When I first began raving about Dorico in Just Jazz Guitar magazine it was based purely on Daniel Spreadbury’s blog about Steinberg’s then-unnamed notation software. The programming techniques were state-of-the-art and beyond (if possible) and with almost the entire team that created Sibelius 7.1.3, I had complete faith that their creation would amaze us all. And it did — but in different ways.
It all depends on the type of user you are, what software you use, and the music you want to notate. Playback is also an issue, since some just want to check that they haven’t made an obvious mistake which is easier to pick out by ear, while others want a virtual “record-ready” playback sound. So the first thing to do before looking into Dorico is to look into yourself and see what you want from a notation program, and what you need. If these differ, you have some more thinking to do.
Classical and musical show composers and arrangers have the simplest choice. Dorico is amazing in its versatility, the latest version flies on my oldish laptop Mac, and there are so many ways to do almost anything that your score can look just like you want it to look, while mine might look completely different. Unless your situation dictates that you use free software (in which case MuseScore would be my choice) I’d say choosing Dorico is a no-brainer. The only caveat is for those ultra-modern scores that most publishers are still doing by hand. If you use some really wacky notation symbols (I know, they make perfect sense to you) I would suggest using the trial version to be sure that you can do what you want. If you can’t, try the Dorico forum to see if someone has come up with a workaround. If not, request it.
If you are one of the many guitarists, bassists, and other plucked string players who have written in to ask me whether to buy it I’d say that’s an easy choice for now: save your money. I have no doubt that when TAB and chord diagrams become available they will most likely astound us, but that’s still a ways off, and even the expected June update will lack both. As I wrote earlier, chord symbols (names) should be added, and in some pretty cool ways, but that is unlikely to satisfy the bulk of serious guitar and bass players, as well as lutenists and other stringed instruments like the oud, sitar, etc. I’m personally sticking with Sibelius 7.1.x for this stuff. (The ‘x’ is there because I’m actually using 7.1.5 but I keep swearing I’ll move back to 7.1.3 for my next project because I find it more stable and more sensible in general.) If you don’t already have software, download MuseScore here, where you can also find a series of lessons on how to use it. Pretty amazing deal for FREE!
As for playback, if you are a loyal Steinberg user and are happy with Halion then playback should be a breeze for you. If not, you need to try the included Halion Sonic SE which will probably not give you the quality you want for your final mix. This is an area that is under intense development, and the user community is chipping in on which VST2 instruments work with Dorico 1.0.30. I can use my Vienna Symphonic Library instruments for basic sound, but the little subtleties that make this library so life-like and musical range from annoying to impossible to implement. Much of this is chicken-and-egg dilemma time, where there has to be enough demand from Dorico users for sound library companies to want to invest in interfaces, while a number of users are holding off waiting for more of their favourite (often expensive) libraries to be supported. And no, I don’t have any idea how many people are waiting. But since virtually every recording is going to require some tweaking in a DAW, I would at least try the included sounds in the trial version and keep in mind that more are on the way.
So my recommendation is still to go with Dorico, unless you are a guitarist or other player who needs TAB and / or chord diagrams; in that case either keep what you have or try MuseScore.