With the exception of the continued explosion of hot new digital consoles onto the market, it was a relatively quiet year in live sound technology. DiGiCo's new breakthrough board was our panel of judges' top pick in that category this year; the rest were all much-needed and well-engineered improvements in existing technology, from faster samplers to tinier transmitters. Here, then, are this year's ED Sound Products of the Year, as picked by our highly skilled (and highly opinionated) panel of judges, all working theatre sound designers from across the country.

Meyer M1D and M2D Curvilinear Arrays
Over the years, we've had plenty of debate among judges about the relative merit of one piece of gear over another, but this year marks the first time that discussion has been about gear from the same company. Meyer's M1D and MM4 were both seriously in the running this year; in the end it was decided to honor both the M1D and M2D curvilinear arrays. The ultra-compact M1D is designed specifically for implementing vertical curvilinear arrays of up to 16 cabinets having 0° to 8° splay between adjacent units. The larger M2D is designed for mid-sized venues that require tight vertical pattern control with long throw. In the end, the judges wanted to honor Meyer as much for its commitment to the theatre sound designer as to its products. “This is a company that continues to support theatre in more ways than just developing products for us,” says one.
Meyer Sound

Countryman E6 Earset
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Countryman's Isomax EarSets clip around your ear, not around your head. Well, of course! They never interfere with hairstyle, headphones, or hat, making them automatic favorites of costume and wig designers. The EarSets are available in four colors, Light Beige, Tan, Cocoa, and Black to blend with the user's appearance. Best of all, the always reliable E6 is supplied with your choice of cables that attach to the EarSet with a snap-on connector. A wide variety of connectors can be attached at the factory making them compatible with any mix board or wireless microphone transmitter. “We're currently using the Countryman E6 Earset and they're amazing,” says one judge. “Incredibly low-profile (it's an E6 mounted on an ear wire, after all) and it sounds great!”
Countryman Associates

Sennheiser SK5012 Transmitter
Picking this one was the closest thing we've had to a no-brainer for years. The world's smallest professional bodypack transmitter, the SK5012 delivers 30mW of wireless audio while housed in a teensy weensy 61x53x17mm (2.4"x2.1"x0.68") shell — roughly half the size of the workhorse SK50. Two AAA batteries power the 5012's 30mW of output transmission strength with great efficiency due to a specialized antenna design, delivering seven hours of continuous operation. The unit is constructed of metal for durability and operation in harsh environments. Signal strength is independent of battery status, assuring worry-free operation. “The SK5012 is a must,” says one judge. “The engineering they did to squeeze an SK50 into such a tiny package is truly brilliant, and although there are some subtle differences, the quality has not suffered at all.”
Sennheiser Electronic Corporation

Akai Z8 Sampler
The Z8 is a 24-bit, 96kHz, dedicated hardware-based sampler featuring the handy-dandy ak.Sys. PC/Mac control and networking software. The heart of the Z-Series (a Z4 is also available) is the new Z-96™ LSI sampling engine coupled with a CPU, designed to provide fast audio processing with up to eight real-time controllers and 24-bit audio resolution with sample rates up to 96kHz. The IntelliSample is a suite of new features designed to reduce the amount of time and effort involved in creating new sounds, allowing users to create complete, ready-to-play programs from an audio sampling CD in one step. “The new Akai Z8 sampler is a nice step forward, especially with the integration of the ak.Sys. software,” says one judge. “We just switched our playback from the Akai DR-4s we have had for a long time to the Z8 samplers.”
Akai Musical Instrument Corporation

DiGiCo D5 Live
DiGiCo made one of the splashiest entries into the live sound market in recent memory with the introduction of the D5 Live system. A live music mixing system comprised of the D5 Live console itself, a front-of-house Digirack containing A/D converters and I/Os, a matching stage Digirack, and 100m (330') of fiber-optic cable, the system does away with the need for a multicore, splitters, line drivers, dynamics processors, and — optionally — an entire effects rack too. The D5 Live software provides flexibility in configuring the console to suit a show. In both 56- or 96-input versions, the 40 internal buses can be set up as mono or stereo auxiliaries and mono or stereo surround buses. Says one judge: “DiGiCo's D5 is breathtaking for a digital console.”