Avid Sibelius 7 Review

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The redesigned interface for Sibelius 7 makes scoring music much more intuitive.

Already a mature notation program (and multiple-Editors'' Choice Award winner), Sibelius built its reputation on being easier to use than the competition, while offering powerful features and great-looking results. Nonetheless, while previous versions of Sibelius were relatively easier to use, beginners still had to spend some serious time learning how to navigate various menus and tool palettes. That''s where version 7 makes the most noticeable difference.

Taking its cue from Microsoft''s tabbed toolbars, Sibelius 7 features a “task-oriented” Ribbon at the top of the screen, filled with the features that used to reside in pull-down menus. The 11 tabs—File, Home, Note Input, Notation, Text, Play, Layout, Appearance, Parts, Review, and View—are dedicated to the major workflow areas. Their order from left to right is intended to mirror the order in which users work on their scores: from setting up and saving score info (File) all the way to comparing different versions of the score (Review).

Each tab in the Ribbon reveals a palette of sub tabs with words and symbols that make it easy to locate the tools you need. If you don''t know what something does, hover over the name and the Help bubble will explain, as well as display the hot-key command for accessing it next time. Not only is the Ribbon great for beginners, longtime users will likely find features they didn''t know existed in Sibelius.

I found it particularly handy to have the appropriate plug-ins appear in a pull-down menu under each tab. For example, the plug-ins used with notes, chords, accidentals, and so forth appear under the Note Input tab. In addition, the new status bar at the bottom of the window displays various aspects of the score that you would have viewed previously using the Properties palette. The information is contextual and changes based on where your cursor is in the score.

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Fig 1: New text-box features function like a word processor.

The updated text features are sure to make an impression on Sibelius users. Text operations now work more like a word processor. For example, you can specify the text alignment (right, left, center, or fully justified), and the words in a text-box will automatically update as you resize it. You can also change the angle of the text box easily, which is pretty slick. That and a number of other cool features are in the Inspector palette, which is found on the Home tab. The Inspector is also contextual, showing only the options relevant to what you''re currently working on (see Figure 1).

The support for graphics in Sibelius has also been enhanced in version 7. Importing graphics files into a score page is as easy as drag-and-drop, and the program supports common file formats (GIF, TIFF, PNG, JPG, and SVG). Once you''ve imported a graphic, basic editing features allow you to scale, resize, rotate, flip, and adjust its color and opacity. You can even use the graphic as a symbol in your scores. And if you link a graphic to an external file, the one in your score will automatically update when the external file is modified.

Sibelius 7 has added features that make it easier to share your work. Integrated MusicXML (compressed or uncompressed) support lets you exchange scores with people using other notation programs. In addition, version 7 can export scores directly to PDF. (Windows users no longer need to have a separate PDF driver.)

A defining aspect of a modern notation program is the sound of its orchestral sample library. Although Avid already has a variety of sound libraries across its various product lines, the developer notes that Sibelius 7 Sounds contains more than 90-percent new sample content. Among the added instrumentation are newly recorded grand piano and harpsichord patches, jazz-style brass and winds, and a variety of pitched and unpitched percussion. Much of the orchestral content was recorded in a European concert hall by a professional orchestra (the name of which they won''t share), using two mic positions at 24-bit/96kHz. The sounds used in Sibelius 7 were lowered to 16-bit/44.1kHz, with only one of the mics used. Additional in-house content was created by Avid''s AIR team in Germany.

Sibelius 7 includes quite a bit of third-party sample content. A lovely sounding pipe organ collection is provided by the developers of Hauptwerk. And to support its users who do arrangements for drum core and marching band, Sibelius added instruments from SampleLogic Fanfare and Rumble collections of marching brass and percussion featuring DCI world champs, the Blue Devils.

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Fig 2: The Score template.

To audition instruments, simply call up a score template that features the sounds you want, and the instruments automatically load with the page (see Figure 2 on page 66). Sibelius includes a wide variety of band, orchestral, choral, and mixed ensemble templates to get you started. It even provides templates for mariachi and salsa band, Orff-instrument ensembles, and handbell choir.

The sound library, which spans three DVDs, is top-notch across the board. With all the tweaking they''ve done to the articulations in the library, it''s possible to get fairly realistic playback from your score. However, you''ll need to dig into the sound charts and dictionary in order to take advantage of all the programming Sibelius provides. A Lite version of the library can be used if your system has trouble playing back your scores.

Sibelius'' redesigned playback mixer resembles one you''d find in a DAW such as Pro Tools, with faders, Solo and Mute buttons, and pan pots. Chorus and reverb effects are included, and the reverb sounds particularly good.

I tested version 7 on a MacBook Pro (3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo), with 4GB of RAM, running OS X 10.6.8. The only issues I had were occasional hiccups in the sound library when playing back dense instrumentation while other apps were vying for my computer''s resources. To get the most out of Sibelius 7 Sounds, Avid recommends you have a 64-bit operating system on a compatible processor, with at least 4GB of RAM.

Remarkably, full installation and registration of Sibelius 7 and its library was a breeze. The install disc includes Scorch, the company''s app for making your scores Internet-compatible, as well as lite versions of Neuratron PhotoScore and AudioScore. Together, it forms quite a bundle for anyone interested in taking advantage of the capabilities of modern notation tools. And with version 7''s added MusicXML and PDF support, you''ll be more inclined to collaborate.

Sibelius 7 should be a no-brainer for newbies and previous owners alike. Not only is the sound library outstanding, the new text and graphics features, combined with the simplified interface, make it easier than ever to create great-looking scores.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Sibelius 7 product page.