Opinion on Tracking Style DAW vs Dorico
If you’ve never worked a DAW, nor an advanced Notation program, but are familiar with traditional notation and composing styles, then I’d say Dorico hands down. You can open Dorico and start entering and playing back music pretty much right away. Don’t expect highly polished professional sounding playback results without a bit of a learning curve, but you can definitely punch in your ideas and get results within a few short hours of playing with the software. Dorico will automatically manage the playback engine for you out of the box to a large degree, so you can start composing right away. Later, if the need arises, you can learn to dig deeper into the playback capabilities for a more polished and professional sound quality if you need that.
As for a Tracking DAW…it depends upon the DAW. If you’re speaking of a base entry level DAW such as CuBase LE, then I feel like you’re going to get frustrated rather quickly if you’re doing advanced orchestral arrangments, as the ability to use a variety of editors, establish an assortment of presets and templates, or automate various repetitive tasks will be rather limited. With the Upper Range DAW, such as CuBase Pro, it can be a toss up depending on your preferences and priorities.
Mid and Pro level DAWs will have more arranger tools and editors to make life easier, and will be VERY flexible; however, if you are new to them you’ll have quite a learning curve at first. Just learning to get some virtual instruments loaded and making some sounds can take a new user some time to figure out. You will need to prime yourself on some industry protocols, and make yourself a bit of an audio engineer. It is a POWER USER set of tools. A tracking DAW can be pretty dumb…it relies on you to tell it what to do for every detail! While it’s pretty dumb…it is super powerful and flexible.
With something like CuBase Pro, you’ll have so many work-flow options under the hood in terms of ‘entering your information’ and ‘making it play back with extreme precision and control’ that it can be mind numbing. You’ll also need to take time to get to know your instruments/plugins rather intimately to get the most out of them. Once you know your way around, and have sorted out your favorite work-flow things do become faster, easier, and quite efficient. You’ll get a good combination of ‘composer’ tools and ‘audio engineering’ tools.
When it comes to getting highly detailed scores out of a tracking DAW, your options will be much more limited as compared to something like Dorico. Where the tracking DAW gives you ultimate control over playback (and live recording), the dedicated scoring package like Dorico gives you ultimate control over notation, page layout, and engraving.
Really, the best way to find out is to get some Demos and be your own judge.
Many of the DAW demos you can download online will be the base entry level versions unless you have a dongle, so be sure to also check out the literature for all the levels available. I.E. CuBase comes in 4 different variants…
CuBase LE - Entry level, can demo and own without a dongle. This gets you a decent MIDI editor and the ability to run some virtual instrument plugins, but it’s mostly suited for someone who wants to record live audio and work with that.
CuBase Artist - Quite well suited for Composers and Arrangers in the home or office. Artist adds stacks of editors and composer/arranger tools that really enhance the ease and efficiency of ‘composing and arranging’ for virtual instruments. Artist can produce pretty nice Scores (but nothing near the quality and flexibility of Dorico in the Scoring area). Artist requires a dongle to demo or own.
CuBase Pro - All the advanced editors included in Artist, plus it piles on more professional studio level options. Has more effects, a control room section, etc. Handles more plugins/tracks/etc. Requires a dongle to demo or own.
Nuendo - Everything in Pro, but adds the tools for syncing to video/film and gaming/animation. More robust surround sound. Various encoders for film and broadcast industry, etc. Requires a dongle to demo or own.
So…Grab Demos. Look at some Operator Manuals for various DAWs and Scoring packages, watch some YouTube videos, and decide from there. If you’ve got a retail music store near-by that has demo-stations for DAWs, drop by and ask for a rep to show you some things. This way you can see some of the higher level ‘dongle ware’ systems like CuBase Pro in action without having to purchase a dongle up front. Some stores might even let you lay down a security deposit on a dongle with a demo key that you could return for credit, or your money back if you decide you don’t want/need the dongle.