Anyone Else Using an Audio Kinesis Swarm or Debra Distributed Bass Array System?


I have Magnepan 2.7QR speakers and posted a similar question about 2 years ago on whether others were using an Audio Kinesis Swarm or Debra or any similar multiple sub distributed bass array system. I thought it might be useful for members to learn about this type of solution for attaining excellent bass performance in virtually any room and with any main speakers for both 2-ch stereo music and ht. I thought a new thread detailing this effective solution may be helpful and attract responses from other users of a distributed array sub system. I’m also wondering if there are any more members using one of these bass systems since I posted my original thread 2 yrs ago.


About 3 years ago I purchased the Audio Kinesis DEBRA (Distributed-Eq BassReflex Array) sub system from James Romeyn Music and Audio in Utah. Here’s a link describing the system:

http://jamesromeyn.com/old-pages/home-audio-gear/dsa-1-0-distributed-subwoofer-array-5-pieces-4k-usd...

This system is a bargain at $2,500 and well worth the investment. I rationalized the price by noting it’s about the same as a pair of very good regular subs.


The performance of this system in my 23’ x 14’ living room is excellent. The bass can be fast, tight and tuneful for music or loud and impactful for music and home theater. The subs seem to disappear since there are no audible clues to their locations; the bass is very well integrated into the music and movies.

From my personal experience, I was not convinced at the time of the reality of perceiving stereo bass but was willing to give it a try. I was originally thinking of buying 2 high quality subs such as Rhythmik, SVS, JL, Martin/Logan, Vandersteen or REL. I was skeptical of the DEBRA system at first but, after reading a lot of research about multiple sub systems on the internet, I decided to give it a try and I’m now very thankful that I did.

Because it is such an ideal system for me, and because I think it would work well in almost any room or system, I want to go into more detail about the system, its setup and the theory behind it. I have no affiliation with the company but will admit, after considerable phone and email time with the dealer, that I now consider James Romeyn a friend of mine but don’t know if he feels likewise.

The system consists of the following:

A dedicated Dayton Audio mono class A/B amp rated at 950 watts @ 4 ohms with dual A&B spkr output terminals.

Four 44lb. bass-reflex subs that measure a relatively small 23.75" H x 14.5" W x 10.375" D.

Each sub is ported on the bottom, supported by 3 spiked cones and contains a single 10" 4 ohm driver. The subs are designed to be facing, and within 2" of, the room walls.

The setup procedure is:

Sub#1 is hooked up and placed on its back (driver facing the ceiling) at the normal listening position. Music is played that has good and repetitive bass.

Walk around the edges of the room and determine exactly where the bass sounds best to you.

Attach the 3 spiked footers (flat adapters are also supplied for use on non-carpeted floors) to Sub#1 and position it upright facing the nearest wall to the spot you determined the bass sounded best.

Sub#2 is hooked up and placed on its back at the primary listening position. With sub 1 & 2 playing, continue walking around the edges of your room and determine again where the bass sounds best to you.

Attach the 3 spiked footers to Sub#2 and position it upright facing the nearest wall to the spot you determined the bass sounded best.

Repeat this procedure for sub 3 & 4.

Small positioning adjustments may need to be made for each sub due to avoiding furniture and the WAF.

Once completed, final sub hook up is done in series/parallel:

Attach a single wire from the amp’s speaker A’s pos. output terminal and to Sub#1’s pos. input terminal.

Attach a single wire from the amp’s speaker A’s neg. output terminal and to Sub#2’s neg. input terminal.

Attach a single wire from Sub#1’s neg. input terminal to Sub#2’s pos. input terminal.

Attach Sub 3 & 4 using this parallel method on the amp’s speaker B’s output terminals.

I ordered single, high quality and low gauge speaker wire along with the sub system for a very reasonable price. Once the ideal locations for the subs was determined, I drilled holes in my room’s floor to the crawl space below, and was able to hide the connecting wires.

I’m definitely not an expert on subs or room acoustics but, from my reading, here is how I understand the theory behind the distributed array sub systems:

The lower the frequency the longer the sound wave produced, or launched, into a room.

