Use Dorico standalone or with Cubase?

I’d like to get feedback on using Dorico with Cubase. Do you recommend it? Or just do everything in Dorico and try to get by with the mixer in Dorico?

If you know at some point you’ll also be integrating live audio into projects, you’ll likely want some kind of audio tracking DAW that can import MIDI files made in Dorico and get them connected to instruments similar or identical to the last ones you were using in Dorico. I.E. In the least, a scaled back version of Cubase, like SE or Artist.

If you don’t need audio tracking capabilities…

How important is the performance of the score to you?

Dorico is a powerhouse at making beautiful scores, worksheets, etc. It’s also pretty easy and intuitive to get notes and chords into the program and playing them back. It does have enough play-back engine power to enter performance details into a score. It can manage and make use of third party plugins/instrument libraries pretty well. It comes with enough sounds to get you started, though getting good mixes and expressive performances from those sounds will be ‘up to you’ to sort out.

Dorico includes decent emerging technologies to attempt to automatically pick appropriate sounds for the initial score template, and then ‘auto interpret’ how things on a written score should sound. It has some basic abilities to manually inject things like expression data to a performance (though nothing like as powerful/flexible as dealing with expression data in a good tracking DAW that has good MIDI/VST editors).

It’s possible to get really nice performances and mixes straight from Dorico. Right now, with the current version of Dorico (3.5), it’s simply going to be quite time consuming compared to doing these tasks in a tool ‘dedicated’ how instruments play, and it all ‘sounds’ when mixed and blended together. I.E. If you decided you wanted change the note velocity for every note living somewhere on the 3rd upbeat of every measure in a flow so it’s 20% lower, in Cubase you could do it with a no more than a dozen clicks en total using a logic editor or other special continuous controller editors. In Dorico, you can definitely still make this happen, but you might end up having to touch up every 3rd upbeat individually in the entire flow with your mouse to get the same effect.

Things Dorico doesn’t do so well ‘yet’. Easily gain-stage a mix (do it directly in each instrument/plugin, where on Cubase, you could open a mixer strip and do it for all loaded instruments with relative ease). There aren’t yet capabilities to automate the mixing desk (no VST automation lanes). There’s no internal way to pull AUX audio sources into the mixing console (I.E. an external instrument…say a Yamaha PSR workstation).

There are no ‘audio track’ abilities in Dorico (aside from maybe muxing an MP4 beforehand, and loading some stuff in the video player so it syncs up with the score).

If you demand really high quality mock-up performances of your scores, a tracking DAW like Cubase will definitely save you a LOT of time. It’s what Cubase was designed for…building ‘performances’ and getting it ‘mixed’ and ‘mastered’. It’ll have power user tools to make these sorts of ‘sound related’ entries and adjustments.

In contrast, while Cubase can score well enough to spit out some basic scores and parts that are ‘legible’ to a pdf, or printed on paper, it’s super lame compared to the capabilities and flexibility of Dorico. It’s built in score editor is also a LOT more difficult to ‘learn and master’ than Dorico, yet still produces far subpar scores and parts on paper than Dorico.

You could always go for the one first that caters to what is most important to you, and get the other ‘later’ if you find you need it.

If both are equally important (visual score quality, and high end mock-ups), and you need to get things done as quickly as possible, and you have the budget, go for both. (Dorico, and Cubase Artist or Pro).

Some projects you might rather ‘start’ in Dorico, and later export it into a format that can be loaded into Cubase where one can focus on having a really nice performance and mix of that score.

Other projects, you might would rather begin in Cubase, where it’s easier to experiment with lots of different sounds, play things directly into the DAW in real time, play with textures, take advantage of theoretical tools like ‘chord tracks’, logarithmic compositional techniques with logic editors, etc.

Less ‘techy’ considerations…
If you’re of mind to COMPOSE and focus on doing lots of musical compositions, do Dorico first! You can always worry about getting them ‘well performed’ once you have a nice collection of compositions to work with. This include the possibility of having real bands/orchestras/singers/etc. be a part of your process.

