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Steinberg Dorico 5

Steinberg Dorico 5

Steinberg’s Dorico inches ever closer to full DAW status...

The evolution of Dorico from a notation application contender with a storied development cast and some real potential to the innovation‑driving rising star it has now become has been well‑documented in the pages of SOS, including the reviews of Version 3 in the February 2020 issue and Version 4 in June of 2022. And while program updates seem to be coming faster than ever these days, it is still fair to ask: is it really time for another Dorico upgrade? Given that music engraving is an ancient art whose relationship to computers started at the University of Illinois over 60 years ago, just what else is left to do in this realm? If Dorico 5 is any indicator, it turns out that much is still possible in this area. Dorico 4 established the franchise as a deeply functional tool for music engraving, and now Dorico 5 — while still adding some significant new engraving upgrades — takes a major leap forward as a production workstation. In the final analysis, it is easily a sufficiently significant update to warrant the new number and price tag. Let’s dive into some of the highlights.

What’s New

One of the remarkably useful additions in Dorico 5 is the inclusion of Stage and Space Templates. With this feature, the individual staves or instruments in the score can be spaced on a virtual sound stage, including the mimicking of stage depth as well. Users may navigate to the mixer toolbar and click on the Live Stage button to open the virtual stage. The instruments can then be dragged forward, backwards, and left to right on the stage. There is also the ability to click and drag to select a larger group of instruments, and then proportionally expand or contract the space in an existing balance with a single click, helping with quick edits and mix comparisons. Predictably, left to right shifts modify the panning in the mix console, while an increase in stage depth increases the send level to the chosen reverb to mimic distance and depth.

The settings related to Live Stage are accessed via the Live Space button, wherein the limit of panning may be set, as well as the level of the chosen reverb. Users may also pick two different reverbs for their near and far sends, respectively. While this new feature is clearly directed towards composers less comfortable with the audio mixing process, power users should not scoff at the usefulness of this feature, as it presents a far more intuitive approach to mixing with an ear towards creating an optimum balance on a realistic sound stage. Even as a starting point for achieving a realistic balance when using virtual instruments (even those recorded in situ) it is superb. For users who merely use the software for notation and playback as a composition aid, the sound stage is equally useful: having parts spaced realistically on a sound stage ensures a cleaner ensemble sound, and the ability to hear much more compositional detail than when instruments are simply all jammed together in the centre of the mix. While using Dorico 5 to compose my annual polyphonic work for the vocal quintet His Majesty’s Men, I noticed that having nice spacing certainly aided my compositional experience.

Also new, Pitch Contour Emphasis in playback ensures immediately more musical playback straight out of the box. Simply put, the software uses new algorithms to analyse musical lines and the balance of phrases to attempt a more human and realistic playback. The results are immediately audible, but users need to toggle the feature on when importing scores into the new version in order to hear this difference.

MIDI Triggers allow users to send additional info to VSTs without cluttering scores.MIDI Triggers allow users to send additional info to VSTs without cluttering scores.

Keeping with the theme of upgrading Dorico’s production capabilities, virtual instrument integration has been further enhanced with the inclusion of MIDI Triggers. No longer will the nightmare of scores littered with uncounted ledger lines in order to trigger keyswitches trouble those who have integrated virtual instruments into their notation software. Whether you are looking to drop the aforementioned keyswitch into your score, or just trigger appropriate playback in a pattern‑based chordal instrument such as a strummed guitar or patterned drum VST, MIDI Triggers provide an elegant (and, thankfully, easily hidden) layer to accomplish this. Just bring up the Shift+0 pop‑over, type in your desired note, and the trigger is added to a hideable layer in your score.

Expanding its already impressive arsenal of features, Dorico 5 welcomes the arrival of Groove Agent, Steinberg’s acclaimed drum plug‑in. From pulsating grooves to intricate drum patterns, jazz bands, rock rhythm sections and contemporary pop, Groove Agent offers a wealth of high‑quality sounds and patterns that will undoubtedly inspire and elevate your music. It’s a powerful addition which also opens a new door into Dorico’s unabashed evolution into a fully capable production environment.

