This year's honorees are an especially diverse mix; so diverse, in fact, that some might not immediately seem to be the normal tools of a theatre sound designer. But theatre sound design is much more than just slapping wireless mics on the heads of actors, and our panel of judges - a diverse mix of artisans across the country - wanted to honor a wide variety of products that reflect the many hats they tend to wear. "All too often, the emphasis in theatre design tends to go toward sound playback and sound engineering," said one judge. "As a designer, I am equally interested and influenced by the creative tools I have to work with in the studio." Here then, are six products reflecting the diversity of the sound designer's role in the theatre.

Software THE DIGIDESIGN PRO TOOLS 5.1 The latest upgrade to this seemingly ubiquitous audio software has been expanded to include multichannel mixing, panning, and processing, with support for all standard surround formats. While the judges wished Digidesign would show a bit more interest in the theatre sound design market, they did acknowledge that 5.1 is "an excellent upgrade to a wonderful tool." "The addition of multichannel sound is what I have been waiting for the last four years," added one judge. "ProTools really rocks."

Loudspeaker THE JBL EVO SYSTEM A "simple, easy-to-set-up" portable sound system for houses of worship, auditoriums, and theatres, the EVO system contains built-in DSP circuitry to constantly monitor what the loudspeakers are doing, and it will automatically adjust equalization and delay to combat feedback and provide the best possible sonic quality. The system comes with a 16 - channel mixer with built-in Lexicon effects and two UHF diversity wireless systems. "A great all-in-one tool for certain applications," said the judges.

Console THE LEVEL CONTROL SYSTEMS CUECONSOLE "A very large step in the very correct direction for theatrical sound control surfaces," said the judges of this modular control surface. The modules are flexible in that they can be configured in whatever way is most convenient for the sound designer/engineer. LCS sees it as a replacement for the traditional front-of-house mixer, taking up much less foot space in the theatre. The judges see it as a "pioneering achievement," which, with some additional development, "will be a great and much sought-after tool."

Gadget THE NEUTRIK MINILYZER ML1 A companion of sorts to the Neutrik Minirator, the Minilyzer ML1 is a palm-sized analyzer with a microphone input for polarity tests and a headphone jack that allows monitoring of the input signal at a normalized level for aural diagnostics. The unit continuously measures audio levels as RMS or peak levels, absolute or relative, to a definable reference with selectable units. The accurate frequency measurement gives additional functions and acts as the base for distortion measurement. Said one judge, "It's just cool."

Audio Interface THE METRIC HALO LABS MOBILE I/O FIREWIRE The first of what is expected to be an onslaught of firewire audio interfaces, the Mobile I/O Series of modular processing audio interfaces provide onboard low-latency signal processing for seamless foldback mixing in tracking and live sound environments. The first product of the line, the 2882, supports simultaneous input and output of all major audio standards, including analog balanced and unbalanced, S/PDIF, AES, and IEEE 1394. "A very well-thought-out interface," said the judges.

Microphone THE SOUNDFIELD MARK 5 SYSTEM "Here is something I am really psyched about," said one judge about the Mark 5 System, which is distributed in the US by the TransAmerica Audio Group. The Mark 5 is a complete package featuring a microphone enclosing four separate capsules, a studio processor that allows B format, L/R stereo, and M/S stereo matrixing, as well as mic preamps, another processor for location recording, and a surround processor, which decodes B format input through a 5.1 decoder. It's pricey, the judges said, but worth it.