Does remote control degrade the sound of tube preamps?

Some preamp manufactures (e.g. CAT) don’t put remote controls in their preamps due to the supposed sound degradation. This could also be just an excuse. Do you think the sound quality is degraded with a remote? I am talking about an audible effect.


I am deeply suspicious of remote control on an analog preamp. Mine does not use remote and sounds great I realize that means nothing but getting up to change volume is also good exercise.

It would not surprise me if it remotes do alter the sound. But IMO the convenience outweighs the tiny fraction which it may cause. I might think different at 35 yrs old. But at 71, I won't buy a preamp without remote. Besides that is that Conrad Johnson does not make a preamp which comes without remote. And they are among the best  top tier preamps. Whatever the case, I don't care

it depends

in general it probably depends more on the volume pot configuration, not so much the remote control of it

Unless the remote circuitry can be removed for comparison we will never know.  Meanwhile just listen and decide if it sounds good, Remote or no remote.  Now what other impractical issues can we all worry about?

Great question.


For decades, meters or displays would be included in high end equipment, with the ability to defeat them. In the last few years Audio Research took the problem head on. They decided, if they were to have “silent” meters they would have to design and manufacture their own… ones that did not impact the sound (ghost meters). Before this audio companies just purchased generic meters… and they interfered with the sound quality.

This is how the high end moves forward. As a manufacturer you can choose the cheapest parts to make a piece of gear (this is how we got $20 Blu-ray players), or chose the very best component for a given design. Then, when it counts… make your own… think Focal… making their own drivers.

In theory anything you put in the signal path will alter the sound (usually negatively)

Turtaga Audio makes an optical based attenuator that doesn't effect the signal path.


The Hornehoppe 

The Truth passive preamp.






There is nothing that makes remote controlled volume control inferior in sound quality.  If it is implemented with a motorized potentiometer, the quality is entirely dependent on the quality of the potentiometer, not on the motor whose only job is to twist the shaft just as your hand would also do.  Even if your volume control is a rotary step attenuator, it is possible to physically move the dial under motor control (Ayre does this).  Many very good attenuators are ladder step attenuators that are switched by relays, and the relays are always remote controllable.

It is so important to get volume set just right to get optimum sound quality and satisfaction, and that can only be done practically by remote control as you sit in the sweet spot and instantaneously hear the result.  Remote control of volume is pretty much an essential feature, not merely a convenience.  Without it, one tends to just live with something close to the right volume instead of actually determining what is the right volume.

There have been greatsounding preamps that use a remote cj uses relays and switches in individual resistors


Ken Steven’s makes an awesome preamp but his heart is not into convenience 

CJ has been using relay / resistive ladder volume since the CT 6 maybe earlier.  It is proven and in my opinion better than electronic volume controls like the ones CJ used when they built McCormack preamps.   Those were a Burr Brown volume chip,  I hated the volume control on my RLD 1 ,  in fact that was the shortest duration I have owned a preamp.  I replaced it with a CJ Classic 2SE 

My Zesto pre uses a motor that moves an analog volume pot.   The IR circuitry has no effect on performance.   I much prefer analog rotary volume knobs

The remote control of the EAR-Yoshino 868 works just as @larryi describes: a motor manually moves the volume knob, affecting the sound of the pre-amp in no way. The remote's only other control is a mute button. Volume and mute are the only two functions I require from the remote of a pre-amp.

Do you think the sound quality is degraded with a remote? I am talking about an audible effect.


@larryi got it right. It was for this very reason that we motorized our existing manual volume control in our MP-1.

Quality wise, there  are not that many extreme quality 'motorized volume pots' out there.

Recall the elaborate mechanism put in place by Charles & crew at Ayre, for their 'peak quality' remote control preamp.

It's not just isolation and separation of the motorization aspects from the rest of the circuitry in order to avoid any electrical or electromagnetic interference from said motorized circuitry.

it's the availability of high or peak quality remote control volume designs. They get very rare and in limited numbers, and thus very expensive, at the top of it all.

some go for relays and resistive ladders/arrays. Depending on the relays in use, this can be very very good sounding. But it can also be distinctly mediocre. Or even below the quality norm set for a $20 Alps plastic pot, the near ubiquitous blue version.

I believe that DACT makes a few remote versions of their discrete ladder designs. Which might be the most common peak quality oriented unit available right now, without going totally off the deep end.

Such a pot, depending on the applied version (customized, etc) might add $600 to an easy $1k, or more, to the final retail price of a given item.


Now what other impractical issues can we all worry about?

haha - well said... never underestimate the degree of audiophile ocd, er, curiosity...

