The Herbst Theatre, located in the center of San Francisco’s War Memorial Veterans Building, is recognized for its unique place in the pages of history as the host site for the signing of the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945. Originally built in 1932, this 919-seat venue has long been acclaimed for its colorful beaux-arts murals, stunning décor and intimate atmosphere. The recital hall recently upgraded its sound with the installation of an L-Acoustics KUDO system.
Six-box KUDO arrays with custom cream-colored grille cloths are flown on both the left and right sides of the proscenium, while four coaxial L-Acoustics 8XT cabinets are positioned across the stage lip for front-fill. Four additional 8XT are mounted under the balcony at the back of the room covering the acoustically shadowed area and are driven by L-Acoustics’ LA4 amplified controllers.
Along with the adjacent Green Room, the Herbst Theatre is home to more than 430 arts, educational and cultural events each year. Approximately 70 of those are promoted by City Arts & Lectures, which has been bringing programs to the venue for 29 years.
According to CA&L Executive Director Sydney Goldstein, “Our events range from simple onstage conversations with one host and one guest to concerts with conversation and multiple inputs. We record all of our programs for delayed broadcast on more than 170 public radio stations, but our primary concern is always the sound quality for the theater audience. When I first heard the KUDO system, I was amazed at the clarity and richness of sound. The demo installation was so superb to any sound we had ever heard in the Herbst before that I spontaneously and enthusiastically pledged City Arts & Lectures funds in order to insure that the system would be permanently installed. Now that the KUDO system has been in for a while, we cringe to remember the erratic and inferior sound we had dealt with for so long. Ever since the system has been in place, our audiences are much happier, as are the many artists who come to the Herbst for us.”
Herbst Theatre A1 Dave Montijo recalls that same night that the KUDO demo rig was first used. “Not only did Sydney tell us that this was the sound that she had been looking for literally for decades, but five audience members returned their hearing assistance devices because they didn’t need them. The intelligibility was just so vastly different.”
KUDO’s adjustable K-Louver panels were key in solving the theater’s challenging acoustic issues. “Obviously, it was imperative for us to be able to keep the audio off of the stage to avoid gain-before-feedback problems,” notes Herbst Theatre House Electric and Stage Manager John Bott. “But, aside from that, the murals on the side walls above the box seats created a sound trap, and the fluted columns between those murals caused a standing 2k wave throughout the house. Thankfully, using L-Acoustics’ SoundVision software and KUDO’s internal baffles, we were able to very nicely direct the energy to avoid all of those problem areas. And it’s amazing how precise that focus is. If you stand up in the back seat of the balcony, a trained ear can easily detect a drop-off in the highs.”
According to Montijo, the true full-range operation of KUDO was another selling point. “The fact that this system, without the need for dedicated subs, goes down to 40 cycles [according to L-Acoustics, it now goes down to 25 Hz via the company’s LA8 software update] surprises a lot of engineers. But it saved us the considerable expense of having to add separate low-frequency enclosures, which we didn’t really have the room for anyway.
Herbst Theatre’s Dave Montijo (left) and John Bott with the L-Acoustics KUDO system in the background
“We had John Williams, arguably the number one classical guitarist on
the planet, in here performing with guitarist John Etheridge,” Montijo
continues. “They liked the sound so much that they kept taking turns
running out into the house to listen while the other one played. Leo
Kottke was also in here on another night and walked out into the
audience while he was playing. He actually stopped in the middle of his
set and said, ‘Damn, this room sounds good! I want to play this song
“This system is such a pleasure to use,” he adds. “It doesn’t cease to
amaze me how incredible it sounds. The coverage is extremely even
throughout the entire room and there’s absolutely no ‘noise’. If people
walk out of here without having their best audio experience ever, then
I did something wrong because it’s not the fault of this system. It’s
In addition to working with City Arts & Lectures, Herbst Theatre
also hosts numerous events for SFJAZZ (presenter of the San Francisco
Jazz Festival), San Francisco Performances (recitals, jazz, dance and
chamber music) and Another Planet (indie, rock, pop, hip-hop, etc.),
Visit L-Acoustics at www.l-acoustics.com.
For more information on the venue, visit the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center Website.