It’s a very complex instrument.
I’d recommend grabbing the demo and trying it yourself. Go ahead and get a Demo for HALion 6, as that includes the Sonic 3 plugin as well…so you can evaluate both.
The main benefit of owning HALion 6 (As a Dorico User) for me is the ability to build my own sounds from scratch, and edit quite deeply the included factory content.
Sonic 3 is also an option. It includes most of the factory content that comes with HALion, but you cannot edit nearly as deeply. It’s more of an extended rompler type of instrument.
For ‘orchestra’ and ‘band’? I wouldn’t rate it very high purely for the purpose of doing orchestral or wind band mock-ups with scoring software. It does have some decent tutti or section strings that are simple to use. Solo strings are pretty boring though.
For jazz, pop, R&B, EDM, rock, ETC? Things get much better in this respect. There are rather nice guitars, basses, saxes and sax sections. Fun brass stuff with falls, doits, and so forth. It has a respectable set of built in effects (reverbs, compressors, amp simulation, chorus, and more). So you can get some very high quality mixes going for these genres of music!
For a ‘performing keyboardist’ who does a lot of live work…both HALion and Sonic rise up the scale considerably in terms of value/quality. There’s no shortage of very nice pianos and organs that are easy to work into a live mix. Both HALion 6, and Sonic 3 provide a lot of tools to quickly and easily call up individual or multi-programs remotely.
I suppose a good way to sum it up is…
If you like the sounds in Yamaha MOTIF workstations and keyboards, you’ll dig HALion sounds.
At the end of the day…opinions will differ on the content that comes with HALion/Sonic, as well as the overall value of adding it to a setup…
To me: it has some nice base sounds that are easy to use but you will have to stage and mix it yourself to do it justice (which is also true for the HALion Symphonic Orchestra and the Basic and Artist libraries that come with Dorico’s SE bundle). If you just load up default factory presets and hit play as they come out of the box…it’s kind of meh, but if you take a little time to ‘pan and mix’ things right, layer stuff up, and lay the right effects in, it can be quite nice.
Note, it is NOT designed or intended to be used like a lot of ‘orchestral’ libraries out there. Be ready to think more like a ‘pro keyboard player’ and/or audio engineer if you want the best out of an instrument like HALion. This is good in that you can get very precise control of your overall sound and mix! It can also be frustrating if you aren’t interested in thinking a little less like an orchestra/band ‘conductor’ more like an ‘audio engineer’.
The biggest plus for Dorico users is that you can dig much deeper into the factory sounds to ‘tweak them’. Layer stuff up. Design your own variations for different moods/situations. Create your own key-switches. You can even dive into LUA scripting if you want to take a stab at making ‘smarter’ instruments that can react differently according to conditions.
Another plus for Dorico users is the ability to more easily share your custom HALion content and tweaks with other Dorico users. I.E. Maybe you’ve worked up some nice templates that are based largely on samples and layers that come with Dorico, and perhaps a few custom samples of your own. With HALion you can pack it into a HALion SE compatible VSTsound archive to share with others (provided you know it’s using samples that are somewhere in the vstsound archive that came with Dorico, or are packed in with your own custom rolled library). All other Dorico users would need to do is double click your library in order to get your supplementary content. Some simpler examples might be…extending the lower range of the Tuba in HSO a few more steps lower (That’s a very simple program/patch tweak). A more complex example might be adding a bunch of percussion instruments that you’ve sampled yourself.
For Cubase users it gets even better because it integrates so well with that DAW’s Media Bay. You can drag and drop stuff easily between Cubase and HALion. Plus, a DAW like Cubase opens up a whole new world of VST parameter automation that no scoring package on the market to date can really take advantage of ‘yet’.
HALion 6 is really good for rolling your sounds from scratch (even better if it’s hosted in Cubase). It’s a really deep instrument! Aside from the standard sampling methods, you also get a big stack of synth engines to work with. I’ve lost track of them all but there are several…including granular and wave-table.
While Dorico as a host isn’t quite up to it yet…HALion itself is a big plus if you ever wish to design (or enhance existing stereo stuff)
for full Surround Sound mixes. It’s one of the reasons I personally invested in H5 years ago. I wanted to be able to do 5+ track samples in one take with 5 or more mics open and layer it all up as 5 to 7 channel sounds. Hosting it in Cubase made it much easier than anything else I’d tried, as I could just sample right in Cubase and ‘drag’ the stuff into HALion as the foundation for my instruments.
Where it falls short in my opinion…
At this time you won’t find a lot of third party libraries specifically for HALion. Some do exist, but not so much with a ‘Orchestral/Band composer/arranger/conductor using Dorico’ kind of work-flow in mind at this time (that I know of).
In short…I’d say…if you want to design stuff to fit like a glove in the Dorico/Cubase ecosystem, it might be worth it.
If you simply want scads of nice sounds to use for yourself…I’d suggest having a look at HALion, but…ALSO take a close look at Vienna Ensemble, Kontakt, and maybe even subscription based options like East West. These options are more geared to through composed orchestral scores I think…
Plus…if you are serious enough about mock-up quality to be looking at the higher end orchestral libraries…I’d recommend a good tracking DAW as well. Dorico can do a nice ‘sketch’…but if you’re wanting those blockbuster quality mock-ups…you’ll definitely want/need a tracking DAW to even begin touching the true potential of such libraries (and it will require WORK to get them sounding realistic…even with the most expensive libraries out there…YOU still have to ‘teach them how to play’ expressively, and figure out how to ‘mix’ and ‘master’ convincingly.