As one of the largest Sibelius UK dealers, we often get asked whether Sibelius (formally Sibelius First) or the full version of Sibelius Ultimate (was Sibelius 8) is best. Our team have been using Sibelius (to compose, etc) for over 2 decades so we hope this article will help you decide which is best for you. Essentially Sibelius (was Sibelius First) is a very very cut down version of Sibelius Ultimate (was Sibelius 8) which is great for very basic composing, etc, however 99% of the time Sibelius (was Sibelius First) is too limited and thus most will prefer Sibelius Ultimate - Sibelius Ultimate also has time saving features that could save you hours of editing time. If you are a student, as a rule of thumb, Sibelius is fine for GCSE level, however if you are looking to go onto AS/A Level music and/or a music degree then you will need Sibelius Ultimate.
Feature Comparison - the main benefits of Sibelius Ultimate (was Sibelius 8)
Here are the main benefits of Sibelius Ultimate, including the comparison of each feature with Sibelius:
In Sibelius Ultimate you can add as many instruments as you like whereas Sibelius is limited to up to 16 instruments and only includes basic popular instruments. If you only need to create scores with up to 16 instruments then this is fine, however AS/A Level students through to professional composers will struggle with this limitation as they will want to compose music for larger ensembles and orchestras.
Edit/Print Instrument Parts
When creating compositions, etc for a chamber ensemble or orchestra it is vital that you can print off each part - Sibelius Ultimate features 'dynamic parts' which allows you to quickly switch between the full score to each instrument part (to edit/print) - simply edit an instrument part and it will update the full score and vice versa. In Sibelius this is not possible as you can only edit/print the 'full score' and thus you can not print off individual instrument parts.
When composing, arranging, etc 'magnetic layout' makes editing much quicker as when you put a crescendo mark, text, etc into your score it automatically moves the marking so that it does not overlap any other markings/notation. 'Magnetic layout' is fully customisable so you can fine tune it to your requirements. Editing in Sibelius is much more of a manual process which can take hours of extra time.
Versions & Annotate features
In Sibelius Ultimate you can create versions of your scores so you can quickly track and compare previous version of your scores. You can also use the 'annotate' feature to create reminders for you or notes for others when collaborating with others. Sibelius does not include these features.
High Quality Playback
Sibelius Ultimate features the Sibelius Professional Sound Library which is a set of high quality sounds to help make your scores sound more realistic. Sibelius Ultimate also features the 'espressivo 2.0 playback engine' which further helps this and 'Live Tempo' which allows you to conduct the playback using a key on your computer keyboard. Sibelius has basic sounds that are not a patch on Sibelius Ultimate and does not include any of the other features above.
Advanced Notation & Symbols
Sibelius Ultimate features advanced symbols, unusual instruments, lines, text and other notations. To give a few examples; quarter tone accidentals, note head changes, special symbols. Speaking generally, it's hard to find something that Sibelius Ultimate can not do, even in the most modern compositions. Sibelius is aimed at basic notation for entry-level compositions for very small ensembles and solo works.
Sibelius Ultimate has two different types of prices - for 'educational' users such as students/teacher and 'professional' users, and then you can either 'buy' or 'subscribe annually'. Whereas you can only 'buy' Sibelius and there is not a student/teacher discounted price available.
Sibelius (£115.00) can be purchased as a perpetual license only (your license to keep).
Sibelius Ultimate: Students or Teachers
If you are a secondary school, college or University student (or a teacher employed by one of those - note 'private teachers' are not eligible) you will be able to purchase Sibelius Ultimate with a massive educational discount; you can'buy' a perpetual license of Sibelius Ultimate Academic (£298.80 - your license to keep) or 'subscribe annually' via a Sibelius Ultimate Academic Subscription (£94.80 per year - 12 month subscription). To check if you are eligible please click here.
Sibelius Ultimate: Professionals
If you do not qualify for the academic discount or are a professional user you can 'buy' a perpetual license of Sibelius Ultimate (£598.80 - your license to keep) or 'subscribe annually' via a Sibelius Ultimate Subscription (£238.80 per year - 12 month subscription).
You can opt to purchase Sibelius and then 'trade-up' to Sibelius Ultimate: Sibelius Ultimate Academic Trade-Up (with Student/Teacher Discount) or Sibelius Ultimate Trade-Up (professional users). If you are a professional user then the 'trade-up' is a good way if you want to start with Sibelius, however the high majority of professional users will find Sibelius far too limited.
The Verdict: Sibelius or Sibelius Ultimate?
Overall, although you can compose, edit and arrange entry level scores in Sibelius, in our opinion most will find it far to basic and will regret not going for Sibelius Ultimate in the first place.
Information and pricing correct at the time of publishing this article.