SFJAZZ Center: A High-Tech Home for Jazz Music in San Francisco

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Matt Gallagher


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Sam Berkow, founder of SIA Acoustics

Sam Berkow, founder of SIA Acoustics

A key component in the auditorium’s acoustical design is a rectangular shaped diffusive acoustical canopy that is suspended above the stage. Constructed of steel tubing and measuring 25 feet wide and 15 feet deep, it holds 68 RPG Diffusors that measure 2x2 feet each. The tiles are each positioned 90 degrees relative to one another to form an uneven surface. Sound that travels upward from the stage is then diffused, which “makes the stage much acoustically cleaner,” Berkow says. “Secondly, [the canopy] is tilted at 14-and-a-half degrees, so it’s projecting sound very uniformly to almost all the seats in the house. It gives you that sense of envelopment. Lastly, it holds a 24-foot-wide video screen that can be dropped down.” An 8-by-8-foot hole in the canopy’s middle allows sound to fill the area above the canopy to “use all the cubic volume in the room to create the most uniform sound we could,” Berkow says.

“In every seat in that hall, you’re listening to the sound from the stage, and the sound system is used to augment that sound, not overwhelm it,” Berkow notes. “If you turn the P.A. off in a rock venue, the sound goes away. In a jazz venue, the use of a sound system is done with great discretion.”

For SFJAZZ, SIA Acoustics specified a Meyer Sound system comprising 32 MINA loudspeakers configured in two line arrays of 16 speakers each positioned at stage-left and stage-right; a center cluster of five 500-HP subwoofers, with three firing forward toward the audience and two firing backward to form an electronically adjusted cardioid array that creates a null onstage to lessen the low-frequency energy there; eight JM-1P arrayable loudspeakers; and four M1D-SM loudspeakers that are used as frontfill. “We use two Galileos [616 Loudspeaker Management Systems] to do all the equalization and delays,” Berkow says. “And we use their Remote Monitoring System to make sure each speaker is performing properly.”

Exterior SFJAZZ Center

Exterior SFJAZZ Center

Berkow adds that the venue’s primary FOH engineers, Jeff Cressman and Masanori Yura, “have really embraced the philosophy of the system, which is to use the sound system primarily to provide tonal balance and uniform coverage, rather than just increasing volume.”

“The sound system smoothly covers the transitions from the close seating all the way to the top floor,” Cressman says. “The zones allow for a very natural experience up close where you don’t want to be distracted by the P.A., to the areas where the power of the sound system can make up for the drop-off of the acoustic energy from the stage. The room’s warmth by controlled design of absorption and diffusion makes it a joy to mix in.”

“Having built a number of venues for jazz, including Jazz at Lincoln Center’s facilities and the Jazz Standard in New York, among many others, I’m really happy to be involved with these projects,” Berkow says. “This one seems to be off to such a great start.”

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