 "...the quality is entirely dependent on the quality of the potentiometer, not on the motor whose only job is to twist the shaft just as your hand would also do."

                                                     Plus one!

To be clear, adding remote control functionality to volume control does not degrade sound, but, if providing that feature means cost cutting on some other aspect of product, that could hurt the sound quality.  If providing remote volume control means going with an inferior potentiometer that has a motor built into it, instead of a superior manual potentiometer, that would hurt the sound.  I have a $1,000 Alps RK 50 manual potentiometer in my headphone amp.  If a builder wants a motorized version, the builder would have to engineer this and modify the potentiometer at considerable cost to so do.  That means it is "possible" to get that level of quality, but it might not be that practical.  

 Does this mean that MP3 does not have motorized volume control?

@chungjh It has a motorized control too.

I happily use an Atma-Sphere MP-1 with a motorized remote volume.

I could not live without a remote. Am constantly adjusting the volume.

Motorized Alps RK50 like in my VAC Master - no. Motorized stepped attenuator like in the old Rogue Hera / Athena - no, but it was klunky to use as the control sucked. Digital volume controls like in the ARC Reference, there’s no additional penalty in the remote control ability. Many tube amps will use the motorized Alps RK27 pot out of convenience and cost considerations. There’s no additional penalty over the non-motorized RK27 but that pot is NOT the most transparent part; you can definitely hear the improvement with a better pot or stepped attenuator.

Really good motorized analog controls are expensive, hence the prevalence of digital controls these days.



Great idea… really hard to implement. Especially since keeping cables as short as possible, hiding them, and the need to have your listening position out in the room away from all the walls are all important constraints in having good sound… and not killing yourself tripping on something… an SAF. 

After owning 3 preamps without remote and now having a remote preamp, I would never change.  

I own an Atma-Sphere MP-3 preamp, which I purchased used without remote. I used it for a bit with the manual stepped attenuator, but ultimately couldn't live without the convenience so I sent it back to Ralph to have the remote installed. If the sound quality decreased I can't detect it, and it's still the best preamp I've ever owned and a great match for my Atma-Sphere M-60 mono blocks.

My experience is every recording has a sweet spot for volume, and the only way to find that sweet spot is to be able to adjust volume from your listening chair. I believe a remote is a better answer overall than long interconnects or speaker cables that might enable you to have the preamp next to your chair.

$600 to $1,000 for the Volume Control? Good Grief! No wonder the reviewers take the time to talk about them. I thought the cost was $50 to $100 before we start talking about ‘knob feel.’

Yes, $600 to $1,000 IS a lot to spend on a volume control component.  But, it is one of the most important piece in the signal chain and can seriously degrade the signal and/or cause channel imbalances if the left and right channels do not track perfectly.  Spending for quality here makes far more sense than spending it on other stuff, like fuses, and fancy power supply caps.  

The only time I see remote control affect sound quality is when manufactures use those crappy integrated circuit volume controls, like the ones used in Audio Research, or early Sonic Frontiers, to name a couple.

 What's the point of building a beautiful tube circuit only to have it ruined by a 10 cent IC.

Cost to have remote control can get quite expensive. A motorized stepped attenuator can get up to $1000 for small lot production.

Cost in my preamps with an motorized Alps control is about $250.00, but a motorized Khozmo can be much more, and they take up a lot of room. Then there are the relay types. Relays aren't cheap, and there are a lot of extra parts involved.

 None of these types will affect the sound quality in a negative fashion.


$600 to $1,000 for the Volume Control? Good Grief! No wonder the reviewers take the time to talk about them. I thought the cost was $50 to $100 before we start talking about ‘knob feel.’

It might be a $100 cost item, but by the time we get to pay for it, the cost multipliers might make it be $500 by the time the end user is paying for it. Everything, including the instruction sheet/book for a given audio piece, has a multiplier on it’s costs. This is inescapable.

Then, we can find $500 ’cost price’ motorized volume pots out there. Where there are almost none of them used in production gear. They tend to be used mostly in the DIY hobby self-made gear market, or tweak that one would make for an approximate $2.5K price increase in a given retail price (Eg, a high end item in widespread distribution and sales) - over that of a $20 manual potentiometer.

This is where the lore of the manufacturer comes into play. Where the given designer has to try and make the right choices, either financial or that of designs toward extreme fidelity and use their money saving smarts as best they can.

It’s like speakers. Anyone can make a very expensive excellent speaker (relatively speaking!) but it takes a real design and build monster... to create excellent gear at lower prices.

