Remote volume control = unacceptable compromise?


Reading through some of the threads it seems that the absence of a remote control on a pre or integrated is a ‘deal breaker’ for some here. These are my experiences. A couple of years back, at a private listening session with a maker (anonymous ‘cos it really doesn’t matter who because the thread might loose focus) had 2 preamps identical other than one had a remote volume control and other was manual. Both volume controls made by Alps. Apparently these are among the best.

Using a digital source with twin analogue outputs and full-range speakers and a sophisticated SPL meter the system was set up to switch, using a Manley Skipjack, between the two preamps. At identical SPLs for both, the differences were clear. At low SPL, detail retrieval was reduced when the remote control was used. At normal listening levels the differences were slight and at realistic levels the remote unit sounded a bit harsh. Or perhaps the manual unit was less detailed? Hard to say for sure.

There was a difference. The amp designer didn’t prime us with his own opinions. The preamps were behind us. Switching was random.

It was a bit of a ear-opener for me. Based on this the designer decided not to proceed, for the foreseeable future, with a remote preamp. This was because of unacceptable sonic compromises. He pointed out that while circuits can be constructed by him with endless different component configurations, neither he nor his competitors were in a situation to build from scratch a remote control volume mechanism. He reasoned that his years of work should not be compromised because of the compromises made by OEM suppliers.

Some pointed out that he was missing a part of the market. He agreed – but said while acknowledging this, he felt his buyers valued performance over convenience. Before the demo I’d have disagreed. During the demo though, I changed my mind. Nothing has happened to me since that time to change back.
bigaitch
interesting, but I still won't buy a non-remote pre, and don't understand why a remote motor can't be installed without affecting the sonics.
The most likely answer I guess is that no OEM maker yet produces an entirely neutral motorized volume control. Possibly Accuphase, Luxman and so on do – but if they did they certainly wouldn’t supply outsiders. Anyway … as for me, I won’t place convenience over sonics when it comes to home music reproduction. When I go to a gig I won’t buy the cheapest seat simply because that gig is a one-off event and so I reason ‘why compromise if you can avoid doing so?’
Unacceptable compromises will vary from person to person and are many times subject to budgets and personal preferences. Remote volume control is but one compromise, and I would find it very hard to say that it is an unacceptable compromise anymore than I would say that an automatic transmission in a car is an unacceptable compromise. Almost all of us make compromises, we don't all use 4 box amplifier systems, 2 boxes for each channel, separating the amplifier section from the power supply. Some here use one box stereo amps or even integrated amplifiers.....gasp!! Some don't have dedicated lines, or upgraded outlets, power cords, cables, room treatments, tweaks, etc., etc..

The point is, we all make compromises, and what is unacceptable to one may not be unacceptable to others. I for one, have no qualms with a remote volume control. I have heard preamps sound very good or very bad with or without a remote volume control. I wouldn't judge a preamp's performance on a remote volume control any more than I would judge a automobile's performance on a automatic transmission, or whether it had Wi-Fi capabilities or not, though I am sure that others would.
I thought it would be a deal breaker for me, until I tried a pre without one. The sound was superb. And since I had to get up to change the CD anyway, no biggie to set volume once the first track began. I've learned to distinguish proper volume at seated spot from volume up at my gear (for most situations) so no extra effort expended in setting the volume for me. Still, if I were able to upgrade my pre to include a remote I'd do it, as long as the sonics did not suffer AT ALL. Impossible for me compromise audio quality if at all able.
Yes, as much as a want the best sonics possible, there is also the "dog on lap factor"
Wow. Roscoeiii. I wish I could teach my dog to change the volume. Cool trick. Oh. You meant...... Sorry.
There are volume controls that are remote controllable and that are sonically vastly superior to anything Alps makes, my opinion of course.

A few examples are the DACT, although difficult to remote control but certainly doable as well as the excellent ones made by Bent Audio. Your friend should look into those for his preamp.

Good Listening

Peter
Bdgregory
Interesting, but I still won't buy a non-remote pre, and don't
understand why a remote motor can't be installed without affecting the
sonics.

There are volume controls that have a motor attached that do not affect sonics. The first two that come to mind are Aesthetix IO and Allnic L3000.

I owned both and in the case of the Aesthetix it is EXACTLY the same unit either way. The remote control motor can be added or removed and the original stepped attenuator remains the same.

Bigaitch
The most likely answer I guess is that no OEM maker yet produces an
entirely neutral motorized volume control. Possibly Accuphase, Luxman
and so on do – but if they did they certainly wouldn’t supply outsiders.

Exceptions noted above and likely other Audiogon members can think of other examples.
Another exception is Ayre.
I've yet to try one that could get exactly the volume I wanted. Too coarse a level for my use.
IMHO every recording sounds its best at one volume only, after the first 20-30 thousand tries your brain and fingers get rather adept at finding same.
Albertporter and Kr4 are both right. Alps is an off the shelf solution. Its different thing altogether when a volume control is designed and built in house. Usually a different resistor is used for each step in volume. The downside is that its very expensive to do this in both parts and labor.

Shubert also makes a really good point. Sometimes it hard to get the volume just right with a remote.
I have my preamp right at my left of my listening position.. I can reach the volume control by reaching out and turning the knob.
Works great.
Those off the shelf blue alps (basically a motorized RK27, which itself is a $15 part) are not adequate for very high quality preamps, though you'll often see them in units up to around $4K MSRP. As noted, there are a number of other remote control solutions that don't sacrifice sound quality.

