It was a good year to be a fan of the microphone. This year's crop of new audio products seemed especially rich in the lavalier and handheld fields--so much so that we're honoring two microphones as Entertainment Design Sound Products of the Year. The rest of the winners--ranging from a comprehensive troubleshooting tool to an amazingly lightweight digital console--were chosen for their technology and problem-solving capability.

Aside from these six terrific new products, however, our panel of judges--veterans in the theatre sound design field--all felt that 1999 was not an especially innovative year for audio. The consensus is that the new millennium should bring some especially exciting new gear, particularly in loudspeaker and (once again) microphone technology. Until then, here is the cream of the crop of last year:

"I want to see the other guys make a mic that small that sounds that good!" raves one judge about the B6. Only 1/10" (2.5mm) in diameter--smaller than the cable of many other lavaliers--this new Countryman mic features replaceable protective caps that can change its color and frequency response to match the application. The out screen in the caps is designed to stop makeup and sweat before it enters the mic element. If it clogs, simply remove the cap for cleaning or replacement.

The SR77 is a directional condenser microphone that's designed for recording applications--especially for guitar, sax, flute, drums, and voice--but is durable enough for sound reinforcement, as there are no peaks to encourage feedback, and the rear projection is quite good. On axis, its frequency response rate is flat from 30Hz to 30kHz at 15cm (6"); closer there is a little more bass, at ambient distance there is a little less. "The Earthworks SR77 cardioid condenser mics are amazing quality and with good value," says one judge about the SR77. "I think this mic will quickly become popular in sound reinforcement."

Designed for live FOH and monitoring applications, this digital mixing console features 48 analog channels with digital control and 48 digital channels with full processing, including 10 parameter dynamics (gate-expander and compressor/limiter), nine ultra-fast Power Tower digital audio processors, five-band, full-parametric EQs, and comprehensive routing. This console, manufactured in France and distributed in the US by the Tullytown, PA-based Pro Sound International, is comprised of two components--a control surface and an audio rack--designed to reduce setup time as well as total weight (the console weighs in at only 120lbs). "The InnovaSon is pretty small and very simple to use," says one judge. "It sounds great, and you can own one tomorrow."

"There's a lotta oomph in those four channels," notes one judge of the new CX four-channel amps from QSC. Though designed primarily for install use, the CX204V, CX254, and CX404, which range in power from 170W to 450W per channel, have enough horsepower for theatre use. At two rack spaces tall, they take up half the space of two stereo amplifiers and weigh only 21lbs (9.5kg) for easier racking and shipping. Like all CX amplifiers, the four-channel models include an HD-15 Data Port for interfacing with QSControl, QSC's ethernet-based control system for remote amplifier monitoring and system management.

Charlie's done it again. The E-Show Network is based on industry-standard Windows NT computers interconnected via a TCP/IP-based network; normally ethernet, but essentially any TCP/IP-compatible network, even the Internet, can be used. The system features RSD's Virtual PLC Hardware, comprised of industry-standard industrial PCI/ISA computer cards, and is driven by ShowMan(TM) software. E-Show also supports direct ethernet connection with ethernet-capable industrial control devices, thereby eliminating the need for host computers at remote terminals. "This is a great step in the right direction, putting show control on a standard ethernet network.," says one of the judges. "No more serial lines, MIDI lines, etc."

The Audio Toolbox provides a comprehensive set of audio tools in an affordable, easy-to-use, rugged, and very purple package. The Toolbox features DSP technology and pro-quality analog audio stages, a graphical backlit LCD display, encoder input control, built-in microphone, speaker, fully-balanced XLR and 1/4" (approximately 3/4cm) inputs and outputs, unbalanced RCA, and MIDI in and out. It can be used to analyze acoustics, tune instruments, test cable, and provide myriad other test functions and utilities. As one judge succinctly put it, "I love this thing!"