Since people, audio fanatics*... can be of the type that hunts down lower prices like audio crackheads, always looking for more at the lowest price possible... this can be a losing war.

Thus many companies try to play the puffed chest exceptionalism game ("I’m/we're betterest than anyone else!") in promotion of what they do. Then in their promo material they go out of their away to present industry norms as evidence of their exceptionalism, as they ain't really got any but the average customer knows so little..that..well... 

Some are truly exceptional. Good luck figuring it all’s too many variables for the average person.


*I wanted to call a cable ’the 43’ in honor of the norm of audio fanatics trying to get the best product possible for the least money possible, in all things, in all ways, to the point of fretting incessantly about it. to the point of fighting for the price but also putting every cent they have to spare, into the game.

Like a crackhead approaching the dealer and pulling rumpled bills out of their pocket and asking ’how much crack can I get for.....uhmm...$43?’ Which is all they have in the whole world and in their pockets. Just a bit of dark audio humor I wanted to bring up to the front of the discussion.

This problem or issue... is so relevant and real that, IIRC, Audioquest has some seven different lines of cables (approx), and in that, they can vacuum up every cent on the table in any audio sales scenario. This is either smart, or despicable, or both (or neither)...depending on one’s view.

Motorized stepped attenuator like in the old Rogue Hera / Athena - no, but it was klunky to use as the control sucked.

@mulveling What exactly sucks about the motorized stepped attenuators in the Heras and Athenas?  Mine seems to work pretty good.

Interesting question.

Back in the day, a remote would trigger mechanical relays, servos or motors to increase/decrease volume or change a input. Today some of it’s the same, but…


VAC , Cary, aires cerat, and many others, fall very short not providing a fully functional remote. To not have a remote that controls standby. Volume and input selection is a major major disappointment. For the money people are spending on these pieces of equipment it deserves a fully functional remote.

People have families and want to include it in their home theater system and to not have a fully functional remote makes a decision not to buy it a given, cary conveniently excludes info on the remote in their manual. This is absurd.

It would be so much easier to choose a preamp if they had fully functional remotes. My family would never tolerate a remote that is not fully functional and you have to live with it for 10 15 and hopefully 20 years. No way



It would be interesting to see your system under your ID to see where you are coming from. What has been your  experience with remote control / non-remote / stepped attenuators. 

When listening I set my levels cue the music and sit and listen. I never use a remote.

Was a long time Spectral Audio devotee. Had dmc 12 an amazing value and outstanding phono module.   At the time both models of spectral did not have remote controls based on the sound degradation pathway.   Eventually moved to the dmc 30 with remote control.   Essentially the same spectral sound .   Found most of the spectral equipment had thei house sound, the only reason I upgraded power amps was power hungry Maggie’s/ so answer is well designed circuit will not degrade sound


It is only beneficial for Focal to manufacture their own drivers if they can do it to a better quality/value mix than other OEM manufacturers.  Given Focal's production volume, this is unlikely to be the case.  Therefore if the quality of Focal drivers is truly superior to other OEMs then this is likely to drive up sharply the price of Focal speakers, making them poorer value for money.


Different use cases. I use a VAC Master preamp in a system with one source (phono stage) that is 2ch only. There’s no need for remote input switching here. Ideally, I don’t want to pay for all those extra inputs. And I absolutely hate the HT Bypass, which I’ve engaged by accident a couple times now (it’s next to and looks like the power knob with no LED indicator) to my MASSIVE displeasure, until I figured out what was wrong. Remote has Mute & Volume Up / Down, which is all I need and want, other than a "Mono" function which this preamp doesn’t have.

It’s hard enough to serve the already narrow market for a $30K preamp, then have to subdivide it further between the pure 2ch guys and family entertainment guys. VAC made what they thought was the best compromise to serve both sets of customers, without sacrificing ultimate 2ch performance.

I can suggest that the ARC Reference preamps are excellent, and provide a full-function remote.

ARC reference preamps are totally inappropriate for home theater use since they are on most of the time during the day and they have so many damn tubes. You’ll be chasing tubes every 12 months if not more.

Yeah I saw the Home theater bypass button looking really obnoxious on the front panel of vac preamp and then they don’t have a remote that’s fully functional how stupid is this?


i have just spent three years researching, designing and prototyping remote control intended for volume production.  My thesis was that it could nto only be a VERy attractive feature, but superior sonically.

The real answer is "it entirely depends on how". 

Leet's take the simplest method- a stepper motor, connected to the existing volume knob's shaft.  This will have zero impact - it mimics your hand.  So that one is 'sounds the same.

