Future optical networks will require the implementation of very high capacity (and therefore spectral efficient) technologies. Multi-carrier systems, such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and Coherent WDM (CoWDM), are promising candidates. In this paper, we present analytical, numerical, and experimental investigations of the impact of the relative phases between optical subcarriers of CoWDM systems, as well as the effect that the number of independently modulated subcarriers can have on the performance. We numerically demonstrate a five-subcarrier and three-subcarrier 10-GBd CoWDM system with direct detected amplitude shift keying (ASK) and differentially/coherently detected (D) phase shift keying (PSK). The simulation results are compared with experimental measurements of a 32-Gbit/s DPSK CoWDM system in two configurations. The first configuration was a practical 3-modulator array where all three subcarriers were independently modulated, the second configuration being a traditional 2-modulator odd/even configuration, where only odd and even subcarriers were independently modulated. Simulation and experimental results both indicate that the independent modulation implementation has a greater dependency on the relative phases between subcarriers, with a stronger penalty for the center subcarrier than the odd/even modulation scheme.