Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sibelius vs. Finale (for A.G.)

A few months back, I wrote about my frustration with Finale, the music engraving software I'd been using. I wrote that I’d been considering Sibelius, a competing program that I’d heard nice things about.

After downloading the demo and fooling around for a bit, I recently decided to try the program. I bought the competitive upgrade from J&R for just under $150. At that price point, it wasn’t much of an investment when compared to the cost of Finale’s frequent pricey upgrades. I haven’t had much time to play around with Sibelius yet. So these are my initial impressions.

This is one smooth program!

Here are my thoughts as they relate to the specific issues I noted in that post.
Their GUI is terrible; it's not intuitive, and certain functions are either hidden, or are much more complicated to use than they ought to be.
I’m finding Sibelius’ GUI intuitive and easy to use. The numeric keypad navigation is easy to use, the one-key shortcuts are great, and it’s much simpler to do many of the things I need in fewer steps.
Many of their features simply don't work as advertised. One example, a number of years back, I upgraded to their new version, which promised the ability to scan directly into Finale. The function simply didn't work even on simple lead sheets that had originally been notated in Finale. I met the developer of that software --it was licensed from Smartscore -- and he told me flat out that it didn't work well.
I haven’t tried to use the scan any sheet music yet, but I have been able to open Finale files easily. Sibelius didn’t recognize some of the layout or text info in the file I opened, but it was quite easy to make those changes.
Their MIDI functionality is often sketchy and frequently doesn't work.
I’ve had no trouble so far with Sibelius’ MIDI functionality. Additionally, Kontakt Player Silver, the sample playback software included with Sibelius is far superior to Finale’s playback.
Hyperscribe often doesn't accurately play back edits made to existing notation.
“Flexi-time” input seems more accurate than Finale’s “Hyperscribe” and playback reflects edits made to existing notation.
New versions of Finale are not backwards compatible by design. This means that if I'm working on a project with someone else where we are sharing files, and one of us upgrades, the other has to upgrade as well in order to open files created on the newer version.
Sibelius 3 allows users to save files in Sibelius 2 format. This kind of backwards compatibility is useful if you’re working with someone else on a project and either of you upgrades. Once, I upgraded Finale while I was working on a collaborative project and the person I was working with was unable to open my files. I couldn’t even resave the new files in the earlier version of Finale I had.

Here are some of the random things I’ve noticed:

1) The manual is well written and is easy to understand. The writer injects humor throughout which is a nice touch. It is well-organized and I’ve had no trouble locating information.

I find it harder to find things in Finale’s manual, and it’s not written as clearly. Also, Finale has stopped including manuals with their upgrades, which is a huge nuisance, especially when they add new features/functions that didn’t exist in previous versions.

2) The GUI is set up so that, unlike Finale, you don’t have to keep switching tools to do different actions.

3) The global edit feature seems much easier to use. (i.e. enlarging all chord symbols.) Ditto the setting up/importing house styles.

4) It’s much easier to adjust 1st and 2nd endings

5) The screen redraws accurately and quickly throughout. Finale’s response is sluggish.

6) I don’t get “out of margin” messages when I print. (This may just be a Finale glitch with my printer driver.)

7) Inserting dashed barlines is much easier.

8) Rulers move with you --adjusting in real time -- making it much easier to adjust page layouts.

9) Creating instructionsand symbols like D.S. is much easier.

10) The defaults for many items are musically intuitive. For instance, in Finale, the default setting for rehearsal markings is in the middle of the bar. Since rehearsal markings are not supposed to be on the staff, having them appear there is silly. Sibelius places them above the bar in a logical place. (You can edit these preferences in Finale, but it shouldn’t be necessary.)

11) I’ve been able to duplicate my Finale layouts/fonts easily in Sibelius. In fact, I think the Sibelius versions look slightly sharper. Sibelius’ Inkpen font seems to be a bit crisper than Finale’s Jazz font.

12) Chord symbols stay even if you delete the note they’re attached to.

13) The opening window let’s you easily choose a recent file via a drop down menu.

14) Sibelius recognizes repeat signs during playback of a score and plays them. There’s a way to make Finale do this too, but it’s a hassle.

15) I’m not missing the annoying save prompt Finale always opens when I open a file to view it prior to printing it and haven’t made any changes.

I’ll try to post an update when I’ve had a chance to spend some more time with Sibelius.