Since these waves can be even longer than the actual dimensions in many rooms, these low frequency waves bounce off room surfaces and the music may dictate subsequent bass waves being launched into this acoustic environment. These initial waves, their reflections and subsequent bass waves inevitably collide and cause ’standing waves’.

Areas in the room where sound waves meet can make the bass sound under emphasized, over emphasized or even totally missing (nulls caused by wave cancelation).

When one sub is launching low frequency waves from 1 specific location, areas in a specific room where bass response is not accurate will be numerous and predictable based on sub location and room dimensions.

Adding a 2nd sub to the room will decrease standing waves and increase bass accuracy and bass dispersion.

According to scientific studies I read (mainly Dr.Earl Geddes and Dr.Floyd O’Toole White Papers), standing waves are reduced, and bass accuracy and dispersion increased, as more subs are used in a given room. Their experiments utilized more subs than anyone would even consider for home use. They basically concluded that the more subs in a room, the fewer standing waves are produced/perceived and the better the bass quality and bass dispersion results.

However, they determined that most of the benefits are gained with the use of 4 subs, with only minimal and incremental gains in performance attained through additional subs. Due to practical room considerations, the researchers recommended 4 subs for an effective distributed bass array system. Here’s a link to an Absolute Sound review of the Audio Kinesis Swarm system which is almost identical to the Debra system I own:

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/audiokinesis-swarm-subwoofer-system/

So that’s the equipment, set-up and the theory behind the DEBRA system and I can personally attest to its effectiveness in my room. I have 6 listening/viewing positions in my combination music and ht system in my living room. Bass response is equally good at all 6 positions without the use of acoustic devices (no absorbing or diffusing panels or bass traps) and without any electronic equalization (room analysis/correction equipment, software or eq). I should mention I’ve never had my system/room analyzed using a mike and software. From my purely subjective perspective, however, I’m confident the results would be good since I spent hours on the setup and critical listening from all six listening positions in my room. I would suggest this type of sub system as a viable alternative for anyone considering investing in one or more quality subs. The system is rated clean at 113 decibels at 20 hz. I’ve often heard and felt it go much lower. It feels and sounds clean and right but I can’t verify the decibels or lack of distortion.

Sorry this turned out so long and windy,

Tim

Also, my system photos are updated showing my current system with the subs and new electronics.



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I just realized that "post" and "help" were too close together and fat finger struck again! Haha! 
Thanks for the help! I've read the thread over again quickly and don't see the difference between SWARM and DEBRA. What am I missing???   
 
It seems as though any good sub amp could be used. Is that correct?  

Thanks Tim, to answer your questions in order...
1)  There are two couches and one recliner in the room. I have a sweet spot and everybody else gets what is left! Haha! 

2)  I'd have to do some serious research about that! First of all I'd have to wire the BPs passively which is forsaking a 300w rms class a/b amp on each speaker. The BPs dig all the way down to 15hz as they are. I'd want to be able to match that with the DEBRA. The other two speakers... good passive subs are not hard to build but if I could find a nice set of equal caliber for the right price...

3)  As for the room dimensions it sounds like you are interpreting them 90° out of actual orientation. The long walls are front to back and the short walls are left to right. That automatically sucks but to suck it up even more; due to passageway and door configuration there is a 5' unusable space front to back on the left side!  That's what is killing me!!! Highs are directional frequencies while lows are omni directional and radiate from an epicenter as you know so that void on the left is KILLING my bass response! What intrigued me about your post was the explanation of how these unequally refracted bass frequencies could cancel each other out.  I can attest! 

Thanks for your help Tim! 
Ha!!! I was closing old windows and found it! Score!!! Haha! 
Thanks again!!!
"Thanks for the help! I’ve read the thread over again quickly and don’t see the difference between SWARM and DEBRA. What am I missing???"