If you want to learn audio engineering, and everything you can about digital music making, this is GREAT, and can be very rewarding. Go ahead and start learning a major Tracking DAW as well. Just be aware that it can seriously cut into ‘time to compose’. It’s a very different way of ‘thinking’, that requires a different sort of ‘ear training’. Thing is, you’ll need projects/scores to practice with! In my mind at least, having a lot of compositions already roughed in ‘sonically’ using something like Dorico before hand would be pretty nice to have at hand.

While Cubase is pretty sweet to ‘compose’ in too…if you’re brand new to tracking DAWs, how MIDI and VST plugins works, etc…there is a bit more of a learning curve getting started in a ‘dumb but powerful DAW’ like Cubase. With Dorico, you can have a few scores done and playing (perhaps not sounding like a high end mock-up ready to put in a video game/movie/commercial/etc…but ‘working’ enough to prove it’s a good piece/song) in the time it’d take to figure out how to get some plugins in the rack and connected to tracks over in Cubase.

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Thank you for the feedback Brian! Yeah, I already have a DAW, Studio One Pro, but in my experience it’s not very good at importing MIDI files from Dorico. Of course, if I wanted better integration between a notation program and Studio One, theoretically Notion would be the way to go, but without going into details, I have used Notion which is why I’m using Dorico now.

My main question is, how good is Cubase at accurately importing MIDI files from Dorico, so that the notation is still intact and doesn’t need to be fixed?

Yes, a DAW is much easier to use for mixing and adjusting reverb etc. which is why I want the ability to port a MIDI file from Dorico into a DAW, preferrably Cubase. Dorico interfaces really well with SINE player (Orchestral Tool’s new plugin). I wish I could say the same for Studio One.

Fixed notation?

Cubase imports it exactly as Dorico exported it.

That includes key-switches, tempo changes, controller data, humanization settings, etc.

If you want a bog 1:1, grid-locked, measure accurate MIDI rendering, then make those adjustments in Dorico, then try exporting.

I.E. Make a fresh copy of the project, then strip out any tempo related stuff and use a fixed tempo. Disable humanization. Set dynamics to 1:1. Set the expression map end points to ‘default’, etc.

Also, can Studio One import XML?

Personally, I’ll usually do it like this with Cubase.

  1. Open my instrument plugins in Dorico, and save a full state preset for each plugin.

  2. Export it to MIDI, so it generates a performance exactly as I’d hear it in Dorico.

  3. Also do an XML export.

  4. Over in Cubase: Import the MIDI file.

  5. Duplicate the plug in instances in Cubase as they were over in Dorico.

  6. In Cubase, Connect my imported MIDI tracks to the respective plugins. I might also rebuild similar or identical effect chains as what I last had in Dorico.

Now it ‘sounds’ pretty much exactly like it did back in Dorico, minus anything I might have been running for effects in Dorico Mixer inserts/sends/FX bus. It’s ready to start manipulating with DAW features. Yes, I might want to clear out the tempo track and do some quantization and such if I’ll also be using Cubase groove features, but typically I’ll ignore trying to make this ‘grid perfect’, and go by my ears instead. Tweaking or building upon what Dorico interpreted and spit out as a ‘performance’ of said score, experimenting with different instrument choices, etc.

  1. If I also want some grid accurate ‘score tracks’ I continue by moving all those MIDI tracks to a nice folder of their own, and importing the XML version. This gets a new set of tracks of its own that are already somewhat attuned to the Cubase ‘Score Editor’. I’ll stash them in a Project folder as well and name it ‘Score’. Note, I don’t even try to ‘connect’ these ‘Score Tracks’ to anything for play-back purposes.

  2. I’ll use those Score tracks for reference. Sometimes I might even cut/paste exerpts to ‘replace’ things in the ‘performace MIDI tracks’ if I really want a fresh start there. Note, the way the Cubase score editor works, I might have to do some fiddling to get the right display, rest display behavior, etc. They’re usually brought into Cubase good enough that note values and such are correct (and will be ‘quantized’ and grid locked). I usually get visual entries for things like Terraced dynamics, instructions, lines, articulations, etc.

Yes, it can be a lot of work to ultimately smooth it out and get the sort of mock-up I really want…but in general, I find that with steps 1 - 6, it comes into Cubase ‘sounding’ really close to how I last left it in Dorico. Note, when Cubase imports XML, it doesn’t assign the ‘interpretive’ versions of score marks…the articulations, dynamics, etc…are just ‘visual’. If I want them to be interpretive (use Cubase expression maps and stuff), I must go in and ‘change’ the visual ones to the interpretive ones that go with the score editor. All that can be pretty time intensive…so I generally just don’t even try to get the ‘score tracks’ to play at all. Instead I go to work on making the MIDI import sound ‘musical/expressive’.

