It probably goes without saying that I’m using Sibelius and/or Finale practically every workday. Sibelius 7.5 and Finale 2014 are both available from major retailers (upgrade, academic, or competitive crossgrades are also available). You can read an extensive review of Sibelius 7.5 on this blog along with the improvements in Sibelius 7.5.1, and a detailed review of Finale 2014’s new features is here for your reading pleasure too. Feel free to compare and contrast the features of each application, and it’s fair to say that most articles you’ll find around here have something to do with one or the other.
Price: Sibelius: $600 or less; Finale: $600 or less; discounted prices for both can usually be found, along with discounted pricing for upgrades, academic versions, or competitive crossgrades.
After notation products, the next heavy hitter here is Logic Pro X. This pretty much came close to the ideal software upgrade for me when it was released last year. The interface is more intuitive compared to Logic Pro 9, there are an incredible number of useful new features (I have to say I love the Drummer), and at $200 it’s a bargain. Notation-minded users will appreciate the added MusicXML exporting feature and the redesign of the Score Editor, even if you use it to make rough drafts and then polish in a dedicated notation program. It’s Mac-only, though, so PC users will have to use something else. Sound on Sound has a detailed review.
Price: $200 from the Mac App Store.
Sibelius users writing orchestral music will want to check out NotePerformer, a modeled sound library that is super-easy-to-use. No special programming is needed to get playback from a notated score that is quite convincing in many cases, and certainly much more satisfying than anything else that comes “out-of-the-box”. It won’t compete with a live orchestra or souped up demos created in a sequencer, but for the price it’s a must-have. I did an early review of it when it first came out last year; subsequent updates have only improved the product.
Price: $129; note that NotePerformer only works within Sibelius and not with any other program.
Rounding out my sample library collections are volumes 1 and 2 of the Vienna Symphonic Library, EWQLSO Gold, Garritan Personal Orchestra 4, and the XSample solo libraries. Each of these products is a little dated and they each use a different sample player, but for my purposes they are reliable and familiar, allowing me to get good results quickly. (After all, what good is a sample library if you don’t know what’s in it or how to use it?) As storage space has gotten faster and cheaper over time (see below), the massive size of some of these libraries is less of a concern than it used to be. They they all play nicely with any VST- or AU-supported software, and Sibelius includes sound sets for VSL, GPO, and XSample. Jonathan Loving’s Sound Set Project offers, for purchase, Sibelius sound sets for EastWest and many other libraries.
Price: Vienna: $135-$1,600 depending on which volume or bundle; EWQLSO Gold: $375; GPO: $150 or less; XSample: $225.