"Hello magzxi,

The AK Swarm and Debra dba systems are basically identical. The Swarm is retailed by AK founder and owner, Dick Lejeune who I believe passed away in 2017, and the Debra is retailed by his associate and AK dealer, James Romeyn, founder and owner of James Romeyn Music and Audio LLC. If interested, I’d suggest calling James Romeyn in Utah to verify I’m not missing something. and if he sells both now They both look the same, perform equally well,are the same price and I believe have the same setup procedures.

" 2) I’d have to do some serious research about that! First of all I’d have to wire the BPs passively which is forsaking a 300w rms class a/b amp on each speaker. The BPs dig all the way down to 15hz as they are. I’d want to be able to match that with the DEBRA. The other two speakers... good passive subs are not hard to build but if I could find a nice set of equal caliber for the right price..."

You can still use the 300w class a/b amps and subs in each of your speakers. These would count as 2 of the 4 subs required in a custom dba system you’re considering.
You could research the subs used in your BP speakers and try to find a source to buy j the same drivers and build your own subs, even possibly buying a similar plate amp for each (instead of building passive subs and using the Dayton amp) if you’d like. You could also buy 2 powered subs ( new or used).or buy the Dayton or other sub amp and buy or build 2 passive subs of whatever size and specs you'd like..

The important factor is having 4 subs, they don’t have to be the same brand, size or type. The setup procedure is also important but I can explain exactly how to locate your subs once you make a decision on the above.

"3) As for the room dimensions it sounds like you are interpreting them 90° out of actual orientation. The long walls are front to back and the short walls are left to right. That automatically sucks but to suck it up even more; due to passageway and door configuration there is a 5’ unusable space front to back on the left side! That’s what is killing me!!! Highs are directional frequencies while lows are omni directional and radiate from an epicenter as you know so that void on the left is KILLING my bass response! What intrigued me about your post was the explanation of how these unequally refracted bass frequencies could cancel each other out. I can attest! "

Yes, I was misinterpreting your system configuration but now understand the long walls are front to back and the short walls are the side walls ( my 23 x 16 ft room is configured short walls front to back and mistakenly thought your’s was the same.) As far as bass response, either way will result in great bass response as long as they are properly positioned according to the 4 sub dba recommended positioning procedure. I’m not certain, but I don’t believe the 5’ of unusable space will negatively affect the bass response. You already stated that you’ve got the more directional mid and high frequencies sounding very good so you should be good if the bass response improves.

You just need to decide what 2 additional subs to buy or build and how to power them.
Tim

Hi Tim,

Thank you very much for your enthusiasm and expertise about distributed multi-sub systems.

I would however like to take issue with one thing you said:

"The Swarm is retailed by AK founder and owner, Dick Lejeune who I believe passed away in 2017..."

Far as I can tell I haven’t passed away yet, or if I have, I’m stuck in a limbo that is thus far indistinguishable from an Audiogon thread. Fortunately it’s a thread where people are saying nice things about my stuff!

Just for the record, I got the distributed multisub idea from Earl Geddes. It happened like this:

I was driving Earl to the airport after CES in January of 2006 and we were stopped at a stoplight. He said to me "Duke, I’ve figured out how to get good bass in a small room. Use four small subs and distribute them asymmetrically. Each will produce a different room-interaction peak-and-dip pattern, and the sum of the four dissimilar peak-and-dip patterns will be much smoother than any one alone." A lightbulb went off in my head as I immediately realized this was "the answer", so I said, "Can I license that idea from you?" He replied, "You can just use it." And then the light changed. It was that fast.

Now let me explain what I meant by "the answer": For years I had been trying, off and on, to build a subwoofer that was "fast enough" to keep up with Quads and Maggies. I was a SoundLab dealer, and the SoundLabs are big enough to have good low-end extension, but they are too big and expensive for most people. I figured the first guy to make a sufficiently "fast" sub would have a potential market among Quad and Maggie owners. Being a longtime amateur speaker builder, I tried pretty much everything except for a horn: Sealed boxes, aperiodics, low-tuned vented boxes, transmission lines of many different geometries, equalized dipoles, and isobarics. None of them could "keep up" with Maggies and Quads. I was stumped.