The original Rogue Hera, which I use myself, has a motorized stepped attenuator (as did the more affordable Athena). The mechanism is by far more substantial and impressive than the cheap alps. While the action isn't the smoothest, it serves its purpose (remote control), and the sound quality is without fault. A few years ago Rogue switched to a motorized TKD pot, because lots of folks don't like steppers, but I love mine and kept it through the upgrade to Hera II status. Wouldn't part with mine. I wonder if Rogue would still build a stepper unit by request.

I think VAC's new Statement preamp uses an Alps RK50 pot -- which (unlike the RK27) IS an impressive top class volume control, and I believe they've motorized it. I mean, at the cost of this unit, it MUST be remote controlled, right?
Think Chase RCL 1, a $100 add on that provides all remote functions, including balance and tone. Try one, you may be surprised. I know, I know, it is a solid state unit that some will think would degrade the sound. Is that true? Only you can determine and at $100 it will be fun to try. So, stop 'thinking' and just do it. Comes up on eBay all the time.
11-13-13: Albertporter
Bdgregory
Interesting, but I still won't buy a non-remote pre, and don't
understand why a remote motor can't be installed without affecting the
sonics.

There are volume controls that have a motor attached that do not affect sonics. The first two that come to mind are Aesthetix IO and Allnic L3000.

just as I suspected. I couldn't imagine a reasonably competent engineer couldn't design a remote that completely removes the mechanism from the signal path - even if it's an outboard servo motor (like you see on Turntables). I think those who don't offer it are simply making a business decision.
11-13-13: Elizabeth
I have my preamp right at my left of my listening position.. I can reach the volume control by reaching out and turning the knob.
Works great.

. . . the ultimate in seamless remotes. I had my rack set up like this once before. It was extremely convenient.
Alps is not that great of a device. Bent audio makes a motor that fits on a Goldpoint stepped Attenuator. Go ahead and compare both the Goldpoint with and without the Bent audio motor. You will not hear any difference. None.

The Bent uses its own outboard power supply device that plugs Into the wall. It is off at all times unless and until one changes the volume. Then the motor turns on just for the moment you change the volume. It remains off when not in use.

The Goldpoint/Bent combo sounds much, much better than an Alps. Not even in the same league.
Yeah, to echo Grannyring again, the Alps blue pots suck for high-end audio applications. They're cool for say a $600 headphone amp or an entry level hifi integrated/pre, but I shudder seeing pics of (for example) a $4K preamp's internals with the telltale blue plastic box and small metal cylinder stuck on its back (the motorized version). If that's what was referred to in the OP's post, then the remote control implementation wasn't a serious effort.

And yes, I've heard the difference...for example, even those headphone amps improve notably when you ditch the RK27 pot for a good stepped attenuator. The cleanest sounding gear I've heard so far has used stepped attenuators. And it shouldn't be that hard for a competent engineer or 2 to motorize, especially given the price points of some of this gear.
When listening to music with a wide dynamic range (e.g., operas) I find myself reaching to the remote to adjust the volume.

A remote is must-have for me, and I agree with the above posters, the attenuator's effect on sound quality is more due to engineering design.

I would add Electrocompaniet integrated amps as ones that are designed to isolate the volume input from the signal path.
I went for a remote function on my present set up because I couldn't get that precise volume setting I desired on my older set up (that, and getting lazy). Despite my Marantz sounding great with everything, there's something I kind of miss with the Burson and its' stepped attenuator. It runs in Class A for most of its' power rating and has it's own, uniquely engaging quality that I've yet to hear from other amps. It can't match the Marantz in a host of different qualities but its got that something special going for it.

I've yet to sell it.

All the best,
Nonoise
The previous owner of my CJ Premier 3 pre amplifier has instaled a device that regulates the volume dial of the pre using a radio frequency remote. Do you guys think this compromise the sound quality?

Thank you!
Placette also makes a passive pre that can be used as a remote volume control and is not too pricey.
I had a McCormack RLD 1 (it replaced a McIntosh c15,also remote), it had everything you could want. Remote volume, balance, source, mute, power, HT loop, but as good as it was it is not in the same league as my Conrad-Johnson Classic 2SE. It is the most stripped down preamp you could imagine, only a source selector, volume, and power switch... but damn does that thing walk all over any preamp I've had in the past.

Since the majority of my sources are digital I just use my DAC's volume when I get lazy. Although the NAD M51 has digital volume and could be used as a pre it sounds much better in my system as a source component... but I have to say it has the best digital volume I've ever used.
I don't know anything about how a remote is coupled to a preamp, but the one on my integrated seems to be a motor in parallel to the circuit that physically turns the knob just like I would do by hand. The control is crude at low volumes, but I don't see how this could really have an sonic effect. My receiver doesn't have the same physical connection where the knob moves so it would appear that it is manipulating the circuit in another way and likely could be having a sonic impact.
As Albert mentioned, there are some high quality volume controls that are available with or without a motor attached.
In our new Musica Bella products, we have been using the 48 step Khozmo attentuators and they too are available with our without remote motors.
Bent Audio also makes remote motors for the GoldPoint attenuators (and others) which work nicely.
I personally don't use remote in my personal systems but it is a big deal breaker for many out there,
Can any of you give me some ideas of a parts supplier to acquire any of the above VC's  ?? ... I have a MuFi A5 integrated amp in my 2nd system that needs a new VC, it's getting noisy.

An Alps motorized version (unknown model, I'll have to research it) is the stock VC currently and since it is circuit board mounted I think I will have to use a similar or identical device... However after reading all of the above comments I am open to experimentation If I can make an upgrade physically fit and function... Suggestions?