoy the shit out of your nerves.

    I’d love to prove all this with some scientific measurements
    of a bunch of vibes but just don’t have the time or money right now. It would be cool to see the different vibe
    “voices” (as a plot of “power spectral density”, if you’re
    interested) and see how the “rumbly” vibes look consistently one way
    and the “buzzy” vibes look another.

    In the meantime, I want to ask a favor. People who have a range of “buzzy”
    and “rumbly” vibes, listen to your vibes. Hold the vibrator directly over your ear
    without touching the vibrator to any part of your ear or head. Compare the sound. A “rumbly” vibe will have lots of
    energy in the lower frequencies and sound like a hummingbird. A “buzzy” vibe will have lots of
    energy in the higher frequencies (even if the motor is running at lower RPM)
    and you will hear tones like the wine glass or a high soprano singer. Listen closely. Please tell me what you hear.

  • Talia

    Well, the worst bullet I know (no discernable vibrations) is the FSOG rechargeable one and it makes me want to swat a mosquito… When I compare the Lelo Mona with the L’Amourose Denia, the Denia does have the “better”, lower-pitchd sound (more agreeable to my ears). And the Bodywand Original (mains operated) sounds as awful as it feels. I guess I need to pay more attention to sound when I “try” vibes in a shop. On the other hand, I’ve had a Tracy Cox Supersex G-Spot vibe (battery operated) which made an amazing racket, but had practically no vibrations at all…

    Back to your very informative post (thank you!): Have I understood correctly that it’s not only the motor that is resposible for the vibrations we feel, but also the plastic/silicone around it? So that a company can buy the best motor in the world and still produce a shitty vibe when they don’t spend time and effort to get the exterior right as well?

  • Kissmet Designs

    You are correct. But the shitty housings would probably feel somewhat better with an awesome motor. Likewise, you can’t use a shitty motor and “perfect” housings and get a great vibe. It takes both to work in harmony.

  • TY for writing this out and for the video. My ex gf was the one who helped me understand a lot about rumbly vs buzzy. She was new to vibrators (only had those cheap attached to cock rings and one corded bullet) and always told me to dial everything down. It was too much for her. But then I bought Salsa and my clit was like “eek! too much! too much! nope!” but for her it was perfect. I couldn’t handle it, ’cause it was too pin-point, took me months to get used to it. She was the one that took immediately to Salsa. I started paying more attention to the pitch then.

    What I noticed that I love weaker rumbly things. Recently my “Ace of Spades” has been dying ’cause I didn’t buy new AAAs for it and it gives me best orgasms ever. It’s like a throwback to the same situation with my Berman’s Siena, that me and my ex-gf loved so much, ’cause it was rumbly but it also started on low. Usually I’m the 2 minute wonder when it comes to masturbation, I need to be really into it before I start physical stimulation and at that point it doesn’t take much. Weaker vibe prolongs the moment when I’m about to come while the rumbly part helps my clit tolerate the sensations.

  • Yes! I love this story. It’s so important to discuss rumbly/buzzy when we talk about the intensity of vibrations that work for us. The different combinations result in very different sensations.

  • sayitwithsarcophilus

    If somebody was *that* sensitive I’d wonder if they might do better with indirect contact. Get a Mystic Wand and use it over their underwear, that kind of thing.

  • sayitwithsarcophilus

    And this is why, even with its unergonomic shape and dodgy materials, I will always love the Wahl for having a high setting that’s *more rumbly* than its low setting.

  • Oh yeah! The Wahl is an anomaly that way, isn’t it!

  • Stabbin Robots

    “Obviously, you don’t want Blink 182 against your clitoris.”

    Quote of the year right there, miss!

  • AceDenise

    Thank you for this informative reply, it is very helpful! And I appreciate how you wrote it to make it easily understandable to laypersons. This information is exactly what people need to make informed decisions about a vibrator instead of just assuming that “vibrators don’t work”.

  • pariahdog

    Would you say the Papaya Candy Stick/other Papaya toys (so sad they went out of business D:) are rumbly, or somewhere in the middle?

  • Somewhere in the middle, yeah.

  • sayitwithsarcophilus

    If their issue was rumbly vibes feeling too pummely, rather than the frequency itself, I’d be inclined to recommend trying something soft like the Irohas. I *love* rumbles and need a fair bit of power and even I find the firmer (non-marshmallow) attachments on the Eroscillator a bit much at times.

  • AceDenise

    I have a sorta-related question. I love the Doxy Skittle, but now all of a sudden it’s on sale or “markdown” at both LH and Shevibe. Is it being discontinued? It’s still listed on the Doxy website. I hope not, but the good news is, you can get it for about $60 right now while supplies last.

  • AceDenise

    So would I be correct to say that a “buzzy” vibrator would have a smaller rotational weight and smaller motor, and that motor has to spin the weight much faster (higher frequency) in order to cause vibration? And by contrast, a “rumbly” vibe is more likely to have a slightly heavier weight which requires a more powerful motor to spin it- but that motor doesn’t need to spin as fast (lower frequency)? I know this is vastly oversimplified, but I am trying to find a simple way to explain “buzzy vs rumbly” to the newbs for when I will be able to start my own blog. Hopefully in the next couple months. I know a little about it but am far from an expert. I just want to make sure that I’m being as accurate as possible in my own limited knowledge. Thank you!

  • Kissmet Designs

    Everything you said about the effect of size is true. Bigger vibes can make more powerful vibrations for any given speed. But some people call the magic wand buzzy. And the we-vibe tango is definitely rumbly. So, it has more to do with the overall design execution than just size.

  • AceDenise

    Yes, thats about what I thought. I know its not just about size of the motor, but this seems to be a good starting point for discussion of smaller to medium sized toys, and especially the cheap ones. I am looking for a simple way to start, for people who might not know anything about it, and then building from there. The overall design plays a large role but I will be starting off with a very simple explanation, and then in individual reviews I can talk more about the design, material, etc and how they contribute to that specific toy’s performance. I just wanted to make sure what I mentioned is not totally wrong. Thank you for the reply!

  • Kissmet Designs
  • AceDenise

    I will when I get it going, I was planning to do it a lot sooner than this but RL interfered- damn you reality! I am hopeful that I will be able to get it off the ground this time. It’s only a domain right now with nothing to see yet. Thanks for your interest, and your helpful comments.

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  • John Hi

    This reminds me of the famous “Woody vs Tinny” skit of Monty Python. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gwXJsWHupg.

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