Next let's look at the traditional digital solution (e.g.: what's in your phone, mac, pc, etc). This does binary multiplication on the digital stream. Since there is truncation within the allotted 16 (or whatever) bits and no additional resolution int he DAC, this always degrades the sound. In fact at low levels the resolution falls to about 11 bits.  On the other hand the channels track perfectly and there is no additional noise,, aside from the quantization noise (which i note to keep the trolls at bay).

Next we can use a "digital potentiometer" .This is a terrible name, since they are analog and generally dual-resistor pair arrays.  Which is very good. But there are technical problems i wont delve into since they are very complex. I made tow sound really good (better than an ALPS or Nobel POT) but only at huge complexity.

Finally you can use a small embedded computer/contorller, lots of relays or analog switches, and pairs of  resistors. This is the old Mil-spec method and basically the best there is.  Old version used stepped knobs and cost the moon, both in parts and labor. They were also very clunky in many ways. But with a computer, it an be really elegant.  That is what i settled on. It makes old fashioned high end POTS sound veiled and shows thier awful tracking.  Beware there is no going back, take a deep hit and I've got oyu :-)

So the differences are very much n the details adn about 0.01% here will even understand them.  i admit i didn't fully realize what i was getting into with the potentiometer chips - such promise, and such issues.


The best solutions however are not cheap in either engineering or parts,




Yes there are MANY ways to employ both manual and remote volume control.  One of the most interesting is the EMIA approach of using an auto-former with many discrete taps that are relay switched.  I believe there are other transformer-based volume controllers, some even utilizing remote switching.  This probably represents the most complex way of doing volume control.

I also like the approach of having only one fixed resistor in the signal path, with volume determined by relay switched set of resistors shunting part of the signal to ground.  

+2 Mapman, couldn't have said it better! At my age, 80, I wouldn't consider a preamp without a remote control. My ears are the limiting factor now, a remote is the least of my worries!!!

It’s like buying a multilevel house when you’re 70 where it’s very possible you won’t be able to reach the second floor at some point. Even an injury with a recovery period Will totally disrupt your life.

So if you’re going to buy a preamp and have it around for a while you’re really appreciate necessity of a fully functional remote.

My impression is that manufacturers are being extremely lazy by not doing a fully functional remote. There is no sound impact. Most will likely take interest in the additional cost.

Further what if you put it in a second room how inconvenient is this?



Thanks for @ blackdogs reference. Helpful in seeing where he is coming from, a competitor. His examples of “crappy integrated circuit volume” used in Audio Research equipment who’s sound “has been ruined” … making it a very inferior product had me question his motives. I have not found that to be true. In fact, I think this is a very self-discrediting statement.


I have had a number of products with discrete volume controls and not found them to be greatly superior to alternatives. High end audio component are composed of hundreds and hundreds of design decisions and components and singling out and slandering a single component as a fatal flaw on some of the finest equipment manufacturer seems a bit irresponsible… especially coming from another equipment manufacturer.

Hence the reason for my question. It was clear he had a chip on his shoulder… now it is clear from whence his prejudice comes. 


I've got a Herron Audio tube preamp with a remote (the smallest remote I've ever seen!), and I don't think Keith Herron would put something in his gear that would cause any noticeable sound degradation. I definitely need a remote as the source doesn't all come in at the same level, and when I use it for watching TV, I'm always having to shift the volume up and down... 

How would you know because if it's designed with or without that's is your only reference point  ? 

I resolved this clearly a while back but if anyone feels compelled to continue to debate a moot point feel free. 🤷

goofy how this thread on such a minor, non-issue hasn't died under its own weight...

[other brands mentioned + ]... Aries Cerat, and many others, fall very short not providing a fully functional remote. To not have a remote that controls standby. Volume and input selection is a major major disappointment.(@emergingsoul)

[please forgive my poor English]

FYI, the remote control of my Aries Cerat Incito ("basic" version, not ’S’ version) provides full control over the folllowing points:

  • volume control (stepped attenuator)
  • balance control
  • mute control
  • standby control
  • input switch control
  • display control

(The version I own does not have HT bypass, as I don’t need one: music only; so, cannot tell about this).


Previously, I owned a YBA 1 preamp, very open and known to "unthrottle" systems. But the Incito, that I could try at home, nevertheless gave my system a gobsmacking leap forward sonically speaking (the remote that the Incito provided was only an aside advantage). The dealer had insisted that I absolutely should compare the Aries Cerat Incito with an Audio Research Ref 5SE or 6. The comparison has not been possible though.


I think the remote is common to all models: