Halion SE - Strings not fast enough


I did a few audio tests.
In Sibelius I liked to proof„listen“ using the DLS Sound device (those are the standard Midi Quicktime sounds
on a Mac). This works rather well as the sounds are clear and precise, without sound clutter trying to imitate a real instrument.
Now if I try this in Dorico I can not make use of the built in Quicktime sounds, instead have to rely on what Steinberg offers, Halion SE. The attack of the notes are not as clear, so is the sound itself. It seems a bit muddy; if I have singers, they come late, basically out of synch. This is definitely not working for an analytic proof„listening“.
I am experimenting with Roland sound canvas software synthesiser - as it comes pretty close to the built in Quicktime sounds (they are from the same family…).

Please have a listen to this testfile. It is the beginning of an aria „furioso“ with tempo q=178. It is strings (fiddles) and singer. The bass part I normally put to a bassoon (better attack, clearer to identify).

A) audio export by Dorico Halion SE

B) audio export by Dorico via Roland Sound Canvas VA

C) audio export by Sibelius using System Quicktime sounds

It seems Sibelius by default puts room, reverb and panning to the whole thing, that is why it has a wider sound somehow. In Dorico I would have to tweak the Play Back somehow, I have not done this yet.

Basically I am not trying to replicate a realistic playback or performance,
I just need to very efficiently check the score for mistakes in the notation.

You should try the to the general midi patches in Halion Sonic SE.

They are named like this: [GM 041] Violin.

steve, yes I have tried them too, but they are not as clean as the alternative examples.
My aural test is: if I hear the piece, do I identify all instruments and notes, could I write them down?

Some ideas that might help…

HALion sounds were initially designed to ship with tracking DAWs and be flexible for a wide variety of musical styles and mixing approaches. They are targeted to consumers who typically have a more proper monitoring setup (flat response, well placed speakers/headphones). They can require more understanding of mixing and post production techniques. They start out with ‘way too much’ of everything, because it’s easier to ‘take away’ or lower frequencies from a mix you do not desire, than it is to boost or add them.

In contrast, Sounds for Sibelius were designed to ‘work together out of the box’ and be a plug and play foundation for a consumer base that typically works with ‘consumer grade’ speakers or headphones. Sibelius for sounds isn’t really meant to master a convincing mock-up, but rather, to be something a composer can sit there for hours at a time, work with, and not get ‘listener’s fatigue’.

The good news, is that it’s possible to shape the stuff that comes with Dorico to sound good in whatever speakers you happen to use, and go easy on your ears during prolonged work sessions. This can be VERY different from the settings you want to use when ‘rendering’ a recording of the score to share with the public over a stream, or fire off to a colleague to play on his iPad.

If HSO is not cutting it for you [I’m not crazy about the Solo Strings in HSO myself],

Obviously, if you have access to a Library that works better for your needs out of the box, then use that :slight_smile:


  1. Try the GM Variants for string instruments. There are also solo string instrument alternatives in the included SE Artist and Pro packs. The main difference between the GM and Artist sounds for solo strings, is that the Artist ones have some ‘effects’ pre-applied in the HALion engine as part of the program, and have ambiance controls to shape that effect mix up somewhat. In contrast, the GM variants are very ‘dry’, and it is intended that you build your own effects (either in HALion itself, or via plugins in the DAW mixing console).

In Quick Control (QC) position 3 for the GM variant of Solo Strings that shipped with Dorico (Part of the SE Basic Content Pack) there is an “Amp Velocity” setting which can be used compress the dynamics a bit. Lowering this value causes a more pronounced attack at lower key velocities. If you want less bite on the attack at lower velocities, then pull QC3 to 100%.

For tutti strings, try some of the alternate strings that come in the SE Artist and Pro packs that shipped with Dorico. These have generic ‘string’ section names and are meant to serve for all of the bowed string family. Some of these are quite nice and include some key-switched articulations, along with quite a bit of sound shaping parameters. Again, be aware panning is a big thing, and with section strings some stereo imaging or a little chorus (with included VST plugins in Dorico Mixer inserts) can help achieve a nicer mix as well.

  1. Be sure to ‘pan’ the ensemble out with the Mixing Console panners, so everything isn’t competing for space at dead center. Moving channels left or right can be huge in making space in a mix and cleaning things up.

