Symphonix Evolution (a little more detailed review)

Earlier today, I mentioned that Symphonix Evolution had been updated to allow for the export of MusicXML files.  I’ve been working with the app for the last hour, giving it the “Caro Mio Ben” test, whereas I try to recreate some of the famous Italian art song.

The original PDF of Caro mio ben, the basis of the experiment

I’m not a master at using Symphonix Evolution, but I learn quickly. I didn’t see any way to place two voices on a line, so I treated each part (melody, inner parts, and bass notes) as separate voices.  I was able to create musical lines quite easily by dragging notes from a “note” selector, or by using a “step” entry by playing notes (determining the value for each) one chord at a time.  I tried playing notes in by hand and recording them in real time, but my own playing on the iPad was imprecise enough that the app wasn’t registering my playing notes for the full value (even when changing quantization to the longest possible setting to account for the type of notes being used).

Working in Symphonix Evolution

I then exported the file as a PDF, and next saved it as a MusicXML, imported that file through iTunes, and opened that MusicXML on Finale 2012b (you would think that Finale would be the standard MusicXML reader/writer since MakeMusic now owns Recordare, the creators of the MusicXML format).

The PDF export from Symphonix Evolution

The MusicXML File from Symphonix Evolution, imported into Finale 2012b

Although I had only placed notes in one “staff” of Symphonix Evolution, both the PDF and MusicXML file showed both the treble and bass clef for every voice, two measures per page.  On the PDF file, The placement of notes that extended past middle C were drawn on the “appropriate” clef  (e.g. B4 on the bass clef), even if the note was intended to stay in the same clef with ledger lines.  The MusicXML file was just messed up.

I took five minutes and entered the same amount of data in Notion for iPad.  You can see the result below.

Caro mio ben, same material, entered in Notion for the iPad

Conclusions?

I didn’t find working with Symphonix Evolution to be as intuitive as working with Symphony Pro or Notion for the iPad.  Notion lacks the ability to play real-time music into the app and have it export as notation, but I haven’t had the best results trying to do so with Symphonix Evolution or Symphony Pro, either.  There were issues with the MusicXML export, and the only way to pull a MusicXML file from the app is through the iTunes desktop app.  If you are using your iPad without a tethered computer, you will not be able to export data as a MusicXML file.  Although I’ve experienced frequent crashes with Symphony Pro, I did not experience any crashes with Symphonix Evolution.

I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade, but at the same time, I purchased Symphonix Evolution on my own (although I was offered an app code in the past, I had already bought the app on my own), so I don’t feel that I owe anyone a positive review.  For use in music education, I still have to recommend Notion for iPad above any of the other notation app available for the iPad.  In choral music, there is a need for text, and Symphonix Evolution does not yet have that feature.  Symphonix Evolution is a MIDI-minded app, which processes music in a MIDI-fashioned way.  Should you need an app that can convert MIDI to notation particularly through external MIDI (i.e. real-time playing), to my knowledge, there aren’t any other apps that can do that on the iPad at this time.  You’ll just need to be more precise as a player than I was able to be.

Are there good things about the app?  Absolutely.  The notation itself is legible, if not as “pretty” as Notion.  All the methods of entering notes (keyboard, durations, drum pads, external MIDI) work well.  There is a detailed help file if you can’t quite wrap your mind around how to do certain things in the app.  And the app doesn’t seem to crash.  And the app works and does what it is supposed to do.  You can’t knock an app too badly for working…it just isn’t ideal for what I would need to do as a music educator.

Ultimately, you’ll need to be the judge of the value of this app for yourself.  If you live in the world of music education, Notion is the better app, and it is still on sale (as of 6/28) for $6.99.  However, if you are in need of the many MIDI-style features of Symphonix Evolution, including the drum pad and piano roll, and you need notation (something GarageBand for iPad does not yet feature), the app very well might be right for you.

I do want to add that when I declined the offer for an app code, the developers were very open to suggestions, particularly my comments about the importance of MusicXML in music education.  They’ve added that feature.  This means that they want to make the app flexible for users.  I respect that openness to improvement so very much.  I’d suggest keeping an eye on this app, because I’m sure that the developers are going to keep bringing new things to this app, and that it is very possible that this app could become an ideal music notation app for education in the future.

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