Live Editing

Daniel Spreadbury and the creators of Dorico have long held to the position that they want to make existing music notation entries as difficult to accidentally edit (and destroy) as possible, which has informed their note input framework. Yet ever mindful of user requests, the newly added Live Editing now allows users to make real‑time adjustments without compromising that original vision of safety. Users can drag individual notes or longer passage left or right in the score without modifying the rhythmic placement of later or earlier passages, or drag to transpose up or down diatonically. When such an edit is being made, an orange box indicates the final placement of the selection, allowing for precise movements. The option to copy sections via Alt‑click‑drag has also been added.

A particularly nice touch is the option to click‑drag a copy up or down above notes, allowing the building of parallel harmonies. The safety feature to prevent unwanted edits is maintained by only allowing one direction (up/down or left/right) instead of universal movement around the score. Conveniently, the feature also works with chord mode and insert mode.

But Wait, There’s More

A host of other smaller but significant updates and new features abound. Scrub Playback allows the in‑score unidirectional drag/scrub playback of a score, especially useful in analysing a chord progression or inner voice work while composing. The import and export features related to music XML has been improved. A new Instrument Editor allows for the creation of instrument types not included in Dorico’s existing library of 600 instruments.

There are also some additional music entry options, especially regarding group editing. Users can now highlight multiple instruments in a score and enter indications with a single command as opposed to having to enter each item separately. There is also some intelligent assistance built in to this functionality, as (for instance) users selecting a section of score with staggered entrances and then applying a group dynamic will see this dynamic placed at the musical entrance as opposed to evenly on a blank staff. It’s little changes like this which ultimately save hours in the final engraving stage. Dorico 5 also includes eight new music fonts, easily switchable from the Library menu.

Dorico 5 builds upon the solid foundation laid by its predecessors and introduces a wealth of new features that make it an even more enticing proposition for composers, arrangers and music engravers.


Dorico 5 builds upon the solid foundation laid by its predecessors and introduces a wealth of new features that make it an even more enticing proposition for composers, arrangers and music engravers. From the revolutionary Stage and Space Templates to the nuanced Pitch Contour Emphasis and the seamless integration of MIDI triggers, the software offers an exceptional blend of creativity and functionality. With the addition of Groove Agent SE and the live editing capabilities, Dorico solidifies its position as a top‑tier notation software. And with version 5, Dorico moves us much closer to the dream of having a fully production‑capable notation software. Highly recommended.  


Reacting to recently collected market data, Dorico’s latest ‘light’ version, called Elements, sees major upgrades that should make it more appealing across the beginner, student and amateur demographics. Elements includes unlimited ensemble sizes, expanded engrave mode with deeper spacing controls, customisable playback options, and more text and music fonts. It is enough for me to make it the centre of a youth composition seminar I am teaching this summer. And for those looking for a robust free tool, Dorico SE remains a strong option.


  • A wealth of new features.
  • Easily the most production‑friendly notation software on the market.
  • Many new options added to an already impressive array of time‑saving features.
  • Stage and Space Templates are power tools for both accurate playback and later production.


  • A bit pricey for new users, though a free trial, cheaper Elements and free SE version allow a gentle entry.


Dorico’s latest update makes it the most production‑capable notation software on the market. Stage and Space Templates are a great GUI shortcut to better mixes, playback is more realistic, and MIDI Triggers de‑clutter your score and create new musical possibilities. Multiple item creation, live editing and new fonts upgrade the engraving side of things.


Dorico Pro 5 £497; upgrades from £85. Dorico Elements £85; upgrades from £25. Prices include VAT.

Dorico Pro 5 $579.99, upgrades from $99.99, Dorico Elements $99.99, upgrades from $29.99.