Music notation software, macOS Big Sur, and Apple Silicon M1 Macs [updated]

News

If you have trouble keeping up with all the macOS software updates, new hardware and naming conventions (what happened to the cats?), you’re not alone. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered, at least when it comes to desktop music notation software.

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macOS 11: Big Sur

Let’s start with the software. After months of waiting, macOS Big Sur is set to be released on November 12, 2020. Big Sur is the first Mac operating system with version number 11 (Catalina was 10.15).

As we’ve come to expect, Big Sur showcases a number of design enhancements and blurs the line even further between a Mac and iOS, when it comes to the OS’s appearance and core Apple features like Messages, widgets and the Control Center.

As far as Sibelius, Finale, Dorico, MuseScore, and Notion, are concerned: Broadly speaking, Big Sur does not appear to affect these applications much one way or the other. We don’t expect users already working on macOS Catalina to be negatively or positively affected by Big Sur when working with these applications — and whenever a new OS is involved, status quo is very welcome news indeed.

M1 processor

The new hardware is another matter. For the first time since the transition from PowerPC processors to Intel chips more than a decade ago, Apple is introducing different processors in its new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini, with the remainder of the Mac line expected to follow over the next two years. The new M1 chips, its first in the new Apple Silicon family, share similarities with the A-series chips you’ll find already find in iPhones and iPads, further cementing the link between Macs and iOS devices.

Apple has said that its new M1 chips, based on Arm architecture, will enable its machines to be more powerful while running more efficiently. The common architecture will make it easier for developers to create applications that run across the entire Apple product line — including the possibility of being able to run iOS apps natively on a Mac.

With new processors come new challenges. Thankfully, Apple has created a translation layer invisible to the user, called Rosetta 2, that will allow existing Intel apps to run on M1 — much as it did with the original Rosetta, which was created to facilitate the transition from PowerPC to Intel Macs.

However, complex software like music notation programs, engineered to run on Intel hardware, are built using a number of integrated components, not all of which may natively support M1 out of the gate. For instance, it does not appear that Qt, the cross-platform application framework upon which Sibelius, Dorico, and Musescore are dependent, will be updated to natively support M1 until later in 2021, which means these products will likely be running under Rosetta on M1-powered Macs for a good while to come. (When an application is released with both native Intel and Apple Silicon support, it will be packaged as a “Universal 2 Binary”.)

Finale does not rely on Qt, but, like Sibelius it does use the VST audio engine developed by Plogue Art et Technologie. Because the current VST 2 engine in use will not be updated for native M1 support, those hosts will need to develop VST 3 versions in order to natively support M1 as well.

Suffice it to say, like with any bleeding-edge technology, it’s possible you may see some teething pains if you rush out and purchase a new M1-powered MacBook — especially if you rely on any audio plug-ins, or, in some cases, any audio in your work with music notation software.

Below, we’ll share what we know about the Big Sur OS, the M1-based Macs, and the software Sibelius, Finale, Dorico, MuseScore, and Notion. If you’re using any of these products, please share your experience in the comments section.

Updated November 11, 2020: Initial post.
Updated November 11, 2020 at 3:28 pm to consolidate MakeMusic statement with KB article.
Updated November 12, 2020 at 7:30 am to consolidate Steinberg statement with news article; new statement from Musescore.
Updated November 12, 2020 at 11:48 am: Updated statement from Musescore.
Updated November 13, 2020 at 4:37 pm: Dorico 3.5.10 is officially supported on Big Sur on Intel; replaced Steinberg news item with compatibility chart.
Updated November 14, 2020 at 6:57 am: Sibelius 2020.6 and later is is officially supported on Big Sur on Intel; replaced Avid news item with compatibility chart.
Updated November 17, 2020 at 7:28 am: Updated statement from Musescore; updated PreSonus KB article.
Updated December 10, 2020 at 4:22 pm: Updated information from MakeMusic regarding Finale.
Updated December 16, 2020 at 6:00 am: Updated information from PreSonus.
Updated January 16, 2021 at 8:30 am: Updated information about MuseScore.
Updated February 23, 2021 at 6:43 am: Dorico 3.5.12 officially supports M1 Macs via Rosetta.
Updated February 24, 2021 at 2:19 pm: Updated information about Sibelius.
Updated April 15, 2021 at 4:22 pm: Updated information about Sibelius.