But the problem was not the "speed" of the subwoofer - it was the peak-and-dip pattern that the room inevitably superimposed on the sub, which totally dominated the result. Yes some subs were audible improvements over others, but none could blend with Maggies or Quads without there being a distracting disconnect between the subjective lack of "speed" in the low bass and the rest of the spectrum.

You see, woofer(s) + room = a minimum phase system at low frequencies. What this means is, the frequency response and the time-domain response track one another. In English: Where you have an in-room response PEAK is where the decay is SLOW, and it doesn’t matter how "fast" the woofer is. The good news is that, when you fix the frequency response you ALSO fix the time-domain response, and vice-versa! So, SMOOTH bass is FAST bass. This is why the lightbulb went off in my head when Earl described his idea to me.

A distributed multisub system like the Debra or Swarm or your own set of four subs results in four (inevitably nasty) peak-and-dip patterns, but their sum will be much smoother than any one of them. Actually you will end up with MORE peaks and dips, which will be much smaller and much closer together. This "closer together" part is quite beneficial - the ear tends to average out peaks and dips that are within 1/3 octave of one another. So the subjective improvement is often greater than one would expect from merely eyeballing before-and-after curves.

One of the things to be aware of if you’re going to "roll your own" distributed multisub system is this: At the upper end of the bass region the outputs of the subs will be combining in semi-random phase, but at the bottom end of the bass spectrum their outputs may well be combining in-phase or nearly so, if the longest room dimension is a small enough fraction of a wavelength. This results in a rising response as we go down in frequency (and remember that the time-domain response tracks the frequency response). So if you already have two subs that go real deep, you might do better by adding two more that do not go as deep. Or vice-versa.

In the Debra and Swarm systems, the subs’ native response curve falls by about 3 dB per octave from 80 Hz down to 20 Hz. This approximately compensates for typical room gain. Then in most rooms we reverse the polarity of one of the subs (usually the one farthest from the main speakers), and this extends that semi-random-phase addition down into the bottom of the bass region, further smoothing the response and offsetting the rising bottom end that we would otherwise have. Also the down-firing ports on the Debra and Swarm modules are pluggable, converting the enclosure into a low-tuned sealed box, to give further adjustability (given that every room is different). And finally, the amp that we use has a single band of parametric EQ, in case there is still a peak at some frequency.

Speaking of EQ, why not use a single sub with EQ to fix the frequency response curve, simultaneously fixing the time domain response? EQ works great at a single listening position, and can work well within a small listening area. But the larger the listening area that we try to improve with EQ, the smaller the improvements are going to be. This is because the afore-mentioned room-induced peak-and-dip pattern changes dramatically as we change locations within the room ,so EQing a single subs works best for a single location. Unfortunately when we fix the frequency response in one location, we are making it MUCH WORSE in other locations! This is because the peaks and dips are at different frequencies at other locations. But with a distributed multi-sub system, the spatial variation (difference in frequency response from one location to another) is also greatly reduced. So if by chance there is still a peak with a distributed multi-sub system, chances are it’s a GLOBAL (room-wide) rather than a LOCAL peak, and therefore is a very good candidate for correction via equalization.

Big rooms have smoother bass than small rooms because they have a more dense modal behavior: The room-induced peaks and dips are more numerous and more closely spaced. A distributed multisub system can make a small room mimic a larger room in the bass region by doing the same thing. And this will sound counter-intuitive, but the smaller the room, the more it will benefit from a distributed multi-sub system.

One other bit of trivia: The other main researcher behind distributed multisub systems is Todd Welti of Harmon International. He investigated symmetrical rather than asymmetrical arrangements. Anyway Earl and Todd were developing their ideas AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME, but each was completely unaware of the other’s work. So I guess it was an idea whose time had come!

Robert E. Greene of The Absolute Sound gave the Swarm a Golden Ear award again this year (It got a Product of the Year award back in 2015). So despite the passage of time, apparently the distributed multisub idea hasn’t become outdated.

Duke

dealer/manufacturer/caught in limbo?