I don’t know if Studio One can import XML…but otherwise, I’d think it should be loading and playing back exactly what Dorico generated at export.

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I admit that when the recent Cubase sales were on, I had wondered whether it might be worth getting a “real” version as opposed to Elements I have currently. When I looked at Artist, then it seemed most of the advanced MIDI features (including the logical editor Brian mentioned), are only available in Pro which was not the case when Studio was the middle tier program going back a while now. So it seems Pro is really necessary to really gain a bid advantage here. For mixing in audio, on the other hand, Elements should be adequate.

My main thought is along quite different lines. Most leading virtual instruments are designed to be played live and are programmed accordingly. The velocity, note length and character of the sound are controlled directly at input — I assume here using a mod. wheel. The realism or otherwise comes through the skill with which the transitions are programmed in the library plus obviously the quality of sampling in the first place. It’s not a question of clever blending or fx manipulation even if such things do have a part to play.

In other words, Dorico can usually emulate whatever is programmed, providing the user understands the programming. One thing which is currently only possible in a DAW is multiple track recordings of CC data or indeed live CC data at all as far as I’m aware. I haven’t found a way to easily combine the strengths of both used together. Most suggest in the end doing two different versions until the two communicate more directly with each other.

At the moment, I work almost entirely in Dorico and of course hope that v.4 will make this even easier. And that is despite the fact that playback is most often of primary importance. However I need a decent score to see what I’ve written even if the majority of works will probably never see a performance by professional live musicians.

I use Dorico exclusively for making temps for the rest of the team. With library like NotePerformer and Dorico it’s super easy to just focus on the writing. Only trick; you have to push all the Mixer sliders up, Dorico defaults to them midway which is too quiet.

Eventually I’m going to have to get Nuendo involved, I’m hoping they have integration before then. But full multichannel mastering needs that obviously. Without integration my assistant will be taking MIDI output, importing to a Nuendo template, then mix and master.

Hi Brian,
First, thank you for the great feedback! No, Studio One cannot import XML, which is surprising to me since they are one of the major DAWs.

The problem that precipitated my post is that when I import the MIDI file from Dorico into Studio One, the dynamic markings in the Studio One score view are working only in certain cases.
For example, for my cello part, after I program in the “sound variations” (Studio One’s rebranding of “key switches”) to match the key switch settings in the SINE player (Orchestral Tools new plugin player) for the cellos part, the only dynamics getting fired (e.g.: mp, f, pp) are for the spiccato sections; the legato sections are all sounding at one volume level, regardless of the dynamic markings I add in the score view.
Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  1. In Dorico, I’ve created expression maps for each of the presets I’m using in the SINE player.
    The presets I’m using are from the Orchestral Tools Berlin Inspire 1 collection.
  2. Then, I exported the MIDI file and imported it into a blank project in Studio One.
  3. In Studio One, I added the key switches for the Orchestral Tools Berlin Inspire 1 cello preset (in the ‘Sound Variations’ dialogue).
    When I play back the score in Studio One, the dynamics for the cello played with the spiccato articulation match what I’ve specified and change as expected when I
    modify the tempo markings in score view. However, the dynamics for the cello played with the legato articulation do not play back as expected.

Expression Map in Dorico for Spiccato:

Expression Map in Dorico for Legato:

Studio One Cello Track edit mode:

SINE Player screenshot:

Sound Variations Dialogue in Studio One:

Hi David, thank you for the feedback! My subsequent comments relate to my first response to Brian’s post. Can you also look at my reply and the screenshots and give me feedback on what I might be doing wrong?

I don’t know the new Sine player and don’t (yet, at any rate) use any OT libraries but think it’s very likely that your legato problem is simply that the volume dynamic is set to velocity whereas it should be a control change — at any rate that’s how most libraries deal with the longer articulations. CC1 is the most common but check the documentation. When the main dynamic controller is wrongly set in the EM, the result is no response to dynamic levels in the score which is your problem as I understand it.