Note: The official Big Sur status will not say “Supported” unless the developer has fully qualified its software to run on that version of macOS. For official M1 status, we will say “Supported under Rosetta 2” if the developer has fully qualified the software on M1 Macs running Rosetta, and “Supported natively” if the developer is providing native M1 support.

We’ll continue to update this post as warranted.

Sibelius

Official Big Sur status: Supported
Official M1 status: Supported under Rosetta 2

According to Avid’s Big Sur compatibility chart, as of April 15, 2021, Sibelius 2021.2 is officially supported on the latest Macs with the M1 processor under the Rosetta 2 translation environment.

Previously, Avid had announced that Sibelius 2020.6 and later was supported on Big Sur on Intel.

You’ll also want to bookmark the operating system compatibility chart for all versions of Sibelius (going back to 1.4!), and periodically refer to it when it is updated.

Finale

Official Big Sur status: Supported
Official M1 status: Not supported

In a Knowledge Base article updated on December 10, 2020, MakeMusic said:

macOS 11 Big Sur

After thorough testing on macOS 11 Big Sur, we have determined that Finale v26.3.1 is compatible with this OS. We are not aware of any major issues that prevent the program from operating as expected. There are, however, a few minor cosmetic issues that are present and we will continue to work with Apple to address these. For more information on these, visit the articles linked below.

Apple Silicon M1 Chip

We are continuing our testing with the production models of Apple’s M1 based computers. At this time, we do not recommend using Finale with these computers and do not consider these within our current system requirements. While Apple’s Rosetta 2 is showing promising results, more testing needs to be done.

If you rely on third-party plug-ins and hardware while using Finale, it is recommended to check with the manufacturers of these products for their specific guidelines regarding macOS 11 and Apple Silicon M1.

macOS 11 known issues:

Dorico

Official Big Sur status: Supported
Official M1 status: Supported under Rosetta 2

On February 23, 2021, Steinberg announced official support for running Dorico on the latest Macs with the M1 processor under the Rosetta 2 translation environment.

In a blog post announcing the Dorico 3.5.12 update, Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury said:

Dorico 3.5.12 has been tested on the new Apple M1 processors used in the new late-2020 13″ MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini computers that are the first models using the new architecture, and has been found to work just as well as it does on Intel-based Macs. Dorico 3.5.12 is not a Universal application: it has not been rebuilt and fully optimised for the new architecture. But the good news is that it runs beautifully under Rosetta 2, with performance that is comparable to running on the Intel i9 processor in the mid-2019 16″ MacBook Pro.

Releasing a Universal version of Dorico that takes full advantage of the new ARM architecture will require more time. Dorico is a complex application with many dependencies, both on third-party technologies and on components built by other teams within Steinberg, including some – like the audio engine – that have been extensively fine-tuned and optimised for Intel processors, and which will require additional work to get the best out of the new ARM platform. We are planning to release a Universal version of Dorico in the future, but it is not planned for the current version, Dorico 3.5.

Consult Steinberg’s Big Sur compatibility chart for the status of all of its products. Steinberg recommends you to “download the latest eLicenser Control Center version from the eLicenser page and make sure to install it before other Steinberg applications.

MuseScore

Official Big Sur status: Supported
Official M1 status: Supported under Rosetta 2

MuseScore 3.6, released January 14, 2021, runs on “macOS 10.10 or higher.”

On January 16, 2021, MuseScore’s head of design Martin Keary has provided the following statement to Scoring Notes:

MuseScore 3.6 comes with a fix that makes it fully functional [under Rosetta 2] on M1 chip devices. Uploading to MuseScore.com directly from the app is working as before.

Notion

Official Big Sur status: Supported
Official M1 status: No known issues under Rosetta 2

As of November 10, 2020, Notion product manager Chris Swaffer has provided the following statement to Scoring Notes:

Notion is compatible with macOS 11 Big Sur, with version 6.8 required to run. Please note if you rely on any third-party plug-ins on a regular basis, you may wish to check their respective developer websites for updates, as they themselves may not install or run correctly under macOS 11.

There are no known issues with Apple Silicon test hardware and Notion 6 at this time.

The PreSonus Knowledge Base article on Big Sur has a full list of supported and unsupported PreSonus hardware and software products on Big Sur.

