Audio

Would you buy an audio system without a remote control? Here's why you should

Going sans remote -- can that possibly be a good idea?

The Schiit Ragnarok stereo integrated amplifier is the Audiophiliac Component of the Year, and it doesn't have a remote control. I didn't know that when I requested the amp for review, but alas, Schiit didn't bother to design a remote. Strange, but as soon as I started listening to the Ragnarok I fell in love with it.

Before the CD changed the way we listened to music at home in the 1980s, few high-end components came with remotes. Imagine that -- we had to get up and walk over to our hi-fi to play an LP, adjust the volume or change the input. Over the course of the Ragnarok review, I was surprised how easy it was to go sans remote; so getting up to change the volume by twisting a knob never once broke the spell. The Ragnarok is hardly the only component you can buy that doesn't come with a remote: the Prima Luna ProLogue Classic integrated amp, most headphone amps and the Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL amp I reviewed a few weeks ago are all sold without remotes.

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Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Granted, a remote is a bigger deal with home theater or watching TV where you're always changing channels, adjusting the volume, or pausing the movie. With music at home, it's different. I have to get up to change the CD or the LP, or to turn the record over anyway, so changing the volume or input while I'm standing there is no biggie. If you're streaming music, you need a remote of some kind. What's going on here is a hands-on vs. a hands-off approach to playing music.

All of this started me thinking: maybe that's why remotes didn't become commonplace in the pre-digital era. Hands-on music playback was an integral part of the experience, but now that most people control their music with a remote or a smart phone, they're free to do other things while the music plays on. In other words, listening to digital music is probably secondary to whatever else is going on, but vinyl is more likely to be the main event. It demands more of your attention, and that's a good thing. Maybe it's akin to buying a high-end sports car with a manual transmission -- it demands more from the driver than does an automatic tranny.

A Facebook friend responded to my "Can you live happily with an audio system without a remote control?" query this way: "A remote is for those who cannot completely dedicate their time to the music-listening experience." Most of my Facebook friends agreed with that view. I fully understand why most people absolutely require a remote. Just don't assume it's a universal requirement; it's not.

As for the Schiit Ragnarok, it was my Component of the Year because it was a unique and great-sounding design. The no-remote "feature" made it stand out from the pack of "me too" amps, and the sound clinched the deal.

So would the lack of a remote be a deal-breaker for you?