Halion 6 compared to Halion Sonic SE builtin

I suppose this may be more a topic for the VI Control forum, but Halion 6 is pretty expensive and I was wondering how it compares to the Halion Sonic SE that comes bundled with Dorico and Cubase, apart from being a much bigger product. Mostly I am asking in terms of orchestral instrument quality., Any views from Dorico users?

[For some reason the download process for the 30 day trial just does not send me the link presently.]

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.


@Brian_Roland thanks for this fantastically detailed reply. I have Cubase and Kontakt, both great of course. Your reply is really helpful to me. Thanks.

For some unknown reason the 30 day demo link does nothing and does not send me an email, despite the fact that I am logged in to my Steinberg account. So I can’t try it out (yet).

I can imagine. It’s bound to be frustrating.

I think the problem might be with all the work that is going into moving stuff to the new dongle free system. Yes, HALion 6 can work on the old soft eLicenser, but maybe all the ‘move to a new licensing system’ has something to do with the Demo keys not being sent out?

I’m totally making ‘wild guesses’, but it’d make sense, as all that stuff is server involved, as well as client software on our end. Back when HALion 6 was released, there was no such thing as Steinberg Download Center as we know it today…etc…

There is a LOT of activity in the beta tester groups for HALion 7. I’ve been too busy to really keep up with it sadly. I just saw a lot of activity over there :slight_smile:

I have no idea what the time frame is for an H7 release. Maybe it’s coming soon, and I’ve been reading some great things about it (I can’t repeat them at this time though since I signed a contract saying I wouldn’t, sorry).

So HALion 7 is not a myth, as some people are saying on the forums. Good! :slight_smile:

It’s most certainly being worked on from what I have seen in those sorts of forums. I have not seen any time frames or promises on what an actual public release might look like though.

Can you extend the pitch ranges of instruments? That’s my one beef with the basic player.

It’s quite hard to tell whether it actually includes any additional samples? The webpage mentioned Studio Strings, which I presume aren’t in the bundle we have.

Yes, it’s very simple in H6. Here’s an example of the zone map,


No extra samples in the case of the Tuba. As you can see there are 4 velocity layers for this Tuba. I just extended the range a full step on the lowest sample (drug all three velocity layers down two half steps). I didn’t take it ‘lower’ because there is a key-switch there. Yes, one can move the keyswitches too! I elected not to do so since it would require the user to adjust the default expression map as well.

I personally haven’t tried to use it myself in scores that go this low, but someone requested it so I threw up a preset that does it.

Here it is if anyone needs it here:
Tuba Combi Extended Range.zip (103.1 KB)
(Unzip it to your “…/Documents/VST3 Presets/Steinberg Media Technologies/HALion Sonic SE/Program” directory.

It wasn’t much of an extension so it should be OK.

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Just to synthesize: HALion is a sampler; for instance I have sampled my Steinway and some other keyboards. Moreover it has all the presets of HsSE plus many more; some of them have a quite high quality: e.g.: Natural Grand just as a single example. You can export any sample (standard or user’s) to use it with HsSE.

No, those come with Sonic 3 and HALion 6.

Here’s ‘one’ example of a Scherzo using some of it (Based on Suitcase Solo Violin I think).

This is Translated by Dorico using the ‘default’ expression map. Seems like I might have tossed in some experiments for some crossfades using the CC lanes towards the end.

There are lots of ways to implement Studio Strings. It’s more or less implemented like a GM instrument out of the box (velocity and CC11 or CC7 for hairpins).

The Studio Strings are mostly there with unlocked macros as a teaching aid/guide. It’s a good template for seeing how macros are built.

They’re not bad though. Of course you can use the samples and such to ‘forge’ your own implementation.

Some of the best strings in the kit go way back to HALion 4. Section and Full Orchestra strings with quite a few nice keyswitched articulations. There were some sweet strings with HALion 3 and earlier too, but one has to go hunting for them on the legacy FTP site (they still work).

Another interesting thing about HALion…it can import the old AKAI and Roland sample disks (Make in ISO image of it first, then mount it in HALion) from long ago :slight_smile: You don’t always get the full implementation as the native instrument would have played it, but you do usually get all the samples, all mapped out as they were :slight_smile:

I am eligible for a competitive crossgrade price as an owner of Falcon, so this is all looking good.

Wait, so HALion Sonic SE is a different product from HALion Sonic, which is different from HALion??

@benwiggy Yes. Different.

Yes… Halion sonic SE is the lower one (bundled with another software, like Cubase). Halion Sonic is the middle ground, and Halion is the full product.

Just for fun…
Here’s the Dorico Overture as it sounds ‘out of the box’ using the default HSO template.

Here’s the Dorico Overture with some personal tweaks to HSO using H6…

  1. Invented a different implementation for legato. A CC68 event crossfades notes together, changes attack, etc. A LUA script delays the incoming CC68 event a few ticks for legato on. This way you get an actual attack at the beginning of slurred phrases (Ta la la instead of la la Ta).

  2. Used some samples from the Solo Ensemble rather than the Combi set and gain staged them much lower. Different dynamic curve as well. Also has some spiccato layered in for attack phases at higher velocities.

  3. Shaped up a slew of articulations. They’re fairly subtle differences that mainly reshape the dynamics and do some minor filter pinching in places to the base sustain and spiccato samples, but it still helps to cut down on that ‘scrapy machine gun’ feeling that we get without them (In a tracking DAW one would do a lot of this with CC or VST automation lanes…for Dorico’s sake I’ve just ‘modeled’ some ‘choices’).

I’m eager to get tempo information conveyed to plugins. LUA will be fantastic at using tempo info to be ‘smarter’ about articulation choices :wink:

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Oops, had some trouble with the links above (had the same mix twice). Sorted it out now.

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Hi @Brian_Roland, have you seen this thread?

I had not seen it before, thanks for sharing!

That’s very helpful and a step towards a dream.