Optical frequency combs allow for the precise measurement of optical frequencies and are used in a growing number of applications. The new class of Kerr-frequency comb sources, based on parametric frequency conversion in optical microresonators, can complement conventional systems in applications requiring high repetition rates such as direct comb spectroscopy, spectrometer calibration, arbitrary optical waveform generation and advanced telecommunications. However, a severe limitation in experiments working towards practical systems is phase noise, observed in the form of linewidth broadening, multiple repetition-rate beat notes and loss of temporal coherence. These phenomena are not explained by the current theory of Kerr comb formation, yet understanding this is crucial to the maturation of Kerr comb technology. Here, based on observations in crystalline MgF2 and planar Si3N4 microresonators, we reveal the universal, platform-independent dynamics of Kerr comb formation, allowing the explanation of a wide range of phenomena not previously understood, as well as identifying the condition for, and transition to, low-phase-noise performance.