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Herbst Theatre Delights Ears With KUDO

Historic recital hall now sounds as beautiful as it looks thanks to L-ACOUSTICS

SAN FRANCISCO — 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 decor and intimate atmosphere, yet the recital hall is these days being praised more for its fantastic sound following 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 an extremely packed calendar of 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 enthusiastically recalls that same night that the demo KUDO 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 theatre’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 [note: it now goes down to 25Hz via the new 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.”

Following the KUDO’s installation, the Herbst crew has fielded nothing but praise for the new system–even from the most discerning engineers, musicians and patrons. “We had John Williams, arguably the number one classical guitarist on the planet, in here performing with guitarist John Etheridge,” says Montijo. “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 again!'”

“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 absolutely perfect!”

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.), among others.

For more information on the venue, visit the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center website at

L-ACOUSTICS is a leading innovator and manufacturer of high-performance loudspeakers, amplifiers and signal processing devices for touring and installed sound markets. Known around the globe for pioneering and championing the modern line array loudspeaker concept with V-DOSC, the company has received numerous accolades for its K1, KUDO, KIVA, ARCS, XT coaxial loudspeaker systems and SB line of subwoofer enclosures, all powered and processed with the LA4 and LA8 amplified controllers in fulfillment of a “total system approach.” L-ACOUSTICS products for the North American market are manufactured and distributed by L-ACOUSTICS US of Oxnard, California.

Photo credits: © 2009 James Baldocchi

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