While 1998 may not have been a terribly innovative year for audio, it was a wonderfully practical one. Many of the best new products were designed to address specific needs of sound designers and engineers, be it a tester for those annoying cable runs or search software for vast effects libraries. Below are six of the hottest "Why didn't I think of that?" products of the last year, hand-picked by our panel of judges and presented with EDDY Awards at a December1998 ceremony.

Signal Processor: BSS Audio/Soundweb(TM) 9088 Soundweb is a programmable DSP system that's actually quite weblike in terms of its matrix and processing. Soundweb units can be networked together, so you can build any size of system, from a small theatre to a convention center, with hundreds of audio channels. Best of all, each unit is reasonably priced, so add-ons don't break your budget. The amount of raw DSP that you get for the price makes it a very cost-effective solution for installed and temporary systems. The network uses simple Category Five twisted-pair cabling, and is capable of passing eight channels of 48kHz digital audio plus control data bi-directionally between units. Soundweb can also be operated by non-techies using external knobs or switches for volume or presets, or can be integrated with AMX or other remote control systems.

Loudspeaker: Apogee Sound/The ALA Series A welcome addition to the linear array revolution, Apogee's ALA Series currently comes in three models, the ALA-3, ALA-5, and ALA-9. All three feature an extremely narrow vertical pattern with seamless acoustic addition among adjacent enclosures. The patented rigging system allows enclosures to easily be tight-packed or flat-packed, giving the designer control over resultant pattern of the array. The smallest model, the bi-amped ALA-3, is intended for applications that primarily require vocal range reproduction. Especially suited for theatres, hotel ballrooms, and houses of worship, this speaker's applications can grow in scope by adding subwoofers. The bi-amped ALA-5 is extremely versatile, providing very wide frequency response and enough power output for concerts, musical theatre, industrials, theme parks, and related applications. The tri-amped ALA-9 is designed for applications requiring extremely high SPL capability such as rock concerts, sporting events, and outdoor pageantry.

Software: Gefen Systems/M&E Professional A quick and easy search software for sound effects, M&E Pro with QuickSample features instantaneous auditioning and transferring of any sound effect or music track from libraries stored on hard disks that typically exist on CD audio format. The software allows users to search by SFX category, key words, or catalog numbers, and the results display the CD number, source library, sound effects category and description, track/index number, and length in time. One of the judges currently uses M&E Pro in his own library.

Cable Tester: Wireworks/The TEC256 An ideal tool for rental houses, this computer-based multipin cable tester can check up to 256 points for opens, shorts, cross-wired, and resistance in less than a second. The system comes complete with a laptop and software-definable test programs, and the program can be set up with password-protected levels of security to allow those in charge to create, modify, and change testing parameters, while a user level is only allowed to run pre-defined tests. Another great feature is that the test results can be printed on any Windows-supported printer, and lists the test program run on the cable, the date, time, and either "good" or "bad," with all problems found.

Console: Mackie Designs, Inc./The Digital 8-Bus Here's another digital console that wasn't designed specifically for theatre use, but has found its way into the hands of sound designers. The Digital 8-Bus is an affordable, fully automated, 48-input, eight-bus digital console with such analog features as full meter bridge, trim control, mic/line switch, mute, solo, and 100mm motorized faders, all available as individual controls, not multifunction buttons or pages on a screen. The judges were also impressed by Mackie's commitment to customer support, and its willingness to explore other versions of the software to support different uses, such as live theatre.

Receiver: Sennheiser/The EM3532-U This two-channel, computer-controllable, UHF true diversity wireless microphone receiver has applications not only in theatre but also in sound reinforcement and broadcasting, and is affordable for most budgets.The big difference between this and other receivers is its remote controllability, Sennheiser's Super Mikroport Computer Display (S-MCD) software. The receiver's ability to look for interfering signals over the spectrum it is operating in is also an invaluable feature. The ability to look at a single frequency over time is also helpful; users can now use the system itself to diagnose all of their RF problems.