As of December 11, 2020, the PreSonus Knowledge Base article on Apple Silicon states:

Apple has announced its plans to move away from Intel-based x86/x64 CPU solutions to instead use a custom-designed, RISC-based solution (aka “Apple Silicon”) now known as the M1 Chip. This also coincides with the release of macOS 11.0 Big Sur set for Nov 12, 2020, which will support both Intel and Apple Silicon hardware.

Support for Apple M1 Macs will be available in early 2021.

Starting with Big Sur macOS 11, Apple introduced Rosetta v2, which allows applications to run in an emulated mode. Our tests revealed performance problems when using our software with Rosetta v2 (emulation mode). PreSonus is working on developing native applications for these new Apple M1 machines available early 2021.

We do not recommend Apple Silicon Macs for use with any PreSonus interfaces, mixer products or applications at this time.

PreSonus is committed to supporting Apple’s new hardware and will continue to update our customers as this situation progresses.

macOS Big Sur compatibility for the current Intel based Macs can be found here.

Regarding Notion for iOS, PreSonus has said that there’s no plan for to offer that app to run on M1-powered Macs.

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Comments

  1. Shiki Suen

    Cubase 11 supports macOS Big Sur officially on Intel Macs. No intel regarding how Cubase 11 behaves on M1-chip Macs at this moment.

  2. Bill

    I’m so glad to be a Windows user…

    1. Alex

      Same here! :) Even though I love my iPad for working with forScore, I love my ThinkPad and its keyboard with NumPad block, and Windows.

    2. PC

      The update to Windows 10 didn’t seem to be a pleasure, either.

  3. Nor Eddine Bahha

    M1, this reminds me of the best selling synthesizer in history ” KORG M1″…not sure if Apple grabbed the name from their :-D

  4. Benjamin Russell

    I just installed Notion 6 (6.8.0 Build 18061, 64-bit) on a brand new iMac 27 inch 2020 running Big Sur, 40GB RAM, with a fresh download from Presonus and I have not had success getting it to work. There are weird graphical things like the menu to choose instruments in the score setup where the tabs randomly stay open and all the instruments are in italics which means they’re not installed. I’m trying to figure out how to do a complete uninstall to try a fresh install, waiting on Presonus support for suggestions on how best to do that. Overall, the app seems slower and as if it’s chugging along. We’ll see how long it takes to sort it out, but if you haven’t installed Notion on a Big Sur Intel-based Mac, maybe you should wait. I’ll post again if there’s any further news.

  5. Andrew Grainger

    Just listened to the podcast. I have been using Superduper for years too…I recently ungraded from Mojave to Catalina and made a bootable Superduper backup of my system first, but on an older spinning hard drive. When I decided to restore (because of certain issues with Catalina), it did not work. If you have a SSD as your main drive and.it is formatted with APFS instead of the old MacOS Journaled, the Superduper backups from a non SSD drive will not restore properly.
    The reason is the APFS system splits the drive into two containers: one for data and one for everything else.
    I don’t really claim to understand it all, but I have been using Macs for 30 years and have always been able to fix my own problems. However, on this occasion I had to take my Mac to a professional to get it restored. He advised me to use TimeMachine instead of Superduper. TimeMachine will supposedly work much better in these circumstances, although I have not had to implement it yet… If you upgrade to BigSur, then maybe follow this advice….Just passing on my experience of the last week. I am happily back with Mojave for the time being and am using TimeMachine.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Andrew. Thanks for that good advice!

  6. Judy Coder

    After careful study of this article, I cannot yet see that ANY notation software will work well with M1. This is awkward. We should just wait and see?

    1. Riaan van Niekerk

      How do you define well? Stability? Speed?

      W.r.t. stability, there us no reason to believe that it would be less stable (due to the compatibility bility layer). Annecdotally, I have not heard anything in the MuseScore forums (where I am active) that the app on Apple Silicon is any less stable than on Intel

      W.r.t. speed,
      https://www.google.co.za/amp/s/www.macrumors.com/2020/11/15/m1-chip-emulating-x86-benchmark/amp/

      “Rosetta 2 running x86 code appears to be achieving 78%-79% of the performance of native Apple Silicon code.

      Despite the impact on performance, the single-core Rosetta 2 score results still outperforms any other Intel Mac, including the 2020 27-inch iMac with Intel Core i9-10910 @ 3.6GHz.”

      By these two measures, it seems to be running well.

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