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Thanks for the great info, Dave!

Ok, so I did some reading online and between your explanation and online reading, this is my understanding:

  1. CC1 is player volume (how loud the player is playing).
  2. CC7 is the channel volume (probably don’t need to mess with this except in the mixer?).
  3. CC11 is fine tuning for things like crescendo and diminuendo/decrescendo.

Does this about sum it up? Btw, I’ve set my expression map for the flute to use CC1 as primary and CC11 as secondary and it’s working great! Much better than what I was doing.

Nothing I’ve tried has worked.

So, I finally decided to try plugging Kontakt player onto one of my tracks and it actually works with the Berlin Orchestra Inspire 1 collection with the key switches in Studio One. So, maybe it’s something wrong with Orchestral Tools new SINE player that they are trying to push? On that note, the key switches also work with the Presence Plugin (Presonus) in Studio One.

So, I’m going to follow up with Orchestral Tools to find out if there are some bugs they’re still trying to work out. But basically, I’ve set up the key switches in Dorico to use CC1 as the primary and CC11 as the secondary and it works every time in Dorico and in Presence and Kontakt.

Ok, I FINALLY figured out what the problem was and fixed it! Thanks for everyone’s help especially Brian and Dave! With their help, reading up on the Internet about CC values, and unfortunately experimenting due to the abysmal documentation for Studio One’s new Sound Variation feature and the very sparse documentation for Orchestral Tools SINE player, I figured it out.

SOLUTION: In the Orchestral Tools SINE player I finally stumbled upon the setting that made everything start working. An obscure little option button in the bottom right of the player labeled ‘soft layer’ which WAS enabled for spiccato and staccato, but not for legato or sustains. As soon as I selected it for legato and sustains, those articulations started working in addition to spiccato, including dynamic changes.

I guess I paid the price of being an early adopter of new features (Studio One’s Sound Variations and Orchestral Tools SINE player: they haven’t even finished porting all of their collections to the SINE player!).

SINE Player:

My Dorico key switch settings:

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First, well done on finding the solution. OT in general don’t seem to make it easy to find documentation if it exists at all. And the design of the Sine player is quite unorthodox. On your other question, the primary controller is usually assigned to CC1 which controls the character of the sound— with something like brass instruments in particular, this varies a lot. CC7 is track master volume as you say which should not normally be adjusted. CC11 is the volume which can be changed on a note to note basis as required and with most libraries both should be used together. CC1 is replaced by velocity for short articulations in some libraries.

For me, I found that sliding that Volume Range slider to the right made CC1 work in Dorico. (Essentially increasing the sensitivity to CC1.)

According to the Help pages, the Soft Low Layer Filter does:
“If checked, the lowest dynamic layer will first be increased in volume when controlling dynamics and only later the next layer will begin to fade in, allowing softer low dynamics.”

So, I’m not convinced that’s optimal.

CC11 is “Expression” in SINE by default, as shown in the Options pane. OT uses Velocity for dynamics of short articulations, like Staccato.

I’m writing some documentation for how to use OT libraries with Dorico at the moment.

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Yeah, what you did makes more sense. OT documentation is just so poor, hence your writing documentation for it.

And it’s great to meet someone else using OT!

I will definitely be interested in getting a copy of the documentation you write.

It’s just mostly my ‘thoughts’ on having set up Ex maps and Templates, given that OT’s focus is on DAWs, rather than notation apps. My ‘learning’ has been documented here:

There are certainly guys here who know a lot more than me about getting decent sound generally.

Ugh!!! I don’t know what happened or changed but the Sound Variations (key switches) I had working in Studio One are no longer triggering the dynamic changes in the score like they were yesterday.

I can always get the particular articulation to trigger in SINE player; that’s not the problem. It is the dynamic changes I make to the notation in the score in Studio One that are not having any impact. I look at the expression data that was created in Dorico and it’s there, but for some reason it won’t let me change it in Studio One. Is there some kind of unlock mechanism to make the expression data accessible? I’m more lost than I was before.

So, in Studio One, score view is supposed to allow you to make notation changes to dynamics, just like in Dorico and the changes will actually affect the volume of the notes on playback. But that’s not happening or happening very intermittently. It’s like there’s some magic combination of actions I took yesterday that I’m not doing tonight.