I'm looking for notation software with good playback. It doesn't matter to me if it's default or if the program has to be modified.

IE: Musescore is a notation software, but has horrible playback. Even with different soundfonts, they tend to make a few things sound nice while still leaving others garbage.

I am aware of EWQLSO (East west quantum leap symphonic orchestra), and how it can be synced with sibelius. However, both of them are prohibitively expensive (1k for sibelius, 300 for gold editon of EWQLSO). I have pirated EWQLSO to see if it would work with anything, only to realize it comes in .nks files which I have no clue how to work with. Apparently it's related to 'native instruments' and konpakt, which I have no clue how to work into sibelius.

I am not looking for a digital audio workstation. I am looking for notation software with good playback.

closed as off-topic by Dom Dec 21 '18 at 4:56

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

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  • I was going to close as software-rec, but I believe this has a valid question about synthesis methods. – NReilingh Dec 7 '14 at 7:09
  • 1
    In general, playback and notation are different enough problems that it is worth having two separate programs for solving them. A good DAW will give you a fine-grained control of the MIDI events via a piano-roll editor and make it easier to get a good playback via a softsynth. A notation editor will make it easier to get a good-looking score, but may well have limited playback options. One possible workflow is to create the score in a notation editor, export to MIDI, import it into a DAW, and tweak it to get a good sound. If you don't actually need a score, you can even skip the first step. – Caleb Hines Dec 7 '14 at 7:18

It seems that you're talking about the difference between MIDI synthesis and more sophisticated samplers. Musescore (and Soundfonts) are related to MIDI, which is a standard for sending note information either in realtime or in recorded format. Most computer systems have libraries of samples to play back music in MIDI format, but these are generally not geared towards high-quality musical applications. MIDI is still used regularly by professionals for performance in a live context, but when you're talking about composing in notation software, there are lots of better options out there.

As you've noted, there are a few (very pricey) sample libraries that are available for purchase which integrate tightly with notation software such as Sibelius and Finale. Kotakt Player and Native Instruments are components which help to achieve this playback, bridging the note data from Sibelius with the sample library. (Garritan, EWQLSO, etc.) The big differences here are that multiple samples are available for each note on each instrument, so every single variable (like dynamics and articulation, or even vibrato) can be reproduced by the sampler -- this level of detail is not available with typical MIDI sounds.

If all the software you've used thus far has been MIDI synthesis, then really any step up is going to involve vastly improved synthesis, even if you don't splurge for a 3rd party sample library -- all of those products come with perfectly usable sample libraries built-in. Before ruling out things like Sibelius and Finale, make sure you take advantage of any educational discounts you may be eligible for. A third option (much less expensive) that I've heard good things about is Notion by PreSonus.


You are confusing the notation program's faults with the sound synthesis' faults here. The notation program generates MIDI which may (assuming we don't have bugs with more extreme results) may differ in quality depending on how the notation program translates dynamic instructions, accents, articulations, crescendi and so on.

But what you are complaining about comes after MIDI, and here the notation program's influence ends.

Free sound fonts are of rather low quality and particularly consistency and completeness.

My personal suggestion would be to go for some good vintage GM-capable MIDI expander like the Ketron MS40 (20 years or so) as a good compromise between synthesis quality and price. Note that vintage MIDI expanders imply serial line MIDI rather than USB MIDI, and for really complex stuff this may affect playback accuracy. Invest into more modern expanders, and you get less bulky devices and better synthesis quality.

Also note that the vintage expanders tend to go for distinctive sound quality over accuracy. That works better for things like big band arrangements rather than orchestral scores.

Hardware solutions are real-time. Software expanders, when used in batch mode, can be quite faster. Depending on your workflows, that might make hardware inconvenient. But really good software solutions are really expensive, and the hardware will not have compatibility problems as you change your computing platform and other software.

  • "serial line MIDI" ahh, I remember spending hours shifting individual notes & tracks to get those to play in time for product demo files. I dug this one out recently & posted the audio - soundcloud.com/graham-lee-15/… – Tetsujin Dec 7 '14 at 10:58
  • That's certainly better quality than SourceForge's playback! – BobRodes Dec 9 '14 at 0:47

Try Sibelius or Dorico plus NotePerformer. I think they all have time-limited demo versions.

If the results aren't enough for you, I'm afraid you'll have to spend a lot of money. And you probably won't be satisfied with direct output from a notation program, you'll want to tweak in a sequencer.

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