  2. Anytime you use the exact same instrument patch/program for more than one stave, again, make sure they are panned to different positions in the stereo field, and take a minute to go into HALion and tweak them a bit so they are each different. I.E. Detune them a few cents, apply different timber shaping filters, etc. This can help avoid ‘sample phasing’ issues where identical copies of sounds in a mix can ‘cancel one another out’ and not be heard well at all.

  3. Get a nice MultiBand compressor plugin and spend a little time learning how to use it. reaXcomp is a very effective plugin, and it is free to download and use (No registration required. No ads, vicious installers, or other annoying bits). At first, just use it on the Master channel until you get an idea of what it can do…eventually you might find reasons to use it (or a single band compressor) on individual instruments as well.

You can use band compression to isolate frequency bands you really want to hear and bring the ‘forward’ or push ‘back’ in the mix. Just as one example, String attack is typically quite a bit higher in the sonic spectrum than the fundamental pitches (similar to consonant sounds in speech/singing). Compression can allow you to isolate that band of frequencies and better place them in a mix. I.E. If you want ‘less bite’, you could compress the frequencies of the fundamental pitches to be ‘louder’, and pull the entire channel down in gain a few db. I.E. If you want ‘more bite’, just compress the 5k ish band so it cuts more into the mix.

  1. EQ helps as well. There is already a nice one built right in to the mixer, plus there are included slot plugins to choose from. Sometimes EQ is enough, and you won’t need the compressor mentioned above. Again, it can be used to find a space in the mix for the part being played on the stave, and shape up the frequencies you want to stand out more in the mix.

  2. Sometimes the ‘tone boost’ plugin comes in handy. I use it a good bit (but with conservative settings) with Cello and Bass solos so they punch through a mix better.

I say all this as someone who is using monitors that’ll shred my ears if I try to work with Dorico for long periods without warming things up a bit with some stage or studio reverb (I like to compose with a scoring stage convolution reverb), and cutting out a lot of the ‘top end’ of the mix (On my setup, from 5k to 6k (Sh and Ess) gets particularity annoying during long work-sessions, so I pull that range way down when composing). When rendering, I typically need to put it all back in there, but for sitting here and working all day, it’s just ‘too much’. So experiment with different setups on the Master Effect chain to begin with. As you learn the tools, you’ll also discover good times and places to put plugin effects on ‘individual instruments’ as well.


It seems to me that some of the difference between your two Dorico renderings, and the Sibelius rendering are not limited to the sound library, but also in how the two Apps interpret and play back the score. For now, Sibelius has a bit of a leading curve in how well it can interpret and play back a score. It has styles and grooves, and quite a lot of other settings to determine things like standard note-length, attack types, etc. It took decades of research and playing back thousands of scores for Sibelius to get that good at interpreting scores, and applying the various library SoundWorld sets, and the various groove and style templates along the way.

Dorico is catching up with each release, but obviously there are still areas where Sibelius has a pretty big advantage.

Even so, there are things you can change in Dorico that will yield a cleaner and more separated rendering.


Legato overhang. By default Dorico extends the note-off value some ticks for legato passages. This can be changed.

Standard note duration. If you like, you can shorten or lengthen all notes a bit to give some space between them. Depending on the style of the peice, and the instrument library you’re using, this can make a big difference in how ‘clean’ a piece plays back. So, try forcing a little ‘space’ between the notes in Dorico’s Playback settings.

Interpretive settings for things like staccato, accents, and so on.

Dynamic Curve. This can be a major player, in that many instruments use velocity to determine attack style/volume.

You can find this stuff in the Play Tab, under “Play/Playback Options”.

To test my theory on this, grab HALion Sonic 3 SE if You don’t already have it installed. If you are still running SE2, this installer it will upgrade it to SE3 (which you can then use in other DAWs provided they are 64bit versions). Here’s a screen shot of me running a couple of instances of HALion SE 3 in Sibelius, using the General MIDI Soundset. Note, Dorico does have to be installed and properly registered on the same system to get access to the SE Content packs (SE Basic, SE Artist, SE Pro, and HALion Symphonic Orchestra…possibly more if you have other Steinberg DAWs or HALion products installed as well).

In my experience SE3 works just fine in Dorico, and integrates just like SE2 did…so no worries there.

Load a Score in Sibelius, and use HALion sounds with a GM profile to play it back. Note, you can set SE3 to a General MIDI mode in the Settings Tab.

Is it a cleaner interpretation than Dorico’s? If so, you can tweak the stuff I mentioned in Dorico to clean it up a bit…